Non-Fiction, Psychology, Sociology

Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh

My coworker Jennifer picked this book as her staff pick a few weeks ago and I was curious. When it popped up as an available audiobook on my library app, I figured I would give it a try.

Synopsis

In the rush of modern life, we tend to lose touch with the peace that is available in each moment. World-renowned Zen master, spiritual leader, and author Thich Nhat Hanh shows us how to make positive use of the very situations that usually pressure and antagonize us. For him, a ringing telephone can be a signal to call us back to our true selves. Dirty dishes, red lights, and traffic jams are spiritual friends on the path to “mindfulness” – the process of keeping our consciousness alive to our present experience and reality. The most profound satisfactions, the deepest feelings of joy and completeness lie close at hand as our next aware breath and the smile we can form right now.

Review

Working in a bookstore, I frequently am asked for books about mindfulness these days. It seems anyone with a brain is trying to get theirs to settle down and not get too riled up by the state of the world. As a general skeptic to all things that one could even remotely label as “new age,” I’ve stopped short of picking a mindfulness book up myself, despite my anxiety which I’ve seemed to quell it on my own in the last few months. But as Jennifer swore it was helpful, I figured, Why not?

When I first started listening to Peace is Every Step, I forgot that it is over 25 years old, written in an age before the internet and various electronic devices ran most of our lives. Most of the points made still resonate today. Whole Peace is Every Step lacks what some might consider concrete and specific steps, it focuses more on changing your perspective and thought process. I’ve come to know understand that this is what mindfulness really is, it’s about thinking through how behaviors and actions affect not only yourself, but other people and the world as a whole. Love and kindness will get you further than anger and hateful rhetoric, and similar sentiments make up the bulk of the book.

I recently had an interaction with a family friend that left me hurt, upset, and confused. And I realized that my reactions, and actions, in response to this encounter, allow me the opportunity to put what I’ve recently read into practice. I could yell, scream, and burn a bridge, or I can sit back, reflect, and try to empathize and put myself in this person’s shoes. Choosing the latter, is choosing the mindfulness approach. And if this settles my anxiety in regards to the matter, then I think, just maybe, Jennifer was right.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $15.00 • 9780553351392 • 160 pages • published March 1992 by Bantam • average Goodreads rating 4.34 out of 5 • stars read in August 2018

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Biography, Non-Fiction

Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown

I’ve always had a certain fascination with Britain’s royal family, ever since Princess Diana died. When The Crown started airing, I was watching from the beginning, and, like most, discovered what a volatile character Princess Margaret was. So, as per usual when it comes to books, when our publisher rep for Macmillan told me there would be ARCs for this book, I begged her for one immediately!

Synopsis

She made John Lennon blush and left Marlon Brando tongue-tied. She iced out Princess Diana and humiliated Elizabeth Taylor. Andy Warhol photographed her. Gore Vidal revered her. Francis Bacon heckled her. Peter Sellers was madly in love with her. For Pablo Picasso, she was the object of sexual fantasy.

Princess Margaret aroused passion and indignation in equal measure. To her friends, she was witty and regal. To her enemies, she was rude and demanding. In her 1950s heyday, when she was seen as one of the most glamorous and desirable women int eh world, her scandalous behavior made headlines. But by the time of her death in 2002, she had come to personify disappointment. One friend said he had never known an unhappier woman. The tale of Princess Margaret is Cinderella in verse: hope dashed, happiness mislaid, life mishandled.

Such an enigmatic and divisive figure demands a reckoning that is far from the usual fare. Combining interviews, parodies, dreams, parallel lives, diaries, announcements, lists, catalogues, and essays, Craig Brown’s Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret is a kaleidoscopic experiment in biography and a mediation on fame and art, snobbery and deference, bohemia and high society.

Review

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Princess Margaret could, at her best, be described as lacking direction, and at worst, a terrible human being. It is also worth remembering that Vanessa Kirby, the wonderful actress who portrays Margaret on The Crown, is not actually Princess Margaret which I had to remind myself of repeatedly.

The woeful tale of Princess Margaret, as I’ve taken to calling it, is, as some have described, Cinderella in reverse. I disagree. Cinderella, regardless of her circumstances, was still charming and delightful. Which some people seemed to have thought of Princess Margaret, but doesn’t seem to be the prevailing impression of her. However, what one’s personal opinions of the Princess, and whether we should really judge a woman who grew up in a very different era in a very different circumstance than 99.999999999% of the world’s population, is a discussion for a different day. Today, I will try to focus on the book itself, and less on my judgemental opinions of its subject.

Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret is just that, 99 short vignettes about her life, of which about 90 are true and 9 are hypotheticals – tales of what Margaret’s life would have been had she made a different decision at key, often romantic, points in her life – i.e. married Peter Townsend, been seduced by Picasso, etc. The vignettes are snarky and satirical, which, once I Googled who Craig Brown was in British society, made a great deal more sense than they had before I did a little digging into the author’s background.

The best analogy I have to Ninety-Nine Glimpses is that of a train/carwreck. It’s terrible, but you just can’t help but stare. Or in this case, turn the pages. Brown covers every bit of her life from the tales of the little princesses’ governess/nanny Crawfie to her later years and the burning of the letters towards the end of her life. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a Queen’s little sister, of which history has given us very few, Ninety-Nine Glimpses is a book for the ages.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $28.00 • 9780374906047 • 432 pages • originally published in the UK September 2017, published in the US August 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux • average Goodreads rating 3.73 out of 5 • read in August 2018

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Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction

Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

To say that I am a Gilmore Girls fan may be a bit of an understatement. I am a basic white (elder – according to Iliza Shlesinger) millennial young woman, therefore I love Gilmore Girls. It’s basic logic. However, as I wasn’t a huge fan of Graham’s fiction (Someday, Someday, Maybe) it took my sister over a year to convince me to actually read her memoir.

Synopsis

In Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham hits pause for a moment and looks back on her life, sharing laugh-out-loud stories about growing up, starting out as an actress, and, years later, sitting in her trailer on the Parenthood set and asking herself, “Did you, um, make it?” She opens up about the challenges of being single in Hollywood, the time she was asked to audition her butt for a role, and her experience being a judge on Project Runway.

In “What It Was Like, Part One,” Graham sits down for an epic Gilmore Girls marathon and reflects on being cast as the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore. The essay “What It Was Like, Part Two” reveals how it felt to pick up the role again nine years later, and what doing so has meant to her.

Some more things you will learn about Lauren: She once tried to go vegan just to bond with Ellen DeGeneres, she’s aware that meeting guys at awards shows has its pitfalls, and she’s a card-carrying REI shopper. Including photos and excerpts from the diary Graham kept during the filming of the recent Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, this book is like a cozy night in, catching up with your best friend, laughing and swapping stories, and—of course—talking as fast as you can.

Review

I find the best way to “read” celebrity/prominent people’s memoirs is to listen to the audiobook. Oftentimes the person in question reads the book themselves, as is the case not only with this book, but also with Who Thought This was a Good IdeaI Hate Everyone Except YouWhy Not Me?, and all of Anthony Bourdain‘s works, or at least those are the ones I have listened to. The other side of celebrity memoirs, which Lauren Graham actually points out, is the idea that the celebrity clearly didn’t write the book themselves. Of those mentioned above, I can guarantee at least two were self-written, one admittedly co-written and the other, who really knows?

Then I start thinking to myself, well, do they only have a book deal because they’re a celebrity? Most likely. Does being a person of interest increase public interest in their lives? Yes (whether this is good or bad is not the topic of debate here, but an interesting one to be sure). Lauren Graham is certainly a good writer. And her essay collection here is entertaining and delightful. She approaches her life honestly and with contemplation, particularly in why the character of Lorelai Gilmore has always had such a precious place in her heart.

As a long time fan, I was delighted when the revival of the show was announced, however, I was extremely disappointed. Lauren, naturally, loved stepping back into the role and, as the book, and therefore stories, were written and published before the series was available for viewing and as she was a large part of it, it would make sense that her opinion differs from that of the public. However, her stories were good, and her emotional investment in the series certainly contributed to our continuing love of it in 2018 (despite the revival – we’ll pretend that never happened.)

My only gripe, is that she continually referenced the photos in the book, while reading the audiobook. Can’t very well look up the page in the book while listening to it while driving, now can I? And for those who don’t have the physical copy and just the audiobook? Not going to work out so well.

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9780425285190 • 240 pages • originally published November 2016, this edition published October 2017 by Ballantine Books • average Goodreads rating 3.99 out of 5 stars • read in August 2018

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Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Oddly enough, Kitchen Confidential was not the first Bourdain I read, but the last, despite it being the entire reason that the world knows his name. I put it off, thinking that they way it was described was not in line with the Tony I had come to know and respect through his various television programs and world travels. But I was wrong. So wrong.

Synopsis

After twenty-five years of ‘sex, drugs, bad behavior and haute cuisine’, chef and novelist Anthony Bourdain decides to tell all. From his first oyster in the Gironde to his lowly position as a dishwasher in a honky-tonk fish restaurant in Provincetown, from the kitchen of the Rainbow Room atop the Rockefeller Center to drug dealers in East Village, from Tokyo to Paris and back to New York again, Bourdain’s tales of the kitchen are as passionate as they are unpredictable, as shocking as they are funny.

Review

By sheer happenstance, my husband and I spent June 8th on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Tony’s home of many years (when he wasn’t traveling, which was rare). We were going to a concert in Brooklyn that night and decided to go the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art) for the day. As we were driving to our “local” train station in NJ in rush hour traffic from our home west of Philadelphia, we listened to NPR, as we always do. And around 8AM, as we sat in Trenton traffic, we turned the volume up because we couldn’t believe what we had heard. Tony died. By his own hand. To my husband and I, this was unthinkable. We’d been watching No Reservations since we’d started dating. Our relationship had two television constants, Top Gear and Tony.

As we made our way into the city on NJ Transit as we’ve done countless times before, I took my usual news junkie status to a new level. My hero, he was gone. Gone without explanation. The BBC, CNN, NBC, ABC, NPR, no one had anything else to report except that which we already knew. He was gone. I texted my boss at the bookstore straight away and begged him to put the books in stock out on display with the staff pick blurbs I’d written for them ages ago. Medium Raw, my favorite summer read, Appetites, the only cookbook I cook out of, and, though I hadn’t read it, obviously we needed to order in Kitchen Confidential ASAP. Then I started dreading the fact that I’d be meeting with our publisher rep at the start of the week, the rep who handled his imprint for Harper Collins. I couldn’t bring myself to think straight.

I looked up whether or not we could get a reservation for a mid-afternoon meal at Les Halles, only to discover it had closed. Only months ago, we could have gone and didn’t. I kicked myself for it. When we walked past it later in the day, I saw the remembrances people had left. It inspired my first post two days later, Dear Tony. I debated whether or not I could bring myself to watch Parts Unknown anymore and when it turned out to be too tear-inducing, I decided to read the one book of his I didn’t want to, Kitchen Confidential.

I was afraid I wouldn’t like it. I was afraid it would talk too much about drug use and that I didn’t really want to read about, I’ve dealt with it enough in my family. I was afraid that the Tony writing was different than the Tony we’d come to know and love. And then, I decided to be brave and listen to him read it. I was on my way to London to visit my sister when I finally gave in. I still didn’t even own a copy of it. But after only five minutes, I realized I had nothing to worry about – Tony was still Tony – already a master storyteller, already with three novels to his name, already well on his way to not becoming, but staying himself, and then revealing that self to the world. And when I found a special edition of the book with all his notes and handwritten margin doodles at a bookshop in London, well, I had to have it.

Kitchen Confidential is, for anyone who has gotten to know Anthony Bourdain through his various shows, thoroughly him. The story isn’t linear or chronological (his never are, even Parts Unknown), and he is very open and honest about his periods of dishonesty and chef-poaching, honest about his privileged upbringing and squandering it, honest about the world of the professional kitchen. Honest and candid about his life and how he got to where he is, and the result, for anyone who, like me, had watched for years and never read, is heartbreaking.

Because in reading now, for the first time, it is impossible to disassociate the book with the end. It is impossible to ignore the fact that we will never have another Bourdain masterpiece. Impossible to forget that he’s no longer here to tell us stories on Sunday night. Impossible to understand how things went this way. Because as much as I wish I had known him, I didn’t. I didn’t know, I don’t know, what led him to do what he did. But I can read his works, reread, rewatch, and hope, beyond hope, that he has changed the world for the better.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars (Medium Raw is still my favorite)

Edition: Paperback • £10.99/$16.99 • 9781408845042 (UK)/9780060899226 (US) • 352 pages • originally published May 2000 by Bloomsbury • average Goodreads rating 4.02 out of 5 • read in July 2018

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Bookish Tuesday, Non-Fiction

Favorite Nonfiction

As I’m currently listening to Kitchen Confidential and crying randomly about how the world is worse off without Anthony Bourdain’s storytelling, I’ve been thinking more and more about the nonfiction that has touched my heart just as much as works of fiction.

1. Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain

My first Bourdain. Like your first cocktail or boyfriend or first trip abroad or first food that you really, truly loved, you never forget your first Bourdain.

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2. #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso

Need some inspiration? Decided it’s time to make a change in your life? Pick #Girlboss, Sophia does not disappoint.

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3. The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich

Thought you knew a lot about World War II? Think again. The stories these women share are absolutely incredible and many will shake you to the core.

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4. Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Dead Wake was the book that first made me realize that I can read nonfiction and like it. He epitomizes the phrase “novelistic nonfiction.”

Dead Wake

5. Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik

One cannot call oneself a feminist without having read about the greatness that is Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Notorious RBG

Non-Fiction, Travel

Everyday Adventures by Lonely Planet

I love fun travel books, especially ones that are easy enough to explore or implement close to home. This one in particular caught my eye as I have a little elephant, Ellie, traveling companion who joins me on not only big overseas adventures, but also close to home adventures and I always need pictures for her Instagram account! (@adventuresofellietheelephant). *This book comes out this coming Tuesday, July 17th*

Synopsis

Weave a little wonder into daily life with these fun and challenging activities – and experience your local area in a whole new way. Invite friends on a social adventure, follow your senses to somewhere new and embark on a cultural odyssey. Lonely Planet shows you how to embrace the traveler spirit and discover a new side to where you live.

Review

If asked my hometown, I usually tell people it is Carlisle, PA. If asked where I grew up? Gettysburg. If asked where I went to college, Pittsburgh, where I live now, Phoenixville, all in Pennsylvania. So I generally consider my state to be my hometown to explore. I have great loyalty for my state, particularly the southeastern corner where I live now.

When we first moved to Gettysburg, a BIG tourist town (major battle of the Civil War, led to 1 million + tourists every summer), my mom used to make us play tourist on the weekends and we (my sister and I) hated it. If I had to go back to Gettysburg and do the suggestions in this book, I’d still hate it. So I took Ellie the Elephant off on an adventure around Phoenixville, our current home of the past 6 years.

Ellie and I did adventures #3 Fly By Night, #8 Memory Lane, #23 Plastic Challenge, #27 Counter Tourism, #32 Movie Magic, and #43 Alternating Travel. In addition to the challenges mentioned, we gave into the Stars Hollow-y nature of Phoenixville and attended the local festivals that we usually avoid like the plague. We learned a lot about the town, and I learned a lot about myself and how I experience different places.

All in all, it was an enjoyable, interactive adventure book, but there were definitely adventures that were not quite applicable towards small town life – the book skews pretty significantly urban.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $17.99 • 9781787013582 • 208 pages • published July 2018 by Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet’s Website

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Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction, Photography/Art

Am I There Yet? by Mari Andrew

For a month when I didn’t finish many books at all, this one was a much needed read. Despite having a wonderful trip to London, I feel like my life is in need of a shakeup and Mari’s book was the perfect read to complement this feeling.

Synopsis

In the journey toward adulthood, it is easy to find yourself treading the path of those who came before you; the path often appears straight and narrow, with a few bumps in the road and a little scenery to keep you inspired. But what if you don’t want to walk a worn path? What is you want to wander? What if there is no map to guide you through the detours life throws your way?

This guide to growing pains and growing up by the illustrator, writer, and Instagram sensation Mari Andrew brilliantly captures the heavy feelings and comical complexities gathered on the way to adulthood. From creating a new home in a new city to understanding the link between a good hair dryer and good self-esteem to dealing with the depths of heartache and loss, these tales of the twentysomething document a road less traveled- a road that sometimes is just the way you’re meant to go.

Review

My parents married before at 24 & 26, they not only had, but had built with their own hands, a house that was finished before my mom came home from the hospital with me at 28, have had the same occupations since they finished high school (Dad) and college (Mom), and were able to provide just about everything my sister and I desired our entire lives. There were rough patches of course, they’re no longer together, but their lives were shaped by a different time, a different era.

To compare my life to my grandmothers’ lives is even more starkly contrasted. As millennials, my sister and I are mostly self sufficient, but there are definitely times when we’ve had to delicately ask for help. Our lives have been shaped by a very different era, and will forever be marked by the Recession of ’08. We will spend most of our young adulthood renting, we will postpone having children, if we have them at all, and we may not have substantial savings accounts until we are well into our 40s.

But that’s the path our lives have taken. It’s completely different than our parents, even if we wanted to measure up against their life paths, we can’t. That world doesn’t exist anymore. And while this idea isn’t exactly what Am I There Yet? delves into, the theme is close – your life is your life and we all live our lives differently and have to follow our own paths in order to carve out some semblance of self identity. If you’re looking to find some inspiration to be yourself, and even more importantly, to know that you’re not alone in feeling like your life isn’t following the prescribed path society seems to prefer, take a look at Am I There Yet?

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $19.99 • 9781524761431 • 192 pages • published March 2018 by Clarkson Potter Publishers • average Goodreads rating 4.1 out of 5 • read in July 2018

Mari Andrew’s Website

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Non-Fiction

Dear Tony

It’s been two and a half days since the world lost Anthony Bourdain and I still haven’t fully processed what this loss means not only to me (because that would be selfish), but to the world as a whole. I know it’s not my usual review for Sunday, but, well, it felt necessary for my grieving process.

Dear Tony,

It’s been 2 days since you ripped a hole in the world. Did you know how much you are loved? Did you know how much you were respected? Did you know just how big of an effect your passing would have on the entire world?

I don’t blame you. People do things for many reasons and often times they do things that they haven’t thought through. But your loss is one that will be felt worldwide, even by those who didn’t realize what an effect you had on them until the moment you were gone.

As a literary and cultural icon, and especially as a cultural ambassador for the US, we need you. We needed your voice to help everyone understand just how big the world really is, and yet similar we all are.

We miss you. We need you. We can’t contemplate a world without you and your unique voice offering a perspective that so many Americans need in their lives right now. I break out into tears every time they see your books sitting on my bookshelf, every time I walk past I think about your influence on the world and how we won’t have any new Anthony Bourdain books to look forward to. The literary world won’t be the same without your voice.

I didn’t know you, but I will miss you. I will miss you every time I try a new food, explore a new country, meet a new person. I will miss you. Those who loved you will certainly miss you. We will all miss you. And we can only hope that you have found some peace.

History, Non-Fiction

Empire of Blue Water by Stephan Talty

This book is about pirates. I have been fascinated by pirates for a very long time. In conclusion, pirates. Read it. Just kidding – full review below!

Synopsis

The passion and violence of the age of exploration and empire come to vivid life in this story of the legendary pirate who took on the greatest military power on earth with a ragtag bunch of renegades. Awash with bloody battles, political intrigues, natural disaster, and a cast of characters more compelling, bizarre, and memorable than any found in a Hollywood swashbuckler, Empire of Blue Water brilliantly re-creates the life and times of Henry Morgan and the real pirates of the Caribbean.

Review

Seriously, pirates. I don’t know when, where or how my love of them began, maybe all little kids are born with a fascination of the pirate’s life. From Peter Pan’s arch-nemesis Captain Hook to Will Turner in the first Pirates of the Caribbean to Alvilda, the protagonist of my current writing project who is based on the Viking pirate princess Alfhild, my love runs deep. When a coworker first told me about Cinnamon & Gunpowder, I jumped at the chance to read it for the sole reason that it featured a female pirate! Everywhere that I’ve traveled from the Outer Banks in North Carolina to Nassau in the Bahamas, I have visited each locale’s respective pirate attractions and museums.

In addition to pirates, I also love a good non-fiction book that can be affectionately referred to as “novelistic nonfiction” as exemplified by Erik Larson, among other authors. Talty’s prose also falls into the subgenre of nonfiction. I find that, as a bookseller, when I recommend nonfiction to primarily fiction readers, this trait is ideal. The pages turn quickly, the action moves at a good clip and the book holds the readers interest. Gone are the days of nonfiction being judged as dry and without character – half the time when reading I have to remind myself that the people in Empire of Blue Water are/were real people – not characters. Though when referencing Henry Morgan, the myths about him are hard to ignore.

Additionally, Empire of Blue Water is not just about Henry Morgan, but about a great many other pirates who lived and raided around the same time, as well as the political culture of the colonies in the Caribbean, South, Central & North America. It is a fascinating and compelling read, and, of course, PIRATES!

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9780307236616 • 332 pages • first published April 2007, this edition published April 2008 by Broadway Books • average Goodreads rating 3.86 out of 5 stars • read in June 2018

Staphan Talty’s Website

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Biography, History, Non-Fiction

I Know a Woman by Kate Hodges

I love anthologies with stories about fascinating women. I’ve reviewed many before, most of which can be found here. I Know a Woman is definitely worthy of inclusion into that great pantheon.

Synopsis

How much would Emmeline Pankhurst have achieved without her army of suffragettes? Would the name Audrey Hepburn mean anything without Colette’s discovery? What did it mean for Mae Jemison to see Nichelle Nichols take the skies?

I Know a Woman is a collection of 84 illustrated portraits that celebrate female collaboration. Whether that is encouraging a leader, a colleague or friend; inspiring another to follow in their footsteps, or perhaps fostering a friendship that spans decades and oceans.

In telling the stories of these women’s lives and achievements – whether it is in science or politics, arts or sports, fashion or aviation – Kate Hodges exposes the fascinating web of connections that have enabled each one to take a new step forward. Some names will be familiar, some might not, but all are equally important.

Review

I kind of hate when the back cover gives a review more than a synopsis. That is the biggest holdup I had in picking up and actually reading I Know a Woman when there are so many others. And when I say so many others, I’m not kidding. We made a whole section of them at the store. And I might scream at the next person who tells me that Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls is something revolutionary. It started eons ago with Krull & Hewitt’s Lives of Extraordinary Women and so many others. So why am I reading more? Why am I continuing to read the same vignettes about the same women over and over?

Because they are still inspiring. And Hodges pulls them all together in ways that haven’t been before. Can you draw a map of influence from Ada Lovelace to Beyonce? Kate Hodges can. The unique structure of I Know a Woman focuses on the connections between these inspiration and how they influenced each other. No one lives in a vacuum, and strong women have to stand behind and next to each other. So therefore, read it, learn more about Gloria Steinem and Emma Watson’s friendship, Meryl Streep’s awesomeness and how Audrey Hepburn rebelled against her mother’s fascism.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $27.00 • 9781781317365 • 192 pages • published February 2018 by Aurum Press • average Goodreads rating 3.92 out of 5 stars • read in June 2018

Kate Hodges’ Website

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