Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction, Photography/Art

Color Me Creative by Kristina Webb

I know it seems weird to include a coloring book on this site – you may ask, how does one read a coloring book? I’ve been following Kristina Webb on Instagram for awhile now – she is a beautiful artist and her coloring book is not just inspiring, but contains a biography of her as well!

Synopsis

From Instagram sensation Kristina Webb (@colour_me_creative) comes a completely original and unique book to inspire and unlock your creativity.

Color Me Creative gives readers a firsthand look into Kristina’s personal life, including her exotic upbringing and the inspirational story of how, at nineteen years old, she has become one of the most popular artists of her generation, with a following in the millions. Readers can then go on their own journey by completing the fifty creative, art-inspired challenges designed by Kristina herself. This is the perfect gift not only for artists but for anyone wanting to awaken their inner creative. Featuring Kristina’s beautiful custom art throughout, Color Me Creative will help readers escape the ordinary and unlock their imagination.

Review

How does one go about reviewing a coloring book? Especially one with a biography of a 19 year old – what could she have to share about her life already? More than most, I can guarantee!

Though still only a teenager, Kristina Webb’s artwork has garnered her thousands of Instagram followers and inspired countless young girls to express themselves through art. As a lover of coloring and design (my college diploma includes a studio arts minor), I was very excited when the adult coloring craze kicked off – I never stopped coloring and for most of my young adult life, Disney princess coloring books were the only ones available to coloring enthusiasts like myself. Unfortunately, the market quickly became saturated with every middling mediocre line artist trying to jump on the bandwagon and put out their own coloring book. Finding a good one now is not unlike finding a diamond in the rough and Kristina’s Color Me Creative is that diamond.

Included in the book are examples of her art, the art that inspired the coloring book as well as a scrapbook style biography at the beginning. What Kristina has done for young girls already in her relatively short life by giving them an outlet for their creativity in a day and age when arts funding is usually the first to go in schools is absolutely inspiring.

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $14.99 • 9780062415462 • 224 pages • published September 2015 by HarperCollins • average Goodreads rating 4.39 out of 5 • read in October 2016

Kristina Webb’s Website

Color Me Creative on Goodreads

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Color Me Creative

Graphic Novel, Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

Back in 2015, one of my coworkers went to a book conference and brought me back a signed copy of Honor Girl. At first, I didn’t really realized why she picked this particular book for me, until I started reading it. I love it.

Synopsis

Maggie is fifteen and has spent basically every summer of her life at the one-hundred-year old Camp Bellflower for Girls, set deep in the heart of Appalachia. She’s from Atlanta, she’s never kissed a guy, she’s into the Backstreet Boys in a really deep way, and her long summer days are full of a pleasant, peaceful sort of nothing.

Until one confounding moment. After a split second of innocent physical contact during a lice inspection, Maggie falls into gut-twisting love with Erin, an older, wiser, and, most surprising of all (at least to Maggie), female counselor. But Camp Bellflower is an impossible place for a girl to fall in love with another girl, and Maggie’s spontaneous expertise at the camp’s rifle range is the only thing that keeps her heart from exploding. When it seems as if Erin might feel the same way about Maggie, it’s too much for both Maggie and Camp Bellflower to endure, let alone understand.

Review

For the sake of honesty, I confess that I believed some stupid things before I started reading Honor Girl.

I started reading Honor Girl under the assumption that my experience reading it would help me understand what it felt like for some of my friends when they first realized they were lesbians or bisexual. But as I fell deeper and deeper into Maggie’s story, I realized that there is no difference between falling in love as a straight person and falling in love as a gay person. Love is love, regardless of who it is with and Maggie’s love story is beautiful and innocent and so reminiscent of many other first love stories, requited or unrequited, that absolutely anyone who has felt their heart swell to bursting with a crush can relate.

Later, after I had finished Honor Girl and come to this great conclusion, I asked Hadley why it was that she had picked it out for me, and while I don’t remember the answer, I do remember her surprise at the fact that I enjoyed it as much as I did and that I recommend it frequently to teenagers who come into the store looking for a compelling story that they can relate to; one of first love, heartache, and summer camp.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $14.99 • 9780763687557 • 272 pages • originally published September 2015, this edition published May 2017 by Candlewick Press • average Goodreads rating 3.82 out of 5 • read in January 2016

Maggie Thrash’s Website

Honor Girl on Goodreads

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Honor Girl

Graphic Novel, Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis had been on my TBR list for a very long time, probably since I first saw the trailer for the film adaptation (which I still haven’t seen) at an art theater in the town I grew up in. When Emma Watson, one of my personal heroes, decided to make it a selection for her Goodreads’ Book Club, Our Shared Shelf, I decided to make it a pick for my book club, The Modern Readers, as well.

2 - January 2016 - Persepolis

Synopsis

Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming – both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of  girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her county yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.

Review

Persepolis sheds a great deal of light on a time and place with which most Americans are terribly unfamiliar. Satrapi’s memoir makes the situation more relatable for international audiences through her use of comic strips and content material relating to her childhood and the challenges facing every young girl trying to grow up. Her journey into adulthood is one is equal parts familiar – the desire to listen to music, hang posters in one’s room and have space of their own – and unfamiliar – family members are taken by the revolutionaries, having to live a completely different life with family and in public, and fearing for one’s life on a daily basis.

Overall, the content material was very eye-opening, not just in regards to what life was like in the 1980s in Iran, but also in regards to the role that Iran has played in recent world history both before and after the revolution. We had a very lively discussion at our book club meeting about the difference between a true revolution and a devolution masquerading as a revolution and came to the conclusion that the latter was a more apt description of the situation in Iran described by Satrapi. It is not difficult to understand why both the book and film has become staples of modern world history classes in high school and college alike.

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $24.95 • 9780375714832 • 341 pages • published October 2007 by Pantheon Books • average Goodreads rating 4.36 out of 5 • read in January 2016

Persepolis on Goodreads

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Persepolis

 

Graphic Novel, Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

I have been lent Hyperbole and a Half by more than one friend more than once over the last few years and for some very unknown reason, it has taken me this long to finish it. I don’t know why, it is hilarious and resonates with me a great deal, but I am of the belief that, for the most part, the book decides when it’s time to be read, not you, the reader. The right book finds its way to you at the right time.

Synopsis

“This is a book I wrote. Because I wrote it, I had to figure out what to put on the back cover to explain what it is. I tried to write a long, third-person summary that would imply how great the book is and also sound vaguely authoritative – like maybe someone who isn’t me wrote it – but I soon discovered that I’m not sneaky enough to pull it off convincingly.” – Allie Brosh

Review

First, I really, really hope that Allie Brosh is doing okay. She discusses her depression in a variety of ways throughout the book and, as a fellow human being, I went online to check on the status of her planned sophomore book. When I discovered it had been postponed just short of “indefinitely,” I grew concerned. As someone who has, in the last 48 hours started and finished her book, I immediately had to make sure that she was okay. Allie has not been seen on the internet for about 2 years and while I know the odds of her personally seeing this are slim, I just want to say, I hope that you are doing what you need to do to take care of yourself.

Second, the actual review. Hyperbole and a Half has color coded chapters. This blew my mind for some reason. The entire book is printed in full color, just like a graphic novel, but it is not structured as a graphic novel – it is primarily text with pictures (“hand-drawn” in a version of Microsoft Paint) illustrating a variety of stories from Allie’s life, and also about her depression and sense of self-identity and self-worth.

In short, this is a millennial’s book – a book by a millennial that covers topics that most millennial’s encounter on a regular basis. The audience should, in no way, be limited to those born between 1985 and 1995. Hyperbole and a Half was the #1 Indie Next Pick upon its release, a Goodreads Choice Pick for 2013, and a #1 New York Times and Indie Bestseller. All of these things added together to not always equate to a new favorite book, but when a non-traditionally formatted book receives such accolades, it is, in this rare case, a fair indication of the quality of work I hold in my hands. I laughed so hard I cried, I cried so hard I had to promise my husband that no one had died, and I saw myself in every one of Allie’s pictures.

So Allie, I hope that whatever is going on in your life, you are able to find a way to come back to the creative fold because the world misses you, and the millennials need you.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $19.99 • 9781451666175 • 384 pages • published October 2013 by Touchstone Books • average Goodreads rating 4.17 out of 5 • read in September 2017

Allie Brosh’s Website

Hyperbole and a Half on Goodreads

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Hyperbole and a Half

Essays, Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction

Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain

Seven years ago I made a remarkable discovery – Anthony Bourdain. I was, by America’s standards, ten years late to the Bourdain party, but at least I got there eventually. I have now obsessively watched just about every episode of No ReservationsThe Layover, and Parts Unknown and most of them repeatedly. In circumstances in which my sister and I would watch MK&A movies about a locale before visiting, we now watch Anthony Bourdain. So needless to say when I wanted something new and different for my vacation last week, I turned to my favorite celeb chef for inspiration.

Synopsis

In the ten years since Anthony Bourdain’s classic Kitchen Confidential first alerted us to the idiosyncrasies and lurking perils of eating out, much has changed for the subculture of chefs and cooks, for the restaurant business – and for Anthony Bourdain.

Medium Raw tracks Bourdain’s unexpected voyage from journeyman cook to globe-traveling professional eater and drinker, and even to father hood, in a series of take-no-prisoners confessions, rants, investigations, and interrogations of some of the most controversial figures in food.

Beginning with a secret, highly illegal after-hours gathering of powerful chefs that he compares to a mafia summit, Bourdain pulls back the curtain – but never pulls punches – on the modern gastronomical revolution. Cutting right to the bone, Bourdain sets his sights on some of the biggest names in the foodie world, including David Chang, the young superstar chef; the revered Alice Waters; the Top Chef contestants; and many more.

Review

First things first, if you are new to the Cult of Bourdain, I strongly suggest watching an episode of one of his many television programs before committing to reading Medium Raw or any of his other books.

Moving on. When I am considering reading a book that is more than two or three years old (which admittedly doesn’t happen often), I, like most readers, investigate the reviews on Goodreads and other blogs, and then choose whether to listen to, or disregard, their sentiments. I also hope that is what you, dear readers, do with my book review entries here – please don’t take what I have to say be the end-all-be-all of your decision whether or not to read a book. That being said, I am always surprised when reviews or reviewers write a review that seems to indicate they had absolutely no background knowledge of the book or author they are reviewing.

It amazed me how many people gave Medium Raw less than stellar reviews because it somehow wasn’t what they were expecting. Medium Raw is exactly what I expected – 110% Anthony Bourdain, but you are also now knowingly reading a review by an avid Bourdainite. If you’ve ever listened to the man for five minutes, you would know exactly what he writes about, and the synopsis is fair warning enough if you are not familiar with his extensive body of television and written work. The man behind the writing and in front of the camera swears like a sailor, is occasionally crude, and is absolutely hysterical.

The collection of essays in Medium Raw runs the gamut from rant to informal interview and his admiration for the chefs he respects is very evident. He will be the first to point out how lucky he is to be living the life he now lives, and also to admit that he wouldn’t be able to make the cut in the great kitchens of American today. His arguments against particular eaters (vegetarians) and other chefs are well reasoned, and definitely well seasoned. While I agree with him most readily on just about every position he takes, I can only hope that those who disagree don’t write off his opinions without taking a moment to thoroughly understand them.

While he may be crass and admittedly, a bit harsh on certain others in the food world, he is a talented writer and his prose reads like he speaks – I even heard his voice in my head while reading and realized that I might as well listen to the audiobook for the last few essays, which he reads himself. I highly recommend both book and audiobook, and I hope that if you do decide to read his work, you’ll take it all with a pinch of salt.

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $15.99 • 9780061718953 • 281 pages • first published in June 2010, this edition published May 2011 by Ecco Press • average Goodreads rating 3.73 out of 5 • read in August 2017

Parts Unknown Website

Medium Raw on Goodreads

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Graphic Novel, Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction

Something New by Lucy Knisley

As my first wedding anniversary quickly approaches in the middle of this month, I figured it time I share this review! Lucy Knisley has been a favorite author of mine for the past two years and I love how she chronicles what is going on in her life. And lucky for me, this book came out right when I was in the thick of wedding planning and was a major source of stress relief. I’ve recommended it to so many brides and their friends (to give to the bride when she is stressed) in the past year since it’s release in May 2016.

Synopsis

In 2010, Lucy and her long-term boyfriend John broke up. Three long, lonely years later, John returned to New York, walked into Lucy’s apartment and proposed. This is not that story. It is the story of what came after: The Wedding.

DIY maven Lucy Knisley was fascinated by American wedding culture… but also sort of horrified by it. So she set out to plan and execute the adorable DIY wedding to end all adorable DIY weddings. And she succeeded. This graphic novel, Something New, is the story of how Lucy built a barn, invented a whole new kind of photo booth, and managed to turn an outdoor wedding on a rainy day into a joyous (though muddy) triumph.

Review

Lucy Knisley is my spirit animal. I will read anything and everything that she publishes. And when in the midst of the hellish ordeal that most people refer to as wedding planning, Something New was the most welcome breath of fresh air. I was that weird kind of bride that, instead of firing her mom, said “Here Mom, take it – you plan it and I’ll do whatever you want.” And for Lucy’s somewhat similar mentality, I was extremely thankful to find someone I could relate to in that stressful time.

A week before my wedding, my grandfather passed away and it was Lucy’s writings, both Something New and Displacement (review to come soon!) that helped me realize that he would want me to be happy and to celebrate instead of being sad. It was Lucy’s words that reminded me that a wedding is a special occasion, not just because you’re getting married, but because it is an amazing change to spend time with the people you truly care about and who care the most about you.

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $19.99 • 9781626722491 • 304 pages • published May 2016 by First Second • average Goodreads rating 3.92 out of 5 • read in April 2016

Lucy Knisley’s Website

Something New on Goodreads

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-Something New

Graphic Novel, Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction

Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green

FUTURE RELEASE DATE: October 3, 2017 (released in the UK in 2013)

It is an interesting story how I stumbled upon Lighter Than My Shadow. About a month and a half ago I was in New York City for BookExpo, and as a member of the ABA (the American Booksellers Association) I had been granted special access to a room full of galleys/ARCs (advanced reader copies) of books. In my attempt to be very judicious with my selections (I had to carry everything back from Manhattan to Brooklyn), I was avoiding particularly weighty books, such as Lighter Than My Shadow. But there was just something about it, something that drew me and told me that I had to pick up Katie’s book and read it. 

Synopsis

Like most kids, Katie was a picky eater. She’s sit at the table in silent protest, hide uneaten toast in her bedroom, and listen to parental threats she’d have to eat it for breakfast.

But in any life a set of circumstances can collide, and normal behavior can soon shade into something sinister, something deadly.

Lighter Than My Shadow is a hand-drawn story of struggle and recovery, a trip into the black heart of a taboo illness, an exposure of those who are so weak they prey on the weak, and an inspiration to anybody who believes in the human power to endure towards happiness.

Review

I was extremely lucky when I was nineteen years old to have a grandfather who helped me figure out that my relationship with food and exercise (too little of the former, too much of the latter) was unhealthy. At a time that could reasonably be called the worst point of my life – I had taken a leave of absence from college, my dog and stepfather were both dying from cancer, and I couldn’t figure out how to have a positive attitude – I turned to controlling my food and exercise regime to help me cope.

I’m also extremely lucky that I picked up Lighter Than My Shadow and was able to personally thank Katie for writing it when I was in New York. It has taken me a month and a half to finish her exceptional work of art and writing because every single page hits so close to home. Every single emotion is captured perfectly. The quote from Joss Whedon (yep, creator of Buffy, director of The Avengers, Joss Whedon) sums it up pretty succinctly – “It’s universal yet specific and those together make such strong medicine. Wow.”

It also goes to show how little we are willing to talk about eating disorders when I can share my experience with strangers on the internet, but when one of my own friends starts to show the warning signs, I attempt to help her in every way I can, save the most important – I’m too scared to tell her that I’ve been in the exact same position that she is in. I struggle to tell her that I too was not eating and overexercising. It wasn’t until after I started reading Lighter Than My Shadow, it wasn’t until she’d been struggling for almost 2 full years that I could finally bring myself to share that truth with her – that she wasn’t the only one in our friend group to have experienced the despair that accompanies such a loss of control.

Because while a great number of people use their eating disorder as a way to feel in control in a uncontrollable world, exercising that control over yourself also makes you feel out of control, even if you’re not willing to admit it to yourself. Katie perfectly captures that feeling through her illustrations and text. If you, or someone you love and care about, is struggling and you’re not sure what you can do to help yourself or them, take a look at Lighter Than My Shadow.

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $19.99 • 9781941302415 • 516 pages • published October 2017 by Lion Forge • average Goodreads rating 4.45 out of 5 • read in July 2017

Lighter Than My Shadow Website

Lighter Than My Shadow on Goodreads

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Lighter Than My Shadow

Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction, Photography/Art, Travel

My Holiday in North Korea by Wendy E. Simmons

In January 2016, I went with my boss to an ABA (American Booksellers Association) event called “Winter Institute.” It is the biggest gathering of independent booksellers and my boss reminded me that in addition to learning lots about the book world and being starstruck by all the authors present, I should bring a book back for each of my coworkers. My coworker Su is the most difficult person to pick out books for, so this is the one I brought back for her. She thought I was nuts, until she started to read it. And then she couldn’t shut up about it! On her recommendation, my book decided to read it last September.

10 - September 2016 - My Holiday in North Korea

Synopsis

Most people want out of North Korea. Wendy Simmons wanted in.

In My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth, Wendy shares a glimpse of North Korea as it’s never been seen before. Even though it’s the scariest place on earth, somehow Wendy forgot to check her sense of humor at the border.

But Wendy’s initial amusement and bewilderment soon turned to frustration and growing paranoia. Before long, she learned the essential conundrum of tourism in North Korea: travel is truly a love affair. But, just like love, it’s a two-way street. And North Korea deprives you of all this. They want you to fall in love with the singular vision of the country they’re willing to show you and nothing more.

Review

If you’ve ever wondered what life is really like in North Korea, this is not the book for you. If you’ve ever wondered why North Korea wants you to think life is really like there, then this is the book for you. Wendy Simmons is one of a very limited number of Americans granted access to a tour of the country, a fully planned, fully monitored, full devoid of any genuine moments, tour of the “empire.”

We’ve all heard stories about how the people are brainwashed into thinking that their country really is the greatest on Earth and far better than any other in the world, but few have witnessed the truth firsthand as Wendy has, the truth being, that they really do seem to believe it.

This review is so brief because words really cannot describe the incredulity I experienced while reading – simply to say that you should go read it. Read it now. Read it immediately.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Edition: Paperback • $19.95 • 9780795347047 • 312 pages • published May 2016 by Rosettabooks • average Goodreads rating 3.7 out of 5 • read in September 2016

Wendy E. Simmons’ Website

My Holiday in North Korea on Goodreads

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My Holiday in North Korea
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Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction, Photography/Art

It’s What I Do by Lynsey Addario

Every year between Christmas and New Year’s, my now husband and I travel to Greenville, South Carolina to stay with his aunt, uncle and cousins for the holiday season. Given that my husband, Ben, and I met while working in a library, it is well known to his family that I love books and his aunt keeps me apprised of all the bookstore goings on in Greenville. This past year, they moved to a condo with in walking distance to my new favorite bookstore, M. Judson Booksellers. I walked there every day of our visit. On the first day, I noticed a beautiful, heavy hardcover sitting on their future page-to-screen display. As someone who gets a discount at my own indie bookstore, I spent the week debating whether or not I had to have It’s What I Do, or if I could wait until I got home. Turns out, I couldn’t wait.

Synopsis

(Get ready, it’s a long one!)

Lynsey Addario was just finding her way as a young photographer when September 11 changed the world. One of the few photojournalists with experience in Afghanistan, she gets the call to return and cover the American invasion. She makes a decision she would often find herself making – not to stay home, not to lead a quiet or predictable life, but to set out across the world, face the chaos of crisis, and make a name for herself.

Addario finds a way to travel with purpose. She photographs the Afghan people before and after the Taliban reign, the civilian casualties and misunderstood insurgents of the Iraq War, as well as the burned villages and countless dead in Darfur. She exposes a culture of violence against women in the Congo and tells the riveting story of her headline-making kidnapping by pro-Qaddafi forces in the Libyan civil war.

Addario takes bravery for granted but she is not fearless. She uses her fear and it creates empathy, that is essential to her work. We see this clearly on display as she interviews rape victims in the Congo, or photographs a fallen soldier with whom she had been embedded in Iraq, or documents the tragic lives of starving Somali children. Lynsey takes us there and we begin to understand how getting to the hard truth trumps fear.

As a woman photojournalist determined to be taken as seriously as her male peers, Addario fights her way into a boys’ club of a profession. Rather than choose between her personal life and career, Addario learns to strike a necessary balance. In the man who will become her husband, she finds at last a real love to complement her work, not take away from it, and as a new mother, she gains an all the more intensely personal understanding of the fragility of life.

Review

Whoa. Literally, just whoa. For someone who has lived a fairly sheltered life in Pennsylvania for my entire existence, it blows my mind how people can just pick up at a moment’s notice and not just go on an adventure, but go to a war-ravaged country that is most certainly on the state department’s travel advisory list. But time and time again, that’s what Lynsey does.

When I picked up It’s What I Do, I was on a biography/autobiography kick, having just finished Notorious RBG, and I was looking for some inspiration as I tried/am still trying to figure out what it is I want out of my life. And while I certainly want adventure, I don’t think I’m quite cut out for Lynsey’s level of adventure, but let me step back a bit.

In 2014, my sister moved to Washington D.C. right after her college graduation. When Ben and I went to visit her, we planned a little mini trip, which included a visit to an old favorite, the Library of Congress, and a new spot, the Newseum. While I never considered journalism as a career, I’ve followed Christiane Amanpour since she first was referenced on Gilmore Girls, I am a perpetual student of political science, and I am an obsessive news junkie. So needless to say, the decision to go to the Newseum was a no-brainer. While there, I learned about the numerous and life-threatening risks journalists take to bring the information they have gathered back to us. And when they travel to dangerous places, they are traveling as members of the press, but more importantly, not as soldiers or military personnel, but as civilians.

Lynsey Addario rarely hesitated when making the decision to go overseas to follow a breaking story/event. All I can say is that her story is simply amazing and I have been recommending It’s What I Do left, right and center at the bookstore. I’ve found every excuse and opportunity to display it, to share it, to talk about it – I even forced my mom into a copy and she doesn’t read anything but Baldacci and spy thrillers (though I sold it to her as a real-life spy thriller).  If you are in a reading slump, or just need some motivation to get up in the morning, It’s What I Do is the book for you.

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $18.00 • 9780143128410 • 368 pages • originally published February 2015, this edition published November 2016 by Penguin Press • average Goodreads rating 4.31 out of 5 • read in January 2017

Lynsey Addario’s Website

It’s What I Do on Goodreads

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It's What I Do