Posts Categorized: Books

Nonfiction November Week 3

November 17, 2016 Books 8


The point of Nonfiction November is to read, discuss, and otherwise celebrate all the awesome nonfic lit out there. The hosts have decided on weekly blog post topics, and this week’s topic is….

Book Pairing

This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

This is actually pretty tough because there are SO MANY amazing possibilities, right? So I gave it a lot of thought and somehow managed to narrow it down to 3 pairings:

gregory_otherboleyngirl fraser_wivesofhviii

Fiction: The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory + Nonfiction: The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser

The Other Boleyn Girl was one of the first “grown up” historical fiction novels I read, so it holds a special place in my heart despite its blatant historical inaccuracy. Enjoy the well-paced plot and sympathetic characters and steamy romance, then read the REAL story in Fraser’s book. (Full disclosure: I am currently reading The Wives of Henry VIII and haven’t finished it yet, but I’m loving it so far and feel justified in including it here.)

kelly_evofcalpurniatate Swaby_Headstrong

Fiction: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly + Nonfiction: Headstrong by Rachel Swaby

Lady scientists unite! Kelly’s novel is written for younger readers, but it’s SO GOOD that I won’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone regardless of age. It’s kind of a coming-of-age in the era of Darwinism and 1st wave feminism — and it’s set in Texas, so you know I’m kind of a sucker for that. Get the real scoop on women in science history in Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science — And the World.

Mitchell_GWTW Abbott_LTSS

Fiction: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell + Nonfiction: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott

Mitchell’s classic novel is one of the world’s most popular & problematic books. It’s well worth the read, but it also shouldn’t be consumed in a cultural/historical vacuum. There are A LOT of awesome books and other media that can be paired with it, but to carry on the theme of interesting women that this post seems to have, I’m going to say that Abbot’s profiles of real bad-ass/crazy/heroic/questionable Civil War ladies is a great companion for this book.

Do you have any other suggested pairings for these books? I’m definitely interested in making my TBR list even more intimidatingly ridiculous!

Read along with me!

November 11, 2016 Books 15

Howdy there, friends.

Wheel of Time Re-Read-Along

The other day I got a bee in my bonnet about re-reading a favorite series of mine, The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan (+ Brandon Sanderson, sort of). Waaaaay back when I first started blogging more about books, I wrote a little bit about the last book in the series, A Memory of Light. And I’ve re-read the first few books at least once since then, though I always get distracted by some new shiny before finishing all 15 books (counting the prequel). But what I REALLY want to do is a full-on re-read, à la Leigh Butler’s Reread & Reread Redux at … though maybe not quite that detailed, because hahaha no.

Wizard of Oz Read-Along

Then I had ANOTHER bee in my bonnet (a veritable beehive in there, as it turns out) about reading a nice long series that I’d never read before. (I’m a sucker for ridiculously long books/series, OK?!) But it couldn’t be another epic fantasy, because — again — hahaha NO. Well, my mother just happened to get a nice hardcover compilation of several Oz stories for me last Christmas, and I’d only ever read the 1st one in the series, and they’re kids’ books so they can’t be that intimidating, right? So… yeah. That’s how this second read-along happened!

Join me?

I’m starting these (re-)read-alongs in January and doing 1 book a month. That means that these projects will last a little over a year each. I know that sounds like a long time, but I also want these books to be FUN for you, not an obligation that you regret signing up for or that you feel guilty about not doing because it turns out you just don’t have the time. One a month seems like a nice relaxed pace to me.


Oliver is joining! You should join, too. You don’t want to hurt his feelings, do you?


WoT schedule:

  • Jan 2017 – Book 1
  • Feb 2017 – Book 2
  • Mar 2017 – Book 3
  • Apr 2017 – Book 4
  • May 2017 – Book 5
  • Jun 2017 – Book 6
  • Jul 2017 – Book 7
  • Aug 2017 – Book 8
  • Sep 2017 – Book 9
  • Oct 2017 – Book 10
  • Nov 2017 – Book 11
  • Dec 2017 – Prequel
  • Jan 2018 – Book 12
  • Feb 2018 – Book 13
  • Mar 2018 – Book 14

The prequel isn’t just randomly inserted at December 2017; the 11th book was the last one written by the original author, Robert Jordan, and the last few books were done by Brandon Sanderson. So that seemed like a logical place to read it!

Oz schedule:

  • Jan 2017 – Book 1
  • Feb 2017 – Book 2
  • Mar 2017 – Book 3
  • Apr 2017 – Book 4
  • May 2017 – Book 5
  • Jun 2017 – Book 6
  • Jul 2017 – Book 7
  • Aug 2017 – Book 8
  • Sep 2017 – Book 9
  • Oct 2017 – Book 10
  • Nov 2017 – Book 11
  • Dec 2017 – Book 11
  • Jan 2018 – Book 13
  • Feb 2018 – Book 14

Yeah, I know there are actually more books in the series, but L. Frank Baum only (haha, “only”) wrote the first 14 of them.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Sooo… whadya think? Anyone out there interested in joining me for either/both of these little reading projects? Remember, you have until January to decide! I’ll post more info about these projects as we get closer to the start date.

Nonfiction November Week 2

November 10, 2016 Books 7

Has it been 2 weeks already?!


The point of Nonfiction November is to read, discuss, and otherwise celebrate all the awesome nonfic lit out there. The hosts have decided on weekly blog post topics, and this week’s topic is….

Choosing Nonfiction

Despite my massive (and still growing) to-read list, I just as often pick up books — particularly nonfiction — on a whim.

What are you looking for when you pick up a nonfiction book?

Hm… well, lots of things I guess! I’m interested in certain subjects of course (see below), but just as importantly I am a BIG fan of accuracy/thoroughness and well-done research. A nonfiction book that doesn’t include a bibliography (or, in the case of things like cookbooks, some kind of statement about how the recipes were tested) is suspect. The most obvious exception is memoirs.

Other big bonuses for me are illustrations/graphs and a helpful index/appendix or two, as appropriate for the subject. I know that one can always just Google a topic for images, definitions, further reading, etc., but it’s so much nicer to be able to just flip a few pages and get that info right in the book!

Do you have a particular topic you’re attracted to? Do you have a particular writing style that works best?

Uh, YES. (See my post re: genres + subjects and associated fancy pie charts that I posted yesterday.) I’ve read a lot in the way of biographies & memoirs in the past — actually I was surprised at how much of my NF diet is comprised of that. I think quite a few of the books I have listed as “memoirs” are actually kind of about specific adventures/quests/projects, sometimes called “stunt” books.

But I’d also say that my favorites are either foodie books — whether cookbooks or books about food in some way — and science nonfiction. I’m also interested in various periods of history, but I often end up reading biographies of specific people from said historical periods instead of more general overviews.

When you look at a nonfiction book, does the title or cover influence you?

Oh, yes. Of course I know that it shouldn’t, but… it totally does. But it’s easier to describe what turns me off than what I actually like to see. Celebrity faces, bad photochop jobs, and trying-too-hard-to-be-a-novel types of covers make me question the content inside.

However, I’m a total sucker for interesting/pretty typography, subject-appropriate artsyness, and the generally weird, e.g.:

Krist_EmpireofSin Eig_BirthofthePill Lawson_LetsPretend

(Yes, that is a mouse dressed as Hamlet waving around a mouse skull. And it’s a great book.)

So, how about y’all — any other foodie or science nonfic fans out there? And I can’t be the only one who gets overly delighted by really nice appendices, right???

Reevaluating My Reading: Genreflection

November 9, 2016 Books 4

Earlier this year, I took a look at my reading stats for the past 5 years to get an idea of (1) where the authors I’ve read come from and (2) the gender of those authors.

I also started writing this post back then but it languished in my drafts for months for no good reason… so here we are now. Keep in mind that these “Reevaluating My Reading” posts cover books I read from 2011-2015.

Here’s my intro from those posts:

I’ve been seeing more and more buzz about diversity in the book world lately, and I got curious:

How diverse are my reading habits?

There are lots of ways to measure this. Author or character gender, LGBT orientation, ethnicity or culture, disability or mental illness, and on and on and on. Today, though, I just want to focus on… genre.

Today I wanted to focus a little more on the content of the books themselves rather than the people that wrote them.

My reading habits have changed a bit over the past 5 years. I’ve gone from an MLIS student to a teen librarian at a public library to a tech librarian at an academic library. In 2014, I joined the Classics Club, and I signed up for the Foodies Read and TBR Pile Challenge projects in 2015. I started sewing in 2012, got interested in genealogy in 2013, and we bought a house just last year. All of these things have influenced my book diet.

– – –

Skip this section about methodology if you just want to see some pretty pie charts….

First, I separated the titles into fiction and nonfiction. Obviously!

Second, I tried to guess what I thought would be the most common and least common genres, and I combined “like” genres where appropriate. For example, I read very little in the way of straight-up romance or erotica. But for a while I was reading a lot of YA contemporary fic with strong romantic themes/plots, so I decided to lump anything focusing on relationships into one category.

Which brings up a particular point — I did not separate books based on either intended audience or format. Adult books are mixed in with YA and kids’ books, and audiobooks and graphic novels are mixed in with regular print.

A lot of books, fiction and nonfiction alike, can land in more than one genre or can be hard to define. In these cases, I just went with my gut. If I was shelving this book in my home library (which is arranged by genre/topic), where would it go?

– – –

Here’s what my genre breakdown looks like for fiction:


Um, it’s pretty obvious that I have kind of a thing for speculative fiction, huh? Particularly high fantasy. High fantasy is set in another world as opposed to including fantasty elements in our own, which is why I included portal fantasy in this group. But it makes a big difference that a lot of high fantasy is done in series — like the 15-book Wheel of Time series that I read 2011-2013.

And of course the second most common genre is “low” fantasy — paranormal, magical steampunk (as opposed to sci-fi style steampunk), contemporary fairy tales, etc. A lot of this group is due to my high-YA diet during my tenure as a teen librarian. I still read some YA, just not as much these days.

And here’s nonfiction:


I think my nonfiction genres are a tiny bit more balanced. Biography/memoirs take the cake, but a lot of those are actually subject-specific or themed in some way. I rarely sit down with a big ol’ tell-all bio, but the story of an expat’s years in France or a journal from whatever time period I’m currently interested in will always grab my attention.

I’m a bit ashamed to see that I only read 2 books of poetry in all of 5 years, when I’ve been meaning to read more poetry from quite some time now… clearly I need a more defined goal or challenge if that’s going to happen!

– – –

So, talk to me — do you keep track of which fiction genres / nonfiction subjects you’re reading about? Do you have a good idea of what genre(s) you consume most? And are pie charts the bee’s knees or what?

Nonfiction November Week 1

November 3, 2016 Books 16

Well, I wasn’t really planning on joining up with another reading event/challenge thing this year, but here we are!


The point of Nonfiction November is to read, discuss, and otherwise celebrate all the awesome nonfic lit out there. The hosts have decided on weekly blog post topics, and this week’s topic is….

Your Year in Nonfiction

Well, the year isn’t quite over yet, but here we go:

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

Wow, super hard question right out of the box! I’ve been lucky enough to have read some FANTASTIC nonfiction this year. If I had to pick just one favorite, though, I think I’d pick The Food Lab by J. Keni López-Alt — it’s basically my idea of a “perfect” cookbook.

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?

I’ve been meaning to read more in the way of science nonfic, particularly medical science simply due to the nature of my IRL job. But I also signed up for the Foodies Read challenge again this year, and I haven’t read nearly as many “foodie” books as I meant to. Oops.

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

Well, partly I just needed a little push to get me to tackle another one or 2 nonfiction titles on my shelves — I’m also doing the #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge thing, and yet I still have quite a few books languishing unread downstairs in our little dining-room-turned-library. I’m also interested in interacting with other bloggers who read NF on the regular, too, because the majority of the book bloggers I follow tend to focus mostly on fiction.

This should be fun! Are you doing the challenge too? Holler at me.

Movie vs. Book: The Little Prince

October 30, 2016 Books, Just for Fun, Movies, Movies v Books 8


It’s been nearly a year since I read The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince), and it feels like I’ve been waiting for AGES to have a chance to watch the new animated film based on this book. It came out in France first, then took about a little over a year to be available in the US. It’s on Netflix though, so I didn’t even have to leave the house to see it (hashtag introvert heaven).

The book itself is pretty slim and exceedingly allegorical and a bit abstract. This film expands on that. The primary storyline (done in computer animation) is about a young girl who is struggling with the world’s expectations and her eccentric old neighbor who has a broken-down plane to repair and an important story to share. The book’s original story is interwoven through their experiences/adventures in the form of truly lovely stop-motion animation accomplished mainly with impressively detailed paper figures.

I am SO GLAD that I got the chance to watch this. It’s always a huge undertaking to try to turn a beloved classic into a good movie, and it’s got to be especially difficult with a book like Le Petit Prince. I think this movie accomplishes the task perfectly. Got Netflix? Get your eyeballs on this one right now!


Backlist Love | Beauty School Dropout

October 15, 2016 Backlist Love, Books 4

Backlist Love is an informal series on “older” books that I hope you’ll find interesting. These aren’t so much reviews as quickie recommendations, so check out Goodreads or your favorite book review sources if you want more info.


The Classic Ten: The True Story of the Little Black Dress and Nine Other Fashion Favorites by Nancy MacDonell Smith (Penguin, 2003)

Color Stories: Behind the Scenes of America’s Billion-Dollar Beauty Industry by Mary Lisa Gavenas (Simon & Schuster, 2002)

The Classic Ten

Explore the origins, meaning, and remarkable staying power of the ten staples of feminine fashion, including the little black dress, blue jeans, high heels, and more. Tracing the evolution of each item from inception to icon status, she reveals the history and social significance of each, from the black dress’s associations with danger and death to the status implications of the classic white shirt. Incorporating sources from history, literature, magazines, and cinema, as well as her own witty anecdotes, Smith has created an engaging, informative guide to modern style.

Color Stories

For everyone who’s ever slicked on lipstick, flirted with eye shadow, or browsed the bewildering array in any store’s beauty de-partment, “Color Stories” offers an insider’s view of all the brainstorming, bickering, and bitchery that go into those little sticks of color and pans of powder. Former beauty editor Mary Lisa Gavenas takes us behind the scenes during the nine months that culminate in the launch of a season’s all-important “color stories.” We discover how one shade becomes the “must have,” why makeup artists never use the same products as the rest of us, and exactly how easy — and impossible — it is to start a million-dollar makeup line.

Why I liked them

I realize that a lot of folks think of beauty and fashion as “vapid” interests, but these industries combined account for over 407 billion dollars of business done in the U.S. alone. I also think that some people dismiss these things because they’re seen as traditionally feminine, and that ain’t OK. So I’m really glad for books like these that discuss seriously some of the history/culture behind the beauty and fashion industries! Plus, this “behind-the-scenes” stuff is just downright fascinating.

Who I’d recommend them to

I’d say that if you’re interested in cute clothes or fun makeup at all, these books are for you. You don’t have to be an Instagram “model” or subscribe to Vogue as a prerequisite or anything — if you just swipe on a little lipstick now and then or appreciate a good comfy cashmere sweater, you can learn something super interesting from either of these books.


The Classic Ten

Color Stories


Backlist Love | Princess Charming

October 14, 2016 Backlist Love, Books 0

Backlist Love is an informal series on “older” books that I hope you’ll find interesting. These aren’t so much reviews as quickie recommendations, so check out Goodreads or your favorite book review sources if you want more info.


Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen (Dutton, 2014)

Better than Beauty: A Guide to Charm by Helen Valentine and Alice Thompson (Chronicle, 1938)


Stuck at the bottom of the social ladder at “pretty much the lowest level of people at school who aren’t paid to be here,” Maya Van Wagenen decided to begin a unique social experiment: spend the school year following a 1950s popularity guide, written by former teen model Betty Cornell. Can curlers, girdles, Vaseline, and a strand of pearls help Maya on her quest to be popular?

Better than Beauty

Better than Beauty resuscitates the long-lost art of charm with hints, tips, and tricks guaranteed to boost our charm quotient. First published in 1938, this classic compendium is overflowing with timeless advice to help guide you through a maze of social interactions with wit and finesse. Much more than an etiquette or personal grooming book, Better than Beauty tackles complicated social situations with delicacy.

Why I liked them

I picked up Better Than Beauty on a whim ages ago because I honestly thought it was a kitschy joke book just based on the cover (like those Anne Taintor magnets and things). Joke was on me, though, because it was actually a reprint of a pre-WWII guide to “charm” for women. And you know what? … it was actually exactly what I needed at that point in my life. It was one of those awkward time periods — both socially and physically — and having Betty Cornell’s vintage advice was actually one of the things that helped me figure out how to grow out of that. Along those same lines, I kind of wish I’d had Maya’s book at that age, too — but knowing teenaged me, I probably would have refused to read such an obvious “guidance counselor bait” book.

Who I’d recommend them to

Well, teen girls trying to drag themselves out of one of those awkward stages, of course. Or just anyone who’s interested in fashion and etiquette and that sort of thing — especially if you (like me) sometimes need a reminder that whatever trends you see in the fashion magazines aren’t the end-all-be-all of beauty/charm/social success.



Voyage of the Beagle
by Charles Darwin

October 9, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 6


★ ★ ★ ★

Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin | Originally published 1839 | Penguin Classics | Paperback $16

When HMS Beagle sailed out of Devonport on 27 December 1831, Charles Darwin was twenty-two and setting off on the voyage of a lifetime. His journal, here reprinted in a shortened form, shows a naturalist making patient observations concerning geology, natural history, people, places and events. Volcanoes in the Galapagos, the Gossamer spider of Patagonia and the Australasian coral reefs – all are to be found in these extraordinary writings. The insights made here were to set in motion the intellectual currents that led to the theory of evolution, and the most controversial book of the Victorian age: The Origin of Species.


I’m so, so glad that I put this title on my Classics Club list — and I’m so, so glad that I just happened to find a dusty copy languishing at a local used bookshop for only $3!

A couple of minor but relevant pieces of information: I have a BS in Biology and am the child of a scientist and am employed at a science-focused academic library. I also do not usually get on well with Victorian literature.

In this case, my enthusiasm for the subject matter (and the youthful author’s own clear enthusiasm) won out over my difficulties with the Victorian-ness of the writing.

Darwin suffered from terrible seasickness for much of the voyage, so he spent as much time travelling by land as he could possibly justify. I feel bad for the guy, but his extended explorations through various countries is what allowed him to produce this book and its controversial heir.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows with this book, of course. Young Charlie subscribed to some of the rather paternalistic/racist views of typical imperialist Englishmen of the time, and his opinions on the foreign cultures he encounters do awkwardly (for the modern reader) reflect that. Besides that, he does tend to get a little too excited about some topics that no one else besides a fellow topic-specific geek would care about. Even I couldn’t be bothered with pages of descriptions of flatworms or geological strata. You have to be OK with skimming past this kind of stuff if you want to make it through the whole book.

That said, there are some real jewels to be found. For instance, there was the time when good ol’ Charlie managed to lasso himself while some gauchos tried to teach him how to fend for himself. And how about his attempts to ride the Galápagos tortoises like an an overgrown, overenthusiastic boy?

I like to imagine that if blogs had existed in the early 1800’s, Darwin would have been typing IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE THIS IS SO COOL, YOU GUYS and taking selfies with any animal/person who’d stand still long enough.

Overall, I definitely recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in the history of biological/ecological sciences or 19th century English history. And hey — definitely check out the links below. A lot of Darwin’s journals, letters, etc. are freely available online and, again, there are some real gems floating around out there.

Have you read this book, or other books by/about Darwin? Did you find any particular part of his journey especially fascinating?


Publication information: Darwin, Charles. Voyage of the Beagle. New York: Penguin, 1989. Print.
Source: Used bookshop.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

Blood Red Snow White
by Marcus Sedgwick

October 8, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 0


★ ★ ★ ★

Blood Red Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick | October 2016 | Roaring Book Press | Hardcover $17.99

Russia wakes from a long sleep and marches to St Petersburg to claim her birthright. Her awakening will mark the end for the Romanovs, and the dawn of a new era that changed the world. Arthur Ransome, a journalist and writer, was part of it all. He left his family in England and fell in love with Russia and a Russian woman. This is his story.

First, let’s make something super clear: this is NOT any kind of fairy tale retelling, nor is it another popular YA fantasy/paranormal adventure/romance à la Cinder or Shadow and Bone. It’s actually a reprinting of a slightly fairy tale-themed historical fiction from nearly a decade ago. The redesigned cover is a little misleading, right? Well, never mind about that.

Now, let’s talk content: even though the marketing might be a little bit misleading, the actual story is totally worth reading. It’s based on the life of a real children’s book author, Arthur Ransome, with a focus on his fascination with Russian culture and his somewhat unwitting involvement in the Russian revolutions of the early 20th century. I’m in no way a Russian history “enthusiast” or whatever, but I did find this story incredibly fascinating after having learned a bit more about the country’s past in The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore, which I had the pleasure of reading earlier this year.

I actually jumped at the chance to read an ARC of the reprint because I read Midwinterblood by Sedgwick a year or two ago and ABSOLUTELY LOVED it. (But I didn’t review it here for some reason though?) Blood Red Snow White isn’t quite at the level of Midwinterblood, but it’s still pretty good and definitely worth reading if you’re into Russian culture/history, WWI-era Europe, or the classic children’s stories of Arthur Ransome.

Note: This book was provided at no cost to the reviewer by the publisher via Edelweiss.


Publication information: Sedgwick, Marcus. Blood Red Snow White. New York: Roaring Book Press, 2016. EPUB file.
Source: ARC provided by publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.