Posts Tagged: Nonfiction November

Wildlife of the Concho Valley
by Terry Maxwell

December 16, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 2

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Wildlife of the Concho Valley by Terry C. Maxwell | January 2013 | Texas A&M University Press | Hardcover $30

The Concho Valley, named from the abundant mussel shells found in its principal river by seventeenth-century Spanish explorers, occupies a transitional position between the Chihuahuan Desert to the west and the Balcones Canyonlands to the east. As veteran field biologist and educator Terry C. Maxwell notes, the region has experienced wide-ranging changes in the makeup of its vertebrate populations, especially in the decades since farming and ranching began here in earnest, in the mid- to late 1800s.

This is a rather niche subject and I would otherwise not review such an interest-specific book here, but I started reading this one for Nonfiction November and I just want credit for that, dangit.

Full disclosure: I am acquainted with the author of this book. To be specific, he was one of my professors in college (one of the better ones for sure)… and my mother taught at that same school when I was growing up, so actually we’ve been acquainted since I was a little kid. This book wasn’t a freebie, though — we bought it, proudly and enthusiastically, and it was well worth the money.

Dr. Maxwell’s classes were certainly interesting. He was a good lecturer and an even better field trip guide, and his depth of knowledge combined with his talent for teaching shines through in this book. What’s more, several of the chalkboards in the biology department were decorated with his detailed, lifelike drawings of native animals — and, again, his talent for this particular art is evident in this book as well.

I hesitate to recommend Wildlife of the Concho Valley to just anyone… it is, after all, focused on a very local and subject-specific topic. But I do think that if you have any interest at all in the animal life of Central/West Texas, you’ll find it engaging, informative, and generally a pleasure to read.


Publication information: Maxwell, Terry Wildlife of the Concho Valley. College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press, 2013. Print.
Source: Owned.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

Read My Own Damn Books Challenge Image

This book also counts for my #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge.

Nonfiction November Week 5

November 28, 2016 Books 18


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….

New to My TBR

It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!


When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi and The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing by Damion Searls, recommended by Toady @ B.B. Toady

Butter: A Rich History by Elaine Khosrova and The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code by Sam Kean, recommended by Amanda @ A Bookshelf Monstrosity

Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik, recommended by Ellie @ Curiosity Killed the Bookworm


The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue by Piu Marie Eatwell, recommended by Amanda @ Gun in Act One

The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bites by Libby H. O’Connell, recommended by JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss, recommended by Brandy @ Reading Beyond


Congo: The Epic History of a People by David Van Reybrouck and Everfair by Nisi Shawl, recommended by Jenny @ Reading the End

The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes by Bryan Burrough and The After Party by Anton DiSclafani, recommended by Sarah @ Sarah’s Book Shelves

The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines, recommended by Stacey @ Unruly Reader

I also added a few more to my Goodreads to-read list, but I am TERRIBLE about noting who recommended what, so… if you know that you are the one who nudged me towards a certain book, please feel free to nudge me to add your name as the recommending party as well!

I was so proud of myself just a few months ago when I got my TBR list down to 1,040… and now it’s back up over 1,070 already! I BLAME YOU ALL.

The Wives of Henry VIII
by Antonia Fraser

November 27, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 0


★ ★ ★ ★

The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser | October 1992 | Knopf | Paperback $20

The six wives of Henry VIII – Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anna of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Catherine Parr – have become defined in a popular sense not so much by their lives as by the way these lives ended. But, as Antonia Fraser conclusively proves, they were rich and feisty characters.

They may have been victims of Henry’s obsession with a male heir, but they were not willing victims. On the contrary, they displayed considerable strength and intelligence at a time when their sex supposedly possessed little of either. Inevitably there was great rivalry between them, and there was jealousy too – the desperate jealousy of Queens who found themselves abandoned, but also the sexual jealousy of the King who discovered himself betrayed.

I picked up a cheap used copy of this book on an admittedly mead-fueled whim at the Ren Fest a couple of weeks ago — but I’m so glad that I did. I vaguely recognized the author’s name, but didn’t remember until I got home and was looking for some space on my bookshelves for this paperback that she’d written one of my all-time favorite biographies, Marie Antoinette: The Journey.

The Wives of Henry VIII exhaustively and more-or-less narratively covers the topic of — you guessed it — the six consorts of the early Renaissance reign of King Henry VIII of England: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anna of Cleves, Katherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. Only 2 of these actually outlived their royal husband.

I liked that Fraser attempted to logically interpret the historical evidence and tell everyone’s stories fairly, perhaps with more compassion than a misanthrope/cynic like myself could muster. The lives of these women have been reduced to mere rhyme in the present day (“Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived”), but as usual with dramatic figures of the distant past, the nuances of their personalities and complications of their rises/falls from power are rather more complicated.

Henry, too, is afforded a fairly compassionate view of his actions — at least, up until the point when even the most ready-to-forgive modern reader has to admit that he started acting like kind of a spoiled, narcissistic jackass.

It was especially striking to me how very little control women (well, anyone who wasn’t King Henry, but women especially) had over their own lives at this period. Something as simple as a long-forgotten “engagement” arranged by her father could be used as an excuse to annul a marriage if a lady’s husband grew tired of her. Sad, too, was the thought of a father desperately trying for sons while ignoring his completely capable — and legitimate, whatever his claims to the contrary — daughters. And to have all of this drama wrapped up in the culture wars of Protestants vs. Catholics… it makes the head spin, really.

Have you read this book? How about any of the many other books on the subject of the Tudor wives and daughters? I’m always open to recommendations!


Publication information: Fraser, Antonia. The wives of Henry VIII. New York: Knopf, 1992. Print.
Source: Used bookshop.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

Nonfiction November Week 4

November 21, 2016 Books 14


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….

Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I’ve decided to take advantage of all y’all’s coolness and do TWO of these options.

First, the first option because I have an overblown sense of my own expertise:

Be the Expert

One topic I feel fairly well-versed in is medical science and its impact on society + society’s impact on it.

While medicine and scientific research are interesting topics in and of themselves, it would be irresponsible to ignore their impact on real people, or to ignore the impact of real people on medicine and scientific research. There are actually a lot of books that explore this out there, but for brevity’s sake I’ve limited myself to 3 titles here:

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder

In medical school, Paul Farmer found his life’s calling: to cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. Kidder’s magnificent account takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia as Farmer changes minds and practices through his dedication to the philosophy that “the only real nation is humanity.” At the heart of this book is the example of a life based on hope and on an understanding of the truth of the Haitian proverb “Beyond mountains there are mountains”–as you solve one problem, another problem presents itself, and so you go on and try to solve that one too.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Henrietta Lacks, as HeLa, is known to present-day scientists for her cells from cervical cancer. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her death. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave.

The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution by Jonathan Eig

We know it simply as “the pill,” yet its genesis was anything but simple. Jonathan Eig’s masterful narrative revolves around four principal characters: the fiery feminist Margaret Sanger, who was a champion of birth control in her campaign for the rights of women but neglected her own children in pursuit of free love; the beautiful Katharine McCormick, who owed her fortune to her wealthy husband, the son of the founder of International Harvester and a schizophrenic; the visionary scientist Gregory Pincus, who was dismissed by Harvard in the 1930s as a result of his experimentation with in vitro fertilization but who, after he was approached by Sanger and McCormick, grew obsessed with the idea of inventing a drug that could stop ovulation; and the telegenic John Rock, a Catholic doctor from Boston who battled his own church to become an enormously effective advocate in the effort to win public approval for the drug that would be marketed by Searle as Enovid.

Have you read any of these — and if so, did you like them? And if you’ve been reading about the same subject, would you add any other books in particular to this list?

Ask the Expert

Now: YOUR TURN. I’m looking for historical foodie books. These can be contemporary cookbooks that feature historical (or even generally literary-ish) recipes, historical cookbooks, or some lesser-known microhistory book about some food-related subject. (For example, I just learned about the upcoming Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Lohman.) Any ideas?

Community Cookbooks of West Texas

November 19, 2016 Book Reviews, Books, Home Sweet Home, In the Kitchen 6

Y’all, I wasn’t going to do this post because who cares about 30-50 year-old small-town West Texas fundraiser cookbooks? Well, I do, apparently, and I kind of feel like my dear readers and fellow Nonfiction November-ers and Foodies Read buddies might enjoy some of the real jewels to be found within.

Brace yourselves.


First up: What’s Cookin’? in Big Spring, Texas by the local chapter of the American Business Women’s Association and the Bev-Ron Publishing Company of Kansas, 1970.

This is the slimmest volume and arguably the most WTF, although I suppose it does also include some good solid advice:


You have your typical Jell-O based “salad” sorts of things, of course:


And your Tang-based beverages:


But I think my absolute favorite “recipe” has to be this super classy casserole:


Wow, Mrs. Newton, way to make an effort!

Next up, my favorite (er, only) collection of classic church lady recipes…


In case you’re too distracted by the giant cherub preparing to go all Jericho on that church for crimes against God’s cuisine, the title is Methodist Morsels by the Cookbook Committee of the First United Methodist Church of Lamesa, Texas and Cookbook Publishers, Inc. in Kansas, 1983.

You’d think 1983 would be late enough in the 20th century for us to be beyond things like this “Fancy Chicken Log”, but you’d be wrong:


If a cream cheese / steak sauce / curry powder flavored log of chicken doesn’t float your boat, why not try this delicious mayonnaise / canned cream of chicken soup / curry powder flavored chicken casserole instead? It’s apparently a “delight”:


OK, this particular cookbook does include a pretty cute section of easy and cheesy (both literally and figuratively) recipes for the kiddos:


Aww! Super cute, huh? But then you turn the page and find this:


I’m sorry but in what world is it cute to title a recipe “Preserved Children”???

ANYWAY, back to the real (hahaha) recipes! How about these 3 Doritos-based casseroles?


… I’m actually tempted to try one of those.

One cool thing I found is this recipe from my own great-grandmother:


I mean, it’s super neat seeing a recipe from an ancestor, but am I going to make that for dinner? Uh, no.

The last cookbook was published slightly more recently:


That’s Favorite Recipes from the Kitchens of the GFWC-TFWC Big Spring Junior Woman’s Club and Their Friends by… well, you know, and their publisher Circulation Service of Kansas, 1987.

Now, I was born in ’87 so I can’t make TOO much fun of how old this book is, but honestly the “favorite” recipes of the ladies of small town West Texas don’t seem to have improved much from their midcentury forerunners.

Case in point:


Dammit Teri, who told you it was a good idea to microwave shrimp? Stop it.

However, this little cookbook does include some rather charming illustrations and helpful stuff in the index, so all hope is not lost:


So, yeah. I know y’all are envious of my awesome cookbook collection right now.

Also, I’m totally adding these to Goodreads because I need them to count towards my 2016 reading goal.

Tell me — do you have any vintage community cookbooks or silly old recipes hanging around? Have you tried any of the recipes? Have you tried any of THESE recipes? Should I? No, wait, don’t answer that.

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!

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???

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.