Category Archives: non-fiction

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

lost city of zI am not a huge reader of non-fiction.  For me to really get into a non-fiction title, it usually has to be about something I really care about (like Say Goodbye to Survival Mode) or read like fiction (like King of the Mild Frontier).  This fell into the latter category.  A friend had recommended this book to me when it first came out, but it kept getting pushed to the back burner.  Finally, I told myself that I needed to take a break from all the dystopias I was reading/listening to and dive into a non-fiction title.  I’m so glad I did!  The details were so vivid and David Grann wrote such a fantastic narrative that I thought to myself, several times, “This would make an awesome movie.  It’s like a real life Indiana Jones adventure!”  Imagine my shock and elation, then, when I heard [on the radio this morning] that it is going to be made into a movie… produced by Brad Pitt, no less.  So awesome! Continue reading

Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Reality Shock!

Reality_ShockI find it rather amusing that my 9-year-old son can’t handle seeing tiny hairballs on the floor from his beloved pet cat but that he was completely enthralled by the FOUR POUND tiger hairball (picture on pg. 9) that was the size of a basketball!  Looking through these books with my son, I always alternate between fascination and disgust.  And even though my own disgust sometimes outweighs my fascination, there’s something magical about bringing home a book that makes your child jump up and down with excitement and beg for just a few more pages before he has to go to bed.

Some of the most fascinating items in this issue were:

  • the skateboarding mice who can even jump through a ring of fire (pp. 14-15)
  • a woman named Barbie Thomas who, despite losing both of her arms at 2 years of age, has gone on to compete in fitness contests (pg. 97)
  • the man who took a picture of himself every single day for 12 years — a total of 4,514 photos! (pg. 152)
  • the Canadian base jumper who, after becoming paralyzed in a 2004 BASE-jumping accident, now jumps in his wheelchair (pg. 175)
  • the pumpkin artists (pp. 208-209) who are capable of turning pumpkins into sculptures of ghouls, goblins, and monsters

And some of the more disgusting items were:

  • the bedside table made from an actual, stuffed sheep (pg. 29)
  • the Sufi holy man who used a sharp stick to practically gouge out his own eye during the Urs religious festival in Ajmer, India (pg. 41)
  • the short-horned lizards that quirt blood from their eyes as a defense mechanism to scare of predators (pg. 90)
  • the “snot shots” (pg. 201) from artist Ulf Lundin’s Bless You project, in which people sneezed at a camera without covering their mouth/nose… ack!

If you’re looking for a conversation-starting/engrossing book to share with a tween, the Ripley’s books are a pretty sure bet.

Happy Reading!

Say Goodbye to Survival Mode: 9 Simple Strategies to Stress Less, Sleep More, and Restore Your Passion For Life by Crystal Paine

Say Goodbye to Survival ModeI know my blog is primarily for reviews of books written for tweens and teens… but I also know that there are adults (parents, teachers, librarians, and writers) among my readers.  Therefore, I am taking some liberties and sharing this book review on my own blog as well as my library’s Staff Picks blog.  If any of my readers could stand to benefit from knowledge of a book, I think it’s worth making an exception once in a while.  :-)

Earlier this summer, a patron came in looking for this book because one of her friends swore it was a life changer. I was in over my head with both personal and professional commitments, sleeping poorly, and desperate for anything that could help me change my “barely keeping my head above water” style of living. As soon as I placed a request for the patron, I added another for myself. The very day that I started reading this book, I read the first couple of chapters and started making lists of my priorities, goals, and routines so I could set up a concrete plan for moving forward. I am sure I probably could have worked through things on my own, but it was so much easier to have a step-by-step plan that was created by an author who had “been there, done that.” Although I would like to say my life turned completely around in the week it took me to finish this book, I have to be more honest and say that I’m simply on my way. I’m working on saying no to things that don’t help me reach my goals rather than over-committing myself; I’m working on finely tuning my morning and evening routines to get all of my “must do” stuff done (while letting go of the stuff that doesn’t truly matter); and I’m trying to live by the OHIO (Only Handle It Once) rule I once learned at a workshop about organizing — don’t put it in a pile or on a list if you can just get it done right now. So far, so good. Wish me luck!

Happy Reading!

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin

Port Chicago 50Before hearing Steve Sheinkin speak at the 2014 YSS Spring Conference in White Plains, NY, I had never heard of the Port Chicago 50.  When Sheinkin told us about the Port Chicago disaster and then went in to explain how the 50 men who had been too afraid to return to work were charged with mutiny, I was dumbfounded.  I *had* to know more about this story and how it was that the charge of mutiny actually stuck.  I don’t often find non-fiction books so compelling, but I found myself sitting in my driveway after I got home and popping in my ear buds during lunch breaks at work because I just couldn’t tear myself away from this story — especially when I got to the court trial.  It was like I was listening to an episode of Law & Order: Historical Case Files.  (If they end up starting a spin-off show with that title, y’all are my witnesses that I came up with the idea and deserve some royalties!)

I especially appreciated how Steve Sheinkin pointed out the fact that the members of the Port Chicago 50 were early, and largely unsung, heroes in the Civil Rights Movement.  Not only did their plight shine a light on the unfairness of the segregation of duties within the Armed Forces, but their treatment by civilians once they left the base was sometimes atrocious, regardless of the fact that they were putting their lives on the line to fight for their country.  One of the quotes that best summarizes how these men effected change in the people around them actually came as the answer to a question between friends.  When Joe Small (the so-called leader of the Port Chicago 50) asked his friend Alex (a formerly racist Alabaman) what had changed his mind about befriending a black man, Alex replied, “I found out something. A man is a man.”  So simple a statement, yet so profound.

Happy Reading!

 

This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl by Esther Earl with Lori and Wayne Earl

this star won't go outEsther Grace Earl was an exceptional teenager.  She was a kind, thoughtful, and generous Nerdfighter who managed to bring out the best in herself and the people around her while simultaneously battling thyroid cancer.  Esther bravely endured lengthy and painful treatments with the hope that she could live long enough to “make a difference, to help someone.”  Well, she definitely succeeded.  Not only did she inspire people while she was alive, but her legacy continues via a charity called This Star Won’t Go Out.

This book is a collection of Esther’s blog posts, letters to her family, CaringBridge entries from her family, and reflections from people who knew her, interspersed with photos.  There is an introduction by John Green, which explains how he met Esther and the role she played in inspiring him while he wrote The Fault in Our Stars.  I found it difficult to read this story because I found myself getting depressed and angry about the unfairness of it all.  How can there be healthy “bad people” in the world while innocent children and teens die from cancer?!?  As I finished the book last night, and I came to the section where Esther’s parents recalled her final words and moments, I couldn’t help but sob.  Thankfully, there was a small samples of stories Esther had written to lighten the mood at the end of the book.

Happy Reading!

I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb

I am MalalaWhen I first heard of the assassination attempt on Malala Yousafzai, I was in shock.  The fact that the Taliban treated women and girls so poorly was no surprise, but the fact that they actually tried to kill a girl who merely fought for girls to be educated was practically unbelievable.  I was so relieved to hear the reports that Malala not only survived but that her fighting spirit was still intact.  While I find it terribly depressing to know that she cannot safely return to her home, it is heartening to know that Malala has the attention of many world leaders and is being kept safe as she travels the world to continue her work — fighting for the basic right to education.  After watching Malala’s interview on The Daily Show — which left Jon Stewart absolutely speechless — I knew I had to read this book!

While I was already familiar with the general history of unrest in the Middle East, I appreciated Malala’s overview of the formation of Pakistan.  I think it went a long way toward explaining how people could have “let” the Taliban take over; how low literacy rates meant that people had to trust what they were told, and how the intolerance and hatred crept in so slowly that many people did not see what was coming.  The overview of her family’s history, specifically how her own father fought so hard for his education and the education of others, also explained how Malala grew up to be so passionate about the right to an education.  Even though she didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize, it’s great that she was nominated — her nomination has the possibility to inspire a whole generation.  I can only hope that the youth of the world are paying attention and that Malala’s virtues are contagious, because there’s no limit to what a generation of people with her drive, courage, and enthusiasm can accomplish.

Happy Reading!

Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Dare to Look!

dare to lookAs you might recall, my son and I absolutely LOVE to check out all the incredible pictures and stories in these books!  When I brought this latest edition home, he was actually disappointed that we had to sit down to eat dinner instead of going straight to the couch to check it out.  :-)

Some of our favorite wacky and creepy items in this edition were:

  • “Fake Family” [p. 26] — Alice Winstone has spent nearly $20,000 creating a nursery for 50 lifelike baby dolls that she “feeds,” bathes, and even sleeps with.
  • “Corpse Bride” [p. 48] — though the owner of the bridal shop says it is only a mannequin in the front window, many people believe that she is really the preserved corpse of the previous owner’s daughter.
  • “Speared Skull” [p.110] — a 3D scan of construction worker Eduardo Leite’s skull after a 6 foot long metal bar fell and pierced through his hard hat and his skull.  Amazingly, Eduardo lived and was not even paralyzed!
  • “Triathalon Juggler” [pp. 170-1] — Joe Salter of Pensacola, FL, completed a triathalon… while juggling the entire way!
  •   “Candy Magic” [p. 204] — an artist named Jason Mecier created a portrait of Harry Potter using only red and black licorice.
  • “Lickable Wallpaper” [p. 215] — inspired by Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, this wallpaper featured cake-flavored stickers — each of which was replaced by an attendant after someone licked it to avoid the spread of germs.
  • “Webbed Wonders” [p. 237] — workers from Clearwater’s High Rise Window Cleaners dressed in Spider-Man costumes to clean windows at the All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, FL.  Talk about a great way to raise morale!

I could go on and on… but, really, you just need to get your hands on a copy and check it out for yourself!

Happy Reading!