Nonfiction November: New To My TBR

cork w booksSo it’s the last week of Nonfiction November (sigh) and the topic for discussion this week 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!

I like this week’s topic because it gives me a chance to give a shout-out to all the bloggers who have inspired me with their nonfiction recommendations. I love adding new books to the TBR, even if it will take me a lifetime to read them all!

Here are some that have caught my eye this month:

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff (Sarah’s Bookshelves)

Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble by Marilyn Johnson (Sophisticated Dorkiness)

Quiet by Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Capricious Reader)

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed (River City Reading)

The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster by Tim Crothers (Bibliophilopolis)

And two that I can’t remember where I saw them recommended, but that I’ve added to the TBR this month nonetheless:

Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World by Ben Hewitt

They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan
by Benjamin Ajak, Alephonsion Deng, Benjamin Ajak, Judy A. Bernstein, Benson Deng

I hope you’ve all enjoyed Nonfiction November as much as I have, and I look forward to seeing what else I can add to my TBR this week. ;)

Review and Giveaway: Fog Island Mountains by Michelle Bailat-Jones

fog-island-mountainsFormat: Print galley

Length: 171 pages

Publisher: Tantor Media

Source: TLC Book Tours

SynopsisWhat if you could rewrite a tragedy? What if you could give grace to someone s greatest mistake? Huddled beneath the volcanoes of the Kirishima mountain range in southern Japan, also called the Fog Island Mountains, the inhabitants of small town Komachi are waiting for the biggest of the summer’s typhoons. South African expatriate Alec Chester has lived in Komachi for nearly forty years. Alec considers himself an ordinary man, with common troubles and mundane achievements until his doctor gives him a terminal cancer diagnosis and his wife, Kanae, disappears into the gathering storm. Kanae flees from the terrifying reality of Alec’s diagnosis, even going so far as to tell a childhood friend that she is already a widow. Her willful avoidance of the truth leads her to commit a grave infidelity, and only when Alec is suspected of checking himself out of the hospital to commit a quiet suicide does Kanae come home to face what it will mean to lose her husband. Narrating this story is Azami, one of Komachi’s oldest and most peculiar inhabitants, the daughter of a famous storyteller with a mysterious story of her own. A haunting and beautiful reinterpretation of the Japanese kitsune folktale tradition, Fog Island Mountains is a novel about the dangers of action taken in grief and of a belief in healing through storytelling.

What I thought:

As you may know, I have a strong interest in Asian cultures and Japanese culture in particular. Fog Island Mountains is rooted in the tradition of Japanese folktales known as kitsune. While I wasn’t familiar with this type of story before reading the book, I did my research to try to better understand what Bailat-Jones was going for with this modern re-interpretation. Basically, a kitsune is a fox, and these folktales center on a fox character which has magical abilities and can assume a human form. They can be either good or bad, but their most common characteristic is their wisdom.

For me, knowing something about kitsune gave this book a depth and resonance that it might not have had otherwise. When I started the book I was a bit confused by the style of narration, as it’s told from the point of view of an omniscient narrator who often refers to herself in the plural. The identity of the narrator became clearer as the book progressed, but she remains a somewhat mysterious character and represents the book’s link to the kitsune tradition.

The central characters, Alec and his wife Kanae, are dealing with a personal crisis at the same time as a strong typhoon is brewing over their island. The outer turmoil of the weather reflects the inner turmoil of the characters, a tried but true technique for establishing an atmospheric setting. (Get it? Weather? Atmospheric? Okay, moving on.) There are several minor characters who also play a part in the story and whose presence impact Alec and Kanae as they try to come to terms with their situation.

The mountains and the natural elements surrounding them also feature strongly in the book, representing the characters’ shifts between escape and surrender. This in conjunction with the author’s lyrical writing and the unique narrative style creates a reading experience that feels like a retreat into a separate, self-contained world–my favorite kind of reading.

All in all, I really enjoyed Fog Island Mountains and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys literary fiction with a focus on Japanese culture. It’s a short book that could easily be read in one or two sittings to maximize the reader’s immersive experience.

michelle-bailat-jonesAbout the author:

Michelle Bailat-Jones is a writer and translator. Her début novel Fog Island Mountains (Tantor 2014) won the 2013 Christopher Doheny Award from the Center for Fiction and Audible. She has also translated Charles Ferdinand Ramuz’s 1927 Swiss classic Beauty on Earth (Onesuch Press, 2013). She is the Reviews Editor at the web journal Necessary Fiction, and her fiction, poetry, translations, and criticism have appeared in a number of journals, including The Kenyon Review, The Rumpus, Hayden’s Ferry Review, the Quarterly Conversation, PANK, Spolia Mag, Two Serious Ladies, and The Atticus Review. She lives in Switzerland.

Giveaway:

I’m giving away one copy of Fog Island Mountains to a lucky reader (U.S. or Canada only, sorry). To enter, just leave a comment with your name and email address. Good luck!

Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours for providing me with a copy of this book and giving me a chance to share my review.

tlc book tours

Nonfiction November: Diversity

cork w booksI’m trying to get my post up earlier this week–yay for Monday morning, um, afternoon! This week’s topic, hosted by Becca at I’m Lost in Books, is diversity in nonfiction writing.

Diversity and Nonfiction: What does “diversity” in books mean to you? Does it refer to book’s location or subject matter? Or is it the author’s nationality or background? What countries/cultures do you tend to enjoy or read about most in your nonfiction? What countries/cultures would you like nonfiction recommendations for?

Diversity in books is something I’ve given quite a bit of thought to mainly because I feel like my reading isn’t diverse enough. It’s something that I’ve gotten better about since I started a book blog, though, because the more I keep track of what I’m reading, the more aware I am of the choices I make. To me, diversity means reading across genres as well as reading books that present different world views. I love reading about people and places that I know nothing about and opening myself up to an author’s/narrator’s point of view. However, I will say that I’m not completely open-minded when it comes to choosing a book; I’m not interested in reading the work of someone whose political or religious ideology is distasteful to me. Life is too short.

I particularly enjoy reading books about Africa and Asia, because the foreign-ness of those cultures is fascinating to me. I’m also interested in Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism and so enjoy delving into works that reflect those philosophies. I think it comes down to what I have an affinity for, although I’m open to reading about other people and places as well. I prefer to read books that are written by natives to the places they write about, even as an outsider’s point of view can be interesting, too. See, diversity! :)

I would love to have further recommendations for nonfiction works about Africa and Nigeria in particular.

What about you? Do you read “diversely”? What does the term mean to you?

Nonfiction November: Become the Expert

cork w booksThis week’s topic is so much fun–I can’t wait to read what everyone has chosen to write about. The discussion prompt was:

Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Share a list of nonfiction books on a topic you know a lot about. Or, ask for some advice for books on a particular topic. Or, put together a list of nonfiction books on a topic you’re curious about.

I don’t consider myself an expert on much of anything (except for how to get a newborn to sleep. I’m pretty sure I read EVERY SINGLE BOOK on this topic at one point during my first daughter’s infancy.) However, I love learning, and I can get fixated on a particular subject that interests me. This is often the case when I read a work of fiction that references issues I don’t know much about, as I then want to go and learn as much as I can about the topic in order to better understand what I read.

One recent example of this is with women and war. I’ve always found the unique experiences of women during wartime to be fascinating, both in the nature of roles they play and how they defy and subvert those roles. (Yes, I know this is geeky. I was a history major in college and if I’d gone on to study it further I probably would have done something with this topic).

Because I’m reading a book about women spies during the U.S. Civil War, I started looking at what other books out there deal specifically with women and war.  Here are some books I’ve added to my list in progress:

girls-of-atomic-cityThe Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan

Goodreads Summary: The incredible story of the young women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who unwittingly played a crucial role in one of the most significant moments in U.S. history.

The Tennessee town of Oak Ridge was created from scratch in 1942. One of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities, it didn’t appear on any maps until 1949, and yet at the height of World War II it was using more electricity than New York City and was home to more than 75,000 people, many of them young women recruited from small towns across the South. Their jobs were shrouded in mystery, but they were buoyed by a sense of shared purpose, close friendships—and a surplus of handsome scientists and Army men!

But against this vibrant wartime backdrop, a darker story was unfolding. The penalty for talking about their work—even the most innocuous details—was job loss and eviction. One woman was recruited to spy on her coworkers. They all knew something big was happening at Oak Ridge, but few could piece together the true nature of their work until the bomb “Little Boy” was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, and the secret was out. The shocking revelation: the residents of Oak Ridge were enriching uranium for the atomic bomb.

Though the young women originally believed they would leave Oak Ridge after the war, many met husbands there, made lifelong friends, and still call the seventy-year-old town home. The reverberations from their work there—work they didn’t fully understand at the time—are still being felt today.

and-if-I-perishAnd If I Perish: Frontline U.S. Army Nurses in World War II by Evelyn M. Monahan, Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee

Goodreads Summary: In World War II, 59,000 women voluntarily risked their lives for their country as U.S. Army nurses. When the war began, some of them had so little idea of what to expect that they packed party dresses; but the reality of service quickly caught up with them, whether they waded through the water in the historic landings on North African and Normandy beaches, or worked around the clock in hospital tents on the Italian front as bombs fell all around them.

For more than half a century these women’s’ experiences remained untold, almost without reference in books, historical societies, or military archives. After years of reasearch and hundreds of hours of interviews, Evelyn M. Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee have created a dramatic narrative that at last brings to light the critical role that women played throughout the war. From the North African and Italian Campaigns to the Liberation of France and the Conquest of Germany, U.S. Army nurses rose to the demands of war on the frontlines with grit, humor, and great heroism.

a-few-good-women

A Few Good Women: America’s Military Women from World War I to the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by Evelyn Monahan, Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee

Goodreads Summary: In this riveting narrative history, women veterans from the world wars, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Iraq tell their extraordinary stories.

Evelyn M. Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee spent fifteen years combing through archives, journals, histories, and news reports, and gathering thousands of eyewitness accounts, letters, and interviews for this unprecedented chronicle of America’s “few good women.” Women today make up more than fifteen percent of the U.S. armed forces and serve alongside men in almost every capacity. Here are the stories of the battles these women fought to march beside their brothers, their tales of courage and fortitude, of indignities endured, of injustices overcome, of the blood they’ve shed and the comrades they’ve lost, and the challenges they still face in the twenty-first century.

Have you read any of these? Do you have any other suggestions of books I should add to my list? I would love to hear them!

The Classics Spin (yet again!)

classics_club_buttonThe Classics Club has come up with a fun way to get us motivated and reading our classic books–the Classics Spin! The rules are:

  • Go to your blog.
  • Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club List. Confession: I’m constantly updating my list so I usually cheat on this part and just pick what I want.
  • Try to challenge yourself: list five you are dreading/hesitant to read, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favorite author, rereads, ancients — whatever you choose.)
  • Post that list, numbered 1-20, on your blog by next Monday (that’s tomorrow!).
  • Monday morning, we’ll announce a number from 1-20. Go to the list of twenty books you posted, and select the book that corresponds to the number we announce.
  • The challenge is to read that book by January 5th, even if it’s an icky one you dread reading!

So here goes. In honor of this month being Non-Fiction November I’ve decided to include a special non-fiction section. I’m also putting five works of Victorian Lit (The Classic Club’s November theme) and five books with a holiday/winter theme for December. The last section will be books that have been recommended to me but that I haven’t found time to read yet.

Classic Non-Fiction

  1. A Vindiction of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft
  2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  3. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
  4. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
  5. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

Victorian Lit

  1. (6.)  The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
  2. (7.) Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  3. (8.)  Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
  4. (9.)  David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  5. (10.)  The Professor by Charlotte Brontë

Holiday/Winter-Themed Lit

  1. (11.) Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
  2. (12.) The Gift of the Magi and Other Stories by O. Henry
  3. (13.) A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  4. (14.) If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
  5. (15.) The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (too recent to technically be called a classic, but I’m including it anyway because it’s based on an old folk tale)

Classic Recommendations

  1. (16.) The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  2. (17.) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  3. (18.) Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  4. (19.) Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster
  5. (20.) Far From the Maddening Cry by Thomas Hardy

Good luck to everyone who’s “spinning” this time around. Hopefully we’ll get our lucky number!

Book Pairings

book-pairingsI’ve had this idea running around in my mind for a while, but I don’t *think* I’ve ever talked about it here before. There should be a “You Know You’ve Been Blogging For Too Long When…” type support group. In this case, you know you’ve been blogging for too long when you’re not sure if you’ve already blogged about a particular topic or not. Or maybe that’s a subject for the “You Know You’re Getting Old and Probably Have Early Stage Alzheimer’s When…” support group. I need to join that one, too.

Anyway. Since my focus this month is on non-fiction reading, I was thinking about how well fiction and non-fiction go together. Often when I’m reading a fiction book it will inspire me to read non-fiction so that I can learn more about a particular subject. Does anyone else do this? For example, when I read a book set in a particular time period that I don’t know much about, it can lead to me reading non-fiction works about that time in history because I want to understand it better.

Sometimes it works the other way, too. Just this week I started reading Liar Temptress Soldier Spy by Karen Abbott (so far SO good), and so when I read the summary of Neverhome by Laird Hunt in a book catalog I receive, I knew they were a match made in heaven. So far, it’s amazing as well–I’ve already gotten teary-eyed and I’m only on the first 20 pages.

What about you? Do you ever read fiction and non-fiction pairings to deepen your reading experience? Any particular pairings you would recommend?

Nonfiction November: My Year in Nonfiction

cork w books

It’s the first week of Nonfiction November, and I’m really excited about joining in this event for the first time. I enjoy nonfiction but it tends to get pushed to the bottom of my to-read pile, so it’s time to pull some my nonfiction reads up to the top and dig in. I have several nonfiction books lined up to read this month which I’ll highlight at the end of this post.


This week’s discussion topic focuses on our past year of nonfiction reading.

Your Year in Nonfiction: Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

1. What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

Are you ready for a shocker? I haven’t read ANY nonfiction this year. I’ve checked out a few and skimmed through them, but I can’t say there’s anything I’ve sat down and read cover to cover. This is pretty unusual for me so I’m not sure what it says about this past year except that I have maybe needed to escape to the world of fiction a bit more than usual.

2. What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

Most of the nonfiction I’ve enjoyed have been big bestsellers (so noone really needs me to recommend them!) but Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand is one of my favorite books of all time. I also loved Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.

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

I’d like to read more history. I’ve really slacked off in this department since finishing my history degree many moons ago.

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

I’m hoping to put more of a focus on nonfiction, as I’ve obviously sadly neglected my nonfiction reading this year. I have several books lined up to make up for the lack, including:

- While the Gods Were Sleeping by Elizabeth Eslin – I’m reading this one at the moment. It’s a long overdue review book, and it tells the story of an American anthroplogist living in Nepal. So far I’m enjoying it.

- Queen Bees and Wannabees by Rosalind Wiseman – I saw this one recommended on another blogger’s site and immediately requested it from the library. I’m hoping it will help me to prepare for my daughter entering middle school next year–scary stuff.

- An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield – I love reading Hadfield’s tweets about space and astronomy on twitter, and he did this AMAZING video cover of ‘Space Oddity’. I’m not sure exactly what to expect from this book but it sounds promising.

- Liar, Temptress, Solider, Spy by Karen Abbott – I’ve had a request in for this one ever since I heard about it at the Decatur Book Festival back in August. Luckily, the timing worked out for me to get it in November. I can’t wait to dig into this account of four women working undercover during the U.S. Civil War.

So that’s my month of nonfiction as it stands now. I look forward to seeing what everyone else is planning to read. There will also be new discussion topics each week, so stay tuned for more nonfiction talk!