Recommended Nonfiction Reads

A quick look at four nonfiction books I’ve finished recently. Or, somewhat recently at least, and haven’t written full posts about them, so a quick comment about them is better than ignoring them completely.

GruntGrunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach

Typical of her style, with a funny narrative and look into military technology. If you’re a fan of her previous books, you’ll like this one. if you don’t enjoy her approach, this one won’t convert you.

Don’t think she’s just writing for laughs though, as I always learn something from her books, and she gives great shareable tidbits of info that I repeat to my husband. Just … not necessarily at the dinner table or in front of the kids. 🙂

What IfWhat If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

Get the audio version, as it’s read by Wil Wheaton and he’s a great narrator. I didn’t follow all of the science behind a few of the sections (and didn’t even try to; I’m not that interested in the specifics of the topic) but I still enjoyed the oddness of the questions and the seriousness of his answers.

Sleep SmarterSleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success by Shawn Stevenson

Packed with great suggestions for how to get better sleep (and why you should care). I’ve made some of the changes, and can tell when I start breaking too many of the “best sleep practices.” Highly recommended.

animal-vegetable-miracle Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, Steven L. Hopp, and Camille Kingsolver

A fascinating look at their year of eating locally, and it promoted a great discussion in my book club. While I don’t think it’s completely realistic to expect to follow her example exactly, it was motivating to consider what changes I can make in our current food habits.

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Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey

Out of SortsOut of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving FaithOut of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey by Sarah Bessey

Bessey’s first book, Jesus Feminist, was one of my most disappointing reads last year. It wasn’t the book I expected it to be, and that aggravation and disappointment made me unable to fully appreciate the book that it was.

Bessey’s new book, Out of Sorts, had no such issues for me. I expected it to be a faith memoir, and that’s precisely what it is. This time I enjoyed the personal angle she brought to the discussion of faith and religion.

If you liked Jesus Feminist, you’re almost certain to enjoy this one. And even if you didn’t care for Jesus Feminist, Out of Sorts is a stronger, more cohesive account, that takes her story, and makes more universal.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Audible | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
In Out of Sorts, Sarah Bessey—award-winning blogger and author of Jesus Feminist, which was hailed as “lucid, compelling, and beautifully written” (Frank Viola, author of God’s Favorite Place on Earth)—helps us grapple with core Christian issues using a mixture of beautiful storytelling and biblical teaching, a style well described as “narrative theology.”

As she candidly shares her wrestlings with core issues—such as who Jesus is, what place the Church has in our lives, how to disagree yet remain within a community, and how to love the Bible for what it is rather than what we want it to be—she teaches us how to walk courageously through our own tough questions.

In the process of gently helping us sort things out, Bessey teaches us how to be as comfortable with uncertainty as we are with solid answers. And as we learn to hold questions in one hand and answers in the other, we discover new depths of faith that will remain secure even through the storms of life.

Book Details

Title: Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving FaithOut of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey
Author: Sarah Bessey
Category: Nonfiction / Memoir / Faith
My Rating: 4 Stars

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for review. I was not required to post a positive review, and all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Previously on The Deliberate Reader

One year ago: Cooking the Book: Good Cheap Eats by Jessica Fisher

The Martian by Andy Weir

The MartianThe MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir by Andy Weir

Not my usual sort of book, but it’s gotten rave reviews both online and in person, so I had to give it a try.

Unwisely, I began the book after putting my children to bed. “I’ll just give it a try and see if I like the author’s style” I told myself.

Several hours later (and way past my bedtime) I finished the book and finally could put it down. I paid for that the next day, but even though I kept telling myself to stop reading! Go to bed! I couldn’t – I had to know what happened next.

I’ve read enough books on writing that I recognized some of what the author was doing to keep the reader’s attention, but it never pulled me out of the story and kept me from reading; instead I found myself admiring at how well he kept the tension high, kept my interest and all but forced me to keep reading.

A heads-up: there is a fair amount of cursing in the book, so it’s not one I’d listen to if little ears could overhear. And if you’re sensitive to language you may want to skip this one.

I’m still not a full-fledged science fiction fan, but clearly I can be persuaded by the right book. And this was the right book.

The next question is: will I see the movie when it releases next month? Perhaps…

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Audible | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

Book Details

Title: The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
Author: Andy Weir
Category: Fiction / Science Fiction
My Rating: 4 Stars

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Previously on The Deliberate Reader

Two years ago: Most Memorable Books

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

The Hired GirlThe Hired GirlThe Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz by Laura Amy Schlitz

If you, like me, can be disappointed when an otherwise good book doesn’t fulfill what you’d been led to believe it would be based on its description, let me just warn you: I do not think the book is a “comedic tour de force.” I do not think it’s anywhere close to being one.

Other than that, I would agree with the description: the author has delicious wit and a keen eye, and the book is moving. It does explore feminism (slightly) along with religion, literature, love, and loyalty. And yes, there is plenty of housework. She is a hired girl, after all.

Don’t let my “it’s not what it claims to be!” keep you from trying the book, if you’re a fan of historical fiction. Joan is an appealing character, and her story is engrossing. I enjoyed the diary format, as it helped make some of the more emotionally charged moments easier to read. Apparently I’m a literary wimp, and liked the extra distance provided by her relaying events later, rather than me reading about them as they were happening. (I realize this sounds crazy, but there you have it.)

The writing is smooth, and the only reason I didn’t finish it in one session is because of still needing to take care of things like children and dinners and other household tasks. Appropriate enough for this book.

The characterizations are wonderful, and I find myself wondering what happened to them all after the story ends. I liked so many of them, and kind of miss them now. I also enjoyed the peek into life in a Jewish household.

Recommended if you enjoy historical fiction. It is classified as a young adult or middle grade book, but I found it quite enjoyable as an adult. I’d hesitate to hand it over to a younger, precocious reader – there is the emotional abuse Joan takes early in the book, and later in the book are descriptions of kissing and some more (see below) if those are issues for your readers.

Spoiler alerts if you’re still debating on its appropriateness for your reader. Highlight the area below to see, but it does give away the ending:

Joan spends a large portion of the book lying about her identity (quite understandably), although it does all end up resolving in the end, when her real name and age are discovered. Towards the end of the book she also offers to become the mistress of the man she believes she’s in love with, although it’s phrased in such a way it could be missed by somewhat oblivious readers. The uproar when she’s discovered and emphasis on “nothing happened” would probably let them know they’ve missed something if they didn’t already catch it. Her employers “catch” her and find out who she really is and how young she is, and the book eventually ends with her headed back to school.

So yes, I liked the book, but I would be aware of the age and maturity of potential readers before sharing it.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz brings her delicious wit and keen eye to early twentieth-century America in a moving yet comedic tour de force.

Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs, just like the heroines in her beloved novels, yearns for real life and true love. But what hope is there for adventure, beauty, or art on a hardscrabble farm in Pennsylvania where the work never ends? Over the summer of 1911, Joan pours her heart out into her diary as she seeks a new, better life for herself—because maybe, just maybe, a hired girl cleaning and cooking for six dollars a week can become what a farm girl could only dream of—a woman with a future. Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz relates Joan’s journey from the muck of the chicken coop to the comforts of a society household in Baltimore (Electricity! Carpet sweepers! Sending out the laundry!), taking readers on an exploration of feminism and housework; religion and literature; love and loyalty; cats, hats, and bunions.

Book Details

Title: The Hired GirlThe Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
Category: Juvenile Historical Fiction
My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Disclosure: I received this book for free from NetGalley for review. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Previously on The Deliberate Reader

Two years ago: The Story Circle: New Session

I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam

I Know How She Does ItI Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their TimeI Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time by Laura Vanderkam by Laura Vanderkam

I’ve mentioned before my deep appreciation for Laura Vanderkam’s books. All the Money in the WorldAll the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Wealth by Laura Vanderkam is one of my favorite finance books ever – it’s got such a different perspective than the usual texts – and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam was eye-opening to me about how to consider my time and what I can and cannot accomplish with it.

I read her blog regularly, and while I was excited to read her latest book, I wasn’t completely sure how informative it would be for me. Between reading her blog and columns, and all her previous nonfiction books – I felt like I had a good idea what she’d say.

And I did, and yet I *still* found myself really enjoying this book. It’s not quite as eye-opening as 168 Hours was for me, and if you’ve read that one I think you’ve got a good handle on her general principles. The focus on this one is in the data that proves her point – you can have a “big job” as a woman and still have time for your family – it doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition.

The book is encouraging if you’re wondering how it can be done. It’s perhaps a bit discouraging if you’ve made decisions so far that lead to a career that provides a lot less success financially – many aspects of life can be easier if you have additional money to pay for help. (Which actually is all the more reason to encourage women to not sell themselves short but aim at some of those bigger jobs – the pay they provide will help you make it work.)

This isn’t the book of hers I’d recommend most highly – for that I think the more general usefulness of 168 Hours or All the Money in the World are better choices, or What the Most Successful People Do Before BreakfastWhat the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: And Two Other Short Guides to Achieving More at Work and at Home by Laura Vanderkam or her other two ebooks are quick introductions to her style and approach. However, I’d have loved to read something like this after high school when I was still trying to figure out what to study in college and what I was going to do with my life.

Despite not thinking it’s the most “you’ve gotta read this” of all of her books, it’s still worth reading and considering. As always, she gets me thinking about both what I’m doing in my own life, and what I’ll be encouraging my children to think about for their futures.

Publisher’s Description:
Everyone has an opinion, anecdote, or horror story about women and work. Now the acclaimed author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast shows how real working women with families are actually making the most of their time.

“Having it all” has become the subject of countless books, articles, debates, and social media commentary, with passions running high in all directions. Many now believe this to be gospel truth: Any woman who wants to advance in a challenging career has to make huge sacrifices. She’s unlikely to have a happy marriage, quality time with her kids (assuming she can have kids at all), a social life, hobbies, or even a decent night’s sleep.

But what if balancing work and family is actually not as hard as it’s made out to be? What if all those tragic anecdotes ignore the women who quietly but consistently do just fine with the juggle?

Instead of relying on scattered stories, time management expert Laura Vanderkam set out to add hard data to the debate. She collected hour-by-hour time logs from 1,001 days in the lives of women who make at least $100,000 a year. And she found some surprising patterns in how these women spend the 168 hours that every one of us has each week.

Overall, these women worked less and slept more than they assumed they did before they started
tracking their time. They went jogging or to the gym, played with their children, scheduled date nights with their significant others, and had lunches with friends. They made time for the things that gave them pleasure and meaning, fitting the pieces together like tiles in a mosaic—without adhering to overly rigid schedules that would eliminate flexibility and spontaneity.

Vanderkam shares specific strategies that her subjects use to make time for the things that really matter to them. For instance, they . . .
* Work split shifts (such as seven hours at work, four off, then another two at night from home). This allows them to see their kids without falling behind professionally.
* Get creative about what counts as quality family time. Breakfasts together and morning story time count as much as daily family dinners, and they’re often easier to manage.
* Take it easy on the housework. You can free up a lot of time by embracing the philosophy of “good enough” and getting help from other members of your household (or a cleaning service).
* Guard their leisure time. Full weekend getaways may be rare, but many satisfying hobbies can be done in small bursts of time. An hour of crafting feels better than an hour of reality TV.

With examples from hundreds of real women, Vanderkam proves that you don’t have to give up on the things you really want. I Know How She Does It will inspire you to build a life that works, one hour at a time.

Book Details

Title: I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their TimeI Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time by Laura Vanderkam
Author: Laura Vanderkam
Category: Nonfiction / Time Management
My Rating: 4 Stars
Buy the book: Print | Kindle | Audible

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The Thirteen Problems

The Thirteen ProblemsThe Thirteen ProblemsThe Thirteen Problems (Miss Marple Mysteries) by Agatha Christie by Agatha Christie

I loved this collection of Miss Marple short stories – each one was very satisfying, and I enjoyed putting my brain to the test to figure out if I could solve the mystery before Miss Marple revealed the answers.

While I generally try and avoid reading fiction too close to bedtime (invariably I find myself reading “just one more chapter” several times, and regretting it the next day), this is an easy choice for reading when you don’t have much time. Each chapter is a self-contained story, and while there is an overarching narrative connecting the stories, it doesn’t matter which order you read them in, and you could easily read once chapter, set the book aside for weeks or months, and then pick up again with no worries over forgetting plot points.

Eminently satisfying to read, and makes me appreciate just how good Christie was.

[Read more…]

Quick Lit for May 2015

Quick looks at some memoirs I finished recently:

The Center Cannot HoldThe Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through MadnessThe Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness by Elyn R. Saks by Elyn R. Saks

A fascinating account. I’d disagree with the subtitle – this isn’t so much as a journey “through” madness, as that seems to imply it’s over and she’s no longer dealing with it. Instead, this is about how she has built an amazing, successful life while also living with schizophrenia. Astonishing and eye-opening, and well worth reading.

Sparkly Green EarringsSparkly Green Earrings: Catching the Light at Every TurnSparkly Green Earrings: Catching the Light at Every Turn by Melanie Shankle by Melanie Shankle

Light and amusing, but mostly devoid of any real depth or substance. Read it if you’re in the mood for something quick and breezy, but be aware that it reads like a string of blog posts assembled into a book. I don’t read her blog to know if the stories are mostly repeats from there, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s the case.

Shakespeare Saved My LifeShakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the BardShakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard by Laura Bates by Laura Bates

Well-written but occasionally uneven, this was an interesting look at a program that taught Shakespeare to prisoners. At times I found Bates’ to be a bit too self-congratulatory and even tone-deaf at times. I might have found it more compelling because of the Indiana setting, but I don’t think that played all that large of a role in my overall impressions. Worth reading? A tentative yes, but go for Saks’ book first.

For more peeks at what people are reading, head over to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s link-up!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Ghost Map

Ghost MapThe Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern WorldThe Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson by Steven Johnson

Most of the book is a fascinating look at the events of the cholera epidemic in London in 1854. Fascinating, and horrifying as well. It does get a bit bogged down at times, especially related to the miasma theory of disease that was the predominant theory at the time. There’s a bit of a smugness directed at those who mistakenly held to this theory that got wearying to read.

And then there’s the epilogue, which felt jarringly tacked-on to it all. It’s all about modern risks of urban life. Once I got over the mental adjustment of jumping from 1854 to 2015 it was interesting, but still not at all a smooth transition between the two. It’s actually quite good (and sobering), but it didn’t feel like it fit that well in the book.

While I do love audio books, I’d caution anyone about listening to this with an audience. There’s a fair amount of grossness described (it was cholera after all), although much of it uses proper terms or euphemisms that younger kids might not catch so perhaps it wouldn’t matter? But they weren’t all euphemisms, and something about hearing certain words makes them extra jarring to me, as opposed to just reading them.

Another disadvantage to listening to this one would be the lack of the map! I read this on my Kindle, and that was hard enough because the map included is so hard to see on the small screen. I wished I had a hard-copy to reference, and ended up searching for the map online.

Despite the flaws, I did enjoy it and recommend, especially if you liked The American PlagueThe American Plague by Molly Caldwell Crosby or FluFlu: The Story Of The Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It by Gina Kolata, or others of that sort of historical medical account/mystery.

[Read more…]

Waistcoats and Weaponry

Waistcoats and Weaponry (Finishing School #3) by Gail CarrigerWaistcoats & WeaponryWaistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School #3) by Gail Carriger by Gail Carriger

Book three was maybe just a tiny bit of a disappointment to me, but saying why veers into spoilers, so I’ll just leave it at some concerns with the direction the plot is heading. And yet I’m still very excited by the series overall, and so perhaps I should leave it at a “reserving judgment” status until the final book releases this fall.

If the cover catches your attention, or you’re curious about a finishing school that doubles as espionage training in an alternative version of England, start with book number one – Curtsies & Conspiracies. It’s utterly ridiculous in a way that had me completely entertained. There are werewolves, vampires, a school in a floating dirigible. There’s a shady group known as “Picklemen.” The servants are mostly mechanized. There’s even a mechanical dog who is frequently disguised as a reticule.

The final book, Manners & MutinyManners & Mutiny (Finishing School #4) by Gail Carriger, is scheduled to publish this November and I am hoping there are no snags or delays with publication. I need to know how everything resolves!

Publisher’s Description:
Class is back in session….

Sophronia continues her second year at finishing school in style–with a steel-bladed fan secreted in the folds of her ball gown, of course. Such a fashionable choice of weapon comes in handy when Sophronia, her best friend Dimity, sweet sootie Soap, and the charming Lord Felix Mersey hijack a suspiciously empty train to return their chum Sidheag to her werewolf pack in Scotland. But when Sophronia discovers they are being trailed by a dirigible of Picklemen and flywaymen, she unearths a plot that threatens to throw all of London into chaos. With her friends in mortal danger, Sophronia must sacrifice what she holds most dear–her freedom..

Book Details

Title: Waistcoats & WeaponryWaistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School) by Gail Carriger
Author: Gail Carriger
Series: Finishing School, #3
Category: Fiction / Fantasy
My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Belles on Their Toes

Belles on Their ToesBelles on Their ToesBelles on Their Toes by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

I was reminded of this series after scheduling my review of Cheaper By the Dozen, and I’m so glad I read the follow-up title – I enjoyed it just as much as the first (and maybe even a bit more?)

Belles on Their Toes picks up right after Cheaper By the Dozen ends, and what could have been a dreary or sad account manages to be hopeful and surprisingly lighthearted. Their mother ends up being the star of the story, and their love and admiration for her shines through. So while I enjoyed the anecdotes, this book mostly made me want to learn more about Lillian, so I went hunting for more information on her. What an amazing woman!

If you’ve read Cheaper By the Dozen, it’s well worth reading this to continue their story. And even if you haven’t read the first book, I think this can be enjoyed as a stand-alone account. It’s surprisingly quick and breezy, considering it could easily have been a somber tale. [Read more…]