Monday, September 16, 2019

#IMomSoHard by Kristen Hensley and Jen Smedley

I Mom So Hard book cover (two women sitting on a couch, laughing, with glasses of red wine on a bright pink background) #Imomsohard ("I Mom So Hard") is a book written by two moms and YouTube sensations, Kristen Hensley and Jen Smedley, who "tell it like it is” in their videos about parenting. Meaning, they are completely truthful about everything-- not just the good, but the bad and the ugly, too! Using humor and wit, they recount some of their personal stories raising their sons and daughters. Not limited to just funny stories about labor and school lunches, they also speak directly to moms, encouraging them to call for help, to help one another, and-- more importantly-- to never judge a mom, because you just never know what they are going through.

The audiobook is read by the two authors and they are so fantastic to listen to! They bring their own personality and flare to the pages (or in this case discs) and talk to their readers/listeners as if we were all hanging out at dinner over appetizers. Listening to them talk about their life stories brings relief and humor to your own life, knowing that they’ve been through it all, too, and that moms are not alone in this journey.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

Every day, in cities across the country, thousands of people are evicted from their homes. Eviction is traumatic for everyone, but for the extremely poor, it's a waking nightmare that runs on repeat. Evictions can make you lose your job (as you're forced to spend your day moving your belongings or trying to find a place to stay), they can make you ineligible for public housing, they can get you rejected from by private landlords, they can force you to move into unsafe locations, they can make you impose on friends and family, they can force you to stay in homeless shelters, and on and on and on. The home is supposed to be the stable foundation of a person's life, and when they're forced out of it, it can uproot everything else along with it. This book delves into the lives of several Milwaukee residents, across a surprisingly wide spectrum of life experiences, who had their lives changed by eviction.

This book won its author a slew of prizes, including a Pulitzer, and with good reason. It's an intense collection of stories, many of them intertwined, giving you a heartfelt and crushing view of its subjects. If you're a fan of narrative nonfiction, this deep dive into the world of deep poverty and housing insecurity is one that will stick with you for a long time.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Hitler's Pawn by Stephen Koch

Hitler's Pawn book cover (a photo of a young man in an overcoat)Herschel Grynszpan (pronounced "Greenspan") was a German-born Polish Jew living in Hanover with his family until, following the Nazis rise to power, his parents sent him to live with his aunt and uncle in Paris in 1935. Following his family’s forced deportation in 1938, and a deterioration of his relationship with his aunt and uncle, Grynszpan decided to act. On the morning of November 7th, 1938, Grynszpan purchased a gun and walked to the German Embassy, where he shot and killed a German official. Grynszpan was arrested, putting up no fight. The act was used as a pretext by the Nazis to launch Kristallnacht, their most vicious pogrom against the Jewish people. Grynszpan himself spent the entirety of World War II in enemy hands, awaiting a massive trial that never happened. The exact reasons why are the subject of theories and conspiracies, all of which are debated.

Grynszpan is something of an anomaly in history as, in spite of his importance, he is not well known. Hitler’s Pawn does a fantastic job of detailing his life, and the legacy which he left behind. Stephen Koch’s detail regarding the time Grynszpan spent in Nazi hands is particularly incredible, as is the reaction by Nazi officials to the assassination he perpetrated. The book reads, by and large, like a work of fiction following a central character, though that does call into question whether or not some portions are dramatized or guesswork by the author. If you are looking for something fresh about World War II, though, this book is definitely for you.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Storm Front book cover (a web of lightning over the darkened Chicago skyline)Harry Dresden is the only professional wizard listed in the Chicago phonebook. He is a private detective, struggling to make ends meet while keeping his city safe from monsters most people believe only exist in fairy tales. Much of his trade deals in locating lost items or people, so it is business as usual when he is hired by a woman to find her missing husband. However, things quickly get complicated when a friend at the Chicago Police Department warns Harry that he himself is the chief suspect in a grisly double murder. Thus begins his entanglement in a series of events that will pit him against a dangerous mob boss, a court of vampires, and one powerful warlock.

Storm Front is the first in Butcher’s Dresden Files series. Fifteen books and several short stories have been written so far, so there is plenty to enjoy if you’re looking for a new fun and heroic blend of urban fantasy and noir mystery. Be forewarned, though: they should definitely be read in order. The audiobook versions are narrated by James Marsters (the actor who played Spike in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series), who does an excellent job of bringing Harry and his compatriots to life.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Anthony Bourdain Remembered by CNN

This was an endearing and lovingly compiled book honoring Anthony Bourdain's legacy in the world of food and culture. Looking through this collection, we see how many lives Bourdain touched with his books, shows, and essays, clearly reaching a number of chefs, restaurant workers, self-proclaimed foodies, and armchair travelers alike. The professional photos on every page were fantastic, capturing Bourdain with  many meals spent with every day people from all over the world.

Creating a book for the purpose of displaying how many people were effected by Bourdain was both empowering and bittersweet. It's absolutely wonderful that one man could have such an impact on people's lives, but because of his death we read these testimonies with joy, as well as a heavy heart. This compilation of memories reminded me of just how much Anthony Bourdain will forever be missed.

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary

The Flatshare book cover (a picture of a woman on the left and a man on the right, separated by a door) Tiffy needs a new flat, and preferably one without suspicious mold growing behind the toilet. Leon, a nurse on the night shift, has a flat he’s rarely in and could use some extra cash. Why not rent out the apartment overnight to someone with a regular 9 to 5? Someone like Tiffy? They share a flat. They share a bed. But they’ve never met. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it works for them. Tiffy leaves for work before Leon gets off of his shift, and Leon, in turn, leaves to start his day right before Tiffy comes home for the evening. They leave notes throughout the apartment; Tiffy bakes, Leon occasionally makes dinner and leaves leftovers. They become close, as two people who share a space are bound to do-- even if they’re never in the same place at the same time.

This is, of course, a romance, so the pair do eventually meet. As life throws them curves in the form of manipulative ex-boyfriends, a wrongfully imprisoned brother, sick patients, and demanding clients, Tiffy and Leon learn to lean on each other until they can’t imagine making it through without the other person there.

An emotionally resonant story disguised as a fluffy meet-cute, O’Leary touches on themes of emotional abuse, violence, and gaslighting. And yet, there is humor and light and romance to carry these characters through to a very promising end. Recommended for fans of Marian Keyes or Christina Lauren.

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler book cover (a woman walking down a city street, with a stack of books superimposed over her) This is a story about Amy, a school librarian and single mother to two kids, whose husband decides to show up and become a part of their lives again. Amy had seemingly moved on from her husband's abandonment, but now that he is back, is she ready to let him in? To help her decide, she takes a trip to New York City! Meeting many wonderful people, catching up with an old friend, and living the life of a single woman in a big city, Amy isn't sure she really wants to go back to her old life.

This book was endearing and adorable, relatable and a joy to read. Kelly Harms creates a lovely character in Amy that you can't help but love and root for, and her story is complicated in the best way! It was an easy read, perfect for the summer.