Monday, November 20, 2017

Nonfiction November Week 4 - Nonfiction Favorites

It’s hard to believe that it is already Week 4 of Nonfiction November! If you haven’t read my previous Nonfiction Novemeber posts you can read Week 1 here, Week 2 here and Week 3 here.

This week we are talking about why our favorites are our favorites. The discussion is being hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey. Here’s the prompt:

We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites.
That is a hard one for me, because I’m not really sure why one book clicks with me and another one doesn’t. Probably the best way for me to do this is to make a list of nonfiction that I really liked and nonfiction that I wasn’t so fond of and look at what they may have in common.

Here are some of my 5 star nonfiction reads over the past few years

What do these have in common? All have an interesting story to tell, and all are narrative nonfiction that teach me something about history that I didn’t know much, if anything, about before I read the book. All are well researched with notes and references at the end. Many were challenging in length and subject matter and it was sometimes a struggle to stick with the book.

And here are some of my 1 and 2 star read.

What do these have in common? All are memoirs with the author as one of the main characters. With the exception of Angela’s Ashes, these books are written about a subject that I have no particular interest in. With Angela’s Ashes, I expected to like the book, but the writing just didn’t do it for me. These books were often a struggle to stick with, but not because the book was long or the subject matter intense. Instead, with these books I felt like I was wasting my time and there was nothing memorable here.

Looking at this, I have to conclude that subject matter is pretty important to me, but perhaps even more important is writing style. WIth well-written and well-researched narrative nonfiction, even if I didn’t think I was interested in a topic, the author can draw me in. I don’t like my nonfiction too dry, so a bit of lightness helps if it moves the story along. I do appreciate when the author gives me some insight into their thought process. How did they conclude the motivation of a character?; did they extrapolate a conversation based on their research or is there direct evidence?. And of course I love a well-researched book that includes notes, illustrations, and suggestions for further reading!

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Friday, November 17, 2017

Review: The Widow of Wall Street

The Widow of Wall Street
by Randy Susan Meyers

Why did you choose this book? I’ve enjoyed other work by this author
When did you read this book? November 2017
Who should read this book? Readers of ‘ripped from the headlines’ fiction
Source: library ebook
My Rating: ✰✰✰✰  4 Stars

Here is a synopsis of The Widow of Wall Street from Goodreads

What’s real in a marriage built on sand and how do you abandon a man you’ve loved since the age of fifteen?

Phoebe sees the fire in Jake Pierce’s belly from the moment they meet as teenagers in Brooklyn. Eventually he creates a financial dynasty and she trusts him without hesitation—unaware his hunger for success hides a dark talent for deception.

When Phoebe learns—along with the rest of the world—that her husband’s triumphs are the result of an elaborate Ponzi scheme her world unravels. Lies underpin her life and marriage. As Jake’s crime is uncovered, the world obsesses about Phoebe. Did she know her life was fabricated by fraud? Did she partner with her husband in hustling billions from pensioners, charities, and CEOs? Was she his accomplice in stealing from their family and neighbors?

Debate rages as to whether love and loyalty blinded her to his crimes or if she chose to live in denial. While Jake is trapped in the web of his own deceit, Phoebe is faced with an unbearable choice. Her children refuse to see her if she remains at their father’s side, but abandoning Jake, a man she’s known since childhood, feels cruel and impossible.

From Brooklyn to Greenwich to Manhattan, from penthouse to prison, with tragic consequences rippling well beyond Wall Street, The Widow of Wall Street exposes a woman struggling to redefine her life and marriage as everything she thought she knew crumbles around her.

My Review

I’ve read and enjoyed other books by Randy Susan Meyers [Accidents of Marriage] [The Murderer’s Daughters], so when I saw she had a new book out, I immediately put it on my to-read list. The cover and synopsis motivated me to move it to near the top!

This is a ‘ripped-from-the-headlines’ story inspired by the Bernie Madoff financial scandal of 2008. On the author’s website, she states that one of her motivations in writing the story was to explore how members of the family are affected when a person commits a crime. “Every crime has multiple victims—including the family of the perpetrator.” SInce I often wonder about the mother of the criminal and how she must feel when I hear about a crime, this interested me.

The story is told from the point of view of Phoebe, wife of Jake Pierce. We know from the beginning that Jake is in prison and Phoebe is in a prison of sorts herself. The book is the story of the 50-60 years leading to the present situation

Phoebe and Jake met in high school, and Phoebe is a typical woman of the 50s. She went to college and prepared for a career, but once she married, she was expected to abandon that career and devote herself to her children and husband and her husband’s business interests. Yes, she could participate in charitable causes, but her appearance and actions must always reflect well on her husband and his business.

Phoebe has an elite lifestyle, much different to the life she had with her parents. Her husband makes lots of money and she is happy to spend it. There have been suspicious signs with her husband and his business through the years, but Jake has always been able to explain them away and remind her it was his job to make the money and hers to maintain their home. Phoebe accepts this willingly until the day her world comes crashing down around her, causing a reversal in her lifestyle and an estrangement from her children.

I really enjoyed this book. I felt bad for Phoebe, even though she could have avoided some of this by asking more questions and trusting less. I also felt a bit sorry for Jake at times. He seemed like a good-hearted person who wanted to make things right, but his ego got in his way, and he got in too deep.

One other thing I really like about this book is the cover. I’m not sure what the significance is. It appears to be a skyline of Manhattan with the sparkle flaking away. I’m thinking ‘all that glitters is not gold’?

This will be a good selection for book clubs with discussions of trust and loyalty, repercussions of crime, and current events. You can visit the author’s website for discussion questions or to read an excerpt of the book and learn about the author’s inspiration for this story.
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Monday, November 13, 2017

Nonfiction November Week 3 - Ask The Expert

It’s Week 3 of Nonfiction November. If you haven’t read my previous Nonfiction Novemeber posts you can read Week 1 here and Week 2 here.

This week is ‘expert’ week. The discussion is being hosted by Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness. Here’s the prompt for the week.

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 am choosing to ‘Ask The Expert’. I have an ongoing project to read my way through the U.S. presidents. My goal is to read at least one book about each U.S. president or his presidency. So far, I’ve not done very well with that one. Unless you count books I read many years ago, I’ve read exactly one book towards my goal; Destiny of the Republic about James A Garfield, (but it was a good one!).

So now I am putting the call out—I need recommendations for books about presidents. I prefer these to be narrative nonfiction, well researched, but not overly long. I want to get a feel for the man and his presidency, and the issues that shaped him. If you’ve read a book about one of the U.S. presidents that you enjoyed, please leave me a comment with the name of the book. I’m looking forward to finding lots of recommendations!

You can read more about my Presidents Project here.

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Review: A Girl's Guide To Moving On

A Girl’s Guide To Moving On
New Beginnings #2
by Debbie Macomber

Why did you choose this book? I won a copy and it looked interesting
When did you read this book? November 2016
Who should read this book? Fans of Debbie Macomber and women’s fiction
Source: Debbie Macomber newsletter contest win
My Rating:  ★★★ ½   3½ Stars

Here is a synopsis of A Girl’s Guide To Moving On from Goodreads

In this powerful and uplifting novel, a mother and her daughter-in-law bravely leave their troubled marriages and face the challenge of starting over. Leaning on each other, Nichole and Leanne discover that their inner strength and capacity for love are greater than they ever imagined.

When Nichole discovers that her husband, Jake, has been unfaithful, the illusion of her perfect life is indelibly shattered. While juggling her young son, a new job, and volunteer work, Nichole meets Rocco, who is the opposite of Jake in nearly every way. Though blunt-spoken and rough around the edges, Rocco proves to be a dedicated father and thoughtful friend. But just as their relationship begins to blossom, Jake wagers everything on winning Nichole back—including their son Owen’s happiness. Somehow, Nichole must find the courage to defy her fears and follow her heart, with far-reaching consequences for them all.

Leanne has quietly ignored her husband’s cheating for decades, but is jolted into action by the echo of Nichole’s all-too-familiar crisis. While volunteering as a teacher of English as a second language, Leanne meets Nikolai, a charming, talented baker from Ukraine. Resolved to avoid the heartache and complications of romantic entanglements, Leanne nonetheless finds it difficult to resist Nikolai’s effusive overtures—until an unexpected tragedy tests the very fabric of her commitments.

An inspiring novel of friendship, reinvention, and hope, A Girl’s Guide to Moving On affirms the ability of every woman to forge a new path, believe in love, and fearlessly find happiness.

My Review

I read this book about a year ago, but never wrote my review. It is well past time! I’ve read Debbie Macomber in the past and while I enjoyed the books well enough, they were nothing special; just fun, quick reads with a happy ending.

This one is a little different. It is a relatively happy and quick read, and the ending is satisfying, but there is more depth to this book than the Debbie Macomber I’ve read in the past.

In this book, Leanne has been married to her serial-cheating husband for years, and has chosen to just put up with it. Nichole is married to Leanne’s son. When Nichole discovers her husband has cheated, she leaves him, taking her young son with her. This inspires Leanne to finally leave her husband, and the women move into apartments across the hall from each other. This is convenient as Leanne gets to see her grandson often, and Nichole has a ready and willing babysitter! They also have each other as a support system.

In a way it feels a little odd that Leanne would take her daughter-in-law’s side over her son’s side, but then again, it would be very hard to justify her son’s infidelity. Obviously there is are schisms in the family as a result. The book deals not only with the family dynamics after Leanne breaks up the family, but also the new love interests of both Nichole and Leanne and the resulting fall-out.

Yes, the book is a little predictable, but beneath the surface are many issues that can make for great discussions by book clubs. Some of these would be the differences in the way the women dealt with infidelity in their marriage, and why this might be. Other topics might be how infidelity affects the family and the examples it sets, as well as the loyalty a person continues to feel towards family. I think this would make a great book club selection for groups that are looking for a quick, fun read that is a little light, but still has some discussion value!

This book is part of a series, but I have not read any other books in the series and didn’t feel like this was an issue. You can enjoy this one as a stand-alone!

I received my copy of this book as the winner of a contest for Debbie Macomber newsletter readers.
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