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Non-Fiction November: Non-Fiction Favourites

Week 4 of Non-Fiction November is upon us! This month long celebration of all things non-fiction is hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Julie at JulzReads, Sarah of Sarah’s Book Shelves, Lory of Emerald City Book Review, and Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness.

This week, Kate at Doing Dewey is hosting a discussion on what makes your favourite non-fiction titles your favourite:

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.

I’ve had to have a bit of a think about this one. It’s tough to nail down what I loved about my favourite non-fiction titles.

I love stories and really, that’s just as true about my fiction reading as my non-fiction reading. I love non-fiction about women, especially women who were ahead of their time in some capacity. I love biographies of Princesses or Queens, Duchesses, Countesses, actresses who didn’t take any sh*t, women who fought fascists and Nazis and lived to tell the tale.

I love non-fiction where you can tell that the author totally geeked out while writing it. Those non-fiction titles tend to have a really strong author voice running through them. Erik Larson, Malcom Gladnwell, Gretchen Rubin all come to mind. Even Sheryl Sandberg. I recently read a joint biography of Marguerite de Valois and her mother, Catheine de’ Medici, where the author’s footnotes were pure gold. One of them even referenced a preferred sexual position with the note that the reader should “look it up.”

Ultimately I love gossip. And I know I say that I a lot. But I love non-fiction books that make me feel like I’m getting the inside scoop. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish either – especially not for more academic authors. When it’s done well, it can make reading a 500 page book about people long dead so exciting and fun.

And now, here’s a list of some of my very favourite non-fiction titles for you:

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Non-Fiction November: Be the Expert

It’s already Week 3 of Non-Fiction November! This month long celebration of all things non-fiction is hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Julie at JulzReads, Sarah of Sarah’s Book Shelves, Lory of Emerald City Book Review, and Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness.

And this week it’s Kim @ Sophisticated Dorkiness hosting Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert:

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three 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’ve elected to Be the Expert again this year. Because this year I wanted my non-fiction reading to be more frivolous than it’s been recently, I’ve decided to focus on Hollywood this week. And while there is tons of interesting non-fiction on modern aspects of Hollywood (I do really need to get my hands on some of those Scientology books one of these days…), I’m looking at old Hollywood Stars.

My love of Hollywood Stars started on Sunday  afternoon movie marathons with my grandmother. Which led to reading biographies of Shirley Temple and Audrey Hepburn when I was a tween. Before I became obsessed with Royal Women, Hollywood Movie Stars were my jam.

So if you’ve  been looking for some delicious, gossipy books, read on!

marilyn

If you’re going to read biographies about Hollywood you cannot go wrong with anything written by J. Randy Taraborrelli. He is one of my absolute go-to biographers. His portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor really stand out for his ability to actually get to the person at the centre of their myths. The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth are really worth your time. (I also wholeheartedly recommend his biography of the Hilton family – the Zsa Zsa time alone is worth it).

 

 

avaAva Gardner: Love is Nothing by Lee Server. Oh this one was full of scandal! Frank Sinatra, Mickey Rooney, Howard Hughes – Ava Gardner bewitched them and then some. Ava was a firecracker who was ahead of her time in many ways. I had an idea of Ava going into this book and finished it feeling like she’d been misrepresented for years and years.

 

 

 

natashaIf tragedy is more your thing, might I suggest Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood by Suzanne Finstead? A child star whose mother was ultra protective after being told her daughter would die in dark waters, burdened with being the bread winner in her family, and ever after seen as a precocious child star, Natalie Wood’s life was ably and sensitively covered in this book. I’ll never forget the detail that Christopher Walken was on the boat the night she died.

 

 

me and my shadowsSpeaking of family tragedy, Me and My Shadows: A Family Memoir by Lorna Luft was one of the early celebrity memoirs I bought for myself. Lorna Luft is Judy Garland’s daughter and her telling of growing up with her beautiful, talented, but ultimately damaged mother is one that will stick with you for years.

 

 

 

joan

This summer, thanks to Feud: Bette and Joan, I became obsessed with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. I cannot recommend The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine enough as it was the inspiration for the show and contains the most delicious gossip I’ve ever read in a biography. I haven’t yet read a book about Bette, but the one I read about Joan, Possessed: The Life of Joan Crawford by Donald Spoto made me see Ms Crawford in a completely different light. Incidentally, Spoto has also written a biography of Audrey Hepburn that I read years ago.

 

In keeping with my brand, there are no male movie star biographies listed here. It’s just not as interesting to read about the white men who had the world at their feet. It was like reading about Grace Kelly – so beautiful, so boring. She did everything she was supposed to her whole life.

So there you have it: an old Hollywood biography starter pack. Are there any you’ve read that you think I should give a spin? I’m always looking for more.

And don’t forget to check out Kim @ Sophisticated Dorkiness to see what other Non-Fiction Novemberites are reading about!

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Non-Fiction November: Fiction/Non-Fiction Book Pairings

Annnnnnd it’s Week 2 of Non-Fiction November!

Non-Fiction November is an annual appreciation of all things non-fiction hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Julie at JulzReads, Sarah of Sarah’s Book Shelves, Lory of Emerald City Book Review, and Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness.

This week Sarah is hosting fiction/non-fiction pairings. That is:

It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

This year I tried to think about this BEFORE the week started. Read on to see what I’ve come up with.

Guns in America

Early this year I broke my heart over Gary Younge’s Another Day in the Death of America. He picks a random day and looks at all the deaths of children on that day – there were 10 on the day he chose, but on average, there are seven.

This summer, everyone was talking about Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give. And for good reason. This book about the aftermath of the shooting death of a teenage girl’s friend is wonderful. I was so invested in this book right away – I loved Starr and her family and Thomas does an incredible job writing about something very difficult in a way that’s totally accessible.

Indigenous Peoples

I’ve already told you all about Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga. It’s one of the most important and eye-opening books I’ve read this year. It really made me think long and hard about the things my country has done to these communities.

Earlier this year, thanks to Canada Reads, I’d read Katherena Vermette’s The Break. The book did not fare well on the show thanks to super closed-minded male readers but it really made an impact on me. A woman is raped in Manitoba in the ice and snow. Another woman hears something and calls the police. The Break is about that rape’s aftermath, rippling out through an entire family. It touches on family and community and culture and also how forgotten and ignored Indigenous Peoples, especially Indigenous women are.

Bodies

I will always read everything that Roxane Gay writes and even I was blown away by the force of Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. In it she lays bare her life and her struggles with her own body and the way the world reacts to it. She talks about being gang raped at 12 and how ever after she made her body big so that it would be safe. About how humiliating it can be on planes, at events, at the grocery store when people take food out of her cart. I read this with my book club and it was one of the best discussions we’d ever had.

Last year I read and loved Dietland by Sarai Walker. Plum, our heroine, is biding her time, getting through her days, until she gets her weight loss surgery. Soon she notices that she’s being followed by a girl in striped tights and eventually gets pulled into a feminist group intent on disrupting the world with their actions. This group wants to show the world that their definitions of beauty, of womanhood, are dangerous and outdated. It’s the story of a girl learning to be comfortable in her own skin, no matter the size and kicking ass along the way. A delight.

Ballet

I’m flipping the order here – I’ve actually read The Chosen Maiden but I have not yet read Bolshoi Confidential. I am hoping to this month!

The Chosen Maiden by Eva Stachniak is the fictionalized account of the lives of the Nijinski siblings, Bronia and Vaslav. It charts their lives through the Twentieth Century alongside their accomplishments in dance. It’s a story of dance but also family and the costs that can come from working with those closest to us.

Bolshoi Confidential: Secrets of the Russian Ballet from the Rule of the Tsars to Today by Simon Morrison promises to be a gossipy read about ballet. And if you know anything about ballet, you know that it can be a brutal world. Remember that director who was attacked with acid? Morrison talks about that. Prima ballerinas, professional audience members, faked credentials; I’m getting excited to read this just thinking about it.

Alright, now I’m going to hop around and add more titles to my list thanks to everyone else’s recommendations! If you’re interested in participating, or just lurking in the wings, head on over to Sarah’s Bookshelves to find out more.

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Non-Fiction November: My year in Non-Fiction

Last year I tentatively decided to participate in Non-Fiction November for the first time. This year, I’ve been looking forward to it all year long.

Non-Fiction November is an annual appreciation of all things non-fiction hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Julie at JulzReads, Sarah of Sarah’s Book Shelves, Lory of Emerald City Book Review, and Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness,

Let’s get to it!

The first week, hosted by Julie @ JulzReads, asks us to reflect on our non-fiction reading so far this year!

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

We all know that it’s impossible to choose one favourite book at any time. This is no exception. I’ve read some really great non-fiction this year. These definitely stand out:

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

I read Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud early in the year and I’ve recommended that one to a lot of people. At the very least to read the essay on Kim Kardashian and pregnancy which is a real stand out. More recently, I’ve been preaching about Seven Fallen Feathers. The story of these Indigenous youths that we all turned our backs on is one that needs to be known more widely. We can’t keep pretending that these problems don’t exist in Indigenous communities and that we didn’t have a hand in creating them through racist policies.

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

This year I’ve read more socially conscious non-fiction. Which is great because that’s something that I wanted to do more of this time last year. BUT. Reading those kinds of books on top of the state of the world can be quite draining. I think this month I would love to read more ‘frivolous’ non-fiction. I want to read more about royals (my fave!), biographies, about women in the past. I think I need a bit of a break from the social commentary that feels a bit like little glass slivers cutting me.

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

I want to clear some of my non-fiction TBR! So far this year, 30% of my reading has been non-fiction (which sounds great until you realize that my reading numbers overall are just lower so a greater amount of them are non-fiction) but I still have so many books sitting on my shelves. I have books about royal parents, Leni Riefenstahl and Marlene Dietrich, housewives in the 1950s, ballet at the Bolshoi, a few biographies of Queen Victoria and books about women and families fighting fascists in the 1940s.

I’m also really looking forward to interacting with other non-fiction readers. And for every book that I clear from my TBR, I look forward to adding three in their place from recommendations by other participants!

Does this sound like something you want to get in on? There’s still time? Check out the schedule here. There’s also a book swap if you sign up this week!

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Seven Fallen Feathers

I’ve struggled with how to write about Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga.

Not only is the subject matter difficult, but what more could I say that Talaga hasn’t already said better?

But shying away from talking about this book, about what happened, is part of the problem. So here we go.

seven fallen feathers

Seven Fallen Feathers tells the stories of Jethro, Curran, Robyn, Paul, Reggie, Kyle and Jordan. Forty years after recommendations were made to keep Indigenous children safe when they were sent away from home for school, these seven Indigenous youth were left to their own devices and lost their lives. None of the recommendations had ever been put in place. None of their deaths were ever properly investigated.

The choice that Indigenous youth in remote communities face is a difficult one: stay at home and receive nothing more than a Grade 8 education, or leave home and move to a city and attend a secondary school in a strange place without your relatives to keep you safe.

Jethro, Curran, Robyn, Paul, Reggie, Kyle and Jordan all moved to Thunder Bay, Ontario to attend secondary school. None of them had ever been to a “big” city and things that we take for granted, strip malls and fast food, were all completely new to them. They moved into boarding houses, sometimes with cousins or distant relatives. They made new friends, and experimented with alcohol – like all kids at their age do.

Five of them were found dead in the rivers surrounding Lake Superior, despite their families claiming they were good swimmers and would never be in the water in the middle of the winter, one died in the hall of her boarding house, and one inexplicably collapsed in his kitchen. Seven years after Jethro, the first boy, was found, an inquest was finally held after the death of Reggie.

Seven Fallen Feathers takes a hard look at Canada’s relationship with Indigenous communities. Talaga, a journalist, digs deeply into the families and histories of these forgotten children. A lot of them have family histories with residential schools, a legacy whose pain and suffering is a burden still being carried by new generations.

This book is brutal in that it looks at the completely unnecessary deaths of promising young people. They left the security of their communities for a place that was totally unknown to them, a place that was not welcoming, teeming with racist overtures.

But this book is also completely necessary. It opened my eyes to something that I didn’t want to see. I think Seven Fallen Feathers is a book that all Canadians should read. It’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the wrongs Canada has committed against Indigenous Peoples but it’s a very important start.

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Lady Killers

I’ve always been fascinated by true crime. I used to marathon City Confidential and American Justice and watch Dateline specials secretly before it was a Thing.

But lately, it seems like it’s true crime all the time. I listen to crime podcasts when I drive (My Favorite Murder, Casefile, Sword and Scale, Someone Knows Something, Missing and Murdered: Who Killed Alberta Williams etc), google the stories when I’m done, watch the documentaries on Netflix and…read the books.

So when a copy of Tori Telfer’s Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History showed up at my door I was thrilled. 

Back when I was stuck in bed with vertigo, Lady Killers kept me company all day.

lady killers

I’m not sure that Telfer is as big of a crime aficionado as some of her readers will be. But she makes an interesting point: throughout history, women have been accused of some heinous crimes but they are always written off because they are women. We all know Ted Bundy and David Berkowitz and John Wayne Gacy but how many of us are familiar with Anna Marie Hahn, Kate Bender or Lizzie Halliday? History has a tendency to downplay the achievements of women, and while I would hesitate to call their crimes “achievements”, these women were forgotten as soon as possible.

Telfer has gone back through the history books and resurrected the tales of these lady killers. Like Kate Belford, who along with her brother and parents ran a small inn in Kansas, one where weary travellers would stop for a night. Except that Kate would cut their throats after flirting with them and their bodies would disappear through a trapdoor in the floor. Before robbing them, they’d bury the bodies in a field behind the house. Or Raya and Sakina, Egyptian sisters who ran a brothel that was hugely profitable while the French here in control but who resorted to desperate acts once that was no longer the case; in 1920 the remains of 17 dead girls were found beneath the floors of their home. So evil were these women that to this day, little girls are never called Raya or Sakina in Egypt. And Marie-Madeleine d’Aubrey, a wealthy French aristocrat, poisoned her entire family one by one to get the inheritance all for herself. But after poisoning her family, she had to keep going to prevent others from finding out.

I appreciated that Telfer didn’t focus on North American crime, that she branched out and found stories from France, Russia, Egypt and Hungary. And OK, obviously these women all did heinous things, but I thought that Telfor also did a great job of illustrating what it was like to be a woman in the times they lived. These stories are from the 1500s, 1950s, 1870s, 1300s, 1920s and 1670s. The realities of women living then are very different from the way women live now (in first world countries anyway). Some were motivated by extreme circumstances, others by greed or blood lust. Telfor in no way makes excuses for their actions – I think she falls more into the “killers are killers and they are all heinous” category of true crime reader – but she goes to great lengths to tell their complete stories and it shows.

And lest you think this book is heavy or terrifying:

“The choice to keep these lady killers fairly ‘vintage’ […] was largely an aesthetic one; with victims and perpetrators long dead, the stories hopefully err on the side of spooky and mesmerizing, rather than simply…depressing. Today’s serial killers are certainly worthy of study but there’s a heaviness and a sadness to modern crimes that history tends to erase, for better or for worse.”

In keeping with this aesthetic, each chapter is accompanied by hella charming portraits of the women featured by the talented Dame Darcy.

Oh yes, this book was just what I needed.

I received an ARC of this book. Any errors in quoting are due to coming from an uncorrected copy.

 

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Lake Reads: Summer 2017

It is the point in this dumpster fire of a year, personally and globally, when I take a time out and go to my in-laws for some outdoor reading, wine drinking, ice cream tripping and lake dipping.

And as ever, in the service of creating more bookish lists, here’s what’s coming with me.

lake reads

I have been thinking about what’s coming with me for WEEKS. It is has been a hellfire of a couple of weeks, and focusing on what books I could bring is an exercise in joy.

I’m looking at two long car rides and FIVE days of glorious freedom spent with my (sunscreened) nose in a book.

Not too long ago, I went on a bookstore binge. Somehow I have managed to keep Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me, Taylor Jenkin Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network for lake reading. I can just feel that these books will be HEAVEN.

I also managed to keep my impatient hands off of Roxane Gay’s Hunger. Roxane is coming with me to the lake!

Matt Haig’s How To Stop Time. So I had written down this book’s July release date, ready to march to the bookstore and pick up a copy on the day. Turns out, that was the U.K release date and I’d have to wait until FEBRUARY to get mine. NOPE. I ordered it from book depository.com – it arrived last week and I’ve been counting the days until I can read it outside in the garden. This one is the story of a man who ages more slowly than the rest of us – as in, he was born in the 1500s and is still kicking. The one rule: don’t fall in love. You know I loved The Humans, and The Radleys and I’ve only heard the most wonderful things about How to Stop Time.

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante. Well, guys. This will be it. The fourth and final book in the Neapolitan Novels series.  I’ve been undecided if I want to read this ASAP or wait to find out what happens to Lila and Elena. The draw of reading the finale in the sunshine proved to be too much. Plus, it was at the library when I went – a sign. I’m going to have to go back and buy all these books at some point. The thought of not owning these is kind of a heartbreaker.

Sleep Baby Sleep by David Hewson. Would a trip to the lake be complete without some kind of crime fiction? No, it would not. I’ve fallen in love with the Pieter Vos books, set in Amsterdam with the kind of hardboiled, crusty detective we’ve all come to expect in this type of book. Turns out Amsterdam is a perfect, sinister setting for some seriously f*cked up crime. A girl who works at the famous flower market disappears. When she turns up, she’s barely alive, tied to a stone angel inside a ring of fire. Her body contains traces of a drug that connects her to a series of murders called The Sleeping Beauty Murders. Vos is on the trail of a serial killer. Yesssssssssssssssssssssss.

And because I’ve been deep diving into the non-fiction this year…

First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies by Kate Anderson Brower. This book has been on my list for forever. This book, that looks at the most underestimated positions in the world, covers the women who held the position from 1960 to the present day. I’m looking forward to spending time with Jackie, Lady Bird, Pat, Rosalyn, Hillary and of course, Michelle. It also includes a cheeky afterword regarding the expectations of Melania in the role…

A Bold and Dangerous Family: The Remarkable Story of an Italian Mother, Her Sons, and their Fight Against Fascism by Caroline Moorehead. It’s taken me a LONG time to recover enough from A Train in Winter to even THINK about reading another of Moorehead’s books. I am confident that, dealing as it does with an Italian mother, this one will have more blatant ass-kicking and less heartbreak. It’s the true story of the Rosselli family, a part of the cultural elite in Florence, who were vocal anti-fascists. The price they paid for their activism is documented in this book, which also looks at the rise and fall of Mussolini and his black shirted thugs, and what it meant for Italy as a whole. You know, just some light summer reading.

So that’s probably enough, but just in case I will also bring War and Peace with me to fill in any reading lulls. Will I read all of the books? Definitely not. But I will always have something to suit my mood and that’s how I roll.