Archive for the ‘Adult Nonfiction’ Category

On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed

June 18, 2021


With Juneteenth having recently become a federal holiday, now is a great time to read this brief, powerful new book by historian Annette Gordon-Reed, author of the Pulitzer Prize winner “The Hemingses of Monticello.” The book is a compelling combination of memoir and family history, mixed with a fascinating discussion of the complicated history of Texas. Gordon-Reed was born and raised in East Texas, and as a young girl in the 1960s was the first Black student to integrate the all-white school in her hometown. She writes movingly about how for her great grandparents, the celebration of Juneteenth was not just an abstract celebration of the end of slavery, but a commemoration of the end of slavery for people they had actually known. She does a great job of unpacking the cultural mythology surrounding Texas – the large- than-life image we have from movies like Giant and The Alamo of cowboys and cattle ranchers and oil rigs – and how this narrow image obscures the history and lived experiences of African Americans in Texas. Gordon-Reed is a very proud Texan, and part of her love for her home State involves bringing this history to light and helping people understand the many reasons that Juneteenth is such an important holiday.

On Juneteenth is available at the Library and on Libby/Overdrive.


Where You’ll Find Me: Risk, Decisions, and the Last Climb of Kate Matrosova, by Ty Gagne

June 18, 2021


I attended our library program by Ty Gagne talking about his most recent book: The Last Traverse: Tragedy and Resilience in the Winter Whites,” and, wow. Gagne is an excellent speaker who brings you right inside the real stories he writes about. If you live in New Hampshire and/or if you are a hiker, then the phrase “Winter Whites” gives you a shiver of fear or a real sense of danger.

I’ve been meaning to read Gagne’s first book about a hiker’s deadly experience hiking the Northern Presidential Range in the winter so I picked it up right after the program. A tragedy like this is compelling for the archetypal human vs. nature struggle but Gagne adds the element of risk assessment and decision-making under extreme conditions. Fascinating.

I’m looking forward to reading The Last Traverse. From the library program, I know that the Mountain Rescue Service and other brave men and women play an even larger role in this book and I want to know more.

In our catalog:
Where You’ll Find Me
The Last Traverse

Other books you might like:
Not Without Peril
Critical Hours

Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford

June 14, 2021


This is a beautiful, thoughtful, personal memoir. It might seem strange to say that it is personal, given that is a memoir, but the author is very forthcoming about her commitment to being open and vulnerable, and about her determination to be known and understood, both in her life and through this book. That openness and vulnerability are hard won. There are many reasons why her defenses might be up. Growing up Black and poor in Indiana, her father, whom she adored, was incarcerated when she was a young child, leaving her to be raised by her mother — a very complicated woman with whom she has an intense, fraught relationship. She grows up constantly surrounded by family – her grandmother, her cousins, her siblings, and especially her mother. While in many ways her family is a source of strength and joy for her, that closeness also comes with expectations and demands that inhibit her and contribute to the feeling that she can’t truly be herself, even around those closest to her. She paints a vivid portrait of her family that is both brutally honest and loving. The book is particularly effective in depicting what it is like to grow up with an unpredictable parent who is at times fun and loving, and then suddenly, explosively abusive. She also movingly articulates what it is like to suffer from anxiety, which is heightened after she is sexually assaulted as a child. It is painful to watch this funny, smart, inquisitive child start to close herself off from the world. But throughout the book you also have the strong, reassuring voice of the adult Ashley telling the story. As the narrator of her own story (and the very effective reader of the audiobook), she is strong and open and fully herself. It is a wonderful reminder of the power of telling your own story, and having kept herself hidden for so long, this memoir is a beautiful way to bring herself back into the world.

Somebody’s Daughter is available at the Library and as both an ebook and an audiobook on Libby/Overdrive.

Somebody's Daughter

My Houseplant Changed My Life: Green Well-being for the Great Indoors, by David Domoney

June 8, 2021


I am perhaps the absolutely most unlikely person to check out this book. I am pretty much whatever the opposite of a plant whisperer is (a plant shouter?). Despite my best efforts – and recommendations from others for plants that are impossible to kill – no plant lasts very long under my “care.”

This book inspired me though! In part because it had good information to help me decide which plants might be more suited to my environment (places in my house or at work), and more suited to my actual potential (admittedly low, but with the right match, maybe higher).

Domoney’s detailed descriptions of what each plant needs are paired with the benefits of each plant for humans and our surroundings. For example, the Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata – if you like that sort of thing). “This is probably the toughest houseplant you can buy – it’s low maintenance, tolerant of neglect, and a hardworking air purifier. It also has an interesting form, with its upright swordlike foliage and fascinating variegated leaf markings, that will provide a positive mental distraction from your worries.” Sounds like it was made for me! The simple two-page spread has four brief tips to help the plant thrive (position, potting, growth rate, and care) and four other facts to help you take care of the plant and about its benefits. After an introduction about the benefits of houseplants on our well-being and our living spaces, each plant gets its own two-page spread with this simple, easy to use and refer to format. It’s really a usable book and fun and interesting to browse through even if you don’t decide to bring any plants into your home.

Plants I’m considering as a result of looking at this book: The Snake Plant (obviously), Velvet Plant, Sword Fern, Joseph’s Coat (mood-enhancing beauty, symbolizes change), and Zebra Plant. Most of these clean air, have striking foliage and/or color, don’t get huge, and are a bit less fussy about watering and fertilizing. One that I’m definitely not going to get but was so odd and unfamiliar to me is “Living Stones.” I probably should get one since you don’t even water it at all from early fall to midspring!

I mentioned inspiration… The introduction includes reasons why to consider bringing plants into your indoor environments. One of these is “A sense of achievement: Plants can boost self-esteem. To see a living thing thrive thanks to your care and attention evokes a feeling of pride. And success in the form of propagation or seeing your plant flower releases serotonin, another hormone that lifts and stabilizes your mood.” I don’t even think I would need to see propagation or flowers (in fact I mostly looked at plants that don’t flower) – I would feel successful just to have the plant live longer than six months.

I haven’t gotten any plants yet, but will keep you posted if I do! Find this book in our catalog here.

Books about houseplants and how to take care of them on Hoopla:
All titles
Happy Houseplants
What’s Wrong with my Houseplant
Pocket Guide to Houseplants
Handmade Houseplants: Remarkably Realistic Plants you can Make with Paper

Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist by Judith Heumann

March 15, 2021


While I love learning about women who have made amazing contributions to the world, it also pains me in some ways to think about why these stories aren’t more widely known. I certainly felt this way reading Vanguard by Martha Jones about the history of Black women fighting for Voting Rights. It was especially poignant for me learning about Judy Heumann since I have been directly impacted by the things she worked on, and yet I only just learned about her from my daughter. So for this Women’s History Month, I want to recommend Being Heumann, Judy Heumann’s fascinating memoir. Heumann is the daughter of two Holocaust survivors. Judy contracted polio at 18 months, and uses a wheelchair. Her parents were advised by doctors to put Judy into an institution, but their experiences in Nazi Germany led them to reject that idea. Her mother fought for her right to a public education, which she had been denied. Judy naturally grew into her activism, inspired by the Civil Rights movement and the Women’s Rights movement, as well as by her parents. To me the most riveting part of the book was the story of the weeks long 504 Sit-In that Heumann led at the San Francisco US Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare in 1977. The Sit-In was part of a nationwide effort by disability rights activists to persuade the US Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare to finally sign the regulations that would enable Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities by any program receiving federal funds. This is very much, as the title indicates, an activist’s memoir, and while there are important aspects of Heumann’s personal life that come through, the focus of most of the book is on the fight for the civil rights of people with disabilities. This was an eye-opening book for me and one I very much recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about this fight, and this extraordinary woman. The book is available at the Library.

Being Heumann by Judith Heumann and Kristen Joiner

7 Ways, by Jamie Oliver

March 6, 2021

[Lesley] I really should leave the cookbook reviews to Cindy, but this one is my speed! I was immediately attracted to the structure: 18 common ingredients, each with 7 different recipes. In my house, we do use some foods over and over again: chicken, broccoli, eggs, fish, potatoes… And there are days when I feel like if I have to make another quiche, I’m going to run away from home.

Now I can make cajun coddled eggs or cauli chicken pot pie. My family occasionally eats red meat, can be picky about vegetables, needs leftovers for lunch, and includes a vegetarian. That can make dinner tricky. This cookbook is the epitome of flexibility. A steak recipe that sounds like flavors the vegetarian would enjoy? Swap out one of the other ingredients (eggplant, sweet potato, mushrooms). Like the preparation of this main ingredient but not the sauce? Find some other sauce that you can use.

The ingredients lists on the recipes are nice and short and each recipe fits on one page with a picture facing. For the most part, I found the ingredients to be things I usually have at home, though a few recipes would be a challenge for my basic pantry. Still, I felt like it would be easy to substitute something that I did have in those cases.

I made the potato lasagna which was delicious. Oh, and I had more than my baking dish would hold so I made a second one with broccoli – see, flexible! As often happens with a new recipe, I learned a few things that I would do differently, but given how yummy it was, I will definitely make it again with those tweaks.

I can also see how I could make it with different ingredients or spice combinations. I liked the technique of incorporating chopped up asparagus stalks into the sauce – the sauce stayed smooth but was thicker than with a roux alone and the flavor was much richer. That’s something I’ll use in other dishes.

I flagged a bunch of other recipes my family wants to try (swapping things in and out) including:

  • Cauli Chicken Pot Pie
  • Sweet Potato & Chicken Chop Suey
  • Eggplant & Ricotta Pasta
  • Asian Egg & Bean Salad
  • Beef & Guinness Hot Pot
  • Cajun Coddled Eggs
  • Quick Stuffed Potato Naans
  • Mushroom Toad-In-The-Hole
  • Quickest White Fish Terrine

Click here to find 7 Ways by Jamie Oliver in our catalog.

Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted On Equality For All by Martha S. Jones

February 3, 2021


There has been a great deal written about the historic fight for women’s suffrage, particularly last year during the Centennial celebration of the 19th Amendment, however the role that Black women played in this fight has often been overlooked. This compelling, fascinating book by Professor Martha Jones explores the rich history of African American women’s political lives, focusing on the intersections of racism and sexism that have always informed that history. While Black women played a much bigger role than is often recognized in the fight for the 19th Amendment, the passing of that Amendment was not the end of the fight for voting rights for Black women. The book traces the many ways in which Black women fought to gain political power and make their voices heard – in churches, in clubs, as orators, as authors. While you may recognize some of the names of the women talked about in the book, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Rosa Parks, Shirley Chisholm, and Stacey Abrams, you may come to understand their stories in the context of so many other Black women throughout history whose names are just beginning to be known, thanks to books like this. Vanguard is available at the Library.

Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl by Jonathan C. Slaght

January 11, 2021


Did you ever hear of fish owls? Me neither before I read a little column about this book in a nature magazine.
In this book, the author details his research ( you might call it search first!) on the eastern fish owl in Eastern Russia, a bird that only exists there and in Japan, threatened by climate change and heavy logging. The colorful local characters he encounters and partners with to observe and help this species survive are all fascinating, making for a great non fiction read. I highly recommend the author. I read the audiobook version! Owls of the Eastern Ice is available at the Library and as an audiobook on Hoopla and on Libby/Overdrive.

Here is a youtube video of the virtual book launch for this book.

Owls of the Eastern Ice

20 Titles of 2020 (Print edition)

December 22, 2020


I said it last year, and while a lot of things have changed, this particular sentiment of mine has not. So let me state once again that I’m not a big fan of creating best of lists, because I’m far too literal a person to declare anything “the best of 2020.” That being said, I have read all kinds of really wonderful books published this year. And I’ve read them in many of different formats. In this post I’ll focus on books we have physical copies of in the library, and in the next one I’ll do a round up of some 2020 favorites from overdrive and Hoopla. So as we head into the new year, here are 20 of my favorite titles published in 2020.

Young Adult Books

Just a boy and a girl in a little canoe by Sarah Mlynowski

The gravity of us by Phil Stamper

You should see me in a crown by Leah Johnson

Yes no maybe so by Becky Albertalli & Aisha Saeed

The voting booth by Brandy Colbert

Mind the gap, Dash & Lily by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

10 things I hate about Pinky by Sandhya Menon


She came to slay : the life and times of Harriet Tubman by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

Lifting as we climb : black women’s battle for the ballot box by Evette Dionne

True or false : a CIA analyst’s guide to spotting fake news by Cindy L. Otis.

Big friendship : how we keep each other close by Aminatou Sow, Ann Friedman.

Why we’re polarized / Ezra Klein

Kids Books

Kenzie kickstarts a team by Kit Rosewater

Ice breaker : how Mabel Fairbanks changed figure skating by Rose Viña

Finish the fight! : the brave and revolutionary women who fought for the right to vote by Veronica Chambers 


Primer : a superhero graphic novel written by Jennifer Muro & Thomas Krajewski

Check, Please! 2 : Sticks & Scones by Ngozi  Ukazu

Drawing the vote : an illustrated guide to voting in America by Tommy Jenkins 


Party of two by Jasmine Guillory

Party of Two: Guillory, Jasmine: 9780593100813: Books


Everything comes next : collected and new poems  by Naomi Shihab Nye

Everything Comes Next: Collected and New Poems: Nye, Naomi Shihab:  9780063013452: Books

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

September 29, 2020


Several of the books I’ve read in the past few months, particularly Deacon King Kong by James McBride, and The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, revolve around characters who were part of the Great Migration, in which 6 million or so Black people left the Jim Crow South for Northern cities during the period of time between World War I and the 1970s. The Great Migration was not something I had learned about in school. For me this wonderful book offers such important context for understanding the lives of people like the characters in those novels, and more broadly, the history of this country and the devastating impact of slavery and its aftermath. I’m not a frequent nonfiction reader, and when I do read it, I am generally drawn to books like this that feel almost like reading a novel. Wilkerson writes beautifully, and she very effectively focuses this very big story around the lives of 3 people, each of whom left their homes in the South for different parts of the country – one to New York, one to Chicago and one to Los Angeles – during the decades of the Great Migration. The blending of the personal stories and the wider historical context makes it a very readable book. It’s not new – it was published in 2010, but is extremely relevant and very much worth reading. The book is available from the Library, and the ebook is available on Libby/Overdrive.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson