All in Book Reviews

Why I'm Starting to Read More Fantasy

Fantasy gets a bad rap for being predictable genre fiction. But The Key to the Half Worlds by Andrew Chaplin surprised me. It’s time to put our prejudices against fantasy aside and read more of it. Included in my review of The Key to the Half Words is a fun side note about the history of washing machines and a discussion of why we should stop using the term “guilty read.”

The Only Self-Improvement Book You Need to Read

In Instant Wisdom: 10 Easy Ways to Get Smart Fast, Beth Burgess successfully summarizes most of the self-improvement books that have been published in the last decade in a fun, casual way. As a self-improvement junkie, I definitely recommend Instant Wisdom. From Instant Wisdom, I learned about Socratic questioning as a way to deal with personal issues and make personal decisions. I also appreciate Burgess’s criticism of the Law of Attraction.

The Ten-Year Nap Review

The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer resonated with every fiber of my being. Never have I read a book that spoke so poignantly to all the thoughts swirling around my brain. Read my review of The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer to learn why I whole-heartedly disagree with the bad reviews of The Ten-Year Nap on Goodreads. Do not overlook or underestimate The Ten-Year Nap because of the bad reviews.

Father Divine's Bikes Review and History

 Father Divine’s Bikes introduced me to a historical figure I had never heard of, Father Divine (though Father Divine is more of a character in spirit). Father Divine was an African-American religious figure who rose to prominence in the 1930s. PBS calls his International Peace Mission Movement, “one of the most unorthodox religious movements in America.”

Four Ways to Counteract “What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains”

The internet is affecting our memory and concentration, and not in a goodway, according to Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. But for better or worse, the internet is here to stay. So how do we live with technology without sacrificing our brains? In The Shallows, Carr offers a few suggestions, which I’ve outlined in this article along with one suggestion of my own.

La Befana and 'Beyond the Wicked Willow: Chronicles of a Teenage Witchslayer': A Book Review

After finding out he’s the descendant of a witchslayer, Frankie and his friends are transported to medieval Italy in order to save a young girl from the evil Strega. In my review of Beyond the Wicked Willow: Chronicles of a Teenage Witchslayer by M.J. Rocissono I explore Rocissono’s entertaining fantasy adventure and take a look at the history of the Italian tradition of La Befana.

'Destroying Their God' by Wallace Jeffs: A Book Review

Destroying Their God: How I Fought My Evil Half-Brother to Save My Children by Wallace Jeffs is a fascinating and moving story of Jeffs’ struggle with FLDS. He is still facing the consequences of leaving the insular FLDS community, and he has an interesting perspective on polygamy. In my review of Destroying Their God, I take a look at the technical merits of the book and delve into the ways Rulon and Warren Jeffs manipulated their followers.

'In The Shadow of 10,000 Hills’ Review and History

After a miscarriage, Rachel feels the urge to seek out her estranged photojournalist father, Henry, who she learns lived in Rwanda. She travels to Rwanda 10 years after the genocide to meet Lillian. Originally from Georgia, Lillian operates an orphanage in Rwanda that she and Henry built together. During her stay, Rachel learns about her father while witnessing how Rwandans are coming to terms with the genocide. Continue reading my review of In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills for more information about both the genocide and the book.

Review of ‘Your Creative Career’ by Anna Sabino

Your Creative Career is not for every gig worker. It’s for creative entrepreneurs as Sabino calls us. Creative entrepreneurs include web designers, handmade product designers, writers, painters, bloggers, vloggers, etc. Your Creative Career by Anna Sabino is part memoir, part self-help book, and part how-to guide written in a stream-of-consciousness style. If you’ve read other books about using your creativity to make money and have a solid grasp of basic business principles like cash flow, you can skip this one, not a whole lot of new information here. But if you’re new to creative entrepreneurship, you'll want to read Your Creative Career because Sabino covers everything you’ll need to know to get started. Although there might not be a whole lot of new how-to information for the rest of us in Your Creative Career, Sabino does share some wisdom worth contemplating.

'Alias Grace' by Margaret Atwood: Summary, Analysis, and Canadian History!

Alias Grace is a novel by Margaret Atwood based on the real-life 1843 murders of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery. Grace Marks and James McDermott were convicted of the crime. McDermott was hanged, and Marks had her sentence commuted and ended up in the Kingston Penitentiary. No one knows for sure whether or to what degree Grace Marks was involved in the murders.  Alias Grace gives readers a chance to decide for themselves whether this “celebrated murderess” was guilty or not.

‘Full Circle’ by Regina Timothy Review

From the prologue, which takes us inside the collapsing World Trade Center on 9/11, to the end, Full Circle lays bare many of the political and social issues the United States has been grappling with since before the 9/11 attacks. Despite its seriousness, Full Circle reads like a television drama. The cast includes Samia, an Iraqi refugee; Melissa, a faltering fashion mogul; and Susan, Samia's hapless friend who also happens to be Melissa's assistant. Continue reading my review of Full Circle by Regina Timothy to find out why I’m not completely in love with this one.

A Story of Romance and Espionage in World War II

Because historical romance isn’t usually my favorite genre, I didn’t think I was going to love this book. As with Carnegie’s Maid, however, I was wrong. Searching for Gertrude is satisfying in a way few books are, and I enjoyed it. Searching for Gertrude is well written and tidy. There are no loose ends or trying to be more than it is: a sweet love story set in World War II. Haggerty's writing style is to-the-point, no flowery language or overblown setting descriptions, which helps make Searching for Gertrude a light read as far as World War II novels go.

'White Houses' Review

Eleanor Roosevelt had an affair with a woman, who knew? Apparently, it’s not so common, common knowledge. In White Houses, Amy Bloom tells a fictional story about the real-lif romance between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok. White Houses fascinated me, but not it the way you might guess.

'Carnegie's Maid' Review and Discussion Questions

Pam Jenoff’s quote on the front of Carnegie’s Maid says it all: “Downton Abbey fans should flock to this charming tale.” I’m a Downton Abby fan, and I loved this book. Like pretty much every book here on Picking Books, Carnegie’s Maid contains a wealth of accurate historical information. And within its pages you get a good sense of who Andrew Carnegie was and a loose outline of his rise to prominence.  Benedict also touches on the struggles Irish people continued to face after the famine in 1840 and the difficulties immigrants faced both on their way to America and once they got here. What I love most about Carnegie’s Maid, however, is how Benedict delves into Pittsburgh’s rich cultural history.

'The Nightingale' Review

A review of The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah as well as a discussion about Hannah’s inspiration for ‘The Nightingale,’ Andrée de Jongh. The Nightingale is about how two French sisters, Viann and Isabelle, survive World War II. It has everything a good World War II book should have: pain, suffering, strength, hope, and bravery.

I Learned More about World War II from 'When My Name Was Keoko' Than I Learned in School

I have no recollection of learning about World War II in high school. I took AP U.S. History, so you’d think it would have come up, and it might have, but I don’t remember it. So, before I read When My Name Was Keoko, all I knew about Japan during World War II was that we dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I knew nothing about Korea. 

When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park came out in 2002. The book follows a young Korean girl, Sun-hee (Keoko), and her older brother, Tea-yul (Nobuo), during World War II. By the time we get to Sun-hee’s story, the Japanese have occupied Korea for thirty years. When My Name Was Keoko begins with Sun-hee having to choose a Japanese name. “Graciously allowing”—as the Japanese Emperor’s official order phrased it—Korean's to choose Japanese names was one tactic Japan used to indoctrinate the population of Korea.

'Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk' Review and Women’s History

It’s 1931  and The New York World-Telegram declares Lillian “the highest paid advertising woman in America” (p. 24). Lillian, though proud of her achievement, confronts her boss: “But woman, Chester. It says woman. Why not person? I’ve come in here to ask for a raise. We both know I bring R.H. Macy’s more business than anyone else on the thirteenth floor, woman or man. Why not pay me what I’m worth?” Of course, it’s 1931 and Lillian doesn’t get the raise, “…this is just how it is,” Chester says (p. 27). In Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, author Kathleen Rooney explores women's issues. She explains the state of maternity leave and the glass ceiling in the 1930s and 1940s with historical accuracy.