Nonfiction November: Be/Become/Ask the Expert

This week’s Nonfiction November topic is Be / Become / Ask 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).

At some point in the mid-1980s, I found A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins in the little closet our church called a library, and reading about his walk across the country in the 1970s captured my imagination in a big way. I studied maps and read about interesting spots in each state as I planned out many variations of cross-country walks. Outside my imagination, I spent a fair amount of time hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which was practically in my backyard. During family vacations, I always wanted to walk places because it was such a novelty to be outside my somewhat rural area and in areas where people had sidewalks and things to do and see without driving miles in a car first. Even now, my favorite way to move my body and get outside is to walk with my husband either through our neighborhood or on the greenway near our house.

Be the Expert

It’s probably not a surprise that a book lover who loves walking also loves books about walking, and reading those books has taught me about so many other interesting topics.

Home from Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler and Walkable City by Jeff Speck are just a couple of books that have encouraged an appreciation of city planning. Both of those books talk about people and communities seem happiest when they’re not constantly in traffic going from home to work in an endless loop. Planning for walkability is a big part of creating a sense of community.

Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane, and On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor talk about walking in a historical sense, and I’m always on board for some interesting history. Wanderlust discusses walking’s relationship to culture and politics with a look to how trying to keep women in the home was linked to keeping them out of the musing and wandering that was loved by intellectuals. It was another way to keep women out of the conversation. The Old Ways blends natural history and travel writing as Macfarlane walks ancient paths primarily in England but also some other locations. On Trails begins with Moor’s hike of the Appalachian Trail and thoughts of an American pilgrimage, but then he follows the idea of trails to discussions of animals, shepherding, indigenous trails, and even the trails created on the Internet.

A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor was written in the 1970s about the first part of the author’s journey on foot across Europe from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople in 1933 and 1934. The entire journey is shared across three books, so if you enjoy Fermor’s voice, then you have two more books to walk through with him.

Become the Expert

I’ve shared some of my favorite books related to walking, and now I’d like to mention a couple that are on my radar for future reading. The Last Wilderness: A Journey Into Silence by Neil Ansell is a book about nature and solitude as shared through walks in Scotland and the author’s changing relationship with nature as he loses his hearing. The Salt Path: A Memoir by Raynor Winn describes the journey of a husband and wife who lose their home and decide to walk the South West Coast Path, the longest National Trail in Britain.

Other Experts

I had a whole list of possible subjects for this topic, and food was related to several of those in one way or another, so I’d like to share a couple of other Nonfiction November posts on that topic from Kelly at STACKED and Heather at Based on A True Story. In particular, I heartily second Kelly’s recommendation of The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty and Heather’s suggestion of The Third Plate by Dan Barber. Seeing Hippie Food by Jonathan Kauffman on Heather’s list made me happy that I’m the next in line for that one on the holds list at my library.

Nonfiction November: Fiction with Nonfiction

How is it already the second week of November? Several library holds came to me sooner than I expected, and they’re all nonfiction, so I’m having a great start to Nonfiction November. I’m currently reading Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals, one of my favorite books.

Week 2: (Nov. 5 to 9) – Fiction / Nonfiction Book Pairing (Sarah’s Book Shelves): This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt The fiction in the trio I’m suggesting is Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. June Elbus is a 14-year-old girl in 1980s New York who develops a relationship with her uncle’s boyfriend after her uncle Finn dies from AIDS. I liked the book, but I didn’t love it the way some people in my life have loved it. The conflicts resolved a little too easily for me, and sometimes I felt like the author was checking off a list of references and product placements to make the 1980s setting stronger. June also seemed somehow too old and too young at the same time, but then haven’t we all had that time in our lives at least once where we felt both too old and too young? Maybe that’s actually just a good representation of being 14.

The thing I loved about reading the book was the conversations it created with other readers and the way it highlighted how age matters when thinking about HIV/AIDS. People who were adults in the 1980s have a much different history with HIV than people who were younger or not even born yet. I was born in 1976, and I remember a lot of fear and misunderstanding and ignorance and confusion. At that time, it seemed like being HIV positive was an automatic death sentence, and today, you have people for whom that has never been the case.

Another fiction possibility to go with these books is the more recent The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, but I haven’t read it yet. It’s about a group of friends, mostly gay men, in Chicago in the mid-to-late 1980s, and I believe it covers more of the long-lasting impact of AIDS on those who were left behind when people died.

The first nonfiction I’d like to suggest is an older title – My Own Country by Abraham Verghese – published in 1994. Dr. Verghese was a rural infectious disease specialist in the 1980s and worked in an area in Tennessee within a hundred miles of my childhood home. He vividly describes the area and talks about how his own views changed as he worked with patients and their families as they dealt with prejudices and fears. I haven’t read this book since first reading it in the 1990s, so it’s possible it might seem a bit dated, but I recall it as a fascinating description of an important slice of time and in a more rural setting than the usual focus of this kind of exploration.

A more recent book about the early days of AIDS in the United States is How to Survive a Plague by David France (2016). It starts in the summer of 1981 as The New York Times reported about a rare cancer observed in homosexuals and ends in 1996 as protease inhibitors were becoming available as a treatment option. David France weaves in some of his personal accounts with the history of the AIDS epidemic in the United States but really focuses on the activists who lobbied for research and better treatment and ultimately saved lives through their efforts.

Here is a quote from How to Survive a Plague that has stuck with me for months:

Nobody left those years uncorrupted by what they’d witnessed, not only the mass deaths — 100,000 lost in New York City alone, snatched from tightly drawn social circles — but also the foul truths that a microscopic virus had revealed about American culture: politicians who welcomed the plague as proof of God’s will, doctors who refused the victims medical care, clergymen and often even parents themselves who withheld all but a shiver of grief. Such betrayal would be impossible to forget in the subsequent years.

Top Ten Tuesday: Magical Literature of the American South

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is creating a reading list for an introductory course in the topic of your choice. I was that graduate student who was always suggesting new special topics courses because I loved developing courses and lesson plans, so I immediately had the problem of choosing just one idea for this post. Don’t be surprised if I start doing more of these topical reading lists in the near future, but for today, I’d like to welcome you to Magical Literature of the American South.

Southern literature is a huge field and contains a multitude of genres from the well-known Southern Gothic to the perhaps lesser-known Grit Lit. It can also be analyzed by cultural subject like Appalachian or Creole, and there are also styles and periods to consider like Agrarians, the Grotesque, Colonial, and Confederate. Entire courses can be created for each of those topics, and an in-depth look at all of Southern literature is much more than I’m willing to attempt in a reading list for a blog post. The chunk I can pull apart and share with you today is the thread of magic found in some of my favorite works by Southern authors and/or set in Southern locations. I’ve been generous in my definition of magic, so this list contains a little bit of magical realism, mountain magic, ghosts, and urban fantasy. Most of the selections are set in the Appalachian region because that’s my home in more ways than one.


The Old Gods Waken by Manly Wade Wellman

John (aka “Silver John” or “John the Balladeer”) wanders the Appalachian mountains with his silver-stringed guitar. During a visit with Luke & Creed Forshay, he discovers that the top of Wolter Mountain, an ancient and sacred site, has been purchased by unknown Englishmen. His friends ask him to look into mysterious sights and sounds that have been reported since the purchase, and he learns the Englishmen are Druids who are trying to waken the old gods. When his friends are kidnapped, John works with a medicine man to rescue them.


The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe

This is the first book in the Tufa series, a blend of fantasy and the local folklore of Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains. When the first Europeans arrived in the mountains, the Tufa were already there. Their origins were lost to history, but there are clues hidden in the songs they have passed down for generations. Private Bronwyn Hyatt is a Tufa and a wounded soldier returning home from war, and she’s one of the few Tufa to ever leave home. She’s now struggling to relearn the music of her home in a place where songs can both heal and kill.


Ingledove by Marly Youmans

Ingledove and her brother Lang go to visit their mother’s grave. That trip requires a boat ride because the valley where they once lived was intentionally flooded as part of a dam project. (The dam in the story is real. Several of my relatives were part of the over 1000 families who had to be relocated as a result of the Fontana Dam.) They find a strange inscription on her headstone that calls her a daughter of Adantis, and of course, they stumble into this magical land in the heart of the mountains. Adantis is inhabited by a mix of the early settlers from Ireland, Scotland, and northern England and the Cherokee who escaped the Trail of Tears along with magic and magical beings from those cultures. Lang falls under the spell of a half-serpent, and Ingledove must use the magical ways of their mother to save him.


Blooodroot by Amy Greene

Six different narrators lead you to the story of Myra Lamb on Bloodroot Mountain. She has “haint blue” eyes and holds some of the family magic, called “the touch”. This is a hard story to summarize because it’s character-driven, and the reader goes back and forth in time from multiple points of view. Read this more for the setting and the characters than for any linear plot.


Firefly Hollow by T.L. Haddix

The setting is Kentucky in the 1960s. Sarah Browning is at college studying to be a teacher when her father becomes ill and then dies. His death brings her back home, and as she tries to adapt to the changes in her life, she meets her reclusive neighbor Owen Campbell for the first time. Their first interactions are strained, but over time, they fall for each other in spite of some hurdles in their way. One hurdle that isn’t a spoiler is that Owen is a shifter who can take the form of both a deer and a wolf. This is such a sweet romance, and it’s free on Amazon!


She Walks These Hills by Sharyn McCrumb

This is the third book in McCrumb’s Ballad series, but most of the series could be added to this list of magical stories. Historian Jeremy Cobb is backpacking on the Appalachian Trail even though he has no trail experience because he wants to retrace the tragic journey of eighteen-year-old Katie Wyler, who was captured by the Shawnee after the massacre of her pioneer family in Mitchell County, North Carolina. He has no idea that the spirit of Katie Wyler is still seen wandering the hills, but mountain wise woman Nora Bonesteel sees her every autumn.


Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest

Eden Moore is an orphan, but she’s never alone. Three dead women watch over her from the shadows. Eden’s attempts to untangle her family tree takes her from the ruins of a sanitarium in Tennessee to a swamp filled with corpses in Florida. She finds a taint in her bloodline that dates all the way back to the Civil War and realizes she’s in the middle of serious supernatural business.


Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

Jane Yellowrock is the last of her kind, a skinwalker of Cherokee descent who can turn into any creature she desires as long as she has DNA handy (usually in the form of teeth or bones). She remembers nothing of her life before she stumbled out of the Appalachian wilderness some 18 years ago, an apparently feral child. She was estimated by authorities to be about 12 years old and spent the next 6 years in a Christian orphanage. As the series progresses, she learns more of her heritage. In this first book, she’s hired by one of the oldest vampires in New Orleans to hunt a rogue vampire.


The Restorer by Amanda Stevens

Amelia Grey restores cemeteries, and she also sees ghosts. Her father always told her to never acknowledge the ghosts and to stay away from the haunted. She was doing so well until she was hired to restore a cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina, and met John Devlin, a haunted police detective.


Made for You by Melissa Marr

Eva Tilling is one of the popular kids in her small high school in North Carolina, but she values her friendships where status isn’t the most important thing. When she’s hit by a car, she finds that she can suddenly see how people are going to die when she touches them. As she’s trying to figure out this new power, she learns that getting hit by a car was no accident and someone wants her dead.


Suggestions for National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month in America, so I’m sharing a few poetry-related suggestions.

Maya Angelou

Although Maya Angelou wrote beautiful poetry like “Phenomenal Woman” and “Still I Rise”, if I could only recommend one of her books, I’d have to go with one of her autobiographies. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is about the first 17 years of her life, and if you need to read more after you finish it, then you’re in luck because Angelou wrote five additional books about her life.

Nikki Giovanni

Nikki Giovanni’s poem “Knoxville, Tennessee” was originally published in her 1968 poetry collection Black Judgement, and I was introduced to it by my 7th grade English teacher. Knoxville is my hometown, so the title grabbed me from the beginning. In 1994, the poem was published as a children’s book with illustrations by Larry Johnson.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

My high school AP English classes required a big paper every year that focused on a single author and provided biographical information along with writing analysis. I chose Edna St. Vincent Millay as my topic in 9th grade because I liked her name, and thankfully, that turned out to be a good pick because I enjoy her poetry too. Collected Sonnets is my suggestion if you want to read Millay because I prefer her sonnets. On a side note, that English assignment started a theme for me because my topics the next 3 years were Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson, and Christina Rossetti.

Mary Oliver

Reading Mary Oliver makes me want to go for a long walk in the mountains just to be alone with myself and nature. Some of my favorite poems from her are in her collection Dream Work – “The Journey” and “Wild Geese”.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Letters to A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke isn’t a poetry collection, but these ten letters from the poet Rilke do offer some insight into his writing process and the value he places on knowing yourself. My first copy of the book was a gift from my dad, and I remember feeling a renewed sense of how much my dad really understood me once I read the book.

5 Picture Books about Women

I have a few friends who are homeschooling their children, and I love talking with them about the different themes they’re using in their curricula. Recently, they were talking about adding more books to their reading lists that would be good for women’s history topics because of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, and I came up with a few favorite picture books that seemed relevant.

Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs (Author) and Paul O. Zelinsky (Illustrator)

Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs
Angelica “Swamp Angel” Longrider didn’t seem like much when she was born. I mean, she was barely taller than her mom, and she didn’t build her first log cabin until she was two years old! This tall tale is set in the Great Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee, and I love to read it out loud because the rhythm feels like home to me as someone who grew up in east Tennessee. If you want to move beyond Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan, Angelica Longrider is a perfect choice. Her story can also be used to talk about the real role of female pioneers.


Fanny’s Dream by Caralyn Buehner (Author) and Mark Buehner (Illustrator)

Fanny's Dream by Caralyn Buehner
This is another story that could work with lessons about frontier women.
If you’re looking for a bit of a twist on a Cinderella theme, then you might enjoy Fanny Agnes, a farm girl in Wyoming. She’s convinced that if a fairy godmother helped one girl find Prince Charming, then a fairy godmother can also help her marry the mayor’s son and never farm again. As she waits in the garden for her fairy godmother to take her to the mayor’s ball, she instead gets a marriage proposal from the boy next door. She chooses her own happily ever after and when the fairy godmother does show up late, Fanny turns down her help.


Frida by Jonah Winter (Author) and Ana Juan (Illustrator)

Frida by Jonah Winter
If you’re familiar with Frida Kahlo, then you may be aware that she used her painting to deal with chronic pain and depression. You may feel that’s too heavy a topic for children, but I think Winter and Juan handle her story beautifully. This could be a springboard to talk to kids about sadness and artistic inspiration in addition to Frida Kahlo’s impact as an artist.


Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown (Author) and Frank Morrison (Illustrator)

Little Melba by Katheryn Russell-Brown
Melba Liston was a musician who overcame gender barriers to become a famed trombonist and arranger. I’d never heard of her until I was introduced to this picture book through a segment on NPR. Kids will enjoy seeing Melba succeed after being told at the age of seven that the trombone is just too big for a little girl to play.


The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins (Author) and Jill McElmurry (Illustrator)

Tree Lady by Hopkins
Kate Sessions grew up in Northern California in the 1860s, and she loved trees and getting dirty. She eventually earned a degree in natural science and moved to San Diego. San Diego was a dry desert town, and she missed the big trees back home, so she introduced hundreds of trees through leasing agreements with the city. Today, she’s sometimes referred to as the mother of Balboa Park.

Looking Ahead: March 2015 Releases

I live in the southern United States, and we’ve gone from not having much of a winter to having snow accumulations twice over the last two weeks with 3-6″ or 4-8″ or 8-12″ of snow predicted tonight depending on what weather forecast you watch. I don’t really mind snow because I have a warm cozy house with no place I really have to be and plenty of food and books along with a husband who can work from home. The thing that has me a little cranky is the fact that the local school system was closed 4 days last week and will most likely be shut down 4 days this week too.

Why do I care about school closings since I have no children? Because our newish neighbors next door have four school-aged sons who appear to live outside and communicate in loud screams whenever they’re not in school. I think the fact that my office where I spend a large chunk of my day is the room closest to their yard doesn’t really help my state of mind. What does help my state of mind is thinking ahead to the lovely book releases in March when perhaps the schools will be up and running again.

I get monthly emails from Goodreads with new releases from authors on my shelves there, and I was a little surprised to see 111 titles on that list for March 2015. Thankfully, there are less than 10 books that I really want to read because I’d feel a little overwhelmed if I added 111 books to my wishlist!

Top 5 book releases for March 2015

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

Title: Shadow Scale
Author: Rachel Hartman
Release Date: March 10th

Shadow Scale is the sequel to Seraphina, and I have been waiting for this release since August 2012. This is definitely my most anticipated release this month, possibly this year. You can expect mathematical dragons, musicians, a royal family, and a murder investigation along with some war and love.

Soaring by Kristen Ashley

Title: Soaring
Author: Kristen Ashley
Release Date: March 16th

Soaring is the second book in the Magdalene series. I haven’t read the first book yet because I’ve been hoarding the last few Kristen Ashley releases for some unknown reason, but Kristen Ashley releases are always on my radar. She’s an auto-buy author for me. From the summary blurb, it looks like we have a divorced heiress falling in love with a firefighter while she fights to spend time with her kids.

Rock Hard by Nalini Singh

Title: Rock Hard
Author: Nalini Singh
Release Date: March 10th

This book is the second in the Rock Kiss series. It’s a contemporary romance between a wealthy businessman (and former rugby star) and his shy assistant. Nalini Singh is pretty close to auto-buy status for me.

Hearts of Fire by L.H. Cosway

Title: Hearts of Fire
Author: L.H. Cosway
Release Date: March 9th

L.H. Cosway writes romances that are simply beautiful to read. The characters are always a little unusual, and they make me think. This release features Jack, the long-lost brother of Jay from Six of Hearts. Jack is a knife-thrower and fire-eater in a circus, so I’m assuming we’ll have some great side characters. The cover is very fitting for the circus setting.

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Title: Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives
Author: Gretchen Rubin
Release Date: March 17th

I like Gretchen Rubin’s writing, and the topic of habits and rituals interests me. I’m on a waiting list for this one at my local library, and I’m high enough up the list that I should get it fairly quickly. Because of that, it’s likely that it will be the first book on this list that I read even though it’s not my top pick. You can’t dawdle with library books!

5 Romance Novellas

While reading Tor.com Explains Why Novellas Are The Future Of Publishing, I started thinking about my own reading habits. I have loved shorter fiction over the years, and my shelves contain every year of the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthology series (1987-2008). I’ve become pickier over the years though, and I buy and read far fewer anthologies unless I really love at least a couple of the included authors. I’m also much more willing these days to skip a story completely if it’s not working for me, which is something I’d never do just a few years ago.

I do feel like more and more novellas are being published because of the increasing ease of publishing e-books, and I have sometimes almost felt cheated when I grab a story and then realize after the fact how short it feels. I pay more attention to word counts and estimated page numbers now to avoid that. For me, novellas can be fun, depending on the author, but I read quickly enough and have enough time available for reading that I prefer getting to sink into a longer reading experience most of the time.

Because February is a short month with a love and hearts theme, I’m sharing a list of the first five romantic novellas that came to mind as I thought about my novella reading habits. I’ve rated all of these 4 stars on Goodreads. They are all around 100 pages and available online for $2.99 or less.

  • Seduced By a Pirate by Eloisa James: This is a companion story to The Ugly Duchess but can be read alone. A man goes out to drink on his wedding night before consummating the marriage, accidentally becomes a pirate, and returns to his wife 14 years later to find that she has three children.
  • Take Me, Cowboy by Jane Porter: Jenny is left standing at the altar in a dress she can’t even afford after her fiancé sees where she grew up, and she gets a ride away from the mess from an old childhood crush who is now a rodeo champion.
  • Bound To You by Beth Kery: A movie star goes off on her own for a hike and ends up falling into a cavern with a local blind man. She’s terrified of the dark, and he helps her calm down, but they both wonder what will happen when they’re rescued.
  • Here There Be Monsters by Meljean Brook: This is an introduction to the world of the Iron Seas steampunk series. Ivy is a blacksmith who makes a deal to leave London with a pirate, but then she escapes before fulfilling her part of the bargain. Two years later, the pirate finds her. She’s scared because of his reputation, but he is determined to show that he cares for her.
  • Hearts in Darkness by Laura Kaye: Two strangers spend four hours in a dark elevator and discover how much they have in common. Will they feel the same when the lights are back on?