If you have read my book reviews before, you will notice I do not prescribe to the traditional form of a book review. Usually, when you read a book review, you get an overview first, then a summary of the storyline, and then a critique.
However, a summary of the book’s plot or storyline does not suit my tastes. Usually, I do not detail the storyline because I feel most summaries give up too much information. For example, I love going to restaurants without reading the menu first. Likewise, I love going to movies without a clue of what the film is about. If you are interested in learning more about a book’s story than what I cover, please follow the links I include to learn more.
Now, on to this month’s book reviews. Remember, I don’t particularly appreciate naming a “Worst” book, but it makes a catchier blog title.
If you fan over memoirs, boy, will this blog post check all your boxes. Only one fiction book made it off my reading shelf this month.
Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford
“Somebody’s Daughter” is Ashley C. Ford’s debut book, but she has written professionally for at least ten years. The book grew out of her article for Refinery 29 title, “My Father Spent 30 Years in Prison. Now He’s Out.”
Even though this article spawned the book, the memoir covers much more than her father’s incarceration. In the book, Ford opens up the window for readers to learn about her trials in life from childhood to early adulthood. Her memoir explores her life with an abusive and unstable single mother, her interactions with family and her courageous telling of her sexual assault as a young teenager.
I would recommend “Somebody’s Daughter” for a group read. There are many issues to unpack in this book. After reading it, I took some time to meditate on a few things:
- What was the author trying to achieve with her story?
- How do the twists in her life lead her to the place she is today?
- Why do people dismiss or ignore their actions’ negative repercussions on others throughout their entire lives, even when confronted by the one they hurt?
- Why do men or women act out against their partners if they have fallen out of love with them when they could say, “I don’t love you anymore. I need to move on.”
Ford’s book should be read as a snapshot into her life and not her journey of resolution. Though I enjoyed this memoir, I believe many readers will want an update on Ford’s life, including how she overcame and thrived (if in fact, she did heal) and how her longtime partner was affected and helped her process past traumas.
Ford is very intentional, calm, casual and occasionally funny with her writing style. This style leaves the reader feeling like they are sharing a glass of wine by a fire with their intellectual friend and first learning the shocking stories that shaped her. I enjoyed this book but would recommend it for a book club or group discussion.
If you are interested in learning more about Ashley C. Ford, she has been a successful social media and podcast figure for some time. Her website is: http://www.ashleycford.net/bio/
Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing by Ted Conover
Ted Conover is a successful journalist who practices immersion journalism to nail a story. This writing naturally leads to a 360-degree view of narrative non-fiction. Quick definition break:
- Immersion Journalism: Ted Conover defines this as when, “the writer learns by placing himself in the world of his subjects for a time.”
- Narrative non-fiction: The Masterclass website defines narrative non-fiction as, “Narrative non-fiction, also known as creative non-fiction or literary non-fiction, is a true story written in the style of a fiction novel. The narrative non-fiction genre contains factual prose that is written in a compelling way—facts told as a story.” Narrative non-fiction is my favorite genre. If you are interested in learning more about the craft of narrative non-fiction, I highly recommend, “Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Non-fiction” by Jack R. Hart, which I wrote about in my June blog post: June’s Best & Worst Books.
In “Newjack,” Conover immerses himself as a prison guard in Sing Sing prison in Ossining, New York, to uncover what real life is like behind this famous prison’s bars. His year in the penitentiary begins at the military-style training camp, where he reveals the reasons people sign up for prison guard duty. Throughout the book, you read about the complete and wide range of people living incarcerated and the issues that come with living a confined life.
I loved this book. I felt after reading the book that I read an unbiased story of prison life, just how a first-hand account reporter was taught to write. Although Conover does come to a few conclusions about the reasons for prisons, it is a mild take on the issues drawn from his prison guard experiences.
I also loved his use of diversions and learned a significant amount about the U.S. prison system. He weaves in history lessons of the U.S. prison system, and these stories are in no way dull. A great example of this is his discussion of the death penalty. At this point in the book, he did not have any direct experience with the death penalty, but he researches those who did. He was able to bring to life past events to make the electric chair a haunting, mind-bending and relevant topic.
I was not looking for a book to learn more about the prison system when I chose “Newjack.” After reading “Storycraft” by Jack R. Hart, he cites Conover several times, and I decided to read one of his more popular books to see narrative non-fiction in action.
I would also recommend this book for a book club read if your group does not mind diverting into political talk.
If you are interested in learning more about Ted Conover, including his instructional writing books, you can find his website here: http://tedconover.com/
Ever Rest by Roz Morris
I learned about Roz Morris and her book “Ever Rest” from Joanna Penn’s podcast, “The Creative Penn” https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2021/07/26/literary-fiction-roz-morris-2/. After listening to the episode, I immediately started reading the book, even though it was fictional and not a memoir.
The story focuses on the band the Ashbirds, specifically the lead singer Ash who dies during an expedition on Everest. The family, friends and business people that support and surround the Ashbirds are the storytellers of life after Ash’s disappearance.
I was smitten with how Morris uses music and mountaineering as the book’s focus, two of my favorite things. And Morris is legit. Even though she has never climbed Everest, she sure did research it enough to come across as a natural alpinist.
If you love plot and characters, you will love “Ever Rest.” The storyline develops slowly, while new stories build throughout the book. Characters are constantly in conflict with themselves and others as each wrestles with getting over Ash’s disappearance.
I also enjoyed Morris’ use of a famous band to illustrate how to recover from grief with the public’s eye on you at all times.
If you would like to learn more about Morris, you can access her website here: https://rozmorris.org/
American Daughter: A Memoir by Stephanie Thornton Plymale
I am a big fan of biographies and memoirs from people who have overcome horrific upbringings. Two of my favorite books are “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls” and “Running with Scissors” by Augusten Burroughs. Plymale’s “American Daughter” is similar to these books, and if you can stick with the story until the last third, it will be worth your time.
Plymale tells her life’s story through her interactions with her mother, a hippie with a healthy dose of psychosis, drug addiction and promiscuity. But, of course, you have to be hooked when your mother honestly tells you she does not know who your father is, and nor should you care.
This book kept my interest from the start, but it trudges along before the story takes an intriguing twist two-thirds through the book. If you decide to pick this book up, do not read any spoilers.
The only thing I did not enjoy, which I have discussed in previous book reviews, is the main character’s glaring flaws. Plymale overcame a lot and hammered home that when people meet her they always how she overcame her traumatic childhood experiences. But I found she was a bit boastful and did not own up to her faults. However, this egoism was not extreme enough for me to abandon the book. I am thankful I kept reading because, with a third of the book to go, I could not believe the twist the story took.
Diving into Stephanie Thornton Plymale on the Internet is worth your time. You can peruse her lovely interior design work, listen to her intriguing podcast or learn about her foundation at: https://american-daughter.com/
The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story by Hyeonseo Lee
Why do I love memoirs and non-fiction biographies so much? Because the truth is so much more interesting than fiction. “The Girl with Seven Names” by Hyeonseo Lee is one of those stories that is so unique that creating a believable fictional account may not be possible.
This book is the remarkable story of how Lee decides to defect from North Korea at seventeen, despite her love of family and a general obliviousness of life outside her happy and stable home.
Lee encounters so many obstacles along her way to a new life that the story never slows down. The repercussions of her decisions on her family back in North Korea also keep you tuned in at all times.
I stayed up way too late at night reading this book because the story was so engaging. I also learned a significant amount about the politics and life in North Korea and the surrounding countries.
This book is a worldwide bestseller and came in fourth place on Goodreads choice awards for 2015 for best memoir and autobiography. If you would like to learn more about Lee, you can visit her website at: http://www.hyeonseo-lee.com/eng/default.shtml.
I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships by Michael S. Sorenson
I am writing a short review of this book, not because the book’s length is short, but because I fear if I give too much away, people will recognize and call me out when I use the book’s techniques.
This book explains the concept of validation and how to employ it in conversations to improve relationships, whether it is a coworker, family or friend.
I am not a self-help book person. I stubbornly try to fix everything with the tools I have holstered in my toolbelt. So, I was surprised that I have used this book’s advice every day and in every conversation, I have had since I read it. When you use Sorenson’s advice, the results are remarkable. I’ve noticed a significant and positive change in how I perceive and listen to others.
This review sounds more like a sales pitch, but the time you spend reading it is worth the book’s price. If you would like to know more about Sorenson and his relationship work, you can visit his website at: https://michaelssorensen.com/
Unfortunately, I cannot review the books I read for authors this month that have yet to publish their books. However, I had the privilege of reading three books for authors as beta reads or books that need honest average reader opinions before publication. I consider beta reads a job perk. If you are interested in a beta read for your book, please feel free to contact me. I would love the opportunity to make your book great.