Summer has kicked off, and I am a little unseasonable with my book choices. I did not have many “beach reads” this month, but I did plow through several pages, leaving you with several books reviews for June.
Not all the books from June are adventures, so there is a pick for everyone’s style this month. Read on to learn more about my favorites and not-so-favorite books for June.
My favorite book for June:
Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction by Jack R. Hart
“Storycraft” is aimed at non-fiction narrative writers and journalists. However, if you are interested in writing creative or narrative non-fiction, this is the best book I’ve read about the craft. It is interesting, engaging and full of practical advice a writer can use to start or improve their creative non-fiction.
Narrative, or commonly called creative non-fiction, is a writing style that adds flavor and well-written style to true, factual stories. These story pieces range from full manuscripts to magazine articles and podcasts.
The author, Jack R. Hart, is a former professor of Journalism at the University of Oregon and managing editor of the Oregonian. He has worked with and coached several Pulitzer Prize-winning narratives.
The book covers the several structures a creative non-fiction piece can take and then rolls into discussing point of view, characterization, scene descriptions, dialogue and theme. I especially appreciated the last chapter on ethics, where Hart discusses the situations when authors choose to embellish non-fiction to make it more creative, exciting and saleable.
Besides the practical instruction, my favorite part of this book was the real-life examples Hart uses to illustrate his teachings. From short articles to full books, he uses several works to take a deep dive into concepts. He also tells the backstories of how the pieces came to life from the initial idea through fact-checking and publishing.
Maybe one reason I gave this book five stars is because of the several times Hart uses one of my favorite books, “Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson, to illustrate his points. He also cites a favorite hometown author of mine Anthony Shadid.
Just through one read, I have several torn pieces of paper marking important passages to come back to, and the once-new book now shows mostly pencil underlinings. So this book will remain within my hands-reach for many years to come.
Least Favorite Book for June:
The Adventurer’s Son by Roman Dial
This book chronicles the true story of the Dial family’s two-year quest to find their son Cody Roman who became lost in the Costa Rica jungle. The story is told from the father’s perspective, Roman Dial, Ph.D., a professor of Biology and Mathematics at Alaska Pacific University https://www.alaskapacific.edu/people/roman-dial/.
While building their family in Alaska, Dial and his wife Peggy passed on their love of nature and adventurous lifestyle to their two children, Cody Roman (Roman) and Jazz. They tried to build a family foundation of outdoor exploration and adventure in Alaska and around the world. Although their children could choose their paths once they were adults, they continued to be avid outdoor adventure seekers.
This outdoor education and upbringing haunt Dial later in the book, where he ultimately has to face the question of did his teaching style lead to his son becoming lost in the jungle. Written from the parent’s perspective, this book is heartwrenching, as Dial struggles with fear, guilt and sadness of losing his son.
His mind pours over the details of what could have gone wrong. Even though his son Roman was well equipped and educated to walk unassisted through the jungle, Dial investigates and struggles with every possible scenario that could have gone wrong, from dehydration to a venomous snake bite.
Dial also second-guesses himself and must work with the cultural differences between reporting and investigating missing people in a foreign country. He explains how he runs into obstacles such as bribery, drug trafficking and kidnapping of Americans, which was rampant in Costa Rica at this time (2014). So he hired a private investigator and even signed on with a reality TV crew to investigate any foul play.
Although you can feel the desperation and hurt through Dial’s writing, most of the book is anticlimactic and reads in an explanatory style. Although I stuck with it, I found it lacking some of the excitement most outdoor adventure or missing-persons stories possess. I am sure this book was painful to write, and I hope it brings some comfort to the Dial family.
Additional note: Don’t compare this book to the story Jon Krauker tells in his book, “Into the Wild.” Chris McCandless’s journey into the Alaskan wilderness does not correspond to the experience, education, and purpose Cody Dial took on the Costa Rica jungle.
Other great books to put on your reading list:
Chasing Fireflies by Charles Martin
Charles Martin does an excellent job setting scenes and describing characters in this fictional account of two people struggling to find their natural parents and identities.
This modern story is about real and flawed people who try their best in the world. The main character is a reporter trying to discover the truth of a missing boy thrown from the car his mother was driving before getting hit by a train. Through his investigation, the reporter takes in the boy and discovers his true parents and past circumstances.
Martin packs style in his writing from the opening sentence in the Prologue:
“Rocketing through the hazy orange glow of dawn, the green 1972 four-door Chevrolet Impala fishtailed sideways off the dirt road onto Highway 99, squealing both rear tires and billowing white smoke from bald retreads.”
Martin also sets his scenes well with hints of southern culture.
- “I stepped out into the sunlight humming a Pat Green tune,”
- “Herschel Walker had bounced off a tackle and scorched seventy-two yards for six points and the beginnings of immortality,”
- “The story of the McFarland brothers has nearly grown to mythical status around Zuta, Georgia. And after a generation of embellishment, it changes like a chameleon in the sun.”
Martin really shines with his use of analogies to set scenes and describes characters is a joy. His long paragraph describing the strong safety position in football took the prize for me.
I enjoyed reading this book. The story is engaging, and the descriptions and writing style are right on target.
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
If you are a wanna-be outdoor adventurer or don’t get all the hype around outdoor sports, “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson is an excellent toe-in-the-water book. Bryson, along with his long-lost and out-of-shape friend Stephen try to hike the Appalachian Trail and accomplish significant mileage in this upbeat and humorous story.
Anyone aspiring to hike the Appalachian trail will probably research the trail heavily before their attempt. I suggest reading this book to get an honest perspective on the reality of the trail through Bryson’s experiences.
Above anything, this is a funny story and will keep you reading to see what misadventure happens next or get Bryson’s satirical viewpoint on humanity. There is also a healthy dose of Appalachian trail history and loads of sarcasm, self-deprecation, depreciation of others and general humor.
I’m not sure why it took me so long to read this book. It seems everyone has read it but me. And, I recommend this if you need a break from serious reads, or need a light summer travel book.
Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile
This book is a gem for any Brandi Carlile fan. She shares stories from her first 40 years, from her poor upbringing in Seattle to becoming a grammy-winner and friend of Elton John.
I like Carlile’s music, but I wouldn’t consider myself an extreme fan, so I went into this book with a fresh perspective and no knowledge of her story. Just as a pure memoir, I loved it. She exhumes genuineness, honesty and tenacity throughout the book, and you will be surprised at some of the struggles she has faced.
If you are considering this book, I highly recommend listening to it, as I did. Carlile is the narrator, and her western accent adds life to the stories. She also ends each chapter with a relevant song she sings. The audio version has all songs compiled at the end, so it is like a free album with your book purchase.
If you have any insights to add about these books, please comment or email me. If you would like me to review your book, please email me to start a conversation.