2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #4


Welcome to the fourth Monthly Spotlight for the 2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge!

Each month I’ll be highlighting some of the reviews shared for the challenge in the linky

Don’t forget to link each book you read as you read during the year!

I encourage you to support all participants who have shared what they are reading for the challenge. Give them a like, leave them a comment, share their posts on Facebook, twitter, or instagram #2021ReadNonFic

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In April…

[BIOGRAPHY]

Rennie at What’s NonFiction?  enjoyed Three Martini Afternoons at the Ritz by Gail Crowther about poet’s Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, “Crowther impressively shows how these women defied (or sometimes struggled with) the standards and expectations of their time while making art from pain, art that has been so meaningful to so many people. But it’s more of a compare and contrast exercise than about their personal relationship.”

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[FOOD]

Of The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World by Stephen Mansfield, Tina at Turn The Page wrote “There were so many, “Oh I didn’t know that, how interesting” moments that I would stop and call out to [my husband], “Listen to this” and proceed to share parts of this book.”

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[BIOGRAPHY]

Outback Legends by Evan McHugh, “gives a quick overall view of some outback heroes; people who have been stalwarts in their community and made such a big contribution that they deserve any honours they’ve received….This book makes me want to travel around Australia and visit some of the places mentioned.” says Suz of Suz’s Space

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[HOBBIES]

“I highly recommend this for armchair explorers who want a glimpse of a world that few humans will ever see.” writes Jen of the Introverted Reader of Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver by Jill Heinerth

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[SELF HELP]

Lifeofabookwormdoc thought Complete Guide To Self Care by Kiki Ely was excellent. “This is a beautifully photographed and laid out book which has good suggestions in each category of self care.”

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What will you be reading in May?

In case you missed it…

Join the challenge!

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #1

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #2

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #3

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #4

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #1

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #2

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #3

Review: Autopsy by Ryan Blumenthal


Title: Autopsy:  Life In The Trenches With A Forensic Pathologist In Africa

Author: Dr. Ryan Blumenthal

Published: 13th April 2021, Jonathan Ball Publishers

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Jonathan Ball Publishers/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

“These stories were gleaned from the trenches, amidst the blood and the guts of it all. I offer stories from my life and my ‘case book’.

I’ve read a number of memoirs written by forensic pathologists/coroners/medical examiners and the like who practice in the UK, USA and Australia, and I was curious as to how the experience might differ in a country like Africa. Ryan Blumenthal has been a forensic pathologist, working primarily in South Africa, for over twenty years. There are approximately 70,000 unnatural deaths per year in South Africa, and as one of only 56 certified forensic pathologists in the country, Blumenthal performs up to 500 autopsies a year, but the role of the profession extends beyond the physical act of completing an autopsy, forensic pathologists are also crime scene investigators, and legal witnesses who are required to give testimony in court. It is a job that requires physical and mental stamina to withstand the long hours of work, the constant exposure to death, and the need to adapt to scientific, technological and sociocultural changes.

“[Forensic medicine is] The application of medical knowledge and methodology for the resolution of legal questions and problems for individuals and societies.”

The general philosophy and practice of a forensic pathologist in South Africa is not too far removed from that of his (or her) colleagues in other countries, however they do face challenges unique to the country’s status as a developing nation, which means basic resources such as labour, electricity, running water and insect spray (vital due to the prevalence of flies) can be limited, or even absent, particularly in rural areas of the country, and in other third world areas of the African continent. Blumenthal describes what a typical autopsy and investigation entails for him, and while he is pragmatic about the lack of television’s CSI ‘fancyshmancy’ equipment, certain that the knowledge and ability of the forensic pathologist matters more, he does emphasise the importance of proper resourcing as a benefit society.

“As the Latin expression goes, ex Africa semper aliquid novi – always something new out of Africa.”

Forensic pathologists in Africa also face trauma that is unique to the culture and environment. This not only includes deaths caused by native wildlife like hippopotami, lions, elephants and kudu, as well as poisonings related to the misuse of traditional medicines, but also methods of murder such as ‘necklacing’, where a person’s torso and arms are trapped in a rubber tyre filled with gasoline and set alight. Deaths related to lightning strikes are more common in Africa than almost anywhere else. Blumenthal relates his experiences with these type of cases, as well as those from more common causes of unnatural death, such as car accidents, drug overdoses, gunshots and stabbing. I found both Blumenthal’s general observations and the details of the individual cases he shared to be fascinating.

“My wish is that this book will help to make you more aware and more mindful.”

Blumenthal’s writing is accessible with a minimal use of jargon but I do think the material could have been better organised as there is some repetition in both the information and prose. I wasn’t particularly keen on the moralising either, even though his observations and advice were generally reasonable, there were a few statements that belied Blumenthal’s claim of impartiality to the deceased.

“We close the eyes of the dead, but the dead open the eyes of the living.”

Elucidating the unique experiences and challenges faced by forensic pathologists, particularly in South Africa, overall I found Autopsy to be an interesting, informative and satisfying read.

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Available from Jonathan Ball Publishers

Or from your preferred retailer via HiveUK I Book Depository I Booko I Amazon 

 

Review: How To Fake Being Tidy by Fenella Souter


Title: How To Fake Being Tidy: and other things my mother never taught me.

Author: Fenella Souter

Published: 30th March 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

How To Fake Being Tidy: and other things my mother never taught me from feature writer, Fenella Souter (who also uses the non de plume Dusty Miller), is an essay collection primarily comprised of columns first published in the Australian newspapers, Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Housework definitely not being my thing (I admit I prefer Erma Bombeck’s advice to Marie Kondo’s), I was lured by the title of this book, but was disappointed to discover that Souter doesn’t actually offer tips to fake being tidy.

This is not a how-to guide, it’s a collection of genteel, undemanding stories that centres around the domestic. Souter does offer some simple household management tips, like how to remove labels from jars, wine stains from fabric, and how to organise your linen cupboard, but the essays are generally less prescriptive and more ruminative, reflecting on the pleasure of crisp bedsheets, the trials of holding your own against a tradie, or relocating a beehive, for example.

A number of the essays also focus on food. Souter appears to be an accomplished cook, with sophisticated tastes and a generous budget. She includes a variety of recipes offered within the context of the essay’s, including those for Orange Marmalade, Broccomole, Hummus with Spiced Lamb, and Passionfruit Creams, to name a few.

There were a handful of essays that resonated with me, but as a whole, I feel the collection is rather bland, reflecting a rather white, upper middle class perspective, and would likely have more appeal for the ‘boomer’ generation than mine. 

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Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #3


Welcome to the Monthly Spotlight for the 2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge!

Each month I’ll be highlighting some of the reviews shared for the challenge in the linky

Don’t forget to link each book you read as you read during the year!

I encourage you to support all participants who have shared what they are reading for the challenge. Give them a like, leave them a comment, share their posts on Facebook, twitter, or instagram #2021ReadNonFic

===================

In March…

(BIOGRAPHY)

You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coe comes highly recommended from Gofita’s Pages, “I had a lot of fun reading this. I got to know a little more about Washington, good, bad, and the in-between.”

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(FOOD)

If you love Peanut Butter, then Tracey of CarpeLibrum suggests Peanut Butter – Breakfast, Lunch Dinner Midnightby Tim Lannan & James Annabel. She writes, “This recipe book is beautifully presented and contains a fun and innovative layout to extend the recipe options. It’s also full of enticingly delicious recipes and drool-worthy colour photographs.”

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(SELF-HELP)

Barbara of StrayThoughts feels that Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity by Tim Challies is full of wisdom and good advice for Christian’s, laying down a biblical foundation with clarity about usefulness and purpose of productivity.

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(ESSAY COLLECTIONS)

Rennie at WhatsNonfiction offers a review for two essay collections, Festival Days by Jo Ann Beard and Leaving Isn’t Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough. Of the first she writes, “Beard’s talent is undeniable, and it’s worthwhile just to witness what she does with form – bending time, imbuing quiet moments past with breathing life, and putting so much into words about love and pain that’s both beautiful and heartbreaking.” Of the latter, essays written about the author’s experience growing up in The Children of God cult and the challenges she has faced since, Rennie opines this is a, “book that’s going to help a lot of people through understanding, acceptance, validation, and humor: those with stubbornly lingering depression or substance issues, or experienced discrimination for sexuality, “othering” factors, or in the broken American systems of poverty and imprisonment.”

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(INVENTIONS)

One of the titles I reviewed this month for the challenge was Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature by Angus Fletcher. I thought “Wonderworks provides a way to understand literature that moves beyond its construction and practicalities. It’s an interesting and thought-provoking study of narrative and the significance of fiction to both individuals and society.”

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What will you be reading in April?

In case you missed it…

Join the challenge!

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #1

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #2

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #3

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #4

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #1

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #2

Review: Wonderworks by Angus Fletcher

Title: Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature

Author: Angus Fletcher

Published: 9th March 2021, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read March 2021 courtesy Simon & Schuster/ Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

“It was barely sunrise. Yet even in the faint, rose-fingered light, there could be no doubt: the invention was a marvel. It could mend cracks in the heart and resurrect hope from the dark. It could summon up raptures and impossible days. It could chase away dullness and unlatch the sky. The invention was literature. And to catch its marvel for ourselves, let’s return to that dawn. Let’s learn the story of why literature was invented. And all the things it was invented to do.”

Angus Fletcher explains twenty five ‘inventions’ that underpin the appeal of literature in Wonderworks.

Stories have many purposes and Fletcher proposes thot these have evolved over time as authors have discovered techniques, from the plot twist to the happy ever after ending, for eliciting specific emotions and reactions from their audience. The emerging field of story science explains how different types of narratives, from thrillers to satire, have been proven to stimulate different areas of our brain and have the ability to affect our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviour. Stories can not only educate, they can also encourage the development of empathy, alleviate depression, inspire creativity, and improve self-awareness.

In each chapter of Wonderworks, Fletcher examines a invention of literature, relating its history, and often that of its ‘inventor’, provides examples, and explores how and why the technique resonates with us as revealed by modern neuroscience. I thought Fletcher offered some astute insights, though much confirms what avid readers instinctively know about the power of all types of fiction has to enrich our lives.

“For whatever the power of truth may be, literature’s own special power has always lain in fiction, that wonder we construct. It is the invention that unbreaks the heart. And brings us into hope, and peace, and love.”

There is, as necessary, some jargon to contend with but Fletcher embraces the style of nonfiction narrative so Wonderworks is rarely dry. It can be dense however and, in my opinion, occasionally veers into the pretentious, so I found it difficult to read in one sitting. I think enthusiasm for Wonderworks will be higher among those interested in literary analysis and study, students of psychology, philosophers, and writers looking to hone their craft, but it does have value for the simply curious.

Wonderworks provides a way to understand literature that moves beyond its construction and practicalities. It’s an interesting and thought-provoking study of narrative and the significance of fiction to both individuals and society.

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Available from Simon & Schuster

Or from your preferred retailer via Indiebound I Book Depository I Amazon I Booko

Review: One Last Dance by Emma Jane Holmes

One last dance quote


Title: One Last Dance: My Life in Mortuary Scrubs and G-Strings

Author: Emma Jane Holmes

Published: 3rd March 2021, HQ Nonfiction Australia

Status: Read March 2021 courtesy Harlequin Australia

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My Thoughts:

One Last Dance is a unique memoir by Emma Jane Holmes, who for a time was employed in both the taboo industries of death, as a funeral assistant, and sex, as an exotic dancer.

In the wake of a bitter separation, Emma Jane Holmes has to start again and so decides to fulfil a life long dream by finding employment at a funeral home. Whether it’s collecting the body of a deceased person, assisting with burial preparation in the mortuary, or standing graveside she revels in her new role, she describes her activities with candour in this fascinating memoir. Facing death is uncomfortable for most of us, especially if it’s our own, so some details might be confronting, but I agree with Emma Jane that demystifying the subject is beneficial. The squeamish may not appreciate the details of a decomposing corpse, or the processes involved in preparing a body for viewing but I did find it interesting, though it’s cemented my wish to go directly from the morgue to a crematorium oven, leaving my loved ones to choose what they wish to do with my ashes.

While Emma Jane loves her job, she finds she is struggling to pay her bills, and to supplement her income, answers an ad for an agency that supplies scantily clad/topless waitresses. In the second half of the book, she explains how she came to be an exotic dancer under the the alias Madison, working nights at a Sydney strip club, while continuing to work at the funeral home during the day. Emma Jane enjoys dancing, not just the extra money, but also the friendships she forms with her colleagues (though to be truthful they seem pretty shallow). She feels strongly that like death, sex work should be de-stigmatised, and I agree with her advocacy. Emma Jane does find it difficult to juggle the two jobs though, and eventually has to make a choice between them.

Written with sensitivity, humour and a casual, confiding tone, One Last Dance provides insight into two very different worlds few of us have access to.

Though I’ve read several nonfiction memoirs about the funeral industry including Good Mourning by Elizabeth Meyer, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Dougherty, and The Undertaker’s Daughter by Kate Mayfield, this is the first from the Australian experience. It’s not the first memoir of an Australian exotic dancer I’ve read though, having recently finished Sunshine by Samantha C. Ross, who may well be the ‘Samantha X’ Emma Jane refers to in her Acknowledgements.

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Available from Harlequin/HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: The Ministry of Bodies by Seamus O’Mahony

Title: The Ministry of Bodies: A Year of Life and Death in a Modern Hospital

Author: Seamus O’Mahony

Published: 4th March 2021, Apollo

Status: Read March 2021 courtesy Head of Zeus/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

“We have disappointed each other, the ministry and me, watching each other grow from the breezy optimism of youth into crabbed middle age.”

Curiosity about the state of hospital services in countries other than the US, UK, and Australia is what prompted me to read The Ministry of Bodies by retired doctor Seamus O’Mahony, who writes of his final year of his career at what what he semi-affectionately calls the ministry, more formally known as Cork University Hospital.

“The management narrative – a cynically clever one – was that the ‘trolley’ [bed] crisis was due to ‘low number of discharges over the weekend’, not an inadequate number of beds.”

It’s depressing, though not surprising, to discover that Ireland is no more immune to the woes that affect modern hospitals the world over. The record of O’Mahony’s last year exposes yet another under-resourced hospital system, where the need for services is greater than bureaucracy provides.

“A round could not last longer than three hours….Assuming thirty patients over three hours (I had very often seen more than fifty), that gave an average of six minutes per patient.”

O’Mahony operates as a gastroenterologist consultant, practicing his specialty in his out-patient hospital clinic, and has a regular surgical list, but he spends much of his time in the hospital as a physician on the general medicine service. On the wards he sees patients whom other services refuse to claim, -alcoholics, the elderly, and somatic syndrome sufferers among them, documenting a daily litany of fear, frustration, courage, and crisis.

“I retired on 7 February 2020, the day before my sixtieth birthday.”

While there is some humour here in the absurdities, overall I found The Ministry of Bodies to be a disheartening read. At fifty-nine, O’Mahony finds he is tired of the expectation that he is to do more with less, by long hours, by management double-speak, and petty professional turf-wars, and really, who could blame him?

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Available from Head of Zeus

Or from your preferred retailer via Book Depository I HiveUK I Booko I Amazon

Review: The Husband Poisoner by Tanya Bretherton

Title: The Husband Poisoner: Suburban women who killed in post-World War II Sydney

Author: Tanya Bretherton

Published: 23rd March 2021, Hachette Australia

Status: Read March 2021 courtesy Hachette

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My Thoughts:

“Her recipe for murder was simple.”

The use of rat poison has long been a favoured method to commit murder – arsenic, strychnine, phosphide, warfarin, and thallium are common ingredients, as deadly to humans as they are to rodents. Ubiquitous and inexpensive, until relatively recently, deaths caused by rat poison were also difficult to detect, and many a victim went to their grave, often after a slow and painful decline, their cause of death attributed to illness, suicide, or accident.

In post war Sydney, rats were a public health concern, and most households would have kept, and used, some sort of rat poison. Thallium – a colourless, odourless, and tasteless substance, was used in several brands of rat poison from around the 1920’s, and it was the main ingredient in a product called Thall-Rat which was available for sale in Australia.

In The Husband Poisoner, Tanya Bretherton focuses largely on two women who were found guilty of administering Thall-Rat to commit murder in the post World War II period. Yvonne Fletcher killed both her first and second husbands by regularly dosing them with Thall-Rat, while Caroline Grills poisoned several family members. All of their victims suffered in agony, with the toxin causing symptoms that ranged from severe muscle pain to blindness, and even madness. Their stories are tragic, yet fascinating and well told by Bretherton who primarily writes in a narrative style, humanising both the victims, and their murderers.

In telling these stories, Bretherton also explores the social context of the period, and the circumstances which gave rise to a spree of poisonings. Fletcher and Grills weren’t the only ones to seize on thallium as a means for murder, between March 1952 and April 1953, ten deaths and forty-six hospital admissions were attributed to thallium, leading to the newly established Poisons Advisory Commitee amending the Poisons Act in 1953, regulating its sale.

It seems somewhat incongruous that a book about poisoning also includes recipes for pikelets, jam roll-poly, roast pork, and potato and bacon pie, among others, but it was through the provision of banal family meals, sweet treats, or soothing hot drinks, that many victims were poisoned. The use of rat-killer as a murder weapon is a decidedly domestic crime, and the perpetrator is almost always a member of the same family.

I was less interested in the tangent Bretherton followed with regards to the two detectives, Fergusson and Krahe, who investigated both Fletcher and Grills. Though interesting men, their character deficits didn’t seem particularly relevant to the subject at hand.

Well researched and written, The Husband Poisoner is a fascinating and macabrely entertaining read and will appeal to those who enjoy the genres of true crime and history.

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Available from Hachette Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: You’ve Got To Be Kidding by Todd Alexander

Title: You’ve Got to Be Kidding: A shed load of wine & a farm full of goats

Author: Todd Alexander

Published: 3rd February 2021, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read March 2021 courtesy HarperCollins Australia

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My Thoughts:

In 2019, Todd Alexander published the story of his and his partner’s mid life tree change where they abandoned inner city living and their highly paid careers, and purchased a hundred acre farm in the Hunter Valley, to grow grapes, olives, and run a five star B&B. Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Named Helga was longlisted for both the 2020 Indie Non-fiction Book Award and 2020 Booksellers’ Choice Adult Non-Fiction Book of the Year, and captured the imagination of a public who dream of escaping to the country.

It’s been seven years since Todd and Jeff took possession of Block Eight and they have created a successful business, but it has not been an easy process and in You’ve Got to Be Kidding: A shed load of wine & a farm full of goats, Todd again attempts to answer his own rhetorical question…how hard can it be?

It turns out, it can be very hard at times. If the men aren’t battling with broken machinery, sick or dead animals, or predatory business practices, then they are contending with drought, heatwaves, bushfires, and the pandemic. Todd and Jeff are forced to reinvent their plans several times to stay afloat, including culling vines, purchasing a tour bus, and altering their marketing strategy.

But then there are the moments when the couple can’t imagine being anywhere else as they share a glass of their own wine on their deck, or take a stroll around the property with their ever-growing menagerie of rescued farm animals which still includes (the now teenage) Helga the pig, as well as several more goats, sheep, peafowl, and ducks, each with distinct personalities that keeps them both amused and exasperated.

Related with honesty and self-deprecating humour, You’ve Got To Be Kidding is a sincere, funny, warts-and-all expose of country living, a sequel, of sorts, though it’s not necessary to have read Thirty Thousand Bottles before picking this up. I again enjoyed Todd’s anecdotes about both the highs and lows of farm life, and his relationship with his partner, the nominated snake wrangler and cushion obsessed, Jeff. I liked that this time photographs have been included in the book, though most feature their goats. Todd, a self identified ‘foodie’, also provides some more of his favourite vegan recipes, which sound tasty.

While Todd and Jeff remain convinced they did the right thing in following their dream, and are deservedly proud of all they have achieved with Block Eight, the book ends with them deciding it’s time to move on, and it seems they soon will be, since the property is now listed as sold. I look forward to Todd regaling us with the stories of their next adventure.

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Available from HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #2

Welcome to the second Monthly Spotlight for the 2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge!

Each month I’ll be highlighting some of the reviews shared for the challenge in the linky

Don’t forget to link each book you read as you read during the year!

I encourage you to support all participants who have shared what they are reading for the challenge. Give them a like, leave them a comment, share their posts on Facebook, twitter, or instagram #2021ReadNonFic

===================

In February…

(PUBLISHED IN 2021)

About One Last Dance by Emma Jane Holmes, Denise of DeniseNewtonWrites has this to say, “As I read this debut by Emma Jane Holmes, it occurred to me that perhaps everyone should read a book like this. Not necessarily this exact book, but a book that confounds and challenges a closely held belief about some aspect of the world.”

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(PUBLISHED IN 2021)

Laurel-Rain Snow at Curl Up and Read, considered Consent by Vanessa Springora (Translated by Natasha Lehrer), an intimate and powerful memoir of a young French teenage girl’s relationship with a famous, much older male writer, to be “a brilliant read”.

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(PUBLISHED IN 2021)

Veronica of The Burgeoning Bookshelf picked up Gone To The Woods because her son was a fan of Gary Paulsen’s fiction novel, Hachet. She writes, “Gone to the Woods is a harrowing and moving true life story of resilience, perseverance and the healing power of books. Narrated with warmth and humour it is touching and informative.”

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(TRAVEL)

As a fan of Irish actress Carol Drinkwater, Tina from TurnThePage, really enjoyed, The Olive Farm, the first book in her bestselling trilogy, which is about the purchase of an abandoned Olive Farm in Provencal, Appassionata, by Carol and her husband, and their work to restore it. “Combining a favorite genre (expat-lit genre) with Drinkwater’s writing style makes for a winning combo.”, she writes.

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(WARTIME EXPERIENCES)

In 1989, teacher and community leader Mecak Ajang Alaak assumed care of the Lost Boys, thousands of South Sudanese refuges, in a bid to protect them from being forced to serve as child soldiers. After reading Father of the Lost Boys by Yuot A. Alaak, Claire of ClaireReadsandReviews wrote, “I feel honoured to have read Yout and his father’s story, and that of the thousands of people who shared that journey.”

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What will you be reading in March?

—————-

In case you missed it…

Join the challenge!

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #1

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #2

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #3

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #4

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #1

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