REVIEW – Neon Girls: A Stripper’s Education in Protest and Power by Jennifer Worley

The premise of this book had me interested from the jump – a nonfiction account of a grad student who becomes a stripper to help pay her way through school. There’s SO MUCH MORE to this, and it’s probably not what you’d expect.

I found myself rooting for these ladies throughout their entire journey. They unionize! They stand up for their rights! They stand up for each other! They’re empowered and empowering.

I learned so much from this book – from the politics of strip clubs to the intricacies and hurdles to forming a union.

Thank you Harper Perennial for sending me an ARC of this book!

REVIEW – How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

This should be required reading, full stop. I listened to the audiobook, which is narrated by Dr. Kendi. His ability to weave his personal stories in with lessons on racism vs. antiracism makes for an incredibly compelling narrative. You can tell Dr. Kendi is a professor – listening to this book made me feel like I was back in a college class, learning valuable lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

This might be considered an “intermediate” book on antiracism – many (white) people start with White Fragility, which I agree is a great choice. This book is a lot heavier and will challenge some of your views about racism/antiracism. Dr. Kendi never leaves you feeling confused or unsure of the point he is trying to make. He explores his own growth and journey to becoming antiracist and owns up to racist thoughts and ideas he held as a child, adolescent and even as an adult.

Dr. Kendi makes it clear – we will all continue to have racist thoughts and ideas even after we begin working to become antiracist. Antiracism is not a destination, it’s not a course you can complete or a box to check. To truly dedicate yourself to becoming antiracist will take lifelong commitment and education.

REVIEW – The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz by Jeremy Dronfield

“The boy is my greatest joy. We strengthen each other. We are one, inseparable.”

This is probably one of the most incredible WWII stories I’ve ever read. I’ll admit, I was hesitant to pick this up – not because I didn’t want to read it, but because life is weird and difficult right now and I wasn’t sure I wanted to dive into something so heartbreaking. This book is nonfiction, but it reads like fiction most of the time – the writing flows easily and the people Dronfield writes about leap off of the page. I loved reading about each family member – while the story is primarily about Gustav and his son Fritz, we do get a glimpse into what life during the war was like for the rest of the family. They all end up on different paths, and some endings are horrific.

“It took strength and character to share and love in a world where selfishness and hate were common currency.”

I was right, this book is incredibly heartbreaking. But it’s also joyful. And hopeful. The love between Gustav and Fritz kept them going. Their resilience is inspiring and, at times, it’s almost unbelievable. Their bravery was just one small factor in their eventual survival – they also experienced incredible luck (which is so hard to say, given the circumstances) and they ended up building a small community of friends within the camps who lifted them up and pushed them through. This book examines the absolute worst of humanity but also highlights some of the best. The sacrifices people made (and were willing to make) for the good of the cause. The danger they put themselves in to save others.

“No matter what occurred in the world, no matter how near danger might be, life went on, and what could one do but live it?”

Something that I feel is glossed over sometimes when it comes to WWII books – nonfiction and fiction alike – is what the survivors experience once they are back home and safe. Even though Gustav and Fritz survived many years in unimaginable, cruel conditions, they still struggled when it came time to rejoin society and get “back to normal.” There truly was no normal after WWII for many survivors, and the trauma and pain of those years in the camps impacted the rest of their lives.

Thank you Harper Perennial/Harper Books for the ARC!

REVIEW – Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

“If you don’t run with this, if you don’t move forward with this and expose him, you’re on the wrong side of history.”

Catch and Kill is one of those books I should have read immediately upon release, when the Weinstein trial was ongoing and his fate was hanging in the balance (I mean, I guess it still is. But the buzz around this story has died down considerably).

Farrow’s relentless pursuit of the truth, and of bringing Weinstein to justice, is commendable. The book is interesting. It’s good. It’s important. But because I have read so much about this case, I did find myself a bit bored in the middle. This book could have easily been reduced by 100 or so pages (again, I think my opinion would have differed had I read this back in October or November).

Regardless of my reading experience, I was disgusted to learn just how many people were covering up for Weinstein, or turning a blind eye to his crimes. I wasn’t surprised, necessarily, but when it’s spelled out in front of you, it packs a punch. On the flip side, i’m grateful that good, moral people still exist to make sure criminals like Weinstein get what they deserve (although, he got away with it for so long, i’m not sure the punishment can truly fit the crime).

REVIEW – The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

{Available March 24, 2020} There are eleven million undocumented immigrants in our country. In our communities. They could be our neighbors, coworkers or classmates. We interact with them at restaurants and stores. They give everything they have to our country and receive so little in return. This is the legacy of our country and it’s infuriating. This is also nothing new, but it’s an especially hot political topic at the current moment.

From a writing standpoint, this book is good. Villavicencio is a solid writer with a knack for getting straight to the point. This book meanders at times, but everything is important and supportive of the overarching narrative.

Villavicencio isn’t just a writer, she’s a storyteller. She talks a lot about how she basically adopts the people she talks to – she pours her heart and soul into these relationships and tells their stories with such care. She doesn’t gloss over anything. The people portrayed in this book are REAL (of course) and their personalities leap off of the page. They’re angry. They’re grateful. They’re hurt and hurting. They’re funny and fun and loving. They’re weird and they’re interesting. They’re people (yeah, duh). They aren’t a “faceless brown mass” (to borrow words from a recently controversial author…)

They’re all different, with different lives and different experiences. Some have had more luck than others. Some have faced more hardships or heartbreak than others. But they do share the trauma of being undocumented in the United States. The fear of deportation. The lack of legal support when they are taken advantage of. Each section of this book focuses on a different city in the United States and I thought the chapters on Cleveland and Flint to be the most impactful (keep in mind I am from Ohio, in a city that’s about a 20-minute drive to the Michigan border, so these chapters were bound to feel more tangible to me).

Ultimately, my words and thoughts aren’t what matters here. It boils down to this – read this book. Read other books like this book. Gain some perspective from people who are not like you. Learn about the experiences of others (especially of marginalized groups). LEARN. GROW. Be better. Do better. Most importantly – LISTEN. Don’t listen (or read) to respond or discuss. Listen (and read) to learn. To hear. To bear witness to their lives and their stories.

Thank you Random House/One World for the NetGalley ARC.

REVIEW – Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit by Eliese Colette Goldbach

{Available March 3, 2020} There’s a lot to say about Rust – this story hooked me right from the beginning. Goldbach is from Cleveland, a resilient city with an industrial past (and present, and future).

I connected with a lot in the beginning of this book. Goldbach and I are both graduates of Catholic all-girls high schools. We’re both from cities in northern Ohio (her from the northeast, me from the northwest). Our cities both have strong foundations in industry – hers in steel, mine in glass and cars. Goldbach and I are roughly the same age (I believe she’s a few months older than me).

I’ve never worked in a factory. I’ve never had to and, honestly, have never considered it an option. Reading Goldbach’s account as a woman in her late twenties (at the time) navigating life as an employee in a steel mill was fascinating. I think many of us can agree that when we picture a “factory worker” or a “steelworker” we do not picture a young, college-educated woman. Goldbach’s account dismantled my idea of what a typical factory worker is like (which makes me sound like an idiot, but i’m not afraid to admit I was biased and I was WRONG).

I felt that this book lost its way a bit at times – it meanders from topic to topic, timeline to timeline, with few line or section breaks (but this could be something that is remedied in the finished copy). However, it’s difficult to place a “review” lens on someone’s life experience. There are moments where I forgot I was reading nonfiction (Goldbach is a great writer! And this memoir felt more like a novel sometimes).

This memoir isn’t just about a young woman finding her way in the steel industry. It also focuses heavily on her struggle with mental illness, and is supplemented by observations and events surrounding the 2016 presidential election.

Content warnings: mental illness, rape, discussion of suicide/suicidal thoughts.

Thank you Flatiron Books for the NetGalley ARC.

TRUE CRIME REVIEW – Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

“The world’s richest people per capita were becoming the world’s most murdered.”

This might sound odd, but Killers of the Flower Moon reads almost like a true crime podcast. Grann includes enough detail that you know you’re getting a comprehensive story, but not so much that you get lost in unnecessary facts or unrelated side stories.

The book is split into three parts – the first focuses mostly on Mollie Burkhart and her family, the second on Tom White (and the FBI) and the third is Grann’s own account, taking place only a few years ago.

TRUE CRIME REVIEW – The Killer Across the Table by John E. Douglas

“The aim is not to be a friend. The aim is not to be a foe. The aim is to get to the truth.”

The Killer Across the Table is an incredible entry into the true crime genre. Douglas is the OG profiler and his insight and experience is fascinating. His writing is educational but not without emotion or humanity.

“Lesson learned: everyone is a potential suspect, and don’t let looks or behavior fool you.”

Douglas recounts conversations he’s had with some of the most sadistic and prolific killers in our history. His ability to analyze their responses without inserting his own emotions is incredible. I loved getting a little backstory about the origin and evolution of behavioral profiling (as a fan of crime shows and Mindhunter, I knew a lot going in to this book, but it doesn’t make the reading experience any less interesting).

I have so much respect for Douglas and the other pioneers of the field – they faced the worst of humanity to help understand and evaluate why some people are so compelled to harm others.

REVIEW – The Less People Know About Us by Axton Betz-Hamilton

“Slowly, our tether unwound, until it felt as if all we had left in common were the crimes committed against us.”

This is an INSANE story and tough to get through. It’s about a family facing identity theft, but it goes so much deeper (and so much more sinister) than that. Nothing in this book is simple or as it seems – there are so many layers to get through and every single one is more shocking than the last.

“All of it was an elaborate illusion, a magic trick we never stopped perfecting. On the outside, our lives looked solid and well put together, but on the inside, everything was falling apart.”

This book also examines the desperation of keeping up appearances – spending money you don’t have, buying things you can’t afford. The theme of “perception” runs throughout the entire book, and it gets so incredibly dark at times. Betz-Hamilton also outlines how insecurity can be passed down through generations. It’s also incredibly sad – the isolation Betz-Hamilton felt as a child, and the effects she carries with her to this day.

“…I learned that the most basic, fundamental truths about us were nothing more than masterful illusions.”

The Less People Know About Us provides a raw and uncomfortable look at betrayal, financial abuse and compulsive lying. Even after the facts are laid out in front of you, it’s still hard to fathom how one person can so deeply and irrevocably harm the people they are supposed to love.

Thank you Grand Central Publishing for the free book!

REVIEW – A Bookshop in Berlin by Francoise Frenkel

A Bookshop in Berlin/No Place to Lay One’s Head is the fascinating true account of Francoise Frenkel’s escape to Switzerland during WWII.

I’ll admit it was refreshing to read a nonfiction WWII book after reading so many fictional stories about the war.

Francoise dreams of opening a French bookshop in Berlin. It’s truly a labor of love – she’s a very thoughtful and compassionate bookseller, and quickly forms close friendships with her customers.

Through Francoise’s eyes, we see the slow confiscation of books and newspapers, signaling the rise of Hitler’s reign of terror. The horrors and tension escalate quickly, and we are pulled into her journey of survival and escape.

Beneath the racism and brutality, there is hope and camaraderie. Strangers become friends, taking dangerous measures to keep one another safe.

Thank you Atria for providing me with a digital copy of this book.