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.

REVIEW – The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett M. Graff

Graff does an incredible job of providing a complete account of what happened on 9/11. Just about every perspective you could imagine from the day’s events is covered. It’s a devastating read, but it’s an essential piece of our nation’s history and the documentation of first-hand accounts is so incredibly important.

Thank you Avid Reader Press for sending me an ARC of this book.

TRUE CRIME REVIEW – Chase Darkness With Me by Billy Jensen

”The murders in the shadows add up to a hell of a lot more than the murders in the spotlight. The blood of the forgotten was just as red as the “famous” victims.”

Chase Darkness with Me is an absolute must have for true crime fans. Billy Jensen is an incredible writer. He pours so much of himself into this book – from explaining why he’s interested in helping solve crimes, to his honesty about the sacrifices he’s made to be 110% dedicated to seeking justice. (Spoiler: being a citizen detective is HARD. It’s an enormous commitment and not for the faint of heart.)

The sections about Jensen’s dad are some of my favorites. He was an interesting man (with a somewhat checkered past) and it sounds like he was a dedicated, loving father. If he were alive today, I’m pretty sure he’d be a Murderino.

There are so many emotional ups and downs in this book – from catching the bad guys, to frustration over dead ends. But the lowest and highest points are definitely the loss of Michelle McNamara and the eventual capture of the Golden State Killer.

Jensen’s chapter about learning of Michelle’s death is a tough one – he’s an expert at transferring his grief to the page. (Sidebar: if you have not yet read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, I would recommend picking it up before you read Chase Darkness with Me. It will make the chapters about Michelle and GSK all the better.)

We think of superheroes as vigilantes in flashy costumes that shove the law out of the way and take matters into their own hands – that’s not true here. Jensen is compassionate, driven and dedicated to seeking justice and helping grieving friends and family find closure. He doesn’t step on toes. He works with local authorities. He asks for permission from the families before he takes on a case.

In a world that sometimes feels full of bad guys, Jensen is a good one.

“It’s chaos. Be kind.”

REVIEW – Little Sister: A Memoir by Patricia Walsh Chadwick

“Happiness is finding peace, joy and inspiration in the array of things one does in life. It is also moving on from what cannot be undone.”

Little Sister is vivid, heartbreaking and, ultimately, joyful.

Patricia Walsh Chadwick does an incredible job of illustrating how intelligent, kind people can get sucked into a cult (especially a cult tied to religion). It seemed like a noble idea at first – but then, bit by bit, freedoms were taken away. Identity was stripped from adults and children alike. Families were separated. The brothers and sisters in the community suffered physical and psychological abuse. The leaders of the community were manipulative hypocrites; it was frustrating and sickening to read about the ways they abused the members of the community (especially the children) in the name of God. (It has some Handmaids Tale vibes for sure.)

And yet, Chadwick’s story is one of resilience and triumph. Of the strength of a family’s love for one another. And ultimately the love of a community despite (or maybe because of) their shared trauma.

If you love memoirs, you have to get your hands on this book.

Thank you to Get Red PR for providing me with a free copy of this book.