7 Nonfiction Reads That Are (Almost) Too Crazy to Be True

You know that wide-eyed, jaw-drop feeling you get when you hear a story that’s so outrageous, so out-of-the-park bonkers you think there’s no way it can be true? Followed by that alarming (yet bizarrely satisfying) feeling you get when you Google or fact check said outrageous story and discover it is, in fact, facts? That’s exactly the sensation we had when we dove into these bizarre nonfiction reads. These books had us shaking our heads, gasping for air, exclaiming out loud–and then left us super eager to share with everyone we know. Here are seven nonfiction books that are (almost) too crazy to be true: 

I’ll admit, anything in the healthcare/technology fields confuse me, so I was surprised when I got sucked in by Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. For Elizabeth Holmes to finesse and fraud her way into a multibillion-dollar startup speaks to a lot of different privileges. If you’re hooked on true crime of the white collar variety, this one’s a must-read. (Jennifer Vance, Publicist)

Educated by Tara Westover is one of the craziest coming of age memoirs that I’ve ever read. The author was raised by a survivalist father, and her family went along with his whims — often endangering their own lives. Tara and her siblings didn’t receive a formal education, so she taught herself, and eventually went on to study at schools like Harvard and Cambridge. (Ellen Whitfield, Lead Publicist) 

Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson sounds like something straight out of the speculative fantasy and thriller books that I love. With a surprisingly gripping and engaging narrative, this historical nonfiction tells the story of two architects: Daniel H. Burnham, a young man tasked with designing the famous “White City” exhibition of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and H. H. Holmes, widely regarded as America’s first serial killer and the mastermind behind the infamous “Murder Hotel,” where he lured unspecting fairgoers to their deaths in ingeniously macabre ways. The story of these two men — Holmes in particular — is so shocking and incredible that it’s hard to believe this really happened! (Chelsea Apple, Content Creator).

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell is a memoir of sorts in short stories, but each of those stories explores a near-death experience from the author. Each account is a reflection on life and what it means to live in this world. O’Farrell’s alarmingly frequent encounters with multiple types of danger gives her writing a sense of wisdom and melancholy, but also seems to prepare her to be the perfect mother to a child with a life-threatening immune disorder. I read this book as a love letter to her daughter — “See? Look what I survived. And you will too.” (Ellen Whitfield, Lead Publicist) 

Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz tells the story of a game-changing surgeon. Before he stepped on the scene, there was no bedside manner, there were no sterile operating rooms, and there was no anesthesia. The picture the author paints of the medical world in the early 1800s is cringeworthy and ghastly, and will make you thankful Mütter was around. (Ellen Whitfield, Lead Publicist) 

I was upset most of the time reading Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan because I wanted more than anything for the people in her life to believe and support her. Suffering from an extremely rare disease, it was fascinating seeing how she not only found her way to a correct diagnosis and recovery but also how she leaned on the people around her to help research and reconstruct the narrative of her own life. (Jennifer Vance, Publicist)

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore is about the girls who worked to paint the illuminated numbers on watch faces around the same time as the first world war. The only problem is that they were using radium, and they soon began to get sick. The way the workers and the people in charge reacted and covered up what was going on still echoes today. (Ellen Whitfield, Lead Publicist)

Graphic Novels and Comic Books: Not just for kids

a selection of comic books and graphic novelsI am absolutely a book snob and years ago I might have told you that I didn’t consider comic books or graphic novels “real” books, but guess what: I was wrong (imagine that)! People who are visual learners often connect better with this artistic format; it’s been shown that graphic novels and comics increase reading comprehension and inspire creativity. It can also help boost reading confidence in reluctant readers. 

Now to get technical: what’s the difference between the two? Graphic novels contain a complete narrative, whereas a comic book is part of a larger, serialized story. 

And there is something for everyone of every age. Some of the most rich and complete stories I’ve read have come from graphic novels.  I asked the Books Forward team what comics or graphic novels they’ve enjoyed, and added my recommendations at the bottom. Happy reading!

Jennifer Vance, Publicist 

The Netflix series Kingdom is based off the comic The Kingdom of the Gods by In-Wa Youn, (illustrated by Kyung-Il Yang), and after quickly bingeing the seasons available for the show, I knew I had to check out the source material. While the book definitely differs from the show, it’s still amazing. The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, and if you love horror and gore and action, you’ll love this. Oh, and spoiler alert: There’s a whole lotta zombies.

Angelle Barbarzon, Lead Publicist

American Elf by James Kochalka was my first introduction to autobiographical comics. For years, James Kochalka posted a daily comic on his website, typically one to four panels chronicling a snippet from his day like a diary entry. Some days, he shared completely mundane things like stargazing at night with his wife or his cat’s tendency to sleep on his pillow. But other days, he shared deeper glimpses into his life, like the day his first son was born. But that’s just life, right? A mix of ordinary and extraordinary. Sadly, after 14 years, the daily comics came to an end, but they were all compiled into books that you can buy and read over, and over, and over!

Blankets by Craig Thompson is one of those graphic novels that I recommend to people who think comics are limited to superheroes fighting crime or pun-filled newspaper strips. Everything about this book is beautiful — the writing, the illustrations, the stories, everything! Based on his own life, Craig Thompson intertwines stories of two young brothers growing up in snowy Wisconsin with a coming-of-age tale of love, loss and faith. There will always be a place for this book on my shelves!

Hannah Robertson, Publicist

The Gigantic Beard that was Evil has illustrations that are simple but striking, and its message is one I can get behind any day.

Everything about The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg is breathtaking. It made me think a lot about where we come from and where we’re going.

Jackie Karneth, Publicist 

As a fan of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s utopian/dystopian novel Herland and a lover of cheeky webcomics, Aminder Dhaliwal’s Woman World is the perfect mashup heaven made just for me. Have you ever imagined what the world would be like if men suddenly ceased to exist? (It’s okay, you can admit it). Well that’s the premise here, and you’ll get to dive right into the hilarious happenings of a diverse group of female characters as they each navigate life without men. 

Another webcomic-turned-book, Nimona by Noelle Stevenson is the story of a young shapeshifter who suddenly becomes the sidekick of supervillain Lord Ballister Blackheart. Nimona and Blackheart are on a mission to prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin isn’t really all that. And despite Blackheart’s tough exterior, he quickly warms up to Nimona as they begin wreaking havoc together. A funny, witty, and oh-so-smart story filled with magic, friendship, and lots of surprises, this is definitely a “I read this in one sitting” type of book.

Chelsea Apple, Content Creator

I really enjoy the online webcomic Lore Olympus. A version of the Hades and Persephone myth that mixes a modern retelling with a mythical reboot? Sign. Me. Up. The characters are well developed, the story is intriguing, and seriously look at this art

I also follow Let’s Play! When I first started this webcomic, I thought I knew where it was going: a nerdy (but clearly attractive) video game developer becomes next door neighbors with the hot video game reviewer who trashed her debut project. Perfect enemies-to-lovers territory, right? Turns out, I had no idea where this story was going, and I’m loving the fantastic character development, interesting relationships, and the surprising plot!  

Ellen Whitfield, Senior Publicist

My most recommended graphic novel is Check, Please! Ngozi Ukazu’s illustrations are a perfect fit for her story about an ice skater who got a hockey scholarship to a college in the midwest, and has to figure out how to navigate his new campus and coming out to his teammates. Oh and he’s a champion baker. You’ll fall in love immediately, and the good news is that volume 2 is even longer and cuter.

The first graphic novel I ever read (it was only last year!) was Kid Gloves, written and illustrated by Lucy Knisley. It covers her experience with fertility problems, conception, pregnancy and childbirth, and drops some serious knowledge along the way. 

Heartstopper by Alice Oseman took me right back to the uncertainties and hopes and worries and breathlessness of high school. Everyone deserves to be loved like Nick loves Charlie — the way they are together just makes me melt. 

I read Good Talk because of Lupita Reads, and was blown away by Mira Jacobs’s storytelling ability. Being a parent is hard enough, and the responsibilities that come with raising a Black or brown child in America are overwhelming. The author switches between stories from her early life to present day in this intimate memoir.

I have a tendency to look at first love through rose-colored glasses, but Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me, written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, reminded me that falling for someone as a teen can be as difficult as it is wonderful. It captures the highs and lows of that emotional time of life.

Some other graphic novels and comics on our TBR:

 

 

 

Top audiobooks to get you through your self-mandated isolation jogs

So you decided to take up jogging during quarantine so you could have some time outside the confines of your house? Great in theory. But now you’re outside in 100-degree heat, cursing the healthy part of you that insisted on getting Vitamin D instead of doing push-ups inside. 

Cue audiobooks. 

What better to distract you from the awkward way you hold your arms or that annoying bead of sweat dribbling between your eyebrows than an audiobook so amazing you forget you’re actually running (OK, probably not forget, but I can dream). 

Here’s a list of some of my favorite audiobooks that have gotten me through my own self-mandated isolation jogs during the pandemic:

“Such a Fun Age,” by Kiley Reid, narrated by Nicole Lewis

Fiction is difficult for me to listen to on audiobook. My mind wanders. I realize half a chapter in that I haven’t been paying close enough attention to the plot and I’ve missed something. But Reid’s book constantly held my attention from the first page (or if we’re talking audiobooks, the first second?). This is such a quick, compelling read that I was shocked when it was over. And maybe, just maybe, I’ve convinced myself to listen to more fiction on tape.

“Kitchen Confidential,” by Anthony Bourdain, narrated by the author

This is an audiobook I honestly find my self coming back to over and over again. I’ve always been a huge fan of Bourdain’s shows, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed getting a gritty inside look at the restaurant world through this book. Funny and honest and raw, this is definitely required reading for foodies everywhere.

“We’re Going to Need More Wine,” by Gabrielle Union, narrated by the author

Memoirs are great, and memoirs by celebs are just *chef’s kiss*. Union’s book has made me literally laugh out loud on the jogging trail, as well as completely stop me in my tracks. Her writing flows so easily and is so personable — it felt like I was listening to a friend tell me their life story. And did it inspire me to pour my own glass post-run? Perhaps…

“Calypso,” by David Sedaris, narrated by the author

This was my first Sedaris book, and something about listening to it at 1.5 speed while dodging ducks and small children on my run has me believing it’s the quintessential way to listen to him. Sedaris has a way of writing that is part standup, part extremely personal diary entries, and somehow it all works together. After finishing this one, I was clamoring to reserve his other audiobooks through my library.

“Becoming,” by Michelle Obama, narrated by the author

Obama’s book is loooong but also so worth it. Honestly, I could have listened to it even if it were 40 hours long. I would take an entire collegiate course on Michelle Obama if I could. Her storytelling is stunning and vulnerable and also incredibly powerful at the same time. I recommend this book to so many people, and I distinctly tell them to listen to the audiobook if they get a chance.

“Furiously Happy,” by Jenny Lawson, narrated by the author

Lawson is SO funny. I’m serious, like side-splitting, snorting laughing funny. With the way 2020 has gone, this is one of those books that’s great to tap into when I need reassurance that yeah, life may suck a bit — but laughing at yourself and the ridiculous situations you end up in makes it suck a bit less. Lawson’s sincerity and bluntness about mental illness is so refreshing. If you think you can’t sit back and laugh at your own depression or anxiety, think again.

Books & Binge: Nonfiction Addiction

The “real life” TV and nonfiction books we can’t get enough of

Like many of you, our to-watch lists have gotten pretty long this year. Whether you’re addicted to Netflix docuseries or you can’t get enough of A-lister dramas on Hulu and HBO, there’s no way to deny it: we are in a golden age of quality TV. But how do we stay on top of our to-read lists while indulging our streaming habits?

Welcome to Books & Binge, a blog series where we talk about what we’re watching and reading. After all, who doesn’t love a great reading and TV recommendation? This week we’re talking about our favorite nonfiction, so whether you’re a true crime junkie, a food documentary enthusiast, or a self-improvement seeker, we’ve got a book and a show recommendation for you — read on!

Jennifer Vance, Publicist
I’m one of those true crime junkies, so I was very happy when the book club I’m a part of took my suggestion to read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. As a former journalist, I admired the way McNamara spent years investigating the Golden State Killer as an amateur detective, her dogged determination to find justice for his victims. The writing is simply beautiful, unlike typical true crime books, and is a must-read for anyone who considers themselves a fan of the genre.

Or, you can turn on the new HBO series of the same name! The six-episode docuseries is a short, but addicting, ride into one of the United States’ most infamous serial killers — and the woman who refused to forget about him or his victims.

Jackie Karneth, Publicist
Director Halina Dryschka’s documentary Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint wants you to forget everything you thought you knew about art history. Welcome to the dazzling world of forgotten artist Hilma af Klint, who began creating abstract art in 1906, before there was any terminology for the style – and before Wassily Kandinsky, who is universally credited as the first abstract painter, began creating his truly abstract works. “Beyond the Visible” reveals how patriarchal and capitalist influences have shaped art history, while at the same time honoring the life of a gifted painter and showcasing the greatest works of art you’ve never seen before.

For a great nonfiction read, I’d recommend Being Here is Everything: The Life of Paula Modersohn-Becker, by Marie Darrieussecq, translated by Penny Hueston. Darrieussecq’s small-but-mighty book imitates the life of its subject, the short-lived, yet prolific German expressionist painter, Paula Modersohn-Becker. A significant figure in modernism, Modersohn-Becker, when mentioned at all by scholars, is often drawn up as the friend of poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Yet, despite working alongside such names you already know — Picasso, Matisse — Modersohn-Becker remained, until now, an anonymous pioneer of early expressionism. Part feminist manifesto, part well-researched biography, Being Here is Everything is a luminous examination of the lone female artist.

Marissa Decuir, President
I just finished the period drama Pose, and it’s really sitting with me in a powerful way. An utterly fantastic visual display of New York’s underground ballroom culture — the clothes, the trophies, the VOGUING! — with a compelling cast which has inspired me like no other. It’s a true shame none of the women have been nominated for an Emmy.

I’m also diving into director and executive producer Janet Mock’s memoir Redefining Realness. “Femininity in general is seen as frivolous. People often say feminine people are doing “the most,” meaning that to don a dress, heels, lipstick and big hair is artifice, fake, and a distraction. But I knew even as a teenager that my femininity was more than just adornments, they were extensions of me, enabling me to express myself and my identity. My body, my clothes and my makeup are on purpose, just as I am on purpose.”

Ellen Whitfield, Senior Publicist
Years ago, I read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and absolutely fell in love. The star writes about his experiences in restaurant kitchens and the debauchery that takes place behind the scenes. I don’t remember why I initially picked it up, but it sparked a love of food memoirs and documentaries.

One of the most recent food documentaries I’ve enjoyed is Somebody Feed Phil on Netflix. Phil Rosenthal, whose producing credits include Everybody Loves Raymond, travels around the world and explores different cuisines. I love it because he’s not some famous chef or expert critic — he’s just a guy who really loves food and has a lot of enthusiasm for it!

Angelle Barbarzon, Lead Publicist
The last documentary series I binged was Wild Wild Country on Netflix, and it’s, well … wild! This six-part series follows the beginnings of a cult created by an Indian guru that later expanded to the U.S., building their own city in Oregon and causing an uproar among all the people who originally lived in the area. Wild Wild Country dives deep into the community’s beliefs, the abuse of power within its leadership and the complicated dynamics that led to the group’s evolution and the people who held the reigns behind the scenes. This series is so intriguing!

My recommended read would be Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies: And Other Rituals to Fix Your Life, from Someone Who’s Been There by Tara Schuster. This book came into my life at exactly the right moment, a time when I felt like I needed to refocus and make some positive changes. Reading Tara Schuster’s book was like having a conversation with a good friend. It’s brimming with thoughtful advice for self care that you can easily put into practice. If you feel like your life is a bit (or 100%) messy, pick up this book!

Brittany Kennell, Digital Marketing Strategist
The last nonfiction book I really enjoyed was A House In The Sky by Amanda Lindhout. While traveling at a young age — Amanda set out to explore, photograph and journal countries most of us will never travel in our lifetimes, not even in a group. Yet she set out to take on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria *alone* (just to name a few) making friends along the way. On her fourth day in Somalia, Amanda and her friend Nigel are abducted and held for ransom by Islamist insurgents. I could not put this book down until I knew Amanda and her friend Nigel were home safe and free of being held captive. This book is survival, strength and bravery — Amanda’s story gave me a whole new perspective on life.

I’m a big fan of sports docuseries. I’m just finishing up The Last Dance, which is fantastic! I also loved watching Last Chance U and I think mainly because I love hearing different backgrounds and stories that fuel passion. I love rooting for the underdogs, and watching dreams come true.

What “true life” show do you want us to binge, and what nonfiction books do you recommend? Tell us Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and we’ll spotlight your suggestions in our next post!

Bookstagrammers to follow for Latinx Heritage Month

Latinx Heritage Month runs Sept. 15-Oct. 15, and there are so many wonderful bookstagrammers who represent the different facets of Latinx identity. We put together a list of people to follow, and asked them to recommend a book that means something to them.

  1. Vero (@readingvero) recommends: Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo. “It shows the Dominican Republic and its culture in a beautiful way. It’s a beautiful story about love and sisterhood that readers of all ages can enjoy.”
  2. Candace (@ace.of.pages) recommends Everyone Knows You Go Home by Natalia Sylvester. “Told in dual timelines, it covers everything from immigration, family, marriage, and there’s even a bit of mystery and magical realism. Even though I read it two years ago, it’s a book I pick up and read passages from to this day.”
  3. Angie (@angiesreading) recommends: This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone “because I haven’t been able to shut up about it since I read it back when the pandemic first started. Following the lives of two badass agents on opposing sides of a time war, this story is told in the form of letters. It’s witty, romantic, and full of suspense (and time travel!) — I couldn’t help but inhale it in one sitting!”
  4. Melissa Veras (@melissaverasreads) recommends: The Murmur of the Bees by Sofía Segovia. “This is a beautiful and heartbreaking story about a child that is found abandoned covered in bees, and the family that takes him in. Set in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution and the influenza of 1918.”
  5. Andrea (@pagecactus) recommends: Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika and Maritza Moulite. “Told in an epistolary format, this book explores the sometimes complicated relationships between not only mothers and their daughters but homelands and their people in the diaspora.” 
  6. Marian (@marianp.readsavidly) recommends: “Tomas Rivera’s classic Chicanx novella Y No Se Trago La Tierra/And the Earth Did Not Devour Him. The book is composed of short, semi-autobiographical chapters that recount the challenges faced by the young male protagonist in the 1940s who works as a migrant laborer.  Rivera was the product of migrant labor and he became a university professor and chancellor of UC Riverside, the first Chicanx to do so.The book is meaningful to me because my dad also worked in his youth as part of a migrant labor family and likewise became an educator and the first in his family to graduate from college. Rivera’s words are meaningful as they reflect the young boy’s determination: “All he told her was that the earth did not devour anyone, nor did the sun…‘Not yet, you can’t swallow me up yet.’” 
  7. Jessica (@armyofwords) recommends The Affairs of the Falcóns by Melissa Rivero. “A completely engrossing novel about an undocumented Peruvian immigrant in New York trying to survive circumstances and the people around her. It often felt like several swift punches to the gut to witness her journey, and yet I could not look away.”
  8. Ana (@readingwithana) recommends Sabrina & Corina: Stories by Kali Fajardo-Anstine. “This collection of short stories highlights the lives of various Latinx women of indigenous descent growing up in Colorado. Each story tackles issues such as motherhood, sisterhood, and generational trauma that many readers will be able to see themselves in the characters. Not to mention, Kali’s writing is breathtaking!”
  9. Lauren (@bylaurencapellan) recommends Let It Rain Coffee by Angie Cruz. “A lesser known book by Angie Cruz on bookstagram but definitely worth checking out. Let It Rain Coffee covers so much about Dominican culture, history, and identity politics while in the homeland and in the United States.”
  10. Lupita (@lupita.reads) recommends Fiebre Tropical by Juliana Delgado Lopera. “Unapologetically written in Spanglish, this novel is an ode to all of us bilingual children often forced to choose one language to dominate over the other. It’s an immigrant queer coming of age story of Francisca finding herself within the tangles of her fractured uber-religious family.  One of my favorite books of this year.” 
  11. Kas (@kasandbooks) recommends With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo. “I usually read thrillers but the book I really love right now is With The Fire On High. Personally it was extremely relatable and it touched up on important topics. I truly enjoyed how Acevedo captured the Puerto Rican and Philadelphian culture. I highly recommend this book.”
  12. Jessica (@bohobookish) recommends Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Díaz. “Díaz’s poignant memoir reflects on her early life in Puerto Rico to her Miami Beach upbringing, all while dealing with an abusive mother, neglectful father, drugs, violence, and depression. Díaz struggled in life and she unfolds each moment on the pages and shows resiliency that inspires readers.”
  13. Emma (@bookish.em) recommends Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. “I was captivated by the cover and the book held my attention the entire way through. It was a new genre for me but I was so charmed by how beautifully (and authentically) culture and tradition were woven into the fantasy.”
  14. Marissa (@allegedlymari) recommends Paola Santiago and The River of Tears by Tehlor Kay Mejia. “I don’t read a lot of middle grade stories, but this book has me wanting to read all of them now. Reading about La llorona, el chupacabras, and other mythical monsters I myself grew up hearing about felt like a warm cup of champurrado.”
  15. Mariana (@latinasleyendo) recommends The Book of Emma Reyes by Emma Reyes. “It is a Latin American classic and a lyrical portrait of an artist who conquers illiteracy, abandonment, and poverty and comes into her own as an artist and author. It is a powerful and underrated story and a must read for anyone looking for Latin American works in translation.”
  16. Neycha (@thesweetheartreader) also recommends Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. “It’s dark, suspenseful, and atmospheric and introduced me to one of my new favorite literary heroines!”
  17. Alejandra (@libros.con.coffee) recommends Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa. “This is my forever recommendation, especially to young Latinas! Using narrative, mythology, history, and poetry, Anzaldúa explores inhabiting intersecting identities and dualities—being Chicana, colonizer and colonized, indigenous and conqueror, being queer, speaking Spanglish, growing up on the border. It’s a groundbreaking classic that’s equally relevant today as it was nearly 35 years ago when it was written!”
  18. Debbie (@debbiesbooknook) recommends The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. “Every time I read or hear it, it evokes many emotions and memories of my childhood and (very) Dominican upbringing. Acevedo is a master of words and I am in awe of how her writing profoundly touches my soul. I’m grateful her books will be around for generations to come!”
  19. Nina (@literary.latina) recommends Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera. “The author tackles all kinds of important issues through Juliet’s experiences as a queer Puerto Rican woman coming to an understanding of herself and feminism. Each time I read Juliet, she is less of a character in a book and more of a real friend that I feel like I know deeply.”
  20. Andrea (@nastymuchachitareads) recommends Knitting the Fog by Claudia D. Hernández. “It is a bilingual memoir of poetry and prose by a Guatemalan writer recounting her childhood in her beloved homeland before migrating to the United States with her mother and sisters. I loved reading about her upbringing in Mayuelas and Tactic, where the setting is so central to the narrative; the generations of dynamic women who raised her; and her resettlement in Los Angeles.”
  21. Karen (@idleutopia_reads) recommends Peel My Love like an Onion by Ana Castillo. “It gave me my reflection. I remember reading this book and feeling so grateful that it existed. It felt like finding a little crook that fit perfectly and ensconced your thoughts, fears and doubts in a comforting way that made you feel safe.”

And of course I have some extra recommendations of books I’ve read and loved recently from Latinx authors if you’re still looking for more books! (Who isn’t?) 

  1. Running by Natalia Sylvester: Mari has no interest in politics, but her father’s running for president. She finds her voice and is forced to reckon with her father’s policies.
  2. American Dreamer by Adriana Herrera: Nesto is giving his Afro-Caribbean food truck business one final shot when he meets Jude, a quiet librarian, and sparks fly.
  3. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz: This is a YA book with as much emotional richness as any adult story. It’s about the early blossoming of a relationship between two loners.
  4. The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio: A stunningly intimate look at the lived of undocumented immigrants. The author is one of the first undocumented immigrants to graduate from Harvard and incorporates pieces of her story into the narrative.
  5. Movies (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano, illustrated by Arturo Torres: One of my favorite people to follow on Twitter, Shea Serrano continues his “(and Other Things)” series by exploring the most random aspects of some great movies.

Historical fiction blends past with narrative to create magic

My love for historical fiction really began when I was being homeschooled by my mom. From those early days pouring over history textbooks learning about ancient civilizations, I craved hearing other people’s stories. I was so curious about what their lives looked like — what did they think, experience, feel? But I wasn’t getting that from my history textbooks. I was getting what science could tell us about their lives or what interpreted records were available in, well, sometimes rather boring jargon.

And that’s really where fiction saves the day for me. Historical fiction picks up where facts leave off. Authors can fill in the gaps where history and my own imagination may be lacking. They pore over hours of research and discovery to bring us experiences, perspectives, and stories we may otherwise never have the chance to hear. They bring to life things that may have stayed buried for centuries. To me, that’s pure magic. And I’d like to share some magic with you today.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
If you’re looking for your next WWII read but want something a little outside of the ordinary, pick this book up. Bring tissues.

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
This graphic duology is really something else. Fantastic illustrations with a time in history that isn’t touched on much make for a powerful read.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
A truly fascinating read spanning generations. If you’re like me, keep a notepad handy for this one, but it’s totally worth it.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Very unique time in history and the first book I’d read set in Iceland! If you’re looking for something a little off the beaten path of mainstream historical fiction, this one’s for you.

She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore
I don’t mind some genre-bending, especially when it’s done so well. Magic, history, and a riveting story make this one hard to put down.

5 Hilarious and Irreverent Picture Books For Adults

Picture books transport us with their sweet illustrations and wholesome stories–that is, unless you stumble on the sub genre of picture books aimed at adults. The illustrations may be equally sweet, yet the stories are anything but. The result is an irreverent, ironic, and downright irresistible contrast that is perfect for unpretentious parents, novelty gifters, and readers with a sardonic sense of humor. So if you’re looking for something a little less saccharine and a little more sacreligious, buckle up for this list of hilarious picture books that are not meant for kids!

All My Friends Are Dead by Avery Monsen and Jory John
Sometimes things are going swell and life is full of friends, and sometimes all your friends are dead. From a sock whose only friend has gone missing to a tree whose friends have all become end tables (except that guy) here is a darkly funny and brilliantly simple take on life’s inevitable setbacks and peculiar friendships (or lack thereof).

Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes
Exhausted parents of the world, rejoice: this book is for you. This bestseller is pretty well-known (particularly thanks to Samuel L. Jackson’s infamous reading), and perfectly captures the not-so-zen side of bedtime. Anyone who has spent significant time putting kids to bed can relate to this cozily illustrated–and increasingly frustrated–journey of trying to lull little munchkins off to dreamland. It’s no Goodnight Moon, that’s for sure!

P is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever by Raj Haldar, Chris Carpenter and Maria Beddia
There are books that teach kids how to read, and there are books that teach kids the truth about how nonsensical English spelling vs pronunciation can be. This one is the latter.

Someday a Bird Will Poop On You: A Life Lesson by Sue Salvi and Megan Kellie
Ok, so kids may enjoy this one, but adults will probably enjoy it a little more. This book tells that someday a bird will poop on all of us. But that’s okay. In a world of bad news, fake news, delays, disappointments, trash talk, and tweets, things are bound to get a little poopy. This modern parable about life hitting us with the unexpected says that “what matters is not how big the mess is, but how well you react to it.” Sounds like the perfect book for 2020.

Slothilda: Living the Sloth Life by Dante Fabiero
This is the book I wrote during lockdown. Just kidding–this is just an accurate representation of my life during lockdown. Here’s an adorably illustrated book for anyone who is feeling a little overwhelmed by their to-do lists, a little anxious about their habits, or a little procrastinator-y about their deadlines. I didn’t choose the sloth life. It chose me.

Book Recommendations for Your Favorite Taylor Swift Songs

To celebrate the release of Taylor Swift’s new album folklore, we decided to pair some of our (and your) favorite songs of hers with amazing reads! Some of the books fit lyrically, and some just feel like they have the same vibe. Got a suggestion for our next book recommendation spree? Let us know!

  1. “Mad Woman” + Priory Of The Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon — Women rule (literally) in this book, and they’ve all got something to be angry about.
  2. “Ours” + Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston — Henry and Alex’s relationship faces harsh criticism, but their time together is magical.
  3. “Out Of The Woods” + Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas — Calaena is saved from serving a sentence, only to be forced to compete in a fight-to-the-death competition. Not to mention her romantic entanglements—out of the frying pan, and into the fire.
  4. “Hey Stephen” + Heartstopper by Alice Osman — No one looks at Charlie quite like Nick does, and this graphic novel will bring back your high school nostalgia.
  5. “All Too Well” + Darius The Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram — When Darius travels to Iran and meets Sohrab, he finally starts to feel at home. But can it last?
  6. “Call It What You Want To” + Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender — Felix finally thinks he’s figuring things out when he is attacked anonymously.
  7. “Cruel Summer” + Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory — Olivia doesn’t think she wants a serious relationship, but it’s hard to say no when you’re swept off your feet.
  8. “Back To December” + Whiskey and Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith — A tragic romance that largely takes part in a snowstorm.
  9. “Death By A Thousand Cuts” + Here For It by R. Eric Thomas — Though it’s filled with laughs, there’s also a lot of emotion about being a Black, gay man in this book.
  10. “I Did Something Bad” + Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn — Honestly, Amy Dunne is such a compelling bad guy. Looking for a narcissist? Look no further.
  11. “The Man” + Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart — The heroine in this series doesn’t take any flack from men, even though she lives in a time period when women aren’t well respected.
  12. “Delicate” + Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno — This whole book is full of delicate magic and infused with the feeling of falling in love for the first time.
  13. “Daylight” + Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert — Chloe is mired in darkness with her chronic illness until she decides to take back her life and meets her handsome neighbor.
  14. “King of My Heart” + American Dreamer by Adriana Herrera — You think you’re OK by yourself until a king comes along and shows you what you’ve been waiting for.
  15. “Sparks Fly” + You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson — This is a sparkly, delightful book that’s full of feelings and that nostalgia of falling in love in high school.
  16. “End Game” + The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller — Achilles with the big reputation, and his love with Patroclus is truly “end game.”
  17. “London Boy” + The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary — Such a cute British romance with the most charming, delightful boy.
  18. “Dress” + The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid — First of all, the dress on the cover is iconic. Second, this book and this song are very sexy.
  19. “Get Better” + Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong — Watching a parent suffer is unimaginable, and this song and this book tug on the heartstrings.
  20. “I Forgot That You Existed” + Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera — Juliet is getting a fresh start, much like Taylor with this song and album.
  21. “Story of Us” + Any of the Winston Brothers books by Penny Reid — Taylor’s early country vibes are a great match for this series, and the love stories are top notch.
  22. “Don’t Blame Me” + My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite — Some people do not want to clean up the messes they’ve made, and can see no fault in their mistakes.
  23. “Red” + The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren — Such a fun, well-done love-to-hate romance with fiery characters.
  24. “Clean” + Tin Man by Sarah Winman — A poignant love triangle with characters trying to deny themselves what they want and mourning losses.
  25. “The Archer” + Real Life by Brandon Taylor — A beautifully written book filled with questions that don’t have easy answers.
  26. “Bad Blood” + Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey — A twin is forced to reunite with her sister after they haven’t spoken in years in a very dangerous situation.
  27. “I’m Only Me When I’m With You” + Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy — A small-town girl learning to find herself and falling head over heels at the same time.
  28. “Ms. Americana and the Heartbreak Prince” + Running by Natalia Sylvester — The promise of America is so much sweeter than the delivery in the book and in the song.
  29. “Superstar” + Evie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes — Evie finds herself falling for a former baseball star, but she doesn’t know if it can last, or if she wants to.
  30. “I Knew You Were Trouble” + The Extraordinaries by T.J. Klune — Teenage love is complicated and troublesome in this song and this book, plus both are a little extra.

Prepare for back to school with books

15 bookstagrammers to follow for children’s book recommendations, and 15 picture book recommendations

Whether the kids are heading back to school or learning from home, August always brings back fond memories of the smell of sharpened pencils, and a sense of new adventures and opportunities. One of the ways I learned best as a kid was through reading, so we’ve compiled a list of bookstagrammers who always have amazing new kids’ books to recommend! 

  1. Michelle (@the.book.report) is a mother of six who has great book recommendations for every age. She also shares fun, easy recipes to keep everyone fed and happy! 
  2. Megan (@ihaveabook4that) champions getting diverse books into schools, and is hosting an #augustkidlitchallenge encouraging people to share their favorite children’s books.
  3. Rosemary (@librarymombooks) is a former school librarian who curates fabulous lists that ensure you’ll be able to find a book your child will love. 
  4. Rosie (@diverse_kids_books) recommends books about people from all backgrounds and life experiences with the goal that every child will see themselves represented, and to spread inclusivity and kindness.
  5. Sarah (@picturebooksblogger) is a picture book expert. The photos of the book covers really pop in her feed–swipe to see more details from each book!
  6. Lauren (@happily.ever.elephants) shares books of course, but also quotes and lists that are fun and so helpful.
  7. Kelly (@deliahandtilly)  has a feed full of rainbows and smiles, and shares some amazing books and tips on home education.
  8. Charnaie (@hereweread) aims to help adults make the most out of their kids’ reading time, and promotes inclusive and beautiful books. 
  9. Shruthi (@thebookprivy) writes thoughtful captions that will inspire parents to talk with their kids about the books that they’re reading.
  10. Vera (@thetututeacher) is a kindergarten teacher who has tons of online resources for kids of all ages, and book recommendations to fit any need. 
  11. Nate (@mr_lyon_4th) led a Here and Queer educator series this summer to create space for LGBTQ+ storytelling, provide actionable steps for inclusion, and create space for queer storytelling. And of course, the book recs are top notch.
  12. Evie Sophia (@evieslearninglibrary) encourages literacy and love of reading by sharing creative activities and books for all different ages.
  13. Malorie (@rhetty.set.rea) has a colorful feed full of bright books that are sure to entertain kiddos.
  14. Lauren (@picturebookplaydate) manages to find the perfect background for each book she’s recommending to make them even more tempting! 
  15. Anna (@whatshouldireadtomykid) is a K-12 literacy specialist and has two young kids, which means her book recommendations come from experience!

And of course, I have LOTS of recommendations! Being a mom to a 3.5 year old means we are always on the lookout for fun new books. Here are some of our favorite picture books:

  1. The Big Bed by Bunmi Laditan, illustrated by Thomas Knight: No kids book has ever made me laugh as hard as this one. In this story, a little girl makes a persuasive argument to be able to sleep in her parents’ bed. 
  2. Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack, illustrated by Steve Lewis: An updated version of the  old-fashioned tale of the knight rescuing the princess.
  3. Not Quite Snow White by Ashley Franklin, illustrated by Ebony Glenn: For anyone who has been told they can’t succeed because they’re too much or not enough.
  4. Because by Mo Willems, illustrated by Amber Ren: A cool way to teach kids how a small incident (a little girl’s uncle gets sick, so she gets to go to the symphony) can have long-term effects (she becomes a composer).
  5. Big Boys Cry by Jonty Howley: A gentle lesson dismantling down toxic masculinity.
  6. Windows by Julia Denos, illustrated by E.B. Goodale: Relying mostly on illustrations, this book offers a great view on exploring the worlds within our own neighborhoods.
  7. The Little Red Stroller by Joshua Furst and Katy Wu: A great story sharing many versions of what different families look like.
  8. Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love: Who hasn’t wanted to be a mermaid? Julián’s grandmother encourages him to embrace and celebrate his identity.
  9. Over There by Steve Pilcher: Beautiful illustrations from the Pixar Animation Studios Artist Showcase tell the tale of a little shrew who wondered if he might find something better outside his comfort zone.
  10. Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees: Everyone makes fun of Gerald’s dancing, but a little cricket teaches him to find his own rhythm and joy. 
  11. Perfectly Norman by Tom Percival: When Norman sprouts wings, he tries to keep them hidden, but keeping a huge secret weighs on him. 
  12. Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth: The kids in a family each learn a small lesson from a panda who is well versed in Zen tales.
  13. Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison: An empowering ode to a young Black girl’s hair, and the love her father has for her. 
  14. Ladybug Girl by David Soman and Jacky Davis: A spunky little girl finds adventure with her trusty dog sidekick in their own backyard.

A Big Guy Took My Ball (or really any Elephant and Piggie story) by Mo Willems: A smart lesson about including people, even if they’re different from you — but they are all wonderful!

Book a Virtual Vacation with Some of Our Favorite Bookstagrammers

Take a virtual vacation and get some book recommendations, too!

Vacation season looks a lot different this year, with most of us spending more time in backyard kiddie pools than at the beach. We put together a list of ten bookstagrammers who make you feel like you’re traveling, and asked them what books transport them! So grab your passport and check out these accounts if you need a break from quarantine life. 

Paige (@paigerragerreads) frequently posts photos of her books at the beach in Maui, and honestly, what more can you ask for? She’s also a great advocate for libraries and thrifted books!She recommends Siracusa by Delia Ephron: “It’s a classic tale of people behaving badly (very badly) on vacation. Two couples, one of them joined by their precocious young daughter, Snow, decide to vacation together in Siracusa, a coastal Sicilian town. Their dream vacation quickly unravels as tensions surge to the surface, transgressions are revealed, and precious Snow is not at all who she seems. Mystery and mayhem unfold in this quick and delicious novel set under the Sicilian sun. Best enjoyed with a glass of chilled Vermentino.”

Cindy (@bookofcinz) describes herself as a Jamaican girl living in Trinidad & Tobago, and her love of the islands shines through her photos and extends to literature — she encourages people to diversify their TBR through #readcaribbean. And her glimpses into Carnival are amazing! She recommends Everything Inside: Stores by Edwidge Danticat: “I have a huge affinity for Haiti so I am always interested in reading stories set in Haiti and written by Haitian authors. When I read Edwidge Danticat’s collection of short stories Everything Inside, I felt like I got a very realistic look into what life is like for some Haitians. Danticat’s ability to write layered Haitian characters makes reading her collection truly enjoyable.”

Emily (@literaryviews) will make you feel like you’re in the middle of downtown Miami with her bright, aqua-themed feed. We can’t get enough of the bright skies and tall buildings in her photos! She said: “Born A Crime by Trevor Noah took me all the way to South Africa. In his memoir, Noah balances his witty humor with the realities of growing up during apartheid and gives us a glimpse of the experiences that defined the comedian we know from The Daily Show.”

Alix (@alix.k.reads) is a wonderful host to take you to the mountains and landscapes throughout Utah with her frequent hiking trips — though she freely admits adding books to her hiking bag is weighing her down a bit (#bookstagramlife). She recommends Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: “I actually read it while it was in Scotland and the scene descriptions of the beautiful hills and cliffs really makes you feel like you’re there. Plus you get to travel in time as well so another type of travel!”

Kiki (@ifthisisparadise) gives us glimpses into living in Jamaica, and seeing the beautiful beaches and lush flora makes it hard not to jump on a plane and travel there right now. She also reads a wide range of books, going well beyond what’s trendy, and has thoughtful and engaging captions. She said: “I could not think of another publication more transporting than the Arab Lit Quarterly. Each issue features short stories, poetry, interviews, essays, literary playlists—everything you could want and more than you could ever expect, which is a mark of the best journeys.”

Mel (@melannrosenthal) fills her stories with perfectly idyllic scenes from Connecticut — she even has daily views highlights if you need to ignore your current location and pretend to be somewhere else! She recommends: These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card. “Card’s debut proves she has a brilliant mind. Each chapter represents a different member of the extended Paisley clan as they grew up in and then fled Jamaica. The POVs change again and again, jumping backward and forward through time finding several characters at different life stages. At first, it seems like Abel, of the first chapter, is the protagonist and the family patriarch, but his life choices make for a much more complicated dissection of the plot. This is a perfect book to read with others because there is so much to discuss.”

Sara Lynn (@saralynnburnett) is a writer in Turks & Caicos Islands, and a self-proclaimed “beach snob” (we would be too if we lived somewhere that beautiful)!  She takes her followers from the beach to the pool, along with her books, and you can almost feel the breeze blowing off the ocean through her pictures. She said: “Since I live and work in a Caribbean resort I always recommend Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn. It’s a story about the Caribbean that weaves in the influence of hotels on islands in the most realistic way.”

Shavonna (@smb_reads) features books with gorgeous backdrops — often the beach in Cape Cod, but also highlighting rocky paths, flowers and mossy forests. She said: I highly recommend The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern as a wonderful escape from reality. I have always been drawn to fantasy worlds that are based on our own, if only we could find the right door. It renews the childlike sense of wonder that first drew me into reading, and makes me want to go looking for magic or fairies in the woods again, as I did so often growing up after losing myself in a book. 

Heidi (@butthebooksarebetter2) will take you on a tour of the craggy cliffs and sandy coasts of Western Australia. Her posts frequently feature her cute pup and well-thought out reviews. She said “my favourite armchair travel book this year would be Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin, which is set in rural France. It features the unusual locale of a small French cemetery run by Violette, a young woman with a tragic past. Brimming with a rich cast of interesting and well rounded characters, it broke my heart but also filled me with love and hope, which was especially welcome during this tumultuous year.”

Sarah (@booklempt.gyal) features bright, sunny beaches and stellar books — often examining them through a scholarly lens. She also is a tireless advocate for Caribbean lit. She recommends Beloved by Toni Morrison: “When we think of books that transport us we often speak with a measure of fondness and awe about distant, unfamiliar locales. We don’t often talk about the books that take us inward to a part of ourselves we’ve closed off for self-preservation. Reading this book was a painful but cathartic journey, not only to a past that bleeds into the present, but also to the innermost part of ourselves where healing is possible.”