Archive for the ‘Non-Fiction’ Category

In Service to the Horse

July 25th, 2012    Posted in Kim, Non-Fiction, Sports
 

I picked up In Service to the Horse by Susan Nesser because I read about it on a horse blog. There you have it. My confession. I am a horse girl. However, I’m posting it here for several reasons. The first being that I tend to drift away from nonfiction. I can’t say why, and the reason isn’t rooted in any particulars, I just simply love fiction. So, when I find a truly great nonfiction read, it’s as eye-opening as it is enjoyable, and I feel myself growing as a reader… just a little bit. The second reason I decided to review this book is because it’s a fantastic glimpse into the lives of horsemen regardless of your opinions toward horses. This review also felt aptly timed. The London Olympics are just around the corner and equestrian sports are the only Olympic games where men and women compete on an equal playing field. There’s your fun fact for the day, kids. Additionally, we’ve been on the heels of some pretty interesting Triple Crown potentials in the last few years, and horsemen and sportsmen alike will agree that horse racing is one of the most timeless icons of American sport.

In Service to the Horse follows both an eventing team and a highly regarded breeding stable in Kentucky. It shines an incredible light on the lives of the grooms and horse owners as it takes place behind the scenes. I am convinced, sadly, that I will never have enough gumption or love for getting up at 4am to become a professional horseman, but the bond and love these grooms have for the horses they care for is, to put it simply, staggering. If light and fluffy isn’t for you, there is an incredible look at the history of horses and how paramount their presence was to the existence of ancient cultures. I’ll go on to say that if thrills are your game, the bravery involved within professional eventing sets an incredible standard to be met, and it’s described within this text in a beautiful way. My palms grew sweaty more than once. And lastly, if you’re in the market for a good conspiracy, show jumping and horse racing are among the top players. The book outlines one of the largest horse conspiracies of our time, an event that was well documented in Ken Englade’s true-crime book, Hot Blood, an issue that rocked the horse world and has since been cemented in history. Do you want to know why there hasn’t been a Triple Crown winner in 25 years? Well, Susan Nesser takes a pretty good crack at explaining why. What I’m saying is, people, there is something for everyone in this book.

Sadly, this book isn’t currently in print, another reason I wanted to give it a shout out. It’s only available in hardback on Amazon and I’d love to see it garner some support. This read will teach you things about an industry you will never otherwise know. I found the writing wonderfully well rounded and heart felt. If John Krakauer wrote a horse book, it would look a helluva lot like this one.

If you have an inkling for horse books, I implore you to pick this one up. It will not disappoint.

 

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True Crime: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher

February 20th, 2012    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Award-Winning, Kelly, Non-Fiction, True Crime
 

The Suspicions of Mr. WhicherIn 1860, three-year-old Saville Kent disappeared from his nursery. He was found later that day in the bottom of a privy. His throat was cut. His murder horrified the English, and his case was major news for the next few years.

The public vilified various members of the Kent household, becoming armchair detectives willing to announce their opinions in public forums like the newspaper and in personal letters to the police, despite first hand knowledge of the case. (A modern comparison: comments on online news sites.)

There were only eight detectives at Scotland Yard in 1860, and one of the best was sent to investigate Saville’s murder: Inspector Jonathan Whicher. Arriving two weeks after the murder, Whicher played catch-up, looking into the personal lives of the Kent Family, much to the shock of the general public. Working class detectives like Whicher were supposed to honor their betters, not investigate their dirty laundry.

The first mystery novels, such as Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, appeared at this time and echo the real life murder of poor little Saville Kent. Kate Summerscale weaves these novels, along with letters by writers such as Charles Dickens, and newspaper accounts, into her narrative.

The impact of Saville’s murder on those around him, such as his nursery-maid, add poignancy and show how an unsolved murder effects the innocent as well as the victim. Lives were damaged if not ruined by this case, including Mr. Whicher’s career. Eventually someone confesses, vindicating Inspector Whicher and finally allowing the innocent to reclaim what they could of their lives.

 

Summerscale’s writing is strong and weaves multiples sources into a compelling and cohesive narrative. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher will make you question if justice was every fully served.

 

Title:  The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective

Author: by Kate Summerscale

Source: Ebook

Read: February 2012

 

 

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Black Dog Reviews’ First Annual Gift Guide

December 11th, 2011    Posted in Dystopian, Fantasy, Fiction, Kelly, Literary Fiction, Middle Grade, Mystery, Non-Fiction, Other Genre, Pop Culture, Popular Fiction, Science Fiction, Short Stories, Uncategorized, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
 

Looking for gift ideas this Christmas? How about giving a book? Here’s some gift recommendations based on books or series we read during 2011.

Literary Fiction
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
About: Effortless novel from one of our favorites.
Best for: Fans of The Virgin Suicides or Middlesex; people who enjoy character studies; Fans of Jane Austen, and also of Victorian writers.
Also consider: Game of Secrets by Dawn Tripp or The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.

 

Short Story Collection
20 Under 40: Stories from the New Yorker
About: Sampling of the hottest short-story authors under 40 years old. Great way to find your favorite new literary author.
Great for: fans of short stories, literary fiction.
Also consider: St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell, Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman.

 

Adult Dystopian, Sci-Fi, or Fantasy
Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
About: Game of Thrones is a layered high-fantasy novel with high stakes.
Great for: fans of high fantasy, people who like epic sagas.
Also consider: Greywalker by Cat Richardson

 

Southern Gothic
Ghost on Black Mountain by Ann Hite.
Why: Five different female narrators tell the story of Nellie’s unfortunate marriage to Hobbs Pritchard.
Great for: fans of Southern gothic novels, literary ghost stories.
Also consider: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

 

Beach Read
Soulless by Gail Carriger
About: Victorian steampunk with supernatural creatures. Mixes romance and humor with a mystery. Absolutely brillant fun read.
Best for: readers with a sense of humor.
Also consider: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

 

Young Adult Dystopian, Sci-Fi, or Fantasy
Feed by M. T. Anderson
About: Ecological and technology issues, sci-fi, and dystopian blend in this YA novel perfect for boys and girls. Also has one of the best first lines ever: “We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”
Best for: fans of dystopian or sci-fi.
Also consider: Divergent by Veronica Roth, Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Daughter of Smoke and Bones by Laini Taylor, and Witchlanders by Lena Coakley.

 

Young Adult, Contemporary
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
About: Vera’s journey as grieving high school student with broken family has heart, and her journey rings true.
Best for: YA contemporary fiction.
Also consider: Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan

 

Pop culture
Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein
About: excellent analysis and insight into the “girly-girl” culture invading US society. Go check out the pink toy aisle at your local Target if you don’t believe me.
Good for: parents of daughters, people who deal with children, anyone concerned with the way girls are taught to value themselves.
Also Consider: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

 

For Writers

On Writing by Stephen King
About: Great advice and insight into King’s journey.
Best for: writers.
Also consider: Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder

 

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It’s a girl, it’s a woman, it’s a comic book heroine

June 14th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Kelly, Non-Fiction, Pop Culture
 

I’ve always found comic books interesting as a reflection of the time period they were published in. Looking at heroines like Supergirl or Batgirl—and their roles within the comic books—brings up interesting insight into American culture and the role of women.

Supergirls focuses on well-known heroines like Wonder Woman, Invisible Woman, etc, while also looking at lesser known characters like the Phantom Lady, Black Cat, the Blonde Phantom, and the Black Canary, and more. It looks at various factors that affected female characters. For example, the Comic Code Authority greatly changed the way female characters were drawn and portrayed, leading to comics like Sheena, Queen of the Jungle ceasing production since the character was too racy for children.

I enjoyed Supergirls and would recommend it anyone interested in comic books, heroes and heroines, and the portrayal of women throughout the 20th century. I enjoyed learning the history of various characters. For example, I knew about Superman and Batman’s foundations, but knew very little about Wonder Woman’s Amazon/Greek Gods background. (And the background changed over time depending upon what was considered palatable to the general public.)

Illustrations would have been a helpful addition to this book, as I ended up googling some of the lesser known characters to see what they looked like. (Madrid did a good job explaining their appearance and costumes, but there’s no substitute for seeing the illustrations.) He maybe could have gone deeper into the cultural impact of the characters. But I thoroughly enjoyed this book for what it is: a history of superheroines.

Read by: Kelly

Title: Supergirls: Fashion, feminism, fantasy, and the history of comic book heroines
Author: Mike Madrid
Souce: Public Library
Read: June 2011

 

 

 

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The Darker Side of Being a Princess

June 9th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Kelly, Non-Fiction, Pop Culture
 

Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture is a must-read for parents. Orenstein looks at the long-term effect of different cultural influences on children, especially girls.

For example, in 2001 a Disney executive went to a Disney on Ice Show and noticed that little girls were wearing homemade princess costumes. As a good businessman, he saw a market . . . and the Disney Princess line was born. In 2009 sales of the line exceeded four billion dollars.

Is there anything wrong with girls pretending to be princesses? Not inherently. But if girls are only shunted towards certain toys—specifically “girls” toys—and as toys become less creative and don’t encourage imagination and free play, what’s the long-term impact? Princesses might seem like idealistic and safe role models for children, but is it healthy to focus so much on being pretty? And is so much advertising directed towards children and so many branded products healthy? Are we training our daughters to be the evil stepsister in stories like Cinderella?

Orenstein discusses the concept—and risk—of focusing too much on being pretty in her book. As children’s older and their ‘princesses’ (e.g. Miley Cyrus and other actresses/TV shows marketed to children) get older, girls are taught to act sexy without understanding the consequences, or actually feeling the emotions they’re portraying.

I feel like I’m giving short shrift to Orenstein’s well-written and witty argument and book. Each chapter focuses on different topic relating to the girly-girl culture, from childhood beauty pageants to the online world to toys. Each chapter brings up interesting questions and backs the questions up with research and anecdotes.

If you like books on social issues this is a great book for you. And I’d definitely recommend it to the parents of small children, especially girls.

Read by: Kelly

Title: Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture
Author: Peggy Orenstein
Source: Public Library
Read: June 2011

 

 

 

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Speaking of Capote…

May 9th, 2011    Posted in Award-Winning, Kim, Non-Fiction
 

…and narrative nonfiction:

Okay, so last time I posted about narrative nonfiction it was in reference to The Other Wes Moore. A great book and one I think a lot of people would enjoy. However, the narrative voice he used seemed pretty jarring in comparison to his expository writing so I was trying to think of an example of successful narrative nonfiction and boom: In Cold Blood.

To do a review on Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is almost a little redundant. It’s an American Classic, it’s incredibly well known, and pretty much everyone I know who has read it, loved it. It’s one of his most highly acclaimed books and simply put, it’s just fabulous. It is also a great example of narrative nonfiction done correctly. It tells a story in a way that comes across as fiction, but provides a true account of events. It’s the result of endless interviews, tireless research, and fantastic writing. Kelly pointed out to me that Harper Lee helped Capote a great deal with the research and the two were close childhood friends. (A fun little tid bit for the post.)

If you haven’t read In Cold Blood, I suggest you do. It’s the haunting story of how the Clutter family was murdered in their Kansas home. The book essentially starts with the death of the Clutters, and follows the investigation into the minds of the killers, and eventually, leads to their capture. It’s flawlessly done and very entertaining.

Title: In Cold Blood
Author: Truman Capote
Source: Powell’s Books
Read: May 2011

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The Other Wes Moore

April 18th, 2011    Posted in Kim, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Uncategorized
 

I’ve been reading this book for a while, as it was a friend’s book club choice. It follows two boys, both named Wes Moore, as they battle humble beginnings and eventually follows them into adulthood. One of the Wes Moores becomes a Rhodes Scholar, the other goes to prison for murder.

The premise is undeniably interesting and is told from the voice of the Rhodes Scholar, Wes Moore. As the cover states, the book is tragic in that one of the boys could have just as easily been the other. However, this becomes largely debatable in the fact that their stories aren’t all that similar. The biggest difference being  that one family sends their son away to military school, while the other, in spite of good intentions, loses theirs to a crumbling environment of drugs and a lack of education.

I recently saw the documentary Waiting For Superman, which tackles many of the same issues. The primary question being, “How well can a child succeed without education? Especially if that child lives in poverty or around crime.” I couldn’t help but feel that if I were taking a sociology class in college, both the film and the book would be on the syllabus. They both provide a well-rounded look at the problems in our school’s education systems in addition to just how much your immediate environment affects you. If you’re interested in the issue, I would recommend both.

I thought this post would compliment Kelly’s review of the Accidental Billionaires, primarily because of the narrative non-fiction voice which Wes Moore adopts throughout. I have some of the same issues as Kelly does in reading narrative non-fiction and though Wes Moore’s expository writing and research was excellent, the writing did fall short when it came to dialogue and pushing the narrative into scene. All in all, if you’re an avid non-fiction reader, you’ll find this enjoyable.

Author: Wes Moore
Date Read: April 2011
Source: Powell’s Books

 

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Enter the underpinnings of the social network in The Accidental Billionaires

April 10th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Kelly, Non-Fiction
 

Facebook is one of those programs that people love or hate. It’s a time suck with privacy issues. It’s a great way to stay in touch with friends around the world. It’s a fun way to exchange quips and trivia with friends. Multiple family members across generations are on it, which definitely squelches the cool factor since it’s hard to be edgy with Grandma hovering about, questioning the meaning behind slang terms.

The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich looks at the creation of Facebook, from its initial “thefacebook.com” site for Harvard University students to its eventual quest for worldwide domination. Or, rather, venture capitol and the funding it needed to develop from a dorm room operation to true company.

While The Accidental Billionaires is enjoyable, I sometimes doubted its veracity. In general, I struggle to accept narrative non-fiction that spends too much time on someone’s thoughts or feelings in an exact moment. (Seriously, do you remember what you thought exactly two weeks ago at 3 PM? Let alone three years ago? I can tie specific thoughts to certain events, but I doubt I could recreate scenes from five years ago with any level of specificity, other than what I want to remember.) The book also didn’t use any comments, quotes, or direct interviews with Mark Zuckerburg himself, and it’s hard to show the complete founding of a company without insight from the man primarily responsible for the vision and success of the start-up.

The book focuses on the early days of Facebook, and doesn’t get into the details of lawsuits surrounding the company. It definitely leaves some key questions—how much did Harvard Connection/ConnectU influence Facebook—very vague. I’m sure Mezrich worked with the material he had available to him (and I’m sure confidentiality agreements limited any party not directly involved with the lawsuits from knowing details). But I would have liked something that delved in deeper and seemed to be supported by documentation as opposed to interviews with undisclosed sources. But read it for yourself and see if you agree with me.

It’s also weird to analyze a book that’s about real people living—and maybe googling—today. The book turns them into characters, for better or for worse, and it’s slightly uncomfortable to analyze them through the lens of a book. It’s much easier to dissect In Cold Blood, as the author (Truman Capote), the victims (The Clutter family), and criminals in the book (Perry Smith and Dick Hickock) are all deceased. It’s also a clear-cut story—a family was slaughtered, and their killers were convicted and executed for the crime. It’s much harder to determine who, if anyone, is really a victim in The Accidental Billionaires.

Title: The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal
Author: Ben Mezrich
Date Read: April 2011
Source: Public Library

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Dual Review: Stephen King’s On Writing

January 25th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Dual Reviews, Kelly, Kim, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing
 

Kim: The first thing I noticed in reading Stephen King’s On Writing is the underlying and impenetrable truth behind every word in the book: a good writer can make anything fun to read and Stephen King proves exactly that. To put it simply, anyone—whether they’re a teacher, engineer, artist, or simply just a Stephen King fan—will enjoy this book. If you’re a writer, you’ll love it.

The book is separated into several parts, the first a resume of sorts, tracing moments in King’s life from childhood to best-selling author. From the get go you’re eager to seek out clues, perhaps a life changing event hidden within an anectdote that turned Stephen King into the writer he is today. You’ll find none, with the exception of his marriage, which King credits again and again as the foundation of  his personal and professional success. You quickly learn, and King continues this sentiment throughout, that there is no special formula for success, but that it simply takes all the practice in the world.  What you do learn about writing specifically in this first part,  is that practice is paramount and no amount of thinking about writing, or wondering about writing will make you a good writer. You simply need to be writing.

Next we get down to the nuts and bolts; what it takes to be a good writer (good grammar, strong narratives, characters with depth) as well as some interesting ideas about language and how stories are put together. As a writer, it’s great to peek into the world as Stephen King sees it, but at some point you come away with another complete and impenetrable truth about the book: writing is unique for each of us, there is no secret to making yours successful (other than practice and as King puts it, a little God-given talent), and that you need to carve out your own experience with the craft. A lot of what you read in the book (omit needless words, avoid adverbs, cut your first draft down by 10%) all serves as valuable advice, but the greatest advice of all is in the example of Stephen King himself. That life can be a bitch, and if you love to write, well, keep on writing.

This book resonated with me a great deal and part of the fun is in watching King put it all together. The most unnerving part of the book is his staunch belief that you can either write or you can’t. At some point in the book you’re either shying away from the pages wondering if you can or can’t be a writer, or, you’re stepping up the challenge to prove that you can. I can’t help but feel that Stephen King would support the latter and ultimately, this is what I loved most about the book.

Kelly: Like Kim, I thoroughly enjoyed On Writing. One of the first things I appreciated about the book was the cover. I have the tenth anniversary edition, and it shows Stephen King sitting at his desk with his feet up. A dog–maybe a corgi–stands beneath him looking towards the camera. The photo humanizes King, and makes him seem accessible. The content of his book does the same thing. King’s personal journey is interesting, and I appreciated that he wrote it in a series of small stories instead of writing a grandiose, sweeping, “this was my childhood and it made me what I am today,” flowery section. Instead it was funny and effective. He clearly knew he wanted to a writer from an early age, and he tackled the world of submissions bravely.

Kim did a great job summing up King’s take on writing, and so I’ll just add this. King wrote part of On Writing while recovering from being hit by a van. Nearly dying didn’t stop him from writing, and in fact seemed to be a major component in his recovery (not to downplay the help of his clearly devoted wife). I’ve heard many people say “oh, if I only had time to write.” If someone who can only write for an hour due to pain can carve out time, anyone who truly wants to can.

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