Mary Ann’s Februrary Recommendation

Tinseltown:  Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann

tinseltownMary Ann says:  “A true account that starts with movie director William Desmond Taylor shot to death.  The rest of the book tells stories of the actors and producers involved with Taylor in the early (around 1920) movie industry.  They led very wild, sometimes scandalous, sometimes tragic lives.  Who fired the fatal shot?

Includes quite interesting accounts of the production and distribution of the earliest silent movies.”

3 Similar Reads

Crime Beat:  A Decade of Cover Cops and Killers by Michael Connelly – “Connelly, best-selling and Edgar Award-winning writer of the Harry Bosch mystery series, writes about cops, criminals, and cold cases with an authority that stems in part from his first career, as a crime reporter for two newspapers: the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and, later, the Los Angeles Times. This is a collection of 22 of his nonfiction crime stories for those papers. The collection is divided into three sections: The Cops, The Killers, and The Cases.” – Booklist

A Death in Belmont by Sebastien Junger – “From The Perfect Storm to a perfectly horrendous crime: a 1963 murder in Belmont, MA, that mimicked the Boston Strangler scenario. The wrong man-black, of course-was convicted.” – Library Journal

Footsteps in the Snow by Charles Lachman – “It was a shocking true crime that left two families shattered, and became the coldest case in U.S. history. Who really killed little Maria? The question fueled a real-life nightmare in Sycamore, Illinois in 1957. Christmas was three weeks away, and seven-year-old Maria Ridulph went out to play. Soon after, a figure emerged out of the falling snow. He was very friendly. Minutes later, Maria vanished, leaving behind an abandoned doll and footsteps in the snow.” – Summary from catalog


Dana’s January Recommendation

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick

in the heart of the sea“In the Heart of the Sea brings to new life the incredible story of the wreck of the whaleship Essex—an event as mythic in its own century as the Titanic disaster in ours, and the inspiration for the climax of Moby-Dick. In a harrowing page-turner, Nathaniel Philbrick restores this epic story to its rightful place in American history.

In 1820, the 240-ton Essex set sail from Nantucket on a routine voyage for whales. Fifteen months later, in the farthest reaches of the South Pacific, it was repeatedly rammed and sunk by an eighty-ton bull sperm whale. Its twenty-man crew, fearing cannibals on the islands to the west, made for the 3,000-mile-distant coast of South America in three tiny boats. During ninety days at sea under horrendous conditions, the survivors clung to life as one by one, they succumbed to hunger, thirst, disease, and fear.

In the Heart of the Sea tells perhaps the greatest sea story ever. Philbrick interweaves his account of this extraordinary ordeal of ordinary men with a wealth of whale lore and with a brilliantly detailed portrait of the lost, unique community of Nantucket whalers. Impeccably researched and beautifully told, the book delivers the ultimate portrait of man against nature, drawing on a remarkable range of archival and modern sources, including a long-lost account by the ship’s cabin boy. At once a literary companion and a page-turner that speaks to the same issues of class, race, and man’s relationship to nature that permeate the works of Melville, In the Heart of the Sea will endure as a vital work of American history.” – Summary from Goodreads

Does this sound interesting?  Click here for a sample!

3 Similar Reads

The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty by Caroline Alexander

Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe by Laurence Bergreen

Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder

Kim’s December Recommendation

Kim says: “If you care about animals you will find this memoir interesting and touching.  Jon Katz has written books and blogs about his experiences on a farm in upstate New York, mostly chronicling the life of his many dogs.  This will take you inside the life and heart of a very special donkey.  Along the way he offers observations and insights into other relationships–both animal and human.”

3 Similar Reads

Dogtripping by David Rosenfelt – A moving and funny account of a cross-country move from California to Maine, and the beginnings of a dog rescue foundation.

Animal Magnetism: My Life With Creatures Great and Small by Rita Mae Brown – The bestselling author shares the lessons she’s learned from a parrot, a courageous Doberman, a horse, a tough tiger cat, and other marvelous creatures as well as her deep appreciation for them.

Sergeant Rex: The Unbreakable Bond Between a Marine and his Military Working Dog by Mike C Dowling – Filled with harrowing tales of knife-edge bomb-detection work, including an extraordinary baptism by fire, Sergeant Rex is a heart-pounding account of how an unbreakable human-canine bond helped Mike and Rex to stay focused on their mission and save countless lives.

Sophia’s August Recommendation

Buddhism: A Christian Exploration and Appraisal, by Keith Yandell and Harold Netland

buddhismFrom Sophia:

There are many books published, both Christian and  Buddhist that are largely descriptive and comparative. For some reasons there is resistance among religious scholars to engage in, or  to even consider a  rational assessment of religious doctrines and their supporting framework. The result is a type of pseudo-friendly syncretism that fails to respectfully delineate differences and clarify the goals of each world view respectively. To me, that is a superficial type of engagement and to the extent that it is superficial, it is also disrespectful. Not so with these authors.

Both Buddhism and Christianity say that something is wrong with the human condition. The “problem” for both is different, as is the “solution” as is the “path” to the solution as is the “goal” of the path. It was surprising to see how very different these world views are, and also , how they are not in direct competition

Whereas Buddhism is attempting to achieve detachment from conditioned reality via self-effort and knowledge, in order to reach the unconditioned state of Nirvana, Christianity is showing a way to be forgiven of sin before God, so that one can, in their life reflect more on the character of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit, preparing folks to be in line with the character of God and thus fit to live in God’s presence. You can have experience of the one without making the other go away. Some folks have the experience of both.

Please note that this book, (Buddhism: A Christian Exploration and Appraisal ), includes the philosophy side of the equation. Readers new to philosophy may find portions of the book–chapters four and five, in particular–to be challenging, but the benefit is well worth the effort, for not only will you understand what Buddhist doctrines might mean, but also get a sense of what it is to offer a careful and respectful assessment of Buddhist doctrine.

There is plenty of room to see additional texts, following a similar model, that engage other world faiths and religions in a similarly brave and direct way.

****Please note, this book is not available through the SWAN network. To request this book, please email

More Titles to Explore:

Understanding World Religions in Fifteen Minutes a Day by Garry Morgan

This book provides short insight into Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Mormonism, Christianity, as well as other religions.

My Spiritual Journey: Personal Reflections, Teachings, and Talks by the Dalai Lama XIV

The fourteenth Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso explores his human identity, Buddhist monk identity, and his identity as the Dalai Lama.

Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield

This book comes with a CD to guide you through meditations, an art long practiced by Buddhism.



Blaise’s January Recommendation

Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson

shadowdiversIf you love great narrative non-fiction like Unbroken, The Devil in the White City or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, you have to read Shadow Divers.  Published in 2004, Shadow Divers follows the story of deep water shipwreck divers and their quest to identify a sunken German U-boat discovered off the coast of New Jersey.  Kurson is a great storyteller and even if you don’t think you are interested in scuba diving or u-boats, you will find yourself fascinated by this story! – Blaise

3 Similar Reads

Crashing Through By Robert Kurson

The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger

Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder


Weekly Spotlight On: NaNoWriMo + Creative Writing Inspiration

What’s NaNoWriMo? It stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it is an initiative where authors all over the world (amateur or not) commit to writing 50,000 words before the clock strikes midnight on November 30th. It is hosted by the nonprofit organization of the same name, and the website allows for the creation of a profile and uploading your works to keep track of your word count:

If you’ve always had the urge to get a story out, this month might be a good opportunity. If 50,000 words seems like a big goal to accomplish this year, try out something smaller: write an essay about your favorite memory or a poem or maybe even a children’s story.

Here are some of my picks for nonfiction that will inspire you to write, write, write!

No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty

no plot no problem“Every November, tens of thousands of people sign up for National Novel Writing Month and attempt to write a 50,000-word novel. Baty, the brains behind this competition, has produced an uproariously funny motivational manifesto so readers can get a leg-up in his race or in the larger publishing game. The key is to lower your expectations “from `best-seller’ to `would not make someone vomit,’ ” says Baty, who maintains that stress and a deadline are important parts of writing. Aimed at the nonserious, with an emphasis on summoning creativity and having a life-changing experience, this original approach will appeal to anyone up for a challenge.” – Library Journal Review, 2010

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

on writing” “Long live the King” hailed “Entertainment Weekly” upon publication of Stephen King’s “On Writing.” Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported, near-fatal accident in 1999–and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, “On Writing” will empower and entertain everyone who reads it–fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.” – Summary from publisher

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

bird by bird” “Thirty years ago my older brother, who was  ten years old at the time, was trying to get a  report on birds written that he’d had three months to  write. It was due the next day. We were out at our  family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen  table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper  and pencils and unopened books on birds,  immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my  father sat down beside him, put his arm around my  brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.'” – Summary from publisher

*This is one of my favorite books about writing. – Genna

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

how to write science fiction and fantasy“You’ve always dreamed of writing science fiction and fantasy tales that pull readers into extraordinary new worlds and fantastic conflicts. Best-selling author Orson Scott Card shows you how it’s done, distilling years of writing experience and publishing success into concise, no-nonsense advice.” – Summary

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

letters to a young poetRilke’s Letters to a Young Poet are arguably the most famous and beloved letters of the twentieth century. Written when the poet was himself still a young man, with most of his greatest work before him, they were addressed to a student who had sent Rilke some of his own writing, asking for advice on becoming a writer. The two never met, but over a period of several years Rilke wrote him these ten letters, which have been cherished by hundreds of thousands of readers for what Stephen Mitchell calls in his Foreword the “vibrant and deeply felt experience of life” that informs them. Eloquent and personal, Rilke’s meditations on the creative process, the nature of love, the wisdom of children, and the importance of solitude offer a wealth of spiritual and practical guidance for anyone. At the same time, this collection, in Stephen Mitchell’s definitive translation, reveals the thoughts and feelings of one of the greatest poets and most distinctive sensibilities of the twentieth century.


On Writing Romance: How to Craft a Novel That Sells by Leigh Michaels

on writing romance“In On Writing Romance, award-winning romance novelist Leigh Michaels talks you through each stage of the writing and publishing process. From the origins and evolution of the romance novel to establishing a vital story framework to writing that last line to seeking out appropriate publishers, everything you ever wanted to know about writing a romance novel is here. . . . Plus, read a sample query letter, cover letter, and synopsis, and learn how to properly prepare you romance novel for submission to agents and editors. On Writing Romance has everything you need to leave readers swooning!” – Summary

Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly by Gail Carson Levine

writing magic“In Writing Magic, Newbery Honor author Gail Carson Levine shares her secrets of great writing. She shows how you, too, can get terrific ideas for stories, invent great beginnings and endings, write sparkling dialogue, develop memorable characters and much, much more. She advises you about what to do when you feel stuck and how to use helpful criticism. Best of all, she offers writing exercises that will set your imagination on fire.

With humor, honesty, and wisdom, Gail Carson Levine shows you that you, too, can make magic with your writing.” – Summary from publisher

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Non-Fiction From Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between by Lee Gutkind

you can't make this stuff up“From rags-to-riches-to-rags tell-alls to personal health sagas to literary journalism everyone seems to want to try their hand at creative nonfiction. Now, Lee Gutkind, the go-to expert for all things creative nonfiction, taps into one of the fastest-growing genres with this new writing guide. Frank and to-the-point, with depth and clarity, Gutkind describes and illustrates each and every aspect of the genre, from defining a concept and establishing a writing process to the final product. Offering new ways of understanding genre and invaluable tools for writers to learn and experiment with, ‘You Can’t Make This Stuff Up’ allows writers of all skill levels to thoroughly expand and stylize their work.”  – Summary from Publisher

Ellen’s September Recommendation

poor economicsDon’t let the title scare you off – this book is a very engaging read that leads one to question their understanding of what poverty looks like – how it is lived, and also to question the ways in which we try to help.
“Billions of government dollars, and thousands of charitable organizations and NGOs, are dedicated to helping the world’s poor. But much of the work they do is based on assumptions that are untested generalizations at best, flat out harmful misperceptions at worst. Banerjee and Duflo have pioneered the use of randomized control trials in development economics. Work based on these principles, supervised by the Poverty Action Lab at MIT, is being carried out in dozens of countries. Their work transforms certain presumptions: that microfinance is a cure-all, that schooling equals learning, that poverty at the level of 99 cents a day is just a more extreme version of the experience any of us have when our income falls uncomfortably low. Throughout, the authors emphasize that life for the poor is simply not like life for everyone else: it is a much more perilous adventure, denied many of the cushions and advantages that are routinely provided to the more affluent”– Provided by publisher.
3 Similar Titles: