Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

In her debut novel, Miracle Creek, Angie Kim tells a story that is complex and layered, the way life tends to be. The story; a fire in a Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) chamber, which is owned by a Korean immigrant family in a mostly White area, kills two people. We enter the book on day one of the trial, and we’re tasked with sorting through the stories and emotions to figure out who set the fire, and why.

Angie Kim was once a trial lawyer and it shows. The best scenes in this book are the ones in the courtroom. They move with dexterity and never feel slow and clunky, in fact, I wanted more trial scenes, and I wanted them to last longer. When Kim was interviewed on The Short Stacks, she mentioned how when writing these scenes she felt an ease of writing that she didn’t always feel in other sections. I think that can be felt in the reading of the exchanges in the courtroom.

When it comes to power dynamics Kim does a fantastic job of keeping the reader in a suspended state, constantly trying to figure out who is on top. This is played out through race, gender, language, education levels, age, and so much more. It is really impressive and subtle. Kim manipulates (in a good way) scenes from different perspectives to give situations that seemed black and white, depth, and areas of grey.

Another element of this story that is powerful is the guilt and anxiety that many of the parents feel. So much of this book centers around children with disabilities (mostly Autism) and the parent’s own fears and hopes become paramount to the story. When we are asked to hear out these mothers as human, and not just chauffeurs to and from HBOT therapy, we see a full and nuanced picture of the challenges of parenthood, especially when that parenting comes with the fear of your child being left behind. There is a lot of vulnerability that we rarely see or discuss when it comes to parenting for fear of judgement. One scene in particular is a standout when it comes to the things parents think, but never say.

There is another side of this conversation where I think Miracle Creek misses the mark. In addition to the parental anxiety, there is the sense that the only way to release that anxiety is to “fix” the child. While thats a common way people think about disability, it isn’t based in reality. Most people who are disabled and/or who have developmental challenges are fully who they are. There is no fixing, no matter how badly a parent may want their child to be seen as “normal”. The idea that a child is exactly who they are and that that is ok, is barely present in this story. The only time this perspective is shared is by the mostly two dimensional protestors, that are portrayed as the villains of this story (not a spoiler). In a story with so many points of view (the chapters are broken up by changing narrators), it would have been easy to include a voice that contradicts or challenges the parents whose children are in HBOT and other therapies.

This book takes on a lot of complex issues, and while I really enjoyed reading Miracle Creek, there were places where I wished Kim had dug deeper or found more nuanced ways to discuss topics that are very layered and not so easy to discuss.

We read Miracle Creek for The Stacks Book Club and you can hear that conversation by clicking the link below.

Ep.68 Miracle Creek by Angie Kim — The Stacks Book Club (Rachel Overvoll)

If you’ve read this book I’d love to hear your thoughts, share them in the comments below.

  • Hardcover: 368
  • PublisherSarah Crichton Books (April 16, 2019)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Miracle Creek Amazon or IndieBound

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler

In 1973 there was an arson fire in a New Orleans gay bar called The Up Stairs Lounge that left 32 people dead. It was the largest mass killing of gay people in history until the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016. In Tinderox, Robert W. Fieseler tells the story of The Up Stairs Lounge fire, the people who were killed, the main suspect, the media’s response, the city officials’ incompetence, and how this event was part of the broader Gay Liberation Movement.

There are about ten pages of writing in this book where Fieseler takes us moment by moment through the fire itself. He recreates the scene and the terror and he is relentless in presenting every detail. These ten pages, are some of the greatest ten pages I have ever read. They took my breath away. This book has other moments that are engaging and exciting, but there is nothing like the ten pages in which we relive this fire.

This is a strong book and well researched book. The scope of what Fiesler has created in Tinderbox is powerful and a true indictment on society and how we treat those who are different from us. Fieseler draws parallels between the Gay Liberation Movement and current events in The United States and past movements that led to other groups of people reclaiming their civil rights. While some of the connections Fiesler made were spot on, other times I felt like her was reaching for parallels that weren’t always so obvious.

We covered this book on The Stacks, and for a more in depth conversation on Tinderbox, check out The Stacks Book Club episode with Joseph Papa where we dive deeper into what we thought worked, and didn’t work so well in this book.

  • Hardcover: 384
  • PublisherLiveright; 1st edition (June 5, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Tinderbox Amazon or IndieBound

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Ep. 62 Tinderbox by Robert W. Fieseler — The Stacks Book Club (Joseph Papa)

Today on The Stacks we’re discussing Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler. Author (Elizabeth Taylor, A Life for Passion ) and former book publicist, Joseph Papa, is our guest and he helps us break down this book. We discuss the use of the acronym LGBTQIA+, how society criminalizes human beings, and some of the most incredible ten pages of writing we’ve ever read.

There are no spoilers on this episode.

LISTEN NOW

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Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. If you’d like to support your local indie, you can shop through IndieBound.

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Connect with Joseph: Instagram | Twitter

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook |Apple Podcasts |The Stacks on PodcastOne | Goodreads | Patreon

Support The Stacks

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

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The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Short Stacks 13: Robert W. Fieseler//Tinderbox

We’re joined today by Robert W. Fieseler author of June The Stacks Book Club Pick, Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation. In our conversation we get to know Fieseler, how this tragic event came into his life, where he found his sources, and the toll writing about trauma can have on an author. Our conversation is spoiler free, and serves as a great introduction for our TSBC conversation on Tinderbox, that will air on June 5th.

LISTEN NOW

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | PodcastOne | Google | Android

Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. If you’d like to support your local indie, you can shop through IndieBound.

Connect with Robert: Instagram | Twitter | Website

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook |Apple Podcasts |The Stacks on PodcastOne | Goodreads | Patreon

Support The Stacks

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

Audible– to get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Stacks Book Club — June 2019 Books

Its time! Our June book announcement. This month we’ve selected two nonfiction books, one, the rediscovering a long forgotten fire, the other a memoir about facing death.

In honor of LGBTQIA+ Pride month, we’re reading Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler, on June 5th. This book chronicles an arson fire in a gay bar, The Upstairs Lounge, in June 1973 in New Orleans. This fire took the lives of 32 people and then was largely forgotten. Tinderbox examines this painful moment in history; the fire, the victims, the police response, and the social and political attitudes of the time.

On June 19th we’re reading The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams. Born blind in Vietnam, Julie Yip-William and her family flee to America, where she has surgery that gives her back partial sight. As the years progress Yip-Williams becomes a lawyer, a wife, and a mother. Then at 37, she is diagnosed with terminal cancer. This book is her reckoning. It explores life through the prism of death.

As with all our TSBC books, we want to hear from you, so if you’ve got thoughts or questions send them our way, they might even get featured on the show! You can email us at thestackswithtraci@gmail.com, comment on this post, or reach out to us through our Instagram @thestackspod.

Order your copies of our June books on Amazon or IndieBound:

  • Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler (Amazon | IndieBound)
  • The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams (Amazon | IndieBound)

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

April 2019 Reading Wrap Up

April was not my best reading month as far as content. I liked a lot of what I read, but I really didn’t love anything. I reread Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things and still found it excellent, but it wasn’t as thrilling as the first time around. I loved Fatimah Asghar’s poetry collection If They Come for Us, and was happy too participate in reading poems as part of National Poetry Month.I enjoyed mostly what I read all month, but was never really blown away.

You can find my reading month by the numbers and short reviews of everything I read below, and check out reviews of all of these books over on The Stacks Instagram


April by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 10
Audiobooks: 1
Five Star Reads: 2
Unread Shelf: 1
Books Acquired: 37

By Women Authors: 6
By Authors of Color: 6
By Queer Authors: 2
Nonfiction Reads: 7
Published in 2019: 4


A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing: The Incarceration of African American Women from Harriet Tubman to Sandra Bland by DaMaris B. Hill

The Stacks received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

In her collection of poetry that covers the history of incarceration of Black women in America, DaMaris Hill crafts poems that highlight the pain of being a Black woman and the undeniable strength that comes along with it. She tells of some of the most famous women of the Diaspora as well as many women whose stories were nearly lost to history.

The collection is both poems and small bits of historical context that allow the reader to get a deeper understanding of the poetry. I really enjoyed the contextual bits of this book. Not all of the poems resonated with me, some were too fare removed from the context given. I also found some to be extremely powerful. The section on Assata Shakur was my favorite.

Three Stars | Bloomsbury Publishing | January 15, 2019 | 192 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
DaMaris Hill is our guest on The Stacks, hear that conversation now, by clicking HERE.


Beloved by Toni Morrison

(Photo: amazon.com)

Every once in a while I will read a book that I can appreicate for its artistic beauty and masterful use of themes, language, and characters. I will be impressed by the dialogue and wowed by the sheer craft of the thing. And despite all of the beauty and skill, I won’t really like the book. That was the case for me with Beloved, Toni Morrison’s most famous and well regarded book. Its not that I didn’t think the book was spectacular, its just that it wasn’t for me. When I say a book is “too fiction-y” this book is a prime example.

If you’re not familiar with the book, it is the story of a runaway slave woman, Sethe, and her life as she lives free in Ohio mixed with the haunting of her past on the plantation and the early days of freedom. It is supernatural and haunting, and contains so many layers. I didn’t love the book, but I look forward to talking about it on The Stacks Book Club on May 22. I have a hunch that every time I discuss and dissect the book I will like it more and more. Toni Morrison’s works have a funny way of always having more to give.

Three Stars | Plume; Reprint edition | October 1, 1998 |275 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Beloved in depth on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that episode HERE


If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar

(Photo: amazon.com)

A collection of poetry about violence, race, gender, and mortality both in a cultural sense and in the more intimate context of what it means to be alive and human. These poems are so smart and tough and vibrant and some are funny and snarky, and in the best ways.

What I appreciate in these poems beyond the craft itself is that the content ties in the historical and deeply personal. Asghar talks about being an orphan along side the fracturing of India and Pakistan. She takes the many parts of her identity and reflects them back to her audience. She reminds us all of the pain and joy in the world to which we must bear witness.

Five Stars | One World Books | August 7, 2018 | 128 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson

(Photo: amazon.com)

A collection of short stories about drifters, drug addicts and life on the margins. It is both about the falling down and the getting back up of life. Before we recognized the opioid crisis as a crisis and before we sympathized with addicts, Jesus’ Son gave a human perspective to those that suffer from addiction. The book feels ahead of its time in this way. I couldn’t help but see Johnson’s ability to tell this story as a part of his own privilege. He gets to tell the stories of this specific group of users, instead of having to be responsible for all people who have ever been addicted. It is a great thing for an artist to be able to do, though I wonder if a Black author’s work would have been granted that kind of specificity.

Jesus’ Son is a well crafted collection, sparse in words but big in feeling. Johnson is fantastic at all the twists and the short sentences that pack a huge punch. While there were moments of great emotional resonance, this one wasn’t for me, in the end, I just didn’t care about the people in the stories.

Two Stars | Picador | Febbruary 17, 2009 | 133 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Jesus’ Son in depth on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that episode HERE


Richard II by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

This month for the #ShakeTheStacks Challenge I read Richard II. It looks at the reign and fall of King Richard II, and is a glimpse into the fragility of power and the necessity of legitimacy. This play has the potential to be boring, however Shakespeare crafts dynamic characters who use their speech as a way to influence and persuade. I was particularly struck by the diversity in oratory style between Bolingbroke and Richard. Both men attempt to convince those around them to follow their lead, and both do it in drastically different ways. I found a couple of Richard’s speeches to be some of Shakespeare’s most beautiful. On top of the beauty, the play is easy to read and understand, which isn’t always the case for The Bard.

Richard II is an engaging and thrilling read. It is a play about politics and legitimacy. It feels especially relevant in today’s climate. What does it take to overthrow the leader? It is a dramatization of a theoretical question of who has the will of the people. The play is more cerebral than action packed, but it works beautifully and leaves the reader with much to think about.

Three Stars | Penguin Classics; reprint edition | December 1, 2000 | 160 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom

The Stacks received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

A collection of essays that are at once smart, funny, and truly thought provoking. Cottom is one of the most critical and nuanced thinkers on race and gender in this moment in The United States.Thick is effortless in its ability to move between ideas of intersectionality, the art of “the turn” is perfected in these pages. As the collection goes on the essays build on each other and deepen the readers understanding of Cottom and the work she has dedicated her life to. It is because of this depth that the second half of the book really stood out for me.

Some of Thick was challenging to read. I often had to go back and reread sentences and passages because I found myself lost in her arguments. That is less a criticism and more an observation about the style of the book. I applaud Cottom for not making her work small to accommodate her reader. Her writing is too important for that. Go read Thick. You will learn things, you will connect dots you never knew you could. It is powerful and empowering.

Four Stars | The New Press | January 8, 2019 | 224 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler

(Photo: amazon.com)

In June 1973, there was a fire at the Up Stairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans that left 32 people dead. This tragedy was barely acknowledged when it happened and has since, been largely lost to history. In his book, Tinderbox, Robert Fieseler attempts to shed light on the events of June 24, 1973, and the connect those events with the early days of the Gay Liberation Movement.

Tinderbox functions on two levels, one the story of the fire and the people and city directly involved, and two the story of the movement that was connected to it. The true crime part of this book is fantastic. In particular, the pages where Fieseler describes the fire itself were vivid and horrifying. The history of the movement falls a little flatter, the connection feels forced. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and if you like true crime, you will too, even if some sections are not as good as the rest.

Three Stars | Liveright | June 5, 2018 | 384 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear Robert W. Fieseler on The Short Stacks HERE, and hear our in depth discussion of Tinderbox on The Stacks HERE.


Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

(Photo: amazon.com)

A reread of one of my favorite books from last year (you can find my first review here). Cheryl Strayed’s advice column from her days at The Rumpus strikes all the right chords. I love this book. I don’t know how else to say it. It is full of reminders and suggestions on how to live life a little better. Its not polite or even precious, its more in your face. Its the kind of book that opens you up a little bit. Thats what makes it so great. Strayed even says, most of the time you know what you must do, this book, like her advice, is just a nudge in the right direction.

Five Stars | Vintage; Original edition | July 10, 2012 | 368 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
Tune into the The Stacks Book Club conversation of Tiny Beautiful Things HERE .


The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris

(Photo: amazon.com)

The Truths We Hold is part of a tradition of books for future presidential candidates, they almost all have them. One part memoir, one part policy platform, and one part resume. These books aren’t particularly insightful, though they are a glimpse into the candidate on their very best days (even the bad ones are good or have packaged lessons to take away). Barack Obama famously wrote The Audacity of Hope on the eve of his candidacy, and that book gave America a glimpse into the changes Obama wanted to make in this country. Likewise Harris lays out the things she has achieved as prosecutor and attorney general, and the direction she thinks America should go. It is all well written and readable, but it is all so safe. I understand why, but I wish there was another way. I will wait and read her tell all after she is president.

The final section of the book are the truths she lives by, and aside from learning about her courtship with her husband, this is the best part of the book. Its a little insight into how she ticks. It should also be said, she reads her book and does a fantastic job. Her charisma shines through, and if nothing else, you finish the book and really like the woman.

Three Stars | Penguin Audio | January 8, 2019 | 9 hours and 26 minutes | Audiobook | Listen Through Libro.Fm


What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays by Damon Young

The Stacks received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker is the exact book you might expect from Damon Young, of Very Smart Brothas. It is smart and funny, and yet it still makes you think. The book is dynamic and covers a range of topics from what is a “good dude” to Black anxiety, to gentrification, homophobia, to name a few. The book is good, though some of the essays are stronger than others, and sometimes thats frustrating.

There are four essays that really stand out, and whats interesting is they all have a common thread: Women. Each one of these essays (about his controversial piece on rape on VSB, his wife, his mother, and his daughter) is vulnerable but still maintains the style that Young is known for. There is an ease to his voice though saying the hard things, admitting fault, calling out his own privilege, and taking others to task must have been extremely challenging. There is a humility to these essays that allows them to soar above the rest. The book is worth a read, even if at times I found Young to be reaching for a laugh when he didn’t need one. His story is enough.

Three Stars | Ecco | March 26, 2019 | 320 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Damon Young on the Short Stacks HERE


To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

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The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here

I was lucky enough to be invited to the Library of Virginia Literary Awards this year. It is a wonderful night that celebrates authors from Virginia, and books that are set in the state. This year, their honored guest was Susan Orlean, and so I read her newest book The Library Book in anticipation of meeting Ms. Orlean. I can say both the book and the woman were a delight.

Here is more about The Library Book:

On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.


If I’m being honest, I’ll admit I had no idea there was a massive fire in the Los Angeles Public Library’s central branch in 1986. Just hearing about it made me nervous and intrigued. I still remember my childhood library and how cozy it was and hearing about this fire sent chills up my spine. The thought of hundreds of thousands of books burning, and the destruction and closing of a city resource made my stomach feel uneasy. Before I read the book, I’m not sure I understood intellectually what my body reacted to when hearing about this fire. Susan Orlean helps to explain that and so much more with The Library Book.

If you love books you’ll appreciate this one, it is a total treat. It reminds the reader what it is they love about books and libraries, and then it does a whole lot more. The Library Book is part true crime investigation, part how libraries work, part deep dive into Los Angeles history, and part conversation about the changing role of books and libraries in our lives. Again, if you’re a book lover, you’ll love this book.

Susan Orlean does a fantastic job of moving the book along and around, never dwelling for too long in any one moment or on any one person. This book is about the greater institution and concept of libraries, and she probes the idea of libraries from many different angles. I loved hearing about the little details of the library, like how long a book stays in circulation and the kinds of inquiries the library info desk fields. I also, predictably, loved the investigation of the 1986 fire in Los Angeles, you know, the true crime part.

There were certainly parts of this book that drifted into areas I was less interested in, however in these cases that says more about me than the book or Ms. Orlean’s writing. For the most part I was captivated by the story Orlean was expertly weaving. I didn’t know you could make a book about libraries and librarians seem exciting and fresh, but she does.

If you’re reading this blog, you most likely like books, so I would think you would appreciate if not swoon over this one. The Library Book feels like being in a hug of bookish nostalgia. If nothing else, it will remind you how important libraries are to the fabric of society, and maybe it will make you want to flaunt your library card.

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • PublisherSimon & Schuster; 1st Edition edition (October 16, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy The Library Book on Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.