September Reading Wrap-Up 2019

September was a surprising month for me, I read a lot of books that are outside of my normal reading habits (think family dramas and YA), but overall I enjoyed what I read. I also am back into a reading groove and took on ten books this month, up from seven the previous two months. The standout reads for me this month were The Sixth Man and The Only Plane in the Sky. I certainly fell short in reading down some of my unread shelf, but I think that will be the case for the remainder of the year. You can’t do it all.

September by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 10
Audiobooks: 2
Five Star Reads: 2
Unread Shelf: 0
Books Acquired: 31

By Women Authors: 5
By Authors of Color: 3
By Queer Authors: 0
Nonfiction Reads: 7
Published in 2019: 6


All This Could be Yours by Jami Attenberg

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

You’ve heard this story before: the not so beloved patriarch suffers a heart attack, and his family is then thrown into turmoil as they contemplate what his life and death meant. There are family secrets, resentment, and of course opportunities for redemption.

While the story itself feels little cliched, the writing is pretty fantastic. I wasn’t surprised by anything that happened, but was moved by the way Attenberg crafted her sentences. Everything in this book is solid and made for an enjoyable reading experience, even if I couldn’t quite find an emotional attachment to the characters.

Three Stars | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | October 22, 2019 | 127 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Chase Darkness with Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders by Billy Jensen

(Photo: amazon.com)

Billy Jensen’a book is at once about his own personal journey into solving crime and about some of the stories of the crimes he’s helped to solve. There is also a large section of this book that covers Michelle McNamara and how it came to be that Jensen helped to finish her book I’ll be Gone in the Dark. Aside from The Golden State Killer, this book is a look into some lesser known stories of murder and that is a welcome treat.

I mostly wished this book was edited better and cut down. It was repetitive and lacked direction. I enjoyed hearing about crimes I didn’t know, and found Jensen to be a likable guide through this world of true crime. I especially appreciated how he took time to focus on the victims and their families. There are a lot of questions about the morality of crowd sourcing crime solving that I wished was debated more in depth, weather that be DNA services or social media posts about potential criminals. This book had a strong base but lacked the depth that was required to really give it lasting impact.

Two Stars | Source Books | August 13, 2019 | 336 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side by Eve L. Ewing

(Photo: amazon.com)

A chronicle of the school closings on Chicago’s South Side that disproportionately effect Black and Brown communities. Eve Ewing was educated in these schools and uses her unique perspective and her skills as a journalist to provide a personal and well argued case against these racist school closings.

Ewing is able to convey a lot of history without making the book feel to dry (or long), and gives context to school closings dating back to The Great Migration. She illustrates how these closings are a direct attack on Black History. What was missing for me was the context of how school systems (charter vs. public) really operate. The book is deeply rooted in Chicago, and there is a gap between that and what the book is saying about school closings as a whole.

Three Stars | University of Chicago Press | October 5, 2018 | 240 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Henry IV Part 2 by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

This month’s selection for #ShakeTheStacks left a lot to be desired. I struggled with this play as there is very little action and I didn’t care about the characters. The eroding friendship between Falstaff and Prince Hal only works if you buy into them in Henry IV Part 1 which, I didn’t. Therefore this second part of the trilogy was mostly me trudging through in the hopes that Henry V will be better.

Two Stars | Penguin Classics | February 1, 200 | 127 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

(Photo: amazon.com)

A YA novel in verse about a young man contemplating avenging his brother’s murder. This book could have been preachy or seemed condescending but Reynolds finds a way to create an emotional story for younger readers that is grounded and truthful, which works for readers of all ages.

In addition to Reynolds finding ways to speak to his audience without talking down to them, Long Way Down confronts issues with an easiness that doesn’t feel like Reynolds is trying hard to be cool or relevant. This book is ultimately about masculinity and the ways in which Black boys and men are expected to behave when it comes to violence, grief, and family. Reynolds expertly weaves the content of this book with the form and structure he has chosen to tell this story.

Four Stars | Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books | April 2, 2019 | 336 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Mother Winter by Sophia Shalmiyev

(Photo: amazon.com)

An examination of motherhood through memoir. Sophia Shalmiyev looks at her own life growing up in Russia with her father, and uses the absence of her mother as a driving force throughout her life and her narrative.

This book is fragmeted and poetic, and Shalmiyev uses women from art and culture to paint a larger narrtive. We follow along with Shalmiyev’s life and the greater commentary of what it means to be a motherless daughter, and a eventually a to become a mother herself.

I’m not sure I fully understood this book, but I could feel that its was cathartic and crafted beautifully even if my own connection to it felt distant.

Three Stars | Simon & Schuster Audio | February 12, 2019 | 5 Hours 38 Minutes | Audiobook | Purchase on IndieBound


The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

(Photo: amazon.com)

Four young siblings visit a fortune teller who shares with each of them the date of their deaths, from then on we watch the Gold siblings live. We follow them across the country through time and see how their looming fates effect their relationships and choices.

I was impressed by the sheer amount of research that Chloe Benjamin clearly did to tell this story, from 1980’s San Francisco to the inner workings of the magic scene to aging research on monkeys. This book has range. I also enjoyed waiting to see if and how all the pieces played out, and while that novelty wore off about 3/4 through the book, I stayed more connected and entertained than I thought I would going in. The writing was strong and overall the book is good, if not slightly overworked. You’re left to think about the decisions we make and how much we are in control, and thats something worth contemplating.

Three Stars | G.P. Putnam’s Sons | February 5, 2019 | 368 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff

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

A beautifully told oral history of the events of September 11, 2001 as told by the people who lived the day. The accounts range from employees who went to work in the World Trade Center to the Vice President tucked away in a bunker, to a mother who gave birth on that fateful day, to worried family members whose loved ones were aboard hijacked planes. This book encapsulates the emotions and voices of a nation in fear, and without any answers.

What this book does best is connect the reader to the anxiety of that day. It is an extremely emotional book and there were times in my reading where I could feel my heart rate quicken as I turned each page. More than any event this book is about the feelings. We all know what happened that day, but this book will live on as a document of what it felt like to live through this historic event.

Five Stars | Avid Reader Press | September 10, 2019 | 512 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Listen to Garrett M. Graff on The Short Stacks now, click HERE.


The Sixth Man by Andre Iguodala

(Photo: amazon.com)

I wasn’t expecting much from this athlete memoir, and thats coming from a huge Warriors fan, but this book was way more than I expected, in all the best ways. In all honesty, if you’re not a big sports fan, this book might not be for you, but if you like basketball at all (and maybe even just sports in general) I would suggest you pick up this book. I would be remiss not to mention that the reader of this audiobook is extraordinary. Perhaps one of the best audiobooks I’ve listened to.

Andre Iguodala has been part of basketball for long enough to have learned a lot. He finds ways to weave his own perspective on basketball with his experiences. He talks about paying college athletes in relationship to his time at the University of Arizona. He touches on racist owner mentalities, double consciousness, and the biases of referees and coaches. The book couples the social justice issues with his insights into playing basketball, being successful, and his myriad of teammates (many of whom are household names).While I would have loved to know more about his personal life (his wife and son), I wasn’t bothered that those parts of himself were kept private.

Five Stars | Penguin Audio | June 25, 2019 | 7 Hours 8 Minutes | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

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

The idea of this book is stellar, follow three women around and find out about their sexual lives and desires. Focus on the women, recreate their world on the page, explain what makes them tick, and use them to explain something greater about women and sex. Unfortunately, this book didn’t deliver on that promise, instead it focused on women who were in relationships with men that were manipulative in the best case and resulted in sexual assault and rape in the worst.

Something that was missing from Three Women was Taddeo taking a stand and saying something about the women and the work she had done. There was no reflection in this book and no greater points were made. Instead we were presented with information without any attempt to make sense of it. A sex positive book about women’s desires and what that says about 2019 would’ve been a fantastic read, but this book was not that at all. It also should be stated that all three of the women used in this book were White, able bodied, and cisgender. There was no diversity which doesn’t help Taddeo’s attempt to extrapolate some larger point about “women”.

Two Stars | Avid Reader Press | July 9, 2019 | 320 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


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.

Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of “The View” by Ramin Setoodeh

Ladies Who Punch is great fun. Its the kind of book that takes on pop culture in a smart way, but doesn’t take itself too seriously. The author, Ramin Setoodeh, is a journalist and a fan of The View and it comes through in the way the book is crafted and the details he shares with the reader.

As fan of The View myself, getting to revisit the history of the show I loved for years was a joy. Hearing how and why Barbara Walters started the show, and how it was cast was interesting and added so much to my understanding of the show itself. I also loved thinking back on major moments like Rosie O’Donnell’s take down of Donald Trump, and her fight with Elisabeth Hasselbeck. Not to mention Whoopi and her own dramatic moments. There is so much history from the show crammed into this book.

What impressed me most about this book is how Ladies Who Punch also is a commentary about women in entertainment. The View has been a staple of daytime TV for over 20 seasons and doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Setoodeh looks at how the lack of respect given to The View comes from a sexist media that covers the co-hosts and their “cat fights” as something less than the arguments we might see on CNN or MSNBC.

The main frame for the book is the 2016 election, not only because of what a shock it was and how incredibly transformative that moment was in America. But more because both Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump were recurring guests on The View and their stories are deeply rooted in the success of the show, just as the show’s success is connected to them. The use of this event as a catalyst to tell the story roots Ladies Who Punch in something more than just a behind the scenes look at a successful TV program, but rather cements it in the moment of American culture.

If you’re not a fan of The View this book might not be as resonant for you, though I think it is still a good book. But if you identify as a fan of the show, this book is a must read. It gets into the nitty gritty of famous moments and feuds and spotlights all the ladies you love to hate.

To hear more about this Ladies Who Punch from the author himself, check out Ramin Setoodeh on The Short Stacks.

  • Hardcover: 336
  • PublisherThomas Dunne Books; April 2, 2019
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Ladies Who Punch Amazon or IndieBound

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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.

August 2019 Reading Wrap-Up

I’m still reading slowly but surely over here. I finished seven books in August, and I’m pretty happy with what I read. You’ll be shocked to see that our of the seven books only three were nonfiction. The standouts for the month were The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, and my re-read of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Fiction. Fiction. Fiction.

August by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 7
Audiobooks: 1
Five Star Reads: 2
Unread Shelf: 0
Books Acquired: 28

By Women Authors: 3
By Authors of Color: 3
By Queer Authors: 1
Nonfiction Reads: 2
Published in 2019: 3


Educated by Tara Westover

(Photo: amazon.com)

In her memoir about growing up in a fundamentalist Mormon family, Tara Westover shares about her childhood, the abuses she suffered, and the reasons she felt motivated to leave home and understand the world for herself.

I enjoyed parts of this book, though I found the hype to be far beyond what this book was able to deliver. It is no doubt impressive what Westover has been able to accomplish in her life. I found the writing to be distant and that she was unwilling to allow the reader into her deeper thoughts and reflections. For example, there is a part of the book that deals with Tara and her brother and the use of “nigger” as a racial slur. She discusses this event, but never reckons with the internalized racism she has been raised with, or how that may have presented itself in her life away from the mountain in Idaho. I had these same thoughts when it came to other women she encounters, especially those outside of Mormonism, not to mention her relationship to pop culture and politics. I found that some things, the abuses she suffered, were discussed to excess, and some things were glazed over. What Westover chose to focus on didn’t match what I was most interested in.

Three Stars | Random House | February 20, 2018 | 352 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Educated on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE.


Henry IV Part 1 by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

A Shakespeare play about a King trying to prove his legitimacy and his son who is young and still wants to reap the benefits of being a prince. That is of course until there is war to be had. This play is one of Shakespeare’s plays that reminds me why people hate Shakespeare. It was boring and didn’t really speak to me on any larger level. Its a lot about loyalty and duty and not much more. I have been loving my #ShakeTheStacks Challenge, but this was the first month I thought about quitting.

One Stars | Penguin Classics | February 1, 2000 | 160 Pages | Kindle | Purchase on IndieBound


Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of “The View” by Ramin Setoodeh

(Photo: amazon.com)

Great fun! I loved listening to this audiobook that takes us behind the scenes at The View. The author reads the book and his love of the ladies comes through, he is a fan who used his skills as a journalist to get access and ask the right questions.

No this book isn’t life changing, but it is a good time and really sheds light on a TV institution that doesn’t often get the respect it deserves (mostly because its a show made by and staring women of varying ages). However, Setoodeh takes the time to contextualize the show and the co-hosts in the greater American pop culture canon and show how important it has been culturally and politically. The book isn’t all gossip and cat fights, instead we get a sense of how and why it was crafted and what sort of impact that has had on women in politics and power. The 2016 election plays a prominent role in the book as do both Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. Ladies Who Punch is smart and fun, which is often hard to do. If you’re on the fence, I suggest the audiobook, it is super entertaining and feels almost like a podcast.

Four Stars | Macmillan Audio | April 2, 2019 | 9 Hours 23 Minutes | Audiobook | Purchase on IndieBound
Listen to Ramin Setoodeh discus his book on The Short Stacks now, click HERE.


Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

(Photo: amazon.com)

I was thrilled to finally revisit this modern classic I read over a decade ago. Truth be told I couldn’t really remember what happened, I just remembered loving it and feeling deeply moved.

Now, reading the book years later for The Stacks podcast, I was able to think about this book in a new way. There is a lot to spoil, so I won’t say much here (though we will spoil it on the episode, out September 11th), except that the writing holds up and the story is still as moving as I remember. Though the fact that it is an allegory for so much in today’s culture and our history felt brand new to me, in the best ways.

The start of the book was a little slow for me, but once we got moving, I was hooked as I had been in my first reading. And while I knew what happened in the end, the twists still got to me. This is Science Fiction written as Literary Fiction. It is a coming of age story that ties into a devastating critique of humanity and morality. It is so good, and the feelings this book evokes stay with you.

Five Stars | Vintage | March 14, 2006 | 288 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Never Let Me Go on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE.


The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

(Photo: amazon.com)

Historical fiction at its best. The Nickel Boys is inspired by a real life nightmare of a reform school, and follows two fictional characters who grapple with the horrors they experience, the friendships they create, and the prejudice they face as young Black men in Jim Crow Florida.

Colson Whitehead is a professional writer of the finest caliber. He is exacting and precise. There is not a word wasted in this book. There are no 10 page expositions, instead you get a paragraph or two that drops you right in the scene or gets at essence of the person. A true economy of language. The best part is, the book doesn’t feel unfinished, at 215 pages, it’s just right.

The Nickel Boys asks the reader to face some horrific truths about the realities of these reform schools. However we’re not given time to dwell in this pain. The book moves forward guided by two young men, Elwood and Turner, who are the heart of this story. I felt as if I knew them as soon as I met them.

Five Stars | Double Day | July 16, 2019 | 224 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Safe House by Heather John Fogarty

This isn’t a real review, but more a major preview. I was asked by the author, Heather John Fogarty, to read her manuscript of her first novel Safe House. It was a really exciting task and a great honor. So much so, I went ahead a bought my first ever e-reader to get it done.

I will wait to discuss the book and what I thought of it until it is a real published book in the world, so stay tuned.

Unpublished Manuscript | 314 Pages | Kindle


Tell Me Everything by Sarah Enni

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

A young adult book that explores the powers and pitfalls of social media and privacy, by following one girl, Ivy, and her relationship to a new app called VEIL.

Tell Me Everything takes on a lot of the tough questions about social media and being present in life versus our online personas. It looks at homosexuality, activism, consumer’s rights, and a lot of other relevant topics. While I enjoyed reading the book, I always felt ahead of the story, which I often do when I read YA. I would be very interested in what a 13-year old might think of the ideas and topics Enni brings up.
Three Stars | Point| February 26, 2019 | 288 Pages| Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Sarah Enni on The Stacks HERE.


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.

July 2019 Reading Wrap-Up

As this year has been progressing my reading has been slowing down in a major way. I only made it through seven books in July. I need to read at least eight books a month to hit my goal for 100 books in 2019, so I’ve got to pick it back up in August.

As far as what I read, I really enjoyed everything and the content was very diverse for women in business to forensic investigations. I think the two books thats really stood out were We Live for the We by Dani McClain and The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander. Both books were read for the podcast, and I’m very grateful to Dani McClain for bringing them into my life. I also loved Michelle Obama’s memoir, though that was to be expected. She is such an inspirational woman.

July by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 7
Audiobooks: 2
Five Star Reads: 0
Unread Shelf: 2
Books Acquired: 23

By Women Authors: 4
By Authors of Color: 3
By Queer Authors: 0
Nonfiction Reads: 6
Published in 2019: 1


Becoming by Michelle Obama

(Photo: amazon.com)

There is no doubt Michelle Obama is a national treasure and getting to hear about her life in her own words was such a wonderful experience. This memoir spans her childhood through the end of her husband, Barack Obama’s, presidency. She shares the ways her mother helped to shape her into the woman she is now, and she shares the ways she is shaping her own daughters. I was especially taken with the parts of the book in which we got an inside look at moments we had only seen through the media (the killing of Osama Bin Laden or when she touched The Queen).

The one place I wanted more from this book was when it came to what Michelle has learned and seen with her inside access to America. She and her family experienced so much racism and hatred from large swaths of the country, what did those experiences say to her about America? What did her inside access to the rich and famous say about income inequality? What has she seen that the rest of us could never fully understand? I just wished Michelle Obama was more candid in her observations about America. This was minor compared with how much I loved the book and her story and how much I felt inspired by her as a Black woman.

Four Stars | Random House Audio | November 13, 2018 | 19 Hours 3 Minutes | Audiobook | Purchase on IndieBound


How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman, M.D.

(Photo: amazon.com)

An inside look at how doctors approach their patients and their work. This book answers questions about why a doctor might miss a diagnosis, or opt out of administering a test. It also looks at how patients can guide their doctors in the right direction within their interactions, and how they can help them to think differently about their presenting symptoms.

Overall I liked this book, though at times, I drifted in and out of paying attention as git repetitive in sections. The earlier chapters were more enjoyable as a lot of the information was new. I wished Groopman had taken more time to look at the factors that play into our implicit biases like race and class. That could have made for a more full and nuanced book that could help change the way doctors and patients interact.

Three Stars | Tantor Audio | March 28, 2007 | 10 Hours 27 Minutes | Audiobook | Purchase on IndieBound


The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington

(Photo: amazon.com)

A deep dive into the forensics and death industry and the corruption that lives just below the surface. This book is a jaw dropper, it will make you think about the systems that are in place in America and how they play into a history of racism that has led to the imprisonment of a disproportionate number of Black and Brown men.

I really enjoyed learning about this small part of the criminal justice system. The book is extremely well researched and reported and the stories in it are nearly unbelievable. I wished the authors had been more clear in linking the history of death investigation to the story they tell of one coroner and one forensic “expert”. There are missing links in this book that could round out the story telling. Overall it is interesting and opens the readers eyes to so much corruption. It almost feels like a gateway book into deeper dives into how forensics play a role in wrongful convictions and more.

Three Stars | PublicAffairs: 1st edition | February 27, 2018 | 416 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Listen to Radley Balko on The Short Stacks now, click HERE. We also discuss The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist in detail for The Stacks Book Club, click HERE to listen.


The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

(Photo: amazon.com)

The sudden death of her husband leads Elizabeth Alexander to reflect on life and love in this gorgeous memoir. Full of the kinds of observations about what it means to truly live a full life and what it means to be a part of a community, and a family.

I was shocked by how much I enjoyed this book. It is just beautiful. Alexander is a skilled poet and she seamlessly transitions her writing from verse to prose in this memoir. The book has a sense of deep pain but also extreme lightness. For anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one this book speaks to the magic that is inherent in that pain.

Four Stars | Grand Central Publishing; Reprint edition | September 6, 2016 | 240 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Light of the World on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE.


The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

The Merchant of Venice is one of William Shakespeare’s more famous plays and is best known for being the play about “the Jew” but little more is said about this extremely complex and nuanced play. I was so glad to actually get a chance to reread it and attempt to examine the layers in this story.

In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock, the Jew, lends out money and it isn’t repaid per the terms of the loan, and Shylock is ready to collect on the debt he is owed (pound of flesh anyone?). However once it turns out that he plans to fully collect everyone becomes incredulous and begs him to show a little mercy and compassion. This is an extremely common narrative in today’s society. After the murder of nine Black people at a church in Charleston, SC there was an immediate cry for the Black community to forgive the White Supremacist who murder these innocent people. We even saw the Black President of The United States, Barack Obama, sing “Amazing Grace” in his eulogy. This cry for mercy and forgiveness is often asked of “the other”.

There is a lot more that could be said about The Merchant of Venice, so far in my journey through Shakespeare’s cannon (#ShakeTheStacks Challenge) it feels like the most layered play. It feels urgent and painful and unfortunately more timely than I would like.

Four Stars | Penguin Classics | August 1, 2008 | 103 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


We Live for the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood by Dani McClain

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

A book that looks at the many elements of mothering for Black women. The book moves between McClain’s personal doubts and questions and her reporting on how other mothers are doing the work to raise their children in progressive and engaged ways.

I didn’t think I would connect with this book as someone who isn’t a mother, and yet, I was moved deeply by it. We Live for the We is a great reminder that the work of parenting and mothering is not only for those who have birthed or adopted children, but also to the friends and relatives who help shape those young lives. The book takes on a variety of topics that intersect and build off one another, things like pregnancy, children’s bodies, education, and activism. There is a lot in this book that is important for those who parent of all races, but especially for Black mothers.

Four Stars | Bold Type Books | April 2, 2019 | 272 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Dani McClain on The Stacks HERE


WorkParty: How to Create & Cultivate the Career of Your Dreams by Jaclyn Johnson

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

Jaclyn Johnson (of Create & Cultivate fame) knows her stuff. She is a smart woman with a lot of insight and a very clear voice and point of view. I didn’t always like her writing style (a little too casual and filled with hashtags and pop culture references), and wonder if it will age well over time, but I appreciated much of what she had to say. She has great advice, like be a pleasure to work with, we are our reputations, and much more. She’s not rewriting the business world, but she is making it more approachable and accessible for young female entrepreneurs.

One place Johnson could have elevated WorkParty was by choosing to be more intersectional in her approach. She has centered her own story so much she doesn’t leave room to discuss Black and Brown women, people who are gender non-conforming, women who have disabilities, women who come from lower socio-economic groups and all the hurdles that these communities have to overcome just to get a seat at the table.

Overall I was surprised in the best ways by this book. There is certainly advice I will take with me as I grow as a business woman running The Stacks.

Three Stars | Gallery Books: Reprint Edition | March 5, 2019 | 256 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss WorkParty on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE.


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 Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

The Merchant of Venice is one of William Shakespeare’s more famous plays and is best known for being the play about “the Jew” but little more is said about this extremely complex and nuanced play. I was so glad to actually get a chance to reread it and attempt to examine the layers in this story.

What is always so powerful to me in the reading and rereading of Shakespeare’s plays is what these stories from hundreds of years ago say about the world we’re living in now. I couldn’t help but draw many connections between the anti-semitism in the play and racism and othering of Black and Brown bodies, and those that practice Judaism and Islam, that has been on full display in The United States in the last few years.

In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock, the Jew, lends out money and it isn’t repaid per the terms of the loan, and Shylock is ready to collect on the debt he is owed (pound of flesh anyone?). However once it turns out that he plans to fully collect everyone becomes incredulous and begs him to show a little mercy and compassion. This is an extremely common narrative in today’s society. After the murder of nine Black people at a church in Charleston, SC there was an immediate cry for the Black community to forgive the White Supremacist who murder these innocent people. We even saw the Black President of The United States, Barack Obama, sing “Amazing Grace” in his eulogy. This cry for mercy and forgiveness is often asked of “the other”.

Shakespeare is essentially asking his audience if it is fair to ask more of the aggrieved if they are outside the systems of power of the given society, weather it be Whiteness, Christian, or male?

He compounds all of this when the person who comes to defend the White Christian patriarchy in The Merchant of Venice is Portia disguised as a young male lawyer. She is the only person clever and even tempered enough to see a way around Shylock’s contract and save the day. Of course its very complicated because her actions essentially lead to humiliation for Shylock, who, while maybe a little rigid (or vidictive), is only following a contract he and his debtor agreed to.

When we talk about the power of the arts to change the world, I think, without sounding too hyperbolic, this play certainly has that ability. It asks the viewer (or reader) to look around and see the hypocrisy that we allow into our everyday life. To see that we are only willing to cling to the rule of law when it serves those in power. When the laws favor the marginalized we see the calls for mercy and forgiveness. We see the vitriolic language of hatred that leads to violence, embarrassment, and more internalized othering of those who are our most vulnerable.

There is a lot more that could be said about The Merchant of Venice, so far in my journey through Shakespeare’s cannon (#ShakeTheStacks Challenge) it feels like the most layered play. It feels urgent and painful and unfortunately more timely than I would like.

If you’ve seen or read this play I would love to hear you thoughts in the comments below.

Next month for #ShakeTheStacks Challenge, I’ll be reading Henry IV Part 1

  • Paperback: 103 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (August 1, 2000)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy The Merchant of Venice on 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 my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

WorkParty: How to Create & Cultivate the Career of Your Dreams by Jaclyn Johnson

The Stacks received WorkParty from the publisher. For more information click here

WorkParty is not the kind of book I would normally pick up. Mostly because I am judgmental and had decided I do not like books aimed at women kicking butt in the workplace. We all have the kind of books we assume just aren’t for us, and this self-help meets professional advice genre just didn’t feel like me. I am so grateful to The Stacks podcast, because I get exposed to books I would never normally pick up if it weren’t for my amazing guests! Which is how WorkParty found its way into my life, and I’m so glad it did.

Jaclyn Johnson (of Create & Cultivate fame) knows her stuff. She is a smart woman with a lot of insight and a very clear voice and point of view. I didn’t always like her writing style (a little too casual and filled with hashtags and pop culture references), but I appreciated much of what she had to say. She has great advice, like reminding people to be a pleasure to work with, that we are our reputations, and that we need to lift up other women if we want to see more women in c-suites. She’s not rewriting the business world, but she is making it more approachable and accessible for young female entrepreneurs.

Johnson is smart enough to know that she doesn’t have all the answers, she enlists the help of several other women entrepreneurs who are successful and visionary to share their two cents. The women she speaks with are the founders of mega-successful companies like Ban.do, Away, Drybar, Blavity, and more. These women all get a chance to share some insights at the end of the book. This section might have been more effected sprinkled throughout the book, but nevertheless, it is a nice way to hear some of the same things from different voices.

One place Johnson could have elevated WorkParty was by choosing to be more intersectional in her approach. She doesn’t address the added pressures or stress that women who are “other” might experience. She has centered her own story so much she doesn’t leave room to discuss Black and Brown women, people who are gender non-conforming, women who have disabilities, women who come from lower socio-economic groups and all the hurdles that these communities have to overcome just to get a seat at the table. Sure this book is for all women, but until we recognize our differing challenges and struggles we can not be truly inclusive and supportive of one another.

Overall I was surprised in the best ways by this book. There is certainly advice I will take with me as I grow as a business woman running The Stacks. I wonder if this book will age well, or it is a good thing I read it so close to its release in 2018. Will we look to WorkParty as an important text for women in the workplace in 2028, or will the tone and hashtags and flip approach feel dated to the late 2010’s?

If you’re looking for more on WorkParty you can hear our conversation with Calli Cholodenko (Something Social) on The Stacks Book Club from July 31st.

Ep.70 WorkParty by Jaclyn Johnson — The Stacks Book Club (Calli Cholodenko)

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

  • Hardcover: 256
  • PublisherGallery Books; Reprint edition (March 5, 2019)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy WorkParty 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.

Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson

A collection of short stories about drifters, drug addicts and life on the margins. Jesus’ Son 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 really didn’t care about the characters in this book. The stories were fine and interesting, but overall, I wasn’t interested in what happened to them. Part of it is that this book feels overwhelmingly White and male. The point of view, the insights, and the issues all felt like shock and awe for White people, but missed the fact that many Black and Brown people are constantly living at the margins without as much sympathy, let alone books devoted to the quirk of their day to day lives.

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 singularity.

Jesus’ Son is a well crafted collection, sparse in words but big in feeling. Johnson is a fantastic writer with a unique style. He creates short sentences that pack a huge punch. While there were moments of great emotional resonance, this book wasn’t for me, in the end, I just didn’t care about the people in the stories.

I know many people consider this book to be a modern classic, and one of the greatest books of the last few decades. I am not one of those people. Author Dave Cullen (Columbine, Parkland) however is, and you can hear us discuss this book on the podcast:

Ep.66 Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson — The Stacks Book Club (Dave Cullen)

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

  • Paperback: 133
  • PublisherPicador; First edition (February 17, 2009)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy Jesus’ Son 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.

June 2019 Reading Wrap Up

June was a fun month where I got to attend Book Con in NYC and meet up with many awesome authors, publishers, and bookish friends. I also collected some awesome books, including my favorite read of the month, How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones. I can’t reccomend this memoir more, and it comes out in October, trust me you want to be on team pre-order. Get your copy now!

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.


June by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 8
Audiobooks: 1
Five Star Reads: 1
Unread Shelf: 2
Books Acquired: 20

By Women Authors: 5
By Authors of Color: 5
By Queer Authors: 3
Nonfiction Reads: 6
Published in 2019: 5


Finding Feminism by Rachel Overvoll

(Photo: amazon.com)

In her first book Rachel Overvoll examines her childhood in a fundamentalist Evangelical family and the events that led her away from her religious past and toward a life of liberation and empowerment. Overvoll is very vulnerable and shares her past sexual assaults, her abusive relationships, and the social conditioning that led her into depression and self loathing.

To be perfectly frank, the writing in this book is just okay, but the content is compelling. A more skilled writer could have created a more emotional narrative, but Overvoll isn’t that, she is a person who wanted to tell her own story, which is to be commended. Its a quick read and gives the reader plenty to think about.

Two Stars | Peacock Proud Press; 1st edition | April 21, 2019 | 198 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Rachel Overvoll on the Stacks HERE


How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones

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

A stunning memoir about finding ones self at the intersection of sexuality and race. Saeed Jones shares his coming of age and his questioning of his identity and belonging and it is incredible to read. Jones’ use of prose and poetry is effortless and serves the story and creates a piece that is as enjoyable to read as it is painful.

I learned a lot about the ways we get in the way of young queer people’s, especially of color, exploration of their identities. In How We Fight for Our Lives I was able to understand the types of violence both physical and emotional, that often accompany the shame and fear about living as one’s true self. I loved this book. Saeed Jones is a force.

Five Stars | Simon & Schuster | October 8, 2019 | 198 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


How We Fight White Supremacy by Akiba Solomon and Kenrya Rankin

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

This book is a collection of essays, poems, playlists, interviews, comics, and art pieces all answering the question “how do you fight White supremacy?”. A unique and inclusive work, How We Fight White Supremacy, does a fantastic job of showing the diversity and vastness of Black resistance.

What I loved most about this book is how dynamic it is. Akiba Solomon and Kenrya Rankin have done a fantastic job of finding unique and differing voices within the Black community. The commitment to showing the vastness of Black experience pays off in a book that is not about any one thing, and yet still remains connected to the central idea of fighting White supremacy. From comedian to survivalist to author to Black Lives Matter co-founders, this book proves the point that Black people are not and have never been a monolith.

Four Stars | Bold Type Books | March 26, 2019 | 304 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Akiba Solomon & Kenrya Rankin on The Short Stacks HERE


I Can’t Date Jesus by Michael Arceneaux

(Photo: amazon.com)

In his memoir that is sort of funny and also very authentic, Michael Arceneaux explores his relationship to his identity as a Black gay man and how it relates to his upbringing in Houston and in the Catholic church.

There really aren’t a lot of books about coming of age and living as a Black gay man that aren’t seeped in the exploitation of trauma. This book finds a way to be honest and truthful and deal with painful family dynamics and still keep its sense of humor. I hope this book can open doors for other queer authors to share their stories in ways that we don’t often get to see. Arceneaux is a vibrant personality and it shines throughout the book. Also, he loves Beyonce and I can’t find any fault in that.

Three Stars | Atria Books | July 24, 2018 | 256 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


King John by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

One of the things I’m learning with my #ShaketheStacks journey through all of William Shakespeare’s plays is that, most of his plays that are obscure, are obscure for a reason, they aren’t that good. That is certainly the case with King John.

As with many of the other history plays, King John mostly revolves around the throne and who has the rightful claim to the power that it holds. There are really only so many ways you can tell that story, and in King John it is done in a way that feels remedial and lacks creativity and excitement. Plus, the full title of the play gives away the ending, which isn’t so bad, but in this case it feels like a trek to get there, and it fizzles out when you do.

Two Stars | Penguin Classics; Reprint edition | August 2000 | 118 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

(Photo: amazon.com)

A literary courtroom drama about a horrible accident at a medical facility that kills two people. This book is compelling from the start, a total who-done it mystery.

Angie Kim was once a trial lawyer and it shows. The scenes in the courtroom are amazing, they are vibrant and feel like you’re reading an episode of Law and Order. Kim is ambitious in including many different facets of life in this book. She draws from her own experience as a lawyer, an immigrant, and a mother which helps make these different parts of book feel full. Autism plays a huge part in this book and I didn’t find those characters to be fully explored or the different points of view to be shared as completely. Overall I really enjoyed reading this book and think it is well executed, I look forward to what comes next from Angie Kim.

Four Stars | Sarah Crichton Books | April 16, 2019 | 368 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Angie Kim on The Short Stacks HERE and The Stacks Book Club discussion of the book HERE


The Honey Bus by Meredith May

(Photo: amazon.com)

A coming of age story of young girl trying to find her place in a family with a distant abusive mother. Mereidth May turns to her bee keeping grandfather as a role model and teacher. The book uses bees as a metaphor for May’s life.

This is a sweet story, but lacked any real emotional connection for me. This book feels very much life a YA story, and leaves a lot of the complexity out. I loved the sections with the bees, and learning about how they function as part of the hive were by far the most engaging sections of the book. Her grandfather was such a lovable figure and his passion for bees was the main saving grace of this story.

Two Stars | Park Row; Original edition | April 2, 2019 | 336 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


White Rage by Carol Anderson

(Photo: amazon.com)

A detailed look at the many ways the racial divide has been widened by White supremacy and the fear of advancement from Black people. This book is extremely well researched and full of detailed analysis of court cases, contemporaneous quotations, and more.

This book is extremely powerful and lays our the many ways Black people have been denied rights in America. Not just small individual acts of violence, but over reaching policies that are violent in their own ways. Policies that strip agency and access from Black Americans. White people have a long history of responding to Black advancement through these types of policies and Anderson lays out this history from Reconstruction to President Obama. This book is a clear indictment on the obvious and biased ways White people have made the playing field unleveled in order to get ahead. I certainly felt more equipped to understand the many injustices we see in America today, and this book is a wonderful companion to Anderson’s most recent book, One Person, No Vote. I will say this book is extremely dense, even if it is short, and take a lot of focus to unpack the facts, figures, quotes, and historical accounts. Thats not to deter anyone, rather to prepare you to make enough time to fully understand the work.

Three Stars | Bloomsbury USA; Reprint edition | September 5, 2017 | 304 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


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 Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams

In her memoir about living with her colon cancer diagnosis and coming to terms with her pending death, Julie Yip-Williams opens herself up to her reader to share her rage, fears, jealousy, and grace. She writes this book with a sense of humor and a commitment to honesty in all its many complexities.

The Unwinding of the Miracle is approachable and human. Yip-Williams presents the many parts of her life, both before cancer as a child in Vietnam and her final months as a mother of two dying from colon cancer, as though she is just reflecting in a journal. She is candid and vulnerable, it is almost as if she forgets there reader is there.

I didn’t cry when I read this book, which comes a bit of a shock to me, because I thought for sure in a memoir about coping with your pending death I would feel the need to cry. I didn’t. I felt bonded to Julie, and of course her story is sad and unfair and painful, but she takes her reader on a journey, where we too feel as though we can accept this terrible diagnosis. That our friend Julie is getting to die in a way that she is okay with. That we too can live our lives with a little more grace. And that we too can get big mad when it comes to slutty-second wives and birthday parties we’ll never get to attend.

While I found Yip-Williams life to be fascinating. I did not connect with her story as much pre-cancer. Perhaps because I knew where it was going, I didn’t really feel like I needed to take much stock in where she had been. For me, that wasn’t the interesting stuff. I was much more compelled with her navigating her own death. I was enthralled with her love for her children. I was moved by her honesty about the challenges that this type of diagnosis can add to a marriage. These sections are what will stick with me most when I think back on The Unwinding of the Miracle.

What is special about what Yip-Willaims has done, is that she asks her reader to reflect on their own lives, their own hopes and fears, without ever once actually asking the reader to do so. She presents her life and hopes that in learning more about her, we will take the time to get to know ourselves more intimately. Especially, while we still have time to live the lives we want, and be the person we’d always hoped we’d be. She leaves her readers with that gift, even in her death.

If you have read this book, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and if you’re looking for a much more in depth reflection on this book, hear our conversation of The Unwinding of the Miracle as part of The Stacks Book Club with author Lori Gottlieb.

Ep.64 The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams — The Stacks Book Club (Lori Gottlieb)

  • Hardcover: 336
  • PublisherRandom House (February 5, 2019)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy The Unwinding of the Miracle 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.

How We Fight White Supremacy: A Field Guide to Black Resistance by Akiba Solomon and Kenrya Rankin

The Stacks received How We Fight White Supremacy from the publisher. For more information click here

This book is a collection of essays, poems, playlists, interviews, comics, and art pieces all answering the question “how do you fight White supremacy?”. A unique and inclusive work, How We Fight White Supremacy, does a fantastic job of showing the diversity and vastness of Black resistance.

What I loved most about this book is how dynamic it is. Akiba Solomon and Kenrya Rankin have done a fantastic job of finding unique and differing voices within the Black community. The commitment to showing the vastness of Black experience pays off in a book that is not about any one thing, and yet still remains connected to the central idea of fighting White supremacy. From comedian to survivalist to author to Black Lives Matter co-founders, this book proves the point that Black people are not and have never been a monolith.

Solomon and Rankin have not only complied the words and images of Black activists and artists, but they too have lent their voices to this book in the form of ten essays each. These essays anchor this book. They tie together the ten chapters with reflection and give the reader a sense of who created this book, and why. They are personal and sometimes contradictory and serve as an invitation for the reader to reflect on their place in the struggle. These essays are in many ways a call to action.

There are some pieces I connected with more than others, which is of course to be expected in any book filled with the work of many contributors, but there was never a point where I felt that the book carried on too long or ran out of steam. I was excited to read what came next and learn how other people were doing the work of dismantling the racist and sexist White male patriarchy.

This is a powerful book with a sense of humor and a sense of style. Check it out for yourself. It is worth it just to see the many amazing Black thought leaders included in this book respond to the prompt, “how do you fight White supremacy?”.

If you have read this book, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and if you’re looking for more about How We Fight White Supremacy check out both of the authors on The Short Stacks.

The Short Stacks 15: Akiba Solomon & Kenrya Rankin//How We Fight White Supremacy

  • Paperback: 304
  • PublisherBold Type Books (March 26, 2019)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy How We Fight White Supremacy 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.