Ep. 80 The Immortalists by Chloe Benajamin — The Stacks Book Club (Jenna Ushkowitz)

When it comes to our own deaths we can never really know when its coming, or can we? That is the question at the center of The Stacks Book Club pick, The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin. Jenna Ushkowitz is back with us to discuss this book, the vivid characters inside the story, free will vs. magic, and how America deals with grief.
There are spoilers in this episode.

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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.

Connect with Jenna: Instagram | Twitter | Showmance Podcast | Showmance Instagram

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.

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.

Ep. 72 The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander — The Stacks Book Club (Dani McClain)

Today on The Stacks Book Club we are discussing Elizabeth Alexander’s memoir The Light of the World about the unexpected death of her husband and the life they built together. We are joined by Dani McClain author of We Live for the We to discuss this beautiful examination of a life well lived.
There are no spoilers on this episode.

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 Dani: 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.

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

New York Times Best Selling author Lori Gottlieb (Maybe You Should Talk to Someone) is back to discuss The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams for The Stacks Book Club. The book provides the reader with a range of emotions as it navigates Yip-Williams’ terminal cancer diagnosis and struggle to die with grace. We discuss our aversion to not having the answers, bucket lists, and how we, as a society, talk about and treat people living with and dying from cancer.
There are no spoilers on today’s episode.

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 Lori: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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.

January 2019 Reading Wrap-Up

Starting this month, I’ll be giving mini reviews for all of my reads each month. For longer reviews on each book check out The Stacks Instagram page. You can also find full length reviews for any books we feature on the show under the Reviews tab and any other reviews I just feel compelled to write. My hope is to streamline my reviews and make them easier for you all to read and enjoy.

I’ll also be giving you my month by the numbers, as a way to give you all a snapshot of what I read, and to hold myself accountable to reading diverse and inclusive books.

January by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 9
Audiobooks: 0
Five Star Reads: 1
DNF Books: 0
Unread Shelf: 9
Books Acquired: 21

By Women Authors: 5
By Authors of Color: 4
By Queer Authors: 0
Nonfiction Reads: 6
Published in 2019: 1

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

(Photo: amazon.com)

Nicole Chung’s story of her transracial adoption, searching for her birth parents, and becoming a mother come together beautifully in this her memoir, All You Can Ever Know. Chung is vulnerable and honest in a way that is rare, refreshing, and greatly appreciated as a reader. Chung shares her hopes, fears, insecurities, and expectations with her reader as if she is writing in her journal. I was deeply moved in reading this book, and found common ground with Chung when it came to identity, as I am the product of an interracial marriage.

There were pieces to the story that left me wanting more, and I feel a bit selfish to be asking for more from Chung who is so open with her reader. I would have liked more on what parts of her childhood (as a Korean raised by White parents) she is still grappling with as an adult, and how she interacts with the world because of her upbringing.

Overall, this book is very good. Chung is a writer with a gentle touch that packs a lot of power. She is unrelenting in sharing her own thoughts and experiences and for that I am grateful. Also there is Cindy, and I won’t say much, except that I felt so much love and respect for Cindy, and when you read the book, you’ll know. I would suggest this book to people who love a good emotional memoir, people interested in adoption stories, and people who enjoy the active search for identity.

Four Stars | Catapult | October 4, 2018 | 240 Pages | Hardcover
All You Can Ever Know is TSBC pick for February 13. You can hear The Short Stacks with author Nicole Chung HERE, and TSBC episode with Vanessa McGrady HERE.Read a full review of All You Can Ever Know, HERE.


Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

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

A collection of unique and imaginative short stories that provide a commentary on race, violence, consumerism, and survival in America. The writing is at times snarky and smart and then can flip in an instant to be poignant. Some of the stories in Friday Black were pitch perfect and found a great balance between reflection and experience. Some of the other stories never quiet landed with me. The two stories that stand out most (“Zimmer Land” and “Finklestein 5”) deal with the fragility of Black pain and the violence that Black people endure just to live. They comment on events and realities that are part of the American cultural zeitgeist.

I suggest Friday Black to lovers of short stories, racial politics, and people interested in thinking about capitalism in a different way. Warning, there is a lot of (stylized) violence in this book.

Three Stars | Mariner Books | October 23, 2018 | 208 Pages | Paperback
Friday Black is TSBC pick for February 27. Stay tuned for more content around this book. You can hear The Short Stacks with author Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah HERE, and TSBC episode with Wade Allain-Marcus HERE.Read a full review ofFriday Black, HERE.


Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones

(Photo: amazon.com)

A fictionalized look at life in Atlanta during the Atlanta Child Murders as told from the perspective of three fifth graders. In her debut novel, Tayari Jones examines the changing responsibilities for Black children as the move toward adulthood. She engages with the unfortunate truth that Black children are forced to grow up too early, and that they are vulnerable to the world around them. Her characters have to come to terms with their Blackness and what that means to the rest of the world. Jones loves her characters and knows them well, she speaks for them without feeling corny or contrived, and develops them into complex characters. Their youth becomes a filter on which we, the readers, see injustices in their world.

Leaving Atlanta is mostly a character study and a coming of age story. If you love plot and action, and are looking for true crime, this book isn’t that (which is where it missed for me). However, if you love spending time with characters and thinking about the world from different perspectives, check it out. If you’re more interested in the Atlanta Child Murders you might like the Atlanta Monster podcast.

Three Stars | Grand Central Publishing (Reprint Edition) | August 1, 2003 | 272 Pages | Paperback


Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

(Photo: amazon.com)

An essay collection on feminism and the relationship of women to male entitlement. Rebecca Solnit’s essays are an indictment on how women are seen and treated in The United States. Solnit ranges from snarky to measured, and shows her self as a thought leader in the conversation around certain types of feminism, which is evidenced in my favorite essay “#yesallwomen”. Men Explain Things to Me misses the mark on intersectional feminism completely and makes no space for women of color and queer women. The book was originally published in 2014, and just over four years later it feels dated. I don’t doubt this book was forward thinking at the time of publication, and that Solnit’s own views have evolved in the last five years (this is my first time reading her work). Men Explain Things to Me is a reminder of the kind of feminism that centers White women and that we are, thankfully, moving away from.

While Men Explain Things to Me is a good collection, I wouldn’t suggest reading it, simply because it isn’t speaking to the current moment in the women’s movement. I would confidently recommend Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper (full review here) and Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister (full review here) as better looks at intersectional feminism today.

 Three Stars | Haymarket Books | September 1, 2015 | 176 Pages | Paperback
See my full review of Men Explain Things to Me which you can read HERE.


Rap Dad: A Story of Family and the Subculture That Shaped a Generation by Juan Vidal

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

Juan Vidal shares his own story of growing up, finding his way, and becoming a family man in his memoir Rap Dad. The book is a mix of stories from Vidal’s past, meditations on fatherhood, breaking down the importance of hip-hop culture, and conversations of folks in the Rap world about their own thoughts on fatherhood. The book didn’t always feel cohesive or flow, and I often couldn’t relate to his experiences, but Vidal’s willingness to write and discover in that process is refreshing. He is asking the questions of what it means to be a good parent in this hip-hop generation.

Rap Dad is worth your time. The content is different from most anything I’ve read. Vidal is a unique thinker, a fluid writer, and his lack of pretense is beyond refreshing. He is talking about a subculture, hip-hop heads, we so often ignore, especially in the context of parenting.

Three Stars | Atria | September 25, 2018 | 256 Pages | Hardcover
Rap Dad is TSBC pick for January 30. You can hear The Short Stacks with author Juan Vidal HERE, and TSBC episode with Josh Segarra HERE.Read a full review of Rap Dad, HERE.


Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption by Vanessa McGrady

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

In Rock Needs River, Vanessa McGrady shares her journey from deciding she wants to be a mother, to adopting her daughter Grace, to eventually taking in Grace’s homeless birth parents. McGrady navigates the sometimes murky boundaries of open adoption in this book.

What worked in Rock Needs River is that McGrady is clearly only speaking for herself. He triumphs and blunders are clearly her own. She finds a way to be relatable so that you’re rooting for her for get whatever it is she wants and needs, even when she does some pretty questionable things (thinking of a chat room sequence that is painfully cringe worthy). I struggled with McGrady’s sense of privilege when it came to Grace’s birth parents. She wanted them to do what she would do, and those parts feel very entitled and narrow minded. Don’t get me wrong, McGrady is beyond generous with them, but that gets lost in the feeling that McGrady wants her good deed to play out the way she wants it to (with thank you notes). She spends a good chunk of the book projecting her value system on them, and it rubbed me the wrong way.

Overall I enjoyed the book, and I really learned a lot about adoption. If you like a lighter approach to more serious topics this might be a good book for you. If you’re interested in adoption and the ways that life doesn’t always go according to plan, I’d check out Rock Needs River.

Three Stars | Little A | January 1, 2019 | 204 Pages | Hardcover
Hear Vanessa McGrady on The Stacks discussing her book (Ep. 45) and All You Can Ever Know(Ep. 46), and find a full review of Rock Needs River HERE.


Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

This month for the #ShakeTheStacks challenge I read Romeo and Juliet. The play is the story of two teenaged, star crossed lovers who find each other despite their families’ rivalry.The story is a total cliche now, but of course then you remember Romeo and Juliet was one of the originals.

I loved rereading this play. Shakespeare is interested in the ideas of loyalty and vengeance, individual desire versus communal stability. The play is dealing with these massive ideas and somehow still taking them on with a kind of urgent poetry that is just begging to be said and heard. In reading the play I couldn’t help but fall in love with Juliet. Her speeches are rich and full of so much emotion. I found myself reading them over and over (mostly out loud).

If you like strong characters with a driving plot, don’t be intimidated by Romeo and Juliet. It is a great play, which I’m sure you’ve heard.

Five Stars | Penguin Classics | February 1, 2000 | 128 Pages | Paperback
You can read my full review of  Romeo and Juliet HERE.



Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan

(Photo: amazon.com)

A collection of essays on things that are difficult to say. This book is not what it seems. Corrigan wrote Tell Me More after the passing of her father and dear friend, Lisa. The book ends up being more a response to the loss of her loved ones, an understanding of her own grief, and way to help her (and the reader) move on when things feel devastating. I got so much out of this book, it really connected with me emotionally. While the grief is ever present through out, there are also conversations about knowing your own worth, finding ways to be truly empathetic, and seeking out true love and joy that were valuable. There were times I thought Corrigan got a little cutesy, and didn’t need to, and some of her phrases seem beyond obvious (“Yes” and “No” come to mind), but I don’t think it hurt the book overall. The power of “Onward” was enough for an entire book to ride on.

While it is certainly not “required reading” it is a book that I could see being meaningful to anyone. I would check it out. I am certainly glad I did.

Four Stars | Random House | January 9, 2018 | 240 Pages | Hardcover


The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois

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

TAn oral history of Tony Kushner’s iconic play Angels in America, The World Only Spins Forward was a surprising delight. For a person who loves the theatre this book was more than I could have imagined. I loved hearing from actors, directors, production teams, and theatre critics as they unpack the significance of one of the great American plays. Hearing thespians expound on the nuances of characters and the importance of lines, or how to an angel should fly, was fulfilling. Using the tradition of oral history as a way for the theatre community to talk about this depiction of HIV and gay experience felt completely spot on. The LGBTQIA+ community kept the memories of their own alive through telling stories, writing plays, and creating the art that lives on and is celebrated today. This book is a little bit of art imitating life (on a few levels). Also, the cover. It is absolutely perfect.

The only thing that was hard for me as a reader was that a lot of references weren’t explained. I spent time googling people and events that I would have loved to hear more about from the people who were telling this story, the interviewees.

I don’t know that this book is for everyone. I think you’d have to be interested in Angels in America or the theatre at the very least. The World Only Spins Forward is total theatre nerd stuff, and as a proud member of that community, it was everything I wanted and more. If you love the theater, and acting, and how plays get made, you must read this one.

Four Stars | Bloomsbury | February 13, 2018 | 448 Pages | Hardcover


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.

If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim

109E7C7A-C34F-4CBA-AD1C-86315A297A24If You Leave Me was The Stacks Book Club pick this week on the podcast. We discussed the book in detail with author of The Ensemble, Aja Gabel. If you want to hear that full episode, click here, but be warned there are plenty of spoilers throughout our conversation. If you’ve not read the book, but want to hear more about it, check out our first ever episode of The Short Stacks (mini episodes focused on authors and their writing processes) featuring the author of If You Leave Me, Crystal Hana Kim. Listen here, and no spoilers.

Here is more about If You Leave Me

An emotionally riveting novel about war, family, and forbidden love—the unforgettable saga of two ill-fated lovers in Korea and the heartbreaking choices they’re forced to make in the years surrounding the civil war.

When the communist-backed army from the north invades her home, sixteen-year-old Haemi Lee, along with her widowed mother and ailing brother, is forced to flee to a refugee camp along the coast. For a few hours each night, she escapes her family’s makeshift home and tragic circumstances with her childhood friend, Kyunghwan.

Focused on finishing school, Kyunghwan doesn’t realize his older and wealthier cousin, Jisoo, has his sights set on the beautiful and spirited Haemi—and is determined to marry her before joining the fight. But as Haemi becomes a wife, then a mother, her decision to forsake the boy she always loved for the security of her family sets off a dramatic saga that will have profound effects for generations to come.


What I appreciated most about If You Leave Me is how patient Crystal Hana Kim is with her reader. She allows us the space and time to luxuriate and unpack her novel. The book layers issues, one on top of the other. Kim gives us realistic struggles that are intertwined and complex, subtle and subdued, instead of hammering us over the head with “themes” and “imagery”. In reading this book, you feel the respect Kim gives her characters, and you the reader. She  is entrusting us with her stories. The book is bleak, almost relentlessly so. It doesn’t feel so sad in the reading, but after, you’re hit with the heaviness of what you’ve just read, and what it all means.

If You Leave Me is a story of war and so much more than war, and If You Leave Me illustrates the depth of human struggle and triumph that surrounds war. These little moments that are both monumental and common. Mental illness and distress is a major thread in this book, and Kim isn’t heavy handed. She methodically illustrates grief and depression, allowing the pain to unfold. Kim is barely there. You understand, but she never says it, he characters do not have the words. The same goes for feminism, survivors guilt, and so much more. Kim shows us, but never tells.

The book is told through the eyes of five narrators, and this too is expertly done. Our guides through this narrow landscape age and grow. They change before our eyes, the events her hear about shape them. People I once rooted for were , become reprehensible. You are shown glimpses of these people. This format works to give us a more complete picture of the world without explanation.

While I quiet enjoyed If You Leave Me, it did slow down at points for me. There were moments of  extreme pain, or pleasure, or revelation, and then moments where I felt the momentum stalled out. They never lasted long, but I could sense the absence of movement. The words remained beautiful, but the story dimmed.

This is a book you read in a few days; in front of a fire, on a vacation, uninterrupted. The premise is unlike anything I’ve read, but the story itself feels familiar and accessible. I loved the writing and the simplicity, but also the depth of topics that were woven throughout this book. If you love a rich story with developed characters and plenty of emotion, this is your book. This is the first novel by Crystal Hana Kim, and I look forward to whatever is next from her.

Don’t forget to listen to the The Stacks with Aja Gabel discussing If You Leave Me

Hear The Short Stacks conversation with author, Crystal Hana Kim

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • PublisherWilliam Morrow (August 7, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy on If You Leave Me Amazon

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.

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 my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Ep. 21 Talking Fiction & Hollywood with Becca Tobin

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgOur guest this week is Becca Tobin. Becca is most well known as an actress and a co-host of the podcast, Lady Gang. Today we walk  about Becca’s podcast becoming a TV show, how reading helped her deal with grief, and her love of fiction that feels a little like a rom-com.

We cover a lot of topics this week, and its all in the show notes below. Use the links below when you shop on Amazon and iTunes to help support The Stacks.

BOOKS

EVERYTHING ELSE

Connect with Becca: Becca’s Instagram|Lady Gang Instagram|Lady Gang Podcast

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram|The Stacks Website|Facebook|Twitter|Subscribe|Patreon|Goodreads|Traci’s Instagram

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 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.

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

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I have never read an advice column in my life. It is not something I seek out, or something that I have any interest in. Well, now that I’ve read Tiny Beautiful Things, that has all changed. Now, I love advice columns, but only if Cheryl Strayed is giving the advice.

If you’re not familiar with the Rumpus magazine’s Dear Sugar column here is a little of what you can expect from this book.

This bestselling book from the author of Wild collects the best of The Rumpus’s Dear Sugar advice columns plus never-before-published pieces. Rich with humor, insight, compassion—and absolute honesty—this book is a balm for everything life throws our way.

This books is special. It is full of advice. That at once seems obvious and still unique and is specific and still universal. Strayed does a thorough and compassionate job of answering the letters. She is never condescending and seems to always come from a place of working it out the best you can. Which is often harder than it sounds. She reminds people they know the answer, or she guides them toward what she thinks is right, or she shuts them down, or she builds them up. She seems to know how much of each ingredient her response needs and takes her time to doll it out.

If you don’t know Strayed, which at the time of writing to “Sugar” these people in need of advice didn’t. You assume the woman answering the questions has her whole life together, and always has. But if you do know Strayed, you know thats not true. I won’t spoil her life for you (you can read it all about it in Wild or watch Reese Witherspoon in the movie), but she has lived a big life. Its what makes her advice so precise and potent.

I don’t think I related to a lot of the letters, but some of them might as well have been written by me. I would imagine everyone who reads this book feels that at some point. Some, perhaps the best ones, are questions you’d never think to ask, but you’re so glad someone did because you needed to hear the answer.

I’m grateful to this book, I have suggested it to a lot of people. I have even mentioned it on The Stacks podcast (Ep.9 at the 39:30 mark). Everyone who has read it has enjoyed it, found it interesting at the very least and some have found it life changing. I’m grateful to this book for helping me, and those I love to see life in a new and special way.

I listened to this book, and Strayed reads it. I fell in love with her voice and her cadence and if you’re so inclined this is a fantastic audiobook. I went back a few times to listen to my favorite ones again and again. Hearing Strayed say “sweet pea” is better than I could’ve imagined.

The best news is, I just found out (and I realize this makes me very late to this party) that there is a Dear Sugars podcast, with Cheryl Strayed and the Sugar before her, Steve Almond. So once you’ve read the book go listen to the podcast. More Sugar to go around.

Read this book. Share it with a loved one. Chances are they will take something meaningful away from this book, and thats a tiny beautiful ting indeed.

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.

Ten Non-Fiction Books for Fiction Lovers

AB2EBDFE-7E76-4563-941D-06EB3B3B0AA9As I have become more engaged with the book world, and I have been outed as a non-fiction lover, I have had lots of conversations with many of you on what are some good non-fiction books. So I put together my list of top 10 non-fiction books for people who don’t read non-fiction.

This isn’t a list of the best non-fiction I’ve ever read, but books that I think those of you who love a good novel will enjoy. Those of you looking for a way in. Most of these books are more narrative driven, and use rich language to develop characters and events. While there are a variety of types of non-fiction books on this list, they are all captivating.

This list is presented in alphabetical order, I simply can not play favorites with these books.

Between The World and Me Journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates (The Atlantic) is known for his work on dissecting the experience of Black Americans. Between The World and Me written to Coates’ son, is a powerful look at the history and practices that have created a culture in America, where Black people are not valued as full citizens. He looks at slavery, discrimination, mass incarceration, and the murder of Black citizens by the police. Coates asks us not only how did this happen? But also, where do we go from here?

 Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood This is the story of Trevor Noah’s upbringing as a mixed child in Apartheid South Africa. It is at once funny and poignant. You learn so much about his life, and gain a new appreciation for his success. I laughed at loud at parts and felt my self tearing up here and there.

Columbine In this deeply emotional reexamination of one of the most famous school shootings in American history. Author, David Cullen looks at the facts of the shooting and uses forensic experts, the killers’ own words, and all the evidence to figure out what really happened on April 20, 1999.

Jesus Land: A Memoir In this memoir by Julia Scheeres, we learn of her childhood with her adopted brother, David who is black, in racist rural Indiana. We see her life in the Mid-West and also her experience in a religious camp in the Dominican Republic. Scheeres’ story is heartrending and emotional. You can’t imagine the world she comes from and the stories she has to share.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption The story of a lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, and his journey as an activist and advocate on behalf of those who are sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty. Not only is this book a memoir of Stevenson’s early days as a appeals lawyer, it is also a searing indictment of the United States criminal justice system.

Men We Reaped: A Memoir Over the course of five years, author Jesmyn Ward loses five young black men in her life. This book is her examination of why something like this could happen. It is a look at what it means to be young and black in America. Written with all her skill as a fiction writer, and all the truth of her lived experience. This is a really special book. We cover this book on The Stacks Podcast and you can listen to our episode here.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After In her memoir, Clemantine Wamariya (with co-author Elizabeth Weil) tells her unimaginable journey of life as a refugee from Rwanda in 1994. Clemantine and her sister Claire, travel through eight African countries, before they ultimately end up in America. While the book is about their journey, it is also about finding one’s voice and strength to carry on and to thrive. It is both devastating and empowering. The writing is beautiful.

Unbroken:A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption This is one of those stories that you wouldn’t believe if you saw it in a movie (and guess what, this book is now a movie).  Laura Hillenbrand writes this story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner turned WWII pilot, turned prisoner of war, turned survivor. Its almost more than you can handle, and then you remember what Zamperini went through, and you remember you’re just reading.

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith When it comes to non-fiction, author John Krakauer is my favorite. I can highly recommend any of his books (Where Men Win Glory is a personal favorite). In Under the Banner of Heaven Krakauer dives deep into the Fundamentalist Mormon Church. He examines the religion, their traditions, believes, and brings up many questions about Mormonism. This book is not to be missed.

Zeitoun Dave Eggers tells the story of a Muslim man caught in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The book takes place at the intersection of natural disaster response and The War on Terror. The story is almost beyond believe, and the storytelling is illuminating.

63439241-927F-48C9-B6A5-67C450C9950AThis list is a great starting place if you think you’re not so much of a non-fiction person. And if you make your way through this and think maybe you want a little more, here are ten bonus books. While some of these may be less accessible (more niche topics, more clinical writing) for pure fiction lovers, the stories are inescapably engrossing and the writing is of course delicious.

I hope that these books help you add a little non-fiction to your world of reading. And if you already love non-fiction I hope you find something here that sparks your interests. Tell me what you think of my list, and add any of your favorite non-fiction books.

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.

Lachesis’ Allotment:A Short Collection of Notes, Observations, Questions, and Thoughts by Diana R. A. Morris

4D2FC453-A70C-421D-9E5E-A57742A6B715As a new voice in the book world, I have been lucky enough to be approached by authors and publishers to review books. I am always honored to be asked for my opinion and perspective on new work. As with all my reviews, I am committed to being an honest voice for my readers (and listeners). All that is to say, that Lachesis’ Allotment: A Short Collection of Notes, Observations, Questions, and Thoughts by Diana R. A. Morris is the first book I ever received for free from an author, and now, here are all my thoughts.

Here is more about the book, Lachesis’ Allotment

In Greek mythology, Lachesis (lack-eh-sis) allots each of us a length of thread to weave with as we will. This hybrid collection of short essays and screenplay explores the nature of friendship and our relationships with the people in our lives over time. From the friendships we form in childhood to the adult friendships we form with our parents–even after they’re gone–this work weaves together memory, meditations on making our dreams a reality, and the evolving nature of our connections as we knot our strands together or unravel the knitting we’ve achieved.

This book was written and self-published by Diana R. A. Morris. It is her debut book. There is something I find exciting about reading someone’s first piece of writing. Like all firsts, you get a sense of the thing and the person, but you can also see potential. This book is no different.

Where Morris shines, in Lachesis’ Allotment is when she dives into the personal. Discussing her own experience with her father’s passing, her failures, and anxieties. My father passed away years ago, and I could relate to her experience and the specificity of her observations. These moments feel unique and intimate. When Morris strays more into the general advice giving, or rah-rah cheerleading, it feels strained and contrived. I appreciate the effort to cover a lot of ground, but would have enjoyed a smaller more specific piece of writing.

There are these scenes (quite literally, written like a screenplay) through out the book where two old friends are reconnecting and catching up after years of estrangement. They are fictional, and frame the coming essays. This doesn’t work for me. It gets in the way of Morris’ flow. It chops the book up, and serves only to muddy Morris’ clear voice.

Lachesis’ Alottment is a fabulous effort. There are moments of poignant reflection. There are moments of sarcasm and humor through out as well. However there are not enough strong moments strung together for the reader to fully dive in. The book is short and you can move through it quickly (as in a few hours). I don’t know that I liked the book, but I really enjoyed seeing someone’s first efforts. I also respect the hell out of anyone who writes a book and publishes it themselves. That says so much about a human in all the right ways.

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

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