To the Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder by Nancy Rommelmann

8E2335E5-2DD4-49B3-A772-9B6889F9DDD6
The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here

A friend who recommends you books that you love is a rare and valuable friend. I am lucky to have such friends, who tell me what to read, and rarely lead me astray. I came to To The Bridge by Nancy Rommelmann through one of these friends, my book recommending savant Heather John Fogarty. Heather told me about the book months before it came out, even before I had created The Stacks. She knew it was my kind of book. So once I decided to start the podcast, it seemed obvious Heather would be a guest and we would discuss it for The Stacks Book Club. That episode is out now, and you can listen to it here.

Here is more about To The Bridge

On May 23, 2009, Amanda Stott-Smith drove to the middle of the Sellwood Bridge in Portland, Oregon, and dropped her two children into the Willamette River. Forty minutes later, rescuers found the body of four-year-old Eldon. Miraculously, his seven-year-old sister, Trinity, was saved. As the public cried out for blood, Amanda was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to thirty-five years in prison.

Embarking on a seven-year quest for the truth, Rommelmann traced the roots of Amanda’s fury and desperation through thousands of pages of records, withheld documents, meetings with lawyers and convicts, and interviews with friends and family who felt shocked, confused, and emotionally swindled by a woman whose entire life was now defined by an unspeakable crime. At the heart of that crime: a tempestuous marriage, a family on the fast track to self-destruction, and a myriad of secrets and lies as dark and turbulent as the Willamette River.


Nancy Rommelmann has crafted a layered and nuanced book with To The Bridge. She never falls into the trap of trying to make the book easy or clear. She presents her investigation and trusts that we, the readers, are smart enough to draw our own conclusions. For me, the conclusions were less obvious than I would have hoped, they were complex and often times contradictory, they came out of the work Rommelmann had done.

Where this book soars is in Rommelmann’s ability to sift through all the information she’d gathered. She is our guide into the world of this toxic relationship, between Amanda Stott-Smith and her estranged husband Jason Smith, and while she is somewhat objective, she also becomes a subject of her own writing. She is a character in this book.  At first Rommelmann’s pressence in the book threw me off, I was not excited about author and subject in a non-memoir type of true crime book. However in the end it didn’t bother me at all. I maybe even liked it a little, it helped me to understand this rocky landscape more clearly.

This is one of those books that you think you know how it is going to go, and if I’m being honest nothing really surprised me. Sure, there were details I didn’t guess, but mostly the story of sociopaths follows a pattern and this book just highlights those patterns. We all know that something is wrong if a mother is killing her children. However in To The Bridge we are not forced to read a sensational account of the events that led Stott-Smith to the bridge. Instead Rommelmann affords her subjects dignity and autonomy, and ultimately asks us to hold them accountable.

There are certainly things I wished would have been presented more expressly in the book. I would have appreciated if Rommelmann gave me the answers. I would have loved to know exactly what Amanda was thinking when she dropped her kids off the Sellwood bridge that night. But, To The Bridge can not definitively answer that question for me. I don’t even know is Amanda herself could answer for certain. What I respect about this book is that Rommelmann investigates to try to find out why, and then she shows us her work. She doesn’t shy away from the messy realities of the toxicity of Amanda and Jason’s marriage and she doesn’t let those around them off the hook for their complacency. I would love final answers, but that is not how life works. Things can get complicated, and this book leans into that complexity, it doesn’t attempt to smooth ir out.

If you like investigative journalism, if you like uncovering the story beneath the story, then this is a book for you. It moves fast, and is an easy read even though the subject matter is anything but. If you are a sensitive reader or are triggered by domestic abuse and child abuse then I would suggest you prepare yourself for this book, or set it aside for another time.

Don’t forget to listen the The Stacks with Heather John Fogarty discussing To The Bridge.

  • Hardcover: 303 pages
  • Publisher: Little A (July 1, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy on To The Bridge 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. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Ep. 32 The Stacks Book Club — To The Bridge by Nancy Rommelmann

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgWhen a mother, Amanda Stott-Smith, throws her two young children off of a bridge, one journalist tries to understand why. That is the premise of Nancy Rommelmann’s true crime book, To The Bridge. This week, for The Stacks Book Club, we discuss this haunting book with journalist Heather John Fogarty. While the story of Stott-Smith and her children is true, if you’re not familiar with the events there will be some spoilers on this week’s episode.

You can find everything we talk about this week in the show notes below. By shopping through the links you help support The Stacks, at no cost to you. Shop on Amazon and iTunes.

Connect with Heather: Heather’s Website|Heather’s Instagram

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.

Sponsors

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

My Mentor Book Club – for 50% off your first month of new nonfiction from My Mentor Book Club go to mymentorbookclub.com/thestacks


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Stacks Book Club — December Books

0D8B9819-6A6B-4EA8-85F0-D9C5D9931088It is time to announce the next books we will be reading for The Stacks Book Club. I can’t believe the year is almost over, and these will be the final books read in 2018. For the month of December we’re reading two fiction books that center identity, home, belonging, and dislocation.

We will discuss these books on the podcast, and also online in our virtual book club. It is an awesome way to get to dissect the books even further with other readers in our community. To join The Stacks virtual book club become a member of The Stacks Pack by clicking here. Join the fun .

The first book of December will be If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim. This book is the saga of two ill-fated lovers in Korea and the heartbreaking choices they’re forced to make in the years surrounding the civil war that still haunts us today. We will read If You Leave Me on December 5th.

Then on December 19th we will read Teju Cole’s novel Open City, which follows a Nigerian doctor in Manhattan. He encounters people from different cultures and classes and ultimately ends up on his own journey of exploration.

As with all our TSBC books, we want to hear from you. If you’re reading along, send over your thoughts or questions so we can have the conversations you want to hear. You can email us at thestackswithtraci@gmail.com, comment on this post, or reach out to us through our Instagram @thestackspod.

Order your copies of our November books on Amazon:


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 Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

B2D1793F-316A-4CBD-BCD7-10949229785BAs we approach the midterm elections in the United States, I have been increasingly anxious about the state of the nation and what our future holds. Reading How Democracies Die for The Stacks Book Club was a helpful way for me to process what my anxiety is rooted in. I talk about the book on the podcast with Harris Cohn, and you can hear the full conversation here. No need to worry, there are no spoilers on the episode.

Here is a little more about How Democracies Die

Donald Trump’s presidency has raised a question that many of us never thought we’d be asking: Is our democracy in danger? Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have spent more than twenty years studying the breakdown of democracies in Europe and Latin America, and they believe the answer is yes. Democracy no longer ends with a bang—in a revolution or military coup—but with a whimper: the slow, steady weakening of critical institutions, such as the judiciary and the press, and the gradual erosion of long-standing political norms. The good news is that there are several exit ramps on the road to authoritarianism. The bad news is that, by electing Trump, we have already passed the first one. 

Drawing on decades of research and a wide range of historical and global examples, from 1930s Europe to contemporary Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela, to the American South during Jim Crow, Levitsky and Ziblatt show how democracies die—and how ours can be saved.

I really enjoyed this book. I felt like I was learning so much as I read it. It breaks down differences between autocracies and democracies, it explains how democracies sustain themselves, and what institutions and norms preserve our democracy. The book is crash course in what makes our country run smoothly, and how those things can be eroded. I honestly couldn’t believe how little I know and how little I understand about the equilibrium of governments, both here in the US and abroad.

As the book dives deeper into the issues we’re facing in The United States Levitsky and Ziblatt do not shy away from institutional racism that has allowed America to stay a democracy. They call out the Southern Democrats disenfranchisement and remind us that Northerns were willing to look away while these suppression tactics were enacted. Better to preserve White rule, they thought, than to disturb the comfort Southern Democrats had due to the laws built to exclude Black Americans from participating in the democracy. Often times in books like this, the author won’t call out racism, instead they dance around the issue and find other euphemisms to explain what is going on. Not here. Ziblatt and Levitsky are upfront with the role that racism played and is still playing in our democracy.

This book doesn’t place blame completely on Donald Trump or any one person, but rather shows how certain actions (think the heist of Merrick Garland’s seat on The Supreme Court) have lead us in the direction where our country’s foundation is at risk. There is fair blame placed on both parties, but the authors seem to think the Republicans have been particularly cavalier and destructive with their power.

How Democracies Die ends by presenting a few options that The United States has to prevent a slip into an autocracy. They suggest solutions for both the Republicans and Democrats. They also caution that most countries that have fallen to a dictator had to hit rock bottom, before they could move toward democracy. It remains unclear if America, and her politicians, have the humility to compromise and move forward for the better of the country. I certainly hope so. Either way, I think you should check out this book. It is smart and if nothing else you will learn something. I would even say you will learn many things. It is worth your time.

Don’t forget to listen the The Stacks with Harris Cohn discussing How Democracies Die.

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (January 16, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy on How Democracies Die 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. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

 

Ep. 30 The Stacks Book Club — How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgThis week on The Stacks Book Club, activist and organizer Harris Cohn is back to chat about  How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. This book was recently featured by Barack Obama on his Facebook page, as a book that speaks to the current moment in the United States. President Obama says it “is a useful primer on the importance of norms, institutional restraints and civic participation in maintaining a democracy – and how quickly those things can erode when we’re not paying attention. There are no spoilers this week, instead you get a civics lesson with lots to discuss.

You can find everything we talk about this week in the show notes below. By shopping through the links you help support The Stacks, at no cost to you. Shop on Amazon and iTunes.

Connect with Harris: Harris’ Twitter|Harris’ Instagram

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.

Sponsors

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

My Mentor Book Club – for 50% off your first month of new nonfiction from My Mentor Book Club go to mymentorbookclub.com/thestacks


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Join The Stacks Virtual Book Club

BCBDDE0E-DAD6-420E-B268-12EB13E98D6E

I get so much joy talking about books with the guests on the show each week, and I wanted to give all of you the opportunity to engage with each other around these same books.

So starting next week, we will be doing our very own The Stacks Book Club video chats. This way we can all connect around the most recent book club pick. We’re starting with Bad Blood by John Carreyrou. You can here my conversation with author Nancy Rommelmann about the book, here.

The way to join these conversations is by joining The Stacks Pack, a group of people who are committed to making this show a reality, and to engaging with each other around books and literature. You can go to our Patreon page contribute $3 or more and you’re in. It is that simple.

We are currently voting on what day of the week and time are best for these conversations. Once we have that nailed down, we’ll get to book clubbing.

Here is what you need to do.

  1. Go to www.patreon.com/thestacks
  2. Pledge $3 or more dollars a month
  3. Vote on which dates and times work best for you
  4. Read the book–if you haven’t yet
  5. Wait for your invite to the book club
  6. Log on and talk it out

Check out our upcoming book club books, and then get to reading, we have so much to talk about.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison – November 21

To the Bridge by Nancy Rommelmann – November 7

How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt – October 24

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou – October 10


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products, nor does it cost you anything extra. For more information click here.

Ep. 28 The Stacks Book Club – Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgThis week on The Stacks Book Club, journalist and author Nancy Rommelmann is back to discuss Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. We talk about the mind blowing story of biotech startup Theranos, and its founder Elizabeth Holmes. We talk about psychopaths, whistle blowers, and of course, this unbelievable story of abuse and fraud.

There are spoilers this week, however the book is based on current events and we do not discuss anything that isn’t out in the news.

You can find everything we talk about this week in the show notes below, and by shopping through the links you help support The Stacks, at no cost to you. Shop on Amazon and iTunes.

Connect with Nancy: Nancy’s Instagram|Nancy’s Twitter|Nancy’s Website

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.

Sponsors

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

My Mentor Book Club – for 50% off your first month of new nonfiction from My Mentor Book Club go to mymentorbookclub.com/thestacks


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Stacks Books Club – November Books

D379018B-E470-4A23-8C9E-742736251730I am thrilled to announce the two books we will be reading in November as part of The Stacks Book Club. Both books are written by women, and tell the stories of women. While their subjects are wildly different, the books both discuss family, abuse, and identity.

The first book we’re reading in November is To The Bridge by Nancy Rommelmann. To The Bridge tells the true story of Amanda Stott-Smith, a mother who dropped her two young children off a bridge in Portland, OR. Through investigative journalism, the book tries to answer the questions of why and how something like this could happen. We will read and discuss To The Bridge  on November 7th.

Then on November 21st, we will discuss an American classic, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. In Morrison’s first novel, we examine our obsessions with beauty and conformity through the eyes of a young Black girl, Pecola Breedlove. The Bluest Eye asks powerful questions about race, gender, and class, and is a testament to Morrison’s artful skill as one of America’s greatest writers.

As with all our TSBC books, we want to hear from you. If you’re reading along, send over your thoughts or questions so we can have the conversations you want to hear. You can email us at thestackswithtraci@gmail.com, comment on this post, or reach out to us through our Instagram @thestackspod.

Order your copies of our November books on Amazon:

If you want to have input on future books we discuss on this show, become a member of The Stacks Pack by clicking here.


The Stacks received To The Bridge free from the publisher. For more information on our commitment to honesty and transparency 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 opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

5B406AF2-3110-4638-BAB4-0A0DA194B8CA
The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here

I was so excited to read and discuss Less for The Stacks Book Club this week. I got to dive into this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner in Fiction with the smart and thoughtful Zeke Smith. You can listen to our full conversation here, however, be warned there are spoilers on this episode.

Here is a little more about Less

Who says you can’t run away from your problems? You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and you can’t say no–it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.

QUESTION: How do you arrange to skip town?

ANSWER: You accept them all.

What would possibly go wrong? Arthur Less will almost fall in love in Paris, almost fall to his death in Berlin, barely escape to a Moroccan ski chalet from a Saharan sandstorm, accidentally book himself as the (only) writer-in-residence at a Christian Retreat Center in Southern India, and encounter, on a desert island in the Arabian Sea, the last person on Earth he wants to face. Somewhere in there: he will turn fifty. Through it all, there is his first love. And there is his last.


This is a perfectly lovely book. There is nothing hurtful or offensive or troubling or even deeply thought provoking. The writing is simple and fluid, the characters are human, the plot moves forward, it is for all intents and purposes a perfectly lovely book.

Less did not excite me, it did not challenge me, it did not make me think. I found it to be an easy read and once I got to the end, I thought “why did I read this book?” There was no really passion in the book, and I didn’t connect with the humor.

My biggest challenge with reading this book was the feeling that I did not care about the main character, Arthur Less. I found him whiny and average (and not in a good way), he didn’t charm me, he didn’t evoke pity from me. He just was. Another book about another White man who I am supposed to empathize with, and I didn’t relate. I didn’t even want to relate.

I have to admit, before I read this book I was shocked that it won the Pulitzer Prize. A book written by a White man in 2018, about another White male writer. What is the point? Then I read the book, and while I would not have awarded Less with the Pulitzer, I understood the book a little better, and the love other people have for Greer’s work. Mostly, I think this book is a nice distraction from the craziness that has overtaken The United States. This book is not focused on racism, sexism, abuse, trauma, or anything that many people are struggling  through (and in many cases very publicly). This book is easy. It has very nice things to say about life, and humanity, and love. It is a distraction from pain, and that can be a good thing. It is not the thing I would chose to award, especially in times like these.

One thing that deserves praise in this book is the centering of a gay character that is neither the stereotypically flamboyant nor the deeply suffering . There is no AIDS epidemic there is no glitter speedo. There is real life that happens to a gay man, and that is not something we are presented with as often as we should be. Gay people deserve the diversity in their stories that heterosexual people are given. LGBTQ stories deserve the space to be just as average and mediocre as White cis-gender heterosexual males.

I did not love this book, I liked it just fine. It didn’t speak to me in any meaningful way, and some books just aren’t for me. There were a few moments throughout that were cute or smart, but nothing sustained me. I appreciated the ending. I wouldn’t rave over this book, but I wouldn’t tell you not to read it either. It is a well written book about a man that I didn’t care about, and it is a perfectly lovely book.

Don’t forget to listen the The Stacks with Zeke Smith discussing Less.

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (May 22, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy on Less Amazon

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

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

Ep. 26 The Stacks Book Club – Less by Andrew Sean Greer

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgWe are thrilled to discuss this year’s Pulitzer Price winner for fiction, Less by Andrew Sean Greer, for The Stacks Book Club this week. We are joined by guest, Zeke Smith. Zeke is known for his time as a contestant on Survivor (Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen XSurvivor: Game Changers, CBS), and for his work as a writer and trans activist. Less tells the story of Arthur Less, a struggling novelist who decides to travel the world instead of subjecting himself to being a guest at his ex lover’s wedding.

There are spoilers this week on the show. Listen at your own risk.

You can find everything we talk about this week in the show notes below. By shopping through the links you help support The Stacks, at no cost to you. Shop on Amazon and iTunes.

Connect with Zeke: Zeke’s Instagram|Zeke’s Twitter|Zeke’s Website

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.

Thank you to this week’s sponsor Audible. To get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.


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.