Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Home Fire was The Stacks Book Club pick this week on the podcast. We discussed the book in detail with actress and comedian, Tawny Newsome. If you want to hear that full episode, click here, but be warned there are plenty of spoilers throughout our conversation.

Here is a little more on Home Fire

Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to—or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined, in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?

Home Fire is a master class in my kind of fiction; plot driven, strong characters, a world that I recognize, political topics, moral conundrums, and life and death stakes, oh, and of course, beautiful witing. Kamila Shamsie checks all my boxes and more. Reading this book was engaging and emotional without ever getting too corny or predictable (which is worth noting, when the book is based on Sophocles’ Antigone). Part political thriller and star-crossed romance and family drama, I am telling you, Home Fire has it all.

The central conversation of this book is what it means to be Muslim in a country that has become fundamentally distrustful and hateful toward Muslims, who you can trust, and what loyalty means. Home Fire looks at the extremes of political rhetoric and terrorist groups and asks, what is fair and what is not? What laws are meaningful and which are hateful? What rules of humanity are we bound to obey?

Of course there is much much more in the book. There is family, loyalty, romance, and drama, so much drama. The characters are developed and clear on what they (think they) want and need and how best to get it. It leads to plenty of conflict that is beautifully captured by Shamsie. The female leads, Isma and Aneeka, are strong and pragmatic and fierce, and endearing and all the things that women so rarely get to be. All the characters are great. I was particularly struck by Karamat Lone, the politician and father. I could have read an entire book just about him, a Muslim conservative who is constantly called on to be the chosen representative of both sides (the Muslim minority and the Conservative party), though he doesn’t really fit anywhere. He is the golden boy of diversity and the villain turncoat. He is all the things and none of them particularly well. He manages to be despicable and pathetic, and captivated me throughout the book.

Home Fire is an exceptional book. Enjoyable to read, thought provoking, and good luck with the ending. The book gets going and never really slows down. And it should be noted, the book is short, under 300 pages, and it still packs a punch. There is much to discuss and dissect, which of course we do on The Stacks Book Club.

Click here to hear The Stacks Book Club discussion of Home Fire with guest Tawny Newsome.

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • PublisherRiverhead Books; Reprint edition (September 4, 2018)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy on Home Fire 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.

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

In a book that navigates feminism and the many facets of being a woman, Men Explain Things to Me runs the gamut from snarky to scathing, from an indictment of society to a reflection on it. Rebecca Solnit has thought a lot about feminism and women’s rights, and her essays clearly indicate that.

Men Explain Things to Me came out in 2014 (my edition has added content and come our in 2015), and in the years since, the women’s movement, the 2016 election, the #metoo era, and so much more has propelled the conversation about feminism and the abuse of women in a way that Solnit couldn’t predict. In this way, the book feels more dated than perhaps it should. Solnit feels like a tame observer compared to the books and essays that have come out in the last 2 or so years. So while I found these essays smart and well done (though some were a little disjointed), they felt redundant as a reader in 2019.

I know that Solnit was an early advocate, and this critique comes with all the powers of hindsight, but in my reading, the book doesn’t hold up so much against time. It does serve as a reminder that we’ve been having these discussions for decades. In these debates around feminism, Solnit has been on the front lines and we have her to thank for many of the conversations we’re having today. One essay in this book, #yesallwomen, feels like connective tissue from this book, to the current conversations and debates we’re having today.

Men Explain Things to Me is a certain kind of feminism that centers White women. In 2019, that feels life a gapping omission. It is a reminder that 53% of White women voted for Trump. Which is of course, part of the problem when we come to the coalition that fights on behalf of women. Sure, these essays are good, but they lack in inclusion and perspective that now, just four years later, feels unacceptable.

If you’re looking for a book that is intersectional and feels very of this moment, Men Explain Things to Me might not be for you (I would suggest Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister, or Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper). If you’re looking for a book that might remind you of how we got here, Men Explain Things to Me, might be a good place to start.


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.

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz

Our first book for The Stacks Book Club of 2019, The Four Agreements a bestselling self-help classic. I was lucky enough to have lover of self-help books and celebrity trainer Alec Penix, join me for this discussion. If you’ve yet to listen, check it out here.

For reference The Four Agreements are:

  • Be impeccable with your word
  • Do not take anything personal
  • Do not make assumptions
  • Always do your best

There is a lot to be said for The Four Agreements honestly, if more people lived by the agreements, we would have a more empathetic and communicative society. If people really were true to the spirit of these agreements, to the people around them and to themselves, we would have a healthier world. If you take the agreements at face value, they’re wonderful and easy to remember and implement. However, nothing is ever as easy as it seems, and there are a lot of complex elements at play when we talk about human interaction. This is where the book misses the mark.

Ruiz is very cut and dry and comes across someone who is oblivious to the nuances of life. He makes a lot of assumptions about the people reading this book (which, is a no-no). There is a ton of victim shaming throughout the book. For example, he makes the point that we only take as much abuse as we think we deserve. This very well may be true for people who have horrible bosses or have mooching friends. However, this logic doesn’t hold up when we think of the child who is molested by their parent, or the mother torn from her child at the border of The United States. Do we value these people who have been victimized? Should they have demanded better for themselves? And to whom should they make such demands? The power dynamics of life are not always as clear cut as Mr. Ruiz says, and his saying it, offended me.

If you’re looking for some concepts to help you in your dealings with yourself and others, especially at the start of a new year, this could be a good book for you, but be careful not to take everything Ruiz says to heart. He too is only human, and has work to do on himself as well.

Don’t forget to listen to the The Stacks with Alec Penix discussing The Four Agreements.

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • PublisherAmber-Allen Publishing (November 7, 1997)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy onThe Four Agreements 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

Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure by Amy Kaufman

Confession time, I love The Bachelor franchise. I know its corny and low brow and whatever else you want to say, but I also know that it is so entertaining, and it brings me so much joy. So obviously when I was listening to my favorite Bachelor podcast, Bachelor Party, and Amy Kaufman was on and said she had a book about the show, Bachelor Nation, I knew I had to read it.

More about Bachelor Nation

Los Angeles Times journalist Amy Kaufman is a proud member of Bachelor Nation and has a long history with the franchise—ABC even banned her from attending show events after her coverage of the program got a little too real for its liking. She has interviewed dozens of producers, contestants, and celebrity fans to give readers never-before-told details of the show’s inner workings: what it’s like to be trapped in the mansion “bubble”; dark, juicy tales of producer manipulation; and revelations about the alcohol-fueled debauchery that occurs long before the Fantasy Suite. 

Kaufman also explores what our fascination means, culturally: what the show says about the way we view so-called ideal suitors; our subconscious yearning for fairy-tale romance; and how this enduring television show has shaped society’s feelings about love, marriage, and feminism by appealing to a marriage plot that’s as old as the best of Jane Austen.


Bachelor Nation is a book for people who like and/or watch (since I know these things can be different, hate watchers, I see you) The Bachelor franchise. If you don’t, don’t waste your time. The book has some interesting moments but goes on way long (could have been 50 pages shorter). The best thing is that Kaufman gets access to producers and contestants who are at least semi-revealing in their insights into the show. There is no ground breaking scoop revealed. It is a fun and trashy read, which feels right, given the source material.

I listened to this book on audio, and Kaufman narrates it. She is super animated and very casual in tone. It is almost like talking with a gal pal, who is a bit of a valley girl. The writing is nothing special, but she gets her points across. She clearly is passionate about her topic and her excitement makes the audiobook fun to listen to.

The middle of Bachelor Nation is by far the best, and has the most insight into the show. When she discusses how the contestant’s get their clothing, or how much the leads are paid, or the details of their contracts, I was totally into it. I was less interested in the introduction and ending of the book, which was mostly Kaufman telling us what she loves about the show, and how she came to it, and why. There are also little sections where famous people say why they love the show, which I didn’t care much for either.

Bachelor Nation is exactly what you think it is. If you love the show and the contestants then you should check it out, but if you hate watch the show or don’t watch at all, I think you could steer clear. And yes, just in case you were wondering, I am looking forward to Colton’s season, even though I think he is a terrible and boring pick for The Bachelor.

  • Audiobook: 7 hours and 43 minutes
  • Publisher: Penguin Audio
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton (March 6, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy on Bachelor Nation 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.

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare

For the month of December, my Shakespeare read for The #ShakeTheStacks Challenge was, Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s first attempt at a tragedy.

Titus Andronicus is a revenge play centered around Titus Andronicus, a Roman General, who is locked in a cycle of personal revenges with Tamora, Queen of the Goths. The play is bloody and brutal, to the point that the first scene includes a handful of murders, one of which is Titus killing his own son. Shakespeare was not going for subtle with this play.

By far the most interesting part of Titus Andronicus centers on the character of Lavinia, Titus’ daughter. I don’t want to give too much away, but the scenes involving Lavinia, are some of the most fantastic scenes. She does not speak, instead the men around her speak at her and for her, and are given a voice when she is not. They must interpret her thoughts and her pain, and it is excruciating to read.While I’m not sure what Shakespeare was sayingabout women in his own time, Lavinia struck a chord with me now, at the end of 2018. I kept thinking of an essay, by Lacy M. Johnson, called “Speak Truth to Power” (which can be found in her amazing book of essays, The Reckonings).

Aaron, the Moor, is another fascinating character to read in modern times. He is Black and is a complete and total villain. He is given little in the way of redemption, and reaffirms his own villainy until the end of the play. I think so much about how this role would have been seen throughout history, this angry, violent, remorseless Black man as the epitome of evil. What kind of actor plays Aaron? Is he a brute? Is he cerebral? Is he ever played by a charming man? Or a light skinned Black man? Or is he always a stereotype of the angry dark Black man? How does this role evolve over time? I could reflect on Aaron (and Lavinia) and how the character functions in this play for a long time.

Titus Andronicus is shockingly easy to understand. While the character’s names are hard to remember, the text itself is accessible (for Shakespeare) in a way previous plays have not been. Its simple really, a play predicated on revenge. The ending of the play is too short, the fallout is too quick. I think thats partially because this is Shakespeare’s first tragedy. I know he gets better at elongating the pain and suffering at the end of his plays.

I really enjoyed Titus Andronicus more than I thought I would. It touches on mercy and justice in a way that I was not expecting, and gave me a lot to think about when it comes to Blackness and the representation of women on stage.


In case you’re reading along with me for The #ShakeTheStacks Challenge, I wanted to give you a heads up to what I’ll be reading in 2019. You don’t have to read along in the same order as me, and you can feel free to join me for one or all. However you decide to do it, my plan is below.


  • Paperback: 107 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Australia; Pelican Shakespeare edition (January 1, 2000)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Titus Andronicus on Amazon

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

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

My 10 Favorite Reads of 2018

First let me say, 2018 was an amazing reading year for me. I read more books than I’ve ever read in a single year. I finished 88 books. I also kept track of everything I read, partially because I love a good spread sheet, and partially to hold myself accountable.

Before I dive into my top 10 books, here is a little breakdown of what I read in 2018.

  • 44/89 books were by authors of color (49%)
  • 48/89 books were by women (54%)
  • 26/89 books were by women of color (29%)
  • 30/89 books were published in 2018 (34%)
  • 60/89 books were acquired by me in 2018 (67%)
  • 50/89 books were nonfiction (56%)

Of all the books I read here is how the star ratings shook out

  • 16/88 books received five stars (18%)
  • 25/88 books received four stars (28%)
  • 31/88 books received three stars (35%)
  • 11/88 books received two stars (13%)
  • 3/88 books received one star (3%)

I love a good stat, and I could break down my reading even more, but I won’t. Instead here are my top 10 favorite reads of 2018 (in alphabetical order), though they weren’t all published this year.


Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

The true story of biotech company, Theranos its founder Elizabeth Holmes, and the scam they ran on the rest of the world. This book has it all, fraud, threats, billions of dollars, high profile characters, and a cute blonde. If you need a WTF kind of book, Bad Blood is your best bet.
Hear our full discussion of Bad Blood with Nancy Rommelmann on The Stacks, Episode 28 .


The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil

A unique memoir, of women refugees, set during the Rwandan Genocide that follows Wamariya and her sister Claire as they travel through Africa looking for a way out. Poetic, and with a sense of calm, this book engages with the trauma that was endured and the perspective that it brought.


Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon

An emotional memoir of life as a young Black man in Jackson, Mississippi. Laymon is brutally honest and completely vulnerable as he tells of his own struggles and successes, and he connects his life with a much bigger picture of being Black in America. Laymon’s dedication to the written word and to the power of revision is striking.


Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

A beautiful work of fiction and a modern day retelling of Antigone set against the backdrop of ISIS in Great Britain. This book is an emotional ride with plenty of plot to keep things moving, but still a real strong commitment to developed and complex characters. This book asks the question “who is the bad guy”?
Stay tuned for our conversation of Home Fire on The Stacks Book Club in January.


Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

The story of Ward’s early years told through the deaths of five young Black men in her life over the course of four years. This book is a Black Lives Matter memoir, before we ever had the language of the movement. Ward crafts a story of pain, grief, womanhood, and Blackness, all with in her signature beautiful writing.
Hear The Stacks discussion of Men We Reaped on episode 4, with guest Sarah Fong.


Othello by William Shakespeare

I revisited this play in anticipation of our episode on New Boy by Tracy Chevalier, and was blown away by how good it is. Othello holds up. This is story of racism, jealousy, entitlement, and sexism. Aside from the language the play, it easily could have been written today. There are scenes in Othello where I found my self in tears simply reading the words. I know Shakespeare is intimidating but I found this to be more accessible than I thought, and it was the spark for my #ShakeTheStacks Challenge.


The Reckonings by Lacy M. Johnson

A collection of beautifully written and incredibly thought provoking essays on justice, revenge, mercy, and responsibility. These essays discuss the most complex and challenging topics of the current moment, from Whiteness to the environment, from terrorism to rape culture. Though they seem like they shouldn’t be placed next to each other, yet it works perfectly. Johnson is a force when it comes to the written word. A true artist, asking questions and leaving room for her reader to find the answers.


Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

If you want to learn about racism and racist ideas and the history of those traditions in America, this is your book. Kendi writes accessibly and in great detail about the power struggle between racists and anti-racists and those in between (assimilationists). He chronicles racist thinking in American life and doesn’t let racism off the hook as simply being ignorant. I still find myself thinking about this book as I watch the world unfold around me.


There There by Tommy Orange

A fantastic novel centered around a big powwow in Oakland, CA. This book is told from many perspectives, and has a cast of dynamic characters. Orange does an amazing job of sharing some of the experiences of urban Native American life, without being preachy or leaning into cliches. The writing is great and the characters are diverse and engaging, plus the plot is suspenseful and keeps you tuned in until the very end.


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

I never thought I would love an advice book so much, but Tiny Beautiful Things is more than just advice. Strayed is the perfect mix of compassionate and curt. She tells it like it is, and weaves her own stories into her sage words. Sometimes she delivers a warm embrace, sometimes she takes you down a peg, but mostly she does both, and it is perfect. I know this is the kind of book I will return to when I just want someone to tell me about myself.


Thats all from me, but please share your favorite books you read in 2018 in the comments below, and I look forward to reading more great books with all of you in 2019.


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

Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness by Ingrid Fetell Lee

I am so grateful to My Mentor Book Club, a sponsor of The Stacks for sending me Joyful. MMBC is a monthly book subscription, where you get two newly released nonfiction books sent to your door. I am always really excited when the books show up, and sometimes they send me things that I’ve never heard of that are totally in my wheel house. That was the case with Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee.

Here is more about Joyful

Have you ever wondered why we stop to watch the orange glow that arrives before sunset, or why we flock to see cherry blossoms bloom in spring? Is there a reason that people — regardless of gender, age, culture, or ethnicity — are mesmerized by baby animals, and can’t help but smile when they see a burst of confetti or a cluster of colorful balloons.

In Joyful, designer Ingrid Fetell Lee explores how the seemingly mundane spaces and objects we interact with every day have surprising and powerful effects on our mood. Drawing on insights from neuroscience and psychology, she explains why one setting makes us feel anxious or competitive, while another fosters acceptance and delight — and, most importantly, she reveals how we can harness the power of our surroundings to live fuller, healthier, and truly joyful lives. 


Lee does a fantastic job of breaking down the ten different elements that provoke joy, she calls them “The Aesthetics of Joy” and they range from energy to magic, from abundance to celebration. This isn’t simply a design book, Joyful does a fantastic job of including the psychology of joy and experts in a range of fields that engage with each aesthetic. I particularly loved hearing about color (in the energy aesthetic) from Ellen Bennet of Hedley & Bennett Aprons. These moments through out the book provide context for Lee’s points and give depth to seemingly basic concepts.

This book allowed me to think of the different aesthetics that spoke to me, and the places in my life I could add joy. Its a totally practical guide complete with worksheets that help you figure out where you could add joy to your life, and which kinds of things spark that joy in your own environment. For me, I love sparkle, and travel, and hosting dinners, which all fit into different categories, and could work on adding color and magic into my world.

I think overall the book could’ve been a little shorter. Some of the later sections got repetitive and didn’t require as much explanation, but were still long. While the writing is solid, the content is where this book really shines. Lee traveled the world to meet with so many kinds of people and experience unique places and gardens and homes and artwork. It is almost a kind of culture study in addition to being a guide for joy.

In 2019, I’m looking forward to (or dreading) a renovation in my own home, and found this book to be helpful and inspiring for that process. It also will serve me as a guide for how I want my whole life to feel, especially with a new year on the horizon. If you like a pop-psychology book, want to live a more joyful life, or are thinking about transforming any spaces in your life (including launching a new project, or hosting a major event) I would suggest you check out Joyful and Lee’s website, The Aesthetics of Joy for guidance and inspiration.

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • PublisherLittle, Brown Spark (September 4, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy on Joyful 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.