Nonfiction November – Best of 2014

nonfiction november 2014

Nonfiction November is back! Thanks to all the lovely ladies who are hosting (listed below). This week’s topic is Your Year in Nonfiction:

Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following question – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

The best of the best from my 2014 have been:

  • Columbine by Dave Cullen – An exploration of the infamous high school shooting
  • Glimpsing Heaven by Judy Bachrach (review to post Monday 11/3)
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby – An incredible memoir
  • The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport – A portrait of the four daughters of the Last Czar of Russia
  • Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel – The heroic race to preserve Europe’s art and treasures during WWII
  • Death and the Virgin Queen by Chris Skidmore – The tumultuous relationship between Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley
  • 50 Children by Steven Pressman – How Jewish children were rescued from Nazi Germany
  • Edgar Allen Poe by Paul Collins – A biography of an American author
  • The Map Thief by Michael Blanding – A rare map dealer resorts to stealing his inventory
  • Elizabeth of York by Alison Weir – Explores the life of the first Tudor Queen, wife of Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII

I’m excited to see what other bloggers have on their lists and hopefully add some new-to-me books to my TBR.

Thanks to Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, Leslie at Regular Rumination, Katie at Doing Dewey, and Rebecca at I’m Lost in Books for hosting!

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Bookish (and not so bookish) Thoughts

My father-in-law passed away on Monday.  The circumstances were unexpected, but we had a week to prepare for the inevitable outcome.

Apparently my review of The Fifth Gospel went viral among my mother-in-law’s group of friends.  She asked to borrow it and has been telling everyone about how excited she is to read it.  I’m glad something makes her happy right now.

I usually love Alison Weir, but I am really struggling with her newest book, The Marriage Game.  I don’t like how Elizabeth I is portrayed.  Stay tuned for my review to see if it turns out positive or negative.

I actually won a Goodreads giveaway earlier this month: Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar, a novel about Virginia Woolf.  Anyone else have this on their radar?

Bookmarks Magazine had a great column about unusual narrators (like Death from The Book Thief, or Enzo from The Art of Racing in the Rain).  I added a ton of books to my wish list including:

  • White Bone by Barbara Gowdy
  • A Tiger for Malgudi by R.K. Narayan
  • Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory
  • The Collector Collector by Tibor Fischer
  • The Humans by Matt Haig

Rach and I decided our next Bestie Banters is going to be Pride and Prejudice.  I’ve been wanting to reread it for ages now, and she’s never read it, but loved the movie version when we watched it during readathon.  I wonder if I’ll like it more now that I’m so familiar with the film than when I read it without any background.

It’s getting chilly here in Chicago and I. Am. Not. Ready.


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The Tudor Vendetta by C.W. Gortner

tudor vendettaPublished by St. Martin’s Griffin, October 2014 ****

Book three in the Spymaster Chronicles was by far the best in the series. I most enjoyed that it opened with Walsingham training Brendan in the fine art of espionage. Exiled during the reign of Mary, they are summoned back to England when Elizabeth becomes queen. But Brendan has been burned before and he is very distrustful of everyone at court. His long-time rival Robert Dudley is the queen’s favorite, Brendan is wary of Lord Cecil’s intentions, and even Elizabeth is keeping secrets. Brendan is sent north to determine what happened to one of Elizabeth’s ladies, and what he discovers could be disastrous for the kingdom. Full of intrigue and history, this was a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

Other books from the Spymaster trilogy:

tudor vendetta hf

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The Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell

fifth gospelPublished by Simon and Schuster, March 2015 *****

This is the kind of book you never want to end. It has everything: a religious conspiracy, scriptural interpretations, biblical artifacts, Catholic scholarship. It is also intellectual, engaging, and thought-provoking.

The Shroud of Turin has been a symbol of Christianity for centuries, but it was recently proved to be a fake dating from the Middle Ages. Ugo, curator of a groundbreaking exhibit based on The Shroud, is set to disprove the scientific evidence based on scriptural and and historical documentation. But when the Ugo is found murdered, it is up to two brothers, Alex and Simon, to find out why he was killed. Father Alex is a Greek Catholic priest living within The Vatican with his son.  Simon, a Roman Catholic priest,  calls him from the scene of Ugo’s murder without explaining how he’s involved. Desperate to help his brother prove his innocence, Father Alex must uncover the secrets of the Shroud that Ugo was going to uncover and reveal to the world.

There is so much going on here, but it is all so deftly woven and expertly rendered. If anyone were to compare this to The DaVinci Code, I would be embarrassed for them. Dan Brown can’t hold a candle to Caldwell. His writing is phenomenal and compelling. I am not a Catholic, but the way he portrays the history of the religion and its principles is approachable and never preachy or self-righteous. I was especially intrigued by the scriptural scholarship presented. The scandalous implications never came across as absurd, and the greater message of uniting the Eastern Orthodoxy with Catholicism is inspiring.

I just really hope it doesn’t take Caldwell another 10 years to write his next book!

I received a complimentary copy of this book via the Amazon Vine program.


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Village of Secrets by Caroline Moorehead

village of secretsPublished by Harper, October 2014 ***

The fate of Jews in Vichy France is often overlooked and this book recognizes the ordinary French citizens who risked their lives to save their fellow countrymen. The title is a bit misleading, as the subject is actually a group of communities in France situated on an isolated plateau. During the early years of German occupation, this was considered the unoccupied zone, but eventually, the entire country was overtaken by The Reich, and its anti-Jewish laws were enforced everywhere. Due to the remote location of the plateau, numerous Jews were secreted away to isolated villages and farms. A majority of them were children who had escaped prison camps and were, more often than not, orphaned when their parents were sent to death camps in the east.

There are miraculous stories of bravery, selflessness, and close calls. But there is also the tedium of a huge cast of characters, a multitude of welfare and relief organizations, and numerous location names to keep track of. Characters lost their individuality as the narrative progressed and more and more refugees, collaborators, and rescuers were introduced. Overall, it’s a decent portrait of the perils of life in Vichy France, but I wasn’t entirely captivated by the book as a whole.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via TLC Book Tours.




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Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

number the starsPublished by Yearling, 1989 *****

What an amazing little book. Annamarie and her family live in Nazi-occupied Denmark, and when the Germans begin rounding up the nation’s Jews, she will do anything to protect her best friend Ellen. I was so enamored with this story and with Annamarie’s selflessness and bravery. Lowry created a wonderful heroine and successfully turned the harsh realities of war into a story of hope and honor.



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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

the diving bell and the butterflyPublished by Vintage, 1997 *****

I was so deeply affected by this book and utterly amazed by Bauby’s fierce determination. Left completely paralyzed by a debilitating stroke, he dictated his memoir by basically blinking the alphabet. I can’t even fathom the isolation he must have felt to be of sound mind in an utterly useless body. It is incredibly tragic and moving and I am completely in awe of this man’s legacy.

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