Review: All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆.5
Title: All Boys Aren’t Blue
Author: George M. Johnson
Genre: Memoir
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Aubiobook
Narrator: the author
Length: 5 hours, 12 minutes (304 pages)
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr); Macmillan Audio
Release Date: April 28, 2020
Source: Library
Content Warnings: sexual assault, rape, homophobia, sexual content, death, racism, transphobia, incest, violence

SYNOPSIS

In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with his loving grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys.

Both a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color, All Boys Aren’t Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy. Johnson’s emotionally frank style of writing will appeal directly to young adults.

MY THOUGHTS

I was inspired to read this YA memoir earlier in the year when it was in the media as a banned book. I think it is so important for books like to make it into the hands of their intended audience.

All Boys Aren’t Blue is a poignant memoir about George M. Johnson’s experiences growing up as a queer, Black kid. The book is heavy and includes frank discussions of marginalization, identity, toxic masculinity, sexuality, and abuse. Many scenes are uncomfortable to read, but they are not salacious or inappropriate (beyond the fact that inappropriate things happened to Johnson). Johnson honestly shares their experiences to provide today’s queer youth with answers to questions they didn’t know how to ask.

I highly recommend the audiobook, narrated by the author, for older queer teens and allies.

ARC Review: A Haunted Road Atlas by Christine Schiefer and Em Schulz

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: A Haunted Road Atlas: Sinister Stops, Dangerous Destinations, and True Crime Tales
Author: Christine Schiefer and Em Schulz
Genre: Nonfiction – True Crime/Paranormal/Travel
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Christine Schiefer and Em Schulz
Length: 304 pages (7 hours)
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Release Date: May 31, 2022
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Recommended for fans of: And That’s Why We Drink
Content Warnings: death, murder, violence, crime, sexual assault

SYNOPSIS

Pack up your Ouija board, wine bra, and squirt guns full of holy water … we’re going on a road trip! From the hit podcast And That’s Why We Drink, this is your interactive travel guide to the hosts’ favorite spooky and sinister sights. The world is a scary place … and that’s why we drink!

Jam-packed with illustrations, fun facts, travel tips, and beverage recs, this guide includes some of the country’s most notorious crime scenes, hauntings, and supernatural sightings. You’ll also find Christine and Em’s personal recommendations to the best local bars and ice cream parlors, oddity museums, curiosity shoppes, and more. Explore some of the most bizarre cases you’ve heard on the show, as well as exclusive new content from bayous, basements, and bars!

MY THOUGHTS

I love Em and Christine’s podcast And That’s Why We Drink, so when I heard they were publishing a book, I knew I needed it. This book is part true crime, part ghost stories, and part travel guide. Similar to the format of the podcast, this book pairs one paranormal story with one true crime tale for each major U.S. city included in the book, organized by geographic location.

As a listener of the podcast, I enjoyed that the audiobook is narrated by the authors. It felt like listening to a more polished and streamlined version of the show, sans the signature banter. This didn’t have a lot of new content; most of the stories were previously covered on the podcast. What makes this special for me as a fan are all the inside jokes, personal anecdotes, and recommendations of things to eat, drink, and do in each city.

You do not have to be a podcast listener to enjoy this book; however, since there are so many references to the show, I recommend the physical book over the audiobook to readers who are not already familiar with the podcast so you can skip over parts that aren’t relevant to you. But you should definitely give ATWWD a try!

All my spooky and true crime babes need this to help plan your next vacation.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the ALC.

Review: Maus II by Art Spiegelman

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began
Creator: Art Spiegelman
Series: Maus #2
Genre: Non-fiction Graphic Novel
Audience: Adult (appropriate for teens and up)
Format: Print
Length: 144 pages
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Release Date: September 1, 1992
Source: Personal collection
Content Warnings: war, death, genocide, anti-Semitism, racism

SYNOPSIS

Acclaimed as a quiet triumph and a brutally moving work of art, the first volume of Art Spieglman’s Maus introduced readers to Vladek Spiegleman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist trying to come to terms with his father, his father’s terrifying story, and History itself. Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), succeeds perfectly in shocking us out of any lingering sense of familiararity with the events described, approaching, as it does, the unspeakable through the diminutive.

This second volume, subtitled And Here My Troubles Began, moves us from the barracks of Auschwitz to the bungalows of the Catskills. Genuinely tragic and comic by turns, it attains a complexity of theme and a precision of thought new to comics and rare in any medium. Maus ties together two powerful stories: Vladek’s harrowing tale of survival against all odds, delineating the paradox of daily life in the death camps, and the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father. At every level this is the ultimate survivor’s tale – and that too of the children who somehow survive even the survivors.

MY THOUGHTS

Maus II continues to explore Art’s contentious relationship with his elderly father Vladek while recounting Vladek’s experiences during the Holocaust. Volume 1 explores more of the lead up and early days of the Holocaust; in Volume II, Vladek recalls how he survived his time in a concentration camp. Everything about the way this graphic memoir is told through text and visuals and story devices is complex, emotional, and impactful.

Review: Maus I by Art Spiegelman

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History
Creator: Art Spiegelman
Series: Maus #1
Genre: Non-fiction Graphic Novel
Audience: Adult (appropriate for teens and up)
Format: Paperback
Length: 159 pages
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Release Date: November 1, 1991
Source: Personal collection
Content Warnings: war, genocide, anti-Semitism, child death, suicide, mental illness

SYNOPSIS

The first installment of the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel acclaimed as “the most affecting and successful narrative ever done about the Holocaust” (Wall Street Journal) and “the first masterpiece in comic book history” (The New Yorker).

A brutally moving work of art—widely hailed as the greatest graphic novel ever written—Maus recounts the chilling experiences of the author’s father during the Holocaust, with Jews drawn as wide-eyed mice and Nazis as menacing cats.

Maus is a haunting tale within a tale, weaving the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father into an astonishing retelling of one of history’s most unspeakable tragedies. It is an unforgettable story of survival and a disarming look at the legacy of trauma.

MY THOUGHTS

This is such a powerful story. I knew that Maus was the author’s father’s story as a Holocaust survivor, but I did not realize it was also a memoir of the author’s complicated relationship with his father later in life and how the loss of his mother affected him. The simple black and white illustrations and the visual metaphor of Jews as mice and Nazis as cats (with bystanders and other animals) were an effective way to portray the horrors of the Holocaust in a visual medium. Stories like this are important for empathy and education, and this graphic novel is in no way “inappropriate” for middle and high school students.

Review: Cultish by Amanda Montell

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism
Author: Amanda Montell
Genre: Non-Fiction
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Ann Marie Gideon
Length: 8 hours (310 pages)
Publisher: Harper Wave; HarperAudio
Release Date: June 15, 2021
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: cult documentaries
Content Warnings: suicide, gaslighting, emotional abuse, death, murder

SYNOPSIS

The author of the widely praised Wordslut analyzes the social science of cult influence: how cultish groups from Jonestown and Scientology to SoulCycle and social media gurus use language as the ultimate form of power.

What makes “cults” so intriguing and frightening? What makes them powerful? The reason why so many of us binge Manson documentaries by the dozen and fall down rabbit holes researching suburban moms gone QAnon is because we’re looking for a satisfying explanation for what causes people to join—and more importantly, stay in—extreme groups. We secretly want to know: could it happen to me? Amanda Montell’s argument is that, on some level, it already has . . .

Our culture tends to provide pretty flimsy answers to questions of cult influence, mostly having to do with vague talk of “brainwashing.” But the true answer has nothing to do with freaky mind-control wizardry or Kool-Aid. In Cultish, Montell argues that the key to manufacturing intense ideology, community, and us/them attitudes all comes down to language. In both positive ways and shadowy ones, cultish language is something we hear—and are influenced by—every single day.

Through juicy storytelling and cutting original research, Montell exposes the verbal elements that make a wide spectrum of communities “cultish,” revealing how they affect followers of groups as notorious as Heaven’s Gate, but also how they pervade our modern start-ups, Peloton leaderboards, and Instagram feeds. Incisive and darkly funny, this enrapturing take on the curious social science of power and belief will make you hear the fanatical language of “cultish” everywhere.

MY THOUGHTS

This was a fascinating exploration of the linguistics surrounding cults and “cultish” groups. While the term cult has negative connotations due to infamous groups like Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate, belonging is such a central ideal in American society that cultish groups thrive here, from fad fitness studios to multi-level marketing schemes.

This books examines the language cultish groups use to attract and maintain members, create a perception of insiders versus outsiders, and fill the need for community. It does not vilify all cultish groups; instead, it provides readers with the tools to critically evaluate groups they encounter and determine whether those groups are using cultish language to truly empower or manipulate members.

I certainly have belonged to groups Montell would describe as cultish, but not every such group is harmful. Bookstagram would surely meet Montell’s definition of a cultish group! It did get to the point where it seemed like ANY group could be described as a cult, but it certainly gives me a lot of new things to think about when assessing the world around me.

Review: The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: The Anthropocene Reviewed
Author: John Green
Genre: Nonfiction/Essays
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: John Green
Length: 10 hours (293 pages)
Publisher: Dutton; Penguin Random House Audio
Release Date: May 17, 2021
Source: libro.fm influencer ALC
Content Warnings: mental illness, death, grief, medical content, chronic illness, suicidal thoughts, pandemic

SYNOPSIS

A deeply moving and mind-expanding collection of personal essays in the first ever work of non-fiction from #1 internationally bestselling author John Green

The Anthropocene is the current geological age, in which human activity has profoundly shaped the planet and its biodiversity. In this remarkable symphony of essays adapted and expanded from his ground-breaking, critically acclaimed podcast, John Green reviews different facets of the human-centered planet – from the QWERTY keyboard and Halley’s Comet to Penguins of Madagascar – on a five-star scale.

Complex and rich with detail, the Anthropocene’s reviews have been praised as ‘observations that double as exercises in memoiristic empathy’, with over 10 million lifetime downloads. John Green’s gift for storytelling shines throughout this artfully curated collection about the shared human experience; it includes beloved essays along with six all-new pieces exclusive to the book.

MY THOUGHTS

Who knew a series of essays by John Green about seemingly random topics including everything and nothing was exactly what I needed?

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this book is so effective. It’s about humanity, human nature, human experiences, and our impact on the planet and each other. It’s about history, pop culture, science, ecology, family, and so much more. It’s an artifact of its time, from reflections on the COVID-19 pandemic to the use of the star rating system. It’s about John Green and things that are important to him or have affected him. But it’s also about all of us and our collective experience as humans on this planet right now.

All I know is that multiple essays brought me to tears, and anyone who ever feels unsure of themselves or our world and their place in it should read this book. Or better, listen to the audiobook narrated by John Green himself.

I give The Anthropocene Reviewed five stars.

Thank you to the publisher and libro.fm for the gifted ALC.

Review: Chasing Ghosts by Marc Hartzman

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Chasing Ghosts: A Tour of Our Fascination with Spirits and the Supernatural
Author: Marc Hartzman
Genre: Nonfiction/Paranormal
Audience: Adult/All Ages
Format: Paperback
Length: 272 pages
Publisher: Quirk Books
Release Date: September 28, 2021
Source: Publisher
Recommended for fans of: ghost stories and paranormal podcasts

SYNOPSIS

Take a spirited tour through the supernatural history of America, from its haunted sites to its famous ghosts to its ghost-obsessed pop culture.

Ghosts are everywhere—whether you believe in them or not. Every town has its local legends, and countless books, movies, and TV shows are haunted by their presence. But our obsession with ghosts runs deeper than we know—and is embedded in the very fabric of American history.

Writer and historian Marc Hartzman dons the mantle of tour guide, taking readers on a fascinating journey through supernatural history, including:

• The Fox Sisters and the rise of Spiritualism
• The supernatural obsessions of famous figures like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
• Famous haunted sites like the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia and the LaLaurie House in New Orleans
• Famous ghosts like the Bell Witch of Tennessee and the Greenbrier Ghost of West Virginia
• Paranormal investigators like Ed and Lorraine Warren

Deeply researched and highly entertaining, with archival images and black and white illustrations, Chasing Ghosts will satisfy believers and skeptics alike.

MY THOUGHTS

This is a really fun book for anyone interested in ghosts, real or fictional. It includes full-color photographs, illustrations, newspaper clippings, and other artifacts. It is divided into four sections: ancient & historical beliefs, Spiritualism, famous hauntings, and modern ghost investigations.

I was most fascinated by the first section, comparing different cultural beliefs about ghosts. The Spiritualism section definitely dragged, and I wish some of those pages had been devoted to other sections. I had already heard all the famous hauntings included on various paranormal podcasts, but this has a nice collection of tales all in one place. The last section about the science and technology of paranormal investigations was truly fascinating, showing how different natural phenomena can explain some paranormal encounters, but there is no one size fits all explanation.

This is the kind of book you can easily skip around and just read the parts that interest you.

Thank you to the publisher for the gifted finished copy.

Review: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
Author: Trevor Noah
Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Trevor Noah
Length: 9 hours (289 pages)
Publisher: Audible Studios
Release Date: November 15, 2016
Source: Audible subscription
Content Warnings: domestic abuse, racism, gun violence, alcoholism, animal cruelty and death

SYNOPSIS

The memoir of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.

Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

MY THOUGHTS

I knew this would not be a typical celebrity memoir, but WOW. I did not expect to feel so utterly horrified, yet hilariously entertained, and ultimately learn so much. Trevor Noah describes his experiences growing up in South Africa during and after apartheid. Noah faced unique challenges as a mixed-race kid raised by a Black family because he did not neatly fit into the racially divided society. His mother was a strong, complicated, ahead-of-her-time woman.

I need to read more books like this, that help me understand cultures, societies, and family dynamics that are so different from my own experiences. My only complaint is that the timeline jumped around a lot, so I’m quite clear on the overall sequence of events in Trevor Noah’s life. I also would’ve liked to know more about how he got into a comedy career (it was barely touched upon).

Highly recommend the audiobook if you have Audible!

Review: Mindhunter by John E. Douglas

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: Mindhuter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit
Author: John E. Douglas & Mark Olshaker
Series: Mindhunter #1
Genre: Nonfiction/True Crime
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Richard M. Davidson
Length: 15 hours (397 pages)
Publisher: Pocket Books; Simon & Schuster Audio
Release Date: October 31, 1995
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: true crime, Criminal Minds
Content Warnings: death, murder, rape, violence, torture, kidnapping, pedophilia, etc.

SYNOPSIS

He has hunted some of the most notorious and sadistic criminals of our time: The Trailside Killer in San Francisco, the Atlanta Child murderer. He has confronted, interviewed and researched dozens of serial killers and assassins, including Charles Manson, Richard Speck, John Wayne Gacy, and James Earl Ray – for a landmark study to understand their motives. To get inside their minds. He is Special Agent John Douglas, the model for law enforcement legend Jack Crawford in Thomas Harris’s thrillers Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs, and the man who ushered in a new age in behavorial science and criminal profiling. Recently retired after twenty-five years of service, John Douglas can finally tell his unique and compelling story.

MY THOUGHTS

Fascinating and insightful, a must-read for true crime aficionados. However, I found John Douglas to be very unlikable. The descriptions of the crimes got a bit repetitive by the end, and I think this could have been organized better. I know these profiling techniques were groundbreaking at the time, but the impact was lessened for me as a reader since I’ve watched so much Criminal Minds.

Review: The Babysitter by Liza Rodman and Jennifer Jordan

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: The Babysitter: My Summers with a Serial Killer
Author: Liza Rodman, Jennifer Jordan
Genre: True Crime
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Andi Arndt, Aida Reluzco
Length: 9 hours (352 pages)
Publisher: Atria Books; Simon & Schuster Audio
Release Date: March 2, 2021
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: true crime books & podcasts
Content Warnings: murder, sexual assault, toxic relationships

SYNOPSIS

Growing up on Cape Cod in the 1960s, Liza Rodman was a lonely little girl. During the summers, while her mother worked days in a local motel and danced most nights in the Provincetown bars, her babysitter—the kind, handsome handyman at the motel where her mother worked—took her and her sister on adventures in his truck.

But there was one thing she didn’t know; their babysitter was a serial killer.

Some of his victims were buried—in pieces—right there, in his garden in the woods. Though Tony Costa’s gruesome case made screaming headlines in 1969 and beyond, Liza never made the connection between her friendly babysitter and the infamous killer of numerous women, including four in Massachusetts, until decades later.

Haunted by nightmares and horrified by what she learned, Liza became obsessed with the case. Now, she and cowriter Jennifer Jordan reveal the chilling and unforgettable true story of a charming but brutal psychopath through the eyes of a young girl who once called him her friend.

MY THOUGHTS

This book is part true crime, part memoir as Liza recounts her childhood and experiences with her sometimes babysitter Tony Costa, who turned out to be the serial killer known as “The Cape Cod Vampire.” Chapters alternate between traditional true crime explanations of Costa’s background and crimes and Liza’s reflections on her upbringing and toxic relationship with her mother.

While both storylines were interesting, the book felt a bit disjointed. Liza shared some memories of time she spent with Costa that are chilling in hindsight, but overall there was not as much overlap between the two narratives as I expected.

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