Thursday, August 14, 2014

Book Reviews - Non-Fiction

This post is the fourth in a series of six daily posts where I'll be sharing book reviews. I regularly share reviews of the books I read, however so far this year I've mainly only been sharing reviews of the Pulitzer prize winners and the free books (I receive in exchange for an honest review) that I've completed. This week I'm catching up with reviews so I'll have a review for each book I've read. Check out my Books Read page to see a list of the books I've read, and click on any book title to check out my review.

I think one of the best ways to learn about something is to read about it. There are non-fiction books about practically every topic, and I've read quite an eclectic mix of non-fiction so far this year.

These first three books have a lot to say about education and how children learn. I read the The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education and The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way as part of online book discussions designed for teachers to obtain Continuing Professional Education credit. The first book took a look at how standardized testing and accountability have turned the focus away from educating students. The second one discussed education in various countries and followed three American teenagers as they studied abroad for a year. Both of these books were very informative and thought-provoking. My sister sent me Nurturing the Shy Child: Practical Help for Raising Confident and Socially Skilled Kids and Teens as part of our monthly book exchange. This book is directed more toward parents raising a shy child and offers suggestions of how to help children overcome shyness. I had mixed feelings about this book - I think there were some helpful suggestions for helping kids in social situations, but I also believe that we are all individuals and it's OK for our unique personalities to guide our actions.

My sister also sent me Rustic Accents for Your Home  as part of our monthly book exchange. This book shared lots of FUN crafty projects with vines, twigs, and branches with step-by-step instructions for completing them. I noted a few things I might want to try.


I borrowed Ellyn's copy of Once Upon a Time: Discovering Our Forever After Story and thoroughly enjoyed Debbie Macomber's suggestions and techniques for writing our life story to illustrate God's hand in our life. I've had a copy of Ken Robinson's The Element in my to-read pile for quite a while. The stories of how various individuals found and pursued their passion were very inspiring. I'd read several raving reviews of Ann Voskamps' One Thousand Gifts, however I thought the flowery language of the book made it a very slow read. If you like poetry, this might be the book for you, but I found it difficult to relate to the author or the everyday life stories she shared in her stream of consciousness style. I've seen Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project mentioned in numerous magazines and online, so I picked up a copy at the library. I enjoyed reading the author's attempts at focusing on creating happiness in various areas of her life. I thought the first several chapters were especially well written, but subsequent chapters included quite a few comments and suggestions from blog readers, which I didn't think added to the book. While I didn't agree with all her conclusions, I found the year-long experiment an interesting read.

The Astronaut Wives Club was the library book club's selection for June. The book starts out with the true stories of the wives of the Mercury Seven astronauts (beginning in 1959) and continues through stories of the early 1970s. The book mentions that Life magazine did a cover story on the wives, which I looked up on the Internet. There were also follow up stories written by the Life team that was embedded with the wives during their husband's takeoff(s). It seemed to me that much of the information for this book came from those articles . . . and a very few interviews that the author did with some of the wives (many of whom are no longer married). Much of the book read like a gossip column and it was apparent that many of the wives (although definitely not all) were disgruntled and jealous of the other wives. Robbie read the book, too, and felt the same way. As the book progressed and more and more wives were discussed, it became very confusing trying to keep up with everyone, so I can't give this book a good recommendation.

I re-read Sink Reflections because reading is often inspiring and motivating for me. This book is a look Flylady's (Marla Cilley) plan for maintaining a clean and decluttered home and is written for people who need help and simple directions for getting and staying organized. I consider myself one of the Born Organized people that Flylady says probably don't need her system, but I found that reading the book got me motivated to get back to my decluttering and deep cleaning projects.

I had never heard of Into the Wild until my fun teenage friend Summer mentioned that it was the summer reading assignment for her upcoming junior year English class. I picked up a copy of it at the library so I could discuss it with her next time she stopped by to visit. This book is the story of a young man who hiked alone into the Alaska wilderness and was found dead several months later. Two years prior to his expedition in Alaska, he graduated from college, then "disappeared", leaving his family wondering where he was as he traipsed across the US living out of a backpack.

The author is a journalist and did a great job of researching the book, finding individuals who had crossed Chris  McCandless's path as he wandered around. However, the author also hijacked a couple of chapters to tell his own story of striking out on his own to climb an imposing Alaskan mountain - a feat that could have ended with his death as well. He asserts that this experience when he was a young man helped him to understand Chris McCandless's story, offering a more sympathetic attitude toward the young man than many people have felt who read that Chris went off alone into the wilderness without being totally prepared and without having contacted his family in two years. I'll be very interested to learn what type of discussions and assignments this book generates in my teenage friend's class.

Have you read any of these books? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

If all this non-fiction sounded a little weight today, be sure to check back tomorrow as I review some of the fiction books I've been reading.  (Click here to see all my book reviews.)


  1. I really enjoyed the Happiness Project, have meant to read Debbie Macombers book - sounds interesting. You've been busy reading!

  2. I've read the Happiness Project and didn't know how to feel about it. Some of it seemed obvious, some of the suggestions were things I'd been brought up to do, I don't know..

  3. I enjoyed The Happiness Project, but didn't care for her second book, Happier at Home, at all. I have a couple others you've read on my "to-read" list, but my online classes are eating up most of my reading time!

  4. I loved Into Thin Air by Jon krakauer. I thought it was infinitely better than into the wild and one of the best boos I've ever read.


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