Non-Fiction

BENEATH HIS SILENCE by Hannah Linder

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Ella arrives at Wyckhorn Manor hoping to succeed in the soul-consuming mission her late father did not live long enough to complete: proving that Lord Sedgewick murdered her sister.

From the moment she meets Lord Henry Sedgewick, it is clear her sister made a mistake in marrying him. He is cold, aloof, and admits he never even loved Lucy. Ella assumes a false name and takes a position as governess to Henry and Lucy’s young son, hoping to get to know her nephew and gather proof of Henry’s iniquity. Yet under his distant exterior, Ella is surprised and somewhat alarmed to find a compassionate, generous, devoted Christian who begins gently prodding her doubting soul back toward the faith. But Henry and Wyckhorn Manor hold dark, guilty secrets, and though neither Henry nor Ella know it, they are both in grave danger of losing their hearts, their lives, and everything they hold dear.

This Gothic, Bronte-esque Christian Regency Romance packs suspense and emotional drama alongside a sweet (clean) courtship and each protagonist’s arc toward self-forgiveness. The Christian elements are prominent—a journey toward conversion—making this title ideal for readers who enjoy both Christian Fiction and Regency Romance rather than either in isolation. If you are a reader of both categories, I can highly recommend this story as immersive, exciting, and emotionally satisfying.

AMEN? QUESTIONS FOR A GOD I HOPE EXISTS by Julia Rocchi

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Additional disclaimer ( / brag!): My friend wrote this book!!

What if I don’t believe in you?

What if I don’t trust you?

Is this thing on?

Through personal essays, poetry, and prayers, Rocchi, a self-described progressive Christian, shares her doubts and hopes about the existence of a loving God and how her desire for divine love transforms her relationships and community with fellow humans. Eschewing theological argument in favor of emotion and personal connection, she weaves a compelling case that doubting yet spiritually-motivated readers are not alone in the universe–not because God exists but because fellow doubters, seekers, and hopers are out there asking the same questions, grappling with the same contradictions, and longing for something bigger than humanity alone.

Although Rocchi avoids gendering God or addressing prayers to Jesus Christ, Biblical references and her acknowledged “liturgical language” of Roman Catholicism center the text for a Christian audience. A standout chapter traces the evolution of a relationship from a single longing through marriage which serves both as a metaphor for relationship with a divine being and as an opening for patience and spiritual trust in one of the most universal experiences of human life. I’d recommend this title to readers who identify (however loosely) with a Christian tradition and are looking for a relatable contemplative voice to enliven their spirituality. A great opportunity for reflection!

IN THE SHADOW OF A QUEEN by Heather B. Moore

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Like all of Queen Victoria’s children, Princess Louise adored her compassionate, attentive, and fun-loving father who often provided a buffer between the free-spirited girl and her strait-laced, duty-focused mother. But when the devoted husband and father succumbs to typhoid fever, both mother and daughter find their lives irrevocably altered. As the queen becomes more severe and rigid in her mourning, Louise throws herself into her unconventional artistic pursuits, determined to find a balance between familial love and responsibility and the deepest desires of her heart.

Steeped in historical detail and broad in scope, Moore’s Victorian family drama will entrance readers who love deep dives into history from female perspectives. Drawing on Princess Louise’s rich, gently-unconventional life, Moore animates the historical figure and her indomitable mother, using the controlled tension of their relationship as the touchstone to track Louise’s choices from adolescence through marriage and adulthood. The plot simmers gradually, making this book ideal for readers who relish immersion in a historical time period over a focused, quick-paced story arc.

FROM A WHISPER TO A RALLYING CRY: THE KILLING OF VINCENT CHIN AND THE TRIAL THAT GALVANIZED THE ASIAN AMERICAN MOVEMENT by Paula Yoo

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In 1982, Vincent Chin and several friends went to an adult night club for his bachelor party. Hours later, two men chased Vincent down and beat him to death with a baseball bat. Over the course of five years and three trials, Vincent’s death garnered national attention. While friends and family hoped for some form of justice for his death, people around the country began to ask a question that became a political movement: would Vincent Chin be alive today if he had been white?

Through painstaking research and engrossing storytelling, Paula Yoo recreates this tragedy from the 1980s in a way that is accessible and tangible for modern audiences. She includes the wealth of facts and nuances that made the trials so complex and difficult for juries to decide, but she focuses on the humans involved in the story–from Vincent and his friends to the men who killed him to the lawyers on both sides of the case to the witnesses and activists involved in the trial. She ensures that each person’s voice is accurately and fairly represented, including the men who killed Vincent. Although the two jury in the second Civil Rights lawsuit did not feel that the prosecution proved “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the killing was motivated by race, the story of two white men pleading out of a murder charge for chasing down and killing a Person of Color is all-too-familiar, even three decades later, and anti-Asian hate has risen alarmingly during the Covid-19 pandemic. Yoo’s recounting of the political movement that Vincent’s death inspired is a rousing call for awareness and action for readers today, highlighting the need for awareness of anti-Asian discrimination and also for reforms to the justice system that allowed men who were charged with murder to escape any jail time.

THE WOMAN ALL SPIES FEAR by Amy Butler Greenfield

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When Elizebeth Smith accepted a job studying Shakespeare’s First Folio on a wealthy man’s estate, her primary motivation was to escape her domineering father’s household. But this unusual opportunity would set her life on a new and unexpected course. On the estate, she met fellow employee William Friedman and the two began collaborating on code breaking projects. Their partnership would become both professional and romantic, skyrocketing them both into positions as elite cryptanalysts for the United States government. Though William would become famous for heading the team that cracked the Japanese code machine “Purple” and for his role in the fledgeling NSA, Elizebeth’s contributions to her country were less celebrated and in some cases attributed to others–men, of course. But Elizebeth’s incredible work not only saved American lives in both World Wars but broke down barriers for women in intelligence work and pushed the boundaries of code breaking.

Spanning two wars and featuring colorful characters from eccentric millionaires to rumrunning gangsters, this true story at times feels like fiction. Though marketed to teens, adults will enjoy this fascinating biography just as much as younger readers. Greenfield is honest about holes in the historical record but still manages to uncover enough information to piece together a cohesive picture of Friedman’s secretive life and contribution to counterintelligence. Bits of code included in the text along with instructions for deciphering it add a beautiful interactive element to the book. I highly recommend this one to teens and adults alike!

THE PRINCESS SPY: THE TRUE STORY OF ALINE GRIFFITH, COUNTESS OF ROMANONES by Larry Loftis

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Though Aline Griffith’s contributions to the war effort in 1940s Europe were entirely clandestine, her life after leaving the OSS was anything but. She married into Spanish nobility, attended parties with stars like Audrey Hepburn, and published a series of sensational memoirs about her time as a spy.

But how much of Aline’s memoirs was sensationalism, and how much (if any) was truth? Larry Loftis set out to answer these questions and in THE PRINCESS SPY, brings the real Aline Griffith to light. Though there were fewer murders and death-defying feats than her memoirs suggest, Aline’s impressive fieldwork, her involvement in a lesser-known theater of the war, and her courtship with various bullfighters and noblemen make her a fascinating figure by any measure.

Though Aline’s story anchors the narrative, Loftis includes deep-dives into the overall work of the OSS in Spain, especially where it involves her recruiter, Frank T. Ryan, and colleague Edmundo Lassalle. For this reason, I would recommend THE PRINCESS SPY not only to biography readers but also to any WWII or military history enthusiast who enjoys narrative non-fiction.

BOSSYPANTS by Tina Fey

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Through humorous autobiographical vignettes, Tina Fey gives fans a glimpse into her life, including the challenges of being a female comedian in a male-dominated industry, being a working parent, writing 22-episode sitcom seasons, pursuing society’s standards of beauty, and going on a cruise for your honeymoon (she would not recommend the latter). You’ll laugh. You’ll rage at the patriarchy. And if you listen to the audiobook, you’ll be thoroughly entertained for over 5 1/2 hours! Highly recommend.

BAD BLOOD: SECRETS AND LIES IN A SILICON VALLEY STARTUP by John Carreyrou

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For years Theranos was the “it” company in the Silicon Valley. It was the perfect startup–using technology to create an unprecedented medical device that promised to save lives. Theranos bragged that with just a finger prick, its devices could run hundreds of blood tests with a higher degree of accuracy than traditional lab tests. The icing on the cake was Theranos’ young, charismatic, female CEO, Elizabeth Holmes. Investors, scientists, and pharmacies were lining up to get in on the ground floor with this female Steve Jobs and the technology that would revolutionize the industry.

But not everyone was so excited about Theranos’ product, as investigative journalist John Carreyrou first discovered when approached by a fearful whistleblower. Despite threats of litigation, and NDAs, and a toxic culture of secrecy and bullying, a handful of Theranos’ former employees felt compelled to speak out about the faulty devices and numerous lies Holmes was feeding to investors and consumers. Her aggressive and secretive tactics may have been part of Silicon Valley’s tech culture, but Theranos had a key difference: they manufactured medical devices. Their lies were putting people’s lives in danger.

Fighting a multi-billion dollar company and its lawyers was no small feat, but Carreyrou pursued the truth and ultimately published a series of articles in the WSJ that brought Theranos to its knees. In this gripping book, he describes the corruption of Theranos in detail and demonstrates the frightening ways that Holmes exploited a “fear of missing out” to lead investors and business partners to completely disregard regulations, business protocols, and basic common sense.

THE LITTLE BOOK OF HYGGE: DANISH SECRETS TO HAPPY LIVING by Meik Wiking

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The Danish concept of hygge embraces everything comfy, cozy, and homey, and may be part of the reason that Danes are the happiest people on Earth.  In brief chapters, Meik Wiking breaks down “how to hygge,” teaching readers how to reject artifice, embrace genuine friendships, and find peace and joy in simple things like mood lighting, baking, and spending quality time with small groups of loved ones.  There are a lot of anecdotes, recommendations, and instructions (such as recipes) in this brief book, some of which are more compatible with an American lifestyle than others.  Overall, this book reads kind of like a Real Simple article; it creates a pretty picture of what life could be, with lots of ideas that you may or may not be able to apply in certain aspects of your own life.  A light read that may interest people who want a glimpse into another culture, or readers looking for ways to simplify or relax in their own lives.

THE ALICE BEHIND WONDERLAND by Simon Winchester

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Famously, the story that would become the enduring classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland began as a tale told aloud to a young girl named Alice Liddell. The author, Charles Dodgeson, had done some writing in the past under the pen name of Lewis Carroll, but he did not dream of becoming a novelist or a children’s entertainer. Instead, he spent his pittance of a salary from his low-level position at Oxford on the new and exciting art of photography. Much of the surviving evidence of his relationship with the Liddell family comes from the photographs he took of the children. A particularly enigmatic photograph of Alice dressed as a beggar serves as the focal point for Winchester’s examination of Dodgeson’s photographic passion and his relationship with the girl whom he would immortalize in his tales of Wonderland.

Although I have enjoyed some of Winchester’s other works, I found this book underwhelming. He devotes a significant amount of time to discussing photography practices and other photographs Dodgeson took, occasionally losing the focus on Alice and the Liddell family. Furthermore, the book contains no reproductions of the many photographs it discusses–a true limitation since the comparison and contrast of Dodgeson’s relationship with the Liddell siblings and other children largely depends on the reader’s ability to imagine and mentally compare the photographs. Winchester also mentions Dodgeson’s diary frequently when discussing his relationship with the Liddells and his relationships with and attitudes toward young girls, but the book would have benefitted from more direct excerpts from these diaries to help support Winchester’s conclusions.

Overall, if you are interested in the subject matter, this is a brief and interesting read, but it lacks a certain amount of depth and supporting material which could have elevated the book to a truly engaging narrative.