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Fall books guide

10/15/2014

The air is crisp. The leaves are falling. It’s finally fall.

When the weather starts turning colder, nothing sounds better than curling up in a blanket with a hot beverage and reading for hours.

It doesn’t matter how you consume the stories, whether you like your books the old-fashioned way — with crisp white pages and smelling of new paper and fresh ink — or on a digital screen with a search button and a dictionary feature one finger-tap away.

As summer fades away, so does the rush of concerts, picnics, festivals and fairs. Night comes earlier with each passing day, and our seasonal hibernation leaves us with a yearning to stay in and consume something other than sunlight: We crave books, stories and new characters we’ve never met and won’t soon forget.

Maybe your latest reads have mostly included romantic affairs and you’re looking to read more non-fiction pieces. Or maybe you just haven’t had the time to pick up a book to read for fun and you need some help finding the right story

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Whatever the case, look no further than the next few pages. We’ve read and reviewed books about poetry, entrepreneurs, families, positive thinking and celebrities.

So fill up your mug, find your slippers and get comfy. You’re in for a season of great reading.

‘Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail’wild

By Cheryl Strayed

336 pp., $9.48 paperback          

This memoir of Cheryl Strayed’s 1,100-mile hike through California and Oregon was on the New York Times Best Seller List for 11 weeks, seven of which were in the No. 1 spot. “Wild” documents the journey Strayed set out on to change her life and herself — and it’s quite the eventful one.

The book begins with the tragedy of losing her mother when Strayed is only 22 years old, followed by the deterioration of her family. It leaves her emotional and distraught, and she turns to men and drugs. At this point, Strayed seems about as far away from being a strong woman as possible. All of her choices lead her further down the hole she’s created, leaving behind the people who love her.

When she finally can’t take being the woman she’s become any longer, Strayed decides to rediscover herself on a hike through the Pacific Crest Trail. Though she spends months preparing for and researching the journey, she has no backpacking experience and will come to find out just how inadequate her preparation was.

“Wild” documents the weeks Strayed spent on the trail and, through flashbacks, shows the parts of her life that ultimately put her there. It is an emotionally raw story about the heartbreaks of life.

If you’re looking for a story about a real-life strong woman, don’t be discouraged by the beginning. Sometimes you have to be the weakest version of yourself before you can become the strongest. — Eleni Upah

‘Think Like a Freak’think-like-a-freak

By Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

288 pp., $21.24 paperback        

Get your mind out of the gutter; it’s not that kind of freak! More like the millionaire brains behind the best-selling “Freakonomics” books.

This time the authors don’t apply economic theories to random world events, but to thinking and decision-making in our professional and personal lives. Their goal? Better living through better problem solving. Thankfully, to think like these Freaks we don’t have to be a Harvard-trained economics professor like Levitt or an award-winning journalist like Dubner; we just need new ways of looking at the challenges in our lives.

This easy-to-read book is full of Freak-y people who tackled their troubles with unconventional ideas, giving readers lots of real-world examples of how to “think outside the box” and making what could be a dull topic anything but. Readers will learn, for example, the reasons David Lee Roth insisted no brown M&Ms be allowed in any Van Halen concert dressing room and shoe company Zappos paid some trainees $2,000 to quit working for them — and why such counterintuitive actions belong in a book about thinking.

Stuck in a rut? Read this book. — Kathy Ericson

‘Darkness Sticks to Everything’darkness sticks

By Tom Hennen

180 pp., $14.94 paperback      

Ahh…poetry. It’s a little like rounding the dark corner of an alley in a beautiful big city and suddenly smelling old dusty bums in shabby clothes who failed to make it to the urinal in time. A disappointment to be sure. We want football and beer and tailgates with reality TV. Instead, a poem suggests bean curd shaped like a hotdog. Nothing to do with what is real.

Or is it everything to do with what is real?

“The old house went down the basement stairs

And didn’t come back up.”

Did you see it? Come on. Plastered across Iowa are foundations of old farmhouses with only a basement stairwell remaining filled with junk. Did the words twist around your brain in a way that evoked an image? That awakened another time? That made you feel?

“The swamp has become a supermarket overnight.

A heron with no business sense

Vanishes.”

As you chew on the words, slowly, carefully, did you smile? Or did you feel something else?

“Old women bend their heads

To earth

While they zigzag

An inch or so

Above their grief.”

Oh my. At halftime, over the chips and beer, read Tom Hennen’s book of poetry: “Darkness Sticks to Everything,” Copper Canyon Press, May 4, 2013. And please pass that bean curd that is shaped like little smokies. — Joe Weeg

‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice: My Own Story’wouldn't it be nice

By Brian Wilson

416 pp., $10.11 paperback        

It’s no secret that The Beach Boys have experienced their fair share of group in-fighting. Led by Brian Wilson’s songwriting genius, the group trademarked a sound during the 1960s that has been admired by the world for decades. And as with most successful bands, the popularity often comes at a price.

The real secrets are the stories behind Brian Wilson’s obsessive drive for musical perfection, his struggles with mental illness, substance abuse and obesity. Written by Brian Wilson himself, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” gives you a fly-on-the-wall perspective at the visionary’s life.

Beginning with his abusive upbringing, readers can quickly understand just how easy it was for Wilson to use music as a form of escape. The book does an amazing job contrasting the up-beat positive music being written by Wilson with the darkness that was oftentimes consuming him. His insights into overcoming his afflictions are in-depth and honest.

Once the last page is turned, you will never hear a Beach Boys song the same way again. — Marc Balley

‘One Plus One’one plus one

By Jojo Moyes

384 pp., $14.44 paperback        

Critically acclaimed British novelist Jojo Moyes doesn’t disappoint with “One Plus One.” She masterfully crafts a quirky cast of believable characters who set off on a road trip jam-packed with twists and turns.

Jess, an eternal optimist and single mom, dreams of a better life for her children. Nicky, the Goth-loving teenage step-son, dreams of dodging the neighborhood bullies. Tanzie, the brainy 10-year-old daughter, longs to attend an expensive private school.

But dreams don’t come true when you live on the wrong side of the tracks, where life is dangerous and money is scarce. Their only hope for a better life is to drive to Scotland, have Tanzie compete in the Math Olympiad and win a big, fat cash prize.

It’s the perfect plan, until the car breaks down, stranding the family on the side of the road. Enter Ed, a geeky millionaire accused of insider trading. Driving by, he slowly recognizes Jess, who cleans his vacation home and bartends at the local pub. He needs a diversion and offers to escort the ragtag family to Scotland. What could go wrong?

The point of view shifts from character to character, allowing each to wiggle their way into the readers’ hearts. You won’t need a pair of binoculars to spot the predictable ending, but that’s okay. The joy is in the journey. — Patti Stockdale

‘Last Child in the Woods’last-child-cover-lrg

By Richard Louv

390 pp., $9.60 paperback        

Finally, convincing evidence that organization is highly overrated — especially when it comes to raising children and scheduling every minute of their lives.

Richard Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods” is a clarion call to untether children from USB ports everywhere and restore their inborn connection to nature. Their lives and our futures depend on it — seriously.

Louv builds a compelling case that children are hard-wired for time in nature and that today’s children are missing so much more than just a hike in the woods. They are missing the chance to fully develop their brains, their creativity, and their inborn need for independence.

Leave a child alone outside and neighbors will call the law, for heaven’s sake. We are scared of Lyme disease, and strangers, and who knows what can happen outside? But the truth is that the resulting sedentary lifestyle of children is exposing them to far greater risks.

Obesity and the very real health toll it takes is a far greater risk than any of our perceived dangers of the outdoors, and Louv has compiled the studies and statistics to prove it.

What’s more, organized play can never replace the value of time alone outside. Soccer is fine, but a child will learn more watching tadpoles in a pond. Too much organization leaves children with no space for creativity and no knowledge of the world around them.

Louv is on a mission to save a generation from what he terms “Nature-Deficit Disorder.” This book should be required reading for every parent and every teacher. — Lori Berglund

‘#Girlboss’Girl Boss

By Sophia Amoruso

256 pp., $14.14 paperback          

It’s 2014. Of course there are books with “#” [“hashtag”] in the title. In our online-saturated culture, putting a hashtag in the title ensures some coverage in social media. While most of these books appear to be works of fiction using Twitter’s trendy tool, “#GirlBoss” is different.

“#GirlBoss” is written by Sophia Amoruso, a young woman who made a career and a fortune from her online efforts. In the first section of “#GirlBoss,” Amoruso tells her story, starting with her days as a self-described shoplifting punk. Maturing past that, she realized she needed to make both money and a better life.

Tech-savvy, Amoruso started an online business. In the mid-2000s, she started selling vintage clothing online via eBay to make a few bucks. By 2014, her efforts had built an online fashion retail empire (Nasty Gal) worth more than $100 million. Obviously she knows or has learned a thing or two about how to succeed.

“#GirlBoss” starts as a confessional autobiography and morphs into a book of advice. The advice she dispenses is all tried and true… and advice you have heard before. Want to be a #GB? Work hard. Don’t be lazy. Don’t take “no” for an answer. While this book is aimed at a younger crowd (think late high school and university-aged readers), many readers will find it motivational and learn something.

If nothing else, “#GirlBoss” is the ultimate rags-to-riches story. — Karen Ericson

‘Dark Places’dark places

By Gillian Flynn

452 pp., $8.40 paperback     

Gillian Flynn is a master at suspenseful thrillers.

If you thought “Gone Girl” was twisted, you’ll see she gives the word a whole new meaning in “Dark Places.”

Fair warning: It contains detailed gruesome scenes, and with writing as eloquent as hers, it’ll paint the graphic image right there in your mind. The writing is part of what keeps you wanting to read more, even though the story can be downright disturbing at (several) times.

It’s the story of Libby Day, the lone survivor of “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas” who, at 7 years old, testified that her 15-year-old brother Ben was the one who killed their mother and two sisters.

Flynn uses points of view from various characters, including Libby and Ben, and flashbacks from the events leading up to and during that infamous night.

In the present, Libby is in her 30s and working with a member of the Kill Club — a secret group obsessed with dark crimes — to find out if Ben really was the killer, or if she wrongfully sent him to prison.

Just like in “Gone Girl,” I found myself making a mental list of all the suspects and crossing them off one by one, only to place them back at the top and cross them off again. — Eleni Upah

‘Glitter and Glue’Glitter-and-Glue-High-Res

By Kelly Corrigan

240 pp., $12.97 paperback      

“Glitter and Glue” is a quick read and an insightful story showing the dynamics of a mother-daughter relationship. Corrigan shares her story with grace and wit, inviting thoughts about our own journeys and relationships.

We don’t always know right away why we are stuck in what seems like a meaningless situation. Oftentimes, these situations serve a greater purpose within our lives that we can’t see right away.

In her memoir, “Glitter and Glue,” Kelly Corrigan makes sense of her time spent in Australia after college. She had set out for an adventure and was forced to settle as a nanny for a widower with two young kids, far from the wild experience she had hoped for. In her new role, she finds herself channeling her own mother and acting like her in ways she never imagined she would. Corrigan’s relationship with her mother had always been rocky and misunderstood, but the adventure-seeking daughter begins seeing things differently after becoming a parental role for the kids who have lost their mother, the glue that held their family together.

Corrigan finds meaning in this experience when she receives life-changing news years down the road, when she herself is a mother of two and has to face the possibility that she may also have to leave them. — Michelle Chalkey

‘I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections’i_remember_nothing_-_norah_ephron

By Nora Ephron

160 pp., $11.67 paperback      

Prepare to be bombarded by prose so eloquent and so funny that you will not put the book down until it is finished.

In her final book, “I Remember Nothing,” Ephron takes us from her real-life move to New York as a college graduate to become a journalist (sound familiar?), to the ups and downs of two divorces (again, familiar?) and three marriages.

In between, we learn a lot about meatloaf, that no one ate take-out pizza in 1948 and it’s really annoying when movies — bad movies — show people doing such things, and her life as an heiress that, fortunately, never came to pass. Had she actually become an heiress, she would have put down a certain screenplay she was working on and the world would have missed the best romantic comedy in the history of movies, “When Harry Met Sally.”

Ephron’s prose is so rich in “I Remember Nothing” that the reader can practically see Harry and Sally standing before them and bickering. The pacing in this book is incredible; at times I practically had to put it down to catch a breath before diving back in.

Ephron, who passed away in 2012, left clues in this book about her coming fate, but few took note. Looking back, it’s clear that hers was a remarkable life, from covering the Beatles as a young reporter to telling the world that Mark Felt was Deep Throat, only to be ignored.

Ephron remembered plenty, most of all how to make us laugh. — Lori Berglund

ruthie lemming‘The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town and the Secret of a Good Life’

By Rod Dreher

304 pp., $16 paperback

You don’t need to read this book to learn what little way Ruthie Leming had that made hers a good life; the blurb on the back cover will tell you that secret. Or you might guess it or be fortunate to have learned it growing up yourself.

Either way, don’t dismiss this book. In it you will find a sometimes-gritty and beautiful story about a family that could be more like your own than you might first think.

The author tells tales about his younger sister Ruthie, their childhood and adult relationships, her battle with cancer and his own life-altering decisions in the wake of her illness. This memoir is so good that it made me do something I’ve not done in years — read an entire book in one sitting.

It’s a mix of things (biography and autobiography, humor and heartbreak, joy and depression, life and death), yet this book maintains a clear message — and it just might change how you live your life. — Kathy Ericson

‘The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy’Energy Bus

By Jon Gordon

192 pp., $12.44 hardcover            

Yes, this internationally best-selling book is seven years old. Yes, it is one of many cheesy motivational books that can be found at any bookstore. And, yes, I just read it a few months ago. Maybe most importantly, I was relieved to learn that it didn’t have anything to do with that annoying “Wheels on the Bus” kids’ song.

I was familiar with Jon Gordon’s book for years but never had the inspiration to read it. When a fellow staff member suggested that I do (she made me), I took advantage of the opportunity. I left the book on my desk (I didn’t want to take it home) and chipped away at a few chapters each morning.

Gordon’s story of George and his problems at work and home are something we can all relate to. When George’s car troubles force him to take the bus to work, he eventually learns 10 valuable secrets from the bus driver and the passengers that change his life, saving his job and his marriage.

The secrets are positive, uplifting and real, and the cover of this book is yellow for a reason. It has nothing to do with a bus or the fact that the book is extra cheesy. It is because the story is full of energy. And if that’s what you need (and who doesn’t?), pick up a copy and get on the bus today. — Shane Goodman CV

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