The best nonfiction books that read like a novel

Why am I passionate about this?

Sylvia Shults is a librarian by day, a ghost hunter by night, and the “hostess with the mostest ghosties” of the Lights Out podcast. During her twenty-plus-year career in libraries, she has managed to smuggle enough words out in her pockets to put together several books of her own, including 44 Years in Darkness, Fractured Spirits: Hauntings at the Peoria State Hospital, and Spirits of Christmas. She sits in dark, spooky places so you don't have to, and shares her experiences of her brushes with the other side of the Veil.


I wrote...

Spirits of Christmas: The Dark Side of the Holidays

By Sylvia Shults,

Book cover of Spirits of Christmas: The Dark Side of the Holidays

What is my book about?

It was the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring... but are you sure about that? The dark winter nights can hold many secrets, along with tales of both horror and hauntings. In this chilling book, Sylvia Shults has gathered over 120 tales of Yuletide Spirits, Holiday Horrors, and Christmas Catastrophes that give a new meaning to the "dead of winter."

These pages include rollicking legends of holiday helpers with dark sides; gripping accounts of Christmas season fires, train wrecks, and disasters; winter tales of phantoms and haunted houses; and a collection of Christmas spirits that are sure to send a shiver down your spine Hearkening back to the days of the paperback anthologies of the 1960s, you'll be delighted when you unwrap this package on Christmas morning and start turning page after page of eerie and frightening tales. It's the perfect collection for the spookiest time of the year.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Lincoln on the Verge: Thirteen Days to Washington

Sylvia Shults Why did I love this book?

This book rocked my world. Imagine this: Congress is meeting to ratify the election of a new president. But half the country doesn't want the new guy; in fact, there are armed thugs wandering around the streets of Washington, making noise about insurrection. The rumors of violence are so disturbing that the police force is put on high alert, and the Vice President, carrying the election paperwork, is assigned extra security. Sound familiar? This was the situation in 1861, as Abraham Lincoln was readying himself for his trip to the Capitol to take office. The book follows his train ride there, and the writing rollicks along just like a train speeding down a track. I adored this book, and for me, it was made even more compelling because I read it about a week after the Capitol riots on January 6, 2021. As a really well-written book, filled with history and personal portraits of the people who lived that history, it is excellent. As a look at history repeating itself, it is unparalleled.

By Ted Widmer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lincoln on the Verge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE LINCOLN FORUM BOOK PRIZE

"A Lincoln classic...superb." -The Washington Post

"A book for our time."-Doris Kearns Goodwin

Lincoln on the Verge tells the dramatic story of America's greatest president discovering his own strength to save the Republic.

As a divided nation plunges into the deepest crisis in its history, Abraham Lincoln boards a train for Washington and his inauguration-an inauguration Southerners have vowed to prevent. Lincoln on the Verge charts these pivotal thirteen days of travel, as Lincoln discovers his power, speaks directly to the public, and sees his country up close. Drawing on new research, this…


Book cover of The Sinking of the Eastland: America's Forgotten Tragedy

Sylvia Shults Why did I love this book?

Jay Bonansinga is best known as a horror writer – he took over the Walking Dead novels when Robert Kirkman “handed him the keys to the Jaguar”, as Jay charmingly puts it. He brings that visceral immediacy and intensity to his nonfiction as well. This is his book on the sinking of the Eastland as it was being loaded with passengers for a picnic excursion. On July 24, 1915, this tragedy claimed more lives than the Chicago Fire. Nearly 10,000 people could only stand by and watch helplessly as the overloaded Eastland rolled, righted itself, then counterbalanced and rolled to the other side, sinking in the Chicago River. Jay tells the story of the people (many of them immigrants) who lived this history, and brings their stories to life once more.

By Jay Bonansinga,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sinking of the Eastland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On July 24, 1915, the city of Chicago suffered a tragedy that was witnessed by nearly 10,000 bystanders and claimed more lives than the infamous Chicago Fire. But, unlike the Titanic three years before, the sinking of the steamship Eastland has been largely forgotten. Now award-winning writer and Chicagoan Jay Bonansinga has set out to discover why - and the result is a historical thriller.


Book cover of Wicked Mortals

Sylvia Shults Why did I love this book?

The Lore series, based on the World of Lore podcast, is a wonderful collection of the strange, bizarre, and creepy. This particular book focuses on people who gained fame through their disturbing hobbies and unpleasant predilections: serial killers, criminals, psychopaths, and other associated weirdos. I've always been drawn to collections like these, and this is one of the best. Check out the others in the series too.

By Aaron Mahnke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Wicked Mortals as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A chilling, lavishly illustrated who's-who of the most despicable people ever to walk the earth, featuring both rare and best-loved stories from the hit podcast Lore, now an online streaming series.

Here are the incredible true stories of some of the mortals who achieved notoriety in history and folklore through horrible means. Monsters of this sort - serial killers, desperate criminals, and socially mobile people with a much darker double-life - are, in fact, quite real . . . including H. H. Holmes, the infamous Chicago serial killer; William Brodie, the Edinburgh criminal mastermind who inspired The Strange Case of…


Book cover of Spirits of the Cage: True Accounts of Living in a Haunted Medieval Prison

Sylvia Shults Why did I love this book?

Richard Estep is a well-regarded paranormal investigator, who generously writes about some of his fascinating cases so the rest of us can enjoy them too. Reading this book – preferably with all the lights on – is a great way to vicariously experience the investigation of a British historical site ... a site that happens to be viciously haunted.

By Richard Estep, Vanessa Mitchell,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Spirits of the Cage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When single mother Vanessa Mitchell moved into a historic cottage in Essex, she had no idea that a paranormal nightmare was about to unfold. The cottage, known as the Cage, used to imprison those accused of witchcraft back in the 1500s. From her first day living there, Vanessa saw apparitions walk through her room, heard ghostly growls, and was even slapped and pushed by invisible hands. Unable to handle the dark phenomena after three years, Vanessa moved out and paranormal investigator Richard Estep moved in. Spirits of the Cage chronicles the years that Vanessa and Richard spent in the Cage,…


Book cover of Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter

Sylvia Shults Why did I love this book?

Because of my work with the splendidly haunted Peoria State Hospital, I have a massive soft spot for tales of struggles with mental illness. This is a topic that is very close to my heart for many reasons, and it's fascinating to read about historical figures that suffered with mental illness or mental disabilities. Rosemary Kennedy was a beautiful, lively, spirited girl who grew up in one of the most famous families in America. But due to injuries suffered during her birth, she was mentally challenged – and this did not sit well with the Kennedys. Rosemary's disability was at odds with their own image of themselves as a powerful political juggernaut ... so she was shunted aside. As a young woman, she was lobotomized, which destroyed her bubbly, outgoing personality. After this, she was institutionalized and largely forgotten. This is a painful story to read, but Rosemary, and others who struggle with mental illness and disabilities, must not be ignored. Their stories deserve to be remembered.

By Kate Clifford Larson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rosemary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The revelatory, poignant story of Rosemary Kennedy, the eldest and eventually secreted-away Kennedy daughter, and how her life transformed her family, its women especially, and an entire nation.
"[Larson] succeeds in providing a well-rounded portrait of a woman who, until now, has never been viewed in full."-The Boston Globe
"A biography that chronicles her life with fresh details . . . By making Rosemary the central character, [Larson] has produced a valuable account of a mental health tragedy and an influential family's belated efforts to make amends."-The New York Times Book Review
Joe and Rose Kennedy's strikingly beautiful daughter Rosemary…


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The Road from Belhaven

By Margot Livesey,

Book cover of The Road from Belhaven

Margot Livesey Author Of The Road from Belhaven

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Reader Secret orphan Professor Scottish Novelist

Margot's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

The Road from Belhaven is set in 1880s Scotland. Growing up in the care of her grandparents on Belhaven Farm, Lizzie Craig discovers as a small girl that she can see the future. But she soon realises that she must keep her gift a secret. While she can sometimes glimpse the future, she can never change it.

Nor can Lizzie change the feelings that come when a young man named Louis, visiting Belhaven for the harvest, begins to court her. Why have the adults around her never told her that the touch of a hand can change everything? When she follows Louis to Glasgow, she begins to learn the limits of his devotion and the complexities of her own affections.

The Road from Belhaven

By Margot Livesey,

What is this book about?

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy, a novel about a young woman whose gift of second sight complicates her coming of age in late-nineteenth-century Scotland

Growing up in the care of her grandparents on Belhaven Farm, Lizzie Craig discovers as a small child that she can see into the future. But her gift is selective—she doesn’t, for instance, see that she has an older sister who will come to join the family. As her “pictures” foretell various incidents and accidents, she begins to realize a painful truth: she may glimpse the future, but…


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