I know I’m a little late to the party on this one. The Devil in the White City is hardly a new release, but ever since a friend recommended it, it’s been in the back of my mind to check out and read. So, when I decided I needed a break from all the thrillers I’d been reading, I picked up this non-fiction book. Which ended up reading like a fictional novel and having all the twists and turns and hair-raising moments as a proper thriller. Rarely do I read a piece of non-fiction that is so engrossing and real. Larson wraps you up in his story, which is equal parts magical and utterly creepy. He tells two parallel stories – one resembling the other only in that they happened at the same time and in the same place. The Devil in the White City tells the story of the World’s Fair that took place in Chicago in 1893. This momentous event served as the backdrop for a series of murders perpetrated by a charming psychopath named H.H. Holmes. The story is so interesting because it is one of contrasts. You see the immense struggle good men like Daniel Burnham, the Fair’s organizer, faced in readying Chicago for the Fair, which required years of planning, building, and then building again when disasters such as wind, death, and fire struck. That the Fair happened at all is amazing; that it was such a stunning success is almost impossible to believe. Reading this book made me wish I had been there to see it all in the flesh. However, to be a young girl there at the time was a bit scary, especially if you came under the influence of Holmes, who lured many women to his mansion just blocks from the Fair and killed them in any number of ways. In sharp contrast to Burnham and other Fair organizers, Holmes devoted his life to manipulation, deceit, and murder. These events happened shortly after Jack the Ripper terrorized London, so citizens and law enforcement officers were just starting to come to terms with a world where people killed for fun, with none of the traditional motives. So much was changing in the world – banks were failing, skyscrapers were being built, the idea of labor was evolving. The Fair was responsible for the debut of many products commonplace today, including the zipper, Shredded Wheat, Cracker Jacks, and of course, the Ferris Wheel. What a fascinating time in our history! Some stories just beg to be told, and Larson does a wonderful job in bringing this one to life.
Monthly Archives: June 2012
I blogged last week about my recent spate of thrillers, which I thoroughly enjoyed. But after reading them, I’ll admit I felt a little guilty and promptly checked out a non-fiction book to read (review coming soon!). It’s not at all that I think I can only read classics and that I have to hide the fact that I read any mass market fiction. My thought is that there are so many books I want to read, a lifetime may never be enough. So, with so many books and so little time, I think we should read whatever makes us happy. But I think for most of us, that probably means a good balance between fluff and substance. My book diet makes me think of my food diet – I may think that eating blueberry donuts all day would make me happy, but I know in reality it wouldn’t. I’d tire of that pretty quickly and want to return to the other healthier foods I enjoy. It really depends what I’m in the mood for. Sometimes I want to settle into a cozy mystery, and nothing else will satisfy like The Cat Who series by Lilian Jackson Braun. And then, the next week we’ll buy some fascinating biography at the library, and I won’t be able to wait to seek my teeth into it. I love that there are some books that divert me and some that lead to really good dinner party conversation. And there are a lot of books that do both. And lest you think I’m giving those Cat Who books short shrift, when I was studying for the GRE, I specifically read Braun’s mysteries because Qwilleran has such a fantastic vocabulary. I was constantly adding words to my list to memorize in preparation for the test. So, just because a book may be easy to digest doesn’t mean it can’t teach us something, and just because a book is more challenging doesn’t mean it can’t be fun to read at the same time.
Now I’m curious to hear about what books you’ll be choosing to read this summer – does your diet include beach reads, non-fiction, literary releases, or all of the above? Here’s my list: Heading Out to Wonderful, The Queen’s Lover, Bowling Avenue, The 500, and Shadow of Night.
I will admit that I am not much of a crafter. I unfortunately did not inherit the I-will-now-transform-this-ordinary-towel-rod-into-a-beautiful-headboard gene from my mother. For me, walking into Hobby Lobby is as equally overwhelming as walking into Home Depot. I’m pretty sure it’s clear by the look on my face that I have no idea where to go (just an aside – those places really could use better signage). But, this post is really meant to reassure all of you out there who run screaming from any DIY project. The one we’re planning to do next week at the library is easy, and sure to be fun! We’re making our own coasters, and the library is providing all of the supplies. It’s free, there’s no need to register, and the crafting starts Thursday, June 28th at 6:00 p.m. in the Library Community Room.
Here are the details: We’re each going to make a set of four coasters. We’re calling this a book craft, so if you want to pick out your favorite book covers, that’s great. However, you can use any image you want – just make sure that it’s 4 inches by 4 inches and that it’s printed out on a laserjet printer (the printers at the library will work for this project)! We will also have some images for you to use. I’m personally torn between using my favorite book cover art and using photos of my ridiculously cute nieces and nephews. I have a feeling I’ll have to make a few sets at home. The class has room for 30 spots, and it’s first come, first served, so get here early!
I’m a real sucker for sweeping epic tales set in Texas. Before I moved here, my uncle insisted on buying me Texas by James Michener, and I quickly followed that with Lonesome Dove. I’m not a native Texan, but as someone who’s moved so much that I really can’t claim any place, I feel some envy for people who were born and raised in Texas and feel such a fierce pride for the state. So when Roses by Leila Meacham came out two years ago, I was sure I was in for a treat. And I was, just not right away. I got about 20 pages in and gave up. I probably wasn’t in the proper frame of mind to enjoy a romance because I remember being irked by the characters and already annoyed at the protagonist for making really bad choices. I picked it up again about a month ago because I realized Meacham’s second novel, Tumbleweeds, was going to be released soon. Roses did not disappoint. As Booklist said, “Meacham’s sweeping, century-encompassing, multigenerational epic is reminiscent of the film Giant, and as large, romantic, and American a tale as Texas itself.” It’s the story of two prominent families in East Texas, the Tolivers committed to cotton and the Warwicks to lumber. Mary Toliver’s father suddenly dies and leaves the cotton plantation to her, a seeming slap in the face to Mary’s mother and older brother. This understandably causes a major rift in the family, especially when Mary decides not to sell the land. Percy Warwick, the man who loves her, cannot understand her attachment to the plantation and does everything he can to convince her that love and family are more important. The odds never seem to be in the couple’s favor, and their decisions have major ripple effects, changing the lives of their relatives and unborn children for decades to come.
This became a compulsive read for me – I just HAD to know the ending. I alternated between wanting to throttle Mary and feeling sorry for her. Luckily the story becomes about much more than just Mary and Percy. I came to care for the other characters, too. The setting is an integral part of the story, and I enjoyed Meacham’s lush descriptions of the Texas countryside. This put me in mind of another of my favorites, The Thorn Birds, which also has a vivid setting and describes hearbreaking family relationships and a love that never stands a chance. It was a pleasure to immerse myself in such a story again, and I think it will be an equally wonderful pleasure to read Meacham’s newest book.
I just finished three psychological thrillers in a row, all of which scared me. Why didn’t I stop after the first and read some cozy mystery set in some charming town in England? Why did I instead pick up yet another one? I don’t know, except to say that sometimes it’s fun to be scared. And, let’s face it, unlike a lot of thrillers that aren’t well-written, these actually were.
I finished Gone Girl first, which has a lot of hype attached to it, and for good reason. The story begins with a man returning home to find his wife missing and evidence of foul play. His subsequent actions and reactions are a little suspicious, so of course he becomes the main suspect. Even though his wife is missing, we still get to know her because the reader is treated to a series of her diary entries throughout the book. It keeps you guessing at every turn – you think you know a character, and then boom! the author throws a curveball your way.
I then read Dead Scared by SJ Bolton because I love anything set in Oxford. This book scared me the most, yet I think the plot had the most holes and unanswered questions at the end. I think if you stick with a mystery until the end, the author should reward you with all the answers to your questions at the finale. It did have the creepiest plot, with a woman going undercover to investigate a string of suspicious suicides.
I ended my foray into the world of psychological thrillers with So Pretty It Hurts by Kate White. This is a Bailey Wiggins novel, featuring a crime reporter who is snowbound for the weekend at a home where a model ends up dead. Soon, her investigation into the model’s death makes Bailey a target, and she has to solve the mystery to save her job and her life. Because she works for a celebrity magazine, there were a lot of references to current celebrities and scandals, so this book will probably seem dated in a matter of years, but it was a fun read, and Bailey is a likable protagonist. In fact, I just might have to get the previous books in the series, which means this could be another sleepless weekend…
Thursday, June 14th is your chance to help save lives and feel good about doing it! The Azle Memorial Library is partnering with the Red Cross to bring you the Rock ‘n Roll Up Your Sleeve blood drive.
All presenting donors will receive a rock ‘n roll t-shirt and be eligible to win a Gibson guitar! Plus, all those aged 16-21 who attempt to donate blood or platelets are eligible to win a $5,000 scholarship. Join us from 2:00 to 6:30 p.m. in the Library Community Room.
I love good books, and I love good food. And I really can’t think of a more winning combination. I especially enjoy really good books that talk about really good food. I can remember being a young girl and reading The Little House series and getting hungry every time their ridiculously large meals were described. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve continued to find writers who do justice to the culinary arts. How can your taste buds not enjoy the following scene?
“There is good dripping toast is by the fire in the evening. Good jelly dripping and crusty, home-baked bread, with the mealy savour of ripe wheat roundly in your mouth and under your teeth, roasted sweet and crisp and deep brown, and covered with little pockets where the dripping will hide and melt and shine in the light, deep down inside, ready to run when your teeth bite in.” (This passage just happens to be taken from this month’s book club pick, How Green Was My Valley, by Richard Llewellyn).
For this month’s What’s Cookin’, we’re exploring the world of literary inspired food – Katniss’ Capitol favorite, lamb stew, the butterbeer served to Harry Potter and his friends, and the legendary orange marmalade cake in the popular Mitford series that caused one man to steal and another to go into diabetic shock.
Join us for What’s Cookin’ on Monday, June 11th at 4:30 p.m. in the Library Community Room. We’ll have samples to try and recipes to share! And be sure to comment here on what foods you’ve always wanted to try from the books you love – I’ve personally always wanted to give the treacle tart from Harry Potter a go. What about you?