It is 1893. Chicago is hosting the World’s Fair. All eyes are on
America. Told through intertwining narratives following the dreamers and
architects of one of the largest expositions ever and the serial killer
who used to fair to attract his victims.
My Thoughts: I
was very excited to start this. I just read about the victims of Jack
the Ripper so obviously it was time to read up on H. H. Holmes,
America’s first serial killer. And I had heard great things about Erik
Larson’s books. However, I was a little disappointed. I loved the
chapters about Holmes and his “Murder Castle” but they were too short.
More time and pages were devoted to the World’s Fair. I get that it was a
very important piece of American history but it was very dry. I slugged
through about two thirds of the book before I decided to skip each of
these chapters and just focus on Holmes.
I was astounded at how
long Holmes was able to go undetected while committing his crimes. He
spent years avoiding notice. Even though murder is his most notorious
crime he was a mastermind at other ways to deceive. Larson always
pointed out his striking blue eyes and charming demeanor. It is easy to
imagine him swindling his unsuspecting victims. He used his charms to
avoid debt collectors, create alias and marry several women. With these
skills he was a very “successful” man. He accumulated wealth and many
people liked him. It is hard to imagine that someone like that could be
as cold-blooded as he was.
I have to point out that even though I
gave up on the fair chapters that they were very detailed and well
researched. This would be a perfect book for lovers of Chicago history
and architectural history. I loved looking at pictures from the fair. It
looks stunning. Truly a wonder of the modern world. Even though they
had many setbacks and struggles during the construction they pulled off
an amazing feat.
FYI: A great young adult historical fiction set in Holmes’ Chicago is Capturing the Devil by Kerri Maniscalco. It is the 4th book in the series and I highly recommend them all!
*This is my pick for category #12 (A book by an author slated to visit Kansas in 2020) for the ReadICT challenge.*
One of the great joys of writing stories is creating characters. It’s so much fun to envision what someone might look like, sound like, and be like in the world of your story. Any writer familiar with pre-planning stages will be familiar with those lengthy character bios and protagonist worksheets that make you answer every question about your character from their favorite subject in school to their worst fears. But as I’ve been researching more into writing techniques, I’ve stumbled upon a fundamental question that writers don’t often ask of their characters; what does my character believe to be true despite that truth actually being a lie? In essence, what is this character’s misbelief?
The whole point of telling a story at the point which you tell it is because it’s literally the most important moment in your character’s life. This story, this sequence of events, will essentially alter their entire world. How can someone’s life be completely transformed? When they realize that something they so intensely believed is actually the furthest thing from the truth.
Think about one of your favorite stories. How does the character change from the beginning to the end? Most likely, it’s because something that they believed in heatedly is actually not what is true at all, and usually that truth is a central theme in the story.
For example, a character could start the
story believing that they are unworthy, perhaps because somewhere in their
backstory, an incident occurred that made them think this. Then the story
launches into full form, dragging the character through experiences that alter
their sense of self and towards an a-ha moment where that truth is revealed as
a lie and their sense of worthiness develops. Viewing things like plot and
character development in this way versus simply seeing a story as a sequence of
events has really helped me dig deeper into my own writing.
First line: Hooga? Hhyooguh? Heurgh? It is not important how you
choose to pronounce or even spell hygge. To paraphrase one of the
greatest philosophers of our time—Winnie-the-Pooh—when asked how to
spell a certain emotion, “You don’t spell it, you feel it.”
Meik Wiking is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in
Copenhagen, Denmark. In this small book he delves into the Danish word,
hygge (pronounced hoo-ga). It is a lifestyle of comfy blankets,
delicious food and lots of candles.
My Thoughts: It is
that dark and dreary time of year. It is cold outside. Nothing sounds
better than a warm blanket and a cup of tea. This is where hygge comes
in. All I want to do is hygge now. And I have been trying to achieve it
since finishing this book. Each evening I snuggle with my dog and a
blanket while watching a favorite TV show or reading a good book.
love how the author breaks down what hygge is and how to do it. Even
though many Danes have different ideas about what is essential to hygge
they all agree that it is comfort. The illustrations were pleasant and
beautiful. If you are looking for something to help you get through the
cold winter months than pick this up! And let us know how you hygge.
FYI: This is the first of several books by Wiking about how to find happiness like the Danes.
*This is my pick for category #2 (A fix-it, how-to, or self-help book) for the ReadICT challenge.*
In the fifth century B.C., thousands of years after her lifetime, the
Greek historian Herodotus wrote about a certain Nitocris, a queen whose
husband-brother had been murdered by conspirators.
Egyptologist Kara Cooney takes us back to Ancient Egypt and the rule of
six remarkable female kings. In a time where men ruled everything these
women were able to rise to the highest position in the ancient world
using their own cunning. Using years of research and her own deductions
we look at their rise to power, their reign and their eventual fall from
My Thoughts: Before starting this book I had only heard of three of these female pharaohs: Hatshepsut, Nefertiti and Cleopatra. I was really excited to delve deeper into each of their lives and reigns but I got the extra bonus of learning about three other incredible women from Ancient Egypt. Each of them came to power in different ways. Some through marriage, others religion, and by default as well. Cooney does a fantastic job giving the background of each pharaoh’s dynasty and the events leading up to their reign.
The fact that we know so much about events from 5,000 years ago is astounding to me. The Egyptians left lots of details about the reigns of their monarchs either on monuments, temples or tombs. We are very lucky to have these records. And hopefully over time we will discover more as the search continues for more tombs. I really hope that one day we will find the tomb of Nefertiti!
been a dream of mine to visit Egypt and see the pyramids. The thought of
walking where these god-kings once did would be awe-inspiring. I have
long followed the work of Zahi Hawass, a world renowned Egyptologist,
but I think I will keep an eye on Kara Cooney as well. She has another
book all about Hatshesput which I hope to read soon.
My one critique is the fact that the author tried to compare current events to Egyptian culture. It did not flow well and it takes you out of the mindset of the facts. I skipped those paragraphs. Luckily they were few and far between.
FYI: If you want a historical fiction book similar to this then try Nefertitiby Michelle Moran.
During the Nazis’
brutal siege of Leningrad, Lev Beniov is arrested for looting and thrown
into the same cell as a handsome deserter named Kolya. Instead of being
executed, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by
complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a
powerful Soviet colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. In a city
cut off from all supplies and suffering unbelievable deprivation, Lev
and Kolya embark on a hunt through the dire lawlessness of Leningrad and
behind enemy lines to find the impossible.
By turns insightful and funny, thrilling and terrifying, City of Thieves is a gripping, cinematic World War II adventure and an intimate coming-of-age story with an utterly contemporary feel for how boys become men.
Usually WWII books just aren’t my jam. I feel like unless you’re a history buff, once you’ve read a few books on the topic you’re good. But I found City of Thieves to be the exception. I’ve never read anything that explained how desperate things got in Leningrad during that time. It was a moving story that will forever be ingrained in my mind.
So how should I write a food related blog centered on a book about war and starvation? Probably a little like my post about The Hunger by Alma Katsu that focused on The Donner Party. Like the Donner Party, the people of Leningrad were rumored to have resorted to cannibalism, but instead of showing you another rib recipe I think we’ll go another route. In City of Thieves you were considered lucky if you could even get your hands on a onion! So, how about you hope your neighbor has a tomato stashed away, you offer up your precious onion, like it’s your first born, and together you could make Tomato Onion Stew. If things started looking up you may find some wild creature roaming the bombed streets. Do your best to catch it, and make Old Fashioned Wild Game Stew. You probably won’t have any veggies to put in it but maybe, just maybe you saved a little of your daily onion and you could drop that in? Sounds like a plan to me!
All kidding aside City of Thieves by David Benioff is a wonderful read. Give it a go and let me know what you think.
First line: There are three ways up to Castle View from the town of Castle Rock: Route 117, Pleasant Road, and the Suicide Stairs.
Gwendy is a twelve year old girl from the town of Castle Rock. One day
while running up the stairs to Castle View she is stopped by a gentleman
in a black hat. During their conversation he gives her a box. The box
has buttons. Some are harmless but others are not. He tells her that the
box is her responsibility and to keep it secret. As the years go by
Gwendy notices changes in herself and the world she lives in. Is it the
box? And what price does she have to pay for its gifts?
I had no idea what I was getting in to when I started this book. It
seemed to walk the line between a sweet little story and a nightmare. I
listened to the audiobook while cross stitching on a Sunday morning. I
was completely engrossed in the story. I even gasped and set my
stitching down at several points so that I could focus on the story.
Gwendy first gets the box it appears to be a dream come true. The box
spits out silver dollars and chocolates that suppress cravings.
Everything in her life starts going better. What’s not to like? But when
she starts getting curious about the other buttons I knew something bad
was coming. Books like this show how great of a writer Stephen King
truly is. He can mix the genres and write an excellent story in less
than 200 pages.
FYI: There is a sequel written by the co-author called Gwendy’s Magic Feather.
It’s the first full week of a new year and a new decade (OK, maybe not a new decade depending on who you ask, but that’s beside the point). This fresh start means so many opportunities to revamp, or refresh, or rethink — or not — my reading. It’s a chance to look back at my reading of the past year and see if I’d like to shake things up a bit.
I use Goodreads to track my reading and to keep a loose want-to-read list. I sometimes write reviews, but often I forget those things that pop into my brain while I’m reading that I might like to remember. I don’t stop reading to open the app or get on my computer to jot down notes, but I want to be better so I decided that I am going analog this year and keeping a paper reading journal as well as recording my books on Goodreads.
Admittedly, I’ve never been very good at journaling, but maybe if I’m just keeping notes about the books I read it will go better. I’d like to remember better why I love the books I do. I’d also like to be able to look back at books that didn’t work for me and have an idea of why not. I’m also dedicating a small notebook to keeping a list of books I want to read. And taking a page from Modern Mrs. Darcy, I have a goal of doing more than just jotting down the title and author.
I’ve set my Goodreads goal for this year (52), I’ve got my reader’s journal ready to go, and I’ve got a plan for my to-be-read list. I have two reading challenges to participate in — the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2020 challenge and the Wichita Eagle #ReadICT challenge. I think I’m ready to tackle my reading in 2020. Here’s looking at a great year to come in reading!
First line: There are two versions of the events of 1887. One is very well known, but the other is not.
Everyone has heard the story of Jack the Ripper. He haunted the streets
of Whitechapel preying on women. His victims known as the canonical
five are Polly, Annie, Elisabeth, Catherine and Mary Jane. His story has
been researched and turned over hundreds of times but very little is
actually known about the women whose lives he took. Here are their
My Thoughts: I have recommended this book to
anyone and everyone! I was completely engrossed in it. It is thoroughly
researched and well written. It reads like fiction and is easy to get
caught up in these women’s lives. I found myself hoping for better
outcomes as I read even though I knew how each of their stories was a
going to end.
Rubenhold brings these women and the times that
they lived to the forefront. Everyone thinks that they know the victims.
They were prostitutes right? Wrong. Some were but not all five. Each
has a story to tell. I could not believe the detail put into their
narratives. Using housing records, census, interviews and newspaper
reports we get fuller picture of their lives.
romanticize the Victorian time period but it was anything but ideal.
People were barely able to care for their families. Housing was not
always safe or healthy. Disease, alcoholism and poverty were prevalent.
How people survived is astounding.
If you love history, true
crime or biographies than this is perfect for you. It is full of
information that will keep you reading until the very end.
FYI: There is very little mentioned about Jack the Ripper. This book focuses on the women only and the time that they lived.