The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson

I kept seeing this book mentioned in various places, yet somehow picked it up with ZERO idea of what it was about. Fortunately, I was in for a treat!

This book is actually non-fiction, but it’s presented in a novelistic style, which for me, made it much easier to consume. The subject matter is super intriguing though, so I think I still could have made it through even if the style had been a bit drier.

Devil in the White City intertwines the story of the designers planning the Chicago World’s Fair of the late 1800s and the story of a serial killer active in that area at that time. I would have been interested in the serial killer story alone, because I’m creepy like that. But I’m not alone, as my friend Abbie also read this and said exactly what I was thinking, that she wished we got more of Mr. H. H. Holmes’ story. More of the morbid fascination, I suppose, like with my recent reading of The Never List. Holmes is completely cray, though, I mean, for reals.

But I was interested in the other story as well – how could I not be, with the central people being architects and engineers, designing beautiful constructions? I’ve mentioned, right, that I’m married to a man who majored in engineering and architecture and will be a fully licensed architect someday? Winking smile 

I wasn’t as enthralled with the talk of politics, and the budget for the fair and such, but I wasn’t completely disinterested either. It, perhaps sadly, makes me proud, like I’m a “real adult,” that can enjoy such material. I would NOT have gone for that, even two years ago.

Devil is one of several recent books that have sparked my curiosity towards investigating more about the subjects I’m reading about, like when I read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and wanted to learn more about the DR and the Trujillo era. Devil made me want to learn more about the Chicago World’s Fair, and the Paris Fair that they were trying to out-do, and more about Ferris wheels and how they work. It’s fun to learn, you guys!

I also felt like my imagination wasn’t quite up to the task of creating a sufficient picture of the fair, so I pulled up a couple of pictures online, and am soon picking up another book on the fair that contains more pictures as well. I’ve actually been wondering if the print version of Devil has some pictures – I listened to this one on audio, so it’s very possible.

Overall, I really enjoyed this peek into US history.

No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean

I read many a review of this one that claimed this installment was not up to snuff compared to the previous two in the series.

To the people who made those claims, I say – you are entitled to your opinion, even though it is wrong.

I kid. Of course everyone is allowed to like or not like anything that they please. But I very respectfully disagree – I found this one to be just as good as the the first two books in the Rule of Scoundrels set. (Though I do have a soft spot for the second book, because Pippa, as the little sex scientist, is both precious and hilarious.)

Temple, the “Killer Duke,” is a fantastic character, even before this third book; it’s quite nice to see him both redeemed and in love. Mara is a lovely character as well – mostly selfless, but can’t help but give in to love in the end.

I really like Sarah MacLean’s storytelling. She is the first romance author I’ve read; if there are more like her, who can tell a good story with great characters AND make it super hot without ever seeming cheesy or gross (okay, maybe a tad cheesy, but only rarely!), then this may be a genre I can be into. I never thought it would be my thing, but um, Sarah is wonderful.

I’m super stoked for the fourth book, given the teaser at the end of the third, giving away that our fourth casino owner, Chase, is a woman! Most of us have been assuming Chase is a man, like the other three we’ve come to know, but NOPE! It’s delightful, much like learning that Alanis Morissette is God in Dogma.

If you are already into romance, but haven’t read MacLean, I highly recommend this series! If you’ve been wary of romance as a genre, as I was, give MacLean a try! Smile

The Never List by Koethi Zan

**First off, this book deals with some heavy subject matter that may be disturbing for some. If you’re really sensitive to things like violence, torture, kidnapping, etc, you will not want to read this book. I do not plan to go into details about it here, but still, be warned.

I listened to this one on audiobook. I thought the actor did a nice job with the voice; certainly communicated the fear, the anxiety, the pain, the vulnerability, of the main character and others. Though I am quite certain the story would be just as affective, if not more so, in print. (This also means I might spell some names incorrectly, as I haven’t seen them, only heard them.)

Our main character is Sarah. We meet her roughly ten years after her escape from being held prisoner in a cellar with two other girls (three at one point). They are tortured in several ways, occasional starvation included. Sarah was captured along with her friend Jennifer, who, to Sarah’s knowledge, was killed by their abductor at some point. Sarah was imprisoned for approximately three years, but the other two girls Tracy and Christine, had been there long before Sarah and Jennifer arrived.

The “Never List” refers to a list created by Jennifer and Sarah when they were younger, after surviving a horrific car crash that killed Jennifer’s mother. The girls become obsessed with statistics, and all the ways a person can die, and how best to avoid them. They know their odds for dying in a tornado versus dying of cancer. They create this list of things they should never do, with the intent of decreasing their chances of dying in “unnatural” ways. The girls strictly adhere to this list until a certain point in college, when they start relaxing a bit. Maybe not the best time to stop listening to the list…

The girls are abducted as they are leaving a party. They call a cab, but the cab and its driver are not from the company they called. It is the madman, Jack Derber, and he brings them back to his house of horrors. We learn later that, to Jack’s mind, he is performing science, though he clearly takes some pleasure in it. He is testing limits on brainwashing and torture. He keeps photos and notebooks, with girls labeled by subject number. Christine, Tracy, Sarah, and Jennifer, are not the first girls he took.

The time the girls were held in Jack’s cellar is told in flashbacks, amid the current story. The current story is that Jack was jailed only for kidnapping and torturing Christine, Tracy, and Sarah. Jennifer’s body was not found, so there is no proof that he killed her, and the evidence of his prior captives is hidden. So, to the girls’ horror, and the reader’s, Jack is about to be up for parole. He’s been good in prison, you guys. He’s a born-again Christian now. and he’s been teaching classes to the other inmates. and he got married while in prison. Yeah.

None of the girls want him to walk free, of course, but Sarah feels the most strongly as she is convinced that he killed her best friend. Despite all her anxiety in dealing with people and her past, she leaves the comfort of the life she has built to seek justice, to find out where Jennifer’s body is, to find proof that Jack killed her. But she, and eventually Tracy and Christine, find out so much more, that Jack is so much worse than they could have imagined.

I thought it completely realistic and amazing how each of the three girls is coping (or not) with their ordeal, prior to their investigation. Christine chooses to block it out entirely, pretending it never happens. Tracy uses it to give her added strength, become a hardcore advocate for many causes. Sarah tries to shut the world out. She takes a job where she can work from home. She orders in everything she needs, trusting and speaking only to the doorman for her building, her therapist, her parents, and the main agent on their case. No one else. On the rare occasion that she breaks routine, she follows an updated “Never List.” So it’s pretty intense, and impressive, when she decides to gather her courage and pursue her investigation.

The really eerie thing, as many readers point out, as if the story itself isn’t bad enough, is that this book was released only a couple of months before the breaking news of something similar in real life – the three women held by A. Castro. Life is creepy sometimes. Really creepy.

Speaking of, as pointed out in the book, and in that episode of Breaking Bad we watched the other day, the bad guys’ names are the ones we remember. They get more press. That’s so scary. But at the same time, it is not surprising, and it may not be all bad. I’m sure most victims would rather not be known, not let their experiences define them in that particular way. It will always be a part of them, but I would think they wouldn’t want people pitying them all the damn time. I’ve lived a sheltered life myself, so maybe I’m completely off base.

I did like the book, as much as you can like this sort of thing. I, like a good percentage of people, am terribly fascinated by this sort of thing. I kind of hate myself for it, a little bit, but I also think it’s very human. Definitely reminds me of my Gothic lit class. If you do enjoy psychological thrillers and the like, you may like this book.

The Year of Gaiman

While reading American Gods, and after talking to a couple friends who evidently love Neil Gaiman, I have unofficially dubbed 2014 the Year of Gaiman for myself. Prior to this year I had only read Neverwhere, which I did like, and I always hear wonderful things about Neil and he has QUITE a large body of work, stretching across formats, so I felt I should investigate further.

This is a collection of books for younger readers that I’ve checked out. I plan to take a little break for some other authors, but return to read Stardust, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and maybe some others before the year is up.

Blueberry Girl

Precious little rhyming book with a message of encouragement and hope for little girls. I’m still not sure what the meaning of “blueberry girl” is exactly, but it sounds adorable anyway.  I wanted to get this as a birthday gift for the daughter of one of my best friends, but the store I went to didn’t have it. I’ll need to keep it in mind to order online for Christmas. :) (As in, Megan, if you don’t already have this one, don’t get it yet!)

Fortunately, the Milk

Middle grade reader that I fell in love with immediately. It has a sort of Suess-ical whimsy, only a touch more weird, because, well, Neil Gaiman. Completely charmed by this little story that a dad supposedly made up for his children… or did he? His kids aren’t buying it, but I don’t know; he does have the milk as proof… A+++++++. Plus forever.

M is for Magic

This one is a short story collection, and unlike the others here, doesn’t appear to be intended for children, which I didn’t know prior to checking it out. No, this is definitely for an older audience. ;)

It grabbed me with the first story, “Four and Twenty Blackbirds,” which mashed several nursery rhymes together in this old detective story, complete with use of the word “dame,” trying to discover who murdered Humpty-Dumpty and why. It was neatly done, and gave me a few good laughs.

The other stories followed suit in that they took well-known lore, tweaking it just a bit, adding in a dash of humor, and per usual with Gaiman, a dash of creepy as well.

There were two stories that I just didn’t quite get. If anyone has read this collection, or read individually “October in the Chair” or “Instructions,” and has any thoughts on them, please share!

Crazy Hair

Geez, this man’s hair might as well be a planet for all the things it contains. :) Wasn’t overwhelmed by this one, but it was fun. The illustrations are really neat! They seem more artsy than I remember children’s books having when I was younger.

The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish

This one was very cute! Our narrator did indeed swap his dad for two goldfish, and his mom is not happy about it. She tells him he must swap back, and cannot return home until he has his dad, but oh no! The kid he swapped with swapped his dad with another kid! and on the chain goes. Simple formula, but the variety was different – such as in the kids’ names and the items that were swapped.

And in the end, he promises to never swap his dad again… but mentions he didn’t promise anything about not swapping his little sister. Classic, and adorable.

This book probably had my favorite illustrations of the Gaiman children’s books I’ve read. The illustrator is the same as the one for Crazy Hair, but he does a slightly different style in this one.

The Wolves in the Walls

Apparently there’s a common phrase that goes, “If the wolves come out of the walls, then it’s all over.” Or, at least, Mr. Gaiman has convinced me that such a phrase exists. I’ve never heard it.

The same illustrator as the previous two books made these wolves look particularly scary, in my opinion, which ended up being hilarious, as the wolves weren’t dangerous per se – they merely chase the family out of their home so they can party. They are…party animals, you might say. (Shhhh. Don’t speak.)

I did find the text difficult to read at times, physically, because so many of the pages/illustrations are dark.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I like that Gaiman has a little girl as the heroine. The daughter is the one who tries to warn her family of the wolves, and she is the one who leads the way in taking their home back. Obviously, since it’s a children’s story, it has its ridiculous points – it’s a stretch that the parents would give up and just say they’re going to move. But the little girl is the one who saves the day!

Overall though, another good solid children’s book.

Odd and the Frost Giants

Wasn’t overwhelmed by this one, but it was sufficiently cute. Always love the folklore/mythology that Neil weaves into his works. I couldn’t help imagining Odd as a a quieter version of Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon, given the combination of him being a bit of a loner in his village, his leg injury, the unique name, and the Viking culture.

Coraline

Shockingly, I knew almost nothing about this book going in. I knew that Tim Burton had a huge hand in the film adaptation, but I didn’t see the film when it came out, and I don’t even remember having seen a trailer. So I just knew there was a movie, and it was probably somewhat delightfully creepy, per Tim Burton.

and indeed it was! I wonder how different my reaction would have been reading this for the first time as child rather than as an adult. It wasn’t nightmare-inducing, but it was slightly disconcerting. Buttons for eyes on things that aren’t stuff animals? I think I shuddered just now, just remembering it. and the sort-of ghost kids held captive? and just the “other mother’s” attitude in general. Yeesh.

Very memorable characters, and vivid world description. There were a few pictures, but not too many as to overtake my imagination – I don’t know if that’s just the edition I had, if another may have had more pictures, I’m not sure. But I liked only having a few for inspiration and being able to build the setting in my mind on my own.

Loved that sassy cat especially.:)

Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi

*Fans self.*

Even at the risk of TMI, I will just say that Ms. Mafi excels in the romance/heat department. That woman has a way with words. Every time I read one of THE SCENES, I consider taking a break from reading to jump my husband. Only consider, mind you, because I must finish reading, obvs.

That being said, while others may read the trilogy differently, since our experiences as readers always vary, for me, in all three books, the overall story of the movement and what’s going on in the world definitely takes a backseat to the almost-love-triangle. I have no complaints about this, because T. Mafi does a brilliant job with it, and when things other than romance are being addressed, she is still a great storyteller. I just wouldn’t recommend going into this expecting, you know, Divergent or Hunger Games, where romance is a factor but not the front and center thing that you’re thinking about the whole time.

Putting that to bed for now (ha), I thought the character development was really good. Juliette definitely comes into her own as the series progresses, and we see changes in the other main characters – more so in Adam and Kenji, since the whole point with Warner is that he maybe might have definitely been misjudged.

Kenji continues to provide a billion laughs.

I love this author’s way with words. It’s hard to explain, but it’s something like how her words sound beautiful and poetic without being inaccessible or pretentious. It’s just perfect.

My only issue was that because of the focus on relationships, the last part of the book that actually deals with the action, the beginning of the resolution of the war, moves VERY quickly. It kind of works; played like a fast-paced action thriller film in my head. But it seemed out of place after ALL the time spent with so little action happening. Lots of training and talking and hiding, but not too much detail on the planning, and then BAM! it all just happens.

I was already reading fast though, eager to find out where precisely T Mafi was going to leave us. So maybe that problem was entirely on me, who knows.

So yeah, like, read this trilogy if you want hot stuff – that’s not always explicitly sex, because they’re young and such – with a side dish of dystopia and supernatural/superpowers.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Read this one on audiobook, narrated by Wil Wheaton and it was wonderful.

I was a little worried before reading that it might be “too nerdy” for me – that too many references were fly over my head, that there would be too much video game discussion that I didn’t understand. It turned out that there were only a few things that I wasn’t familiar with, and they didn’t impact my experience too much. I think the story works even if you don’t LOVE video games or LOVE everything from the 80s – you just get a few more smiles out of it if you DO love those things. It’s like that excitement when you recognize an actor in a movie because they were in some other film or show that you like.

There were some moments when my brain got lost for just a second!, because of the whole video game within a video game situation. Mostly it was just really neat though.

There’s actually a lot going on when I stop to think about it. The little guy vs the big corporation. Reality vs virtual reality. Lots of psychological things – how relationships function when they’re only online, how much time plugged into the OASIS is too much time, this contest that the story centers on and how so many people seem legitimately obsessed with it. Technology advances – Google glass and video games controllers that vibrate are merely the beginning – that’s so mind-blowing for me. I don’t have NEAR the creativity to think of what might come next. Then there’s the issue with the running out of fossil fuels, everyone plugs into the OASIS because they’re too poor to go anywhere or do anything else.

I found the book absolutely delightful. It was fun, it had humor, it was nostalgic but also forward-thinking, it was suspenseful. It was scary at times too, like when Wade/Z was indentured, or with the Big Bad Guy starts going after the top players in real life instead of only in the OASIS.

Wil Wheaton was an excellent narrator, made better by the fact that he is mentioned in the book itself. Aaron listened to part of it with me, and mentioned he didn’t care for how Wil “overenunciated” but I actually liked that a lot. I can see how it draws attention and might be distracting for some, but for me it meant that I never had trouble understanding him and therefore I never stumbled thinking I’d missed something important or had to rewind.

Very, very good. I would like to read it again in print at some point, I think.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I decided, out of the blue, that 2014 would be my Year of Gaiman. Before this year, the only Neil Gaiman work I had read was Neverwhere, which is absurd, because the man has tons of books, for all ages, and he is very much beloved. I plan to read a huge chunk of his work this year.

So. American Gods.

First of all, the characters are so damn cool. Most of the “people” we meet are actually gods from various cultures and religions. But they look and act just like regular people. Gaiman pulls from so many different cultures and eras too! It’s really neat!

Secondly, this book is SUPER dense. There is so much going on, I know I must have missed so much; definitely will need to reread at some point. But just grappling with the overall message is enough to start – where these deities from across time and cultures are being forgotten and pushed aside in favor of new gods, new gods that don’t fit the traditional idea, at least as far as religion goes. Power and technology and the media, etc. Because not only have the things we worship changed, but so have the ways in which we worship.

I was struck too by how often we’re told about dreams, typically those of the main character, Shadow, or some other sort of vision. There’s also several inset stories, usually related to yet another god and their devoted or not-so-devoted followers, that aren’t involved with the main action. You encounter ghosts as well. I sometimes found it hard to tell when we returned to the “real world” and “real time,” though I wouldn’t say I was ever lost, exactly.

Definite reread for me at some point, possibly, well, probably, on audio. I’ll probably look up some discussions on it as well.