Sam Quinones’ Dreamland (2015)

Dreamland

Last week, I wrote jokingly about non-professional authors trying their hand at writing a book. This week, we’re looking at an excellent book written by a professional journalist about a very serious (and timely) topic: the opioid crisis.

A few weeks ago, Mary-Esther suggested Sam Quinones’ Dreamland to me. As I suppose is true of many people, I have been following the news about the opioid crisis, but I must confess, that it’s something I knew relatively little about. (Thanks for the wonderful suggestion, Mary Esther!)

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Leo Marks’s Between Silk and Cyanide

Between Silk and Cyanide

Since we’re focusing on letting the light shine on long-held secrets this month, I have a soon-to-no-longer-be secret secret confession: I love reading nonfiction about WWII-era espionage and cryptography. I blame this love on J.C. Masterman’s The Double-Cross System in the War of 1939 to 1945. It’s not in our library system, but it’s well worth requesting through ILL if you also like reading about history and/or espionage. In it, Masterman meticulously and matter-of-factly details the espionage system he ran for British intelligence in turning German agents in Britain into British double agents.

It’s a fascinating book, but it also permanently ruined espionage thrillers for me. I’ve never found a spy novel (or movie, for that matter) that captures the sheer boredom punctuated with sheer terror and the anxiety of the spy life that lurks between the lines of Masterman’s book.

That is, I hadn’t encountered it until I read Leo Marks’s insightful, hilarious memoir Between Silk and Cyanide.

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Maria Parr’s Adventures with Waffles

Adventures with Waffles

Keeping to the theme of going back to school, here’s a review of a book meant for those still having to find their desks quickly once that bell rings!

For the most part, nine year-old Trille has an idyllic childhood in rural Norway. His life is a series of never-ending adventures with his neighbor and best friend Lena. She’s far more daring and impulsive, but that doesn’t stop Trille from joining in on the fun. From snarfing down waffles to pretending to be spies to using, ahem, creative license in crafting a bonfire decoration to sledding with a chicken, they never lack for a good time. Trille can’t imagine life without Lena causing mayhem and mischief at every turn. Still, Trille harbors a disheartening suspicion that Lena is far more indifferent to him. She is his best friend, but is he her best friend?

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David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon

Killers of the Flower Moon

In the 1920s, the Osage tribe of Oklahoma were the wealthiest people per capita in the world after oil was found on their land in the early 1900s. That statistic belies the reality of the situation, though, in which many of the Osage who owned valuable headrights had to have a white guardian to control their money and financial affairs. Nonetheless, much was made of the wealth that was on the reservation.

And in 1921, wealthy tribe members started disappearing and turning up dead. Still others succumbed to suspicious instances of alcoholic poisoning and a mysterious “wasting disease.” People who began investigating the deaths also started disappearing and dying. Within a few years, over two dozen people had died under suspicious circumstances. Eventually, the FBI under a newly appointed director named J. Edgar Hoover were brought in to investigate.

As someone who is interested in the 1920s, true crime, and Native American history, I was really surprised that I had never heard of the Osage “Reign of Terror” when this book was released earlier this year.

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Stephanie Storey’s Oil and Marble (2016)

Oil and Marble

“Are you a Leonardo person or a Michelangelo person?”

This is the question Stephanie Storey asked me at Books in Bloom when I approached her about autographing my copy of her book Oil and Marble, a novel that chronicles the heated rivalry between two of the best artists who ever lived. Both of whom are definitely people who changed the world for the better!

Now, personally, when it comes to favorite artists, I’m a Caravaggio person. I’ve been obsessed with Caravaggio since I was a teenager. What with his strikingly realistic paintings that wonderfully capture human emotions but also absolutely horrified his 17th century contemporaries, his defiance of then-current painting tradition, his fixation on depicting decapitations (frequently starring his own severed head), and his tumultuous life (which included numerous brawls, at least one murder, being run out of several cities, and a mysterious death), he’s just always intrigued me.

But picking between Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo was pretty easy for me. I told her I was a Leonardo person. My dad, a talented artist in his own right, introduced me to da Vinci, one of his personal favorites, when I was a kid. (Thanks for having great taste in art, Dad!) Da Vinci’s art interested me, but the man himself was what really fascinated me. I loved that that he was talented in so many different fields, from art to engineering, and that he was so fixated on experimenting with flight. And on a personal level, as a kid who compulsively kept a journal and loved to write backwards, I always appreciated his massive collection of journals, full of mirror writing.

So, when Stephanie Storey asked me if I was a Leonardo person or a Michelangelo person, I told her I was a Leonardo person. We chatted a little about why, and then when I turned to leave, she smiled and told me she–a self-proclaimed Michelangelo person–hoped after I read the book that I’d appreciate Michelangelo too.

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Jasper Fforde’s The Last Dragonslayer

The Last Dragonslayer

Dreams of bigger, better worlds don’t have to be so great that you can’t have a little bit of fun. Enter Jasper Fforde’s The Last Dragonslayer.

Jennifer Strange has her hands full overseeing a talent management company for magicians. Even when the fifteen-year-old orphan isn’t fulfilling her apprenticeship in magical management by booking wizards for plumbing jobs and magic carpet riders for food delivery, as well as soothing ruffled egos, there’s also the whole issue of magical energy becoming weaker. Strange herself doesn’t have much power, but even her once skillful clients are feeling the effects. What happens if magic runs out? How are they going to keep a roof over their heads? Where did her boss disappear to months ago when he didn’t come back home? And on top of that, there are rumors that the Last Dragonslayer is supposed to kill the last dragon in a few days. Complications ensue.

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Jeff Guinn’s The Road to Jonestown

Road to Jonestown

Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

It’s a phrase that has permanently entered the American consciousness, but it always surprises me when people don’t know that it is a reference to the infamous Jonestown Massacre in Guyana in 1978, especially when it is used flippantly.  (I once had a very awkward conversation with a college classmate about that.) Because even though we may laugh at the phrase now, there’s really nothing funny about mass suicide. (Never mind that at Jonestown they were actually drinking mostly Flavor Aid, not Kool-Aid, but that’s a different topic for another day.)

I first heard of Jonestown when I was maybe about 10, 11, 12. There was a documentary commemorating the anniversary of it on PBS, and I remember being riveted by it in absolute horror. In the years since then, I’d read some about the story and also watched on several occasions the famous 1980 miniseries Guyana Tragedy, which stars the late Powers Boothe as Jones in what has to be one of the most chilling performances ever recorded on film.

So, just in general, a recently released book promising to be the most authoritative take on the story yet would have grabbed my attention. But I was specifically compelled to read this one, which was released last month to great acclaim, because its author is rapidly becoming one of my favorite writers.

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