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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S.C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon

Empire of the Summer Moon

When I saw S.C. Gwynne was a scheduled speaker for Books in Bloom this year, I decided it was the perfect time to try one of his books that had been on my to-read list for a long-time, Empire of the Summer Moon.

I’ve been interested in the American West and Native American history since I was a child–my family can vouch for how weirdly obsessed I was with Son of the Morning Star as a nine-year-old–so I was excited to try Gwynne’s well-regarded history of the Comanche tribe.

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Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse (1982)

War Horse

Joey is just a lovely, somewhat high-strung bay horse, living on a small Devon farm, with his beloved teenaged owner Alfred when World War I breaks out. He’s soon sold to the British military and, thus, begins Joey’s odyssey as a military horse for both the British and the Germans. Along the way, he meets several owners and finds himself doing everything from charging into battle to hauling artillery to pulling ambulance wagons.

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Allison Hoover Bartlett’s The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

The Man Who Loved Books

In thinking about true crimes of passion I could relate to, the title of this book most definitely caught my eye!

John Gilkey’s claim to fame as a career criminal was not how much he stole but what he stole: rare books, mostly.  Why specialize in stealing rare books? Writer Allison Hoover Bartlett wanted to find out and by following his story provides a look not only into the motivations behind his crimes but also into the world of legitimate rare book collectors, stories of other book thieves, and the story of the man who tracked Gilkey down, Utah antique book dealer Ken Sanders.

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