Book Buzz: Therapeutic Gardening, Historical Mysteries, and Criminal Adoptions

Every month, we’re profiling new-ish releases that are getting critical and commercial buzz. For August, we’re looking at a heartwarming tale rooted in a gardening class (pun intended!), a tantalizing new mystery series set in 1910s Calcutta, and the true crime story behind a novel I reviewed earlier this year.

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David Carlson’s The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry

The Hunting Accident

Charlie Rizzo has spent his life thinking his father was blinded in a hunting accident as a child. Not that it has stopped his dad from living his life or enjoying one of his greatest hobbies — studying poetic masterpieces of world literature. It’s an unusual hobby to have in their 1960s working-class Chicago neighborhood, but Charlie never suspects anything out-of-the-ordinary with his dad. That is, until Charlie finds himself in trouble with the law. He then learns that his mild-mannered father was blinded in a botched robbery and did time for it in the Illinois State Penitentiary, where he was cellmates with Nathan Leopold. As in, Nathan Leopold of Leopold and Loeb thrill-killing infamy.

I had this book (a nonfiction graphic novel that combines true crime and poetry appreciation) recommended to me recently by one of my undergraduate English professors. I always enjoyed the books I read in her classes, so her suggestions are ones I always try to follow up on. And I was not disappointed. Thanks so much for the great suggestion, Leslie!

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From Page to Screen: Bonnie and Clyde

Jeff Guinn has rapidly became my favorite nonfiction writer. Late last year, I read his excellent book about the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral and then back in May I read and profiled his most recent release, a superb examination of Jim Jones and Jonestown.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I read another Guinn book, his examination of infamous Depression-era bandits Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. Mary-Esther has urged me to read it for years–she’s the one who put Guinn on my reading radar–and thanks again to her for introducing me to such a wonderful writer! (Thanks also to my dad for buying me the book. He couldn’t resist reading it himself before he gave it to me, which is just about the best endorsement of the book I can think of. Thanks, Dad!)

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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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Oddly-Specific Genres: Skeletons in the Closet

It’s October! Time for spooky stories full of skeletons and secrets. When these tales are about metaphorical skeletons in a family’s closet, we think it makes for a great prelude to a horror-ific Halloween.  We hope you agree!

Thanks to Julie and Mary-Esther for helping me with research for this post!

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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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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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