Devil in the White City
by Erik Larson
Several months ago my book club read The Devil in the White City. I was intrigued and nervous because this non-fiction is about a serial killer! It’s also about the Chicago World’s Fair, which was not nearly as intimidating. All in all, I really enjoyed it. I liked Larson’s pace and how he alternated between the World’s Fair story line and the serial killer story line. The subject matter ended up being fascinating and the book read nicely (it wasn’t dry, etc). That being said, it took me forever to read it! Even though I was interested, I just slogged through. I’m glad I read it though and I certainly recommend it.
As someone who knew nothing about either the World’s Fair or the horrors that were associated with it, I found The Devil in the White City to be engaging and interesting. Larson alternates between the two storylines, intertwining them chronologically, which was really cool. I was shocked that the World’s Fair started incredibly late for their opening date and even more surprised that they made it (mostly). Their plans were impressive and awe inspiring. The sad part was how many delays they had – one building had to be rebuilt at least three times. From weather, to fires, to strikes, it seemed impossible that the World’s Fair would open, and yet it did. My favorite piece of history that I learned was that the Ferris wheel was invented specifically for the fair. On the flipside, learning about Holmes (and his various aliases) was creepy and simply insane. He was crafty, clever and charming, bending countless men and women to his will. The creepy part was the pleasure he derived from killing people (mostly women and children). He either suffocated them or gassed them in the most horrific way. And the craziest part is that at that time, combined with the bustle of the fair, he got away with countless murderers before being tracked down. He could just call himself another name (and did so to marry at least three women), move around to evade debtors, and cause the disappearance of so many women without the a hint of alarm. In conclusion (some spoilers if you don’t know what happens), the World’s Fair was a huge success, but after it’s closing, faded away and parts burnt down. However, some remnants linger on today. As for Holmes, he decided to kill his accomplice, Pitezel, take three of his children (separating them from their mother) and then kill them for the pleasure of it. Pitezel’s wife was distraught at their disappearance (she did not know they were dead right away) and hired a private investigator to track them down. In the end, he followed Holmes’ trail, finding the two dead sisters first and then later finding their dead brother. Holmes was arrested, tried, and found guilty, ultimately being hung.
Summing it up: This story was creepy, fascinating, and I recommend reading it!
All the best, Abbey
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
by Steve Sheinkin
I dove into another non-fiction for my MOMS club book club, even though I couldn’t make it to our meeting. It was so highly recommended that I decided I had to read it. I’m a sucker for recommendations! Most Dangerous is a book on the Vietnam war; another topic that I didn’t think I’d be interested in. However, I loved Sheinkin’s book. His writing is phenomenal and I read the second half of the book in one night. He made this topic interesting and engaging, making me feel like I was reading a fiction. I’m so happy I read Most Dangerous and I’m looking forward to reading more books by Sheinkin!
The subtitle to Most Dangerous is: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War. For me, I really knew next to nothing about the Vietnam war, so it was fascinating to learn about it in general, as well as Ellsberg’s role specifically. I loved how Sheinkin told Ellsberg’s story, weaving in presidential and political history. He gave a broad context as well as interesting specifics. I couldn’t read fast enough. Spoilers: as a young man Daniel Ellsberg was heavily invested in the government and in supporting the Vietnam war, even going over there to report and see first hand what was happening. As the years passed, he changed his mind and views and staunchly opposed the war, going so far as to steal classified government documents and leak them to the press. He ended up in hiding for a while and then taken to court by the US government. Ultimately, as the government’s shady decisions and actions came to light, Ellsberg’s case was dropped and he was free to live his life. Ellsberg’s leaking of the Pentagon Papers changed the way we view the government and was the first case of its kind. It’s amazing thinking about the gravity of his actions and choice to share secret information that he felt should not be secret to the American public.
Summing it up: I loved this book and can’t recommend it highly enough!
All the best, Abbey
the first phone call from heaven
by Mitch Albom
One of my good friends recommended the first phone call from heaven. She regularly gives me good recommendations, so I was excited to read it. This book was a roller coaster. It was engaging, interesting, and surprising. The writing was fantastic and the plot was quite original. This is the type of book that keeps you thinking long after you finish it.
In a small town of Michigan, people start getting mysterious phone calls from loved ones who have passed away. The calls are short, and sporadic, yet comforting. One woman who gets calls from her sister starts telling the whole town, while others keep their calls a secret. One man is so freaked out when he gets a call from a dead co-worker, he destroys his phone and leaves town. Some people are skeptical, some don’t hesitate to believe. Sully is particularly skeptical. His wife died tragically, leaving him with their young son. He’s recently gotten out of prison and is struggling to make sense of the calls and help his son, who desperately wants a call from his mother. The whole town soon gets into a tizzy and everything gets bigger when news reporters come to town. Spoilers: Sully is on a mission to prove the calls are false. He starts digging into it and what starts as seemingly harmless research, turns into a fast paced thriller. Sully is caught up in the action and in the end solves the mystery. A while back, Sully was an air force pilot. One day, he flew into his home town and was cleared to land when he collided with another plane that was also cleared to land. Sully was imprisoned for that when there was no proof he was cleared to land. The man in the control tower had cleared both planes and when he realized his mistake it was too late. In despair, he ran away and drove off, only to collided head on with Sully’s wife who was driving to the airport to meet Sully. She dies because of the crash. Meanwhile, the control man’s father, Horace, was on his way to talk to his son as they were estranged. He witnessed everything from the plane crash to car crash, and went to the tower to see that his son had caused everything. He got rid of the evidence and as a penance devised a scheme to give people phone calls from their loved ones in heaven. He created a system to gather old recordings of people’s voices and technology to create new conversations. Sully figures this out and confronts him in his lair in the outskirts of town. He is furious with the Horace’s audacity to create such a plot and leaves when Horace cuts off all power so Sully can’t ruin his work. Sully dives away determined to tell the truth to a reporter, but before he can, he gets a call from his wife who tells him not to tell the reporter. Sully knows it’s not really his wife, so turns around to give Horace a piece of his mind, but he’s too late, the police are already there. Turns out, Horace was dying of cancer and calls the police to come, only to be dead on their arrival. In a final twist, Sully finds out that the call from his wife came after the police heard from Horace. So, was the call from his wife real, or not? Ahhh! You never know! But it spurs Sully on to live his life fully. He never tells what he learned, so the full story never comes out, leaving people to think what they will.
Summing it up: I was so surprised that this book was a thriller! It was so good and I think about it even now. I definitely recommend it!
All the best, Abbey
Best in Snow
by April Pulley Sayer
Throwback Thursday to when we had snow on the grown! This book is a delight to read and view. The pictures are all of real life plants and animals that are simply stunning. The writing is clear and minimal, making reading to little ones easy and fun. My boys were captivated from page one.
Summing it up: I highly recommend this beautiful, simple book.
All the best, Abbey
by Steve Smallman
illustrated by Ada Grey
What can I say about this silly, yet perfectly delightful book? My boys (particularly my oldest who is 4) are obsessed. We read it all the time, so I’ll have to add it to our collection soon. Hiccupotamus is about a group of animals who dance to their own combined beat.
The words are silly and before long you’ll find yourself reading to a distinct beat. At the end, the animals wonder who to thank for starting the whole thing and are surprised when the hippopotamus jumps up announcing he’s the one to thank.
Turns out he drank a fizzy pop and his hiccups started the beat.
Summing it up: this book is hilarious and absolutely worth reading!
All the best, Abbey
by Sara Pennypacker
illustrated by Jon Klassen
Pax was another recommendation from my brother. This time though it wasn’t my favorite book. It was sad (which he forewarned me about by saying to read it with a box of tissues), the father was awful, and the ending left several plot lines unfinished. While it was beautifully written, I was ultimately a little disappointed.
Pax is the story of a young boy and his pet fox who have been together since Peter found the kit all alone. Peter named his fox Pax and all Pax has ever known is Peter and life as a domesticated fox. Their life is turned topsy turvy when Peter’s father enlists and makes Peter return Pax to the wild. Peter’s mother is dead, so he will be living with his grandfather. It is a sad day when Peter tricks Pax into leaving by dropping him off at a wood and throwing Pax his toy to chase before driving away with his dad. The rest of the story follows Peter and Pax as they struggle to live apart. Spoilers: as soon as Peter leaves Pax, he knows he did the wrong thing and plans to go back and find him. He runs away from his grandfather and before long breaks his foot and is found by Vola, a former soldier who lost her leg and now lives alone in the woods. They form an odd pair as Vola nurses Peter and Peter draws Vola out of her shell and back into society. Meanwhile, Pax figures out what Peter did and is lonely and confused. He’s never lived in the wild and is frightened by the environment and strange noises. He is determined to wait where Peter left him, knowing that Peter will return. As the days pass, Pax becomes dehydrated, hungry and discouraged. One day an older fox finds him and he gradually becomes integrated into his pack with a female fox, Bristle and her brother, Runt. He begins to bond with them and immerse himself into the life of wild foxes. Their life is full of heartache as their home is being overtaken by the army, which causes the older fox to die when he steps on explosives. Pax bonds more and more with Bristle and Runt through all their difficulties. In the end, Peter recovers enough to search for Pax and after traveling a few days, he finds him in the woods with Bristle and Runt. Pax recognizes Peter and runs to him, but they both realize that Pax belongs in the wild with his new family. The ending was fitting, but sad. My biggest complaints were the father . . .he was checked out the entire time and had no support or understanding for his son. And there were several loose ends. What about the grandfather: did he ever look for his grandson or care that he was missing? And Vola? Did she integrate with society or go back to being a hermit?
A huge plus were the charming illustrations:
Summing it up: I enjoyed reading it to an extent, but in the end, I was sad and disappointed. I’m on the fence for recommending it, since it wasn’t “bad,” but it wasn’t amazing.
All the best, Abbey
The Girl Before
by JP Delaney
I can’t remember what prompted putting The Girl Before on my tbr list, but when it popped up at the library, I was excited to grab it. Well, it was a fantastic thriller. The writing was engaging, the plot intense, and the characters perfectly intriguing. I read this book in one night (albeit a long night), and enjoyed every creepy second.
The story is about a very unusual apartment owned by a very unusual man (a hot, rich, young man). The apartment is in a nice part of town, with cheap rent, that comes with pages and pages of rules to be followed by the tenant. The apartment’s design is extreme minimalism and every bare aspect must be maintained. The house has a high tech alarm/lighting/music/heating system that monitors the house and tenant (in part to keep them abiding by the rules). The story oscillates between two young women, Emma (the first woman), and Jane (the second woman), describing their experiences with the apartment and owner. Spoilers: Emma originally rents the apartment with her boyfriend, Simon, but before long their relationship gets strained and Emma breaks up with Simon. She falls for the owner, Edward, and they have a relationship for a while until one day Emma is found dead. Jane rents the apartment after all of this has happened. She is enchanted with everything and embraces the lifestyle. She has just had a stillborn baby and is struggling with getting back into life. She is also swept off her feet by Edward and the creepy thing is that she looks like Emma and both she and Emma look like Edward’s late wife, who was killed with their son in a car accident. Jane soon learns about Emma and starts asking questions. She wants to believe Edward is above board, but there are rumors he killed his wife and son and Emma. On the anniversary of Emma’s death, Jane meets Simon and they begin a friendship that involves trying to solve the mystery of Emma’s death. As they delve into the past, the apartment starts acting weird, giving Jane misgivings about her rental. On top of it all, Jane finds out she’s pregnant with Edward’s baby, worrying her that he’ll be angry. Finally Jane puts everything together. Edward is intense, but not a killer. He loved Emma and he’s never gotten over her, even with Jane. Simon never got over Emma either. He was distraught when she broke it off and was the one to kill her in the end. As the realization comes to Jane, she is put in a life and death situation with Simon and defends herself, killing Simon. Edward and Jane ultimately call things off when their baby is born with Down syndrome. Jane moves on, happy with with her baby boy and renting elsewhere, and a new young woman applies to live in the apartment!!
Summing it up: this book was so intense in such a good way. I loved it and I highly recommend it!
All the best, Abbey