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Book Review: Furiously Happy

Recently I listened to the audio-book version of Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson.  Lawson, aka The Bloggess, is hilarious. She is irreverent and crass, and has a very macabre sense of humor and interests. She brings her crazy sense of humor to her readers in writings that are laugh out loud funny.

She is generally inappropriate, loves animals and her people, and has a wonderful fascination with all things weird.  She likes visiting strange roadside attractions, collects taxidermied animals and creepy dolls, and dresses up her pets.  She also drops the f-bomb a lot.  I’m pretty sure she would take photos of historic toilets.  I feel like she’s my spirit animal, doing all the things I would love to do but often don’t because I’m a rule follower, and I have a job where a modicum of professionalism is required.

This book is a memoir of her adult life and her struggles with depression and anxiety. She is candid and raw and tells the reader about times when she is tempted to self-harm, times she does not want to get out of bed, times when her mental illness tells her the most insidious negative things about herself. She decided that instead of being embarrassed or ashamed, she would use her fame to bring light to the issue.

Lawson’s style isn’t for everyone, but if you can poke fun at your own self and make light of a difficult topic, you have my vote.

4 stars.

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Book Review: The Man from the Train

What happens when a sports writer tries to solve a series of unsolved murders that occurred over 100 years ago, all across the country? This book.

Between the 1890s and the 1930s, there were numerous ax murders of families occurring across the United States. Not that many, but perhaps more than could be explained by mere coincidence. The Man from the Train details author Bill James’ theory that many, if not most, of these murders were committed by the same man.

 

The book details the facts that are known about each murder, which is often very little after so much time has elapsed. Then he explores the commonalities among the murders, and then determines whether these commonalities fit the pattern. If so, they were part of the series of murders all committed by one man.  Neatly wrapped up – case closed.

Never mind that these murders occurred hundreds, and sometimes thousands of miles away from each other, in a time when most people didn’t travel far from their homes. Never mind that he had absolutely no evidence to tie the murders to the man he accuses, who was only suspected, and never prosecuted, for one ax murder.

Never mind that his murderer would have had to have been murdering families for decades without ever being caught. Or that traveling around the country would have been expensive and time-consuming, and these murders didn’t have money stolen from the scene of the crime.

The book was interesting because it detailed what is known about many of the ax murders of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, I don’t agree with his theory about a freight training hopping serial killer who eluded capture for 30 years. Just because the crimes were similar is intriguing, but not necessarily a smoking gun (or bloody ax). I just couldn’t get there…

2 stars.

Book Review: The Good Girl

Sometimes I pick novels because they are available at the library, and they look interesting. This was one of those. I read the description, checked it out, downloaded it on my I-Pod and then promptly forgot about it for several months.

So when I finally started to listen to it, I couldn’t remember a thing about why I had been interested…

 

The Good Girl, by Mary Kubica, is a thriller that documents the kidnapping and disappearance of Mia, the young adult daughter of a judge in Chicago. She is gone for several months before finally making her way home, safe. However, she has no memories of her time with her kidnapper.

The story is told through a series of flashbacks and flashforwards, through the perspective of Mia’s mother, the lead detective on the case, and Mia’s kidnapper. Time is divided into before and after Mia returns to her family. Little by little, the story of her disappearance and time in captivity is revealed.

There are a series of twists and turns, some you might expect and some you won’t.  I won’t give it away, but I’ll just leave you with this – you won’t guess the ending… An excellent keep-you-on-your-toes novel!

Book Review: The Radium Girls

It is pretty interesting to think about how much of history gets lost to time, until someone comes along and digs it up again.  Have you ever thought about how they get your watch hands and numbers to glow in the dark?  Well, once upon a time, it was radium that gave them that glow, and that luminescent paint was applied by women.

The problem was, radium, and the paint that was manufactured from it, is radioactive.  Exposure to very much of it will kill you.  Of course, the men who ran the watch dial factories didn’t tell the women that; instead they taught them that the best method of applying the paint was to lick the brushes to get a fine point.

The Radium Girls, by Kate Moore, tells the story of the female dial painters, who got sick and died as a result of their work.  And the women who stood up for their rights and changed history.  These women, some as young as 14, were excited by the high wages they earned, and never believed that the companies they worked for were knowingly exposing them to a poisonous substance.  It wasn’t until after the women started falling ill, with numerous diseases caused by the radium, that they finally began to make sense of what was happening.

The Radium Girls offers an excellent account of the period in U.S. history when thousands of young women worked as “dial painters.”  It tells the stories of these women, their hopes and dreams and families, their reasons for coming to work in the factories, and what happened to them there.  The book explains in frank and often gory detail the effects that radium has on the human body, and how it slowly poisoned and often killed these young women.

It also details the women who fought back, bringing suit against the companies whose executives showed such a callous disregard for their health and lives.  Even after there was irrefutable evidence of the effect that the luminescent paint was having on the workers.

This book was very well researched and laid out.  Moore captivates the readers with her details on the lives of each of the women who worked at, and became sick at, the factories.  It is quite emotional, as I’m sure you can guess, many of these women died as a result of the exposure.

Moore also writes extensively about the lawsuits and worker’s compensation claims brought by the women, relying on court testimony and media coverage of the events.  She details the changes to workers compensation laws that were passed as a result of the illnesses and deaths among the dial painters.

I like that these women’s stories are finally being told.  They didn’t set out to change the world, but with their suffering, they did.  Thanks to Moore, perhaps a new generation of worker’s will understand their sacrifice.

It isn’t for the faint of heart, but The Radium Girls is an excellent read!

Book Review: Man with Wings

I read the audio-book version of Man with Wings, by Joseph Cottler recently on my commute.  It was written in 1942, although the audio-book is more recent; published in 2008.

I have long been interested in Leonardo DaVinci, but I have never really known that much about him.  He was truly a Renaissance man, with his talent as an artist, and engineer, a designer, and an inventor.  He had so many talents at his fingertips.  The Mona Lisa is the masterpiece he is most known for, but that was such a tiny fragment of his artistic talent and the work that he completed during his life.

This biography goes through the life of DaVinci, from his childhood and time as an apprentice, to his adulthood performing works of art and engineering.  It discussed his tendency to get lost in the discovery process, and frustrate his patrons by working too slowly.  Often, instead of painting or sculpting, he spent his time watching birds fly, dissecting human and animal bodies, studying gravity and the flow of water, and studying other aspects of the natural world.

I would have preferred this book to be more like a traditional biography, rather than what it is – essentially a historical novel with a cast of characters.  It was even more challenging because the audio-book version that I listened to was narrated like a play, with overly dramatic voices and accents.  It got annoying… I still learned more about DaVinci than I knew before, but the way it was presented was distracting…  I guess I will have to find another DaVinci  book I can relate to more, and that presents more information about the body of work he completed in his lifetime.

The verdict – at least if you are planning on the audiobook version, I would find something else on DaVinci…

Book Review: The Pilgrimage

The Pilgrimage, by Paulo Coelho, was one of the audio-books I downloaded for my road trip last summer, but I didn’t make it to it.  I listened to it recently during my commute.

Coelho did a pilgrimage in 1986 of the Santiago de Compostela road, a major Catholic pilgrimage route, following the Way of St. James.  It has been a pilgrimage route since the 9th century A.D.; St. James followed the same route from the Iberian Peninsula to Santiago de Compostela.

The Pilgrimage is a novel; Coelho had a spiritual awakening during his pilgrimage and writes of that experience, however the book has an element of magic and mysticism that makes one wonder how many liberties Coelho took with drafting a tale of his experience.

I had some challenges with this book; as I wanted it to read as a truthful account of the spiritual process of awakening that one goes through while walking the Way of St. James.  I felt like Coelho incorporated too much adventure  story into the book; it reminded me a lot of The Da Vinci Code.  The fantastical elements, including a quest for a sword, a possessed, demonic dog, and other magic, seemed to take away from the lessons of the story.

His style of writing is very simple; there isn’t a lot of flourish in his description of his characters or the settings.  That was a bit incongruous given the magical subject matter.

Although it wasn’t my favorite book, it was a quick read and the elements of practice that he describes to awaken your spirituality were interesting.  Unfortunately, he didn’t provide enough information to determine if this is an actual studied tradition that one could explore, or simply something he made up for the book.  I even googled it and found nothing.  Perhaps its a secret society, like in the DaVinci Code.  Sigh…

 

2 stars.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Killers of the Flower Moon

I recently read Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann.

The book was an exploration of the murders in the 1910s and 1920s of Osage tribal members in Oklahoma.  I had NEVER HEARD of these murders – it was surprising to me that they have been so completely forgotten among the collective memory in the United States.

The Osage Nation were one of the tribes who were relocated first to Kansas, then to Oklahoma during the early to middle 1800s; previous to their time on reservations, they had moved around quite a bit over history and had been a dominant power in the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys.  This book does not delve into that earlier part of their history.  As it turned out, the Osage Nation earned millions at the turn of the last century when oil was discovered on their reservation land and they auctioned off mining rights to white speculators and oil companies.  The tribe also went to court to create some protections for its members, including stipulating that rights to land (and the oil wealth that lay beneath) could not be sold outside of the tribe; they could only be inherited by tribal descendants.

However, in the days of the patriarchal U.S. Government, which was still permeated with racism, the government appointed “guardians” to oversee the money that tribal members received from the oil extraction.  The government’s agents assumed that tribal members could not be trusted to effectively manage their money.  Unfortunately, this guardian system had an unintended consequence – murder.  Several Osage Nation members were killed and while rumors flew about who was responsible, they went years without being solved.  After the tribe requested assistance from the federal government, the newly formed FBI investigated and eventually uncovered the truth.

The author did a great job of telling the story, weaving in strong character development and excellent research.  I can imagine it was difficult to research this topic, as the news articles, primary sources and witnesses have been mostly lost to time.  To put it bluntly, in those days, few outside the Native American community cared about a “dead Indian.”  I appreciate that this book has brought these murders back out into the light, and gives us a chance to examine one of the shameful pieces of our history.  I would highly recommend giving it a read.