Welcome to my blog where I share book reviews
and life along the winding road

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

The Devil in the White City, was chosen for our local library book club read. Although as gruesome as the Hannibal Lector stories, it is not a work of fiction, but of H.H. Holmes who was thought to be the first American serial killer. Holmes is only one of  Herman Webster Mudgett's alias names. Although his killing spree mostly took place in a strange Chicago hotel, later called the Murder Castle, he is known to local Fort Worth historians as O.C. Pratt which is the name he used when, after marrying Minnie Williams a railroad heiress, he tried to construct a second Murder Castle in Texas on the property Minnie Williams had inherited (thought to be on the corner of Rusk and Second Street).

The Chicago hotel he built had windowless rooms, angled doorways and stairs leading nowhere. Doors could only be opened from the outside and some rooms had ducts through which he spewed murderous gases. The basement was designed as a torture chamber and crematorium.

H. H. Holmes' confession after he was captured in 1896 and admitted to 27 murders (the true toll is thought to be over 200) was:
I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to song.

He felt the need to murder and mutilate early in his "career" starting with animals whom he performed surgery on. He stole bodies from Michigan Medical School then took out insurance policies on the deceased and made their deaths look like accidents. When the World's Fair opened in Chicago, he lured visitors to his hotel and advertised for hotel workers who soon disappeared. But it was fraudulent insurance schemes that led to his demise.

Production for The Devil in the White City movie starring Leonardo Di Caprio is in the works.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Only time will tell by Jeffrey Archer

Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer is the first book of the Clifton Chronicles which he started writing when he was in his 70s. The story encompasses two families The Barringtons and The Cliftons whose lives constantly intertwine with each other. I can't wait to read more in the series.

From the cover:
Harry Clifton's life begins in 1920, with the words "I was told that my father was killed in the war." A dock worker in Bristol, Harry never knew his father, but he learns about life on the docks from his uncle, who expects Harry to join him at the shipyard once he has left school. But then an unexpected gift wins him a scholarship to an exclusive boys' school and his life will never be the same again.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Local Museums

I love finding out the history of where I live, and last weekend I came across Knapp Heritage Park in Arlington, Texas. It's amazing to me that families were raised in just two rooms often in a dog trot cabin (the animals slept in the open area between the two rooms). There are several structures which gives the visitor a glimpse into pioneer life. The heritage center site was donated by the grandchildren of James and Mildred Knapp. James Knapp was a prominent attorney and land developer.

Ropes across the bed frame were tightened - "Good night, sleep tight"

Friday, March 10, 2017

Little Country Girl by Susan Coolidge

Susan Coolidge is the pen name for Sarah Chauncy Woolsey and her well known What Katy Did books have been popular since they were first published in 1872 - I remember enjoying them as a young girl. While looking through the free for Kindle Amazon books I came across A Little Country Girl set in 1885 Newport, Rhode Island.

A Little Country Girl is about an orphan who is sent to live with her mother's cousin who was spending the summer with her family in Newport. We see the Newport rich through the eyes of a young girl, Candace, brought up in the country with neither fine clothes nor servants. She is a little reminiscent of Anne of Green Gables with her positive attitude and excitement with everything - a delightful read.

The audio book is available on You Tube

Friday, March 3, 2017

Judas by Amos Oz

In Israel Today Amos Oz is referred to as a Zionist - someone who believes the Jews should have a country of their own. While a few Jews lived in the Palestine area, it wasn't until after WWII that, with so many European Jews having nowhere to go, there was a great influx into the area and the State of Israel formed, producing an ongoing conflict with Israel and Palestine. But some believed that Israel should co-habit and integrate with the Palestinians, others wanted a separate state. Meanwhile, the Arabs were fearful that the Jews would eventually take over and wipe them out and wanted to defend themselves.
In his book, Judas,  Amos Oz isn't only referring to Judas Iscariot, but to all people perceived as traitors and often given the synonymous name of Judas.
In 1959 Shmuel, a University student, finds himself without funds to pursue his studies and takes a job looking after a disabled man within a family of differing views. He continues his thesis with a view that Judas wasn't a traitor, but a devout follower of Jesus. Judas was from a wealthy family and didn't need the money given to him to betray Jesus and Jesus was already well known so he wasn't needed to point him out. Schmel points out that Judas was following Jesus' orders so that he could fulfill the prophecy.
Meanwhile Shmuel has many long conversations with Gershom Wald whose son had been brutally murdered by the Palestinians and ironically lives in a house once owned by his son's father-in-law (a Zionist) who, although agreed that the displaced European Jews needed somewhere to live, he felt to create a Jewish state with the relocation of millions of Jews was a mistake.

My thoughts:
I've always thought that all the Jews wanted a separate state, but not unlike the U.S. today, the Jews were divided on what they wanted. Amos Oz brings up many points that would be great discussion points in a book group and gives the reader food for thought. He also gives a view of what it's like to live in Jerusalem.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Four Day Weekend

Last week-end I was fortunate to get tickets to the Four Day Weekend improv show. They've been playing in Fort Worth since 1997 and have a permanent location here. At the beginning of the show they ask the audience to write a noun or sentence on the back of Post-It notes and during the performance they incorporate these. They also talk to an audience member and ask them where they work, what they do etc. and use the responses to design a skit around it. The result is hilarious.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

Her Royal Spyness is the first of the Rhys Bowen series set in 1930s England. Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie is the fictional granddaughter of Queen Victoria and thirty-fourth in line to the throne. Despite her claim to the throne, both Georgiana and her half brother are penniless and with lack of skills, she tries to find a way to make a living in their London home while her brother, Binky, ekes out a living on the Scottish family estate. While out on one of her money earning efforts as a maid, Georgiana comes home to find a body in their bath tub and her tenacity is turned to clearing the family name.

Note: I was surprised when Georgiana and Binky visited New Scotland Yard as I thought New Scotland Yard was built in the 1960s. But after doing some research found that Scotland Yard (built on the location of a palace where Scottish nobility resided when visiting England) moved to a new location by the Victoria Embankment in 1890 and then to the newer building in 1967 which has since been sold to a middle eastern investor to turn into luxury apartments! New Scotland Yard's move is part of an effort to cut costs.

I've loved each of the Rhys Bowen series (Constable Evans and Molly Murphy) and this series is no exception. Rhys Bowen conjurs up delightful and interesting characters in Her Royal Spyness and gives us a glimpse into upper crust England of the 1930s.