I bought Devil in the White City back when Borders closed, so it's been sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read, for a while now. I picked it up on a whim back in May, but it's one of those I took my time reading, and I didn't actually finish it until last month. First, it's important to note Devil in the White City is a piece of nonfiction. I originally purchased it after reading glowing reviews online, and I don't think it really hit me that this is a piece of historical nonfiction, which meant it took me a few pages to fully realize what I was reading. I anticipated an on-the-edge-of-your-seat thriller; this often read like a history lesson, albeit a fascinating one. Once I grasped what Larson was doing, I realized he was doing it well. I learned so much about the Chicago World's Fair -- a subject I really knew nothing about prior to this introduction -- and I found myself many times wondering why this type of book isn't more often listed as "required reading" for schools. Erik Larson did a fine job of making history fascinating. There were some dry parts -- a lot of architectural and historical detail -- but overall, I loved how Larson weaved a bit of mystery in and out of the book. Each chapter alternated (one detailing the World Fair's building and eventual opening, the other describing the increasingly creepy H.H. Holmes and his plans to prey on women heading to Chicago for the Fair), and Larson's ability to keep me hooked through each changing chapter was impressive. I'd recommend this one especially for history and design buffs (again, the architectural detail was astounding), but I don't consider myself either of those, and I'd have to say I really enjoyed this book. It took me a while to get through -- you may have to be patient with the frequent names and dates sprinkled throughout -- but it was worth the effort.
You guys, please don't judge. This is about as close as I get to anything resembling Fifty Shades of Grey, and I didn't even really like it that much. A friend and I have a slight fascination with the Mormon culture -- thanks, in part, to Mormon women's presence in the blogosphere -- so when I came across this book on Amazon, my friend purchased it, and we both finished it in a week's time. Secret Ceremonies starts strong; Laake is a detailed and descriptive writer, and her descriptions of Mormon culture (or the Mormon culture of the 1970s and 1980s) are eye-opening. Laake also, though, gives off a fairly bitter, frustrated vibe, and as a reader, I felt like that may have diluted her descriptions a bit. As a non-Mormon, I wasn't sure if her descriptions could have been exaggerated -- even fabricated -- due to her frustrations. (It's a misstep I think we all tend to make when we're frustrated with a culture -- religious or otherwise -- we're deeply involved in.) Laake also goes into excruciating detail when it comes to her married relationships. Call me a prude, but it was all a little TMI for me. My friend and I both agreed, though, that perhaps the most disappointing part of the book was Laake's obvious depression and mental illness. There were hints of her struggles throughout the entire book, but she never really came out and said so herself in its pages; that type of honesty was really missing from this memoir. After writing Secret Ceremonies, Laake, a popular journalist, was diagnosed with cancer, and she committed suicide in 2000. That fact alone made the book a little heartbreaking to read, and I'm not sure I'd recommend it. I think I've learned far more about Mormonism from my friends' and other writers' blogs. C.Jane is my favorite, if you're looking for a place to start.
This was our book club's pick for the month of June, and although my friends' reviews were mixed, I loved this book. I'm always impressed by authors who can totally enmesh themselves in their characters, whose voices become completely overpowered by the voice of the character, and Mark Haddon did an impeccable job of letting that transformation take place. The Curious Incident is narrated by an autistic teenager named Christopher Boone. If the author's bio is accurate, Haddon did some work with autistic children in his college days, and that work shows here. His voice is spot-on, to the point where I almost grew weary of the countless details and mathematic equations that an autistic child would undoubtedly find necessary and usual. Our book club did agree that Christopher Boone's age was confusing (so often he acted much younger than his 15 years), and a lot of the members thought the book occasionally got bogged down in unimportant details, but honestly? I thought they were perfect based on the character we were reading. (Don't get me wrong: I skimmed a lot of the math portions myself; that's just not how my brain works.) I'd highly recommend The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, if only for a study on what a good writer looks like.