Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? (Caitlin Doughty)

It wasn't planned to be Caitlin Doughty week on 1776 Books, but somehow it's turned out to be just that. On Sunday, I reviewed her earlier book, From Here to Eternity, and today, I'll talk about her very latest, Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?

What's great about Doughty is that she has the utmost respect for death but writes about it in such a warm, relatable way. As a mortician, her goal has always been to get families and friends involved in the funeral process instead of just handing their loved one off to a funeral director. In Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?, Doughty again tries to take the "scary" out of death, answering kids' questions about the topic in an honest way.

But don't let the fact that kids are asking the questions deter you -- this is a super interesting book for adults. If you've ever wondered if conjoined twins always die at the same time or if you died making a silly face, would it stay like that forever, this book is for you. I found Doughty's writing absolutely fascinating, especially when combined with Dianne Ruz's black-and-white illustrations. I can't recommend this book enough!


Monday, September 9, 2019

Those People (Louise Candlish)

Louise Candlish's Our House was one of my favorite books that I read and reviewed last year. In my review, I said that "Candlish wrote every word for a reason, and by the time you get to the heart-stopping conclusion, you understand exactly how the dominoes started to fall from the very first page." Unfortunately, there is not as much excitement in her latest, Those People.

Just as in Our House, Those People takes place in everyday suburbia and begins when a couple moves in to an established neighborhood. This couple is a nightmare -- playing music at unbearable levels, running a car business from their house, and just causing general mayhem for their neighbors. When two deaths occur, one very unexpected, the neighbors are questioned and some become suspects.

On the surface, this premise sounds interesting, and believe me, it starts out strong. But the middle gets bogged down with too many details, and this makes the book seem very long. While I raced to the end of Our House to find out what happened, Those People was one that I was glad to finish.


Sunday, September 8, 2019

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death (Caitlin Doughty)

As a mortician and the founder of the Order of the Good Death, Caitlin Doughty has made a name for herself in the funeral industry. Some funeral directors even consider her a troublemaker because she contradicts their message. No, you do not need the $20,000 steel casket and vault to bury your loved one, and the more involved that families are in the death process itself, the more they will heal.

The latter is part of the focus of Doughty's book From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death. She argues that only in some parts of the world (mostly the USA) do people fear the dead. In other cultures, the traditions of taking care of the dead are much different. All of the traditions she talks about have something in common though: They allow people to personally take care of their dead instead of leaving it solely in the hands of funeral directors.

I've always been interested in this whole topic and learn so much from Caitlin Doughty, especially from her You Tube videos. Her blunt but warm manner in her videos and her fascinating style of writing in her books takes the "scary" out of the death industry.


Friday, August 30, 2019

The Good Girl (Mary Kubica)

I've been wanting to read Mary Kubica's The Good Girl for a long time, but I just never got around to it. When I finally picked it up, I was sucked right into the story. However, the predictability set in pretty quickly, and the ending was not much of a surprise.

One night, Mia Dennett goes to a bar to meet her boyfriend, but when the boyfriend doesn't show up, she leaves with someone else, Colin Thatcher. Colin has been tasked by the guy he is working for to deliver Mia to a specific location. But he can't bring himself to do it and takes her to a secluded cabin in Minnesota instead. The book is told from three different points of view and goes back and forth between before she is returned to her family and after.

The reader doesn't hear directly from Mia until the epilogue, which I found wise. It was interesting to hear the story instead told from Mia's mother, Colin, and an investigator on the case. When we do finally hear from Mia, what she says, to me, is a big letdown but not really surprising. This book has been recommended for fans of Gone Girl, but except for similar titles, there is not much of a comparison.


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Ghostland (Colin Dickey)

Colin Dickey's Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places takes an interesting approach to the always popular paranormal topic. Instead of focusing so much on the spirits themselves, Dickey deeply discusses the history of each location and dispels some of their ingrained myths.

Whether it's a "haunted" house, an eerie hospital or an abandoned prison, there are scary stories in all of them. Some are true, but many are not true at all or greatly exaggerated. In Ghostland, Dickey takes readers on a journey throughout the United States, visiting these locations in places like Salem, West Virginia, and New Orleans.

Dickey focuses not so much on the ghosts, but on each place's history: the egregious conditions at mental institutions, the execution of people thought to be witches, and what the truth really is behind the Winchester Mystery House. Ghostland is an enjoyable book, but Dickey also forces people to confront the harsh stories throughout the history of this country.


Sunday, August 18, 2019

This is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality (Peter Pomerantsev)

Peter Pomerantsev's This Is Not Propaganda is the author’s second book, a follow-up to Nothing is True and Everything is Possible about Russian propaganda. Pomerantsev’s latest tackles the information war that is waged daily via social media, cable news, and in official government channels and shows how we are constantly barraged by misinformation, half-truths, or worse on a local, regional, and global scale.

Pomerantsev’s family emigrated from the former Soviet Union through Austria to England, where his father worked for the BBC during the latter stages of the Cold War. The book parallels much of what his family experienced in the Cold War along with current events, showing the stark contrast between the traditional Western style of media and what his family was subjected to. Pomerantsev’s modern parallel steers us from internet troll farms to Twitter mobs to the art of protest that is waged and raged around the world. Each of these tries to control a narrative and help steer the story that we are bombarded with. With as much information as we are subjected to, Pomerantsev argues that we have not only lost our grip on peace and democracy but our notion of what those words mean, as is evidenced by what he stumbles across in a trip to China.

This Is Not Propaganda tries to imagine how we can reboot our politics and ourselves when our definition of reality and sense of order are changing at warp speed. The author struggles to come up with hard suggestions but shows one parallel, that order is not always constant, evidenced by the history of his family’s Ukranian town. The best suggestion in his final chapter is constructive news, where practical solutions are provided in a facts-based environment. In an era where what passes as news is often blended with entertainment, agenda, or both - a more constructive and less hyperbolic approach to how we gather information may be a good first step to regain a sense of balance in news.


Sunday, August 11, 2019

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee (Casey Cep)

The title of Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee is a little misleading. Ms. Lee doesn't make an appearance until the last third of the book or so. However, what leads up to her part is fascinating in and of itself. Author Casey Cep is a master researcher.

This is the story of Reverend Maxwell, who was accused of killing five of his family members for life insurance money. Even through mounting evidence, he did not pay for any of his crimes due mostly to the work of his lawyer, Tom Radney. At the funeral for his stepdaughter he was accused of killing, Reverend Maxwell was shot dead in front of hundreds of witnesses, and in a twist of fate, Radney then represented the man who shot him, Robert Burns. Harper Lee enters the picture because she wants to write her own In Cold Blood true-crime novel, which she helped her friend, Truman Capote, with without much recognition.

Each part of this book is definitely fascinating, so it's getting a high rating from me. However, I will say that it felt disjointed with all its separate parts -- the story of Reverend Maxwell and his victims, the story of Tom Radney, the story of Burns's trial, and finally the story from Harper Lee from the very beginning of her life in Alabama. I wish Cep chose a different route by connecting the parts a bit more, but I still enjoyed Furious Hours very much.