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.

MY RATING - 3.5

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.

MY RATING - 4.5

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.

MY RATING - 4

Friday, August 2, 2019

The Shark Club (Ann Kidd Taylor)

Right down to its beachy cover, Ann Kidd Taylor's The Shark Club is the perfect book for relaxing in the sand. But lest you think this is just another mindless "beach read," think again -- there's more here than meets the eye. This is a book that actually teaches you something.

When Maeve Donnelly was a young girl growing up in Florida, she was bitten by a shark. But rather than make her terrified of them, this incident did just the opposite. Maeve instead became a renowned marine biologist, traveling the world to study sharks. She returns home between trips...home being the "Hotel of the Muses," where she and her brother, Robin, were raised by her grandmother. Here, she meets an old love and develops a special relationship with his young daughter.

In addition to learning facts I never knew about sharks, I was also genuinely surprised by how the author chose to wrap everything up. The Shark Club is a solid novel, just as ideal for reading on the beach as by the fire on a cold winter's night.

MY RATING - 3.5