Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini, and the Promise and Ruin of Spiritualism

Book review: Through a Glass, Darkly, by Stefan Bechtel and Laurence Roy Stains Book Depository What had come to be known as “spiritualism”—the conviction that those who have passed over had the ability and the desire to make contact across the veil of death with those they’d left behind—seemed to have bewitched the Western world.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, forever linked with his character, Sherlock … Continue reading Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini, and the Promise and Ruin of Spiritualism

The Historic Los Angeles Library Fire Sparks a Bigger Story: What Libraries Are to Us

Book review: The Library Book, by Susan Orlean All the things that are wrong in the world seem conquered by a library’s simple unspoken promise: Here is my story, please listen; here I am, please tell me your story. Journalist and author Susan Orlean began her latest book by investigating the devastating 1986 fire at Central Library in Los Angeles. By the time the fire was … Continue reading The Historic Los Angeles Library Fire Sparks a Bigger Story: What Libraries Are to Us

Writing Her Grandparents’ Lives and a Memoir of Childhood

Book review: On Sunset, by Kathryn Harrison Never mind that we live in Los Angeles and that I was born in 1961; my childhood belongs to my mother’s parents, who, in the way of old people, have returned themselves to their pasts, taking me along. Author Kathryn Harrison writes a memoir of a slice of her childhood, a well-adjusted one considering some of the troubling … Continue reading Writing Her Grandparents’ Lives and a Memoir of Childhood

Unraveling a Life of Deceit

Book review: The Adversary, by Emmanuel Carrere It should have been warm and cozy, that family life. They thought it was warm and cozy. But he knew that it was rotten at the core, that not one moment, not one gesture, not even their slumbers had escaped this rot that had grown within him, gradually eating everything away from inside without showing anything on the outside, … Continue reading Unraveling a Life of Deceit

Did a Priest Murder a Nun, and Did the Catholic Church Cover it Up?

Book review: Sin, Shame & Secrets, by David Yonke On Holy Saturday in 1980, the day before Easter Sunday, elderly nun Sister Margaret Ann Pahl was found murdered in the sacristy of Mercy Hospital in Toledo, Ohio. She’d been strangled with an altar cloth and her body bore stab wounds in the shape of an inverted cross. Blood on her forehead appeared to mimic anointing. … Continue reading Did a Priest Murder a Nun, and Did the Catholic Church Cover it Up?

The Working Poor of the Heartland

Book review: Heartland, by Sarah Smarsh Journalist Sarah Smarsh is a fifth generation Kansan who grew up with her family life centered around a wheat farm in the countryside, with Wichita being the closest big city. In her memoir, she chronicles generations of her family, particularly the strong but troubled women in her lineage, and puts their struggles and choices into clear economic and cultural context. … Continue reading The Working Poor of the Heartland

The Interstate and the Murderer

Book review: Killer on the Road, by Ginger Strand America became more violent and more mobile at the same time. Were they linked? Did highways lead to highway violence? Yes and no. More highways meant more travel, more movement, more anonymity—all conducive to criminality. Highway users could become easy victims: stranded motorists, hitchhikers, drifters, and truck stop prostitutes were vulnerable to roving predators. But most … Continue reading The Interstate and the Murderer

An Atlantic Shipwreck Seen Through its Sole Survivor

Book review: Adrift, by Brian Murphy with Toula Vlahou Adrift tells the story of the packet ship John Rutledge, which in 1856 crossed the North Atlantic from Liverpool to New York with a cargo consisting mostly of mail and around 100 passengers, many of them emigrating from Ireland. The ship navigated turbulent winter conditions before ultimately hitting an iceberg somewhere off the coast of Newfoundland, and … Continue reading An Atlantic Shipwreck Seen Through its Sole Survivor

An Austrian Serial Killer: The Strange Story of “Rehabilitated” Murderer Jack Unterweger

Book review: The Vienna Woods Killer, by John Leake John Leake, an American writer who lived nearly a decade in Vienna, wrote this definitive account of Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger. Unterweger’s is quite the interesting story, not least because the crime of serial murder is far from common in Austria. Combined with his background of alleged rehabilitation and crime spree across Austria and internationally, … Continue reading An Austrian Serial Killer: The Strange Story of “Rehabilitated” Murderer Jack Unterweger

Nonfiction Titles Celebrating Women in Translation Month

August is Women in Translation month, an annual celebration of writing by women translated into English. I’m late to be sharing anything about this, but in case you can still catch something, bookstores often spotlight titles and hold sales, host special events and readings, and many publishers offer discounts on titles by women in translation. Maybe there’s still time to catch some sales and events, … Continue reading Nonfiction Titles Celebrating Women in Translation Month

Supernatural, Paranormal, Surreal But True Tales from the US Government

Book review: The Men Who Stare at Goats, by Jon Ronson In 1979 a secret unit was established by the most gifted minds within the U.S. Army. Defying all known accepted military practice—and indeed, the laws of physics—they believed that a soldier could adopt a cloak of invisibility, pass cleanly through walls, and, perhaps most chillingly, kill goats just by staring at them. Journalist Jon … Continue reading Supernatural, Paranormal, Surreal But True Tales from the US Government

An Intriguing Cold Case and an Exhausting Memoir

Book review: The Kill Jar, by J. Reuben Appelman Over about a year spanning 1976-1977, at least four children were killed in Detroit’s Oakland County by a serial killer clunkily dubbed the Oakland County Child Killer, or OCCK. The case remains officially unsolved, but as J. Reuben Appelman lays out in this true crime narrative cum memoir, that’s not for lack of information, plenty of … Continue reading An Intriguing Cold Case and an Exhausting Memoir