Weird Illinois by Troy Taylor, Mark Sceurman, Mark Moran

Weird Illinois by Troy Taylor, Mark Sceurman, Mark Moran

weird illinoisWeird Illinois is a mix of stories, speculation and ghost lore from my home state, Illinois. And it is really weird.

The chapters cover topics from local legends and lore to bizarre beasts and roadside oddities. But I’m not sure how true it is.

The road-side attractions seem to be the “most real” part of this book, but the legends and ghost stories could be simply myths or urban legends.

It makes me want to put together an investigation, or several, to go find out what is true or not. That is part of the charm of this book.

My favorite chapter was about the “bizarre beasts” of Illinois which is a collection of animal oddity or cryptozoological stories from the area. I really want to see the “Albino Squirrels of Olney” mentioned on page 95.

I was creeped out by the stories of the “Murphysboro Mud Monster” on page 84. That’s not very far from here!

I think this book could be useful for travelers who are looking for entertainment that is off-the-beaten path in Illinois or trivia fans.

Make sure to read it with a discerning mind, as I said, I’m not certain how much of this is “non-fiction.” I can say: it’s good fun.

Thanks for reading!

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Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman

Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman

georgianaGeorgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, was a complicated lady. She was politically active, a progressive thinker, had an atrocious gambling habit that kept her perpetually in debt and suffered from an unfortunate, sometimes unhappy, marriage.

Did I mention she lived in the late 1700 and early 1800s?

“There was enough popular participation to make politics as big a national obsession as sport, if not bigger. The emergence of national newspapers turned politicians into celebrities.” pg 18 ebook.

And one of the brightest stars among them, was the Duchess of Devonshire.

“This was the age of oligarch politics, when the great landowning families enjoyed unchallenged pre-eminence in government. While the Lords sat in the chamber known as the Upper House, or the House of Lords, their younger brothers, sons, and nephews filled up most of the Lower House, known as the House of Commons.” pgs 22-23.

It wasn’t a particularly great age for democracy or for modern thought.

“Georgiana’s methods were too modern for eighteenth-century society. She was never allowed to canvass openly in London again, nor did other aristocratic women imitate her example. It would be another hundred years before women once more ventured boldly into street politics as Georgiana had not been afraid to do in 1784.”pgs 178-179, ebook

1784!

“She felt that she had the same qualities as a man; it was simply her sex, not her capability, which barred her from taking part in politics.” pg 346.

Imagine that. 🙂

The leaders of the Whig party, Georgiana’s political friends, were brilliant but flawed.

Eighteenth-century England was full of wits, connoisseurs, orators, historians, drinkers, gamblers, rakes, and pranksters, but only (Charles James) Fox embodied all these things.” pg 75, ebook.

I confess, though this book has extraordinary detail and research about Georgiana’s political activities, I found her personal life far more fascinating.

Her marriage may have been doomed from the start: “The Duke did not know how to be romantic; never having experienced tenderness himself he was incapable of showing it to Georgiana. He did not mean to hurt her, but there was a nine-year age difference between them and a gulf of misunderstanding and misplaced expectations.” pg 49, ebook.

There was another woman, who may or may not have been both Georgiana and the Duke of Devonshire’s lover. There were multiple handsome men who entered and exited Georgiana’s life.

She even had an illegitimate child with one of them.

A fascinating biography of an extraordinary lady – highly recommended.

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

lostcityA well-researched tale by journalist David Grann about Percy Fawcett, the intrepid explorer who disappeared in the Amazon jungle on his search for the city he called ‘Z’.

The part in this book that I appreciated the most was Fawcett’s struggle to learn about and appreciate the cultures of the people he discovered in the Amazon, while at the same time, juggling his own biases against any culture other than his own.

In some ways, he was a product of his time, but the fact that Fawcett at least tried to understand different cultures made him different than other explorers of his age.

It’s only a small part in a larger tale full of adventure, exploration and discovery.

The tid-bits about the jungle, I first learned about in The River of Doubt by Candice Millard.

The narrative in River of Doubt was more focused than this novel, but Millard was talking about one trip, not multiple trips or explorers.

There’s a lot of weird stuff that goes on in the jungle. Read either of these books to find out all about it.

Recommended for fans of non-fiction. If you’re looking for a more straight-forward adventure tale than this wandering title, choose River of Doubt.

Thanks for reading!

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

i'llbegoneMichelle McNamara was obsessed with the subject of this book. She believed that by using modern technology, a rapist and killer could finally be brought to justice.

She created maps and chased leads. She ran a true crime blog and this was one of her topics.

It haunted her. Then, tragically, Michelle died before this masterwork could be completed.

Her fellow researchers put I’ll Be Gone in the Dark together from her notes. It is a chilling but thorough portrait of the perpetrator of a series of unsolved crimes.

It also includes some autobiographical chapters to explain Michelle’s obsession with the man she named, “The Golden State Killer,” but also why she loves writing.

She writes about why she couldn’t stop researching and examines her complicated relationship with her mother: “No one would have taken more joy from this book than my mother. And I probably wouldn’t have felt the freedom to write it until she was gone.” pg 41

It is an amazing book. And, I believe, it has enough details that, if someone who reads this book knew that guy, he will be brought to justice at last.

He pointed a knife at her and issued a chilling warning: “Make one move and you’ll be silent forever and I’ll be gone in the dark.” pg 61

Gillian Flynn writes a stellar introduction: “I’ve always thought the least appreciated aspect of a great true crime writer is humanity. Michelle McNamara had an uncanny ability to get into the minds of not just killers but the cops who hunted them, the victims they destroyed, and trail of grieving relatives left behind.”Introduction.

This killer, whoever he is, is terrifying not only for the carnage he left, but the meticulous way he planned and carried out the murders.

He was organized and unhinged, as compared to other murderers whose passion and disorganization are their downfall: “It’s a tiny minority of criminals, maybe 5 percent, who present the bigger challenge- the ones whose crimes reveal pre-planning and unremorseful rage.” pg 14

I read this book in one sitting. It is that compelling.

But I paid for it during the night. Each creak, any small sound in the house and my heart would leap into my throat.

“He’s here,” my over-active imagination declared. “This is the end.”

It made it all too easy to understand the terror the murderer inflicted on his victims and the community he plagued. Multiple states away and decades removed from the crimes and I was petrified as well.

Recommended for brave readers, fans of true crime and anyone who wants to help solve an unsolved mystery.

Thanks for reading!

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders

lostintranslationLost in Translation is a slim volume of doodles with accompanying definitions of untranslatable words from many languages around the globe. It’s a treat.

There are words for feelings that I’m certain everyone has experienced… we just lacked the language to describe it appropriately.

This book showed me how universal emotions and perceptions can be and the difficulty of capturing the indescribable in words.

But we’ve certainly given it a good try.

I liked the words that described fleeting moments of beauty in nature the most. All of the following are from Lost in Translation but the pages are un-numbered so you’ll just have to trust me that they’re in there:

Komorebi: (Japanese noun) The sunlight that filters through the leaves of the trees.

Waldeninsamkeit: (German noun) The feeling of being alone in the woods, an easy solitude and a connectedness to nature.

Mangata: (Swedish noun) The road-like reflection of the moon in the water.

And, finally, a word that perfectly describes one of my vices:

Tsundoku: (Japanese noun) Leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other unread books.

I didn’t realize that was actually a thing.

Ah, the joys of reading and cluttering up my house with tsundoku. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard by John Branch

Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard by John Branch

boyoniceThis is a biography of Derek Boogaard, a hockey player who died at age 28 of alcohol and prescription drug poisoning.

I didn’t know very much about hockey before I read this but fortunately John Branch discusses the history of the hockey for readers like me. He also examines the reasons why violence began and then persisted in the sport.

Branch explains the unofficial position called ‘enforcer’ on the hockey team that, essentially, intimidates or pummels the opponents into submission.

I knew that hockey was violent from anecdotal stories but I didn’t realize how the various minor leagues supported the development of the enforcer role. Men are specifically scouted for their abilities in this area.

Derek wasn’t born an enforcer. In Canada, hockey is like football in some small towns in America- everybody plays beginning at quite a young age.

His enormous size drew attention but he wasn’t particularly skilled at the game. Coaches put him into the enforcer role and he was able to fulfill their demands.

Throughout his life, Derek suffered from pain caused by his job and began to take prescription drugs to find some relief. Predictably, he became addicted.

Branch carefully dissects the reasons why Derek abused drugs and it is very sad. His family obviously cared about him, but they either did not realize the extent of the problem or because of the distance that they lived away from Derek, they didn’t have the ability to do anything about it.

An additional layer of complexity is added to the story with Branch’s explanation of concussions in professional sports and how, in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, medical experts were just becoming aware of the extent of the problem.

After his death, Derek’s family donates his brain to the medical community and what they discover was truly shocking.

I liked Branch’s analysis of the social, economic, and personal reasons why Derek lived the way he did. He painted a picture that was both approachable but also extraordinary.

Approachable in that Derek was a boy from a small town in Canada who liked quiet family evenings and country music. Extraordinary in that Derek was a professional athlete with a million dollar paycheck and needed to experience life to its fullest.

I also liked reading portions of a childhood diary written by Derek that included his grammar mistakes and misspellings. The inclusion of this material lent a very personal feel to the book.

From Derek’s childhood to his last struggling days, Branch gives meticulous dates, times, and names.

I didn’t like the seemingly endless descriptions of Derek’s bloody fights on the ice. During his career, it seemed like he fought constantly and the biography feels monotonous throughout that portion. He went to a game, got in a fight, and repeat.

For that reason, the graphic details, I would recommend Boy on Ice to, primarily, fans of the game. If you have season tickets for your hockey team and relish the atmosphere, you may really enjoy this biography.

Personally, I found the descriptions of violence too disturbing to be enjoyable. However, Branch raises legitimate questions about the place of the enforcer in hockey, how it causes permanent damage to the men who take up that role, and how it changed and then ended the life of Derek Boogaard far too soon.

I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads. Thanks for reading!

Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library by Don Borchert

Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library by Don Borchert

freeforallFree for All is an accurate depiction of life as a librarian in a public library.

Sometimes, the job is funny. Other times, it’s incredibly sad. If you’ve never worked in a library system, this book will reveal some of the secrets of a librarian’s day-to-day life.

Before I worked at a public library, I thought it was a quiet, organized mecca for students and bookworms. Now, that I’ve spent some time on the librarian-side of the desk, I know better. My idea of a library was far too simple.

It is a study hall, archive, playroom, home for the homeless, kitchen, bank, movie theater, video game store, newspaper kiosk and so much more. I guess the appropriate question is: what doesn’t a library do?

And a public librarian is so much more than just a librarian. She is a counselor, a computer wizard, a curator of excellent and free entertainment.

She talks to the lonely, uplifts the lost and helps the public navigate the dangerous waters of the internet.

Librarians are my heroes.

If I ever cease writing for a living, look for me at the library. Odds are, I’ll end up back there.

Perhaps some of the policies at Don Borchert’s library have changed, but at the time that he wrote this book, they charged 50 cents to put a hold in for a patron. This policy shocked me, as my library always offered that service for free.

Borchert cheerfully documents the difficulties with summer reading people vs the school year regulars. It’s a real problem.

If Borchert’s book is too edgy for you- he uses rough language and doesn’t hold back on some of his opinions- read Gina Sheridan’s I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks.

Both are excellent and realistic non-fiction books about the trials, tribulations, and, sometimes, life-enhancing satisfaction of working at the library.

Thanks for reading!