Halloween Nonfiction and a Giveaway!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year again!!

Most of you know that Halloween tops my list of holidays. Last year, I did a list of books and cocktail suggestions to make your Halloween a little better (you can read that here). This year, I’ve decided to go a slightly different route and share with you my favorite nonfiction works with a more macabre theme.

  • Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty

Let’s get death positive for Halloween! Caitlin Doughty helps to bring a refreshing dose of humor to death. Her video series Ask a Mortician has long been a favorite of mine and her books are filled with fascinating anecdotes and her signature irreverence. She somehow helps make death a more approachable experience.

  • The Great Mortality by John Kelly

An engrossing and often heart-wrenching history of the black death, which decimated Europe in the Middle Ages. It’s educational, obviously, but it definitely has moments that help to convey the more human aspects of a tragedy that may seem very distant to us now.

  • Death’s Acre by Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson

Dr. Bass is probably THE leading pioneer in the field of forensic anthropology. This book discusses how he helped develop the field as well as offering intriguing looks into actual cases and giving readers a peek into the Body Farm.

  • Beyond the Dark Veil

If you have ever seen The Others, then you are familiar with the Victorian practice of post-mortem photography. This book takes an look at the practice in an intimate, often poignant manner.

  • Empire of Death, Memento Mori and Heavenly Bodies by Paul Koudounaris

If you like skeletons, you will love Paul Koudounaris’ work. Whether he’s exploring medieval ossuaries or taking in bedazzled saints, his work is visually stunning and endlessly fascinating. These books are probably my favorites on this list, and that’s saying something.

NOW… giveaway time!! For quite awhile now, I have been following The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice, a fantastic blog on medical history from Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris. She recently published The Butchering Art. I have not read it yet, but, having read her blog, I can’t imagine that it’s not fantastic. Long story short (basically, awesome boyfriend), I have an extra copy and I’m giving it away!

Sorry, this one is also US only and will stay open through midnight on Halloween!

The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris

Other Books I’ve Been Reading

If you keep track of my little Goodreads shelf over on the sidebar, you may have noticed I’m reading quite a few books that I’m not writing up. There are several reasons for this. Some were just bad. Others were ok, but I didn’t have strong enough feelings about them to write an entire review. Yet others are books I’ll be reviewing at a later date.

I’ve decided to do a quick and dirty summary of some of those, since just because I didn’t rave about them, doesn’t mean you won’t.

Useless Bay (MJ Beaufrand)

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This was actually a fairly enjoyable book. Geared more toward middle grades, it was really well written, but left too many questions hanging for me to really enjoy it thoroughly. It centers around the larger than life Gray quintuplets, the unofficial search and rescue team of Whidbey Island. This one is out October 18.

 

Chasing Embers (James Bennett)

I really want to like urban fantasy, but I nearly always struggle with them. This one isn’t bad, a little wordy at times but a fairly solid read. I have a soft spot for dragons, so that may be part of the appeal for me. I can’t really gush about it, but I will likely read the next book when it comes out.

A Rustle of Silk (Alys Clare)

A decent mystery set against the backdrop of early Stuart England.  Overall, it was an enjoyable mystery, but there were a few moments that I didn’t really think fit and overall the mystery was just a little too easily solved for me. I won’t give away exactly what those parts were, but just be fair warned if you decide to pick this one up.

The Apothecary’s Curse (Barbara Bennett)

This urban fantasy, I actually did enjoy. The story moves between modern and Victorian timelines, but I found that kept me really interested. Victorian doctor Simon Bell and and apothecary Gaelan Erceldoune became immortal and now must stop a modern pharmaceutical from exploiting their secret.

Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer (Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D.)

Talk about books that will make your skin crawl, this was beyond just creepy. Much of the story is told in Dennis Rader’s own words and while it’s interesting, it’s also scary as hell.

Garden District Gothic (Greg Herren)

It could be that I wasn’t super excited about this book because I hadn’t read any of the others in the series (this is the 7th Scotty Bradley book). The worst part for me was that the mystery seemed to be just too easily solved. It had the build up to be a really great mystery and I was really let down. I was a little iffy at the beginning because it really seemed to want to be the gayest thing that ever was gay, but things leveled off so that I wasn’t constantly saying to myself, “OK, I get it, these guys are gay!” It’s gay fiction and it seriously wants you to know it. Regardless, ultimately I found the super easy wrap up to be the deal breaker here.

Choose Your Own Misery: The Holidays (Mike MacDonald, Jilly Gagnon)

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I wanted to love this. It was (supposed) to be pure nostalgia for me, since I grew up with the Choose Your Own Adventure books. This was a humorous take on how much the holidays can suck. It was okay, I suppose. Cute. But, it was clearly written from a purely male perspective and I quickly lost interest.

The Private Lives of the Tudors (Tracy Borman)

I absolutely loved this one. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a passion for all things Tudor and this really gave me a lot of new insight into the everyday lives of the Tudor monarchs. I decided to forgo a full review of this one, just because I don’t know many people that would get as excited about the minutiae of Henry VIII’s private life as I do.

The Red Ripper (Peter Conradi)

Another book about a creepy serial killer, this time it’s Russian killer Andrei Chikatilo. It was an interesting read, but didn’t really expand on anything I hadn’t read previously.

True Crime Addict (James Renner)

I made a little bit of a mistake when I was reading this book. I plowed through the last half or so of the book in one evening. But, that wasn’t the mistake. The problem was, I read it right before bed. While home alone. And there were parts that were a little freaky.

True Crime Addict is primarily about the disappearance of Maura Murray. Intertwined with Maura’s story is that of the author, James Renner, and the effects that his own personal true crime addiction has had on his life.

Here's something that looks mysterious, because I couldn't find any better pictures.
Here’s something that looks mysterious, because I couldn’t find any better pictures. Or get permission to use the cover image in time for this post. There’s probably a lesson here in procrastination. Moving on…

I first heard about Maura Murray’s disappearance pretty recently, actually, on a comedy website, of all places (Cracked.com, which you should also read, it’s fantastic). She was listed in an article called 5 Weirdest Disappearances No One Can Explain. I absolutely love a good mystery, in real life or fiction, and this one was certainly compelling. The All-American girl abruptly leaves school. She gets into an accident on the way to locations unknown and vanishes before the police can arrive, only minutes after she was last seen by witnesses.

I’ve seen a fair amount of criticisms that this book was basically exactly the same as James Renner’s blog. However, never having even heard of James Renner before I found this book, I can safely say that that fact does not bother me in the slightest. For me, the book almost read like a novel. It was impossible to put down. On one hand, this sometimes made it almost too easy to forget that this was something that happened to real people. The family of Maura Murray did not want this book written, most of them declined to even speak with the author. On the other hand, it made it ridiculously hard to not get sucked in.

James Renner was also sucked in, so much so that it had an adverse affect on his life. This wasn’t a first for him either: after getting deeply involved in the murder investigation of Amy Mihaljevic (whom he also wrote a book about), Renner suffered PTSD.

My own criticisms are fairly small, but, I do wish he had gone into more detail on certain things. When he spoke to one of the Murray daughters’ former husband, he says that he asked him a sensitive question about the girls’ father. Now, obviously, you can read a certain amount into this, but I would rather know what exactly it was that he asked. I kept waiting for the answer to that, and he never revealed it. Considering that there was a fair bit of speculation going on about what exactly had happened to Maura, I don’t feel like revealing the contents of that particular question would have been out of line. Ok, maybe it would have been somewhat invasive. Maybe, I’m a little nosy. I can live with that.

Ultimately, nothing is really definitely concluded. Not all mysteries are going to have answers that wrap up with a neat bow. However, James Renner does make some decently compelling arguments for his theory of what happened to Maura and where she might be.

All in all, I recommend this for any fans of true crime, or even crime fiction. It’s a quick read and very hard to put down. That being said, I can’t really suggest reading it before bed. It definitely shines a light into some of the darkest corners of mankind.

The View from the Cheap Seats (Neil Gaiman)

I’ll be honest here: I’m not really sure why I decided to pick up this book in the first place.

I can’t in all reality admit to being a huge Neil Gaiman fan. Sure, I’d read The Cemetery Book several years ago and had enjoyed it, but had never read further. He’s one of those authors I’ve for some reason always felt like I should read, however for one reason or another never really had. He comes up on my radar frequently. Turns out it’s because Neil Gaiman is, in fact, awesome. But that isn’t something I really understood before I read this book.

Books of speeches and/or essays aren’t really my thing either. Once in a great while, okay, they’re alright, but I don’t go actively seeking them out.

But, for whatever reason I had at the time, I picked this up, and am terribly glad I did.

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Seen here: awesomeness (I promise, it’s totally a word).

It begins with essays and speeches about my favorite things (books, duh) and ends on a few very poignant notes. In-between is full of books, comics, music and other miscellany.

Typically, I’m the type of person who will sit and read until I can’t prop my eyes up any further. For me, the format of this book was actually a rather nice change. While each section had a connection, it wasn’t a straight narrative, so I felt more comfortable forcing myself to find a stopping place. Most of the essays are only a few pages, so once I finished one, it was easier to make myself stop and again easier to pick it back up after I had.

More truth: I didn’t know what was going on 100% of the time. I don’t read much sci-fi and never really got into comic books. However, I can safely say I’ve walked away from this with a list of things to delve into further. Not only the works (books, comics, even movies) of Neil Gaiman himself, but of the many others whose talents he acclaims in this book. This was definitely a doorway for me to broaden my horizons considerably.

More than once, I found myself thinking, ‘Wow, I’m not the only person who thinks this!’ Of course, I’m not the only one with thoughts on many things, but its always nice to see someone saying what you are thinking, albeit far more eloquently than I ever could. His thoughts on books were, of course, spectacular. The sections on Doctor Who and Edgar Allan Poe in particular had me nodding along with my reading.

The last two essays of the books are beautiful, honest, and touching. A perfect way to end.

If you are already a Gaiman fan, I cannot recommend this enough. No doubt you will take away much more from it than I possibly could with my limited knowledge. If you are not already a fan, I still recommend it. I have no doubt that you, like me, will find something in this book with which you have a connection, and possibly an author you cannot wait to read more from. I really do feel that in these musings there is something for everyone, and I have no doubt that, like me, he will lead you down other roads to explore.

Modern Romance: An Investigation (Aziz Ansari, Eric Klinenberg)

Let me preface this by saying that I have some guilt about this review. Firstly, because I hate making my first review a not entirely positive one. Secondly, because I think Aziz Ansari is brilliant, and incredibly funny. But I truly struggled with this book. Give me a few days and I can finish about any book. It took me more than a month and a library renewal to force myself though Modern Romance.

And I feel unbelievably terrible about it. Particularly when everyone else I know that read it thought it was great. I normally don’t really care about going against the crowd, but sometimes when it comes to books, I have more difficult time of it. I want to like books. All of them. I really, really, really wanted to love this one. I just couldn’t do it.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had this issue lately. Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers. Yes, Please. Bossypants. All written by comedians I typically can’t get enough of, all absolutely painful for me to get through. Nothing against Nick Offerman, Amy Poheler, and Tina Fey. They seriously rock my face off 99.9% of the time.

Modern Romance is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: an in depth look at dating and love in modern society. I’ll be honest: I was in this for the comedy. I care about the dating world insofar as I have participated in it now and again. That’s where my interest ends. I’m certainly not interested in analyzing it to death.

There was plenty going on in the book that would seemingly apply to my life. I met my boyfriend online, which is a huge part of the book. I’ve had issues in the past with social media/cellphones being involved in infidelity. Despite that, I had trouble getting through more than a few pages without losing the battle with sleep. So, on the plus side, it did help somewhat with my insomnia.

I just don’t have a great deal of interest in sociology. It was boring beyond belief in college and it was boring for me now. To me, this just proves that even with the most interesting voice, I’m never going to be a fan of the topic.

I won’t say there wasn’t any humor here. There were a few chuckles. There were also a few parts that hit close to life for me. It was certainly not the worst book I’ve ever read. It just wasn’t for me. Overall, I just can’t recommend this book. But, if sociology is your thang… well you might love it.