Birthday month, woo! And another five books added to the 2016 bookshelf. I’m still behind on my 2016 reading goals (thanks, February), but at least I held steady and didn’t dig myself down any further.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, by Erik Larson
DitWC tells the true story of two men in Chicago at the end of the 19th century: Daniel Burnham, the lead architect and mastermind behind the 1893 World’s Fair; and Dr. H. H. Holmes, the charismatic serial killer who used the fair as a way to lure victims to his hotel/murder castle. The book alternates chapters between the drama of creating the biggest spectacle of a fair the world had ever seen and how Holmes managed to elude creditors, family members, and reporters to become one of America’s first documented serial killers.
I’m not entirely sure how to categorize this book. It’s non-fiction, since all the events written about actually happened and all quotations were pulled from records and writings of the period, but it also veers toward speculative fiction since Larson obviously must fill in the historical framework with guesswork details. So it walks a tricky ground from the get-go.
As interested as I was in the history of the creation of the World’s Fair (and Larson gives us absolutely fascinating history here), for most of the book I was just waiting to get to the next Holmes chapter. The “sexiness” of the serial killer story distracted me from more intricate World’s Fair information. I was also a bit confused about the bearing the two stories had on each other; yes, Holmes used the fair to lure victims, but he was killing long before the fair and continued on afterwards. It might have been better served as two books, maybe?
The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer
The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed.
This book was, rather appropriately, interesting. The story centers mainly around Jules Jacobson and how she handles the evolutions of her relationships from teenagerdom to adulthood. Does childhood giftedness translate to adulthood giftedness? How do you balance your dreams with practical reality? What is the weight of a secret, of envy, and how to they interact? Who do you believe when life gets tricky?
The Interestings is quite lengthy, but it never gets too loud. It flows at a fairly steady pace, and choices are not made necessarily how the reader would assume. I personally couldn’t find a way to connect with the main characters; there was an undercurrent of bitterness and apathy that pushed me away. I was amazed at the lack of joy presented in much of the story. I’m glad to have given it a chance, but it’s likely not going to be one I revisit.
Hamilton: The Revolution, by Jeremy McCarter and Lin-Manuel Miranda
Big, big thanks to my aunt and uncle for gifting this to me for my birthday!
Look, I’ve been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack almost nonstop (ba dum tss) since it was released in September. I follow Lin and the official musical pages on all social channels. I’ve watched every single (legally released) clip that exists online and cried watching the cast perform on the Grammys. I’m impatiently biding my time until I can actually see it performed on stage. I love this musical.
Affectionately referred to online as the #Hamiltome, the book combines the musical’s libretto with backstory on how the musical was put together and background on the actors, dancers, producers, and others that brought it to life. It also contains Lin’s annotations of the lyrics, usually about who/what inspired a line or some historical context. And beyond that, it contains stunning photos. It’s the next best thing to actually seeing the musical in person.
Needless to say, I absolutely devoured the thing. I laughed. I cried. I reread portions three times before moving on. It sits proudly in my living room, and I smile when I look at it. It is my current favorite thing. If you like Hamilton, you want to get your hands on this book (just not my copy).
[ALL THE STARS/5 stars]
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
This has been on my TBR list for ages. It’s all over the internet, and there’s a movie coming out soon. I’m amazed it took me this long, but oh well.
Sixteen-year-old Jacob grew up hearing his grandfather’s strange stories. Stories about an island, about children with special abilities, about the monsters. Jacob and his family shrugged them off as flights of fancy, but his grandfather’s mysterious death forces Jacob to revisit the stories and determine what’s true. As he digs further into the stories of his grandfather’s childhood, the more peculiarities he finds, and the more dangers.
I’ll be honest, it took a good chunk of the book before I was really hooked into the plot. Part of that stemmed from not being entirely sure of the genre going in, so I had some issues suspending disbelief for the early part of the book. But I eventually got into the flow of the plot, and by the end I got the “OH SNAP, THAT JUST HAPPENED” moment that I love in books and that will most likely get me to continue with the next book in the series.
The most unique aspect of the book was the interweaving of antique photographs, which served to illustrate the grandfather’s childhood stories and Jacob’s discoveries. At times it felt like Riggs was stretching to include a photo he found interesting, but it was a interesting touch most of the time.
How to Set a Fire and Why, by Jesse Ball
Lucia’s father is dead; her mother is in a mental institute; she’s living in a garage-turned-bedroom with her aunt. And now she’s been kicked out of school—again. Making her way through the world with only a book, a zippo lighter, a pocket full of stolen licorice, a biting wit, and striking intelligence she tries to hide, she spends her days riding the bus to visit her mother and following the only rule that makes any sense to her: Don’t do things you aren’t proud of. But when she discovers that her new school has a secret Arson Club, she’s willing to do anything to be a part of it, and her life is suddenly lit up. And as her fascination with the Arson Club grows, her story becomes one of misguided friendship and, ultimately, destruction.
So I have the most wonderful thing a book lover could have: a Book Fairy. She’s a friend of my dad’s who somehow gets bunches of Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) and likes to pass them on to our family. I went home recently for my birthday and came back with a box full of about 20 books with the most gorgeous covers (which we all know is my favorite thing). I may not have room for them on my bookshelves, but I’m still giddy excited for all these new reads.
Anyway, this was one of those new books, and I was immediately drawn in by the title and the cover (THAT DESIGN, THOUGH). It was written in a very interesting style, and the characters felt very specifically drawn. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t really get into the vibe of the story. Lucia had such anger and put-upon flippancy; she had every right to be angry, but I have a hard time feeling much empathy with characters who seem like they do everything possible to hold onto that anger. I thought there was a lot more to explore with both her character and the Arson Club plotline that Ball never really got into. I admire the effort, but it’s not a winner for me.
Favorite book this month: Hamilton: The Revolution
Most likely to re-read: Hamilton: The Revolution
Most likely to recommend: Hamilton: The Revolution
So that’s May: one super standout, two okay reads, and two lackluster novels. But, you know, that happens. And I’ve got all sorts of new books ready to fill my summer, so you can look forward to those over the next three months!
Keep reading and support your local libraries!