Today, I’m joining with Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book. One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about social distancing and being home all the time is the extra time I’ve had to read. I usually work from home anyway, but James and I take part in several ministries for the diocese so I don’t usually have that much time to read. Now that all of our out-of-home activities have been canceled, I’ve been able to get through many of the books on my “To Read” Pile!
The Devil in White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
Synopsis: Come for the Killer, Stay For the Fair. Anonymous death came early and often. Each of the thousand trains that entered and left the city did so at grade level. You could step from a curb and be killed by the Chicago Limited. Every day on average two people were destroyed at the city’s rail crossings. Their injuries were grotesque. Pedestrians retrieved severed heads. There were other hazards. Streetcars fell from drawbridges. Horses bolted and dragged carriages into crowds. Fires took a dozen lives a day. In describing the fire dead, the term the newspapers most liked to use was “roasted.” There was diphtheria, typhus, cholera, influenza. And there was murder. In the time of the fair the rate at which men and women killed each other rose sharply throughout the nation but especially in Chicago, where police found themselves without the manpower or expertise to manage the volume.
But things were changing. Everywhere one looked the boundary between the moral and the wicked seemed to be degrading. Elizabeth Cady Stanton argued in favor of divorce. Clarence Darrow advocated free love. A young woman named Lizzie Borden killed her parents.
And in Chicago a young handsome doctor stepped from a train, his surgical valise in hand. He entered a world of clamor, smoke, and steam, refulgent with the scents of murdered cattle and pigs. He found it to his liking.
The letters came later, from the Cigrands, Williamses, Smythes, and untold others, addressed to that strange gloomy castle at Sixty-third and Wallace, pleading for the whereabouts of daughters and daughters’ children.
It was so easy to disappear, so easy to deny knowledge, so very easy in the smoke and din to mask that something dark had taken root.
This was Chicago, on the eve of the greatest fair in history.
My review: So far, this has been my favorite of the three Larson books I’ve read. I could not put this book down. Larson weaves the story of H.H. Holmes, one of America’s first serial killers and the story of how the Chicago Fair was organized. Outstanding read and I learned so much as well. Highly recommend.
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and
An American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson
Synopsis: The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Nazi Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.
A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the “New Germany,” she has one affair after another, including with the surprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels.
But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance—and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler’s true character and ruthless ambition.
Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period, and with unforgettable portraits of the bizarre Göring and the expectedly charming–yet wholly sinister–Goebbels, In the Garden of Beasts lends a stunning, eyewitness perspective on events as they unfold in real time, revealing an era of surprising nuance and complexity. The result is a dazzling, addictively readable work that speaks volumes about why the world did not recognize the grave threat posed by Hitler until Berlin, and Europe, were awash in blood and terror
My review: This was also another compelling read, and again, I learned a lot, especially about the early days of the Nazis when they were in control of the country. Dodds, the American ambassador, tries to warn others about the diabolical Hitler, his SS and the Nazis in general. He saw firsthand the persecution of the Jews and other unspeakable acts even before others outside Germany. Highly recommend.
11-22-63 by Stephen King
Amazon Synopsis: ON NOVEMBER 22, 1963, THREE SHOTS RANG OUT IN DALLAS, PRESIDENT KENNEDY DIED, AND THE WORLD CHANGED. WHAT IF YOU COULD CHANGE IT BACK?
In this brilliantly conceived tour de force, Stephen King—who has absorbed the social, political, and popular culture of his generation more imaginatively and thoroughly than any other writer—takes readers on an incredible journey into the past and the possibility of altering it.
It begins with Jake Epping, a thirty-five-year-old English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching GED classes. He asks his students to write about an event that changed their lives, and one essay blows him away—a gruesome, harrowing story about the night more than fifty years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a sledgehammer. Reading the essay is a watershed moment for Jake, his life—like Harry’s, like America’s in 1963—turning on a dime. Not much later his friend Al, who owns the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to the past, a particular day in 1958. And Al enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination.
So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson, in a different world of Ike and JFK and Elvis, of big American cars and sock hops and cigarette smoke everywhere. From the dank little city of Derry, Maine (where there’s Dunning business to conduct), to the warmhearted small town of Jodie, Texas, where Jake falls dangerously in love, every turn is leading eventually, of course, to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and to Dallas, where the past becomes heart-stoppingly suspenseful, and where history might not be history anymore. Time-travel has never been so believable. Or so terrifying.
My review: I absolutely loved this book. It has something for everyone: time travel, great characters, someone trying to stop the Kennedy Assassination, a love story, interesting plot. It’s a LONG read (900 pages), but after I finished the book, I immediately ordered the DVD of the 2016 mini-series with James Franco. Highly recommend both the novel and the DVD!
Such Good Girls: The Journey of the Holocaust’s Hidden Survivors by R. D. Rosen
Synopsis: Edgar Award-winning mystery novelist R. D. Rosen tells the story of the hidden children who survived the Holocaust through the lives of three girls hidden in three different countries—among the less than 10 percent of Jewish children in Europe to survive World War II—who went on to lead remarkable lives in New York City.
Only one in ten Jewish children in Europe survived the Holocaust, many in hiding. In Such Good Girls, R. D. Rosen tells the story of these survivors through the true experiences of three girls.
Sophie Turner-Zaretsky, who spent the war years believing she was an anti-Semitic Catholic schoolgirl, eventually became an esteemed radiation oncologist. Flora Hogman, protected by a succession of Christians, emerged from the war a lonely, lost orphan, but became a psychologist who pioneered the study of hidden child survivors. Unlike Anne Frank, Carla Lessing made it through the war concealed with her family in the home of Dutch strangers before becoming a psychotherapist and key player in the creation of an international organization of hidden child survivors.
In braiding the stories of three women who defied death by learning to be “such good girls,” Rosen examines a silent and silenced generation—the last living cohort of Holocaust survivors. He provides rich, memorable portraits of a handful of hunted children who, as adults, were determined to deny Hitler any more victories, and he recreates the extraordinary event that lured so many hidden child survivors out of their grown-up “hiding places” and finally brought them together.
My review: I just downloaded this for .99 so this is in my “To Be Read” pile.
Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism by Scott and Kimberly Hahn
Amazon Synopsis: The well-known and very popular Catholic couple, Scott and Kimberly Hahn, have been constantly travelling and speaking all over North America for the last few years about their conversion to the Catholic Church. Now these two outstanding Catholic apologists tell in their own words about the incredible spiritual journey that led them to embrace Catholicism.
Scott Hahn was a Presbyterian minister, the top student in his seminary class, a brilliant Scripture scholar, and militantly anti-Catholic … until he reluctantly began to discover that his “enemy” had all the right answers. Kimberly, also a top-notch theology student in the seminary, is the daughter of a well-known Protestant minister, and went through a tremendous “dark night of the soul” after Scott converted to Catholicism.
Their conversion story and love for the Church has captured the hearts and minds of thousands of lukewarm Catholics and brought them back into an active participation in the Church. They have also influenced countless conversions to Catholicism among their friends and others who have heard their powerful testimony.
My review: I’ve read the original of this book three times in the past and enjoyed it tremendously. I picked it up again the other day and still found it as compelling as the first time I read it. Highly recommend.