Famously, the story that would become the enduring classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland began as a tale told aloud to a young girl named Alice Liddell. The author, Charles Dodgeson, had done some writing in the past under the pen name of Lewis Carroll, but he did not dream of becoming a novelist or a children’s entertainer. Instead, he spent his pittance of a salary from his low-level position at Oxford on the new and exciting art of photography. Much of the surviving evidence of his relationship with the Liddell family comes from the photographs he took of the children. A particularly enigmatic photograph of Alice dressed as a beggar serves as the focal point for Winchester’s examination of Dodgeson’s photographic passion and his relationship with the girl whom he would immortalize in his tales of Wonderland.
Although I have enjoyed some of Winchester’s other works, I found this book underwhelming. He devotes a significant amount of time to discussing photography practices and other photographs Dodgeson took, occasionally losing the focus on Alice and the Liddell family. Furthermore, the book contains no reproductions of the many photographs it discusses–a true limitation since the comparison and contrast of Dodgeson’s relationship with the Liddell siblings and other children largely depends on the reader’s ability to imagine and mentally compare the photographs. Winchester also mentions Dodgeson’s diary frequently when discussing his relationship with the Liddells and his relationships with and attitudes toward young girls, but the book would have benefitted from more direct excerpts from these diaries to help support Winchester’s conclusions.
Overall, if you are interested in the subject matter, this is a brief and interesting read, but it lacks a certain amount of depth and supporting material which could have elevated the book to a truly engaging narrative.
In the years leading up to her death, true crime writer Michelle McNamara diligently researched the serial killer and rapist that she labeled “The Golden State Killer.” Only two months after the posthumous publication of this book, a suspect was finally identified and arrested in connection with the decades-old crimes. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark reads partly as a police procedural mystery, with focus on the investigators, the collection of evidence, the piecing together of threads over the years, and the different theories swirling around the unsolved (at the time) case. It also reads as a bit of an autobiography of McNamara, with both the stories of her own life and her emotional connections to cold cases that she intended to share and the annotations about her writing process added by those close to her after her death. The interwoven plot lines of the investigators and writer in their relentless pursuit of justice made the book a gripping and powerful read at the time of its publication.
The arrest of Joseph DeAngelo only heightens the book’s appeal. Readers who may have been astounded that a cold case could be broken after so many years can see the inner workings of the investigation–the sometimes wild leads investigators followed relentlessly, some dead ends, but others astoundingly prescient given the investigation’s conclusion. The knowledge that the killer was finally caught also adds some catharsis to an otherwise unsettling ending where the killer remained free and the writer did not live to pursue her investigation further.
True crime is a tricky genre, especially for relatively recent crimes where in-depth studies may seem voyeuristic or insensitive to those loved ones still grieving. Through her focus on the investigation, McNamara gives a clear sense of purpose to every detail that she includes. The more graphic and salacious information is not provided to shock readers or to dramatize a family’s tragedy, but rather to build a wall of evidence with which to ultimately bring the killer to justice. If you are interested in this case or in true crime, I would highly recommend this book.
The world began in fire, ice, and mist. This is also how it will end. The gods who formed the earth by slaying a giant will in turn be slain by giants, and thus will end the reign of the Aesir and the Vanir, the gods of Asgard. But before the end of the world, the gods went (or perhaps are still going) on adventures that still capture the imagination.
Neil Gaiman breathes life into the ancient stories of the Norse gods, embracing their crass and ignominious qualities along with their cleverness and nobility. The characters and stories he explores are complex and humorous, told with his characteristic narrative style and masterful world-building. In contrast with many mythologies, the Norse tales focus on the gods and their enemies, the giants, almost exclusively. The gods fight their own battles rather than enlisting mortal heroes. Although all of the tales are distinct and–as Gaiman notes in his introduction–occasionally contradictory, still a story arc sweeps from the world’s creation to its destruction and rebirth. The short tales, however, make this book an ideal audiobook to listen to during start and stop activities, such as a commute, and the author’s reading of the audiobook is, as always, superb.
Highly recommended to mythology fans and fantasy fans!
In the third installment of his memoirs, Stephen Fry briefly reviews the most formative events of his childhood and university years before meandering through the cocaine-laced journey of his career. The memoir is littered with anecdotes about his own personal life and his star-studded friendships–although he makes a point not to tell any scathing or overly embarrassing stories about famous people other than himself. The story of his initial introduction to cocaine and early, high-functioning usage is much more detailed and direct than the story of its negative impact on his life (told through the publication of a litany of his actual diary entries which focus primarily on people and events). But he makes a point of telling the reader that cocaine dependency negatively impacted his professional and personal life, and he would recommend it to no one.
Fry’s non-chronological reminiscences follow thin thematic threads, which makes the book difficult to follow at times. There is no real arc to the overall points he makes (they are somewhat scattered throughout), so the memoir reads more as a collection of anecdotes than a cohesive narrative of its own. That said, many of the anecdotes are quite entertaining. One of the highlights of the book is an anecdote about Prince Charles and Princess Diana paying a visit to Stephen Fry’s home over the Christmas holiday while he had house guests (including Hugh Laurie and Rowan Atkinson). The majority of his anecdotes, however, will be of most (perhaps exclusive) interest to fans of Stephen Fry and his closest colleagues (Hugh Laurie, Rowan Atkinson, Emma Thompson, Kenneth Branagh, etc.). I would recommend this memoir specifically to such fans.
How would you feel if you encountered a 12 ft. tall bird? Or a 6 ft. tall, 10 ft. long ox? As strange and potentially alarming as they might sound, these and other giant creatures ruled their ecosystems until humans hastened their extinction. In his book, Campbell describe the origins, history, role, and extinction of thirteen “giants” of nature. Each account is incredibly interesting, but detailed and written with a sophisticated, scientific style that may not appeal to all of the teen readers to whom it is marketed. Despite a few half-hearted and awkward references to social media, and an occasional break in tone for an attempt at teen-speak, the book reads like a scientific article. So while it won’t attract a broad teen audience, it is fantastic for high schoolers and adults who are interested in the subject matter and looking for a well-researched, thorough narrative about the evolution, impact, and decline of each species–as well as a glimpse into the future of possible back-breeding to restore giants into the ecosystem.
An engaging read which I recommend to older teens and adults who are interested in biology and/or history.
Clara always loved learning. But in her small Jewish community, women were not meant to be scholars. And her father was determined that not even his sons would ever learn Russian, the language of their oppressors. Still Clara dreamed of being a doctor, and taught herself in secret how to read and how to speak Russian. When a violent pogrom destroyed their community, Clara and her family moved to America, and the opportunity for her to pursue her studies seemed more real than ever. But when the need to support her family forced Clara to work in a sweatshop, she discovered the horrible plight of the working immigrant woman – and child – and her dreams of becoming a surgeon began to conflict with her desire to pursue justice for the oppressed women around her. Still a teenager, Clara formed a union, and endured terrible hardships as she pursued her new dream.
Inspired by Clara’s real life love of poetry, Crowder tells the true story of Clara Lemlich as she imagines Clara would have experienced it in beautiful poetic verse. The story is exciting, informative, and inspiring. Teen readers may see parallels between Clara’s struggle for justice and many injustice is in our world today. The book concludes with a detailed description of what is true and what is fictionalized in the novel, as well as interviews with Clara’s surviving relatives. I highly recommend this book to teen readers who enjoy historical fiction.