I have seen the future baby, it is murder.

the-shining-girls

 

I read this book as part of the book club I run for fans of the My Favorite Murder podcast. This was our non-fiction selection for the month of January. Some people who started reading the book before me complained that book jumping around in time made for a confusing read. Perhaps the advance warning helped because I did not find the time jumps confusing at all. I was also concerned that the premise of a time traveling serial killer would wind up being silly but Lauren Beukes book is a gripping, fast paced read that never feels ridiculous despite its far fetched plot.

Harper Curtis is a serial killer who stumbles onto an abandoned house that opens into other times. Using clues from the house, Harper insinuates himself into the lives of pre-selected girls who “shine” at different periods in modern history. He visits them in their childhood, promising he will visit them later. When he does visit them in adulthood, he murders them brutally. Unbeknownst to him, Kirby Mizrachi, one of his “Shining Girls” survives and is determined to find the man who nearly killed her. Kirby teams up with former Homicide reporter Dan Valesquez to solve the case that has left police baffled.

One thing I really appreciated about this book is that (Possible spoiler?) at no point were there any great leaps of logic on the part of the investigators. Even when the evidence starts to mount, the theory seems fantastical. Additionally, Kirby has done her homework on serial killers. Watching her try to apply clinical criteria that won’t fit together is equal parts satisfying and frustrating (satisfyingly frustrating?) because she’s smart and she *should* be right but she isn’t because the reality is so unreal. The only reason I can’t give it a full five stars is that I’m not entirely sure if I like the ending. However, The Shining Girls is a nice addition to serial killer crime fiction that never feels stale or tired.

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Cheese! Cheese! Cheese!

the-cheese-chronicles

 

It was probably unwise to start a book dedicated to cheese right after I made a resolution to start eating more healthy. I was completely unable to handle the descriptions of all the many cheeses as I waited for my lunch hour. My carefully prepared healthy meal suddenly seemed woefully inadequate after the descriptions of delicious and luxurious sounding milky delights. And while this book is not entirely what I expected, I learned a lot about American cheese production that I never knew before.

This book is exactly what is says it is. If you are a cheese connoisseur looking for more information on great American cheeses, (note: when I say “American cheese,” I mean cheese made in America, not the toxic yellow squares your mom put on your grade school sandwich with baloney) then this is the book for you. However, if you are like me and consider a wedge of brie from your local grocery to be high living, you are more in need of a cheese primer. That’s not to say there isn’t some interesting information to be gleaned for the cheese novice. Liz Thorpe takes us into to the cheese making process and gives a brief history of cheese in America. The book is well written, engaging and informative. It just wasn’t my speed.

Corazon Rebelde

dreaming-in-cuban

 

I picked up Dreaming in Cuban from my TBR pile after a much needed break from a ton of true crime, murder mystery and horror novels. It’s a lovely little book about 3 generations of Cubans (mostly women) and their starkly different reactions to the Cuban revolution of 1959. It’s a bit of history, magical realism and the complicated relationships between mothers and their children all rolled into one. And while it’s not a standout example of either, Cristina Garcia’s writing is lyrical and reads beautifully.

The family in question is the Del Pino clan who live on the North coast of Cuba. The matriarch, Celia, embraces the Revolution and Castro fervently. Her oldest daughter Lourdes flees to Brooklyn with her family and his fanatically pro-American and anticommunist which causes strain between her and her artist daughter Pilar who embraces the punk scene of the late 1970s. Her younger daughter Felicia seems to have mental problems and moves from one troubled relationship to another before embracing Santeria. Her son, Ivanito, seems to struggle to find his place in this family of vastly different women.

The story moves from the early 1970s and follows the Del Pino women for ten years as they struggle with their own pasts and the choices they’ve made. Overall it was a lovely little read and a good choice for someone looking to read more non-white female authors.

“Fighting Food to Find Transcendence”

starvation-heights

 

I read this book on the recommendation of the podcast Stuff You Missed in History Class in their episode that discussed this case. I highly recommend both the podcast and the book. The case of Linda Burfield Hazzard is a fascinating one. It’s also interesting to see that the lengths many people will go in order to cure their real or imagined maladies hasn’t changed much. What has changed is how we deal with the practitioners of these so-called natural cures.

Sisters Claire and Dorothea Williamson who came to Dr. Hazzard in early 1911 for her fasting cures. The sisters were in overall good health but did not feel healthy and thought Dr. Hazzard’s fasting cure could be the key to their wellbeing. By spring of that same year, Claire would be dead, weighing less than 50 pounds, and her sister Dorothea would be spirited away from Dr. Hazzard’s sanitarium by a faithful family nursemaid looking like a living skeleton. Additonally, both sisters’ finances and power of attorney was signed over to the doctor though Dorothea would deny ever having done such a thing. In the ensuing trial for murder, Dr. Hazzard would paint herself as a martyr for homeopathic medicine being persecuted by the mainstream medical community. The case is bizarre and fascinating. Author Gregg Olsen paints a picture of a woman whose pride and stubbornness combined with her husband’s greed created the monster that would be known locally as “Starvation Heights.”

This story was thoroughly engrossing from start to finish. I would only give the caveat that the first third of the book that details the Williamson sisters’ harrowing experience with the fasting cure is extremely disturbing. I’ve been reading true crime since I was a teen and I found it hard to take. This is not a complaint against Mr. Olsen’s writing. Relaying the experience of starvation should be upsetting.