Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Three out of Five Stars
“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.
Larson tells two stories happening side by side during the late 1800’s in Chicago. One is the massive planning, development, and execution of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The other is the true story of the serial killer that rampantly murdered hundreds of innocent victims while the city (and world) was blinded by the Fair’s brightness.
This book has been on my “to read” list since I lived in Chicago in 2009…and I think I had too high of expectations. Don’t get me wrong, this book is an incredible piece of work. I learned so many facts about the building of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. The amount of passion and work put into the fair was amazing and it makes me sad that we no longer have similar expeditions. However, I was expecting the account of Dr. H. H. Holmes to be a little more…eh..graphic? (I don’t mean to sound overly morbid either) and more character development.
Overall, the facts and the history were very interesting, but I wanted a more personal connection with the historical characters. I wanted Larson to dive a little bit deeper into the psyche of the killer and relate it more to those of the architects in charge of the fair. To me, it read more like a historical biography rather than historical fiction.
The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan
Five out of Five Stars
“Those were the reasons we both knew how deep love was, the shared pain that would outlast any pain we caused each other.”
“Teddy once told me that it’s natural that we feel alone, and that’s because our hearts are different from others and we don’t even know how. When we’re in love, as if by magic, our different hearts come together perfectly toward the same desire. Eventually, the differences return, and then comes heartache and mending, and, in between, much loneliness and fear. If love remains despite the pain of those differences, it must be guarded as rare.”
I truly loved this book and couldn’t put it down. Tan is known for her simple, yet magical, prose, and in Valley of Amazement she once again laces together a beautiful and heart wrenching narrative about mothers and daughters and surviving as a woman during the turn of the century in Shanghai.
The novel spans 80 years and two continents and weaves together the lives of three generations of women. The main character, Violet, the daughter of an American woman who manages a courtesan house, is kidnapped and sold as a virgin courtesan at a young age. As Violet endures every tragedy possible we stand beside her as she tries mercifully to hold onto hope, self-affirmation, love, and forgiveness.
This book was a treasure and I enjoyed soaking up the words and history and the overpowering feelings of hope and love that surround mothers, daughter, and female friendships.
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriaty
Four out of Five Stars
“Each memory, good and bad, was another invisible thread that bound them together…It was as simple and complicated as that. Love after children, after you’ve hurt each other and forgiven each other, bored each other and surprised each other, after you’ve seen the worst and the best…-well, that sort of love is ineffable. It deserves its own word.”
“I’ve come to think that’s what heaven is- a place in the memory of others where our best selves live on.”
On a little bit of a lighter note, compared to the above Valley of Amazement, What Alice Forgot was a fun read that was equally has hard to put down. What I liked most about this book was Moriaty’s way of expressing heartbreaking life moments like infertility, divorce, and loss of self in such a refreshing, and yes, fun way.
If you woke up and couldn’t remember the last 10 years of your life, what would you wish you did different? This book is about Alice, a fun and vibrant 28 year old who is madly in love with her husband and is pregnant with her first child. She then wakes up, after a fall off a bike at the gym, to realize that she is now 38, mother of three children and currently divorcing her husband. She doesn’t recognize herself, her friends, or her family. So much has changed and she does her best to put together the missing pieces.
A great reminder to hold on to what is important to you, no matter what life throws your way.