Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction

Far Sweeter Than Honey (Book Thoughts) by William Spencer

Thank you so much to Dart Frog Books for the finished copy of Far Sweeter than Honey: searching for meaning on a bicycle by William Spencer.  All opinions are my own!

I was so excited to read about Spencer’s trek from England to India via bicycle.  This is the perfect book for someone itching to travel right now and I thought that it had all the elements of a good travelogue – interesting people to meet, descriptive scenery, food and culture, and of course personal reflection.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Far Sweeter than Honey
  • Author: William Spencer
  • Publisher & Release: Dart Frog Books, December 2020
  • Length: 302 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for fans of travel, culture, memoir

Here is the synopsis:

This is the true story of a young man’s epic bicycle journey from England to India. Traveling more than eight thousand miles, he encounters all manner of adventure, from the curious company of a butterfly in the wilds of Iran to the aftermath of a coup in Kandahar, Afghanistan—from navigating the foreign yet welcoming Muslim world, where he learns the basics of Islam, to the journey’s end in mystical India, where he arrives at an understanding of what it means to be free.

William Spencer establishes himself as a writer to watch in his debut book, weaving masterful storytelling and cultural insights in a page-turning adventure.

Spencer gives detailed and immersive descriptions of the countryside and cities, including weather, wind, and road conditions.  Whether a bucolic French countryside or the middle eastern desert, I thought he took excellent notes.

The journey originally happened in the late 1980s, and I wonder what was changed since then! Even though some elements may now be outdated, it was extremely interesting to read about the culture and culture shock, customs and people that Spencer encountered.

I heavily enjoyed the Turkey through Pakistan chapters the most.  Spencer met, for example, a college student at Damascus university taking an English lit course – and when talking about “popular authors”, none were familiar! The culture shock also came through as Spencer and his friend, Rudy, had to navigate different customs and hospitality norms, from how to act towards women to how much skin to cover.  Another image that stuck with me was the author sitting on the bank of Sea of Galilee, where Jesus walked on water in the bible, and someone was waterskiing on Christmas eve!  I can see where his expectations and reality would have totally clashed in those situations.

Spencer was struggling to reconcile the western ideal with the eastern reality, and it gave me some things to think about too.  I liked that he could say like OK, my impression on these locals is adding to their impression of Westerners, and that’s important.  Especially in those middle eastern chapters, I found the author becoming more likeable in my mind as he started accepting things as they came.

I also really, really liked the longer Pakistan chapter at the end. I had a doctor friend from a northern region (I forgot where) and he showed me tons of videos and told stories from home, and I could definitely feel some of that regard from the expats that Spencer wrote about, even in the 80s or early 90s.

The last thing to mention is that photos and sketches from the journey are included! The photos are mostly of people, while the sketches are of scenery, trees and such, and I think they added a lot to the story.  The only thing that mystified me was how long it took for Spencer to just accept the fact that there is both good and bad in every culture! One cheating merchant or unruly group of kids would sour his mood towards an entire region, even where most experiences were positive, then he would swing back again when the next good thing happened.

That said though, the book was a great mix of hardship, positive and negative, and I think a great portrayal of the journey.  There is absolutely no way in today’s day and age that one is going to visit half of these places and I loved getting a glimpse of the foreign countries.

Definitely check this one out if you like travelogues, memoirs, new ideas and cultural exploration.  It’s a slow ride but totally worth it

Categories
audiobooks Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction Crime

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann

It’s nonfiction November, and I have had this e-book on my digital shelf forever! Between the time of year and a friend’s recommendation, I finally read it. 

Quick verdict: a bit hard to follow at times, but I feel like everyone should be aware of this part of  indigenous history and the crimes involved

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
  • Author: David Grann
  • Publisher & Release: Doubleday, April 2017
  • Length: 352 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟✨

Here is the description:

From New Yorker staff writer David Grann, #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Lost City of Z, a twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.
      Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. Her relatives were shot and poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more members of the tribe began to die under mysterious circumstances.
      In this last remnant of the Wild West—where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes like Al Spencer, the “Phantom Terror,” roamed—many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll climbed to more than twenty-four, the FBI took up the case. It was one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations and the bureau badly bungled the case. In desperation, the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only American Indian agents in the bureau. The agents infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest techniques of detection.  Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history. 
      In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered in cold blood. Based on years of research and startling new evidence, the book is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, as each step in the investigation reveals a series of sinister secrets and reversals. But more than that, it is a searing indictment of the callousness and prejudice toward American Indians that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity for so long. Killers of the Flower Moon is utterly compelling, but also emotionally devastating

So Killers is an extremely interesting story with an investigative journalism and true crime feel.  i feel like if I hadn’t switched to the audiobook, parts of it would have been drawn out and slower to read, especially the third section.

The book is about the Osage and their exploitation, murders, and lack of justice during the 1910’s thru 1930s. After the tribe moved to a rocky, hard to farm area following the Louisiana Purchase and further movement west, prospectors struck liquid gold and the tribe became rich on oil. After that, they were prime targets of greedy men and women all over the country. Then the murders started.

Split into three sections, the first about the Osage and the victims, centered around one lady and her family in particular. The second section was about the investigation into the murders and the eventual FBI involvement, and the third from today’s perspective about the author’s research and viewing of the area.  He dropped in and saw how depressed the tribal lands looked in present time, with some descendants still looking for answers about the murders. 

I think it’s an important and brutal part of history to be aware of, but honestly wasn’t a fan of the telling. I read parts 1 and 3 and listened to Will Patton 🖤 narrate the second. The whole book felt loosely strung together and it was impossible to keep track of so many names; I felt lost through most of it.  There were sooo many names and descriptions in part one, and eventually I told myself that the names are less important than the history in general, but this ruined some of the true crime, whodunit part of the book for me

That said, there is also a lot of good, interesting, and exciting information and many exciting stories provided about the events and murders, of both the tribal members and of those investigating.  Anyone too close to the source usually ended up dead as well.  I couldn’t believe how much corruption and greed there was, for some reason I thought a lot of that outlaw justice and exploitation was over by the 1920s, but I was very very very wrong.

One of my favorite facts was about all the Sherlockian private eyes that were trying to investigate – this was funny only in that I never knew there were pipe smoking detectives trying to play Sherlock back in the early 1900s. I cringed when someone did a lobotomy and poked a murdered victim’s brain with a stick.

What I will carry forward is the knowledge that these injustices happened, and that justice for these people was hard fought, inconclusive, and fleeting at best.

Overall: read or listen to it for sure if you have interest in Native American, American history, true crime, history of law enforcement

** a quick note on the audio: published in 2017 by Random House Audio, 9 hours and 7 minutes long.  Narrators are Will Patton, Ann Marie Lee, Danny Campbell.  I will obviously listen to anything that Will Patton reads, I feel like he could make a cereal box interesting.  Each narrator read one section.  Ann Marie Lee was okay, but not amazing, and I think the author should have read Danny Campbell’s section.   If the text is a little dry I would say switch over and give audio a try

Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction Crime

Book Review: Trial by Fire by Scott James

Thank you so much to St. Martin’s Press for the finished copy of Trial by Fire in exchange for an honest review and feature!  All opinions are my own!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Trial by Fire
  • Author: Scott James
  • Genre: Nonfiction, true crime
  • Publisher & Release: Thomas Dunne Books, October 2020
  • Length: 384 Pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for those interested!

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

In only 90 seconds, a fire in the Station nightclub killed 100 people and injured hundreds more. It would take nearly 20 years to find out why—and who was really at fault.

All it took for a hundred people to die during a show by the hair metal band Great White was a sudden burst from two giant sparklers that ignited the acoustical foam lining the Station nightclub. But who was at fault? And who would pay? This being Rhode Island, the two questions wouldn’t necessarily have the same answer.

Within 24 hours the governor of Rhode Island and the local police commissioner were calling for criminal charges, although the investigation had barely begun, no real evidence had been gathered, and many of the victims hadn’t been identified. Though many parties could be held responsible, fingers pointed quickly at the two brothers who owned the club. But were they really to blame? Bestselling author and three-time Emmy Award-winning reporter Scott James investigates all the central figures, including the band’s manager and lead singer, the fire inspector, the maker of the acoustical foam, as well as the brothers. Drawing on firsthand accounts, interviews with many involved, and court documents, James explores the rush to judgment about what happened that left the victims and their families, whose stories he also tells, desperate for justice.

Trial By Fire is the heart-wrenching story of the fire’s aftermath because while the fire, one of America’s deadliest, lasted fewer than two minutes, the search for the truth would take twenty years.

I hadn’t heard of this tragedy but after a quick Google search (not recommended video viewing for the faint of heart) I became quickly interested. A reporter live at the scene, ironically there for a feature on safety, caught video of this rapidly unfolding horror show that created a mystery for years to come. This is an extremely readable and fast moving book for a nonfiction!

In Trial by Fire, Scott James looks at everyone’s side of the story. From the club owners to the club and band managers, the fire marshall, the foam company that sold the wrong insulation to the club owners, plus survivors, families of the deceased, and more, I feel like a really wide and unbiased portrayal of events was covered here. James even brings in Rhode Island history and legal precedents to set the scene for encountered attitudes and court proceedings. I appreciated the full disclosure elements too.

I think the most interesting part for me was how the media was so biased, and totally seems to have f**ked up a lot of the coverage and facts. The governor tried to clamp down on false information and the club owners tried to stay out of the crap slinging, but there is a really huge issue with bad media coverage and people rushing to believe it. I did learn a lot about how media works though. Another interesting part was … Well… I’m a nurse and love medical bits. I was morbidly fascinated while reading about people’s skin melting off as they tried to be pulled to safety, toxic smoke inhalation, flash points, and triage. Also the hospital coverage and burn treatments, especially the pulmonary advancements were super interesting to me. Thinking about this from a first responder perspective is truly horrifying. I can’t even imagine being inside or outside and just hearing all the screams stop, it’s too terrible to process fully 😳

I learned a ton about everything from fire in general to safety codes, history, the legal system, and human nature by reading this book. I really highly recommend for anyone interested in true crime or investigative journalism type reads. Also there is a huge humanitarian aspect to the book and personal stories of many survivors and victims, if you enjoy a bittersweet success story.

Thank you again so much to St Martin’s Press (Sara thank you!) for my copy, all opinions are my own!

If anyone has read this and/or wants to discuss it, feel free to leave a comment! Thanks for reading!