Friday, August 18, 2017

34. Close to Shore

How good is this book? I swear to you, I was rooting for the shark.

Okay, lest you think I'm a terrible person, let me back up.

This. Book. Is. So. Good.

I'd tell you it's the ultimate beach read, but if you read it on the beach near the ocean, you'll run to the boardwalk so fast, you'll forget the book and your towel and your chair and your children near the shore.

I had never heard of this book, though it has been out for quite some time. The story it tells, in fact, was the inspiration for Jaws. And, it's written in a way that you forget it's non-fiction. 

The book tells the story of a series of shark attacks that terrorized the Jersey shore in 1916. At the time, two new trends were emerging and they were on a collision course with each other. First, people were just getting into the hobby of sunbathing and wading into the waters of the ocean. Women were free, relatively speaking, of the cumbersome swimsuits that had weighed them down in decades prior and men were starting to see venturing into the ocean as equivalent to trekking into the forests. That was all happening around the same time that "experts" were concluding that sharks would not attack people. It hadn't happen, they said. They had no proof. So, imagine the shock that stifling hot summer when people from the cities flocked to the coast and, just off shore, swam what scientists now believe was a juvenile great white shark, far from home, desperate and hungry.

Chills, guys.

The author does a fantastic job using alternating chapters to set the tension. In one, he describes the time in which these shark attacks was ripe to occur and the people who would eventually come in contact with what they called a "sea wolf" or a "sea monster." The next chapter, then, gives you the shark's likely point of view. What it might be seeing in the water, the sounds and smells that would have drawn it closer to shore. You find yourself holding your breath to see where and who he will strike, as he moves his way up the coast and right into the path of those brave, trendy bathers.

You learn a lot about sharks, you learn a lot about how science observed them when the ocean was truly wild. You're reminded how slowly news traveled then, when the shark is able to come close to come within feet of shore and attack long before word of the previous attack could reach them. By the thousands, people were fleeing the shore and leaving empty hotel rooms behind. The sea was not safe. 

Then, the shore came inland. Into fresh water. Into a swimming hole full of kids.

I'm so tempted to say more, but I want you to read this and I don't want you to miss out on any of the suspense that gripped me from start to finish. This book had such a hold on me, I was scared to swim in the body of water on which I was vacationing and it was a lake, hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean.

That's some book. 

33. Settle For More

Here's how I've always felt about Megyn Kelly: meh

Here's how I feel about Megyn Kelly after reading her book: meh.

It's quite amazing, really, to read an entire 300+ pages about someone's entire life and career and walk away really not having an opinion about the person one way or another. But, that's how I feel. 

I had no real desire to read this book, but she was staring at me pleasantly from the library shelf and I thought I might as well see what she was so eager to tell me. It was free, after all, what did I have to lose? 

Kelly's book details her life from beginning to (almost) now. She describes her family life and childhood and her family members sound like wonderful people. Her story leads her through undergraduate school to law school to a corporate law career and, ultimately, to broadcast journalism. I guess that's why I picked up the book in the first place; I'm a TV journalist, I like to see how people's careers progress. Megyn Kelly, though, had anything but a "normal" tv career. Clearly smart and driven, she started her tv career in Washington, DC working as a part-time reporter at WJLA. I was a summer intern there in 1998, which means absolutely nothing but I felt like including it so that you'd be super-impressed with me. I can tell that you are.

Anyway, back to Megyn, the actual big deal.

Kelly caught the eye of execs at Fox News who plucked her from affiliate obscurity and thrust her upon America. They moved her up quickly. She rose to the challenge and rocketed to cable news stardom.

Kelly talks about being driven and relentless in preparation for big interviews and debates. Admirable? Yes. Surprising? No. That's the bare minimum for journalists of her caliber and I didn't really feel like she "let us in" to the struggles that come with that. The book read more like a resume than a memoir, which is fine. I'd just rather read the latter. She did talk about fears she faced and security she required when dealing with psychotic stalkers and talked about raising kids and having a family with all the demands of her job. 

I was mostly bored, just reading to finish.

Then, I got kind of mad.

Kelly spends the better part of a chapter talking about how women should not use gender as an excuse for not getting ahead in their careers. Not getting ahead, she asks? Don't blame sexism, just work harder. Feeling overlooked and underappreciated? That's because you are - maybe you should move on. It's not bad advice, but it really ignores the reality of sex discrimination and objectification many women feel, especially in our business. It felt honest, but cold. 

Then came the final pages. Kelly waits until page 300 to describe the rampant sexual harassment at the network that launched her career. After talking casually and complimentary about the Fox News higher-ups the entire book, she reveals that Roger Ailes sexually harassed her at the beginning her tenure there. She kept it quiet, only coming forward when other women did so and there were legal implications for Ailes. I'm not judging her for not coming forward - that's a personal decision women have to make. But, it really bothered me that, just pages before, she talked about women needing to ignore sexual undertones and sex discrimination in the work place. 

It just left a terrible taste in my mouth.

Kelly does acknowledge that she's long had a veneer of perfection and that it's hard for her to show weakness and let others in. I'm guilty of much of the same. I do, though, think this book did little to draw that down and reveal the woman beneath.

Friday, August 11, 2017

32. News of the World

I've had this book on my list since this little project started, but I was intimidated to start it. You can tell from the parchment-esque paper the book is printed on that it may require a little more brain power than I felt like expending this summer. I knew I would read it eventually, so when it was finally available at the library, I dove in.

I'm so, so glad I did.

Set in the years after the Civil War, News of the World tells the story of a military veteran and widow on a very different journey in the waning years of his life. He travels throughout Texas, reading newspapers to townsfolk eager for information about the world outside their small towns. Long before Google and RSS feeds and information at our fingertips, these people long to know what's happening in far-flung parts of the world. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd feeds their hunger, not with news of war and violence and poverty - they have lived through enough of that already. Instead, he reads about India and England and experiments and light-hearted news that maybe brings some hope that life moves on in the world. Set up like poetry readings, Captain Kidd's news delivery matters as much as the local newspapers sold on the street corners. Probably more.

Along the way, Captain Kidd agrees to transport a little girl back to her home near San Antonio. Ten years old, Johanna was kidnapped by Kiowa Indians who slaughtered her family. She was only six when it happened and the Kiowa raised the young girl as one of their own. By the time she meets Captain Kidd, she remembers nothing of her life before. She wishes to stay with the only family she's ever known. As they cross the miles together and beat danger at nearly every turn, Captain Kidd and Johanna form a beautiful bond. He teaches her English, hoping to help her adjust to the life to which he's returning her. You ache with every mile at the idea of what will happen when the two finally have to say goodbye.

Captain Kidd and Johanna are two of those characters you know will stay with you. 

This book is beautiful in its simplicity. While books set in this time period could easily feel clunky and "old-timey", the author does an amazing job slowly bringing you into the world. The passages are beautiful enough to feel profound, but the pages move by quickly. It's not an easy read, but not a difficult one either. It's worth the journey to watch these two people from entirely different worlds find purpose in each other's companionship.

As I write this, I just found out that News of the World will be a movie starring Tom Hanks. It's brilliant casting. Read the book now before the movie gets made - you won't regret it.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

31. Before the Fall

A fantastic summer blockbuster. An action movie. Pace + character + mystery. A palate cleanser.

That's the best way I can describe Noah Hawley's book. It caught my eye at the library last week because: 1) It was a 14-day loaner, which means people want it. 2) There were multiple copies, which means something at my tiny neighborhood library. 

I found myself instantly hooked and I read it all over the course of 24 hours. It was a beach read, which in the inland northwest where I live actually means reading on a lounge chair next to the lazy river at the county pool. See below.

The story begins where lives end. A private plane carrying powerful men and their families crashes off the shores of Martha's Vineyard. Everyone dies on impact except a four year old boy and a painter who just happened to score a seat on the flight. They make a miraculous swim to shore, then have to navigate life after the crash. The world wants to know: why did it crash? Was it terrorism at the hands of a foreign government? Did the random painter have something to do with it? We don't know until the very end. Along the way, the author lays out the lives of those on board and sends you chasing down speculative paths about who on board might have been a target for something sinister. I like that the reader does find out why the plane crashed, but sings a few different tunes before the conclusion.

The author clearly knows how to create character and drama; he created the TV show Fargo, for goodness sake. Like any good TV drama or action movie on screen, he develops intrigue through cliffhanger-ending chapters and quick takes. I felt myself wanting to push forward to a conclusion.

Like most action movies, though, it didn't leave much behind to learn from. I was completely satisfied with the book and it was totally worth the read, but it didn't do anything that knocked my socks off or will stay with me beyond that initial satisfaction. That's not a bad thing, mind you. It's the kind of book you need to throw in between heavier sets. A breath. A summer afternoon. 

The way this book ends - the cause of the crash - falls in line with a theory out there about the main motivation between a lot of violence in our world. There are experts who believe nearly every mass shooting is motivated by a man who was rejected by a woman (or women.) I've read analyses of school shootings and workplace violence that support this theory and I look to it first when these horrible tragedies occur. This book seems to prove that point: that while we often look for deep, complicated meaning and cause for events, it's often as simple as a woman who turned down a man - and, the hit on his pride that is then taken out on the world at large.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it sure felt like that was the point the author made here.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, July 24, 2017

30. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

I'm not supposed to be writing this on Monday night. The way this little system works is that I start the book on Sunday, read throughout the week, finish on Thursday or Friday and write a review on Saturday.

I finished too soon. (save the joke there, you perv. I already made it in my head.)

Anyway, I wasn't supposed to be done reading book 30 of 2017 so quickly. But, I started this on the flight back from San Diego Friday and was done with the book by Saturday afternoon.

I couldn't stop. And, now, I'm sad it's over.

From appearances alone, this is probably not a book I would have chosen. It wasn't even on my radar until I heard an NPR podcast and two different bookstore owners listed it as a top book of the summer. What can I say, I do what bookstore owners on NPR tell me to do. Even when I started, I wasn't expecting much. I thought it would be a decent beach read, even though I was reading it on my way home from the beach. I didn't expect what this book delivered: an emotional onslaught, a tale of love won and lost and won and lost again, and a commentary on what we expect from sexy, powerful women - and, how we treat them when they give us what we think we want.

Evelyn Hugo is a former Hollywood star, now widowed and nearing the end of her life. She's ready to tell her life story now that everyone who played a part in it is dead and she gives the honor of writing what is sure to be a best seller to a magazine writer that nobody knows. There's a reason she chooses Monique Grant, which is alluded to and built towards throughout the novel. Within that larger context, Evelyn tells her story. From giving up her virginity to getting out of Hell's Kitchen to earning an Oscar. But, it's the story in between that left me captivated. The story of Evelyn's seven husbands and the question at the heart of it all.

Who is the true love of her life?

It would be easy, of course, to reduce Evelyn Hugo to a starlet who married to get ahead. As we meet each man in her life, we realize - it was almost never about love. But, it wasn't about the casting couch either. We learn that, while the world saw marriage after marriage to producers and leading men, Evelyn's true love was someone else entirely; it was someone she had to keep hidden from the world.

The obvious comparison is Elizabeth Taylor, right? But, even Liz couldn't have lived a story quite like this. Evelyn Hugo is a woman you ache to know - a starlet on screen, a beauty from birth, Hugo is the kind of woman other women want to be like and men want to be with. They describe her bosom like it's the 8th wonder of the world. She was very aware of the power she had, simply by flashing that smile and making men think they had a chance. And she feels the reality of what happens when she owns that sexuality and is judged for using it in return.

Evelyn tells her story without apology, even as we watch her destroy the people she loves. You find yourself frustrated with her choices, perhaps mostly because you know you might do the exact same in her position. And, you ache along with her for the resolution of that hidden, complicated love story that sustains her through it all.

This book asks what would you give up to live the life you've always dreamed of? Your past? Your future? Your dignity? The love of your life? And, it slaps you in the face that, in reality, we almost always realize the gravity of our choices after it's too late.

It's hard to explain why this book spoke to me enough that, two days later, I can't let it go. Even writing about it now, I feel like I'm not doing it justice. Hell, I joined a Facebook group dedicated to discussing the story even though I hate anything that resembles a book club. There are just some books that speak to you, for whatever reason. Maybe it's that deep, enduring love story. Maybe it's the strength and vulnerability of a woman who is in control of her sexuality and punished for it, too. Maybe we can all relate to what it will be like to someday own all of our choices and be comfortable enough in our own skin to share it with the world.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

29. Idaho

The next two books on the journey were crucial. I knew that I would be traveling for the entire week I was supposed to be reading book 29 and the start of book 30, so I knew they had to be good. Do you put extra pressure on the books you read when you know you'll be on the road or in the air? I totally do. Because, for that couple of hours, you know you won't be able to check your phone for texts or to absentmindedly search Twitter. It's you and the book. And, it better measure up.

Here's book 29, which I began on a two hour flight to San Diego and finished the night before we flew home. Most of it was read on the flight there, but I found myself reaching for it after long days at the beach/at the zoo/with my family. It's captivating. 

I knew I wanted to read Emily Ruskovich's Idaho since the first time I read the jacket in the bookstore. Though, I realize now, it is not at all what I thought it would be. The jacket describes a man living a new life with a new wife, who is only somewhat aware of the life he lived before her. For whatever reason, I imagined the book would be reminiscent of the standoff at Ruby Ridge. Knowing it was set in North Idaho, which I have covered as a journalist for 15 years, I just assumed that's where the author would go. I was wrong, but it very clearly has remnants of the best and worst of this part of the country. The author is from this area and her knowledge of it is woven through this book in a way only a native could write.

So, the book. 

It tells the story of Ann and Wade and the life they have built for themselves in the rugged mountains of North Idaho. Intentionally isolated, in geography and emotion. Each had a life before each other and came together through circumstances that prove we are all, somehow, connected. We are one turn of the road, one phone call, one life experience away from building a new life and new connections. Ann and Wade's love was born from unspeakable violence and tragedy; as Wade's mind fails and he begins to forget all that he's lost, Ann finds herself trying to keep that part of Wade's life alive and together. 

((I love that pulled quote; even more, I love this website it came from, which I plan to devour the rest of today.))

While so much of this book shows these connections we have, it also reminds us that, sometimes, we aren't all meant to find the end of the string. We pull and pull and, sometimes, we unravel instead of tie into a bow. It seems to remind us that while we have this primal need to assign meaning to things, sometimes, life truly is made up of a series of random acts. No matter how hard we try, sometimes things don't always connect.

This book is truly a tapestry, weaving together stories and perspectives. The individual strands cover a foundation of unimaginable loss. The author jumps from perspective to perspective, from year to year. As a reader, you expect that eventually these stories will arrive in a single place. They do not; the question of whether or not you like the book probably comes down to how much you're willing to accept the unfinished nature of it all.

I want the payoff. But, I appreciate that it's not always that simple. I wanted answers for the violence, I wanted resolution to lives, unfinished. But, is the book any worse for not giving them to me? Not at all. It's beautifully written, wonderfully told. The characters are complex and imperfect, much like the storylines that define their lives.

So, was it a good airplane read? Yeah. I lost myself in it, truly. It's the kind of book where you look up and around you and somehow have forgotten that the rest of the world hasn't come along with you. Once I landed, the rough mountain landscape stood in stark contrast to the palm trees swaying around me as I read. I felt deeply for every character, on every page.

Next up, book 30. I started it on the plane ride home and have breezed through 213 pages in two days. Yeah, it's that good. And, may be the perfect summer read. Review, coming soon!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

28. The Wonder

This aint no beach read.

I know you're supposed to read lighter stories in the summertime. Books where you can doze off between the pages; pages that get soaked on the corners from the pool or the sunscreen.

This is not. that.

I've thought about reading this for awhile now. Emma Donaghue's book Room shook me to my core and I wanted more of this genius author inside my brain. But, for some reason, I always put it back on the shelf. Maybe I didn't want to be shaken.

When this was actually available at my small neighborhood library, I figured it was time. 

The premise of the book is that a nurse comes to care for a little girl in Ireland who is attracting attention and visitors for a very simple reason: she hadn't eaten in months. According to local lore, Anna didn't need food anymore. According to Anna, she was existing on the manna of heaven. But, an independent commission thought something else might be at play. They hired the nurse and a nun to keep a two-week watch, trying to either prove the girl was, in fact, some sort of miracle marvel. Or, to prove it was all a hoax.

The nurse is instantly skeptical and spends the first nights of her watch trying to prove the child is sneaking food. Over time, her concern for the girl grows and she tries to convince Anna's family and community that she is at risk. But, can she make her case before it's too late?

I've had a hard time describing this book to people. I don't want to give away what is a pretty extreme twist about 85% of the way through. I'm also having a hard time deciding if I should recommend it. It's extremely well-written, of course. But, this thing is heavy. It starts heavy, it progressively builds and the turn it takes turns your stomach as well.

The book is a commentary on Ireland early in the last century. It's a referendum, of sorts, on faith. And, it makes your blood boil at the way society would choose to ignore extreme dangers and terrible crimes, all because it felt like a family's personal business. It also reminds you that, more than 100 years later, not everything has changed.

I felt like I slogged through this, but I actually read it all in three nights. It kept my attention and built my concern. But, it's definitely not your typical summer read. Put it on your list for, say, late January. It's bleak outside already; maybe you won't notice the gray that covers you when you read it.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

27. Cork Dork

I love wine.

I love everything about it. I love the taste, I love the tradition, I love the pageantry, I love the warm sensation of the first sip and I love standing in a vineyard looking at grapes, knowing their amazing potential. I love wine so much, attendees of my birthday party last night left me with 20 bottles to enjoy in the future,

What this book taught me? I don't know shit about wine.

Let's walk it back for a second. I probably know more about wine than the average consumer. I've interviewed several winemakers, I've tasted wine in Sonoma and Yakima and Greece. But, wine is so much bigger than what most of us even care to explore. This book reminded me of that - and, instead of being intimidated, it made me really excited about what's out there.

Bianca Bosker was a tech journalist whose interest in wine was piqued not by the grocery store wines most of us drink every day, but by the high-stakes world of wine that most of us cannot even imagine. These are people who don't brush their teeth and don't drink coffee for fear of it altering their sensitive palate. These are people who LICK ROCKS in New York City, just to expose themselves to more flavors. These are people who describe a good wine as "hitting you in the chest with a harpoon" - and if it's not that experience, they don't want it.

Bosker went headlong into this world, working her way from being a "cellar rat" in one of NYC's finest restaurants to studying for the test to become a certified sommelier. She explores the past (like, the Plato/Aristotle past) and even maps her own brain to find how it reacts to the wine she drinks. It's fascinating, well-written and an eye-opening jaunt through a world most of us will never experience for ourselves.

I read about grapes I've never heard of and also got a great lesson into how to really taste wine. Not "is this good or bad" - but, what is your mouth telling you that can reveal a wine's alcohol content, structure and origin. I sipped a $10/bottle Washington Syrah while I read and felt woefully inadequate. But, this isn't a book designed to make us feel unsophisticated.

See, that's my kind of sommelier. Bosker introduces Grieco, the man behind some really badass wine bars, to show the counter to the pomp and circumstance of the wine experience. While much of the book exposes the obsessive traditions associated with the world of high-end wine, Bosker doesn't try to convince us that there's a right way to drink wine. In fact, she scoffs at the way the verbiage of wine tasting has become homogenized to the point tasters are often just repeating words they know are supposed to be associated with a specific wine, even if they're not tasting those flavors themselves.

She does, however, want you to look beyond the world of Sutter Home and Menage a Trois (the wine, not the act. You know.) You may like the taste of mass produced wine, but isn't it better to experience a wine that tells a story? Totally. Even if it gives your palate a workout.

I fell in love with a wine like this. While tasting wine near Lake Chelan, Washington last year, I tried a Cab from a vineyard that had been in the midst of a wildfire a few years before. Wildfire smoke sank over the vines for weeks. The result? A wine they cannot replicate, with a smoky, campfire feel. I bought it immediately. While I was tasting, a group of young women came in on a bachelorette party wine tour. They cringed at the taste of the Fira, saying it was too strong. They wanted to get drunk off some classic Chardonnay! Wrong? No. You like what you like. But boring, for sure.

Point is, this book doesn't to make you feel bad about enjoying a fruit bomb every now and then. Sometimes, you just want the mega purple-infused sure thing. But, it does push you to look beyond that and get a little adventurous from time to time. Spend a little money, trust the sommelier and lick a few rocks now and then to give your tongue a little workout.

On second thought, don't lick the rocks. Leave that to the experts.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

26. The Graveyard Book

If you would have told me in January that I would read two books this year that were set in graveyards and featured talking ghosts, I would have told you you're crazy. But, here we are. And, you know what? Both such books have been among my favorites.

I didn't intend to read this. Unlike most avid readers, I'm finding out, I had never heard of Neil Gaiman. But, I truly believe sometimes books pick us. I was picking up a gift for a departing co-worker and one of my favorite Spokane stores (Atticus is part coffee shop, part wine store, part book store). My two boys were with me and they're not all that patient in a store that doesn't have video games. So, I was rushing through the shelves and trying to keep them from strangling each other in public when I saw several Gaiman books. I figured if they had more than one, they must be fans. I picked up this one first, read the back and was intrigued. Normally, I'd open the book and read a page, just to see if I like the writer's style, etc. But, I didn't have time, so I grabbed it and took it to the register. There, the kindly bearded man asked if I'd ever read Gaiman before. I said know and - I shit you not - the man got a twinkle in his eye. He told me this was a "good start" and that he and his wife went to Europe and visited the graveyard where this story takes place. I knew I picked a good one.

So, what is it that grabbed my attention? The synopsis on the back. The Graveyard Book describes itself as an "ingenious and captivating reimagining of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book" but, in this story, Mowgli is a boy named Bod and he's raised by ghosts, not by animals. Sounds weird, right? But, it totally works.

That's how the story begins. The prose is simple and haunting and, even though I read these lines at a swimming pool crowded with kids, I was instantly sucked into the darkness. A man named Jack kills a family, but a toddler sneaks away. The man tries to pursue him, but the curious boy toddles into the graveyard and the ghosts there decide to raise him and protect him from the man whose work clearly is not done. We follow along as the boy they name Nobody - Bod for short - grows up in this mystical world. 

Because there are teachers in the graveyard, Bod learns to read and write. Eventually, he goes into the human world and even goes to school. But, that public immersion throws his life again into chaos, as the forces that set out to destroy his family realize they have the chance to finish the job with him. It is then where Bod is able to use all the gifts he's learned from the ghosts to protect himself and the future. 

Like The Jungle Book, you watch Bod grow up and realize that he will have to leave the graveyard and live his life. And it fills you with such a sense of hope to watch this young man set off into the world.

This is the kind of book you get so absorbed it, you find yourself blocking out the world completely. You have to blink a few times to focus back on the world around you. There aren't many of these out there, so when you find them, you want to tell the world.

I have no doubt I'm not doing this book justice. But, if you can willfully suspend your disbelief, it's a consuming and magical tale. And, as the guy at Atticus told me, it's a good start; there's absolutely more Gaiman in my future.

As soon as I started reading it, I thought back to book #10 that I read this year, Lincoln in the Bardo. Also set in a graveyard, it shares perspective on life from the dead. I'm not the only reader of both to draw parallels between the two, but I have yet to see George Saunders reference this book as an inspiration for his. If you've read Bardo and liked it, you'll like this; the biggest difference here is that it's not told from the ghosts' perspective - it's told by an outside narrator. For that reason, I find it more accessible for a casual read - and, easier to lose yourself in it. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

25. Killers of the Flower Moon

I damn near failed.

In this little quest to read a book a week this year, it has been pretty easy to finish each book. Most weeks, I've finished by Wednesday or Thursday and had a few days to spare. Not this week, folks. I finished this week's book with one hour and two measly minutes to spare.\

That's not a reflection on the book. This book, as I'll describe in a minute, is superb. It's due to teh fact that life - specifically, work - got in the way. The last week in June is the busiest week of the year for me at work, as I produce our news station's coverage of a massive 3-on-3 basketball tournament. It means a lot of late nights, a lot of tired eyes (well, just two eyes - but much fatigue) and it caps off with two dawn-to-dusk days. I still read every night last week, I just couldn't stay awake to read for long. Anyway, I raced to get done. I didn't want to fail all tens of you! And, I made it by the skin of my teeth.

I heard about this book a few months back on NPR. The story was compelling enough, I immediately put it on my ever-expanding list of books to read. I was eyeing this read for summer, specifically a plane ride to San Diego in mid-June. But, I couldn't wait. As I heard more and more reviews about it, I couldn't even wait for the library hold turnstyle to spin my way. I paid full price for the hardcover and cracked it open immediately.

The book tells the true story you've probably never heard of one of the most notorious crime sprees in American history. I mean, maybe you'd heard of it, but I doubt it. It tells of such a dark history of race relations and greed in our country, it's amazing that it once made headlines worldwide and has since been brushed back into history.

In the 1800s, when the federal government was relegating Native American tribes to reservations, the Osage tribe in Oklahoma made a shrewd decision. They got the feds to agree to a deal that gave the Osage rights to whatever was under the ground on their reservation. Unbeknownst to them, they were standing on massive reserves of oil. The Osage grew wealthy beyond their wildest dreams - and, instantly became the target of greedy killers

Mollie Burkhart and her sisters

One by one, members of Mollie Burkhart's family turned up dead. Some, obviously murdered. Others appeared to have died natural deaths. It wasn't until a dedicated lawman - an agent with the newly-formed FBI - began to dig, uncovering an unconscionable web of lies, deceit and blackmail that put the entire tribe at risk.

David Grann's research takes you back to that time, while giving you the benefit of the foresight tribal members and investigators could not see. Your heart simultaneously breaks and races as you watch one Osage after another fall victim to the people they were supposed to love and trust. And, you cheer both the integrity of the lead investigator and the strength of Mollie Burkhart as you wait to see if the justice system will fail again.

The book is thick with research and I sometimes found it hard to keep all the players straight. In the end, though, I was left with a fascination of how this went down - and, bewilderment as to how it has become nothing more than a footnote in history.

As a journalist myself, I most loved the plot twist Grann introduces on page 238. Just as you think it's neatly wrapping up, Grann writes, "There was another layer to the case - a deeper, darker, even more terrifying conspiracy, which the bureau had never exposed."

Oh, hell yeah.

Even better? It's Grann's reporter that unmasks yet another killer, nearly a century later. One the FBI either missed or ignored.

Grann's book not only follows the twists and turns of how greed turns to murder, it also explores the effects of this chapter on the tribe today. Every death - even still - is questioned. And, no one has forgotten the devil who worked so hard to take all they had left.

It's gripping. And, if you appreciate good reporting and public records, you'll be extremely satisfied in watching it all shake out.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

24. Grace, Not Perfection

I took another detour, folks, but I swear, this book was calling me. I was walking through Target (as one does - often), and saw this bright pink cover. I'm a sucker for pink, it lured me in. I thumbed through a couple of pages of what was clearly some sort of self-help book, then put it down and moved on. I don't buy books like this, come on. I'm totally fine and content and not stressed at all.

Yeah. Right. 

I went home without it, but found myself at Target the next day (as one does.) This time, I knew it was coming home with me. But, do you want to know something really dumb? I hid it. No, I didn't steal it! But, I hid it as I walked through the aisles and finished my shopping. I stashed it in the basket under my 30% off tank top and next to my clearance jewelry, hoping no one would see what I was buying.

How dumb is that?

I mean, it's dumb in many respects because no one is really looking in my cart to see what I'm buying (are they? Well, all those South Hill Spokane moms are buying the same things - wine, activewear, scarves and jewelry - so what do they care anyway?) But, it's really dumb because why should any of us be ashamed to do things to better our lives? Somehow, though, we are. Which is why I had to buy the book.

Emily Ley is a married mom who happens to have a thriving business selling amazing planners (I'm a planner junkie, so I already knew of her work.) Her Simplified Planners have the same goal most moms have: keep track of your chaotic life, while somehow finding the time for quiet and fulfillment. Oh, and, it should look pretty, too. The reality is, that's really hard to do. So, her book offers real-life perspective on finding the time for what matters and never forgetting who is really in control,

The title - and, book - focus on grace. I have to admit, that's a word I really struggle with. It's really hard to graciously accept that we're not 100% in control. I'm a faithful person, I truly believe in God and the power of prayer and that much of our lives are pre-determined. But, believing that and having the grace to accept it are two different things.

See that guy with the rock? That's how I feel a lot of the time. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was punished by the Gods and condemned to a life of futility. He had to roll the boulder up hill, only to watch it roll down again. Over and over and over. Life can feel a lot like that. You work so hard for one thing and, just as it's settled, you find yourself at the bottom of that hill - or another hill - doing it over again. From under that boulder, it's easy to lose perspective. This book helped me snap all of it back into focus, if only for a minute.

In her book, Ley talks of finding the times in your life that feel the most out of control - and, fixing them. She shares how her family divides chores to speed along the process and balance the responsibilities. She talks about setting aside time on Sunday evenings to go over the week's calendars with her husband. She shares her method for cleaning up the house so that you wake up every day with a toy-free living room and a sparkling sink. These aren't huge concepts; but, you can easily incorporate them into your life to take at least some of the chaos away. The idea is to get those things out of the way, so you can spend more time doing the things that fill your soul, like reading with your kids or enjoying a quiet evening to read.

She goes into the big concepts, too. Why are we so over-scheduled? Why do we feel this incredible pressure to be perfect? It's Pinterest birthday parties or nothing for so many of us. You watch others live their lives through the lens of their social media feeds and, while you know in your heart that it's all over-curated bullshit, you still kill yourself to live up to the ideal. But, who's ideal is it? If we all agree it's bullshit, why do we keep stressing over it?

Ley points out all the chaos that we bring into our own lives, then complain that it is there. Being content is really hard and we're always searching for that "thing" that will fill some hole we can't yet admit is there. "Our mailboxes are full. Our inboxes are full. Our closets, pantries, bookshelves and cabinets are full," she writes. "How do we expect to fit in time for playing on the floor with little ones? Or date nights without cell phones?"

Right? It's time to accept contentment and do what makes us happy.

She also talks about the seasons of our lives and this is what resonated most with me. When you have small children, you feel like this stage of life will never end. Someone always needs something, there's no time for you. There's always Legos on the floor, dishes in the sink and dirt on the nice bathroom hand towels. Someone always needs you to fall asleep in their bed, killing the one hour of solitude you look forward to all day. It's always LOUD. Okay, yeah, I just described life in my house with two boys. Writing it down now, it feels dumb to complain about. Like Emily, I prayed for these boys, we struggled to get pregnant. I have close friends who have lost children and others parenting kids with severe special needs. What the hell do I have to complain about? We need that perspective. And, we need to remind ourselves that this time of life won't last forever. As every empty nester will tell you, we'll miss the snuggles and the constant companionship. We'll miss this season of our lives. As Elton John said in a lyric I think of often, "Don't wish it away." We need to find a way to accept - with grace.

I'm on the precipice of change in my life. There are decisions ahead that I know I will have to make that will alter the course of things for me and for my family. I appreciate this book in offering some control in the chaos. So much is out of our control, so we need to find a way to structure what we can and roll with the rest. And, have the courage to make the small decisions, too.

We have to accept that life is not perfect, despite what that beautiful, put together, smiling mom might portray on Facebook.

Do I have it all figured out after reading this? No. Hell no. But, it helped. And, I won't be lending this book out or selling it to the bookstore. I need this. I need it on my nightstand after a chaotic day. I need it in my car when I find myself tearing up on the way to work because of the expectations of the day ahead. I need it on my desk when everyone has a question or a problem or a minor catastrophe that needs my attention, despite the fact I'm trying to eat my lunch and finish a thought.

We all need it. And, we shouldn't be embarrassed to admit it.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

23. Love and Other Consolation Prizes

Here it is. I'm 23 weeks into my quest to read a book a week in 2017 and I've reached the mountaintop. Not only is this the best book I've read this year, it's easily in my top 10 favorites of all time. I'm not just saying that because I have a family connection to the author and we once exchanged the sign of peace at Christmas mass. This book is simply beautiful. 

And, you can't get it yet.

You see, there's a little watermark on the front left corner of the book. It says "Advance Reader's Edition." I'm fancy, right? Must be because I'm a very important book blogger. Or a super famous local newscaster.

Nah, it's none of those. It's because of this little lady below.

That's my big sister, Gretchen. She went to high school with the author Jamie Ford's wife. She's also insanely competitive. When Jamie posted online that he'd placed an advanced copy in one of our hometown's Little Free Libraries, she knew exactly where it was; she stuffed her kids in the car and dashed out to get it - you can see above, she didn't even take the time to tie her shoes. Is it because she loves to read as much as I do? No. She just likes to win. Subsequently, she did read the book, as did my mom. They both loved it as much as I did.

I've been waiting to read Ford's next book since the moment I finished his last. His previous two novels are beautiful, character-driven books set in Seattle. They both tell stories of Japanese-Americans in Seattle and their complicated pasts. Though he lives in my Montana hometown now, Ford is from Seattle and is also Japanese-American. His understanding of those complicated relationships is evident, as is his clear affinity for Seattle's history. But, that's only a small part of why I love his books so much. His characters are dripping with heart.

The basic premise of this book comes from a hard-to-believe piece of history they don't talk about these days in Seattle. At the World's Fair in 1909, the State of Washington raffled off a baby as a prize. A BABY. And, it's not clear what happened to that child afterwards. Ford's story picks up that premise and turns it into a grown man named Ernest, decades later. 

In Ford's book, a series of tragic events bring a young Chinese boy to America at the turn of the century. He ends up a ward of the state, longing for a family to call his own. To his own surprise, he finds himself on a marble staircase at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Expo, where everyone is waiting to see who wins the coveted prize. Ernest realizes he is the prize - and, that the winning ticket belongs to the madam of Seattle's most notorious brothel.

(Yes, loyal follower of this blog, this is the second consecutive book I've read about a brothel. Don't look too deep into that, okay?)

Ernest quickly learns that being the house boy at a brothel isn't exactly the idyllic childhood he imagined; just as quickly, he realizes the women there are more family than he every could have known. And, he finds himself learning over and over that true happiness in life both comes at a price - and cannot be bought.

Ford's story alternates between young Ernest's life in 1909, when Seattle was buzzing with the excitement of that first world's fair, and his life decades later in 1962, when a new world's fair was about to open. His daughter's work as a journalist cracks open the secrets he's hidden from them for so long. Through that compelling narrative structure and Ford's beautiful prose, you find your heart aching for Ernest and the women of the Tenderloin.

You watch Ernest form deep, intimate relationships with two girls in the brothel. He - and, they - are struggling to understand what matters more: love or freedom. And, you find yourself hoping right up until the very last line that they're all somehow able to find both.

I raced through this book and found myself worrying about the characters. I read the last line, then closed the book and cried. I cried because the emotions were so raw. I cried because it was over. I cried because I wished deeply for the well-being of people who don't actually exist. That's how good this book is - how good Jamie Ford is - and how I wish I could start again and feel it all from the beginning.

Pre-order this book, Do it now so that you won't forget. September you will thank you so much for how smart you are right now.

And, in the meantime, check out Ford's other books, especially Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Next time I see him in church, I'll tell him to hurry up on the next one.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

22. Selling Sex in the Silver Valley

True confessions: I like stories of old-timey hookers. And, I'm obsessed with Wallace, Idaho. That means this book was the jackpot for me. Not only did I read it, I wrote a news story on it. Two birds, one stone. And, a fascinating ride.

I can't begin to describe to you my deep love for this little town, nestled in the mountains of North Idaho. You can't get from my current hometown (Spokane, Washington) to my childhood hometown (Great Falls, Montana) without passing through. I'd probably driven past a dozen times before I really came to understand how cool this place is. It was when I came to cover a really awful news story about an ex-con who took his teenage daughter camping, then raped her and left her for dead in the woods. They caught him because he got hungry and came to buy hot dogs at the Wallace Conoco. We came to cover his court case and realized Wallace is really an old west town, frozen in time.

Since then, I've gone deep into Wallace's past, mostly through books. I read about the fire in 1910 that nearly burned all of Wallace to the ground in The Big Burn (one of the best books I've ever read.) Then, I read about the terrifying fire deep inside the Sunshine Mine that brought the entire Silver Valley to its knees. I've stopped on road trips home to visit the historic cemetery. I've ridden in a bike in the hills nearby. I've zip-lined through its trees. But, what's always fascinated me most is what Wallace is truly famous for: prostitution. Not just in the old west, but all the way into the early 1990's.

I heard someone had written a book about the history of the sex trade in Wallace and I knew I would have to read it. Then, I heard it was selling faster than they could print it - and, I knew I wanted to tell the story on TV. That's what's cool about being a journalist; you find something that interests you, then you can get paid to go learn more about it. I called Dr. Heather Branstetter (seen above, answering all my brilliant questions) and set up a visit to Wallace.

(Here's the part of the blog where I will post a link to our TV story when it's done. You can choose your own adventure here. Either watch the story, then finish the blog - or finish, then come back and click the link. You're a grown-up. It's your call.)

Quick note: I'm going to call the author Heather from now on. Yes, she's a PhD and she's earned the title of Doctor. Yes, AP Style dictates that I refer to her by her last name. But, she's chill as hell and we hung out, so I'm going to call her Heather. I don't think she'll mind.

Heather grew up here, her family goes back generations. As she and so many other Wallace natives have told me, it never seemed strange to them that their little town had a bustling red light district. But, Cedar Street in Wallace was once lined with "cathouses." With names like The Lux, The U&I Rooms and the Oasis, they were better defined by the madams who kept them running. Heather brings these fascinating characters to life and, because very little has changed in the Wallace landscape over the years, you can practically see Madam Dolores driving down Cedar in her trademark blue Cadillac.

Heather's exhaustive research pulls together old insurance maps, city council minutes, sheriff's department records and innuendo, still whispered in the bars of Wallace. From Wallace's earliest beginnings as a mining camp, sex was for sale. One woman told me the male to female ratio back then was 200 to 1. No easier way to make money than by operating a brothel.

Old west brothels were nothing unusual, but very few communities allowed brothels to openly operate beyond the early 1900's, Wallace was an exception; Heather wanted to know why.

Aside from whorehouses being a part of mining towns, Heather has other theories about why they continued to operate her. The most prevailing is the idea perpetuated by the madams and even echoed today (as seen in the Facebook comments on our news promos for the story): it's the idea that men have uncontrollable sexual urges and they need to have a release. Many in town believed - and, still believe - that decriminalizing prostitution kept women safe and kept families together.

Also, even now, the people who live in Wallace aren't the kind of people who want the government telling them what to do.

The madams here treated their working girls well, paid their taxes and gave to charity. Several locals told me they never had school fundraisers. Money for band uniforms and little league fields always just turned up. They didn't know until they were older that it was the madams who paid for them. Prostitution got people elected to public office; prostitution got the streets paved.

"My education was funded through sex work," Heather explained.

The book doesn't glorify sex work, but doesn't make the working girls out to be victims, either. People explained to Heather that the women in Wallace had it easier than prostitutes in other areas because the brothels were women-owned. The women didn't need pimps, though many of them had them. In her research, Heather even met with a woman working in the sex trade now who said she's doing it because she wants to, not because she's been sold into sex trafficking. Have some women? Absolutely. But, not all.

It's not rainbows and kittens, but it's not sordid details of shameful sex, either. Heather's work is matter-of-fact. And, without hearing from the women themselves, that's really the only fair way to tell it.

Lucky for Heather, the madams kept impeccable records. They didn't record the names of customers, but their financials were solid. You can piece so much together by the handwritten books they left behind. And, much to Heather's good fortune - and mine! - you can walk right into one of the brothels today and see exactly how it looked back in 1988.

The Oasis building at 6th and Cedar began operating as a brothel at the turn of the century. It continued to do so until finally closing its doors in 1988. Ginger, the madam, got a tip that the feds were coming, so she and the girls left in a hurry. They never came back. Their rooms now look exactly the way they did that day in January, 1988. Cigarettes are still in the ash trays, Ginger's Atari is still on her TV. There's even a price list on the wall (top seller: straight sex, "no frills. For $15, customers got eight minutes with the woman of their choice.)

I've known about the Oasis for years, but never went in. Again, the perks of being a TV reporter! We spent about an hour there, checking out the rooms, hearing the stories, even going into the old basement where a money bag still hangs from a trap door that was used to hide gambling evidence near the turn of the 20th century.

Guys, I was in heaven.

If you live in this area of the country, you should absolutely check it out. You can easily spend a couple of days in Wallace, whether it's skiing in the winter at either of the two resorts nearby, or biking and zip-lining in the summer. They have some great beer here, too.

Why am I not the mayor of Wallace? I'm going to look into it.

I could write all night about the fascinating aspects of the trade and the compelling stories told in this book. I've been driving my husband and my co-workers crazy since we did the interviews last week! But, I want to leave a little mystery (I do see the irony here, yes.). If you have any interest in the old west, North Idaho history or prostitution, buy Heather's book! Though, you'll have to be patient. It's an extremely hot commodity right now! You can order a copy and check out her website in the meantime. 

I couldn't leave the Oasis without a souvenir. Instead of the panties or the sweatshirt with the price list on the back, I chose the tasteful tumbler. It sits on my desk now next to my mug from another brothel - the still-operating Chicken Ranch in Parhump, Nevada. Paid a visit there for a news story, too. But, that's a story for another blog.... My boss might be reading this...