A $500 House in Detroit by Drew Philp

500houseI lived and worked in metro Detroit for a number of years, so the memoir of a young guy moving to the city and fixing up a house was interesting just because I know the landscape. I was also drawn to the book because I’ve had some long conversations with people who are or have renovated historical homes in Detroit. It’s a tough thing to do, and it’s very different than HGTV makes home renovation appear.

Besides the subject matter making me a little leery, I was leery about trying a memoir: memoirs depend so much on the voice of the author and if I feel like he/she is leaving out lots of stuff. And I was also leery about a book that sounded like a good book or blog pitch (young guy rehabs a house he bought for $500 without foundation money). And I have to say, for the first quarter of the book, the self-righteousness was a bit much. But Drew grows up during the course of the book. And the story kept moving along because it followed his house renovation. The ending was the livable house, you know.

I liked this book, and I liked the people Philp met and befriended over the multiple years he’s been in Detroit. It’s a book that brings up lots of issues to discuss, and I don’t think that’s the case for memoirs that I would call more gimmicky than this one.

A $500 House in Detroit by Drew Philp

Scribner, April 2017

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.



How to Be a Person in the World by Heather Havrilesky

how to be a person in the worldI grew up with Dear Abby, and that started my love of advice columns. While I don’t read advice columns every day in the newspaper anymore, I’m partial to Ask Polly.  It’s a sort of existential advice column, not quite as sweet as Dear Sugar, but it’s intensely empathetic. Covering such topics as friends, romantic relationships, career, and getting your shit together personally, Polly’s voice is sometimes profane and deeply sympathetic. It’s like therapy or self-help from someone who’s been in the trenches, and it’s honest.It’s a book that I dipped in and out of, and it made me cry in parts and yell, “Hell, yes!” in parts. I’m buying this book for lots of people.


How to Be a Person in the World by Heather Havrilesky

Doubleday, July 2016

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.


Recently Read: A Little True Crime, a Little Women’s Fiction

I’ve been reading more than just my favorite Swedish crime novelists in the last month. I’ve tried more than one true crime book and a new book by Elizabeth LaBan which I think gets categorized as women’s fiction. The result is that I want to get back to mysteries, I think: true crime makes me feel too much of a gawker, and this particular LaBan book made me yearn for a conflict that did not involve the two main characters not really communicating with each other.

good nurseMy latest true crime audiobook was The Good Nurse: A True Story of Madness, Medicine, and Murder by Charles Graeber. It’s about nurse Charles Cullen, who is allegedly the most prolific serial killer in the United States though he has admitted to a much smaller number of murders. He worked at a number of hospitals in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, left after suspicious incidents at a number of hospitals, and finally admitted to killing a number of patients at more than one hospital. The most in-depth part of the story was about what the hospitals did and didn’t do when they suspected Cullen of being connected to a number of deaths, not the story of why Cullen murdered so many patients. I skipped over a good chunk of the Afterword, which recounted the legal saga of Cullen trying to get permission to donate a kidney while he was in prison. It felt a bit too gawkerish to me. I basically turned to Wikipedia to find out if the donation went through and finished the book.

restaurant critics wifeAfter Cullen I needed to read a book without any murders, so I picked up The Restaurant Critic’s Wife by Elizabeth LaBan. It’s a book about a struggling mother adjusting to parenting two kids and moving to a new city where her husband, a newspaper restaurant critic becomes increasingly paranoid about preserving his and his wife’s anonymity. The setpieces of Sam, the critic, in disguise where in part fascinating and in part ridiculously funny, but ultimately I was frustrated with the conflict in the book boiling down to the couple not talking to each other. They talked around each other, and I tend to gravitate toward stories that do more than that.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of The Restaurant Critic’s Wife from the publisher.


My First Audiobook in Ages: Columbine by Dave Cullen


I started giving audiobooks a try at the end of December. A book ten years in the making by an investigative journalist from the Denver area doesn’t quite sound like festive reading, or listening, but I was fascinated by the book and I didn’t mind speeding up the narration a bit on my phone to make it pass a bit more quickly. My general problem with nonfiction is that I lose my attention span after awhile. Audio helped me with that problem because I could focus for a set amount of time, speed up the narration a bit if I wanted, and generally not get bogged down as I do with print nonfiction.

But on to the book: Columbine has been on my TBR list for quite some time. I knew that it uncovered a few myths perpetuated by the media about the school shooting and the school shooters, but I didn’t know much else going in. It was a fascinating story about just how wrong the wall-to-wall media coverage was about the killers as well as the martyr Cassie Bernall. It was fascinating to follow people like Fusilier, the FBI agent who was a hostage negotiator and who became an expert on psychopaths. The psychological profiling of psychopaths in Columbine was more in-depth than anything I’ve found in fiction about psychopaths. I didn’t care as much for all the excerpts of the murderer’s websites, videos, and diaries, and I think that was because it felt repetitive.

One thing I left the book with is not missing cable television and local news. I watch bits and pieces of breaking news events, but I don’t read nearly as much or watch as much as I used to. Now I don’t think I’m missing much except predetermined narratives, as the book explained in stark relief.

This book did not make me an audio convert or a nonfiction audio convert, but I think I’ll try a few more audio books just to add a bit of variety. Recommendations welcome!


Columbine by Dave Cullen

Blackstone Audio, March 2010

I borrowed this book from the library.


Dead Wake by Erik Larson

dead wakeDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

Crown, 2015

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via Blogging for Books.

The last three months- kind of coinciding with the end of winter, I’ve lost a bit of my reading mojo. Maybe it’s because I’m so glad not to be cooped up during the cold temperatures, maybe it’s just because I don’t know what to read next, but in any case, my reading has slowed down quite a bit. I tried reading a few things outside of my usual crime fiction, and unfortunately I was a little disappointed in my foray into nonfiction.

I decided to read Dead Wake by Erik Larson because I’ve heard good things about The Devil in the White City, a true-crime book that centers on the Chicago World’s Fair. This book does not suffer for lack of plot: Larson alternates between the stories of the Captain Turner of the Lusitania, the Captain Schweiger of the German submarine that sank the Lusitania, to the stories of several passengers on the massive ship. I have a love-hate relationship with seafaring novels becauseI tend to get bogged down in the details or the battle scenes, but Larson is good at pacing the story by alternating perspectives. The account of the 31 minutes it took for the boat to sink are the most affecting parts of the book. That said, I wasn’t as invested in the story as I was by, say, Titanic, because the passengers he followed, including a rare book dealer from Boston and a spiritualist, didn’t have large enough portions devoted to them. I would have preferred to read their own diaries and books about the experience than getting the whole boat and battle flavor, but that’s my preference in general.

Despite not being the biggest fan of Dead Wake, I’m still curious about The Devil in the White City.