"The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson. Crown Publishers, 2003.
Sick fascination - this meticulously documented narrative of the creation of the "White City" for Chicago's Columbian expo in the early 1890s is told in tandem with the gruesome story of H. Holmes, a serial killer that managed to dispatch as many as 20 women and children in the span of a couple of years within a few blocks of the fair without detection! He cremated them, then hired someone to clean the bones and reassemble the skeletons, which he sold to medical schools. Not until years later, when a distraught mom hired the Pinkerton detective agency to find her missing children, did the full story emerge and become sensationalized in the press.

The story of the fair and the depraved sociopath is so compellingly told that I couldn't put the book down until I reached the very last words. The parallel stories progress relentlessly and with graphic description. We come to know the major players, both good and evil, perpetrators and victims, as if they were alive today. No forensic TV series could have told it any better!

An unexpected side entertainment was discovering the luminaries associated with the fair: Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, Thomas Edison, Pullman and others; as well as the number of products still available today that debuted then: shredded wheat, the Ferris wheel, neoclassical public buildings, electric lighting.


"Back on Blossom Street" by Debbie Macomber. Mira, 2007.
I found this book completely by accident. I was looking for new knitting books, and this novel popped up in the list of results. I decided to give it a go, and was charmed. Macomber has a talent for creating likeable, believable characters, and presenting the small - and large - dramas in their lives in a way that makes you want to get to know them.

In this, the third in a series about Blossom Street, the characters have joined a knitting class offered by the owner of A Good Yarn, a yarn shop. The project is a prayer shawl, and for each of the participants the shawl will be a gift for someone who helps her overcome a personal challenge. The stories of the women in the class are told with quiet compassion, almost like a reflection. The conclusion is entirely satisfying.

I have heard of prayer shawls, but assumed they are intended to be worn while praying. Instead, I learned they are created as gifts, conveying in tangible form your prayers, love and good wishes for the recipient. The author includes instructions for the shawls mentioned in the story - so it turned out to be a knitting book after all: knitting stories as well as shawls. Macomber provides instructions and photos on her web site.