Brightside Booklist: From Here to Eternity

How would you feel about your dead Aunt Julie taking up space in your dining room for, oh, 3 weeks? How about 7 years?

Let me guess, you wouldn’t.

Well, me either. But that is all irrelevant because that’s what they do in Indonesia, not in Minnesota. Thank god.

I read all about it in the bewitching book From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty  and I want you to read it, too! Here are some other tidbits from the book:

  • As serious as the subject is, Caitlin is able to weave some humor throughout the book. Case in point: she describes the first mummy she saw in Indonesia (which was wearing ’80s aviator shades tinted yellow, obviously) as looking just like her middle school algebra teacher.
  • In Colorado, you can be burned on a funeral pyre, in the open air, on a mountain if you want. I don’t know, that’s pretty cool, right?
  • You know how everyone has been going on and on about burying cremains with a seedling, so that your body can be turned into a fricking tree?Not happenin’. Seems obvious now, but all your DNA is burned up during cremation so there’s no way you’re fertilizing any trees.
  • In Japan, the custom after cremation is called kotsuage. This entails cremating the body, but not pulverizing it like we do in America. The large bones are still intact and, beginning with the feet, loved ones pick up the bones of their dead sisters with chopsticks and place them in an urn.
  • In Tibet, celestial burial is the norm. In a nutshell, your dead corpse is chanted over by Buddhist lamas while a rogyapa hacks and slices your body into pieces. And this isn’t even the worst part. The worst part is the vultures circling, waiting for the cue to dive in and have your body for lunch. If you dare, here is a video of a sky burial for your enjoyment (or terror). I AM SERIOUS. THERE ARE DEAD BODIES IN THIS VIDEO. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

For those of you who might get your panties in a bundle about Caitlin not respecting death, let me just tell you that she is the founder of The Order of the Good Death, which is a nonprofit aimed at increasing death positivity and changing the culture of death in America. She started out working in the funeral industry and wrote a FANTASTIC book about it: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons From the Crematory.

But I know that most of you are NOT pantie-bundlers and would enjoy Caitlin’s work. Have any of you read either of her books or follow her blog? She’s doing some good work and we could all benefit from staring death in the face. Do it!

Brightside Booklist: 4 True Life Stories To Read Right Now

October Brightside Booklist

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs

Every month I find myself reading at least one book about death. Is it helping me to run faster from my fear of death? I don’t know, but I’m going to keep doing it until I figure it out. I picked this memoir up while I was on vacation (even when I’m having fun, I can’t have fun!). It’s a beautiful book written by the great-great-great granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson who was diagnosed with cancer at 38. She writes about treatment, her thoughts on what is surely coming and whether or not to buy a new couch. It is this thread of the everyday, the mundane that I love about this book. Becoming sick and knowing that you’re are going to die doesn’t bring the day-to-day to an end. And everything that would normally seem simple, boring even, takes on a whole new meaning.

“It’s a complicated calculus. On the one hand, a basic cost-benefit analysis: How much money do I want to spend on something I may not be around to enjoy? On the other: Isn’t buying as expensive couch a kind of lovely expression of hopefulness? And after I’m gone, don’t I still want guests in my home to feel comfortable and stylish?”

“Also: an expansive bench that fits all of us. Something that will hold us through everything that lies ahead–the loving, collapsing and nuzzling. The dying, the grieving. Buying a sofa online, like many of life’s biggest decisions, takes research and trust, but mostly trust. As I lie here, with John’s chest rising and falling under my cheek, I realize that my careful calculations (How long do I have left? Who am I really buying this couch for? Am I getting a good deal?) are irrelevant. As in all things, I have to believe I’ll know what’s right when I see it.”

My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward: A Memoir by Mark Lukach

Mark and his wife Giulia had THE perfect life (isn’t that how it always starts?). They marry, live in San Francisco and at age 27, Guilia has a psychotic break. It came out of nowhere and led to a toss-up of medications and hospitalization. After some trial and error, she recovers, their life carries on. She gives birth to their son and it all comes barreling back towards them.

I would say that 92% of books written on mental health are written from the point of view of the person coping with a diagnosis, but this book was different.  Mark’s love for his wife was obvious, but his candor was refreshing. If you have anyone in your life with mental illness, you will be able to relate to his desire to help her and his deep love. BUT you will also say, “YES!” at his frustration/irritation/feeling of been smothered by the act of caretaking. Watching it all unfold from the point of view of her husband and witness his evolution as a caretaker was what drew me in.

“I felt trapped by the impossibility of the situation. I didn’t trust Giulia to make her own decisions. I wanted to make them for her, which led to her resenting me for not trusting her. I didn’t want Guilia to resent me, but the only way to do that would be to allow her to make her own decisions, even it that included choices that could hurt or even kill her. It wasn’t going to work if I remained in charge, and it would be too risky if she was in charge.”

Yes, this book is about true love. Even more than that it is a book about what TRUE dedication looks like, even when you’re not sure you want to be dedicated anymore.

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold

Everyone remembers when Columbine happened. Everyone knows who Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were, but does anyone know who they REALLY were? Dylan’s mother, Sue, wrote this book in an attempt to bring all of what she knew, and more of what she didn’t know, to light about her son Dylan. I’ll let these quotes from the book speaks for themselves:

“Tom and I were loving, attentive, and engaged parents, and Dylan was an enthusiastic, affectionate child. This wasn’t a kid we worried or prayed over, hoping he would eventually find his way and lead a productive life. We called him “The Sunshine Boy”–not just because of his halo of blond hair, but because everything seemed to come easily to him. I was grateful to be Dylan’s mother, and loved him with my whole heart and soul.”

“The ordinariness of our lives before Columbine will perhaps be the hardest thing for people to understand about my story. For me, it is also the most important. Our home life was not difficult or fraught. Our youngest child was not a handful, let alone someone we (or others who knew him) would have imagined to be a risk to himself or to anyone else. I wish many things had been different, but, most of all, I wish I had known it was possible for everything to seem fine with my son when it was not.”

With One Shot: Family Murder and a Search for Justice by Dorothy Marcic

I met Dorothy, the author, through my good friend Sarah of the awesome, AWESOME blog, Yes and Yes. She new I would love this woman and when I finally met her, I did. She lives in NYC, is involved with theater and KNEW MISTER ROGERS (*faint*). It turns out she has a real-life true crime case in her own family and after living with not-quite-the-whole-truth for years, she goes back to reinvestigate the murder of her beloved uncle, Vernie. His second wife, Suzanne, plead insanity, but the insanity didn’t end there.

This book was not only a murder mystery, but a portrait of a family that can become completely unraveled after a stranger steps into their lives. Suzanne was manipulative, surly and loved to drink (she was described as someone who “drank like a dehydrated desert inhabitant”). This woman was like a tornado destroying not only Dorothy’s family, but everyone else she came in contact with. The discussion of the details of the case became repetitive at times, but reading about Dorothy having to “play nice” when interviewing Suzanne and the rest of her family was fascinating.

Can you imagine spending hours trying to charm a woman who may or may not have killed your uncle?

*I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

What have you read lately? Let me know! If you want a FULL list of the books that I recommend, check out this link to 52 of my favorite books.

**And, as usual, you can click on the links to go to Amazon to purchase the books. It doesn’t cost you any extra, I just get a few pennies sent my way.

Brightside Books: Sharks, Widowers, Shapeshifters and Happiness

September Brightside Booklist


The Outsider by Stephen King

I love Stephen King. BUT, you know how sometimes when you read his books, you finish and say to yourself, Did I actually like that? I mean, I read the whole 5,342 pages, so I must like it, right? I don’t know. The Outsider, though? I loved it. It was a murder mystery wrapped in with the supernatural and it kept me wondering what the hell was going on until the very end. Instead of explaining, though, here is a quote from the book:

“Jack didn’t know how long he stood there, unable to move. It might have been twenty seconds; it might have been two minutes. The wind blew, tousling his hair and caressing his neck like those long fingers. The shadows of the cottonwoods schooled across the dirt and weeds like fleeing fish. The person–or the thing–stood behind him, its shadow long and thin. Touching and caressing. Then both the fingertips and the shadow were gone.”


Devil’s Teeth by Susan Casey

From the first scene (a seal decapitated by a great white), I was hooked on this memoir/cultural history of shark watching and the Farallon Islands. The Farallon Islands are 27 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge and host of THE largest congregation of great white sharks anywhere on the planet. Every September, thousands of sharks migrate here and scientists post up in a lighthouse and a dilapidated, large shack to study them. From the first scene to the last paragraphs of the author suffering alone on her boat in a storm (NO THANKS), it had my attention, because SHARKS. Brightside Booklist


This Is Not The Story You Think It Is by Laura Munson

“At this moment in my life, I am strangely serene. In fact, I may have never felt more calm. Or more freed. Or more certain that these things owe themselves to a simple choice: to accept life as it is. Even and especially when it really fucking sucks. Even and especially if my husband left last night to go to the dump after announcing that he isn’t sure he loves me anymore…..and nine hours later, still hasn’t come back.”

I really liked this book a lot and I’m serious when I say that since I’ve read it, it has bolstered my opinion that when something bad happens, we have a choice. We can obsess like a psycho/ruminate/jump ahead to the disaster that we KNOW is going to happen OR we can practice accepting what is. If this sounds oversimplified, ridiculous and corny, it’s because it is. But sometimes that’s all we need: SIMPLE. Laura Munson was funny and, although she comes from an admitted place of privilege which has no doubt made her life easier, her problems were straight-up relatable.  Even when I was shouting, “Why doesn’t she fucking leave him already?!!!!” I was still pulling for her.

Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman

I love, love, love when I find random books on the thrift store bookshelf that turn out to be perfect gems. This was one of them. I feel like I wouldn’t do this book justice by trying to express the feelings I felt by reading Francisco’s words about the accidental death of his young wife. The way that he articulated his grief was simple, but impactful and tangible.

This one sentence about his wife packing for their trip, which would be her last, shattered my heart:

“Anna put her quilt away in the closet and came back into the bedroom and finished packing for her death, three weeks and one day away.”

And this one where Francisco contemplates the wave that ultimately killed his wife:

“That night, as we slept, where was Anna’s wave in its long journey to Mazunte? Anna’s wave might easily have gotten its start a week or more before, during a storm in the warm seas of the Indian Ocean, where strong winds consistently blow in one direction. The older a wave is, the more dangerous it is, the height of a wave, its steepness, I read is related to its age…..Where was Anna’s wave that night, as we slept in our bunks in Oaxaca?”


What have you read lately that was amazing/heartwrenching/crappy? Let me know! If you want a FULL list of the books that I recommend, check out this link to 52 of my favorite books.


**And, as usual, you can click on the links to go to Amazon to purchase the books. It doesn’t cost you any extra, I just get a few pennies sent my way.



Brightside Booklist: Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor

It’s not a surprise to anyone that I’m afraid of dying. Not the act of dying (well, that’s kind of a lie), but of being dead. I like naps, but I don’t much care for dirt naps. I know what you’re saying right now. “Does she not know that you don’t actually know when your dead?!” YES, I know that, but that is NOT HELPFUL.

After some dramatic events happened in my life (like REALLY dramatic events, not my “normal” dramatics), I decided it was high time I started enjoying life.  Does shit suck sometimes? Yes. I hate it when people are in line and aren’t paying attention (HELLO, move forward, already!). I hate it when you think you lose your phone so you drive around, retracing your steps in full panic mode for an hour and then realize it was in your purse the whole time. I really, really hated that.

Anyway, in the grand scheme of things, whatever. I lost my phone. I didn’t DIE over it or anything, right?

So, back to enjoying life. Lately, I’ve been paying extra attention to sunrises. This wasn’t a conscious decision. I wasn’t, like, setting my alarm for 5:45 a.m. in order to lurk around in the yard waiting for the sun to appear. But, heck yes, if I’m up, I’m going to walk over to the window and check it out. I even went outside this winter in my robe a couple of times. Being outside in the silence, with the sun and all of it’s colors appearing in front of my face is a kick ass way to start the day. Bonus: I even had an early morning sunrise bonding session with my neighbor!

What’s the big deal? It’s the sun. It’s mundane. It’s there alllll the time. Well, I hate to tell you this, but one day THE SUN WON’T BE SHINING FOR YOU ANYMORE.

Losing these mundane moments is what makes me afraid of death. Because I’m afraid of it, I figured that maybe if I immerse myself in it, maybe I won’t be so afraid. Buddhists practice for death every day of their lives by being mindful of the preciousness of life. They toss out non-virtuous thoughts and those that induce suffering in order to be ready for death when the time comes. Back in the day, the deceased used to be cared for by family members in their home. The washing, dressing and preparing of the body was all done by Aunt Caroline. I am, HOWEVER, not going to prepare for death by doing any washing of any bodies. I think I’ll just stick to reading books.

This brings me to the book Dying: A Memoir by Corey Taylor. It is a short and beautiful book written by a woman diagnosed with terminal cancer. As a lifelong writer, she found it to be cathartic to write her thoughts down in order to process her own death.

She wanted to talk about what nobody wants to talk about.

This is why I started writing this book. Things are not as they should be. For so many of us, death has become the unmentionable thing, a monstrous silence. But this is no help to the dying who are probably lonelier now than they’ve ever been. It takes courage to contemplate one’s death, and, as I said before, it is inexpressibly lonely.

As she is focused on looking forward into the future, she has vivid memories of growing up as a child, visions of various family entanglements and an acknowledgment of the “sweetness” of life. The everyday life that she loves, also, is slowly disappearing.

Brightside Booklist: Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor

We don’t do that walk anymore. I’m frightened I’ll fall and break something. Nor do I ride my bike along there, another pleasure gone. How I’d love to pack the car and head off to some deserted beach for a swim. But I weigh less than my neighbor’s retriever. I’d never make it past the first break. And so it goes, the endless list of pleasures I can no longer enjoy. Pointless to miss them of course, as that won’t bring them back, but so much sweetness is bound to leave a terrible void when it’s gone. I’m only grateful I tasted so much of it when I had a chance. I have had a blessed life in that way, full of countless delights. When you’re dying, even your unhappiest memories can induce a sort of fondness, as if delight is not confined to the good times, but is woven through your days like a skein of gold thread.

I have read that paragraph over and over again (I think I even cried the first time I read it). These small moments are the ones that she longs for. Never once in the entire book did she write about “BIG” moments or wishes that things had been different. The other thing that I found fascinating was that the subject of regret only made a brief appearance.

A bucket list implies a lack, a store of unfulfilled desires or aspirations, a worry that you haven’t done enough in life. It suggest that more experience is better, whereas the opposite might equally be true. I don’t have a bucket list because it comforts me to remember the things I have done, rather than hanker after the things I haven’t done. Whatever they are, I figure they weren’t for me, and that gives me a sense of contentment, a sort of ballast as I set out on my very last trip.

GIRL, this paragraph hit me hard. I have been so hung up on the fact that I haven’t done ALL of the things in life and WHAT IF I NEVER DO???? I have seriously panicked over this and I am now realizing that maybe it’s not necessary. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still going to go Russia some day, I’m going to write a book and I’m going to sky dive (this one’s a lie, I’m never going to f**king sky dive). BUT, I’m not all that hell bent on having a bucket list anymore. Whatever I want in life, I’m ALREADY going for it and that makes me happy.

I have another book on my Brightside Booklist: 52 Books to Read Right Now called When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. This is a memoir written by a young neurosurgeon diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. Similar to Ms. Taylor, he contemplates what it is that makes life meaningful and what happens when all of your dreams are flattened by a terminal diagnosis. Reading about a young man with a beautiful wife, a soaring career and a new baby struggle with the knowledge that he will soon be gone puts a person’s life in CHECK. Fast.

Why do I torture myself with these books? Well, I see them as an opportunity to truly contemplate what it is that I’m doing here. What AM I doing? At the end of my life, what am I going to miss? Would I miss sitting on my ass, complaining about shit out of my control? Or complaining about shit I CAN control (which is even worse!)? No. I want to make sure I swing by to visit Colonel Sanders in the Louisville cemetery. I want to keep chatting it up with the sample lady at Costco. I want to dance to Stevie Wonder at 2 a.m. in my backyard with my friend Ann.

THESE are the things that I’ll miss. What about you?

P.S. Barack Obama put Dying: A Memoir on his list of best books of the year, so don’t just take my word for it. It’s good. Read it.

You Are The Brightside: Best of 2017

Happy New Year from The Brightside! I hope this year brought all of you health, happiness and all the Party Pizzas that your heart desired! Just me with the Party Pizzas? Okay, fine.

This year was pretty exciting for me, partially because I started this blog. I decided that I was just kind of coasting along in life and, well, that’s no way to live. In order to feel ALIVE, I took more risks than I have before and it has paid off immensely. I started playing softball (if you know me, you know that this is a HUMONGOUS deal!) and I moved up into a supervisory position (I like my job WAY better now). While this isn’t taking a “risk” per se (unless you count the horrifying pedicab ride), I FINALLY went to Europe. Did you know that people really do walk around Paris gnawing on giant baguettes? It’s weird.

Ok, enough of that, back to the blog.

This year I’m going to work on posting more often and am going to include new features like the Brightside Biography. My first post (coming soon!) will be an interview that I did with a woman who was born into a cult. Yes, a CULT. I’m also going to continue to do my Brightside Booklist, which is wildly popular (okay that is a bit of an overstatement, but I’m aiming big here, people), and continue to post travel stories and other things related to crime, history, each every other weird thing that I like (and you do, too).

In honor of my first year of blogging, I’m going to post several of my favorite and/or most popular posts from 2017. Here they are, in no particular order.

  • This is the post I did about changing my frown upside down, with the help of Andrew W.K.
  • I went to a forensic training and wrote two posts about what I learned about psychopaths: this one and this one.
  • I went to Paris and spent some time in Pere Lachaise cemetery (I was one of 3.5 million visitors last year!). I swear, this place was BEAUTIFUL and the tombs were unlike anything of seen in the plain ol’ midwest.
  • If you’ve spent time on this blog, you know that Jeffrey Dahmer makes quite a few appearances. I did a review of the book that his father, Lionel, wrote about Jeffrey as he was growing up. People ate it up! *wink, wink*
  • In the interest of balance, I posted this collection of THE cutest, happiest stories that I could find on the internet. It wasn’t my most popular post, but dammit, these made me cry and I know you could use a cry, too.
  • Finally, my magnum opus of the year was this beast of a booklist that I made. If you like crime, stories of adventure, dysfunctional families, spiritual growth and North Korea, keep this list handy. There’s enough books on here to last a year (if you read a book a week, that is).

Well, there you have it! I hope you’ve found something worthwhile/crazy/revolting/inspiring on this blog this past year and I want to thank ALL of you. Those that share my posts, those that comment, people that send me private messages/texts with crazy stories I might like and, if you’re still reading this, YOU. It just makes me so ding-dang happy to know that all of you are out there supporting little ol’ me.

As I said, I’m aiming big this year. Would you help me out? Please share my posts, like my Facebook page (, share anything of interest you find on my Facebook page (then EVERYONE gets to share in the love) and, finally, subscribe. You can subscribe by entering your email address below or above the right sidebar on the front page. I also added a Goodreads thingamajig to the front page of my blog so you can browse through ALL of the books I’ve ever. Okay, not ALL, but there’s a lot on there, so check it out if you need a read.

You guys RULE. Here’s to 2018!

P.S. People often ask me if my blog can be accessed WITHOUT Facebook. The answer is YES and you can find it at



Brightside Booklist: 52 Books To Read Now (Like, RIGHT NOW)

At least once a week, I have someone asking me for a book recommendation. I mean, not to brag or anything, but I’m pretty darn good at giving suggestions. Because of this, I wanted to make a list of books that I’ve read and  enjoyed. I do not have ANY patience for boring books, so if I’ve finished a book, it means I liked it. I don’t finish a book just because I started it– that’s a giant freaking waste of my time.

I have a tendency to veer towards tales of woe, murder and dysfunction. However, I also like books that bring hope, books that provide reassurance and those that make me feel like I’m a part of something BIGGER. My hope is that you can find something interesting, engrossing (or gross),  helpful or just plain entertaining on this list.

Brightside Booklist: 52 Books to Read Right Now! This has got everything: The Donner Party, screeching monkeys in the Amazon, books full of hope and all the weird, true stories you can handle. This will keep you busy for a whole YEAR!

Also, three things:

1. These books are in no particular order and I did not group them by genre. I’ve found that when I read through lists that are grouped, I usually skip over categories that I’m not interested in, thereby possibly missing something I might like.

2. All of these books can be purchased on Amazon by just clicking on the title (see how easy I made it for you?).  I get a “finder’s fee” if a book is purchased, but this “finder’s fee” doesn’t increase the cost of the book (Amazon makes me tell you that, FYI).

3. This list was originally going to be 100 books long, but WHOA. This list of 52 took me three days to write, so I’ll save the next 50 for another post.



So, here goes nothing. I present to you 50 books that RULE:



Far From The Tree by Andrew Solomon

I talk about this book ALL OF THE TIME.  The author gathered 10,000 pages of interviews with families that have children with various disabilities, terminal illnesses, children that end up murderers (including Dylan Klebold’s parents). He wrote about the challenges of raising a child that is different from the “perfect” child that you expected to have. It’s heartbreaking, but also renews your faith in human beings and the love that they’re capable of sharing. It’s long, but it’s so worth your time. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, READ IT.


What Is The What by Dave Eggers

This is categorized as fiction, but it’s based on the true story of a Lost Boy from Sudan who moved to America. The story goes back and forth between his experience in Sudan and his experiences in America. It is intense and heartbreaking, but there is, surprisingly, a lot of humor in it, also. I remember when I reached the last page I practically cried because I didn’t want the book to be over (this never happens, by the way).


A Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

This is a classic, really well written true crime book. This is Ann’s true story of Ted Bundy and her personal relationship with him BEFORE and AFTER his killings. Side note: pretty much any Ann Rule book, uh, rules.


The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band by Tommy Lee and Vince Neil

This book is…….crazy. Obviously it’s about Motley Crue and all of their shenanigans, but these shenanigans are jaw dropping. I couldn’t believe what I was reading half of the time and I loved every.single.second of it. I even got my father-in-law to read it!


Hunting Eichmann: How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb

This is about the hunt for Adolf Eichmann after his escape to Argentina at the end of WWII. Eichmann was one of the main architects of the Third Reich, responsible for deporting and killing millions of Jews. I’m not really a “spy thriller” kind of gal, but this book was super fast paced and it was fascinating to learn about all of the tactics that were used to capture him. Fake passports? Cameras imbedded in briefcases? Stabbing someone with a needle to sedate them? Check, check and CHECK.


The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I barely EVER read fiction, but I had heard this was good so I picked it up in an airport on a trip and forced myself to read it. It’s the story about a boy who loses his mother, a painting and finding out that things are never what they seem. This book is a doozy, but it’s the type of book that you read compulsively into the night even though you have to GO TO BED. Please don’t let the length scare you!

Brightside Booklist: A Father's Story by Lionel Dahmer

A Father’s Story by Lionel Dahmer

This is a book written by Jeffery Dahmer’s father (just in case the author’s name didn’t give it away). Lionel writes about Jeffrey growing up, along with the regrets and sadness that he experienced after realizing that the son he loved was truly a monster. This was another one that I couldn’t stop reading even though my eyes were BURNING.


Blue Nights by Joan Didion

Joan is, hands down, one of my favorite writers. She is a sharp observer of life and I feel like after every sentence of hers that I read, I say, “OH, YES” and nod my head, knowingly. This particular book is about the life and death of her daughter who passed away shortly after Joan’s husband died. The book about Joan’s husband’s death is called The Year of Magical Thinking and it is also a must read.


Under The Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

Jon Krakauer is an another author that I love. I swear, he could write a book about dirt and I would think it was FASCINATING. This book is a history of Mormonism intertwined with the story of a double murder committed by two brothers in the name of God.


Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr.

This is the story of a woman who grew up in one of the wealthiest families in NYC and ended up living in a hospital towards the end of her life. She was somewhat forgotten about until people got curious and wondered who this old lady was and WHY WAS SHE LIVING IN A HOSPITAL?


River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard

Teddy Roosevelt + the Amazon river = a crazy adventure story. I’ll never forget the scene where the author talks about Teddy sleeping in the dark in the rainforest with monkeys SCREECHING all night long. Um, no thanks, I’ll stay home.


Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Everyone knows what this book is and I’m sure people are pretty over it. BUT, I had to put it on the list. After a years-long fiction drought, this is the first novel I had read in a decade and I LOVED IT. Ever since then, I’ve been all like, “Where’s my next Gone Girl, grrrrl?”



The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Story of the Donner Party by Daniel James Brown

I cannot tell you how much I love this book. I have recommended it to maybe 4,5,6 people and they have all loved it. As the title suggests, it’s about the failed Donner trek. There are so many times while reading it that I yelled, “NOOOOO, don’t take that path!” or “NOOOOO, I would never want to eat my sister!” Anyway, you get the idea.


Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

I am terrified of death so the fact that I read this and loved it says something. Caitlin has a website called The Order of the Good Death and is an advocate for reforming the funeral industry in the United States (she also has a lot of good stories about dead bodies). This book is about her start in the industry and while some of it was scary to read, it ended up making me feel a *little* bit better about dying.


The Rules of Inheritance by Claire Bidwell Smith

This woman lost her mother, her father and her best friend in short order and it is her take on working on her grief (in good and not-so-good ways) and surviving tragedy. She is really, really honest about losing her mother and I found her honesty to be refreshing.


Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

Do you think living in the Unites States is bad? Read this and you’ll have a new appreciation for life. Did someone budge in line in front of you at the grocery store? Well, at least you’re not eating GRASS for dinner.


Mrs. Astor Regrets: The Hidden Betrayals of a Family Beyond Reproach by Meryl Gordon

I remember when Brooke Astor died and there was all of this hullabaloo about her son stealing her money and allowing her to live in filth. It turns out that this was all true, but this tells the back story of her life and, truth be told, I adore reading about rich people so I LOVED IT.


And The Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts

This is an extensive piece of investigative journalism that delves into the history of the AIDS epidemic in the United States. Randy Shilts was simultaneously praised and derided for this book that brought so much needed attention to this disaster that was/is the AIDS crisis.


Dead Men Do Tell Tales

Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist by William Maple

At least once a month I think about the scene in this book where a man sticks a knife in a radiator and repeatedly rams his head into the knife, killing himself. If you want more of this, this is your book!


Shot in the Heart by Mikal Gilmore

Mikal Gilmore is a music journalist that writes for Rolling Stone and I always find his articles to be some of the best in that magazine. I like him so much that I even read his article about Gregg Allman (I don’t care about Gregg Allman). He also happens to be the brother of Gary Gilmore, the first man to be executed after the United States reinstated the death penalty and this is his story. Also, he chose death by firing squad, which is pretty badass, in my opinion.


Night by Elie Wiesel

This masterpiece is Elie Wiesel’s horrific account of living in, and surviving, the death camps as a teenager during WWII.


The Autumn Balloon by Kenny Porpora

I picked this book up on a clearance rack at the bookstore. I had never heard of it, but because it screamed DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY I bought it. After reading it, I was surprised that I had never heard about it. I related to a lot of what he had to say and I could FEEL his descriptions of his family members, their hurt and his resilience. I can still SMELL his description of wearing clothes that stank like smoke.


The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of the Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler

This is a heartbreaker about woman who were forced to give up their children for adoption before Roe v. Wade became. The book describes the pressures put on these mothers to give up their children and the psychological effects of having their children torn from them.


The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collusion of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman

This is the story of a young Hmong girl in California experiencing severe health issues and the difficulties navigating two different cultures that have very different views on healthcare. The story is also woven with the history of Hmong community in America. It has one several awards for non-fiction.


The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Fully Living by Frank Osteseski

Frank Osteseski is the founder of the Zen Hospice Project and has worked with thousands of dying people. This is a meditative book on the meaning of life and the necessity of having awareness of, and, embracing death. I found it to be helpful in reframing my thoughts on death and with letting go of regret and expectations.


Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography by Jean Harvey Baker

Most books on the Lincolns focus, obviously, on Abraham Lincoln with Mary Todd playing a side role as the “crazy” wife. This book shed new light on her intelligence, her involvement in politics and her fierce independence. It was eye-opening to read a different theory of why she was perceived as being so unstable and “crazy.” It’s clear that she was seen as a threat instead of being seen as a woman with smarts and an opinion. Grrr.


While The City Slept: A Love Lost to Violence and a Young Man’s Descent Into Madness by Eli Sander

This is an in-depth look into a murder that very well could have been avoided had the perpetrator had mental health services as he was growing up. The author won a Pulitzer Prize for journalism after covering this story in 2012.


Wondering Who You Are: A Memoir by Sonya Lea

What if you were married to a man you didn’t know anymore and this man had no recollection of your past? The author wrote this book about her marriage and her husband’s memory loss after undergoing a medical procedure. He had forgotten everything about their lives and their marriage and this is a candid tale of how they managed to get through this mess.


Trapped Under the Sea: One Engineering Marvel, Five Men, and a Disaster Ten Miles Into the Darkness by Neil Swidey

How do you feel about going into a 10-mile-long tunnel under the ocean, only able to breathe because you’re attached to a long hose that pumps oxygen? I think that it sounds like a terrible idea and, as it turns out, it WAS a terrible idea. What’s the deal with tunnel? Five men entered this tunnel to complete an engineering project in the Boston harbor in 1999 and, well, not all of them made it.


Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson

Most people know about Rosemary Kennedy and how she was shunned by her family, sent away and eventually lobotomized. Through her mother’s diary and family interviews, you are able to see the love that her family had for her AND are reminded of what a terrible father Joe Kennedy turned out to be.


Lit: A Memoir (P.S.) by Mary Karr

Remember how I said that if I didn’t like a book in the first 5 pages I toss it out? This might be my one exception. On a trip to Atlanta, I only brought this ONE book and had no choice but to read it. Essentially, Mary Karr is a literature professor with an awful past who drinks herself into oblivion, eventually redeeming herself. Sometimes overwritten, but an honest look at a struggling woman/writer/mother/daughter. I ended up really, really liking it.

Wolf In White Van: A Novel by John Darnielle

If you know me, you know that I hate the band The Mountain Goats. John Darnielle is the band’s singer/songwriter so it is utterly astounding that I even picked this book up, let alone READ it. I hate to admit it, but I really liked it. It’s a story of a young man who is isolated because of his face disfiguration. He creates a through-the-mail role-playing game and gets tangled up in this imaginary world, which ends in disaster. I didn’t particularly enjoy the details about the game itself, but if you’ve ever felt marginalized or like an outsider, you’ll be able to relate.


In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson

This is from the author of Devil in the White City, the story about the serial killer, H.H. Holmes. Have you read that book? I think EVERYONE has. Anyway, this is about WIlliam Dodd, the first American ambassador sent to Nazi Germany in 1933. His whole family joins him and we end up getting a front row seat to Hitler’s Germany as it unfolds during WWII. Fascinating.


People Who Eat Darkness


People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished From the Streets of Tokyo–and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Parry

A young woman goes to Tokyo, disappears and her remains are found a year later. A clash of cultures and an inside look into the grief experienced by Lucie Blackman’s family made for a good, quick read. See also: the underground Japanese culture is CRAZY.


Fortune’s Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt by Arthur Vanderbilt II

Have I mentioned that I love stories about rich people? Particularly rich people who crash and burn? This one is my FAVORITE. There is so much scandal, so many terrible people and the amount of money that these people blew through is OUT OF THIS WORLD. Seriously, their houses? The parties they threw? OH.MY.GOD. I’m sure the cost of ONE curtain panel in ONE of their dining rooms was the same price as my house.


Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckly Firestorm of 1894 by Daniel James Brown

This was written by the guy that wrote The Indifferent Stars Above, the book about the Donner Party? Anyway, this is the first of his books that I read and I read it, get ready for it, on my HONEYMOON.  A book about a raging firestorm in Northern MN is super romantic, right? I will never get over his descriptions of the firestorm or the vision of that train of death barreling down the tracks (I’m not being dramatic!).


All Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg

Rick Bragg wrote this unforgettable account of growing up dirt poor, with an abusive wretch for a dad, but a mother that goes 18 years without a new dress so that her children can survive. There is a reason that Rick Bragg has won a Pulitzer Prize and this is a perfect example of why.


Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

This book follows the true life story of a man and his family impacted by Hurricane Katrina while being targeted due to the War on Terror. Dave Eggers is one of my favorite authors and it never fails to amaze me at how well he is able to fully capture his subject’s lives with his storytelling.


The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin

In 1888, an epic snowstorm swept through the midwest. It killed 500 people and many children were trapped in the blizzard on the way home from school, devastaing the lives of the many immigrants that had just moved to the United States. It sounds awful, right? It’s heartbreaking, but a page turner.


Fatal Vision: A True Crime Classic by Joe McGinniss

Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, a Green Beret, was accused of killing his pregnant wife and two children, but did he really do it? This book is so crazy suspenseful and is probably my #2 favorite true crime book of all time (and I’ve read a lot of them). Side note: Whenever we run across this book at a book store my husband always asks me if I want another copy of “the book with the green hat on it” and then laughs his ass off.


The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by Dalai Lama XIV and Howard Cutler

Whenever I’m OVER IT and feeling like a loser, depressed or in a spiral of death anxiety, I can open this book to any page at random and find something helpful. I find a lot of comfort in the principles of Buddhism so maybe I’m biased, but I think that the Dalai Lama’s quotes would resonate with anyone.


True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray by James Renner

If you don’t know the case of Maura Murray and you’re interested in true crime, this is for you. This case has fascinated me forever and it completely took over the author’s life for a period of time. He retraces her steps, talks to her family members and, while he didn’t solve the case, what he finds out is intriguing.


Home Is Burning by Dan Marshall

Home Is Burning: A Memoir by Dan Marshall

Dan Marshall moves home to help his family take care of his father who was diagnosed with ALS. This is a pretty depressing subject, but I found myself laughing more than crying. He’s crass and makes fun of everyone, including his cancer stricken mother, bless her heart.


Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp

This is a profound, honest memoir of a journalist’s 20-year battle with alcohol. This is one of the first memoirs that I read on this subject and it has stayed with me. I followed Caroline for many years after reading this because I felt like I needed to know how she was. I just really wanted her to make it!!


Blackout: Remembering Things I Drank To Forget by Sarah Marshall

Another book about drinking (I have a thing for addiction memoirs), but this one is a DOOZY. She calls alcohol the “gasoline of all adventure” and there are definitely some cringeworthy adventures happening here (falling down stairs, waking up with men she doesn’t know). It all sounds really depressing, but she’s funny and REAL, which I liked. I figured that had I known her when I was 22, we would’ve been best friends.


The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeanette Walls

Another dysfunctional family story which spent 7 years on the New York Times bestseller list. The author was raised in a family where the kids had to fend for themselves while living with an alcoholic, but loving, father and a mother who was disinterested in family life. This one’s a classic.


Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

The author’s grandparents were originally from Appalachia and eventually settled in the Rust Belt of Ohio. It was a continuous struggle to pull themselves out of povery and this book delves deep into the history of white working-class America and their struggles. J.D. Vance eventually escapes his family cycle to become a Yale educated lawyer and his tale is very apropos for the times that we are living in.



Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler

Hitler liked drugs. A lot of drugs. In fact, he essentially built and funded his own methamphetamine factory because he liked drugs so much. Hitler + drugs = BAD.


The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan

Have you noticed that I like books about environmental disasters? There’s just something about the ferocity of nature and the lengths that people go to in order to survive these disasters. It makes me realize that maybe having to shovel 3 inches of snow isn’t THAT big of a deal. But, long story short, this is the story of the biggest fire to break out in the United States and the creation of land conservation in America (thanks Teddy!).


The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness and Murder by Charles Graeber

This is an account of a nurse who was not so good. Well, he was good at KILLING people and it’s crazy how long he got away with it. How long? 300 PEOPLE LONG.


Whoa, that’s a lot of books right there. Whether you buy one, get one from the library or steal a copy from a friend, let me know what you think. Like the book? Tell me. Hate the book? Tell me.

Let’s discuss! Comment in the space below.

Brightside Booklist + The Case of Maura Murray

All-American girl, Maura Murray, has a fiancé and no enemies. She receives a weird phone call and packs up her dorm, leaving everything behind. She emails her professors and says she has had a death in the family. Maura withdraws $280 from an ATM and stops at a liquor store.


is spotted with her car after it slid into a snow bank on a fairly deserted road near a wooded area. By the time the police get there, she’s gone. No footprints. No other evidence found at the scene.

Did I mention no footprints?

Maura Murray

Maura Murray disappeared in 2004 and hasn’t been seen since. This case has gone nowhere and there are still unanswered questions like what’s up with her weird relationship with her dad? Why have people “forgotten” key pieces of Maura’s story? Why doesn’t some of her family want to talk to investigators?

There are several theories about what happened to her, but they’re just theories. Did she flee somehow and change her identity? Did she wander into the woods and disappear? Did her dad do something to her?

The current, and most likely, theory is that someone picked her up in a vehicle and drove her away because…no footprints.

Who, though? Why? It’s killing me. I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO HER.

She was featured in an episode of Disappeared on the ID channel and I’ve watched a few of times. I’ve read websites focused on her case and I even joined an online club dedicated to trying to figure out where she is/was/who knows.

Maybe you could say I need a hobby, but I think this IS my hobby.

So,  when I found the book True Crime Addict by James Renner I was more excited than a person should be when browsing library shelves. Let’s just say that my five-year-old was completely nonplussed when I shrieked at him about my good luck. Whatever, he doesn’t get it.

True Crime Addict by James Renner

Anyway, this guy basically lived my dream of immersing himself in Maura’s case. He retraced her steps, interviewed strangers, friends and tries to pull ANY information out of her family. As a former reporter, he’s had some practice in hunting people down and he’s pretty good at it.

Ultimately, everyone is frustratingly vague and the case starts to affect his personal life (this part was NOT my idea of living the dream). He also weaves in a story about a member of his family that had a criminal history of his own, adding insight into why he has become so obsessed with reporting crime stories.

As you probably gathered, there is no resolution at the end of the story (I NEED TO KNOW, ALREADY!), but it was very readable. The insight into WHY it’s been so difficult to figure out what happened to her is fascinating, almost as fascinating as the disappearance itself. The answers to Maura Murray’s story are held by those who know her best and it’s so strange to “meet” real life people in this situation that have no interest in talking.

You guys, it’s weird. This is one of the best true crime books I’ve read in awhile and YOU should read it, too, so we can discuss. PLEASE. Or if you HAVE read it/know her story/are obsessed as I am, what do you think happened to her?


Click here or here for past Brightside Booklist reads. Trust me on these.