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The single biggest barrier that prevents me from being the frantic book inhaler I want to be is sleep. No matter how excited I am to read my book, once I get all snuggled up and cozy, it’s just a matter of time before I nod off like Grandpa in front of the TV after turkey and stuffing. Last week I was on vacation from work and determined to use the time to read as much as possible, so I broke out the big guns--I sat in an uncomfortable chair. And through this ultimate sacrifice, I finished this delightfully dark fantasy novel!

I love court intrigue, and Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is court intrigue on steroids. Add a heroine who wants power more than she wants a man, and I’ll be a fan for life. Xifeng is beautiful, but she wants to trade on more than just her looks. She has a thirst for power and prestige, and her aunt Guma teaches her to consume the power of other living things (in a really gross way, too! Like I said, this book is dark!). But what Xifeng hasn’t accounted for is that magic has its cost.

Still, I’ve never seen a character more motivated to claw her way to the top, and it makes me really like Xifeng despite her at best selfish, at worst sociopathic behavior. Super glad this is the first in a series--I am definitely on board for the next installment.

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I had to squirm (and occasionally skim) my way through this book because I’m squeamish when it comes to violence, but the Black Dahlia murder and Piu Eatwell’s deep dive into the evidence are fascinating enough to make the ick factor worth it. I didn’t know anything about the case going in, but even if you have some background, Eatwell fought for access to evidence never before released—and she has a compelling argument as to the identity of the culprit. She’s also an accomplished historian who excels at creating a sense of place. Black Dahlia, Red Rose is as much a snapshot of postwar LA as it is an analysis of the murder investigation, and even though I’ve never been to California, having read this book I now feel like I have.

True crime can be tough to read. With crime novels, no matter how sick and twisted, you can at least comfort yourself with the thought that it’s all a figment of the author’s imagination. We’re granted no such distance here. Elizabeth Short was a real person whose life was ended purposefully and brutally. So what makes the book worth reading, despite the gruesomeness of the crime itself? In my opinion, it’s the opportunity to explore who the so-called Black Dahlia really was, behind the sensational headlines and prejudice of the times. It’s too easy to cast a beautiful young female murder victim as either a saintly virgin or a disgraced harlot. Based on the picture Eatwell paints of Short, I personally think she (like all women) was more complicated than that false dichotomy allows.

Adding to the intrigue is Eatwell’s exposure of the bald-faced corruption of the LAPD and their unwillingness to bring the killer to justice. As a cock-eyed optimist, I found the department’s failure appalling, but if you’re the jaded type you probably won’t be too surprised. I guess we’ve seen several examples in the news just recently that prove rules don’t apply to white men in powerful positions. I should have known.

Recommended for true crime enthusiasts, history buffs, and anyone who likes non-fiction that reads like fiction.