"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened
and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you
and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse,
and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."
Ernest Hemingway

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

William Morrow
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
Tom Franklin

The Summary
"In the 1970s, Larry Ott and Silas "32" Jones were boyhood pals in a small town in rural Mississippi.  Their worlds were as different as night and day:  Larry was the child of lower middle-class parents, and Silas, the son of a poor, black single mother.  But then Larry took a girl to a drive-in movie and she was never seen or heard from again.  He never confessed...and was never charged.

"More than twenty years have passed.  Larry lives a solitary, shunned existence, never able to rise above the whispers of suspicion.  Silas has become the town constable.  And now another girl has disappeared, forcing two men who once called each other "friend" to confront a past they've buried for decades."

The Good
I enjoyed this book so much.

I typically do not read mysteries, especially mysteries that showcase dark secrets and some of the more unsavory aspects of small-town life.  (I live in a small Southern town, so it's a bit unnerving to see similarities between my hometown and the one pictured in Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.)  However, I was hooked by Tom Franklin's novel almost from the start.

The pace is excellent, as it doesn't dwell for long moments and it doesn't fly through the story; the tone it sets feels distinctly Southern, it feels like it's set in the heart of Mississippi; and the writing is excellent, so easy to read and yet descriptive enough to keep me interested.

While it does get a little too descriptive, particularly in respects to describing murder scenes, I found I enjoyed Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter for it's ability to conjure a setting.  When I was reading, I could really imagine Larry and Silas's town.  I could see the kudzu, envision the dirt roads and the mosquitoes swarming around the swamps, feel the stifling summer heat.  It was exciting to read a book that felt so real, that held such a visceral impact.

The Bad
No complaints.  It reads well and I enjoyed it immensely.

The Ugly
I felt so bad for Larry.

I mean, here's this smart, sweet, and socially awkward young man who's blamed for a murder he didn't commit and then he spends the rest of his life suffering under that dark shadow.  It's heart-breaking, especially as new light is shed on the case and you realize that Larry has been shunned by his entire community simply because he was different.

It's a bit sickening.

Oh, and fair warning, there's a number of murders and attempted murders in this book.  It's not for the faint of heart and it's doesn't shy away from the ugly topics of racism, infidelity, and abuse.  It's jarring how many dark secrets lurk under the facade of one, small Southern town.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History

Harper Perennial
Lady Killers:  Deadly Women Throughout History
Tori Telfer

The Summary
"In 1998, an FBI profiler infamously declared in a homicide, 'There are no female serial killers'--but Lady Killers offers fourteen creepy examples to the contrary.  Though largely forgotten by history, female serial killers such as Erzsebet Bathory, Nannie Doss, Mary Ann Cotton, and Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova rival their male counterparts in cunning, cruelty, and appetite for destruction.

"With a feminist lens and a witty, morbidly humorous tone, Lady Killers dismisses easy explanations (she was hormonal, she did it for love, a man made her do it) and tired tropes (she was a femme fatale, a black widow, a witch), delving into the complex reality of female aggression and predation."

The Good
Honestly, I enjoyed this book far more than I probably should have.

There's something fascinating about female serial killers.  Perhaps, I have been susceptible to the idea that women are softer, gentler, and less likely to kill, despite knowing to the contrary, and find myself aghast that these ladies existed; perhaps, I'm just fascinated by the idea of off-kilter women surviving in any way possible.

Either way, I was absolutely hooked by Lady Killers.

I had a handful of chapters that I really enjoyed:  "The Sorceress of Kilkenny," which featured Alice Kyteler who was accused of being a witch and killing four husbands; "Vipers," featuring Raya and Sakina, prostitutes who owned a brothel murdered several young women (and possibly others) in Egypt after World War I; "Wretched Woman," which focused on Mary Ann Cotton, who killed several of her own children, several of her husbands' children, several husbands (all, but one) and lovers and, quite probably, many more; and, "The Tormentor," Darya Nikolaevna Saltykova, which you can read more about later.

These were just the most fascinating chapters for me; however, every chapter was thought-provoking and captivating in its own right.  Tori Telfer does a fantastic job as an author, creating a thoroughly researched and interesting book on an increasingly morbid topic.  She writes with a sense of humor, but also a deep appreciation of forgotten and/or misinterpreted history.

I especially appreciated Telfer's dedication to telling the truth or, at the very least, getting all her facts straight.  Telfer cuts through the terrible rumors and unfounded accusations that surround these women, dismissing what she cannot prove, and creates a believable portrait of each individual.

Elizabeth Bathory, for instance, is surrounded by a dark mythos of blood, terror, and sex.  She has become, on numerous occasions, a scandalous icon for debauchery and murder, a female counterpart to the wildly popular story of Dracula.  So much of what we know of her is unreal; however, Telfer makes an effort to humanize her, to reveal her a real person.  Yes, she committed heinous crimes and, yes, she was no doubt a murderess, but Telfer tells the story of a woman (albeit, a deeply disturbed woman), rather than a vampire or a dark temptress as she's sometimes portrayed.

The Bad
No complaints.

The Ugly
It's a book about serial killers.  It's going to be awful, horrible, gruesome, and macabre; it's going to have blood, gore, and violence--and all the other horrible things associated with cold-blooded killers.  Don't go into this book thinking, "It can't possibly be that bad.  It's not like it's Charles Manson or Jeffrey Dahmer, or someone like that."

Trust me, you're wrong.

These ladies are downright terrifying, just as much as any male serial killer.  Many of them got away with killing for years, like the murderous women of Nagyrev or Nannie Doss, before they were discovered; some even avoided justice altogether, like Alice Kyteler and Kate Bender.  They're killers, plain and simple, and they're frightening in their own right.

Perhaps one of the most frightening, in my opinion, was Darya Nikolaevna Saltykova.  Darya was a Russian noblewoman who lived during the reign of Catherine the Great and she killed, at the very least, 138 people (mostly women) during her lifetime.  She was inventive in her murders and, at times, she would kill someone with her bare hands if she didn't think anyone else would or could do it.  And, as the author points out, she showed zero remorse:
"So Darya killed and killed again, confident in her impregnability and furious at her serfs for each petty mistake, for getting in her way, for being her responsibility, for existing.  If she was a god, then her serfs were her pitiful playthings.  She could make them clean; she could make them cook; she could make them scream and bleed and beg. [...] 'I am my own mistress,' she cried. 'I am not afraid of anyone.' This belief that she was superior, unassailable, and even consecrated by the law was integral to her sense of self.  Perhaps she killed to prove one simple point:  that she could."

To me, Darya is absolutely terrifying.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Jane Steele: Revisited

G.P. Putnam's Sons
Jane Steele
Lyndsay Faye

The Summary
"A sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim school where she fights for her very life until escaping to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her. After years of hiding from the law while penning macabre “last confessions” of the recently hanged, Jane thrills at discovering an advertisement. Her aunt has died and her childhood home has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess.

"Burning to know whether she is in fact the rightful heir, Jane takes the position incognito and learns that Highgate House is full of marvelously strange new residents--the fascinating but caustic Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars, and the gracious Sikh butler Mr. Sardar Singh, whose history with Mr. Thornfield appears far deeper and darker than they pretend. As Jane catches ominous glimpses of the pair’s violent history and falls in love with the gruffly tragic Mr. Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: Can she possess him--body, soul, and secrets--without revealing her own murderous past? 

"A satirical romance about identity, guilt, goodness, and the nature of lies, by a writer who Matthew Pearl calls 'superstar-caliber' and whose previous works Gillian Flynn declared 'spectacular,' Jane Steele is a brilliant and deeply absorbing book inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre."

The Good
Not so very long ago, I actually picked up the advanced readers copy of Jane Steele and read it within a couple of days.  More recently, I found the audiobook of Lyndsay Faye's novel and, I have to say, I wasn't disappointed.  I enjoyed rereading Jane Steele and I found I liked the story just as much the second time around.

Susie Riddell does a pretty great job as narrator.  I liked the way she told Jane's story, the cadence and tone of her voice that created a character who felt real.  It was enjoyable, and I found myself finding new facets of the story to appreciate and admire.

Overall, it's a great audiobook.  Short and, while it's definitely not sweet, fun, Jane Steele is an excellent choice for any reader seeking an off-kilter romance or a deeply twisted take on a classic.  However, I will say I enjoyed reading the book more than listening to the audiobook.  For some reason, I just appreciated the feeling of the book in my hands than the earbuds in my ears as I listened to Jane's story.

But that's more personal preference than anything.

The Bad
Honestly, I had a few moments where I became annoyed by the accents.  Don't get me wrong, Susie Riddell does a great job of reading Jane Steele; however, I was always a little annoyed by Thornfield's voice.  It wasn't awful, but it did take me a little longer to acclimate to his character than usual.

Likewise, I never did warm up to Rebecca's voice.  She had a softness to her voice, a sort of whiny sound that I just didn't like.  Confidentially, I was glad when I moved beyond her story and found myself strictly accompanying Jane.

The Ugly
Blood and gore.

Jane, as she warns readers in the first pages of her "memoir," is a murderess.  She's not a gentle, tame individual like the Jane we know from Jane Eyre; rather, she's a rambunctious, foul-mouthed young woman who knows her way around a knife.  She's deadly and she can prove it, too.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter

Image result for whistlin dixie in a nor easterWhistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter
Lisa Patton

The Summary
"Leelee Satterfield leaves her beloved Memphis to follow her husband's pipe dream:  to manage a quaint Vermont inn.  But when they arrive, young daughters and ancient Yorkie in tow, they discover pretty fast that there's a truckload of things nobody tells you about Vermont until you live there.  When Leelee is left swindled and snowbound, she's forced to confront the true depth of her Southern grit in this foreign town.

"In this moving, comedic debut, Lisa Patton paints a hilarious portrait of a life in Vermont seen through the eyes of a Southern belle.  It's a charming, fish-out-of-water tale of one woman who learns to stand up for herself--in sandals and snow boots--against all odds."

The Good
Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter is a pretty fun novel.

Sweet, humorous, and full of heart, Lisa Patton's novel is a delightful mixture of friendship, misadventure, and love.  It was an interesting blend, bringing together the warm, honeysuckle scented culture of the South and the colder, entirely foreign climate of the North.  When the two come together, it's a minefield fraught with dangers, as Leelee quickly learns.

Overall, it's a heartwarming story.  Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter takes a while to build, takes an even longer time to get to the point that you actually see the Tennessee grit and determination upon which Leelee prides herself; however, it's a good story.  It's short, sweet, and easy to read, and it's worth checking out, especially for any local Tennesseans interested in a fun, romantic debut.

The Bad
Honestly, despite sharing a state with Leelee, I found I couldn't relate to her.  I mean, I understand what it means to be a "people-pleaser." (Sometimes, it's just hard to say "no" to the folks you know and love.)  However, I had hoped Leelee would find that Southern grit and rebellious determination to turn her life around long before she actually did.

It was frustrating to witness Leelee endure problem after problem, before she finally decided to take her life into her own hands.  I hated how Baker--among others--took advantage of her.  I hated that Leelee was left to foot the bill, even when it was her scummy husband's fault.

I hated it for her.  The embarrassment, the desolation, the betrayal and confusion.  It's a bit gut-wrenching.

The Ugly
I really don't like Baker.

We'll just leave it at that, lest I spoil the story.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Taking a Break

Apologies for the month-long hiatus.  Things have been a bit busy lately, but I'm sure I'll get back into the swing of things soon enough.  In the meantime, please feel free to browse books from the Archive--or check out this book review website from the Bristol Public Library.  They have a myriad of books and reviews to explore, and they're well worth checking out:  http://bristol-library-bookblog.blogspot.com/.

Enjoy and, as always, happy reading!