I’ll Be Gone In The Dark (Michelle McNamara)

I’m back! It’s been a couple of busy months where I had to step back from blogging, but I’m pleased to say I’m back to posting and even more importantly, back to doing more reading.

Now, I’ve been into true crime for a very long time. The thing I remember really kicking it off for me was the disappearance of the Springfield 3 back in 1992. That summer, I recall spending time in my grandmother’s yard with my cousins and being absolutely convinced we were going to find the three missing women (in the old mill across the street, because our search options were limited… not that we would have ever gone inside). I’ve had a few other experiences that have fed into this, but that was definitely the beginning.

Recently, I’ve been obsessed with the effin glorious My Favorite Murder podcast.  I’m pretty certain that Karen and Georgia need to be my new best friends. My new life goal is to go drink wine and talk murder with them. Some days it seemed like laughing and dropping f-bombs with them was the only thing helping me to hold it together during my move. If you are into podcasts or true crime and you haven’t already, check them out.

I was aware of Michelle McNamara before, but that was about it. On MFM they talk about her several times in the early episodes which made me realize, “Hey, you should probably check her out.” I’m SO glad I did.

For those of you who might have managed to miss out on hearing about it, I’ll Be Gone In the Dark is Michelle McNamara’s book on the Golden State Killer. This is a massive simplification. It was an obsession. McNamara passed away suddenly in April of 2016 without finishing the book. Her husband, comedian Patton Oswalt, wanted to make sure that the world got to read it and pushed to get the book finished. Thank goodness he did.

The entire book is made all the more poignant where you come across sections that were pieced together from her notes or from articles she had previously written. A section at the end of the book was written by Paul Haynes and Billy Jensen in an effort to tie up the loose ends of the book left by McNamara’s untimely death (the change in tone DID make that part of the book much more dry) but it was clear that there were still so many avenues that she wanted to explore. The world has definitely lost a truly magnificent voice.

Generally, even the most interesting of true crime books has a tendency towards being a little dry in parts, things get repetitive or maybe they get into nitty gritty investigative details. The only bit in I’ll Be Gone in the Dark that felt that way was the part that Michelle McNamara did not write. The majority of the book reads almost like a really good mystery novel, making it very hard to put down. She particularly excels with descriptions. This wasn’t a case that I had ever found myself particularly interested in, but holy cow, once I started, I had to know more. Michelle’s passion for the topic is evident in every paragraph. Even if you think the know the case, read this book.

There is a letter at the end of the book McNamara wrote to the Golden State Killer. She passed away and the book was published before Joseph James DeAngelo was finally arrested April 24, 2018. While officials say that her work didn’t contribute to his capture, it’s hard to believe that the attention she drew to the case did not put renewed pressure on detectives to solve it. One can only hope that somehow he read it and knows that Michelle McNamara’s determination helped lock him up.

Creepy and True: Mummies Exposed! (Kerrie Logan Hollihan)

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This didn’t change my opinion of the book.

Mummies have been my jam since I was a little kid. Books, documentaries, whatever you’ve got, I’ve never been able to get enough. This book would have been a dream when I was a kid, and honestly, is still perfectly enjoyable as an adult. Kerrie Lynn Hollihan really seems to have it together on her research and it’s presented in such a way to make it interesting and fun, without being overly lighthearted.

Mummies Exposed! doesn’t just cover the usual Egyptian mummies, either. She covers a broad range of both natural and embalmed mummies from all over the world. The photos are detailed and well done. There were even quite a few things in here that I never knew!

Obviously this is a book meant for kids, but it doesn’t disappoint adults either. This is the first entry in a series and I cannot wait to see more and to share them with the creepy little human that I know.

The Dead Queens Club (Hannah Capin)

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest opinion. This didn’t change my feelings about the book.

Anna “Cleves” Marck is one of the few girls to make it out of her relationship with the oh-so-perfect jock Henry unscathed. Unabashed reporter Cleves has stuck by the magnetic overacheiever as his best friend through his frequent girlfriend changes, but after two of Henry’s exes turn up dead within months of each other she and some of the other ladies in his life feel like it merits more investigation.

So… let me just quickly sum up for you how I felt about this book:

Actual image of me reading this book.

Not only is this book immensely fun, it’s super clear to me the Henry VIII nerd that Hannah Capin seriously knows her stuff. I really enjoyed catching all the historical name references, but there were plenty of other, more subtle details sprinkled throughout that were just amazing. Lina having a jar of pomegranate seeds in her dorm fridge? Perfect.

In addition to appealing to my history geek side, this also adds in a heaping dose of girl power, feminism, whatever you want to call it and gives Henry’s queens a chance to take back their power, because let’s face it, he may have been fascinating and even charming, but Henry was a real dick. History may not have always been kind to the women in his life, but this book sets up a scenario where they are given a chance to shine.

Altogether, what we have is a book that is clever, fun and totally satisfying. My reading this year has started pretty well, but this easily seizes the top spot.

Interview: YA Author Kate Larkindale!

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview YA author Kate Larkindale, and talk a little bit about reading, writing and her upcoming book, The Sidewalk’s Regrets:

Seventeen-year-old Sacha McLeod isn’t looking for someone to rock her world. She just needs a new violin string to replace the one she broke while practicing her audition piece. But when she hears the boy in the music store play guitar, the energy, violence and unpredictability of the music thrills her and she falls hard for Dylan and his wild, inventive sound.

As their attraction heats up, Sacha finds herself spending less time with her violin and more time with this exciting guy who makes her feel things she’s never imagined. Her plans for her violin-virtuoso future – and her self-confidence – are shattered when she screws up the audition for a prestigious summer music program. Failure isn’t something she’s had to face before, so when Dylan asks her to spend her vacation with him in the city, she lies to her parents, pretends she won a place in the summer school, and secretly moves in with Dylan. She’s expecting romance, music and passion, but when she finds herself playing second fiddle to Dylan’s newly acquired drug habit, she realizes despite what the songs say, sometimes love isn’t all you need.

Desperate to understand what’s competing with her for Dylan’s affections, she joins his band and does drugs with him — just once. But once become twice, three times, and more. As the band’s popularity grows, so do the pressures and her drug use escalates. If Sacha can’t figure out how to leave the band, and Dylan, she’ll lose herself and her own music forever.

This was my first ever interview with an author, and I was a little nervous. But seriously, Kate is super sweet (and you should definitely read her book).

What was your favorite part of writing The Sidewalk’s Regrets?

KL: It was actually a really hard book to write because it’s very personal and draws on lots of experiences I’ve had and things I’ve seen happen to musicians I know and care about. It’s tragic how often these same stories repeat themselves… But at the same time, that made some parts of it easier because I didn’t need to work to find the emotions I needed. I think my favorite part of writing the book was writing about the music and how Sacha experiences it, both as a listener and as a musician herself.

What makes writing YA important to you?

K: The time of life YA covers is the most exciting period.  It’s when you really discover who you are and what you believe in and what’s important to you.  There are so many things to experience for a first time, and everything just feels bigger and more important than it does once you’re older.  I love to explore these things and the way they shape people and lives forever.

What is the first book that made you cry?

KL: I think it was probably The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.  I remember being quite devastated when Aslan died. Either that or Black Beauty.  That said, I don’t often cry while reading.  Movies…. Well, that’s an entirely different thing!  I dissolve into tears at the drop of a hat in the movies.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

KL: I have a wonderful critique group who really push me to be a better writer.  Interestingly, we all write very different kids of books, but I think that’s why we can help each other out so well – we all have different strengths.  Lexa Cain, Breanna Teintze, Kim Lajevardi, T F Walsh, Juliana Brandt, Nyrae Dawn, Jolene Perry and Allyson Lindt have all been incredibly supportive and helped me to become a better writer.  And I know there are others too. I just can’t think of their names right now…

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

KL: Don’t be so concerned with publishing as a measure of success.  Writing is something I do because I love it and the constant push toward getting an agent or a publishing contract really takes the fun out of it.  As long as you like what you’ve written and you enjoyed writing it, then it’s a win.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

KL: Hmmm….  That’s a tough one.  I think it’s actually money my partner spent rather than me, but it’s a joint account so it probably counts.  He gave me Scrivener, a writing software,  for my birthday a few years back, and that’s really transformed the physical process of writing books for me.  I love it!

What does literary success look like to you?

KL: Like most writers I’d love to be able to make living from just writing books, but that’s not something that looks possible anytime in the near future.  So I’m keeping it small for now and I’ll say that success is knowing my books are being read.  I love it when I go to the library and check the shelves for my books and find that all copies are out on loan.

What was your favorite childhood book?

KL: When I was twelve I read The Outsiders for the first time and it changed my life.  That was the book that made me want to be a writer and sent me on the lifelong journey I’m still traveling through.  So I think I’ll have to say that was my favorite book even though I had many, many others over the years.  I have always read books.  I learned to read when I was three, and haven’t stopped since!

HUGE thanks again to Kate for doing this interview. And just as a note: The Sidewalk’s Regrets is out NOW, so go check it out!

The Ladies Guide to Petticoats and Piracy (Mackenzi Lee)

Many of you know that Mackenzi Lee’s previous book, The Gentlemans’ Guide to Vice and Virtue, was one of my favorite books of 2017. This follow-up has been out since last fall, but I’ve been both busy and a bit of a slacker, so I’m only now getting around to reading it, despite my eager anticipation.

Felicity Montague finds herself hitting a real low point in Edinburgh when we find her at the beginning of the book. Unable to get any of the medical schools to even bother meeting with her, she’s working in a bakery with Callum, who obviously has an interest in marrying her. Felicity who knows she’s meant for more than baking bread and popping out babies, panics. She makes her way back to London, crashing with Monty and Percy, determined to try things differently with the medical schools. When things don’t go exactly to plan, she realizes she’s going to have to get back in touch with her former bestie Johanna, who just so happens to be engaged to Felicity’s idol, Alexander Platt.

Obviously, I went into this expecting another exciting and funny romp through 18th century Europe, but I was slightly disappointed. While I really enjoyed all of the characters, all the really funny parts belonged again to Monty. Monty is great and everything, but I really thought that this book would really belong to the women and as my sister-in-law-ish put it: “Ladies be funny.”

There was a pretty solid cast of ladies to follow. I loved prickly Felicity even more this time around and Sim was nicely mysterious, but really it was Johanna that I really fell for. Like Felicity, she’s extremely intelligent, but she has a much softer side that helps provide a nice balance to Felicity’s harder edges. Plus, she has her gigantic, slobbering Alpine mastiff. I have to have a soft spot for someone who loves their dog as much as Johanna. I would have liked to see more from Sim as well as more from all three women together. Hopefully, it’s something to look forward to.

All in all, I still loved the book, if in a different way than Gentlemans’ Guide. I’m holding out hope that Mackenzi Lee will return to these characters in the future, not just the ladies, but Monty and Percy, as well.

NaNoWriMo Update (Or Holy S%*t, I Wrote a Book, Ya’ll)

Guys, I did it.

Sort of.

Technically the point of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words during the month of November. I didn’t write anywhere close to that. My goal was a far more modest 20,000 word kids book and I did it.

Pictured: definitely not me. I spent the month in sweatpants glaring at my computer in the library.

Obviously there is still a long road of edits and thinking about publishing ahead, but this is the first time I’ve ever managed to finish something that might be shaped into a real, actual book. I never imagined myself writing a childrens’ book (but then, this year has been full of a bunch of things in my life I never imagined, which is a whole other story) and I really learned from it.

First of all, writing for kids is fun. There is so much more leeway to be silly and just do things purely for entertainment. I was worried that I was going to be using words and ideas that would be too much for your average kid, but in reading other kids books in my free time for research, there is plenty of room to play. Kids are smart. They know how dictionaries or the internet works. While there are also tons of books out there with lessons hidden inside. Mine isn’t one of these. It has magic and castles and grumpy unicorns and explosive cupcakes and nary a lesson to be seen. I’m not sorry for this. Kids have enough to deal with. Some things should just be fun.

Second, I learned that the biggest hurdle to finishing a book is me. I overthink…. well… about everything. My stories are no exception. Once I sat down and just wrote without going back to analyze or edit, I was totally fine. 2,000 words at a stretch was easy when I wasn’t questioning every other word.

Right now I’m going to sit back and wait a few weeks before diving into the editing process. It’s already agony. Hopefully, soon I’ll be on the lookout for a few beta readers to help me give it a good polish. In the meantime, I’m going to play with other projects, research publishing options and create a “bible” for my book (it’s definitely a series. That was a surprise.).

Any other NaNo-ers out there? How did you guys do?

NaNoWriMo Update (Or “Oh Dear God, What Have I Done?”)

So, as the title to this little update implies, I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year! For the first time ever!

If you are not familiar with the concept of NaNoWriMo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month. The basic idea is that during the month of November, you churn out an entire novel. In the writing community, it’s a pretty darn big deal. I’ve never participated before, because frankly, the idea of writing an entire novel in a month seemed impossible to me. But it definitely can be done. There are quite a few books out there that are products of NaNoWriMo, including Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus, which is one of my favorites.

I decided that going with someone fun and low stress would enormously improve my chances of success, so I decided to take a story for middle grade kids that I had started a few months ago and see where things went.

So far, so good! I’ve been pretty good at least writing most every day. This past Friday I participated in a Write-In at my local library with a good crowd of other writers. It was super fun to be in the library after hours and I was able to get a huge chunk of story knocked out. Not quite two weeks in and I’m pushing the halfway point. It’s been an immensely satisfying experience and I hope that I can keep up this same momentum.

So wish me luck! And if you are another writer participating this year, you’re kicking butt!! I can’t wait to read what some of you are doing!

 

My Favorite Historical Fiction

As someone with a (totally super useful) degree in Art History and Archaeology, history is something that I have had a passion for since I was a child. I can’t pinpoint it exactly but I know that there was definitely a combination of mummies and Laura Ingalls Wilder that fed into it. Yes, folks, I’ve been weird for at least 25 years plus.

It turns out that historical fiction is a super broad category. There are some that are pretty solidly based in historical record, some are a little more on the paranormal side, some are based in history, but not anything that really happened. While I’m definitely into paranormal, I’ve decided to exclude those from this particular list. I’m going for books that are based (however loosely) on real events.

The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes By His Fool, Will Somers by Margaret George

Look at this badass motherf@#$er.

I know I have mentioned more than once how much I am fascinated by the Tudors. Honestly, many of the books on this list will really just reinforce that. This book in particular is probably my favorite fictional account of Henry VIII. Because it is written from the point of view of both Henry and his fool, whom considered him a friend, it is an unusually sympathetic portrayal of the king.

With the paperback coming in just shy of 1000 pages, it’s not really something I would recommend to the casual reader. However, for a hardcore Tudor-phile (is that a thing?) like me, it’s fantastic. Detailed and immersive it’s just the thing if you want to slip back in time for a little while.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory

This was always one that never felt entirely accurate to me. However, what it might have lacked in authenticity, it more than made up for in sheer entertainment value. If you like your history on the (sort of) racy, gossipy side, this is definitely for you.

The Constant Princess by Phillipa Gregory

Yes. More Tudors. I’m not even going to pretend to be sorry. They were amazing.

Speaking of amazing, if you want a strong woman, Katherine of Aragon is your girl. While I may not have always agreed with her choices, you have to admire her tenacity and strength. This book in particular provides an interesting and unusual motivation for the Spanish princess. Definitely worth a read for those with an interest in the topic or just badass women in general.

Lust for Life by Irving Stone

Prior to reading this book, I can’t say that I was really all that interested in the life of Vincent van Gogh. Sure, I liked his paintings, but who doesn’t? Oher than the incident with the ear, who cares?

But this book was fantastic, touching and emotional. Truly, I can say it got me interested in van Gogh personally. Read it and then watch the Doctor Who episode Vincent and the Doctor and the movie Loving Vincent. They did a movie for Lust for Life with Kirk Douglas in 1956, but I haven’t seen it yet. Either way, immerse yourself. And go see a van Gogh in real life. They are incredible.

The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder

These books have been a little maligned in the last year, but they still hold an important place in my heart. I remember wanting to dress up like her for Halloween. My mom made me a dress, bonnet and pantaloons and I was in seventh heaven. Certainly this is probably where I can pinpoint my current love of dressing up in a historical context (hello, renaissance fairs!).

For me, these books are especially fun because I grew up not far from Rocky Ridge Farm and have had the chance to visit several times. I still highly recommend these books.

My Plain Jane (Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows)

The Lady Janies are back!! Many of you may remember that back in 2016 I reviewed their first book, My Lady Jane. That book came as something of a surprise to me, so with this book, I knew to expect the unexpected and a really good time. I wasn’t disappointed.

If you think you know the story of Jane Eyre, think again. A penniless orphan who suffered a miserable childhood, Jane becomes a governess at Thornfield Hall. There she meets the broody Mr. Rochester, and despite his mood swings and their fairly substantial age difference, they fall in love. But… what if that wasn’t really how things went down?

Now is probably a good time to give a teensy, tiny disclaimer: I’ve never actually read Jane Eyre before. For a voracious reader, with a few exceptions, I have a notoriously difficult time getting myself through the classics. I knew the basics of the plot, and honestly, that was enough. I don’t feel like I missed anything major by not reading the original. Sure, I should probably read it someday. In the vague future.

At any rate, just like the previous Jane, this one was an immensely good time. I can’t speak to how well this follows the source material, obviously, but I know that (spoiler alert) there weren’t any for realsies ghosts in original. This is full of characters that you love to love, love to hate and some that are mysterious, including a bunch of ghosts. If you keep a good eye out, you’ll notice a good amount of (HILARIOUS) political commentary.

While it’s pretty hard to beat My Lady Jane, in my opinion, this definitely gives it a solid run for it’s money. For a formula that I never was sure would work, these authors have seriously hit it out of the park with their sophomore entry. I cannot tell you how much I’m looking forward to the next book.

Legendary (Stephanie Garber)

“Legends were supposed to be better than the truth.”

-Legendary

Photo by Rhett Wesley on Unsplash

Legendary picks up pretty much immediately after the events of Caraval. While Legend usually only holds Caraval once a year, he is doing a second one in honor of the Empress Elantine’s birthday. Donatella Dragna should be celebrating escaping her violent father and saving her sister, Scarlett, but Tella has made a desperate bargain- to turn over the identity of Legend. To learn his true name, Tella must once again enter into the dangerous, magical competition. She finds herself in must deeper than she ever could have expected: between a bloodthirsty heir to the throne and dense web of secrets, its difficult to tell how much is real and how much is only a part of the game. Caraval has always required cunning and bravery, but this time around, it’s asking for much more.

I was late to the game with Caraval, but it was one that really encompassed that dark, dreamy atmosphere that I’m forever rattling on about. It also certainly doesn’t hurt that it seems to me that Stephanie Garber is really hitting her stride in this universe with this second book. Caraval was intricate and fascinating, but a bit confusing at times. Legendary manages to be even better- more of everything that made the first book outstanding, with less confusion.

It’s actually a little difficult for me to pick a favorite character here. There are not too many to keep track of, but they are all pretty fascinating. I think for me, it comes down to Jacks, the mysterious and perhaps murderous heir to the throne who is far more than what he seems and the Empress Elantine herself. While the whole plot is centered around the celebration of the Empress’ birthday, she is really only briefly featured. However, it’s quickly apparent in her few brief scenes she is canny and captivating. I certainly wouldn’t say no to a spin off series (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

Overall, Legendary is dark and glittering, just a touch over the top and wholly entertaining. It’s a perfectly fantastical escape that feels just a little decadent. I don’t know if Stephanie Garber is planning on any more books in the series, but it certainly feels far from over to me. (*Edit*: Upon reading her website there is ONE more book, coming next year.)