Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood

True crime is one of my favorite subjects to read about and watch. Learning more about the inner workings of different perpetrators and their reasonings for behaving in such a way is fascinating. The lasting implications crime has on the victims and various affected families/friends also intrigues me. Society generally only cares about a crime for the first few months. After the publicity dies down, the whole situation will fade into the background. Reading about real life crimes allows me to believe that I am keeping these situations alive and the victims will continue to be remembered.

Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood was my latest true crime fiction read. This novel is based on the experiences of Sally Horner, an 11-year-old kidnapping victim who was abducted in 1948 from a Woolworth’s in Camden, New Jersey by 52 year-old Frank La Salle. Sally’s abduction is also considered to have inspired Nabokov’s Lolita.  From what I read about this case, this novel is fairly close to what actually happened. Granted the dialogue between Sally and Frank can never be 100% known and neither can be what really happened while they traveled the country, nevertheless, this account gives readers a look into a dark time in a young girl’s life.

Camden, NJ. 1948. 11 year-old Sally Horner just wants to fit in. She watches a clique of girls at her school form a club and yearns to be a part of it. Living with her mother and older sister, Sally has always felt like she exists on the outside of everything. After walking up to this group of girls one day, the girls tell Sally that she has to steal something from the local Woolworth’s in order to become part of their group. Walking into Woolworth’s with all the girls around her, Sally wanders the aisles looking for something to steal. Seeing a notebook, Sally grabs it and begins walking out. Almost to the door, Sally is suddenly stopped by an older man who says he saw her stealing. Having watched her walk through the store, Frank has convinced her that he’s an FBI agent who can have her arrested at any minute. Telling her that he has to take her to see a judge, Frank says that Sally has to do exactly what he says or she will go to jail. This chance encounter has far-reaching ramifications for poor Sally.

52 year-old Frank LaSalle is not an FBI agent. He has just been released from prison. Living out of his truck/camper, Frank is on the lookout for his next victim and his next scheme. Sally Horner stands no chance against him. Convincing her that he is an FBI agent, Sally introduces him to her mother and they somehow convince her to let Sally leave with Frank. Thus begins the scariest two years of Sally’s life as Frank physically and mentally abuses her. Travelling from Camden to San Jose, Sally meets many people and hopes one of them will recognize her. Her family, old friends, and new acquaintances are all forever altered, just like Sally, as a result of her abduction.

Given that this novel is based on the real-life kidnapping of Sally Horner and her captor Frank LaSalle, I found it to be intriguing and a possible explanation of what happened between the two. While there are certainly many fictionalized sections, the over-arching storyline is pretty close to the truth. With the additional information about Vladimir Nabokov and his controversial Lolita, this story is finally able to give more voice to young Sally Horner. With her death happening only four years after her abduction, Sally was unable to tell her full story like other abduction victims. This book is certainly not a light read, but its close relation to true events allows readers to gain a better understanding of these tragic circumstances.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Before and Again by Barbara Delinsky

I’m not going to lie: the cover of this book is what caught my eye and convinced me to read it. I know, I know, we’re not supposed to judge books by their covers. With so many books in print, the options can be overwhelming though! When it comes to picking out my personal reads, if a cover catches my eye, I’ll read it. It’s yet to let me down so far especially with my latest read by Barbara Delinsky.

Before and Again by Barbara Delinsky is a captivating read that kept my attention from beginning to end. There are multiple important current issues discussed throughout this book that can have implications in everyday life. Social media, internet hacking, identity theft, the press, trauma, and secrets are all major themes that the characters in this novel find themselves battling with. This book cautions against becoming too complacent and making sure that we travel outside our comfort zones.

Mackenzie Cooper thought she had it all: a loving husband, a job she loved, a wonderful family, generous friends, and a daughter she adored. In one moment, it was all taken away. Driving her daughter to a play date, Mackenzie took her eyes off the road for just a moment to check the GPS. That glance away changes her life forever. Having lost everything, including her privacy after the intense media coverage surrounding the accident, Mackenzie runs away. She now lives in Vermont under the name Maggie Reid. Living in a small house with her cats and dog, Maggie has a new job and new friends. She just wants her new life to stay separate from her old life. That means that she can’t risk revealing too much. Her work as a makeup artist at a luxurious local spa allows Maggie to spend her day helping clients hiding the things on their skin that they wish would disappear. She’s a master at her job.

All Maggie wants with her new life is to stay under the radar and keep her probation officer happy. With less than a year left, she is so close to being completely free. Things are going slightly too well for Maggie though when she realizes that she isn’t the only one in this quiet Vermont town with secrets. A local teenage boy, the only son of one of Maggie’s friends, is thrust into the national spotlight when he is accused of hacking a powerful man’s Twitter account, numerous other Twitter accounts, and the local school’s system as well. Maggie has no idea what to do: should she protect herself and pull away or step up to help since she has experience dealing with this type of situation? Either decision will have far-reaching implications for Maggie. As the truth behind this teenager’s actions begin to come to light, Maggie increasingly finds her own newly constructed life unraveling at her feet. She knows that her friend probably just needs to be comforted amongst this sea of chaos, but Maggie truly has to decide how far she is willing to go to help.


This book is also available in the following formats:

How Not To Get Shot: And Other Advice From White People by D.L. Hughley

D.L. Hughley, co-author of How Not To Get Shot: And Other Advice From White People, one of the original Kings of Comedy, is a wildly successful comedian, radio host, actor, and political commentator. In the early 1990s, he was the first host of BET’s Comic View and later went on to produce and star in the sitcom, The Hughleys as well as appear as a television correspondent on the Jay Leno Show, among many other accomplishments.

In today’s scorching social and political climate, when we struggle to openly discuss racism and police brutality, Hughley takes a different approach: satire.  Historically, satire has been used to scrutinize societal views. A basic web definition describes satire as “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.” Hughley indeed draws on irony to discuss how largely white audiences explain the topic of police brutality while also offering prescriptions for how People of Color (POC) should  carry themselves when encountering police officers while having little to no relevant first-hand experience.

In How Not To Get Shot: And Other Advice From White People,  the authors devote entire chapters to some of the following “prescriptions” offered by white people for not getting shot: 1. Comply with police orders; 2.) Don’t Talk Back; 3.) Don’t Match The Description; 4.) How To Do Your Hair; 5.) End White-on-White Crime; 6.)  How to Be Nice and Quiet and 7.) How To Not Be A Reverse Racist. (Nevermind, though, that “compliance” does not guarantee protection from police violence, a point Hughley drives home throughout the book). Hughley’s clever use of satire and sardonic wit enables readers to infer the ridiculousness of offering overly-simplistic and misinformed “solutions” to complex problems.

Now, you’ve heard of “mansplaining,” right?  See, “mansplaining” describes the phenomenon of men attempting to dominate debates centering around cultural norms and realities that negatively impact the lives of a majority of women but while having no first-hand experience themselves. We can hopefully understand what is inherently flawed in a system in which those who are least impacted attempt to silence those who are most impacted, yes?

And it behooves me now to offer the disclaimer that the act of identifying and validating a societal ill is by no means a condemnation of, in this case, all men. So there. Glad we got that settled.

But by the same token, the term “whitesplaining” –hardly an accusation against all white people (come on, now)–describes the phenomenon of white people attempting to dominate discussions about racial profiling and police violence having had little to no relevant experience in that department. At it’s core, this book pokes fun at whitesplaining, and I happen to think it does a marvelous job. Imagine if I attempted to explain to Deaf individuals how they should conduct themselves in interactions with hearing people? Or if I presumed to know how LGBTQ individuals should carry themselves around their hetero counterparts in order to fend off discrimination? Really, even apolitical examples work to illustrate that it just doesn’t logically hold up that a non-expert would exude any respectable amount of authenticity in matters he or she is not experienced. And, no, oversimplifying these matters as some partisan ploy in identity politics is hardly a legitimate reason to fight against fair representation – that only occurs when we are willing to listen to and validate experiences that are different from our own.

Really, the message is simple: how about, at the very least, we humor our fellow humans enough not to try and shut them up or worse–call them crazy–when they speak up on topics with which we ourselves have little experience? How about we give our fellow humans the benefit of the doubt without gaslighting them, especially when we are dealing with issues reaching critical mass. I don’t know about you, but I want to live in a society that listens to and validates the experiences of its members.

Enter comedy. Only a skilled comedian is able to shine a light on brutal truths about humanity and elicit, of all things, laughter when tears are the more appropriate response. Why? Because a comedian, like a scientist, scrutinizes and magnifies painful truths about society and humanity s/he shares with a wider audience. During that time spent together, the comic and the audience laugh together at what is wrong with the world and for that brief moment in time creates an environment of hope and possibility. Comedians unify audiences through the use of humor and I am astounded at how successfully they can, at their best, create transformative atmospheres and opportunities to facilitate genuine, life-changing understanding. To me, comedy can help break down barriers that prevent us from listening to our fellow human beings with an open mind and, if we’re lucky, having a genuine understanding with one another.

Check out this interview from NPR with D.L. Hughley as he discusses his book!

 

 

 

 

 

Tear Me Apart by J.T. Ellison

I recently stumbled upon author J.T. Ellison while looking for a new book to read on OverDrive. I had heard of Ellison in the past, but had never read anything she had written before. The description of her most recent standalone novel Tear Me Apart captured my interest because the description of the book seemed pretty straight-forward, but once I started reading, I realized that this book was going to be anything but straight-forward.

Tear Me Apart by J.T. Ellison tackles the question of how far a parent is willing to go to save the life of a child. Mindy Wright is a competitive skier at the top of her field. Despite being only a teenager, Mindy has a great chance of making the Olympic team. Competing on a course she is very familiar with, Mindy is sure she will win her current race. The weather is getting progressively worse, yet race leaders haven’t decided to halt Mindy’s run. Mindy’s life is derailed after she suffers a catastrophic downhill crash. Her leg is broken and she is rushed to surgery.

In surgery, doctors discover a complication: Mindy is suffering from a severe form of leukemia. On top of recovering from surgery, Mindy must undergo treatment for leukemia. With her condition worsening, the doctors realize that a stem cell transplant is her only hope. Mindy’s parents and her aunt are tested to see if they’re a match. When the results come back, they are all stunned to see that Mindy is not biologically related to any of them.

Mindy’s aunt works for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation in the lab and does some looking into the DNA in the case. How could Mindy not be related to any of them? In the race to save Mindy, multiple lies and secrets are uncovered stemming back to before Mindy was even born. As her aunt tries to figure out a way to save her, readers are left to wonder if Mindy was switched at birth or if a more disquieting plot unraveled at the time of her birth. What is her mother keeping secret? Why is she holding back and seeming to change her story so often? One look at her face and others around her start to doubt the validity of her claims.

As the search for Mindy’s truth progresses, the secrets revealed and the tension created begin to tear the family apart and put everyone on edge. Certain members of the family are willing to do whatever it takes to protect their secrets. With Mindy’s fame as a skier, the press becomes involved when a statement is released pleading for help to find a match and to hopefully keep the rumors at bay.

How far would you go to save a child? To keep your secrets hidden? This novel digs deep into the hidden links, layers, betrayals, and secrets that have served to bind two separate families together over many, many years. Would you fight to keep the darkness and secrets buried even when the truth could potentially save someone? What about if those secrets could break apart your entire world? How long would it take you to thoroughly believe the web of lies you created for yourself and your family? Would you forget your real identity and the lives of the ones around you? Ellison weaves a gloriously tangled suspenseful thriller of a novel that will have you wondering if the people you see on a daily basis are really telling you the truth.


This book is also available in the following format:

Our House by Louise Candlish

Have you ever read a book you loved and found yourself wishing that the ending was different? That’s how I felt during Louise Candlish’s Our House. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this book, but the ending felt to me like there could have been more. Maybe there will be a sequel! One can only hope.

Our House by Louise Candlish tells the story of Fiona and Bram Lawson. This married couple have lived together with their two young boys at 91 Trinity Avenue for years. Fiona has poured her heart and soul into this house, working hard to make it a home that fits their unique family style. This safe haven is tested when Fiona discovers Bram cheating on her. Banishing him from the house, Fiona works hard to figure out how to keep her children’s lives as normal as possible. Deciding to draw up a modern coparenting arrangement with Bram called bird’s nest custody, Fiona thinks she has discovered the perfect solution. Instead of shuffling the kids between two different houses, Fiona and Bram will each spend a few nights a week in the house in order to have as little of an impact on the children as possible.

This perfect system ends up backfiring colossally when Fiona comes home early from a romantic weekend away with a new beau to discover a new family moving into 91 Trinity Avenue. This surprises Fiona because that is her house and she certainly didn’t sell it. The new couple has all the necessary paperwork with payment confirmed out to her estranged husband, Bram. What follows is massive confusion as Fiona is confident that there has been a mistake.  Alas upon talking to multiple agents, the disastrous truth is realized: Bram has sold the house out from underneath the family and has absconded with the proceeds from the house sale. Fiona is utterly devastated.

Working hard to figure out the truth, Fiona digs into Bram’s past and discovers that the bird’s nest custody agreement that she was so proud of allowed Bram access to all the necessary documents he needed in order to sell the house out from underneath her and the boys. Even with access to those documents, Fiona also realizes he would have needed the help of others in order to carry out a crime of this magnitude. Fiona is stumped about how he would come into contact with those type of people. Events continue to spiral out of control as Fiona uncovers all the lies Bram was weaving through their lives and how little she actually knew about her husband. Why would he do this to them? Where has he gone?

This story is told through a word document written by Bram while he’s on the run and through transcripts of a podcast on which Fiona tells the whole sordid story of Bram’s betrayal. I really liked the method that Candlish chose to present this book as it allowed readers to pretty much simultaneously see both Bram and Fiona’s points of view and their reasons for behaving the way they do. I was fascinated with the severity of Bram’s crime and how seemingly easy it was for him to sell the house without his wife’s knowledge.


This book is available in the following formats:

Artemis by Andy Weir

Artemis is the second Sci-Fi novel written by Andy Weir. I loved Weir’s first book, The Martian, and also the movie based on it, even though I am not typically a Sci-Fi reader. I thought it was smart and funny, with just the right amount of suspense. That is just how I like my books. Therefore, I was eager to read Artemis. I checked out the audiobook version, read by Rosario Dawson (she’s great!).

The main thing Artemis had in common with The Martian is that the characters are living somewhere other than Earth. Beyond that, they are very different. Artemis is still smartly written, but I didn’t find it quite as funny. Artemis is grittier.

In The Martian, an astronaut named Mark struggles to survive alone on the red planet after a mishap leaves him accidentally abandoned by his research team. I know, it doesn’t sound funny at all. But Mark is a character with a very good sense of humor, despite his dire situation. I rooted for him the entire time. By contrast, Artemis is a futuristic moon colony populated by many humans (some live there, others are just visiting). Artemis’ protagonist, Jasmine, is a young, jaded crook. She starts out as a petty smuggler, but things escalate, intensely and quickly.  Maybe other readers would feel differently, but I kept hoping that she would get busted for her antics. Still, every misstep she takes is entertaining.

A self-described “space nerd,” Weir describes the scientific principles of living in outer space in a way that is pretty easy for a novice to grasp. I’m no expert, but it sure seems like he knows what he’s writing about. I recently read the Moon Base Alpha series by Stuart Gibbs with my 10 year old son, and many things are echoed in those books. For example, EVA (Extravehicular Activity) suits are described almost exactly the same in both books, by the two different authors.

I have since started reading Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan. It is rather amusing to see how Sci-Fi writing has changed over the years. Who knows? This may compel me to read more Sci-Fi / Fantasy as time goes on .

Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris

B.A. Paris has yet to disappoint me with her novels. Since her first was published in 2016, I’ve been a devoted reader. I know when I pick up her books that I will be transported to a dark, twisty world where I’ll be gripped by thrilling escapades of all characters presented. Her latest, Bring Me Back, drops readers right in the middle of a mystery and doesn’t solve it until the very end.

Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris tells the tale of a complicated and mysterious love. Finn and Layla are madly in love and on vacation. On their way back, Finn stops at a rest stop to go to the bathroom. Layla stays in the car, wanting to wait to use the restroom until they stop at a well lit service station instead. When Finn returns to the car, Layla is nowhere in sight. Not thinking much of it, Finn pulls the car closer to the restrooms waiting for Layla to come out. She never does. She’s disappeared without a trace. The above is the story that Finn told the police, but it’s not the whole story.

Flash forward twelve years. Layla is still missing. Finn has moved on. He’s now in a relationship with Layla’s sister, Ellen. In fact, they’re now engaged! This relationship has garnered them negative attention in the media, but thankfully most of it seems to have died down. Bonded over their shared grief over Layla’s disappearance, both Ellen and Finn have settled into a routine in a place where they are no longer seen as relatives of the missing woman. Everything is working out.

No it’s not. That’s not the whole truth either. Not long before Finn and Ellen are to be married, the policeman who worked Layla’s disappearance phones Finn with some startling news: their old neighbor swears he saw Layla standing outside their old house, but she ran away before he could check for sure. Chalking that sighting up to the witness’s old age and diminished eyesight, Finn moves on with his life. Other strange things keep happening though that seemed designed to test Finn and Ellen’s relationship and maybe tear them apart. Emails from strangers who know intimate details of Finn and Layla’s life together. Lost items from Ellen and Layla’s past suddenly appearing out of nowhere. Messages sent through the mail, strange gifts showing up around town, and clues to Layla’s disappearance keep popping up. Finn finds himself wondering if Layla is back. Is she behind these strange happenings? What does she know? What does she want? How far is she willing to go to get back what she believes is hers? I found myself constantly guessing about the strange person behind the gifts and their motive for harassing a seemingly normal couple. Readers will be questioning everything and everyone they thought they knew throughout this novel.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Great American Read: Villains and Monsters

 

On Tuesday, Oct 2, 2018 PBS will air their 5th episode of the Great American Read series. It will highlight books featuring villains, monsters, and evil forces. If you missed the previous episode on heroes, not to worry. You can still watch episode 4 online.

The titles containing villains, monsters and evil forces include:

A Game of Thrones, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, And Then There Were None, Beloved, Frankenstein, Gone Girl, The Handmaid’s Tale, Harry Potter, Moby-Dick, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Rebecca, The Stand, and Watchers.

Episodes are now airing weekly on Tuesday nights at 7pm through Oct 23.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Have you ever read or listened to a book that leaves you questioning what you would do if you were thrust into a similar situation? A previous Oprah’s Book Club pick, An American Marriage, left me feeling bereft as the situation presented is entirely plausible. This book’s discussion of how while you may control some aspects of your life, outside forces have the power to sweep in and destroy your best laid plans shook me as I watched the characters’ lives play out.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones follows the lives of Celestial and Roy from newlyweds and beyond. Roy is a young executive, while Celestial is a burgeoning artist just starting out on a new career path. Roy works hard so that Celestial can grow her art. Just married, the two are working on starting their new life together, getting to know each other’s families more, and settling into what they hope will be a long, happy life together.

Stuck in a hotel one night, circumstances converge to tear Celestial and Roy’s happy life to shreds. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years in prison. Celestial knows it’s not possible that Roy committed the crime for which he was arrested. All through his trial, Celestial and Roy do not believe that there is any way Roy will be found guilty, but lo and behold, he is sentenced to twelve years. Their lives as they once knew them are over.

Celestial was independent before Roy came along with a fierce independent streak that ran rampant throughout their marriage. After Roy goes to jail, Celestial finds it hard to cope and is left at a loss. As a result, she turns to her best friend Andre. Andre was the best man at her and Roy’s wedding and grew up alongside Celestial. Their fierce and close bond sometimes annoys Roy as he feels they are too close to each other. The longer Roy is in prison, the worse he and Celestial’s relationship grows. Communicating through letters and seldom visits, Celestial realizes that the love that once held her and Roy together has begun to dissolve. Celestial turns to Andre more and more as the love disappears and her relationship with Roy shifts.

Celestial and Roy’s new normal is again changed five years into Roy’s sentence. After five years, Roy’s conviction is overturned! He is overjoyed to be released and see Celestial again. He heads to Atlanta ready to slip back into his previous life with Celestial. Little does he know that everything he had before prison has changed and everything he thinks he has has slipped away. This novel is a fascinating look at how each characters’ actions are intertwined, yet outside forces have a way of changing best laid plans. As I read this book, I kept thinking, ‘well just because you want it, doesn’t mean you’re going to get it’. Life will happen however it wants.


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman

I’m fascinated with stories that seem like they could be realistically true. A lot of realistic fiction sometimes pulls me out of the story, but The Home for Unwanted Girls kept me engaged in their realistic explanation of a pregnant young woman in 1950s Quebec and the subsequent expectations of her parents and society.

The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman is a suspenseful novel that spans decades filled with love, lies, and many secrets. In 1950s Quebec, both the English and French find themselves living in uneasy and unsteady civility. Maggie Hughes is stuck in the middle of this issue with an English-speaking father and a French mother who seem to barely tolerate each other despite their large family. Maggie has grown up with high expectations thrust on her by her father. She’s expected to take over her father’s business and marry a good man, NOT the poor French boy named Gabriel who lives on the farm next door. Readers can practically predict on their own what will happen next because fictional young women live to defy their father’s wishes. Maggie soon finds herself enamored with Gabriel. When she becomes pregnant at fifteen, Maggie’s parents tell her that she has to work to get her life back on track and that means she has to put her baby up for adoption.

Baby Elodie is put up for adoption and grows up in Quebec’s orphanage system which is impoverished, dirty, and rife with issues. Elodie is bright and determined to survive the horrible treatments the nuns put her through all while anxiously waiting for her mother to swoop in, find her, and adopt her. With this precarious existence, Elodie survives, but things only manage to get worse when a law is passed that says that psychiatric hospitals will earn more funding than orphanages. Thousands of orphans in Quebec are now declared mentally ill, are shifted to other orphanages-turned-psychiatric-hospitals, and are forced to take care of legitimate psychiatric patients that are bused into the newly minted psychiatric hospitals. Elodie is finally released when she turns seventeen, but her freedom is a difficult adjustment. This new normal is an alien experience, but luckily Elodie has friends that are helping her adjust.

Maggie has never been able to forget the daughter that she was forced to give up when she was fifteen despite her family’s repeated wishes to move on with her life. Maggie married a businessman desperate to start a family. Living with him has been easy, but when he keeps pushing her to have a baby, Maggie is forced to confront him on their different wishes. Around the same time as the rocky part of her marriage comes to a head, Maggie unexpectedly reconnects with Gabriel after years of separation. Maggie is forced to choose between Gabriel and her husband.

As this novel progresses, Maggie and Elodie’s stories intertwine in unexpected ways, leaving readers to hope that each time circumstances will result in their meeting. Maggie hopes to find Elodie and quickly realizes that she needs to make a better, more focused effort to do so. Throughout this novel, Maggie works to figure out how to balance multiple life truths. The truth that was taken from her and Elodie when Maggie was fifteen haunts her. Maggie yearns for her family to be together and for everything to be out in the open.


This book is also available in the following format: