“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”

the house on the borderland

 

I’m a pretty big horror fan. I graduated from Christopher Pike novels to Stephen King before I hit my teens. Naturally, I’m pretty familiar with the works of H.P. Lovecraft. So when I came across an author who Lovecraft named as a major influence on his work, I naturally had to give it a read. The similarities are apparent from page one. It has many of the ingredients of classic Lovecraft: cosmic horror, strange locals, unnamed horrors. It’s a must read for anyone who is a fan of Horror or just H.P. Lovecraft.

The story begins with two English gentlemen named Tonnison and Berreggnog who are taking a fishing trip to a remote Irish village. During their trip, they come across the ruins of a strange old house next to a lake where they find a partially dilapidated journal of someone whom they call The Recluse, who apparently lived in the house some time ago with his spinster sister and his faithful dog, Pepper. The journal details the increasingly bizarre and horrifying events occurring in the house and ends abruptly. The journal accounts for most of the book. After reading it the two men, already unnerved by the atmosphere around the old house agree never to return the the area.

The book does a good job of maintaining the feeling of unease and dread throughout the story. Even when the men have returned to the village proper, one is not completely at ease. The House on the Borderland is a pioneering classic of the cosmic horror genre.

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History, Political Intrigue and a Little Bit of Magic

the stockholm octavo

 

This book contains lots of things I love (history, political intrigue and magic) along with some great character development throughout the course of the story. If I found out HBO or AMC decided to make this book into a miniseries I’d squeal and clap my hands like a little girl. The result, if done well, would be an exciting and colorful ride through late 18th Century Sweden.

The story centers around Emil Larsson, a bureaucrat living in Stockholm during the reign of King Gustav III. Emil is living a happy bachelor’s life until a tarot card reading promises him a golden path toward love and connection. In his attempt to follow the path set forth by the spread (called an octavo by its inventor), Emil finds himself a player in a conspiracy involving a potential revolt against the king by the nobles who resent him taking much of their power and giving it to the citizenry.

There’s so much to enjoy about this book. If all the history, political intrigue and magic don’t appeal to you, there’s also so much beauty in the clothing and accessories of the major players and the town of Stockholm itself all of which is described in sumptuous detail by the author. The winter scenery makes me want to reread it during the dead of winter while curled up in front of a fireplace with some hot cider.

Help I’m Alive, My Heart Keeps Beating Like a Hammer

kitty genovese

 

If you know the name Kitty Genovese, you’re almost certainly aware the story associated with her. She was stabbed multiple times over the course of a half an hour while 38 bystanders watched and did nothing. Her name has been associated with urban apathy for over 50 years and her case helped give rise to Good Samaritan laws across the country and the 911 calling system. But in truth, only two people saw and comprehended what was happening to Kitty; others only heard a scream and then nothing. Some saw the attacker run off and assumed the danger was over. At least one person did call the police but calls weren’t logged in 1964. Kevin Cook’s book show’s us the complexity of the case and of Kitty herself, who was more than just a murder victim.

This book first shows us the life of Kitty herself. She was an independent young woman who chose to stay in Queens when her family pulled up stakes and moved to Connecticut. She was also a closeted lesbian who was going home to her partner the night she was stabbed (a fact kept out of the papers and court trial for fear of the victim becoming unsympathetic). We also see the life of Winston Mosely, the troubled man whose path would cross with Kitty’s in the early hours of March 13, 1964. Cook also puts the crime in context. New Yorkers in the early 60s avoided calling the police, who were often unresponsive and unhelpful. He also notes that the street where the crime occurred was home to a bar that was open until 4AM and was often the source of rowdy drunks and domestic disputes that would spill out onto the sidewalk at night. This certainly caused many of the witnesses the night of Kitty’s murder to ignore her screams and go back to sleep.

Kitty Genovese may be the most well known crime victim in American history. The details of her murder were embellished while the truth of her life was hidden from the public. While this led to many positive changes in how we report crime and how we view the responsibility of bystanders, Cook’s book gives much needed nuance and depth to the story. He also gives voice to Kitty’s partner who, by choice and necessity, has kept her life with Ms. Genovese and the pain of her loss private for half a century.

 

KITTY GENOVESE 2

Land of the Free, Some Restrictions Apply

the buddha in the attic

 

I could have easily read this book from cover to cover in a day if I’d had the time. Not only is only a short 149 pages but the writing flows so beautifully that I hated having to put it down and deal with my real life (I mean, more so than when I’m reading normally). The writing is lyrical and the scope is both intimate and simultaneously sweeping. The Buddha in the Attic would make excellent supplementary reading for a college or high school American History course.

Julie Otsuka chronicles the lives of Japanese immigrants to the US in the first half of the twentieth century. She focuses on the women who came to the states in the early 1900s as “picture brides” and follows them through their marriages which often came at a very young age to much older men. They work, have babies (sometimes while working) and establishing themselves in communities only to have it all taken away at the onset of the second World War. (spoiler?)

Though there is some adult content in there, I’d highly recommend this to a teen or young adult (possibly with some parental screening) it’s a beautiful glimpse of a part of American history that was forgotten until very recently.

Yes Please! Thank You!

yes please

 

My 26th review puts me at a half-Cannonball AND means I’ve now doubled the amount of books that I read last year.  Go me!

I’ve been trying to branch out and read some biographies of smart, badass women. I read Tina Fey’s book Bossypants earlier this year and loved it in a way very similar to the way I love this one. The reason these two are close friends is obvious. They have similarities that run deep and are very supportive of each other. The main difference is that, while I admire Tina Fey, I’m also a little intimidated by her. Amy Poehler, possibly due to our similarly lower middle class backgrounds, seems like someone I could cut loose with.

Ms. Poehler’s book consists of essays of significant events in her life, from her childhood up until her show Parks and Rec as it draws to a close. As someone who has issues with anxiety, mostly of the social kind, I’m always in awe of women who are unafraid to be their complete and total selves in public or to put a their talents out there for the entire world to see. Yes Please is funny, engaging and difficult to put down. I managed to finish it in just four days while working two jobs and getting (almost) enough sleep at night. There was a bit more name-dropping in here than I thought there would be. However there’s a stunning lack of pretension in it. Amy Poehler is surprised and grateful everyday that she gets to live her life and meet all the people she’s met. I’m grateful she shared her experience and wisdom with me.

Just gonna stand there and hear me cry, But that’s alright, because I love the way you lie

crooked little lies

If books with an unreliable narrator has taught me anything, it’s that everyone is a dirty, lying secret-keeper and that you can’t trust anyone. It’s a trope that’s been overused thanks to the success of Gone Girl and Girl on the Train (speaking of overused tropes, can we stop having titles with “girl” in them for awhile?) and Crooked Little Lies isn’t a particularly groundbreaking addition to the genre. But the characters are compelling and the action moves quickly (getting a book read in under a week is a rarity for me with my schedule) making it a relatively light read for a book that centers on a missing person.

The story centers around the disappearance of Bo Laughlin, a generally harmless mentally ill man who wanders the small town of Hardy’s Walk. Sissel wisely keeps Bo’s exact psychiatric diagnosis vague. Our protagonists are Annie, Bo’s step sister and Lauren, our unreliable narrator and one of the last people to see Bo before he goes missing. Lauren is a more sympathetic character than our more famous narrators. Unlike Amy Dunne, who is an unrepentant sociopath or Rachel Watson, who is a falling down drunk, Lauren suffered a fall from a bell tower while working for the architectural salvage business she shares with her husband and suffered a traumatic brain injury. She subsequently suffered an addiction to Oxycontin as a result of the pain she suffered from her head injury. Though she is now sober, her memory is unreliable at best. It’s difficult not to sympathize with someone who, despite her best intentions, simply can’t remember things she did despite being awake and sober at the time.

I have to say, I pretty much pegged who the worst of the lying secret keepers was pretty early on. But it still made for an interesting read and a nice break from some of the heavier subjects I’d been delving into recently. If you’ve run out of beach reads for the summer, I’d pick this one up.

I am the one hiding under your bed, Teeth ground sharp and eyes glowing red

the night stalker

For those that don’t know, Richard Ramirez, aka The Night Stalker was a serial killer and rapist who terrorized the greater Los Angeles and San Francisco area from April of 1984 until August of 1985. His trial would be the most expensive in California history until the O.J. Simpson trial. I say “terrorized” in the truest sense of the word. He invaded houses in the dead of night; killing, raping and robbing people when they were at their most vulnerable. He left houses ransacked, covered in blood and occasionally Satanic symbols. Sales of firearms, guard dogs and and security systems skyrocketed. Locksmiths could not keep up with the work load. He was the closest thing to the boogie man to be found in real life.

Philip Carlo begins with Ramirez’s shocking crimes in part one. In the second part, he reviews the killer’s troubled family history and upbringing, which make Richard’s bloody crimes seem almost inevitable. He then discusses his capture, trial and life in prison where he would eventually marry one of his many admirers. Carlo seemed to have pretty unprecedented access to Ramirez, and while this gives him some pretty intimate knowledge of the killer, his sense of smugness about this tends to be readily apparent in the final chapters.

If you are a weirdo murder buff like me, this the book to read about Richard Ramirez. You learn a great deal about all the major players in this case: Ramirez and his family, the detectives who hunted him and his many victims and their loved ones. It’s as thorough a true crime book as you will find.