“This world is forcing me to hold your hand”

five

 

Despite his name being in the title. Jack the Ripper has very little to do with this narrative. He only comes into the lives of the titular five briefly on the last night of their lives. However those brief encounters are why most people remember the names Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly. Before their fateful encounter with a predator, they were married, had babies, owned shops, lived on country estates and traveled from other countries to reach their final destination in Whitechapel. What historian Hallie Rubenhold posits quite convincingly in this book is that not all of them were sex workers and that that none of them were engaged in sex work on the nights they were murdered. This image, which has persisted for over 130 years is based largely on Victorian assumptions about women living in poverty and the fact that lurid headlines involving sex and murder sold papers.

Rubenhold devotes a full section of the book to each woman. She begins with their parents and continues in great detail until those ill-fated nights in Whitechapel. Much is made of the term “walking the streets” since all but Mary Jane Kelly were killed outside. It is likely the term was meant much more literally, that the women were walking through London’s streets trying to scrape together the money to buy a bed for the night or sleeping rough which Rubenhold hypothesizes they were doing when they were killed. Some of them had fallen from “respectable” positions due to alcoholism which was rampant during this time or from being preyed upon by a man in authority.

Obviously none of these women deserved or “asked for” their ultimate fate regardless of their profession or what they were engaging in on the nights of their murders. But ultimately what sealed their fates was not sex work but to have the misfortune of being born poor and female in the Victorian age.

If “I already took my bra off” is a good excuse…

sorry i'm late

 

I picked up this book because I found myself in a similar situation as the author; my main source of deep (meaning non-superficial) social interaction had moved out of town and I needed some new close friends to fill the emotional gap in my life. Unfortunately I’m not a freelance writer who could turn the situation into a book deal so I had to settle for reading the fruits of Jessica Pan’s labor and occasionally cringing at her adventures. The Amarillo, Texas native was living in London and found herself without any close friends aside from her husband and embarked on a one year journey to put herself in situations that absolutely terrified her “shintrovert” (that’s shy introvert) self.

Jessica’s writing is engaging and relatable, especially if you also identify as a “shintrovert.” Her first task was to walk to one of her fellow Londoners and ask “Hello. Do we have a queen and what’s her name?” If the prospect of this already fills you with intense anxiety, buckle up. Jessica goes on to give a speech in front of a large audience, take an improv class and even perform stand up comedy. Just typing that out gives me the vapors!

Jessica Pan is not an expert and never claims to be one. Obviously there are people with legitimate mental issues that can keep them in the house more than they’d like to be. But if you are a “shintrovert” and want to watch one of your fellows step way out of her comfort zone, or if you are looking to step out of your own warm cozy little bubble this is a fun read that will give you some ideas and food for thought.

“We feel the pull in the land of a thousand guilts”

little friend

 

The Little Friend is not a mystery, despite what the description might lead you to believe. If it falls into any category it would be a coming-of-age story. Harriet Cleve Dufresne, a precocious twelve year old girl takes it upon herself to solve the murder of her older brother Robin, whom she has never met but whose death casts a pall over both her family and the small town she lives in. What begins as an adventure out of one of the many books Harriet reads quickly puts her and her friend Hely into the sort of danger she’d never considered. She also learns some difficult lessons about the adult world and the grown ups that she frequently looked up to.

Donna Tartt is most well known for her books, The Secret History and The Goldfinch. I still have yet to read The Goldfinch but Tartt’s writing here is similar to The Secret History. Half the pleasure of reading it is just immersing yourself in her beautiful writing and knowing that eventually you’ll get where the story takes you. I read this book on Kindle and I have so many highlights saved. With an emotionally checked out mother and a father who is literally and figuratively absent, Harriet has the sort of unsupervised childhood that would get modern parents a visit from CPS (based on context clues, I’m thinking this story takes place late 1970s early 1980s). But this allows her to get into all sorts of trouble without any responsible adults being any the wiser. Her experiences over this harrowing summer will shape the smart but naive pre-teen as she learns to navigate the wold of adults whether she likes it or not.

“All the innocent crime seemed alright at the time”

trial of lizzie borden

I really wanted to like this book more than I did. The Trial of Lizzie Borden is thoroughly researched and Cara Robertson’s writing is clear and moves the narrative along quickly. But it turns out that without the wild speculation that goes along with the Borden case, I really don’t find the story of Lizzie Borden all that interesting. She seems like an upper class white lady who wanted more money than her father would allow her and resented her stepmother’s very presence and probably got away with murder. I frankly found myself wishing that Abigail Borden (Lizzie’s ill-fated stepmother) had taken an axe to the entire Borden family and lived out her days as a rich but notorious widow with Bridget as her housekeeper/confidante.

For the few of you out there who might be unfamiliar, Andrew and Abby Borden were discovered hacked to death in their home one hot summer day in 1892. Lizzy, their respective daughter and stepdaughter fell under suspicion and her trial became one of the most notorious in American history. She was eventually acquitted, though many people (including me) still believe that it was more due to the fact that she was a young gentlewoman and the jury was entirely male. Robertson makes no judgement one way or another on the page and leaves it to the reader to decide Lizzie’s guilt or innocence. Her research into the trial and the subsequent media frenzy are excellent. I did find the parts that talked about the media to be more interesting than the trial itself which was often repetitive and dull (as most real trials are).

It’s not my intention to steer anyone away from this book who might be interested. It is exactly what it purports to be and it does its job very well. But perhaps in the current time when white women are weaponizing their tears against black people and rich white dudes seem to be breaking the law openly and with no real consequence, Lizzie Borden just isn’t very sympathetic without all the conjecture that surrounds her story.

“For the love of one’s country is a terrible thing”

say nothing

This the best historical non-fiction I’ve read in awhile. It might be the best book I’ll read this year. Patrick Radden Keefe takes a subject as serpentine and fraught with strong emotions as The Troubles in Ireland and presents it in a clear concise that is powerful but never melodramatic. He uses the kidnapping and murder of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of ten who was pulled from her apartment by masked men in 1972 and never seen again until her body was discovered in 2003, as a framing device for his narrative. It was an open secret who was responsible for McConville being “disappeared” but no one come forward to give her children closure.

The bulk of Keefe’s narrative starts in the late 1960s when many of the major players in this story became radicalized. He covers the rise of now well know IRA tactics such as bombings and prison hunger strikes. As the story reaches its conclusion in the 2010s, many who committed atrocities for the cause wonder what it was all for when peace is achieved but Ireland remains divided. Jean McConville’s now grown children demand answers from those who almost certainly ordered and committed the murder of their mother. The stories of everyone involved are compelling and heartbreaking.

I knew almost nothing about The Troubles in Ireland going into this book and I certainly wouldn’t call myself an expert after reading it. But I’d highly recommend it for anyone who wants to know more. The book is both broad in its view and intimate in its telling.

“But you, you’re special I might let you”

 

inspection

The concept of this book is an interesting one; take 26 girls and 26 boys and raise them completely isolated not just from the outside world but from the opposite sex. They have no knowledge that such a thing exists. The premise of the two rich weirdos enact the plan is that without the “distraction” of sexuality they will become prodigies and high achievers. The fact that sexuality is fluid apparently never occurs to these two. When the book begins the children are twelve and the experiment has apparently been a success so far. We meet boy J and girl K (the children are all named after the letters of the alphabet) who are just beginning to question the world around them and the absolute authority of both DAD and MOM (the leaders of the boys and girls, respectively).

I think the disconnect for me was that the premise was pretty high concept but the author (Josh Malerman, write of the stellar Bird Box) wanted to ground the book in the real word and it didn’t really work for me. There is also a tonal shift at the end of the story. Most of Inspection reads almost like a YA novel and then takes a hard left turn into horror at the end. I didn’t mind the slow burn or even the slight repetitive nature of the book as it switched from the girls’ facility to the boys. The conclusion is spectacular and satisfying on some level but ultimately leaves the readers with more questions than it answers. I think this could have been interesting as the beginning of a series because there really is a lot more I’d like to know about this world.

“Tough luck for elected officials. The beast you see got 50 eyes”

infomocracy

 

This book was suggested to me because I was looking for something in the vein of William Gibson and it definitely fit the bill. Malka Older’s debut novel is a smart, fast-paced science fiction novel with tons of political intrigue and lots of action. Also there’s two more in the series that I can’t wait to get my hands on and read.

The story takes place in the not too distant future. Nation states no longer exist and have been replaced by microdemocracies which can be as small as a few city blocks. The corporate Heritage party has held the supermajority (the party holding the largest number of microdemocracies) for the last two election cycles and things are getting hectic as the next election approaches. The story focuses mainly on three characters: Ken an earnest employee for the Policy1st party who is looking to advance his career, Domaine an operative working against microdemocracies who alternates between cool and unbearably smug and Mishima, a highly skilled operative for Information (the internet,but even more pervasive) who I absolutely loved. Mishima is a smart badass woman who was so much fun to read. I automatically perked up for the Mishima chapters.

Older drops you right into the story and you have to figure it out as you go along. The plot moves quickly and there are a lot of moving parts but they all come together towards a deeply satisfactory ending. This could have been a stand alone book so I’m really excited to see where the next two are headed plot-wise.

Especially if my girl Mishima is there.

“You’ll feel light in your body”

children of blood and bone

I bought this book shortly after it came out because it sounded interesting and I want to support new authors. I also liked fantasy based on West African rather than European mythology for a change of pace. Overall I thought the story was solid and I’ll definitely be picking up the next one when it comes out. I found some of the main characters to be frustrating but this may just be a side effect of not reading a ton of YA lit. I’m hoping they’ve experienced some much needed growth in the next installment.

The story takes place in Orisha which was once filled with magic. Those who could wield it were called Maji, who were powerful and respected across the land. Then a tyrannical king declared magic illegal, destroyed it and killed all Maji who’s powers had manifested. This included the mother of our main character Zelie. Since then, the surviving Maji have lived as a hated underclass. Very quickly in the story, events unfold that send Zelie on a journey that could potentially restore magic to Orisha and power to the Maji. Along with her on this journey is her brother Tzain and Amari, the rebellious daughter of the king.

The magic and mythology of Orisha were fascinating the the pacing was tense as Zelie hurries to her destination with the king’s zealous son Inan hot on her heels. The book’s use of fantasy to depict the ugliness of structural racism was well done and pulled no punches. I often found Zel infuriating and had to remind myself that she was just a teenager and teenagers are infuriating by nature. She goes through quite a bit of growth as the novel progresses. Amari as well changes and improves as she learns to trust in her own strength. Tzain didn’t seem to have much to do other than keep his sister out of trouble and I’m hoping he gets a bit of his own story moving forward. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the sequel, Children of Virtue and Vengeance which comes out this December.

It ain’t Gone Girl, but it’ll do

WIFE BETWEEN US

 

WARNING. The review is a bit spoilery.

 

On its face, The Wife Between Us is the story of a woman obsessed with stopping the wedding of her former husband and his new, much younger bride. The perspective change happens when we learn her true motivation for doing so and learn the story of her journey from blissful new bride potential homewrecker. The explanation for what is supposed to be the central twist is a little bit silly and detracts from the book but over all it was a fast read with a satisfactory ending.

What keeps this book from being a completely average suspense novel is[ its more realistic depiction of an abusive relationship. It’s by no means perfect but it does a better job than many similar books in this genre. In the end the abuser is not just a villain, he’s a sad, broken human being. The plotline involving the husband’s sister seemed unnecessary and pointless. To me it added nothing.

This book was fine but not great. I definitely see the potential for greatness in the writing. I may pick up Greer Hendricks’ next book just to see if she plays to the strengths she seems to have or if it’s just more of the same in her next book.

“I’m on the hunt. I’m after you”

small sacrifices

 

I first read this book in the mid 90s a few years after it came out. I was a twenty year old true crime junkie and I was completely sucked in by the story of Diane Downs and the people who had the misfortune of being close to her, especially her children. Obviously twenty plus years has done a lot to change me, but much has also changed about the way we write about true crime. Still, book is compelling and Diane Downs is equal parts repellent and fascinating

Late one May night in rural Oregon, Diane rushed into an ER stating that a shaggy haired stranger had shot her and her three children in a botched car theft. Diane was left with a superficial arm wound but her youngest child, Cheryl was dead on arrival and her other children, Danny and Christie would live with handicaps for the rest of their lives. Though it seemed unthinkable, police soon suspected that Diane herself had shot her children to win back the married man she was in love with who didn’t want kids. The ensuing trial pitted the law against a cunning manipulator who had no real love for anyone but herself.

My main issue with this book is that Ann Rule seems almost star struck by Diane Downs. I don’t think she admires her but she certainly enjoys her proximity to such a notorious killer. There’s a salaciousness to her writing in parts that I sometimes found off putting. Though her eye for detail and her ability to set the scene where the crime takes place is what made her the queen of true crime. Despite it’s shortcomings, you won’t find a better, more in-depth book on the Diane Downs case.