11 February 2019

In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

Finally. I finally settled down with this tragic true crime story and it's one I won't soon forget. While there were pieces here and there I didn't care for, In Cold Blood is simplistic and terrifying, sharing an alarming and unsettling story set amidst cornfields and blue sky America in the late 1950s. Perhaps this is when the phrase "it could happen here, it could happen anywhere" was first born.

In a small section of rural America, a prominent family, the Clutters, well-known and liked in Holcomb, Kansas were brutally cut down and murdered in their own home. Two killers used a shotgun and killed all four of the family members one night in 1959, and left with almost no trace.

Within the first few pages, it's clear why this book is a classic in the true crime category - while in some moments there is a small sense of pomp and glorified grandeur similar to other books in its genre, it feels like it's only on the top. Deep below that, the dark story of a ruthless crime steers left and right, bringing you immediately to whom the killers are and to the officers following the trail to capture them. It is an unbelievable story, and so beautifully written.

Capote maintains this sincere polish of writing, so pure and thorough that the contents of it all, the meaningless act, the victims, sat with me for weeks. It is a disturbing night, truly harrowing final hours for this family and what happens after: the difficult attempts to understand just why they were so remorselessly executed, the search for the killers, the killers' backgrounds, and more.

This is unquestionably one of the premiere and integral books to set the stage for the true crime genre. And I loved the way Capote told the tale, I do. I simply wanted more about the Clutter family, equal amounts of the sweet and strong husband, the ailing wife, the young Nancy at sixteen-years-old who loved animals and had a high school sweetheart who worshiped the ground she walked on, and just as young Kenyon, at only fifteen-years-old who was making a chest for one of his older sisters as a present. While I am as fascinated as any other true crime reader on exactly what compels a murderer and why they ultimately conduct the act, In Cold Blood lacked in its tender and loving detail and description of the Clutter family. It felt almost, dare I say, obligatory, the inserted sections of Herb, Bonnie, Nancy, and Kenyon. I found myself sickeningly sad for the two murderers at one point. Of course, each criminal usually has a severely horrible upbringing, but I was upset that I was reading in slight empathy for the criminals, when I felt an almost absent connection to the Clutters. It took me Googling away to uncover more of the details of the family, the older sisters, or Nancy's boyfriend, to find the pieces that made them the whole of who they were together, and it was then that I felt the respect for the loving family, more than the book offered. I did read that there will be a Netflix documentary soon entitled Cold Blooded, and it is supposed to fill that gap on Capote's family insight. Another article I read alluded to the Clutter family not being very welcoming to Capote, finding him to be jumping on the story just to make money. It's understandable why they would feel that way. I would imagine it might not have felt very decent for the older sisters to discuss their family, so soon after the tragedy. Instead, Capote focused on the killers, which was detailed, shocking, saddening, and thoughtfully written. There might never be a true understanding on why the killers did what they did, but Capote was able to address the very real issue that there is a reason why some grow up to do what they do. It is frightening how easily led a person can be, and how easily corrupted a person can become.

Without a doubt, this will be one of my top favorite true crime stories. It's so extraordinarily written, a story told so well, that it's no surprise that after almost fifty years since its publication, it understandably known as the best true crime book of all time.

About the Author (from Wikipedia)
Truman Capote was an American novelist, short story writer, screenwriter, playwright, and actor. Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958) and the true crime novel In Cold Blood (1966), which he labeled a "nonfiction novel". At least 20 films and television dramas have been produced from his work. Several of his short stories, novels, and plays have been praised as literary classics, including the novella

16 January 2019

I cannot believe I forgot to post a review on this, especially now when I'm trying so hard to be more frequent! Prepare for more "I forgot" blog posts as I read quite a bit in 2018 but I only wrote occasionally here. I didn't even post on Goodreads, I just read books and never reviewed or kept track of them. Me! Someone who likes to track everything and loves Bullet Journaling!

That was a side note. Anywho.

Sky in the Deep written by Adrienne Young was a phenomenal story narrated by the incomparable Khristine Hvam. I should have recognized this narrator's voice as I loved her for the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series (I still have book 3 to listen to on Audible - these are the problems of a supposedly voracious book reader. There is just never enough time).

In this Viking tale, Eelyn is a loyal warrior of her clan who rivals with another clan centuries old, but when she sees her brother alive and fighting side-by-side with the rival clan on a battlefield five years after his supposed death, everything she once knew as the truth has been turned upside down.

This is a solid and exciting story of a very strong young lady who has to come to some acceptance that her brother is still alive, and with their rival clan. The betrayal she feels that he was always alive is palpable and heartfelt, and since she has to live with them during an impossibly difficult time to travel back to her own Viking clan, she also has to somehow live side-by-side with her sworn enemies. During this time, she comes to learn even more, and especially from her brother's best friend, Fiske. I was swept up in this story and especially loved how satisfyingly tough Eelyn was, without being overbearing and impossible to believe. Adrienne Young's writing has me looking forward to the companion novel.

And another side note: It's so refreshing to read these young adult stories nowadays with such strong female lead characters, and I know I would have enjoyed this when I was younger, considering I really wanted to be Luke Skywalker. What would the world be like today if stronger female representation was more consistent and natural in books, and other media, thirty years ago? Who knows, right?

About the Author (from her website)
Adrienne Young is the New York Times Bestselling author of Sky in the Deep and the upcoming The Girl the Sea Gave Back. A born and bred Texan turned California girl, she is a foodie with a deep love of history and travel and a shameless addiction to coffee. When she’s not writing, you can find her on her yoga mat, scouring antique fairs for old books, sipping wine over long dinners, or disappearing into her favorite art museums. She lives with her documentary filmmaker husband and their four little wildlings beneath the West Coast sun.

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27 December 2018

The first installment of The Folk of the Air series, The Cruel Prince by Holly Black brings young adult fantasy to a fun and thrilling level at a time when I needed it the most.

When Jude is abducted by her real father in the human world after he murders her human parents, he spirits her and her two sisters away into the High Court of Faerie, Jude spends ten years learning to love this new world and even this father, a man who took away the only parents she ever knew. It is a world filled with magic and courts and secrets and thrilling twists and turns, a world that completely fulfilled my need to escape my reading slump. Not many turn to this category when a reading slump happens, and not many even care one bit about young adult books or fantasy tales when we are in our older years, but I'd like to remind you that most of us love Game of Thrones (actually called A Song of Ice and Fire series) by George R.R. Martin. And when once we were all young, we read Judy Blume, or Go Ask Alice for tough subjects, we read J.K. Rowling, or J.R.R. Tolkien, and we loved books and movies like The Neverending Story, The Princess Bride, or  (What? I never wrote a review of this??) and one of my favorites, Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Back to this one, though (and I hope I've convinced you to give Young Adult fantasy tales a try). Holly Black's writing was exciting, toggling us between the land of faerie and the land of humans, graduating the audience from one level of Jude's plans to another, and I eagerly awaited each shift in scene when Jude's plans for knighthood are thwarted and she instead is thrust into a completely different world of games of politics and strategy. When the cruelest prince of them all, Prince Cardan is in line for the kingdom, surprise and shocking changes ensue when Jude's own father becomes more involved in a scheme unexpected by all.

Holly Black is a fantastic writer and The Cruel Prince makes me pine for the second installment, The Wicked King, which I believe is out now but I have to check my library app. The audiobook was narrated by Caitlin King, and many of you may know her voice as she has a bajillion books she's narrated (click here to see the available titles on Audible.com). The Cruel Prince is 12 hours and 36 minutes, and so many people say to me, "I can't sit that long and listen to a book." Yeah, me neither. I don't know many people who do. So since I do a ton of errands and drive my car and clean the house and do yard work, that's when I listen to audiobooks and podcasts, and my life is more enriched because of it. Check out Holly Black's The Cruel Prince or listen to the audiobook, and have a fantastic time. Can't wait for this to be turned into a mini-series of some sort.

About the Author (from her website)
Holly Black is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), The Modern Faerie Tale series, The Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, The Magisterium series (with Cassandra Clare) and The Darkest Part of the Forest. She has been a a finalist for an Eisner Award, and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award, the Mythopoeic Award and a Newbery Honor. She currently lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret door.

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14 December 2018

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed (a review of the audiobook)

Over the summer, in the chaos and hectic days of moving from Florida to Puerto Rico, I spent four months renting a house in my Dad's neighborhood so my son and I could have family right across the street while my husband located the perfect home for us. During that time, I was remotely helping my in-laws' Boston boating business during the extremely busy summer season, so I decided to enroll my son in a monthly summer camp. Thank God for that summer camp for him, and for me, Audible.com saved my sanity as well during my short breaks throughout the day. This excellent memoir of Cheryl Strayed kicking butt and walking miles after unforgiving miles following some of the most difficult and emotionally tangled and destructive points in her life, were astounding.

There were so many times over the years I had planned to read this. Stumbling across the memorable cover in a bookstore, or kicking myself when the movie came out and I thought to myself, "I have to read this before I watch the movie!" Which then meant I always kept putting it off. And I did miss out. I didn't realize then what I know now, which is that I needed this book. I needed to hear what this woman chose to do after all of the events in her life up to that point. I could have used this memoir to inspire me after my own separation and divorce almost two decades ago. I was so impressed by Strayed's decision to do a thing so wildly different than what the average individual struggling with a sudden and unexpected, devastating loss of a parent, followed by the downward spiral into drug addiction, along with her infidelity to her young husband (who, I felt, she treated fairly and respectfully throughout the memoir, owning her failures and mistreatment to him). I was wrapped up in this woman and her feisty and unsure decision to just walk, with a (to be expected) sometimes naive assumption of hopeful results, an overwhelmingly heavy pack on her back, but with a vigor and a faithfulness in this dream. As I listened to the remarkably narrated audiobook, I thought to myself, "why didn't I do something like this years ago? When my mother passed and my former husband and I had just divorced? Why didn't I do something different, something wild, to follow my instinct and guts, to throw it all out the window and just be?" I regret the years I didn't read this. I am confident this would have propelled me into something different at the time, something new. 

I wept for Strayed when she encountered one obstacle after another as she walked the trail, I cheered her on to continue when she screamed out in disgust or anger or frustration, and I was madly obsessed with her overall willingness to just keep going. Because that's exactly how life is, isn't it? Somehow, we just keep plugging along, one foot in front of the other, trying to make the best out of all of the messes we create. In a vague and long life, we just make it happen, we just do it. In Strayed's time of just over 3 months to walk the Pacific Coast Trail, her life was singularly isolated and compacted into that stretch of trail, and she could view all of the missteps and mistakes, and identify some of the choices she now needed to make.

Books were a necessary weight for her, and I would feel the torture of painfully ripping pages out after she was done with it to make fires and relieve the burden on her back. She could never carry more than what she needed, and this human filled with flaws, regrets and hope, legitimately walked it all. She wasn't one of the many who would frequently stop and spend nights in a hotel. She had nothing except a self-esteem filled with confusion and sadness, and you certainly can't pay for a hotel room with that. So on she walked, 1,100 miles and 94 days, alone, hungry at times, with some pretty bad wicked blisters to contend with. But she never, ever gave up. Not once.

Side note: Following this book, I listened to Bill Bryson's A Walk through the Woods of the Appalachian Trail, and all I could think was, "Cheryl Strayed could beat Bill Bryson any day." Either by walking trails and writing. Sorry, Mr. Bryson, but I'm team Cheryl all the way, forever and ever. She didn't walk during the day and spend nights in hotels. She was an all out bad ass.

(Click here to follow me on Goodreads or click here on Audible.com to listen to a sample.)

Wild is a powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an 1100-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe - and built her back up again. At 22, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother's death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State - and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone. Strayed faced down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.
Movie thoughts: I watched Reese Witherspoon in Wild, and I think she knocked it out of the park. It was intense, beautiful, heart-wrenching, and filled with guilt so intensely felt that I owned this author's pain, once again. It was a beautiful adaptation. A movie just as good as the book. 

About the Author (from Wikipedia)
Cheryl Strayed is an American memoirist, novelist, essayist and podcast host. The author of four books, her award-winning writing has been published widely in anthologies and major magazines. She's amazing, and her actual bio (click here) is chockfull of all of her incredible nuances, life lessons, and general insights into her incredible personality.

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