Murderino Mayhem

30037870Allegedly, by Tiffany D. Jackson (2017)

Opening line: “Some children are born bad, plain and simple.”

Ever since a grad school friend visited last month and introduced me to the My Favorite Murder podcast, I’ve been a little true crime crazy. I finally watched The People vs OJ Simpson on Netflix and have been diving into some deep Wikipedia holes. So when Allegedly was selected as our next book club read, I was stoked.

Mary Addison was nine when the infant daughter of her mother’s friend was found murdered in Mary’s home. Mary’s distraught mother told police that Mary and the baby, Alyssa, had been alone in Mary’s room sleeping. But now, baby Alyssa was dead, due to asphyxiation, not to mention the purple bruises covering her tiny body. Something terrible happened, and Mary’s not talking.

The public outrage over the murder quickly convicts young Mary of this horrifying crime, and she is sentenced to six years in “baby jail”, where she ends up spending a lot of time in isolation. when she is released, she is placed on house arrest until age 18 in a group home of other teen girls, who apparently hate her. Part of her sentencing includes daily volunteer hours at a local retirement home, where she has fallen in love with fellow parolee, Ted, and now finds herself with a baby of her own on the way. But she quickly learns that with her criminal history, the state isn’t likely going to let her keep her baby. For Mary, that’s what finally pushes her over the edge. It’s what finally pushes her to tell the truth about what happened that night seven years ago. It’s finally time that everyone knows she didn’t murder baby Alyssa.

The narrative here is incredibly compelling. We’ve got major elements of an unjust criminal justice system, mental illness, abuse, bullying, narcissism and sociopathic tendencies, race, teenage motherhood, and romance. The pages just fly. NOT TO MENTION an unreliable narrator who is clearly not telling us everything. I love stories that aren’t necessarily mysteries (where the characters are trying to solve something) but that the reader has to piece together clues and hints until the real picture unwinds. Gave me memories of Gone Girl and We Were Liars.

Like those two, this also has a twist ending. Unlike those two, this one unfortunately brought the entire thing way down for me. Without going into the specifics so as not to ruin it for you, the last chapter felt like a betrayal of the reader. The author gave us a sharp turn, without giving us the space to accommodate, which left me feeling unseated and disappointed.

Despite the jarring ending, still a worthwhile, disturbing, and quick read for any fans of the genre. 2 stars



Required Reading, please

51dw5mh9-zlNo god but God, by Reza Aslan (2005, updated 2011)

Opening line: “Midnight, and five hours to Marrakech. I have always had trouble sleeping on trains.”

I rarely blog about adult books, and I don’t know that I’ve ever blogged about one of the books I’ve read for my mini-book club I have with my dear friend Mallory (check out her very impressive website), whose books have so far been entirely religious non-fiction. She and I met at church, and one of the things we both love about our church home is that it is wide open in terms of what you are “supposed to” believe. In fact, it regularly makes it known that there are no “supposed tos.” We decided a few years ago that we wanted to explore what other religions are all about, because although we both definitely identify as Christian, we weren’t sure why (despite growing up in church). And so we embarked on a journey, one that has led us through Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (as well as touching on several others).

I think both of us would say this one has been one of our favorites. Early on, we wanted to learn more about Islam. With so much happening in the world that seems tied (correctly and incorrectly) to this massive religion (we’re talking 1.5 billion Muslims, guys), we felt the need to be able to speak to what we regularly felt was just blatant misconception. It took a few missteps (and several very dense books) to get us to this one, but, at least for me, this is just what I was looking for.

Author Reza Aslan provides an incredibly encompassing picture of the religion of Islam, starting with its inception  with the Prophet (well, actually well before that), and traveling all the way through its current reformation. Somehow, in less than 300 pages, the reader gets a broad tutorial in the basic beliefs, the widespread historical context, the varying sects, and the very contentious political implications of Islam in its current state. All while keeping me engaged. I think his skill lies in his position as a youngish Muslim who, while incredibly smart and well-researched, is personally connected and invested in the future of this religion. The text never comes across as preachy (he’s not trying to convert non-Muslims by any means), and while the majority of the text is framed as informational, he definitely has opinions on how Islam is represented (see: poorly). In fact, my first encounter with Reza Aslan (although I didn’t know it at the time) was in this ridiculous CNN interview in which he refuses to let the “journalists” talk shit about his religion. (I apologize for my sarcastic quotes. But, like Professor Aslan, I have a hard time when smart people ignore basic facts.)

In any case, I feel like this book should almost be required reading in this day and age. Like he tells us in his last chapter of his book, Islam is in the process of undergoing a major reformation, just as Christianity did those hundreds of years ago with good ol’ Martin Luther. It’s all over the place right now, both metaphorically and literally, and NO, THE VAST MAJORITY OF MUSLIMS DO NOT BELIEVE IN KILLING PEOPLE OF DIFFERENT BELIEFS. If we’re ever going to come to any sort of world peace (beauty contestant answer, I know), we have to actually learn something about one another. Let’s make it happen.

2.5 stars

Rainbow Rowling’s…I mean, Rowell’s…latest

51at-2bhwvqlCarry On, by Rainbow Rowell (2015)

Opening Line: “I walk to the bus station by myself.”

We all know I love Rainbow. As my Grandma would say, I would read her grocery lists. So of course I enjoyed Carry On.

For anyone who knows Rainbow, you’ll know that Carry On is a…continuation? Spin-off? of my most favorite Rainbow novel, Fangirl. In Fangirl, main character Cath and her twin sister have spent years developing a fanfiction story based on the characters of their favorite book and movie series Simon Snow (baaasically Harry Potter. With vampires). Their fanfiction story is called Carry On. And when Rainbow finished Fangirl, she didn’t feel done with the Carry On characters. Voila.

Carry On picks up in Simon Snow’s final year at Watford’s School of Magicks. Supposedly Simon is the most powerful wizard that has ever been, deemed The Chosen One, destined to save the world from the Insidious Humdrum, who is sucking up all the magic, and strangely looks just like 10-year-old Simon.  But Simon’s pretty terrible at magic. He can’t control it, which is arguably the most important thing when it comes to magic. Plus, there’s his nemesis, roommate Baz, who happens to be a vampire, and who has not shown up for school this year (which drives Simon crazy not knowing where he is). To top it all off, the Mage, Simon’s more-than-mentor, is avoiding Simon like the plague and Simon’s girlfriend Agatha has broken up with him (for Baz?). Let’s just say, it’s been a rough start. And he really better do something about the Humdrum before he wipes magic off the planet.

There are definitely mixed reviews on GoodReads about this one, due mostly to it’s obvious similarities to our greatest love, Harry. In fact, one of our book club members had a hard time getting over just that. It didn’t bother me much, because like a Goodreads reviewer said, it temporarily filled the HP hole in my heart. Is it as good as HP? Oh god, no. But is it good in its own merit? Absolutely!

Rainbow’s magic is the same here as it has been in all her other works, and her magic lives in her dialogue. It doesn’t seem to matter the setting, the genre, the audience, the plot. I love her writing because of the dialogue. Her characters always feel completely authentic to me because of the way they talk to each other. I can’t get enough of it.

Love. 2.5 stars

The lazy hazy days of summer

This One Summer, story by Jillian Tamaki, art by Mariko Tamaki (2014)

Opening line: “Okay. So. Awago Beach is this place.”

When I was a kid, my parents took us on these wonderful camping trips across the country, visiting all the national parks, monuments, and seasides along the way. I’m sure I didn’t appreciate it enough at the time (I’m particularly remembering a visit to the Badlands that I did not appreciate), but I feel incredibly lucky to have seen and experienced all the things that we did. However, in the “grass is always greener” sense of things, I always kind of wished for a vacation more like the one Rose’s family goes on each year in This One Summer. 

Each year, Rose’s family goes to a cottage on Awago Beach for the summer. It’s a lazy summer town, with nothing to worry about besides collecting firewood for beach bonfires and figuring out the best snacks to take with you on the tubes that won’t get wet. Rose has a best friend on Awago Beach, too, Windy, whose mom and grandma also have a cottage they visit each year.

This year seems different, though. Windy and Rose are approaching their teenage years, and are suddenly thinking about bra sizes, horror movies, and the drama of the older kids at the convenience store. This story tells of that one summer when the girls lives are changing, balancing between digging just-because holes in the sand and thinking about teen pregnancies and broken hearts. Through beautiful artwork (even earning a Caldecott nod) and conversations that feel very authentically tween and teen, Jillian and Mariko Tamaki let us remember just how strange and unique that time was for all of us, figuring out where we belong, who we are, who we want to be. By the end of the summer, as Windy and Rose head their separate ways, nothing monumental has changed. And yet, everything has.

A beautiful and delightful way to spend a Sunday morning on the front porch. 2.5 stars

And the moon and the stars and the trees

I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson (2014)

Opening Line: “This is how it all begins. With Zephyr and Fry – reigning neighborhood sociopaths — torpedoing after me and the whole forest floor shaking under my feet as I blast through air, trees, this white-hot panic.”

With just this opening line, you get a sense of the complex, somewhat magical narrative voice of Noah, twin brother to Jude, our other narrator. These two teenagers wind a twisting tale of the years between the ages of 13 and 16. The story is not told chronologically, however, but jumps between Noah’s point-of-view at age 13 and Jude’s perspective at age 16. Once two halves of a whole, by the time of Jude’s story, the twins are barely speaking verbally, not to mention the ax on their twin telecommunication. While it’s unclear why, it is clear that their lives have completely changed following some terrible circumstances surrounding their mother’s death. Secrets were kept, hearts were broken, and futures were altered. Noah, at 13, bound for greatness with his outstanding artistic talent despite his outsider status among his classmates, has completely stopped painting and has become a quiet part of the popular crowd at the public high school by 16. Jude, queen of the parties and jealous of the fact that her brother is the apple of their mother’s eye during Noah’s story, is now a loner hiding under hats and seeking a mentor for her artwork as a part of the program at the fancy arts academy. As each twin tells their tale, we start to see how they overlap and what really happened that fateful day.

Unlike some in the YA canon, this is not a quick read. It’s meaty; 371 pages of meat, to be exact, and at least for me, a lot of it was slow-going. In the last 100 pages, though, it picked right up and I couldn’t put it down. My breakfast cereal waited in the closet, the dog went un-walked (not that the lazy guy minded), and I didn’t get out of bed until it was finished this morning. I love the twists and turns and the trying to figure it out-ness of this one. Also, the language! Like the opening line up there suggests, these two narrators don’t storytell in the most ordinary way, but in somewhat fantastical, round-about voices. Each have their own unique tendencies, but they are cut from the same cloth to be sure, and make the reader work a little harder for their supper. Not a bad thing, in my book.

Another winner for the the YA Bibliobitches book club. 2.5 stars.

My kind of ghost story

The Shades of London series by Maureen Johnson

The Name of the Star (2011)

The Madness Underneath (2013)

The Shadow Cabinet (2015)

The first book in this series, The Name of the Star, was a selection last year for our wonderful YA Bibiliobitches Book Club with my grad school besties, and after the first one, I was hooked. I just finished the third book in the series, and it was every bit as exciting as the first. In The Name of the Star, Rory Deveaux is a New Orleans-born fish out of water, brand new girl at Wexford Academy in London, after her parents move them across the pond for work. The day she arrives in the U.K. happens to coincide with a bunch of mysterious murders breaking out across the city, and they are suspiciously similar to those of the terrible Jack the Ripper of London’s past, making the media delve deep into Rippermania. Turns out though, that the main suspect is a guy that no video camera’s can pick up. A guy that only Rory can see.

There are a ton of twists and turns in this series that make it a thrilling page-turner. Add to that a likeable main character in Rory, sassy and clever, flawed and goofy. I was happily surprised to realize this wasn’t a trilogy, but an ongoing series. I will be anxiously anticipating the next installment.

2 stars

Summer Book Club: Steve’s Part 3 Comments: Long Overdue…

Turns out all a girl needs to do to get some writing out of her co-blogger is to post something herself. Less than an hour after last night’s post, I received this from Steve: 


I’m the worst. I know. I haven’t even started Part 4 BUT I finished Part 3 like a month ago. I blazed through so many books in the first half of the summer but then totally crashed and burned in a glorious ball of laziness in the second half. Just. Terrible.

I’ll do my best to recall Part 3, using Emily’s writing to jog my memory.

The major thing I remember from Part 3 is being ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED by what happened to the Clutters. Emily says “Way to go, Floyd”. However, Floyd is a life ruiner. The Clutters’ murders were a result of his (inaccurate) recounting of his short time on the clutter farm. It had me thinking, “oh god. What if there is someone out there who only knew me for a few weeks but said something about me to another person and now that person is coming to kill me?” Is that so crazy? Because that is exactly what happened to the Clutters.  It’s like how I couldn’t sleep with the windows open once Elizabeth Smart was found and all the details of her kidnapping came out again.  Not even the 2nd floor of the house was safe.

It also made me think back to Part 2, right after word of the murders got out, and the town went into full blown lockdown mode. Every one was paranoid. Capote tells us how people were just sit up all night with their lights for fear of what happened to the Clutters could happen to them.  At the time, I thought they were crazy. Over dramatic. But know that we know how the Clutter murders came about, maybe they weren’t being that ridiculous. I was surprised that Capote didn’t emphasis the randomness of the murders. (Maybe they weren’t random. What is the right word here? Unlucky? Star-crossed? ) Dewey and the other detectives didn’t seem to dwell on it too much. So maybe it was that past description of the citizens of the town (whose name I don’t even remember any more. Pathetic. Garden City?) that is supposed to bring that reality to the forefront of the reader’s mind.

As for the young boy and his grandfather, I wondered about that story’s inclusion as well. I drew a comparison between the boy and Perry, who has always seemed more childlike than Dick. Maybe it’s the obsession with root beer that Capote highlights.  But here we have an actual child. And we like him. He’s a good kid. And next to him, Perry seems downright evil.  In Part 3, Perry really morphed in my opinion.  I used to think he was a better person that Dick but now I question his humanity entirely.  Dick now comes off as a desperate, nervous man, hiding behind a whole lot of bravado.  Perry, on the other hand, comes off as a simpleton but that is just masking a very detached, mirthless, cold core.  Sorry, I’m talking like a Catholic school English teacher now. I was always a little suspicious of Perry but always saw a bit of hope with him. And now I’m realizing I didn’t connect Perry and this little can-collecting boy very well.

As for Part 4, I think the title might give away the ending. At least Perry and Dick’s ending. I’m pretty sure some one referred to The Corner as the place where people get executed at some prison.  Soooooooo . . . end of the line, boys. I do want to know what happens in this town (pretty sure it’s not City Garden). I want to know what happens with all the people in the diner and if they still talk about it. And Nancy’s friend and boyfriend (I bet they get married). And the other two sisters who I JUST remember existed.

It’s Holcomb, Steve.