Book Description: Hoarders. Scavengers. Clever foragers. Bringers of new life.
Ravens have many roles, both for the land and in Gitxsan story and song. The sixth book in Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson)’s Mothers of Xsan series transports young readers to Northwestern British Columbia, where they will learn about the traditions of the Gitxsan, the lives of ravens, and why these acrobatic flyers are so important to their ecosystem.
Follow along as Nox Gaak, the raven mother, teaches her chicks what they need to survive with the help of her flock.
Review: Thank you to HighWater Press for sending me an eARC of this book!
Maintaining my stereotypical Goth girl at heart aesthetic, I have always been a huge fan of corvids of all types. Living in Minnesota that means that crows are the corvids in my backyard, but when my husband and I went to London for our honeymoon I was DESPERATE to see the Ravens at the Tower (I also bought a stuffed raven that still sits on my nightstand). When my parents went to Alaska a few years ago my Mom sent me pictures of ravens any time she caught one on her camera. So yeah, give me any and all corvid content. THEREFORE, I was particularly interested in “The Raven Mother” by Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (aka Brett D. Hudson) in this HighWater Press series that I’m doing this month. And it didn’t disappoint!
“The Raven Mother” is an educational middle grade book that puts the ecological and cultural significance of ravens in British Columbia, Canada, specifically through the context of the Gitxsan People. The story is pretty straightforward as a mother raven tends to her chicks with the help of the ravens in her community. It’s easy to understand and has a lot of good information that’s presented in a way for the audience that I felt worked really well. We not only get Gitxsan words and language interspersed in the narrative, we also get definitions of those words as well as definitions to relevant words that may be unfamiliar to younger readers. We also get a great introduction to the concept of ecosystems and ecology, with talk of seasonal changes, animal movements and migrations, and the way that animals, specifically ravens, connect to the environment they inhabit, and how that can have an effect on other things within the ecosystem. And seeing it through the seasons of a raven and her babies as they grow and change was definitely a good way for the audience to connect to it. If science was presented in such a way when I was a kid I would have really connected to it more, I think.
I also really loved the historical notes in the back of this book, as they give great context for the Gitxsan People and the areas they inhabited during the time that this book is set. The lists of the seasonal moons and the drawn map of the area where the various four clans were placed were easy to follow and the brief history is easy to understand, as well as forthright about the colonized land and space as it is defined by ‘official’ geography today. Again, it is all very approachable and I would have loved to encounter information presented in such a way when I was the target age for this book. And I really can’t stress enough how important it is to have these voices and perspectives amplified as much as possible.
And I am going to gush about the artwork in this book. I absolutely loved it. I loved the design of the animals, landscapes, and people. I loved the colors and how they pop off the page. I loved the way that everything felt like it flowed and connected across pages. I really really loved everything about it, so major props to Natasha Donovan.
Filled with accessible information about ecosystems and culture, “The Raven Mother” is an enjoyable read that will be a great teaching tool for the target audience. I quite enjoyed reading it and will definitely be sharing it with my own child when she’s older.
Rating 8: An educational story about ecosystems, ravens, food webs, and how they all connect to each other, “The Raven Mother” is some solid middle grade science as well as cultural exploration.
Book Description: First you march, then you run. From the #1 bestselling, award–winning team behind March comes the first book in their new, groundbreaking graphic novel series,Run: Book One
“In sharing my story, it is my hope that a new generation will be inspired by Run to actively participate in the democratic process and help build a more perfect Union here in America.” –Congressman John Lewis
The sequel to the #1 New York Times bestselling graphic novel series March—the continuation of the life story of John Lewis and the struggles seen across the United States after the Selma voting rights campaign.
To John Lewis, the civil rights movement came to an end with the signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. But that was after more than five years as one of the preeminent figures of the movement, leading sit–in protests and fighting segregation on interstate busways as an original Freedom Rider. It was after becoming chairman of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and being the youngest speaker at the March on Washington. It was after helping organize the Mississippi Freedom Summer and the ensuing delegate challenge at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. And after coleading the march from Selma to Montgomery on what became known as “Bloody Sunday.” All too often, the depiction of history ends with a great victory. But John Lewis knew that victories are just the beginning. In Run: Book One, John Lewis and longtime collaborator Andrew Aydin reteam with Nate Powell—the award–winning illustrator of the March trilogy—and are joined by L. Fury—making an astonishing graphic novel debut—to tell this often overlooked chapter of civil rights history.
Review: In 2020, we lost John Lewis, who passed away that summer after a fight with cancer. I remember being so saddened by this, as he was such an amazing man who helped change our country for the better. It wasn’t until the next year that I found out that before his death he had continued his graphic novel endeavors after “March”. “Run: Book One” is the continuation of Lewis’s work as a social justice advocate, as well as a history lesson on what happened directly after the Civil Rights Act was put in place, both in terms of the backlash from white people who were against it, as well as people within the movement who thought it didn’t go far enough.
“Run: Book One” picks up shortly after the passing of the Civil Rights Act that ended the “March” Trilogy. While in American history class it’s tempting to end the story there, with a great success and a fantastic development in social justice and civil liberties, things didn’t just magically get better. Lewis lays out some of the events that happened right after, such as Black people still being assaulted and murdered by police and white people, the race riots in Watts, and the mass anger on behalf of white supremacy that saw a doubling down on racist leaders and hate groups. It’s framed in such a way that one can’t help but draw comparisons to some of the similar events that have happened in the past couple of years, let alone half a century ago, and it feels deliberate on the part of Lewis. He also dives more into the systemic issues that were stoking a lot of the injustices towards Black people at the time, specifically the Vietnam War and how so many Black men were being sent to fight in an unjust war and were dying for a cause that was rooted in Imperialism. He looks at how he and other Civil Rights leaders agreed or disagreed on how to approach the war and the draft, and how foreign policy was directly connected to the Civil Rights Movement that was still going on even after the Civil Rights Act. There is also the matter of the mass voter suppression of Black people in the wake of the Civil Rights Act being passed, which is just a reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same, and that’s disgraceful. The direct mirroring of that moment then and the moment we are finding ourselves in right now is stark.
But what was even more interesting to me (and something I admittedly knew very little about) was how John Lewis addresses the strife and splintering of people within the Movement itself, and how that changed his role within. Again, I feel like in history class we are told about SNCC in the context of the sit ins and other nonviolent actions, as well as John Lewis’s role. Because of that, I had NO idea that he was effectively forced out of power by Stokely Carmichael and other members who were beginning to feel that SNCC wasn’t doing enough to combat injustice. Lewis talks about this in a way that never really comes off as bitter or angry, but more saddened as to how everything turned out. I definitely don’t think that I can comment too much upon different approaches to achieving social justice goals by these two ideologies, and Lewis comes off as very careful not to denigrate those who cast him out. He also begins to set up his eventual successful stint as a Congressman, devoting arcs to Julian Bond and Marion Barry, who broke ground as Black government officials right in the thick of the backlash.
And when it comes to the art, L. Fury is now a part of the team, as Nate Powell takes a bit of a back seat but does give input (at least that’s what some research told me). Fury’s style blends enough with the style of the original style of “March” that it feels like a good successor, with black and white aesthetics and similar designs.
I’m not sure if there will be more “Run” books, as Lewis passed in 2020. There is a note at the beginning of this saying that the script was finished before his death, but I don’t know if that means the entire script, or just for “Book One”. Regardless, “Run” is a fantastic follow up that is an important reminder that with great strides and success comes resistance to change, and that you just have to keep going and doing what you believe in. Add this to the collection with “March”, for sure.
Rating 9: A powerful new memoir from John Lewis that reminds us that stories don’t always end with triumphs, “Run” is a must read continuation of the fight for civil rights and against white supremacy in America.
Book: “Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders” by Kathryn Miles
Publishing Info: Algonquin Books, May 2022
Where Did I Get This Book: I received and eARC from NetGalley.
Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound
Book Description: A riveting deep dive into the unsolved murder of two free-spirited young women in the wilderness, a journalist’s obsession, and a new theory of who might have done it.
In May 1996, Julie Williams and Lollie Winans were brutally murdered while backpacking in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, adjacent to the world-famous Appalachian Trail. The young women were skilled backcountry leaders who had met—and fallen in love—the previous summer while working at a world-renowned outdoor program for women. But despite an extensive joint investigation by the FBI, the Virginia police, and National Park Service experts, the case remained unsolved for years. In early 2002, and in response to mounting political pressure, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that he would be seeking the death penalty for Darrell David Rice—already in prison for assaulting another woman—in the first capital case tried under new, post-9/11 federal hate crime legislation. But two years later, the Department of Justice quietly suspended its case against Rice, and the investigation has since grown cold. Did prosecutors have the right person?
Journalist Kathryn Miles was a professor at Lollie Winans’s wilderness college in Maine when the 2002 indictment was announced. On the 20th anniversary of the murder, she began looking into the lives of these adventurous women—whose loss continued to haunt all who had encountered them—along with the murder investigation and subsequent case against Rice. As she dives deeper into the case, winning the trust of the victims’ loved ones as well as investigators and gaining access to key documents, Miles becomes increasingly obsessed with the loss of the generous and free-spirited Lollie and Julie, who were just on the brink of adulthood, and at the same time, she discovers evidence of cover-ups, incompetence, and crime-scene sloppiness that seemed part of a larger problem in America’s pursuit of justice in national parks. She also becomes convinced of Rice’s innocence, and zeroes in on a different likely suspect.
Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders is a riveting, eye-opening, and heartbreaking work, offering a braided narrative about two remarkable women who were murdered doing what they most loved, the forensics of this cold case, and the surprising pervasiveness and long shadows cast by violence against women in the backcountry.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!
As I’ve mentioned before, I really love visiting National Parks, even if I do so in a way that doesn’t involve camping or roughing it much beyond a hike or two. I’m just not a camper. While I hope to visit a lot of National Parks throughout my life, I am also always compelled by the darker things that have happened there. I actually hadn’t heard of the Shenandoah Murders of Lollie Winans and Julie Williams, two women who were murdered in Shenandoah National Park in 1996 and whose murders are still unsolved today, in spite of some movement in 2002 when John Ashcroft announced that a man named Darrell Rice was being charged with their murders under new hate crime legislation… which quietly fizzled out. So when I saw “Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders” by Kathryn Miles, I was very interested. National Parks and true crime, two things I really find fascinating. But “Trailed” is more than a typical true crime book, as it not only presents a true crime story, it also looks into very bleak issues when it comes to this unsolved case.
Miles does a really good job of laying out all of the things in this case that made it go cold and stay cold, and how it ranges from a killer in a remote place to prejudice to just a good old fashioned inept group of investigators from the jump. I’ve read a bit about violence, murder, and death in National Parks and on public lands before, and how bureaucracy, lack of funding, and red tape can really slow down investigations when time is of the essence. There is definitely a bit of that here, though there is also rangers at Shenandoah who didn’t want to admit that a violent crime could have happened and dragged their feet. Or the investigators who decided that since these women were lesbians it was obviously a violent dispute between the two of them gone awry. There is also the fact that once investigators zoned in on Darrell Rice, who was charged with the crime but never went to trial, they weren’t interested in looking into anyone else. Even as Miles tries to get information regarding DNA (as Rice’s DNA did not match that found at the scene), or whereabouts of another very probable potential killer, she is met with pushback and hostility from the government and people she had been working with prior. And let me tell you, Miles makes a VERY good case as to why Rice probably didn’t do this, and how a serial killer named Richard Evonitz very well could have (who was murdering women and girls in the area around the same time Lollie and Julie were murdered). I was seething by the end, as Miles is going to great lengths to try and get answers, but is being stopped at every turn.
But Miles also takes care to give a lot of time and space to give the victims, Lollie and Julie, a voice and to let us get to know them as people. One of the very fair critiques of true crime as a genre is that it objectifies the victims of violent crimes by centering the killers instead of those that were killed. In “Trailed” that is already inherently less of an issue because of the fact the crime is unsolved, but in many ways that’s even more horrific because two women’s lives were cut short in a horrendously violent fashion and no one knows who did it. At least not officially. I liked that Miles gave us a lot of information on both Lollie and Julie, as well as their families and friends, and what kind of holes their deaths left in many peoples lives. It felt to me like Miles was very respectful of them as people and was very careful in how she told and framed their stories, and it makes things all the more maddening that these women were so failed in this investigation almost from the start and then repeatedly, even up through the past couple of years as Miles has tried to find something, ANYTHING, that may give them families some answers. And unfortunately, as we’ve seen before in other cases where law enforcement and the justice system would rather double down on a theory that doesn’t hold weight rather than find actual justice, I just don’t see that happening.
“Trailed” is a well researched and compelling true crime story about a justice system failure and the dark realities of violence against women in wilderness and rural settings. Maybe someday Lollie and Julie’s families will get the answers they seek. I sure hope so.
Rating 8: Thorough, heartbreaking, and at times maddening, “Trailed” is a look at justice long overdue and the failures of a system that is supposed to seek justice, but gets caught up in ineptitude, politics, and refusal to admit mistakes.
Book: “Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?” by Harold Schechter and Eric Powell (Ill.)
Publishing Info: Albatross Funnybooks, July 2021
Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.
Book Description: One of the greats in the field of true-crime literature, Harold Schechter (Deviant, The Serial Killer Files, Hell’s Princess), teams with five-time Eisner Award-winning graphic novelist Eric Powell (The Goon, Big Man Plans, Hillbilly) to bring you the tale of one of the most notoriously deranged murderers in American history, Ed Gein. DID YOU HEAR WHAT EDDIE GEIN DONE? is an in-depth exploration of the Gein family and what led to the creation of the necrophile who haunted the dreams of 1950s America and inspired such films as Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs.
Painstakingly researched and illustrated, Schechter and Powell’s true-crime graphic novel takes the Gein story out of the realms of exploitation and gives the reader a fact-based dramatization of these tragic, psychotic and heartbreaking events. Because, in this case, the truth needs no embellishment to be horrifying.
Review: A statement I am about to throw out there is going to sound weird and perhaps a bit screwy, so I need to proceed with a caveat: true crime as a subject matter is depressing. It is a genre that is predicated on the suffering and victimization of others, transformed into a kind of ‘entertainment’ (though admittedly I don’t think that I’m, like, ‘entertained’ in the ‘wheee this is fun!’ sense of entertainment whenever I consume it). Like it’s ALL depressing. But for me, one of the more depressing stories is that of Ed Gein, murderer, grave robber, and recluse whose furniture and decorative creations were made of body parts. Gein has always bummed me out because it is VERY easy to trace his warped sense of self to the massive amounts of abuse he was subjected to from a very young age. It sure doesn’t excuse what he did; plenty of people are abused and don’t turn into the kind of guy who makes a belt out of women’s nipples. But It is just another example of how trauma has long reaching consequences. And that brings me to “Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?” by Harold Schecther, a new comprehensive true crime narrative from a true crime giant. This time in graphic novel form!
(And it probably goes without saying, but this book has SO MANY CONTENT WARNINGS. From child abuse to spousal abuse to necrophilia to gore to animal abuse, proceed with caution)
In terms of how Schechter tackles the story of Ed Gein, from childhood to murders, I thought that he did a pretty good, comprehensive job. The research is obviously there, the sensationalism is to a minimum (even kind of scolded, as in the book there is a section on people who turned his gross crimes into urban legend lore just for attention), and the way that Gein’s crimes influenced modern horror are well parsed. He starts with the premiere of “Psycho”, a story that takes inspiration from Gein’s twisted and abusive relationship with his mother, and slowly starts to tell the tale of Gein and how he potentially went from mild mannered and scared boy to small town monster. It’s nothing I didn’t already know, but Schechter is great at contextualizing the story. As I mentioned above, Gein’s life was one of horrendous abuse, from the physical the the emotional to the religious, as his mother was tormenting and supremely controlling, his father was an at times violent alcoholic, and due to his suppressed and weird nature, his peers ostracized him… which then sent him more under the wing of his mother Augusta… who was very unwell. There’s a reason that “Bates Motel” explores the depths of Norman Bates’s mother in the way it does. But all that said, Schechter doesn’t feel like he’s making excuses for Gein. There isn’t any sympathy put his way. A little bit of pity, sure, as we do see what a scared and abused little boy he was. But no sympathy, especially since his victims (including possibly his own brother!) were wholly separated from his misery.
I think that the biggest stumble for me with this book is that I’m not sure that being a graphic novel really added much to the story. Don’t misunderstand me, Eric Powell has a really well done final product with his illustrations, and they have a weird and unsettling energy to them that still feels based in realism. But I’m not certain that we gained anything from this story being in a graphic format. I’ve definitely seen graphic formatting add more to historical events, either through the visual literacy aspects of graphic novels or through contextualizing complex or heavy subject matter, especially for younger audiences. But in the case of “Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?”, I don’t know if it really enhances the story with a visual element. But again, the style itself was well done. Man did he get the Ed Gein look down.
“Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?” is a well laid out summary of the Ed Gein story and all the dark and depressing facts it has to offer. The comic aspect doesn’t enhance it, per se, but the overview is comprehensive without succumbing to exploitation or bad taste.
Rating 7: A pretty comprehensive (and therefore deeply disturbing and depressing) history of Ed Gein and his crimes, though the format felt at times unnecessary.
We each have our own preferred genres of choice. Kate loves horrors and thrillers, really anything that will keep her up at night! And Serena enjoys escaping through hidden doors into realms of magic and adventure. We also read mysteries, historical fiction, graphic novels, etc. etc. And that’s not even counting the multitude of sub-genres contained within each greater genre. In this series, one of us with present a list of our favorites from within a given sub-genre of one of our greater preferred genres.
I will admit, the very idea of encompassing the entire classification of True Crime into the sub-genre box is a little bit of a cheat. One can certainly argue that true crime is a genre in and of itself, as it is a genre within the Non-Fiction Umbrella of books and storytelling. But the reason that I am going to classify it here as a sub genre is because I am the blogger who takes on the entirety of Non-Fiction on this blog, though that is admittedly few and far between. Because of this, I’m going to talk about true crime as a sub-genre on its own, but I am hoping that I will cover a swath of the kinds of stories you can find within that topic, genre or sub-genre or what have you.
True crime has kind of seen a bit of a resurgence as of late, with a sudden explosion of podcasts, docuseries, and yes, books on the topics of serial killers, missing people, and the random and strange acts that happen to fall into a gamut of wrongdoing. I’ve been a huge fan of true crime since I was a grade schooler, when I read my first true crime book (which was a kids oriented book about Jack the Ripper of all things!). While I enjoy picking up a book about true crime, I also find myself struggling with the moral dilemma of using other peoples pain for my own intrigue and, in crasser terms, entertainment. I do think that there is something that can be found in true crime that can be useful, however, even if that’s only to explore some of my own anxieties about these things in a safe and controlled way. So here is a list of some of my favorite true crime books, be they about cases or stories I’ve found interesting, or books that I have found genuinely useful when it comes to mitigating my own fears surrounding the subject.
Book: “The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy: The Shocking Inside Story” by Ann Rule
Honestly there are a whole lot of ‘classic’ true crime books that I truly love, from “Helter Skelter” by Vince Bugliosi to “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote, but when picking one for this list I had to go with “The Stranger Beside Me” by Ann Rule. True, there has been a weird obsession with Ted Bundy in the past few years, and I definitely get and agree with the criticism regarding telling his story over and over again (especially when so much focus is on HIM and not the women he brutalized and murdered). But I decided to include “The Stranger Beside Me” because it was the book that propelled Ann Rule to the legendary true crime writer status that she had when she was alive. And it’s the added fact that Rule was friends with Bundy because they worked in the same suicide hotline call center, and that she, too, fell for the ‘well he couldn’t possibly because he’s so upstanding’ fallacy that made him so dangerous. Rule gives context to Bundy’s story, does have some focus on his victims, and also analyzes her own role in all of this, as she was investigating and writing about the murders that her friend Ted was committing while not connecting the dots. It’s a well done look into how a serial killer like Bundy could manipulate those around him, and a very personal story about the blinders that people have when it comes to those they care about, even when there is ample evidence that they are not good people.
Book: “Party Monster: A Fabulous But True Tale of Murder in Clubland” by James St. James
This is once again a bit of a personalized account of what it’s like to be friends with a murderer, but it definitely has a bit more, shall we say, flamboyance if only because the author is legendary Club Kid James St. James. “Party Monster” (formerly known as “Disco Bloodbath”) is St. James’s true crime book/partial memoir about his friendship with Michael Alig, fellow Club Kid who murdered another Club Kid named Angel Melendez over a drug squabble. But “Party Monster” is also a first hand account of the 1990s club scene in New York City, and the wild, vibrant, idealistic, and sometimes destructive people who lived within it. St. James is a very funny writer who talks about the ups and downs of being a Club Kid (basically professional partiers known for their extravagance in costumes, themes, and attitudes in the club scenes), his battles with addiction, and his fremeny relationship with Alig, who ended up being a psychpathic murderer. St. James never fails to make me laugh, but he also tells a very intriguing story that has a lot of pathos because of what it was like being queer, poor, and somewhat adrift at a young age in a big city.
Book: “The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America” by Erik Larson
Erik Larson is probably more of a history writer, as his books have the framework of taking a historical event and examining different facets of it, or the unintended consequences of it. “The Devil in the White City” just happens to involve a serial killer named H.H. Holmes. In Chicago in 1893, the World’s Fair (also known as the World’s Columbian Exposition) drew many people to the city from all over the country. It just so happened that H.H. Holmes was taking advantage of this fact, as he set up a hotel for women to live, and then would murder them and profit off of their deaths. “The Devil in the White City” does a deep dive into the history of the Exposition, with the background, the planning, the execution, and the bumps along the way, as well as telling the story of a legitimate American monster. I love how he makes the historical connections between a huge event and the smaller event that was able to happen because of that huge event. And along with the true crime aspect, you get some interesting factoids about the Chicago World’s Fair and the city itself!
Book: “I Love You Phillip Morris: A True Story of Life, Love, and Prison Breaks” by Steve McVicker
On the non-violent side of things, we turn to one of the most bizarre true crime books I have ever read that involves fraud, prison breaks, and true love (sort of). “I Love You Phillip Morris” is a bananas stranger than fiction book to be sure. Steve Russell was a family man who had ties to his Church community, a wife and daughter, and promising career in business. He was also a closeted gay man, and after going to prison for a fraud charge he met and fell desperately in love with fellow inmate Phillip Morris. Russell would go on to escape from jail over and over again, usually with outlandish plans and ALWAYS on Friday the 13th, but he would always fall victim to his love for Morris, and his inability to just move on or stop committing fraud/pulling a con would mean he’d be caught again and again. It’s a truly nutty story that is entertaining as all get out, and with a lack of serial killing or other violent themes it’s a good pick for those who are interested in true crime as a whole, but are worried about triggering aspects of it. “I Love You Phillip Morris” is just kinda fun as well as bonkers.
Book: “Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up In a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs” by Elissa Wall and Lisa Pulitzer
“Stolent Innocence” by Elissa Wall was the second book that I had ever read on the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints (or FLDS), but it was the first one that was from the perspective of a woman who had escaped the abusive cult that had held her prisoner ever since she was born into it. The FLDS is an extremist offshoot of Mormonism that still practices Polygamy, and more often than not marries of teenage girls (and someones younger) to older men, who then are trapped in an abusive marriage in which they are dehumanized and subjected to sexual assault as well as other abuses (sometimes even at the hands of their sister wives). Elissa Wall’s memoir is such a story, as she talks about growing up in the FLDS, as well as when convicted rapist Warren Jeffs took over and really upped the ante on violence and sexual abuse towards the members. This book is compelling, personal, and in many ways quite upsetting. But it is also a testament to the strength that Elissa had to get herself out of this situation and to find a new life for herself. The FLDS also has it’s fingers in other crime pies, like fraud, harassment, child abandonment, and trafficking, so it really has a full swath of true crime topics.
Book: “The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence” by Gavin de Becker
I am ending this list with a book that is less about a specific true crime case, and more about ways to potentially lower chances of becoming victim to something bad (though I want to stress something here: in no way am I saying that victims of crimes are at fault in any way shape or form. This is just a book that I have been able to use in my actual life in some ways and found it helpful). “The Gift of Fear” is written by Gavin de Becker, who specializes in violent behavior, with lots of focus on stalking and abusive behaviors. de Becker talks about different scenarios and cases, from victims of violence to stalking to targeted harassment, and shares tips and techniques on how he advises people to use their instincts and wits to get out of or avoid dangerous situations. I myself had a fairly creepy and aggressive phone stalker for a year or so back when I was right out of college, and this book gave me some good advice on how to proceed, which ended up being effective. It’s definitely not perfect (I think that he misses the mark on his section on domestic violence, and yes, it can come off a little victim blamey at times), but there are definitely good nuggets of info about listening to your gut if a situation doesn’t feel right, and to not worry about how you may be perceived because of it.
What true crime books are must reads for you? Feel free to share in the comments!
We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Outside the Genre Box”, in which we each picked a book from a genre or format that we don’t usually read.
For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!
Book: “Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close” by Aminatou Sow & Ann Friedman
Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, July 2020
Where Did We Get This Book: The library!
Genre/Format: Self-Help Memoir
Book Description: A close friendship is one of the most influential and important relationships a human life can contain. Anyone will tell you that! But for all the rosy sentiments surrounding friendship, most people don’t talk much about what it really takes to stay close for the long haul.
Now two friends, Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, tell the story of their equally messy and life-affirming Big Friendship in this honest and hilarious book that chronicles their first decade in one another’s lives. As the hosts of the hit podcast Call Your Girlfriend, they’ve become known for frank and intimate conversations. In this book, they bring that energy to their own friendship—its joys and its pitfalls.
An inspiring and entertaining testament to the power of society’s most underappreciated relationship, Big Friendship will invite you to think about how your own bonds are formed, challenged, and preserved. It is a call to value your friendships in all of their complexity. Actively choose them. And, sometimes, fight for them.
I’m not a big nonfiction reader and when I do read in the genre, it’s usually more history-based. But I was intrigued by this book when it was selected for bookclub. You can throw a stone any direction and hit a book talking about the trials and tribulations of romantic and family relationships. What you don’t often find are books that discuss the work involved in maintaining friendships.
The backstory behind this book in particular was interesting. The two authors have co-run a successful blog for many years before deciding to write a book about friendship and the challenges they in particular have faced and overcome in their many years working together and being friends. And, I think, this is a bit where the concept fell off for me. The book was much more focused on the ins and outs of their unique stories and situations. While they confronted issues such as race and the balance of roles in friends who also work together, the story was also very narrowed down to their own experiences. As such, I felt it was only marginally useful as a general topic book about maintaining friendships.
I also wasn’t familiar with their blog. That being the case, I was perhaps even less interested in the details of their situation. To me, it read simply as two random people writing about their friendship, which started to feel a bit strange as I went on. Fans of the podcast are likely going to get much more out of this book, as they would already have an established interest and investment in these two individuals. But for me, I had been hoping for a bit more of a general examination of the unique aspects involved in friendships.
The writing also threw me off. They made the choice to write the book in third person, essentially referring to themselves in third person throughout. I could see glimpses of the humor and style that must be part of what has made their podcast such a success, but I struggled with the process of actually reading this book.
Unlike Serena, I do like to dabble in non-fiction a fair amount, though more often than not it’s usually true crime with the occasional memoir, or a history book. I’m really not big into self help, or memoirs that delve into relationship dynamics. So “Big Friendship” was definitely going to be stretching my reading muscles a bit. My experience with the book was pretty similar to Serena; it didn’t really connect with me the way I had hoped it would.
Serena covers a lot of the same qualms that I had with the book (the writing style drove me a bit batty, to be honest). I thought that it was very much based on their own relationship and personality dynamics, and therefore am not sure that I was getting much out of it from a complete ‘this is how you nurture friendships’ angle. Which is too bad, because I really do think that our culture doesn’t value a platonic friendship relationship in the same ways it does familial or romantic ones. I went into this book with no idea as to who these two women are, or what their friendship is like, and therefore didn’t really have any investment into their thoughts on how they’ve maintained it. All of that said, I am pretty certain that were I familiar with their podcast and had I formed that kind of attachment to them as people, this book probably would have connected better.
And that isn’t to say that I got absolutely nothing from it. I really liked how they talked about how different friendships have ‘rituals’ that help maintain it, like perhaps a favorite bar to go to or a certain routine that applies to a get together or meet up. That section definitely had me thinking about the rituals that I have in my own friendships (Chinese food, video games, and LGBTQIA+ movies with my friend David immediately came to mind during this section), and it kind of made me appreciate the routines that we do have that make our friendships unique to us. I also appreciated the honest talk about the extra work and care it takes between friends of different cultural backgrounds and racial lines, and how exhausting it can be for POC when their white friends aren’t being as supportive or empathetic as they think they are being, and how these white friends need to do the work of listening and applying changes to how they act after letting their friend down.
Overall, while there were a couple of things I felt were insightful, “Big Friendship” wasn’t a hit for me. Fans of the podcast will probably find more to love here than I did.
Serena’s Rating 6: Unfortunately not for me, but it has inspired me to seek out other nonfiction books that discuss friendship.
Kate’s Rating 6: While it had a couple bits that I could apply to my own friendships, overall “Big Friendship” wasn’t my literary cup of tea.
Book Club Questions
What did you think about the progression of these ladies relationships and lives in the book? Did you relate to either of them more than the other?
The authors talk about the concept of ‘low drama mamas’ who don’t thrive on drama within their personal circles. Do you see yourself that way, or have you had times where you do find yourself drawn to drama?
What do you think of their idea of ‘shine theory?’ Do you see yourself trying to apply it in your life and relationships?
Do you think that social media draws us closer, or pulls us apart?
Moving forward, do you think there are any components of this book that have to do with friendships that you think you will try and apply to your relationships?
Book: “Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York” by Elon Green
Publishing Info: Celadon Books, March 2021
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description:The gripping true story, told here for the first time, of the Last Call Killer and the gay community of New York City that he preyed upon.
The Townhouse Bar, midtown, July 1992: The piano player seems to know every song ever written, the crowd belts out the lyrics to their favorites, and a man standing nearby is drinking a Scotch and water. The man strikes the piano player as forgettable. He looks bland and inconspicuous. Not at all what you think a serial killer looks like. But that’s what he is, and tonight, he has his sights set on a gray haired man. He will not be his first victim. Nor will he be his last.
The Last Call Killer preyed upon gay men in New York in the ‘80s and ‘90s and had all the hallmarks of the most notorious serial killers. Yet because of the sexuality of his victims, the skyhigh murder rates, and the AIDS epidemic, his murders have been almost entirely forgotten. This gripping true-crime narrative tells the story of the Last Call Killer and the decades-long chase to find him. And at the same time, it paints a portrait of his victims and a vibrant community navigating threat and resilience.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!
As someone who has had a deep fascination with psychopaths and serial killers since she was a kid, it sometimes takes some digging for me to be completely caught off guard by a story that I’ve never heard of. But the sad truth is that in the cases I’ve never heard of it, a lot of the time is because of the fact that the victims fall into the ‘less dead’ category (aka marginalized groups, such as POC, drug addicts, sex workers, LGBTQIA, etc) and because of that, it’s not as publicized. This is basically what I ran into when I learned about “Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York” by Elon Green. My initial though was ‘why haven’t I heard of this?’, and then I realized that if a serial killer was preying on the gay community in 1990s New York City, it was going to get muffled for a myriad of reasons. So I decided I needed to read it.
“Last Call” is about Richard Rogers, aka the Last Call Killer, a man who murdered gay men after interacting with them at a piano bar in New York City in the early 1990s. This time period was tumultuous for the LBGTQIA community, as violence, HIV/AIDS, and prejudice were constant threats to a group whose safety wasn’t really a high priority for law enforcement officials. Green does a really good job of capturing an contextualizing the time period and the place, breathing life into a New York City that has been transformed from that time, though for both better and worse depending on what angles you decide to approach it by. The socio-political context is incredibly important to this story; there was still a lot of fear and stigma around gay men because of misconceptions about HIV/AIDS, as well as their sexuality, so for gay men to be targeted in this way wasn’t exactly focused on or considered a priority. While some detectives were dogged in their investigations, you get the overall sense that there wasn’t much urgency in spite of the fact dismembered bodies with similar M.O.s were being dumped like trash on the outskirts of the city. Green really sets all of this up well, and as he tracks the case as time goes on and explores how things began to change in the city, he shows how it all is connected. Throw in a lot of really helpful notes and research information at the end, and you have a well researched true crime story that’s brimming with historical context! Which I love.
But the other thing about this book that I really liked is that Green is very careful to shine a light on each of the victims that Rogers murdered. Given that true crime does have a problem with exploitation and salacious framing as it strives for ‘entertainment’, Green wants to be sure that each of the people who Rogers murdered has a voice and is depicted as more than a victim, especially given how forgotten this whole thing was. There are sections devoted to each victim’s background, from their childhood, to how they were faced with prejudice and turmoil because they were gay, to the friends that they made and the found families that the crafted while living in New York City. Along with this we see the resilience and determination of a community that is having to contend with so much strife and trauma. As if it wasn’t enough that prejudice and threats of general violence and an epidemic were threats that the LGBTQIA community was having to think about at the time, a serial killer that the police weren’t exactly gunning for was another horrible reality.
And Green is also very dogged in his investigation into Rogers as a person. Though Rogers didn’t cooperate with this book (and whatever, that’s fine, there’s no need to give the guy a platform), Green still does a deep dive into his life and psyche, building a compelling argument that there were undoubtedly more victims that we never heard about, even going further back into his history to reveal that there had been ANOTHER murder he had committed even before the Last Call murders (but the record was sealed due to various circumstances). It’s impressive and thorough journalism.
“Last Call” is bleak and sad, but it gives voice to horrible crimes that deserve to be remembered, for the sake of the victims. It’s a deep dive with a lot of notes, and while it’s a hard and tragic read, I think that true crime fans should make note to read it.
Rating 8: An impactful and haunting book about a forgotten killer and his forgotten victims, “Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York” shines a light on how some true crime stories are lost due to society’s prejudices.
Book: “Redbone: The True Story of a Native American Rock Band” by Christian Staebler, Sonia Paoloni, and Thibault Balahy (Ill.)
Publishing Info: IDW Publishing, September 2020
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: Experience the riveting, powerful story of the Native American civil rights movement and the resulting struggle for identity told through the high-flying career of west coast rock n’ roll pioneers Redbone.
You’ve heard the hit song “Come and Get Your Love” in the movie Guardians of the Galaxy, but the story of the band behind it is one of cultural, political, and social importance.
Brothers Pat and Lolly Vegas were talented Native American rock musicians that took the 1960s Sunset Strip by storm. They influenced The Doors and jammed with Jimmy Hendrix before he was “Jimi,” and the idea of a band made up of all Native Americans soon followed. Determined to control their creative vision and maintain their cultural identity, they eventually signed a deal with Epic Records in 1969. But as the American Indian Movement gained momentum the band took a stand, choosing pride in their ancestry over continued commercial reward.
Created with the cooperation of the Vegas family, authors Christian Staebler and Sonia Paolini with artist Thibault Balahy take painstaking steps to ensure the historical accuracy of this important and often overlooked story of America’s past. Part biography and part research journalism, Redbone provides a voice to a people long neglected in American history.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this graphic novel!
As we all know, I am not really all that versed in Marvel movies, though I did see “Guardians of the Galaxy” once and enjoyed it overall. One of the things that made me realize I was in for a treat was when Star Lord started playing “Come And Get Your Love” on his Walkman as he went to salvage some stuff. I like that song, having first heard it via sample by Cyndi Lauper in her remix of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” for “To Wong Foo”. So I liked the song, but had no knowledge of the band Redbone, who sings it. When “Redbone: The True Story of a Native American Rock Band” was brought to my attention, I jumped at the chance to read it. I was expecting a pretty straightforward rock and roll biographic novel, but was pleasantly surprised to find out that it had a bit more to say.
“Redbone” tells two stories, one being a personal recollection and the other being of a growing movement in the United States. The book follows brothers Pat and Lolly Vegas (thought Pat’s eyes), who eventually formed Redbone, the first commercially successful Native rock band. We follow their history on the Sunset Strip in the 1960s, hanging out with famous acts like The Doors and Jimi Hendrix, and see how they formed their own band that seemed to be on the way to stardom. The other story is of the American Indian Movement (or AIM), a social justice/activist group that focuses on Native rights and formed in Minneapolis in the 1960s. As Pat, Lolly, and the rest of the band began to live the rock and roll lifestyle, the rights of other Native people started being promoted and fought for, which intertwined with their rock careers as they wanted to bring their heritage and own activism into the band.
I liked hearing the backstories of the band itself, and also seeing a broad but informative look into the Residential School system in this country, and AIM and the activism and protests that it brought to the public consciousness. I was fairly familiar with most of the activism and protests that this book covers, and found the explanations to be easy to understand and powerful in both the personal and the communal effects it had. Given that history classes neglect so much non-white history in our schools, I thought that this book would be a great resource for educators to use when wanting to give an introduction to AIM and the social justice issues it tackles both then and now. I also appreciated that this story did address the racism that Redbone had to face in the music industry because of their heritage, and how it’s very clear that their pride in their heritage and want to assert their rights as Native people is what ended their careers when they had SO much talent. I’m pretty damn mad that I didn’t know anything about this band before now, when their most famous song is one that I’ve known and liked for a long time. That’s partially on me, of course. And I’m happy that this book is out there to educate readers on their story, and the broader story of AIM.
I did have a little hard time with the graphic style at first. The images aren’t in a clear linear box design, in that a lot of the time they all bleed together into larger images. Sometimes I had a hard time parsing out which dialogue bits happened where, but I eventually adjusted. And it wasn’t exactly hard to figure it out based on context. Overall I like the unique and nontraditional style.
“Redbone: The True Story of a Native American Rock Band” is a great introduction to the greater fight for Native Rights in the U.S., and finally puts a spotlight on a band that had success taken from them. If you want to know more about an important part of Rock and Roll history, check this out!
Rating 8: A fascinating history of a long neglected band, as well as an overview of the beginnings and contributions of the American Indian Movement, “Redbone: The True Story of a Native American Rock Band” is an informative and interesting graphic novel!
We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Around the World”, in which we each picked a continent and had to match a book that takes place there and/or is written by an author from that continent or of that continent’s descent.
For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!
Book: “I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives” by Caitlin Alifirenka, Martin Ganda, and Liz Welch
Publishing Info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, April 2015
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description:The true story of an all-American girl and a boy from an impoverished city in Zimbabwe and the letter that changed both of their lives forever.
It started as an assignment. Everyone in Caitlin’s class wrote to an unknown student somewhere in a distant place. All the other kids picked countries like France or Germany, but when Caitlin saw Zimbabwe written on the board, it sounded like the most exotic place she had ever heard of–so she chose it. Martin was lucky to even receive a pen pal letter. There were only ten letters, and forty kids in his class. But he was the top student, so he got the first one.
That letter was the beginning of a correspondence that spanned six years and changed two lives.
In this compelling dual memoir, Caitlin and Martin recount how they became best friends –and better people–through letters. Their story will inspire readers to look beyond their own lives and wonder about the world at large and their place in it.
Well when we started our “Around the World” Series for Book Club, we thought that it would outlast quarantine and that it would be a fun way to pass that time. The reality is that we’re in an even worse place than we were back when we started once this session ended. But even if we have more COVID times ahead of us where we have to meet virtually, I’m glad that we did our “Around the World” cycle, as we got to read books that I may not have read otherwise. Our last book was “I Will Always Write Back”, a dual memoir by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda, two pen pals whose friendship became so much more.
I went into this book with a very rudimentary knowledge of Zimbabwe under Mugabe’s regime, and with the unease that we may have been starting a ‘white savior’ narrative. But “I Will Always Write Back”, I think, did a good job of walking that line without crossing it, and I think that the main reason for that is because we got both Caitlin’s perspective, that of a teenage white American living in a comfortable economic situation, and Martin’s, who is a Black Zimbabwean who was living in abject poverty. Getting to hear Martin’s side of the story in his own words and getting his perspectives and experiences really helped keep it away from centering Caitlin’s journey in the narrative, which was good. Martin’s chapters were the ones that I most looked forward to, as while Caitlin was relatable (we are the same age, so I was doing and experiencing similar teenage America girl things that she was in this book), I wasn’t as interested in her story. I think that there could have been a little more introspection on her part at times, but then again, she was a teenager and young adult through the crux of it, so maybe throwing that in would have felt out of place. Luckily Martin’s sections gave the reader a lot to think about, and I feel like I got more from this story from him.
I was interested in seeing their friendship grow and change, however, and liked seeing the two of them interact with each other. You can feel the love and care they have for each other within this books pages, and seeing the two of them have each other’s backs was absolutely uplifting. Given that any pen pal situation that I had in grade school completely floundered, the fact that they kept this friendship going and changed each other’s lives so much is a lovely story in and of itself. This is the kind of book that I would recommend to teens who are wanting to start looking at cross cultural themes and issues, as I think it’s a good introduction to the idea of reaching out to others who may not have the exact same life as you, but could have very similar goals and dreams that you have.
Kate’s Rating 7: An undeniably uplifting memoir about friendship and cross cultural connection, “I Will Always Write Back” has heart and earnestness, though not as much introspection as I was hoping for.
Book Club Questions
What were some of your reactions to the comparisons and contrasts when it came to the lives that Caitlin and Martin were living when they started their correspondence?
Were you knowledgable about the history and the cultural and societal situation of Zimbabwe during Mugabe’s rule?
Do you think that teenagers today would relate to the teenage voices of the people in this book who were teens twenty years ago?
As the book goes on, we learn that Caitlin and her family help Martin out in many ways. How do you think this changed and affected their friendship?
Recently there has been criticism of publishers elevating and publishing ‘white savior’ narratives in books and the publishing industry. Do you think that “I Will Always Write Back” could be considered a white savior narrative? Why or why not?
Book Description:In his latest graphic novel, New York Times bestselling author Gene Luen Yang turns the spotlight on his life, his family, and the high school where he teaches.
Gene understands stories—comic book stories, in particular. Big action. Bigger thrills. And the hero always wins.
But Gene doesn’t get sports. As a kid, his friends called him “Stick” and every basketball game he played ended in pain. He lost interest in basketball long ago, but at the high school where he now teaches, it’s all anyone can talk about. The men’s varsity team, the Dragons, is having a phenomenal season that’s been decades in the making. Each victory brings them closer to their ultimate goal: the California State Championships.
Once Gene gets to know these young all-stars, he realizes that their story is just as thrilling as anything he’s seen on a comic book page. He knows he has to follow this epic to its end. What he doesn’t know yet is that this season is not only going to change the Dragons’s lives, but his own life as well.
Review: Though I’m not really a huge sports fan in general, if you asked me what my least favorite ‘mainstream’ sport to watch was, I’d undoubtedly say basketball. I can’t even tell you why that is, but I’ve never enjoyed it, even when I was playing on the basketball team in sixth grade. But given that Gene Luen Yang is one of my favorite comics writers, I knew that I was going to read his newest book “Dragon Hoops”, even if it was about basketball. Looking into it more, I realized that this wasn’t going to be a book that was just about basketball. And because of that, I was immediately hooked on this story that’s part memoir, part history, and part inspirational sports story.
We follow Yang as he’s following his school’s basketball team in it’s journey to hopefully win State, and he finds a lot of layers and depth and heart to put on display. While he could have had a structure that was purely factual, or perhaps a story that profiles just one player, or even a story that focuses on a coach’s deferred dreams that are possibly going to come true, he manages to take aspects of all these things and balance them into a combination. We get profiles of the various members of the team, from the players themselves and their varied backgrounds, to Coach Lou and his own personal connection as a former player, to Yang himself as he is thinking about his own dreams. I really enjoyed getting the context of the various team members, but I thought that Yang putting his own story in there was a nice touch, as it shows that even those who don’t have a specific sports connection can find commonality with these inspirational, and sometimes difficult, sports stories that we hear about ever so often. He uses devices and symbolism that repeats throughout the story, and it almost always landed. Yang has always been really good at showing the deeper meaning of what he’s trying to say without outright saying it, and it comes through in this non fiction story just as well as it does in his fictional stories. I also really enjoyed Yang’s way of toying with the fourth wall, as he would have have himself in comic form acknowledge things that were being done for story telling purposes, as well as toying with the other characters perceptions of things that were going on or had gone on. While the action of the basketball games still kind of lagged on the page for me, I do acknowledge that Yang really captured the action and the tension of the moments as the Dragons are trying to get to State.
But ironically enough, it was the introductions to each section which focused on different parts of the history of basketball that clicked with me the most. Yang would give us a pretty easy to follow but comprehensive moment of history of the game, and that moment would then provide context or connect with the focus on that chapter, which was usually another member of the team or support system. I’m a history buff to be sure, and the way that Yang grounded his story within the context of this history was really well done. Plus, it all connects to the fact that Coach Lou, after his dreams of basketball success ended prematurely, decided to focus his education on history because he knows that history can inform us in the present. LOVED that, and it’s exactly the kind of theme I would expect from Yang.
And, of course, I love Yang’s style of artwork. It’s definitely a bit cartoony, but that doesn’t make it any less resonant or emotional when it needs to be. There were multiple moments where the emotions being portrayed were so well done both in writing and in imagery that I was moved to tears. Yang’s style is unique and well known at this point, but it always works.
“Dragon Hoops” is another triumph for Gene Luen Yang! And if you’re hesitant to read it because of the basketball thing, take it from me. It’s absolutely worth it.
Rating 8: A charming graphic novel about basketball dreams, and dreams of doing something great, “Dragon Hoops” is a personal and emotional story from one of my favorite comics writers.