December Books | Impulse Buys

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

It is a fact that I am not supposed to buy books in December because gifts, but as we share wishlists I know the range from where my presents will be drawn.

That’s a complicated way of saying that if a title wasn’t on my wish list it was fair game. Here we go.

The Pre-Orders

  • Beast by Matt Wesolowski – because I love the Six Stories series and the podcast format makes for compelling reading
  • Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer – because any new book by this author is a must-buy for me

The True Crime

  • American Predator by Maureen Callahan – if you’ve seen my earlier post you will know that I have already read this, and will be looking into this awful serial killer more in 2020
  • Dark Dreams by Roy Hazelwood – Sexual Violence, Homicide and the Criminal Mind because who doesn’t want some light reading…
  • The Forest City Killer by Vanessa Brown – I heard an interview with the author on a recent podcast and had to find out more about this Canadian case

The Other Non-Fiction

  • The Pulse Glass by Gillian Tindall – a personal and global history in objects; I love this sort of thing
  • Good Morning, Good Life by Amy Schmittauer Landino – I follow Amy’s YouTube channel but bought the book specifically for an online book club read; I’m already behind…..

The Fiction

  • Intensity by Dean Koontz – I don’t think I’ve ever read any Koontz; this is serial killer rather than horror
  • Gallows Court by Martin Edwards – murder in 1930’s London, the first in the Rachel Savernake series
  • We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory – Harrison is the Monster Detective, a storybook hero. What happens when he and others like him join a support group? 

That should keep me busy for a while 😀

Sunday Salon | Books Read

Hope everyone had a fabulous holiday season. In getting ready for 2020 I thought I would write up some short reviews of (most of) the books I’ve read recently. All links are to Goodreads btw.

Photo by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash

Ghoster by Jason Arnopp

I shall declare an interest here as I am one of Jason’s supporters on Patreon so obviously think he is a top bloke. Ghoster is the first full length novel by Jason that I’ve read and I really enjoyed it, although as an Old I had to look up what ghosting actually meant – you, young reader, are probably way ahead of me. Kate has met Scott, fallen in love and is driving to another city to move in with him. She’s given up her flat, transferred to another employer (she’s a paramedic) and is well on her way to future happiness when she realises that she can’t contact Scott. At all. And when she gets to his place it is empty and he isn’t there. But his phone is……

I spent a lot of time during this creepy book inwardly yelling to Kate not to do the thing that she was about to do, but of course it wouldn’t be a horror novel if the protagonist was sensible so it is only to be expected that things do not go well. Great fun.

Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore by Terry Newman

With an iconic image of Joan Didion on the cover and a blurb that stated I would find out about the “signature sartorial and literary style of fifty men and women of letters” thus combining two of my favourite things – fashion & books – it was obvious that I would get this.

It’s quite a slight volume and doesn’t entirely deliver on the sartorial stuff – not enough detail about what they actually wore for my taste – but there were enough tidbits to satify my curiosity.

That Virginia Woolf worried about bad hat days is also a comforting fact for the dedicated reader and follower of style.

American Predator by Maureen Callahan

I’m not sure exactly where I came across the name of Israel Keyes. It must have been one of the true crime podcasts that I listen to (yes, more than one, don’t jusge me) but I can’t for the life of me remember which one. However I found out about him, I was immediately fascinated by how this man could have carried out so many awful deeds without anyone knowing about it. The subtitle of the book says it all:

The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century

He is of course a deeply disturbing and horrible figure who killed all over the USA during a period of fourteen years, burying kill kits for future use, many of which have never been found. This book focusses mainly on the somewhat flawed investigation into his crimes, and I will be following it up by listening to yet another podcast – True Crime Bullshit – which is only about Keyes.

An American Story by Christopher Priest

This is a very well-written novel with a sympathetic (mostly) protagonist and one of the most momentous events of the past few decades in the shape of the 9/11 attacks as context. Ben is a freelance journalist whose then girlfriend died in the attack on the Pentagon; she wasn’t supposed to be on the plane that crashed into the building and like many others her remains were never found, so Ben begins to wonder if she ever really died and if she did whether the accepted story told the whole truth.

There are too many of these inconsistencies to be ignored. At every step of the 9/11 story there is doubt, or there are unanswered questions, or simple logical gaps.

If you concentrate on this story being about loss and in particular the pain experienced when no body is recovered, so there is no certainty and no resting place where one can grieve and find solace, then this is a powerful novel. The 9/11 conspiracy theories work for that reason and that reason only but I still find them very disturbing.

The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett Graff

[..] in The Only Plane in the Sky, award-winning journalist and bestselling historian Garrett Graff tells the story of the day as it was lived—in the words of those who lived it. Drawing on never-before-published transcripts, recently declassified documents, original interviews, and oral histories from nearly five hundred government officials, first responders, witnesses, survivors, friends, and family members, Graff paints the most vivid and human portrait of the September 11 attacks yet.

An incredibly moving companion piece to Priest’s novel, it covers the events of that day from a wide range of sources. Extraordinarily sad, powerful reading.

Chase Darkness With Me by Billy Jensen

More true crime (sorry, not sorry) this time from the perspective of a journalist who stopped writing about crime and started trying to solve cold cases as a citizen detective. It is a fascinating book, and you can follow Billy’s work alongside his co-host Paul Holes on their podcast Murder Squad. A must-read for all Murderinos, though if you are a Murderino you’ve almost certainly read this already.

The Vanishing Season

A recent abduction becomes an unexpected link to a decades-long spree of unspeakable crimes.

This is the fourth entry in what was originally The Collector Trilogy which last year turned into The Collector Series. I had been quite sad when I finished The Summer Children (number 3) because I enjoyed this series so much, a feeling that turned to pleasure when I realised there was going to be a fourth book, and now I’m sad again because the changes that occur to a number of the main characters in The Vanishing Season are sufficiently significant that any additional books would require a major shift.

But at least the series gets a proper conclusion, and for that I should be grateful.

An eight-year-old girl, Brooklyn, has gone missing. Not only does this happen on the anniversary of the disappearance of FBI agent Brandon Eddison’s little sister, but the girls are also the spitting image of each other making this case particularly difficult for everyone involved. The Crimes Against Children team investigate and Agent Eliza Sterling quickly comes to the conclusion that not only are the two cases linked but there are many other cases going back decades.

Can they solve it? Yes, they can.

I really enjoyed this novel. It is well-written, nicely paced and although the crimes are awful the author doesn’t dwell on the nastiness too much, focussing instead on the procedural aspect of the investigation, and I’m a sucker for that sort of thing so this was very much in my wheelhouse

The series as a whole has developed nicely, moving from a story about victims in The Butterfly Garden which border on horror to the focus on the CAC team in the latest volume. This is a change that has happened gradually and organically but without losing any of the key people from the earlier stories.

I can’t recommend these books enough.

Series Details

Tnis is my first completed read for #20BooksOfSummer

Archie & Gretchen | Books 4-6

I have finally finished the hugely enjoyable Archie Sheridan & Gretchen Lowell series by Chelsea Cain with the last three novels discussed below.

First, a quick overview – Archie Sheridan is a police officer based in Portland, Oregon who, while hunting the serial killer known as the Beauty Killer was kidnapped, tortured and ultimately released by said serial killer, the beautiful, intelligent and extremely manipulative Gretchen Lowell. Their dysfunctional relationship is explored over six novels. Unsurprisingly, there is a very high body count.

If you would like to know what I thought about the first three then you can find the relevant blog post here.

The second half of the series comprises:

  • Book 4 – The Night Season – the one where Portland suffers major flooding, there is another serial killer on the loose and Gretchen doesn’t really appear at all
  • Book 5 – Kill You Twice – the one where Gretchen is locked up in a psychiatric unit but merrily manipulative almost everyone else, while another another serial killer is on the loose, this time with potential links to GretchenBook 4 – The Night Season – the one where Portland suffers major flooding, there is another serial killer on the loose and Gretchen doesn’t really appear at all
  • Book 6 – Let Me Go – the one where Gretchen is on the loose again and creating havoc, though there is another another another serial killer carrying out crimes in the area. This looks like its the last in the series though I think the ending is left sufficiently open so that the characters could be revisited in future.

As I said above I really enjoyed this series; the books are well-written and tightly plotted and the psychological makeup of the main characters is troublingly effective. But as with every other almost-omnipotent serial killer (looking at you Hannibal Lecter), each entry in the series has to really up the ante. This often means that situations becoming increasingly gothic, almost to the point of absurdity, so suspension of belief is essential. There were a couple of WTF moments in the final book where I really thought it had all gone too far, but I let that thought go and just went along for the ride.

If you like your psycopaths astonishingly beautiful in a head-turning way who can kill with impunity and, despite being infamous, still manage to move around freely without anyone noticing, and if you don’t mind a lot of gruesomeness and quite a bit of explicit sex, then this series is for you.

On the Box – 2018

I don’t normally write about TV here but I thought it would be fun to capture the stuff I enjoyed this past year.

The stuff I knew I would enjoy and did

The stuff I came to a million years after everyone else

The stuff I’ve given up on because I just can’t any more

The stuff I enjoyed thoroughly despite possibly not actually being very good; though I will fight anyone who doesn’t like Instinct.

The stuff I rediscovered after thinking I would never watch it again

Do you have thoughts on any of these?

The Last of My Autumn Reading

So here we are, hurtling towards the end of 2018 and it’s the time of year when I scramble to catch up with reviews of those books and movies that I didn’t get around to talking about at the time I read/watched them.

In this post I’m covering three books I read in the autumn, which brings me up to date as I haven’t finished anything else since then.

The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler

I have a tendency to veer towards Scandi noir fiction but only in a very patchy way, which is why I think I hadn’t heard of this husband and wife team writing as Lars Kepler even though they are huge best-sellers and there are already a number of volumes in this series. I started with the first  and it is an odd book.

I read the title and thought “ooh, serial killer hypnotist” but * SPOILER ALERT * – though not really giving anything away – the hypnotist of the title is involved in assisting the police in investigating a family murder. Of course things go horribly wrong, and a chunk of the book is focussed on said hypnotist’s back story. For that reason I don’t think the book is entirely successful – I wanted more of a police procedural rather than a sort of psychological study, but having said that a lot of the writing was very good and I had no problem finishing the thing. I have, of course, already bought the second…..

The Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel

Whom I kept on thinking of as Oscar de la Renta; which is very sloppy thinking on my part, possibly offensive to the gentleman concerned and shows that clearly I’m reading too much Vogue.

Anyway, this was recommended in a blog post by (I think – apologies if not) Christopher Fowler, so I thought I’d give it a try only to discover that I had already purchased a copy a few years ago and had just forgotten. The novel is set in Edinburgh around the time of the Jack the Ripper murders, and our hero, Inspector Ian Frey, is sent to Scotland when a violinist is murdered in a way reminiscent of the Ripper’s crimes. Frey is partnered with “Nine-Nails McGray”, a notorious local inspector with Tragedy in his past and an interest in the supernatural and related things. They insult each other constantly and at a wonderfully extreme level which I found very funny. What starts off as a locked room mystery followed, of course, by other deaths is very cleverly done and I enjoyed this thoroughly. Recommended if you like a mixture of horror, historical crime and comedy.

And finally….

Bestial by Harold Schechter

A fascinating, deeply gruesome and upsetting non-fiction examination of the crime spree carried out in the 1920s by Earle Leonard Nelson, starting in San Francisco and ending in Canada. To give you an idea of what’s covered here the blurb on the book screams:

From social outcast to necrophile & murderer, his appalling crimes stunned an era.

So, obviously reader beware – this is only for experienced aficionados of true crime. It’s clearly been throughly researched and is written in a breezy journalistic style but, as a woman in my late 50s, I became increasingly grumpy at the descriptions of Nelson’s older wife by (presumably) the author. Is 58 elderly? Is a woman in her 60s really a crone? I know things were different back in the 1920s and a woman of that age would have had a harder life than the one I have experienced, but who calls anyone a crone? Honestly, says Disgusted of New Malden. But Ann Rule rated Schechter so I will give him the benefit of the doubt.

All caught up on the book front – yay me!

Sunday Salon – 18 November

fullsizeoutput_8b5Here we are again with another quick review of my week in reading and other stuff as needed.

Currently reading:

Global Crisis by Geoffrey Parker – war, catastrophe and climate change in the 17th century; I bought this as a gift for the Book God a couple of years ago but it is an enormous tome so treated myself to the Kindle version to make reading easier. Extremely interesting so far.

Bestial by Harold Schechter – from social outcast to necrophile and murderer – his appalling crimes stunned an era. This starts off in 1920s San Francisco and goes rapidly downhill from there. I’m fascinated by true crime (as most of you will have noticed I’m sure) and this story came up while I was listening to an old episode of My Favourite Murder (a brilliant podcast) so I dug this out from the virtual stacks.

Books finished this week:

Only one, The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll – a strong refresher for the planning method I use these days. Lots to think about.

Books bought this week:

  • Bedfellow by Jeremy C Shipp – a tense dark fantasy novel of psychological horror; sign me up!
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama – I think she’s awesome and I’m looking forward to reading this very much. Sadly didn’t get tickets for her appearance in London though….
  • Black Prince by Adam Roberts & Anthony Burgess –  a brutal historical tale of chivalry, religious belief, obsession, siege and bloody warfare based on an original script by the late Mr Burgess. I have a lot of respect for Adam Roberts and have read several of his books so I’m giving this a go because of him and the subject matter rather than Mr Burgess, whom I’ve always found difficult.
  • The Magpie Lord by KJ Charles – A lord in danger. A magician in turmoil. A snowball in hell. I don’t really read romance but this author was recommended and I thought I should read something outside my comfort zone, but not too far – this is SFF romance after all.

Things should start to get quiet as the pre-Christmas book-buying embargo sets in once wish lists have ben exchanged. I have made my list, checked it twice and will be handing it over later today.

Hope you have a great reading week!