December Books | Impulse Buys

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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.

December Books | Gifts

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

All of my presents this year were books. This is a very good thing.

The Mansion by Ezekiel Boone – it’s a house with a flawed and, let’s face it, potentially evil and certainly dangerous artificial intelligence which controls all of the stuff.

The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum – subtitled Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, speaks to my interests.

Occult Paris by Tobias Churton – The Lost Magic of the Belle Époque, according to the blurb this features Theosophists, Rosicrucians, Martinists, Freemasons, Gnostics, and neo-Cathars.

The Nice and Accurate Good Omens TV Companion – does what it says on the cover; this book is beautiful and has me wanting to watch the TV series all over again.

The Ghosts of Eden Park by Karen Abbott – The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz-Age America; more true crime in the 1920s.

The Other Side of the Coin by Angela Kelly – all about HMQ and the work that goes into dressing her for the wide range of events she attends, written (with permission, no scandal here) by her long-time adviser and curator. Irresistible.

The Hotel Years by Joseph Roth – a selection of articles from the 20s and 30s when Roth travelled around central Europe living in hotels and writing about the places he visited.

Twilight of Empire by Greg King & Penny Wilson – all about Mayerling and the suicide pact (or was it?) between Crown Prince Rudolf and his young mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera; this tragic event has led to an excellent ballet and a lot of conspiracy theories.

Scottish Queens 1034-1714 by Rosalind K Marshall – the lives of Scottish Queens, whether reigning in their own right or as consorts, aren’t often discussed in the way that they should be, so this will be interesting. Will Lady MacBeth feature I wonder…..

The Golden Thread by Kassia St Clair – using the story of varieties of cloth to illuminate history; I’ve already dipped into this and it is going to be fascinating.

All of the above were from the Book God, and from my Brother Who Is Not on Social Media I received

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – an oral history of a fictional 1970s rock band, this has been on my list for ages and glad I have it in my hands at last.

What books did you get for Christmas?

The Final Round-Up | Non-Fiction

Finally bringing the major catch-up to a close, here are the non-fiction reads which I have not reviewed so far on the blog. An interesting mix but with my usual slant towards true crime 🙂

Death in the Air * Kate Winkler Dawson
Subtitled: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City

The author takes the events of early December 1952 when a severe smog brought London to a halt and ties them in with the case of John Reginald Christie, serial killer and all-round nasty piece of work. I was very interested in getting my hand on this book for two reasons:

  • my husband was born in 1951 and he had heard many stories of what it was like to live in London at this time, with the smog seeping into homes through every crack and crevice, which he passed on to me; and
  • when I first started working in London I had a colleague who had worked with Christie in his short stint at National Savings.

I was disappointed in the book. At first, this had to do with the scene-setting, where I found myself asking about the accuracy of some of the descriptions – along the lines of “could you really see that from there?” – and the general infelicities of language when (apologies to my friends in the US) an American is writing about the UK. But mostly my problem was the link with Christie’s case, which seemed far too tenuous to be the basis of this sort of mixed subject book. And it’s a shame because the scandal of the government’s response to the smog and the moving stories of individual experience would have been enough to form a superb book on their own.

Bad Blood * John Carreyrou
Subtitled: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Start-Up

This book covers the “biggest corporate fraud since Enron”, as described by the investigative journalist who broke the original story. A company run by a charismatic and attractive young woman and backed by lots of significant business leaders looks to be one of the major success stories of recent years in Silicon Valley, except for the small matter that the medical technology it claimed to have developed simply didn’t work, and anyone raising concerns, whether inside or outside the company was harassed and threatened.

Elizabeth Holmes was/is an appalling person, enabled by those blinded by the possibility of making megabucks, and silencing critics by threatening their ability to work in the industry. You don’t have to know much about business to get a great deal out of this fascinating book. I knew very little about this until I heard Karen Kilgariff of My Favourite Murder fame mention on the podcast that she was reading this.

Since then there have been more books, a podcast and a documentary covering the story, but this is the original from the guy that was there.

Stalling for Time * Gary Noesner
Subtitled: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator

I picked this up when I found out it was one of the books on which the TV series Waco was based; we had just started watching the programme and I wanted to know a little bit more about the background. It covers a whole lot more than just Waco as the author uses the experience he gained over 30 years in the FBI to assess the development of the use of negotiation and the tensions between that approach and increasingly militarised law enforcement. A short but engrossing book.

I still haven’t been able to watch the last two episodes of the series because the whole thing was such a terrible disaster and seeing that played out will be difficult. The cast is really excellent though and I read the book in the voice of Michael Shannon who plays Noesner.

Ma’am Darling * Craig Brown
Subtitled: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret

I don’t normally read royal biographies but this has won so many awards, and I find Brown such an interesting writer that I gave it a go, and I’m so glad that I did because it is wonderful. I laughed out loud but also found some of the stories sad and touching. The best way to describe it is to quote from the blurb:

Combining interviews, parodies, dreams, parallel lives, diaries, announcements, lists, catalogues and essays, Ma’am Darling is a kaleidoscopic experiment in biography, and a witty meditation on fame and art, snobbery and deference, bohemia and high society.

A clever book in the very best way.

Traces * Patricia Wiltshire
Subtitled: The Memoirs of a Forensic Scientist and Criminal Investigator
Patricia Wiltshire has had a long and distinguished career as an expert in forensic ecology, botany and palynology. She has been involved in a number of high-profile cases across the world and tells the story of her involvement in many of these alongside snippets of her personal life.

It’s a fascinating if slight book by a remarkable woman, but I did find myself occasionally and disrespectfully muttering “I collect spores, moulds and fungus” a la Egon Spengler.

A nice addition to my true crime library.

Sunday Salon | 18 August (for real this time!)

I can’t decide whether no-one noticed that I got the date wrong last time or if everyone was just being polite.

Anyway, here we are on the genuine, accept no imitations Sunday 18 August 2019 for my weekly round-up. It will be a short one this week because….

  • my brain is mush after writing my mega-movie round up which I published yesterday;
  • I still haven’t finished any of the books I’m reading;
  • my current reading list hasn’t really changed since my last post;
  • I haven’t been anywhere interesting, working on stuff at home instead; and
  • I only bought two new books, both pre-orders; more about them later

But you will have realised from the picture accompanying this post that we did go and see the new Tarantino film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I really liked it and will be reviewing it shortly; it has got me running down Manson-related rabbit holes the contents of which I will no doubt talk about here in due course.

As for the new books ….

  • Chase Darkness With Me * Billy Jensen – the memoir by the journalist and true crime podcaster about his career and involvement in solving cold cases. He finished Michelle McNamara’s book on the Golden State Killer after her sudden death, and manages to be absolutely serious and very entertaining all at once. I’m really looking forward to reading this on as I’m a regular listener to Jensen & Holes: The Murder Squad
  • Dahlia Black * Keith Thomas – ” … a suspenseful oral history commemorating the five-year anniversary of the Pulse—the alien code that hacked the DNA of Earth’s population—and the response team who faced the world-changing phenomenon.” They had me at “for fans of World War Z” 🙂

And that’s it. I have a few pre-orders being delivered next week and a couple of outings planned so should have more to talk about. Have a great reading week!