Podcast, True Crime

19 True Crime Podcasts You Need to Listen To

Currently, true crime podcasts are all the rage…at least, in my corner of the Twitterverse they are. Many mistakenly believe that Serial was the forerunner of true crime podcasts, but just look at the backlog of Sword and Scale, Generation Why, and Criminal, and you will see the creators of Serial piggybacked on an already popular genre. There are currently hundreds of true crime podcasts available across the various podcast players, so it’s hard to decide which ones to choose.

You can start with the obvious “Big Three.” My Big Three differs a little from those mentioned above. I have never really been able to “get into” Serial, and do not listen to Criminal regularly, so my Big Three are: Generation Why, Sword and Scale, and True Crime Garage.

Generation Why is hosted by Justin and Aaron, two friends who like talking about true crime. As of the writing of this blog, they have 229 episodes available, not shabby for a weekly podcast. Justin and Aaron have tackled some “big” cases (Michael Peterson, Ryan Ferguson, Ted Bundy, the Zodiac Killer). A few of my favorite episodes by these guys are “The Deaths at Spreckels Mansion – 136,” “Lululemon Murder – 157,” and “White House Farm Murders – 141.” I enjoy the friendship between these two and how they are honest about how difficult some of these cases are to relate. I burned through the entire backlog in about two weeks.

Sword and Scale is hosted by a single host, Mike Boudet. Mike uses a lot of news clips and interviews to support his material, and tells his stories very concisely. He also ends the episodes with relevant true crime stories from around the globe. My favorites here are Episodes 11 and 12, the sad story of Morgan Ingram, who died at a young age. Although ruled suicide, her mother has kept up an online campaign pointing the finger to two people from their neighborhood, claiming murder. A very compelling listen, I definitely recommend these two episodes. Another favorite is Episode 15, which is the story of Peter Keller. This one is just too bizarre to describe here, so you will have to listen to it.

True Crime Garage is the relatively new kid on the block. Hosted by long-time friends, Nic and “The Captain,” part of its charm is the mystique surrounding The Captain’s real name. Another weekly podcast, they just hit the 100 episode mark. However, if you want to go all the way pack, you have to go to the iTunes store – which you will want to do for their superior coverage of the West Memphis Three. Obviously, the episodes on the West Memphis Three are among my favorites, along with the four-part run about the Boys on the Tracks (another Arkansas mystery). Brandon Lawson, episodes 85 and 86, demonstrate the dedication these men have to their craft, as they manipulate the audio repeatedly in order to try to determine what Brandon’s last known words were.

It’s too hard for me to pick “favorites” among all the other podcasts that exist, but I will hit the high points of ones that I try to never miss. A lot of these are very new, but no less worthy of mention. These are in no particular order, except maybe the order which I started listening.

Casefile was actually the one that got me started. I was really listening to “paranormal” podcasts such as Lore, Astonishing Legends, and Unexplained, when for some reason, I clicked on Casefile. This is, hands down, one of the best offerings available in the world of true crime pods. The Australian host is “anonymous,” which like The Captain above, makes it a little mysterious in itself. Casefile does not cover just Aussie crimes, and in fact, one of the best ones they did was “Case 28: Lindsay Buziak” from Canada. A more recent favorite was “Case 50: Jennifer Pan.”

True Crime Fan Club is actually quite creepy. The reason is because the host has this very calm voice that is disconcerting against the backdrop of the horror she relates. The first episode she starts with was Albert Fish, who was a perfectly awful man. The host is genuinely nice as well.

 

And That’s Why We Drink is always at the top of my playlist. It’s a hybrid of true crime and paranormal, with nothing to connect the two – and that’s okay! These two ladies are hilarious and irreverent in the right places, but respectful of the victims and their families. They have a wonderful presence on Twitter as well. Go to episode: 10 – “Annabelle the Doll-y Parton Impersonator and the Tap Water Scammer.”

Wine and Crime is hosted by three friends, who get together (loosely) to discuss crime and drink wine. For the record, Amanda is one of my spirit animals and I’m working on an in-depth drinking game for their podcast. They do their shows around a theme, to include their wine. So far, I’m pretty sure I have learned more about wine than anywhere else, and I also am fast on my way to becoming a vegetarian. Along that line, episode recs: S1E9 – “Lucky Bastards.” Also, hit episode 12 – “Exorcisms Gone Wrong.” And wait for it – these ladies have somehow convinced Dr. Nandi to join their show, so that episode should be live soon. (I’m so excited!)

Canadian True Crime Podcast is really new, and the host Kristi is actually Australian. The first time I hit play, I looked at my phone in confusion, but it didn’t take long for me to settle in and really begin to enjoy the show. Go to episode: “Douglas Garland” which is just a terrible, terrible story, but one that Kristi tells extremely well.

UK True Crime Podcast is a British weekly podcast that has 23 episodes as of this writing. The narrator does not shy away from difficult subjects, but they are done tastefully and respectfully. A recent one that was very moving and almost difficult to hear was “Episode 20: A Deadly Obsession.”

They Walk Among Us is another British weekly podcast that’s been out for about four months. They do great work, and I enjoy listening. One of my favorites here was the story of John Darwin, Season 1, Episode 4.

Court Junkie is an informative look inside the American court system. I love how she goes in depth regarding the court cases themselves. Without a doubt, the best case for me was Episode 17 “Confronting Her Attacker – Christy Mack and War Machine.” This was such an emotional episode, but so well done.

Bone Palace Ballet really appeals to the academic in me. These ladies do such great research and they are so engaging. Go to episode here: the very first one. You MUST listen to this one, it’s so personal and explains, in part, why they are doing a true crime podcast.

Pajama Crimes is hosted by two cousins (and I swear I always think of that “Cousins, Identical cousins” theme song from the old Patti Duke show). Its still relatively new, but they did a really good job of promoting it before it ever hit the airwaves. They have a themed drink for each episode, and recently helped me with my own drink-related question. Episode I recommend “Let’s LARP the day away!”

36 Times is another Canadian podcast imbued with humor, hosted by two females. I love the premise (“did you know that the average person will pass a murderer 36 times in their lives?” I have really only just started listening to this one recently, but have gone through several of the backlog. However, I would recommend Episode 2: “The Richardson Family Murders.”

The Minds of Madness is another podcast I have only recently discovered, but I sure am glad I have! They are still a fairly new show as well, and his voice is the male version of True Crime Fan Club – just so calm. Go to episode here: Episode 6 “Rohinie Bisesar.”

Twisted Philly is another hybrid, not always a true crime, sometimes just other odd things about Philadelphia. I consider the host another spirit animal, because she is witty, snappy, funny, and tells a great story (I’m snappy, at least). I am still working on her back catalog, just because I am cautious about burning through them now. Recommendation though, Episode 6: “The Day I Drove Past a Crime Scene.” Very touching and very personal.

Felon is another Australian podcast that I have recently discovered. These episodes are interesting and intriguing. I think for me, being here in the South, there’s something about hearing a true crime story told by someone from Australia or the UK. Go to episode: S1E13 – “The Gonzales Family/The De Gruchy Family.” Chilling.

Okay, last and definitely not least, especially if you follow me on Twitter and see how often I tweet about these guys: Small Town Murder. Disclaimer: They are two COMEDIANS doing a true crime podcast, there are some jokes. They never joke about the victim and are always respectful of the victim. However, the small town and the perpetrator are fair game. I just enjoy the statistics they provide at the beginning of each episode, and appreciate how much work goes into just pinpointing the median cost of a house in a town of 1,000 in a small town in the south. Go to episode: any of them. Seriously, start at Episode 1 – “A Quadruple Murder in Mississippi.”

And, before I go, I’d like to plug my own podcast: Crime Girls Pod. It’s not “mine” alone – it’s an effort with my daughter, and the effort is mostly hers. We have two episodes available on iTunes currently. She’s doing all the editing and uploading, and is trying to get the shows on different platforms. It’d be great if you could give us a listen. We’re still trying to work out the audio kinks, so hopefully by the fourth episode (we recorded 2 and 3 together), we will have those ironed out.

Happy armchair sleuthing!

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911 Dispatchers

“Just” a Dispatcher

Years ago, I worked in law enforcement. You see, I was “just” a dispatcher. You know, the one who fielded those initial hysterical phone calls. The one who waited anxiously when her officers did not respond right away. The one who had to call the coroner to request his services at the scene. I was also, on occasion, a jailer. I also transcribed CID interviews for criminal cases.

In all capacities, I was touched by evil.

I know many people are disparaging of our criminal justice system in general, to include our police officers, and yes, even our 911 dispatchers. Unfortunately, all too often, all we see on the news is the bad, in particular when it comes to 911 dispatchers – how many times have we seen (or heard) a 911 dispatcher come under fire for being rude or hateful to someone who called, seeking assistance? I do not condone the rudeness, but often think it is taken out of context. I think in my time dispatching, I was only rude a handful of times, and it was generally after I had been cussed and called terrible names. Later, I was ashamed of how I reacted, and my time serving the public in this capacity colors my day-to-day interactions with people now. I try to always remember I do not know what kind of day someone else is having.

I sit now and listen to people tear down law enforcement and talk about abolishing the penal system, and recall some of those cases.

There was the young man who shot a young lady I knew. Took a shotgun, walked up to  where she sat in her chair, and shot her. In the head. Unprovoked. When I looked into his eyes later, they were flat, emotionless. I felt degraded and sick.

We had a homicide where a man shot his wife’s ex-husband in the back, as he was leaving. He confessed to me. Again, no remorse, no emotion.

There were the countless interviews I transcribed in sex abuse cases involving children. Children who were abused by adults they trusted. What are we supposed to do with these offenders?

There was the inmate who is now on death row, for murdering a young mother, and attempting to murder her 11-year-old child. I have no doubt had he not been captured, he would have murdered more, as he was eventually connected to another murder in Florida. I frequently had to move him around our jail to speak to his attorneys – something that bothered a great many people, but I was so young and dumb, I did not even think about it at the time.

Then there was the shooting of a small-town police chief. I was not working that night, but worked the next morning and saw the effect it had on my friend and fellow dispatcher, as well as all the law enforcement in our county. They all suffered survivors’ guilt, and were heartbroken that this young jovial father was cut down in the middle of the night by a criminal who wanted to silence his testimony in an upcoming court case.

That’s evil.

There were many nights I “stayed strong” while on the radio and answering calls, but inside, I was dying a little. I had someone commit suicide as I talked to them on the phone one night, and I’ve never forgotten that, and never gotten over it. Could I have done something differently? I was often called cold-hearted for not breaking down during calls such as those, or worse, during calls involving children, but to breakdown meant I could not assist anyone. (Let’s face it, I am stoic by nature, that just made me more so).

I have the utmost respect for our law enforcement personnel on the streets, as well as the utmost respect for all the dispatchers out there, manning those phones. They are truly the First Responders to everything (I even have a certificate that says so!) and sadly, they are so frequently discounted for the wonderful work they do.

So, give our 911 operators a break. Remember, when a caller is yelling, crying, or otherwise upset and incoherent, they cannot hear anyway, but they also know something is wrong, and their adrenaline starts flowing, too. They are not angry or incompetent, they are human.

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Geek, Uncategorized

This Seems Familiar (A Thought on Game of Thrones)

(Warning: Here be spoilers, and this post refers to the show Game of Thrones, not the books).

Now, I don’t have any new fan theories to posit, although I am obsessed with fan theories now. I can’t seem to stay away from them. No, just bear with me, I have an interesting correlation to make here.

Hmm, where have we seen a red-headed witch who resurrects our beloved favorite character? Hmm…

If you said, “Buffy!” you’re the winner! (Sorry, you can wear this knowledge like a badge of honor, because I have no real prizes.)

Yes, on Buffy, Season 6, our favorite quirky red-headed witch resurrects Buffy. And it goes pretty much the same way: words are said, things are done, and no immediate action, so the Scoobies leave, convinced the spell did not work, and Buffy is lost to them forever.

Once I had this thought, I could not help but make a few more correlations between my two favorite shows.

Let’s start with Buffy and Jon. Both are constantly making sacrifices for their duty. Buffy knows that, as the Slayer, she will never have a “normal” life. Jon knows that as a Crow, he will never have the wife and kids, and a large keep on a small hill somewhere. Both of our heroes spend their lives saving others, which is admirable and sad. Buffy and Jon both fall in love with the “enemy”: Buffy with Angel and Jon with Ygritte. Of course, these lovers both become allies, but the truth is, they started out on opposite sides. Both are doomed to have sex that is forbidden – again, Jon with Ygritte, and Buffy with Spike.

But the similarities do not end there. Let’s explore the Scoobies.

At this point and time, Davos could be compared to Giles: the older man who offers wise counsel, occasionally in a very blunt, direct way. Davos and Giles are both the voice of reason, with painful pasts barely hinted at in the shows.

Obviously, Melisandre and Willow are the same: red-headed witches with a great power. Both witches believe in their magics and the powers that be. Of course, Willow is not a four-hundred-year old crone, but the similarities exist. Remember when she went dark? And flayed someone alive between two trees? Rather similar to a young girl being burned at the stake, don’t you think?

Xander and Sam are one and the same: not much good at fighting, good for some comic relief, and with hearts as large as their heads. The big difference here is that Sam is pretty smart, Xander not so much.

Angel and Theon are basically the same. Both did horrible things to people, and now are seeking redemption in whatever way they can. Both also have withstood terrible torture and tragedy, and have lost the people closest to them through betrayal or death.

Spike and Tyrion share many traits. Both have a “screw it” attitude, both were picked on when younger, and both are fairly intelligent. Oh, and both really, really like sex. There’s also the fact that both men loved the wrong woman, and had parents (Spike’s mother and Tyrion’s father) who were condescending and loathsome towards their children. They both (wait for it) killed those same parents for the maltreatment.

I see Dani and Glory sharing traits – with the exception of the fact Dani is not evil (yet). Both are powerful, bad ass women with worlds to conquer.

Dawn and Arya are one and the same. Just like Dawn is not really Buffy’s sister, but a mystical being turned into a human, and placed with the Summers for protection, Arya is in all likelihood not really Jon’s sister – although this is flipped a little, because it was Jon placed with the Starks for protection.

Ramsey Bolton could be Angellus when he’s turned by having sex with Buffy in Season 2. Sadistic, uncaring, sadistic, loves torture, sadistic…need I go on?

So there you have it, just my thoughts on how the two shows are similar.

©Suzanne Homsley, 2016

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Uncategorized

Year in Review -2015

It’s that time of year! Well, it *is* the brand new year. So, I get to look back on the old, and share with you the best of what I have read this year. I came in under what I normally do, numbers-wise, because school took a toll, but I still had enough to compose this list.

I read a lot more poetry this year than usual, so I am adding that as a category. I am also adding short story collections this year.

I am going to start off with science fiction. Again, my science fiction-reading took a hit, but here we go (this list is a top 6, because I could not decide which one to drop.) Also, science fiction seems to start with “The” a lot.

Top Five Science Fiction Books

6.  The Circle by Dave Eggers . This was unique, but with google growing  like it is, I can see this happening. The Circle is a Google-esque growing web company, which is great, except the work environment is cultish. Read this and think about what you are posting online.

5. Under the Skin by Michel Faber. Different. It was very interesting, though. Unique. The protagonist is trolling the highways for good-looking men, who are built well. The reason? Well, slightly gruesome.

4. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. Dystopian, speculative fiction. Atwood is the master, er, mistress, at this, but this book definitely leaves you wanting more, which you get with the second book in the series, The Year of the Flood. This book is great, I love Jimmy, even though he’s something of an asshole. This dystopian world is a little different than most, because there is a new race similar to homo sapiens. Just read it, you will not regret it.

3. The Puppet Masters by Robert Heinlein. Heinlein is unarguably the greatest science fiction writer ever, and this book does not disappoint. The book is alternately funny and serious, and a great alien read. I definitely have more Heinlein on my list for 2016.

2. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. What a great alternative history to the end of World War II. In this novel, Dick gives us a view as to what happens if Germany and Japan had won World War II. Very scary, and a good example of how the megalomaniacs of the Third Reich were not to be trusted. Read this, then watch the series on Amazon.

1. The Martian by Andy Weir. I had checked out this book in 2014, but never read it, then a friend recommended it. Unfortunately, I had to wait until my first semester of grad school was over before I could actually read it. It was great! Definitely a number 1. The science was not so deep that I could not understand, the monologues were handled well, and the humor/sarcasm from a man stranded on Mars is well-done. For science fiction, this was a very quick read.

Top Five Poetry of 2015

Well, I read enough poetry that I could throw that out on a list, which is new. So, here goes.

5. Oranges and Snow by Milan Djordjevic. I love translated poetry, for some odd reason. This one is fun and easy to read, nothing too deep.

4. Mornings Like This: Found Poems by Annie Dillard. This was fun. Dillard is an excellent writer, and has taken other texts and converted to her own poetry.

3. Angina Days by Gunter Eich. Another work of translated poetry, it was very interesting.

2. Impromptus by Gottfriend Bien. This was great. Bien was a Nazi when the party hit the scene, but soon realized that it was not what he was expecting, or that he could be involved with it, so he withdrew from the Nazi Party, and just sucked up the consequences. The poetry is spectacular, and I love how some of it is about autopsies he had done previously.

1. When Angels Speak of Love by bell hooks. Loved her poetry. hooks is the queen of feminist rhetoric, but also has a handle on poetry. Definitely a must read.

Short Stories

5. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. This was a very unique collection of intertwined stories. I had to think a little hard about how some of them were connected, but it was pretty interesting, especially went I got to the one that was done in PowerPoint format.

4. Kill Marguerite by Megan Milk. This was a great collection of stories, that were extraordinarily unique. The first one was essentially a video game committed to paper, and she also included an updated version of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. She also created a “choose your path” Sweet Valley High story.

3. Good Bones and Simple Murders by Margaret Atwood. I love Atwood, and Atwood in short story form is most excellent. Atwood creates twists in many well-known stories, such as Dracula, Hamlet, the Little Red Hen, and fairy tales. Great collection.

2. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. Nice collection of stories from Lahiri, who gives a good look at Indian culture.

1. Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman. This is a great collection of short stories by Gaiman, who we all know I love. A lot. Gaiman includes a story from the American Gods universe, a Doctor Who short story, and a Sherlock Holmes short. Definitely worth the read.

YA Fiction

I did not read as much YA fiction as I normally do, but wanted to create a list, anyway.

10. As Simple as Snow by Gregory Galloway. The book was engrossing. A young girl goes missing, seemingly under her boyfriend’s nose. Great book, intriguing read.

9. Frost by Marianna Baer. For some reason, young adult novels set in prep schools has become a thing for me. I think because I so enjoyed The Secret History last year, I am seeking to recreate that love. This was more of a paranormal novel. It was nothing earth-shattering, it was interesting enough for me to read to the end, and I genuinely liked the Leena Thomas.

8. Unbreakable by Elizabeth Norris. This was the second in the Unraveling series. I was a little bit disappointed in this one, compared to the first, but anytime you have time and parallel universe travel, I am there.

7. New Girl by Paige Harbison. Okay, color me excited and meh all at once. I just grabbed this one on Scribd, because I was looking for something fun and quick to read, as I finished up the semester. It did not strike me until I was well into it that it was a modern, young-adult retelling of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. These types of books have also fallen into my wheelhouse as of late, because they are really quick reads to undertake while I am in school.

6. Endlessly by Kiersten White. This was the last in the Paranormalcy series – very quick read, great compilation of different legends about supernatural creatures. Consider this a Sookie Stackhouse lite.

5. Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer. Say the name aloud. Belzhar = Bell Jar. This is something of a paranormal prep school story, but there were a lot of literary references in it. I enjoyed Meg Wolitzer’s adult novel The Interestings, so gave this one a try. I did enjoy the literary references, and it was an interesting story.

4. Famous Last Words by Katie Alender. I love this author so much. Yes, the books are mindless, but the stories are always interesting, and have a great touch of the supernatural. This one is set in Hollywood, where a killer is recreating murder scenes from movies.

3. The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender. Told you I love this author. This one hits on another theme in my wheelhouse: asylums. I love books set in asylums, whether they are ghost stories or actual stories set in old asylums (for some reason I always think of Charlotte Perkins Gilman). This book was fun and a little scary, and for Alender, it was pretty sad.

2. Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige. This is another retelling, definitely unique and more modern than Baum’s Oz series. Amy is the “other girl from Kansas,” who was transported to Oz in much the same way Dorothy was. Dorothy is no longer the sweet-faced girl the world knew, and Amy is charged with taking Dorothy down.

1. The Retribution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin. I waited so long for this final book in the trilogy to arrive. Mara has special powers, and she’s been manipulated because of these. The truth finally arrives in this book, and it is far different than what I expected.

Non-Fiction

Of course, I read a lot of non-fiction for school, but over the last few years, I have discovered I really like non-fiction. I am all over the place with the non-fiction I read, not necessarily just history.

10. I Am America, and So Can You! by Stephen Colbert. This was hilarious! Very satirical – one of many reasons people struggle to figure who Colbert is (in the American sense of “who”: is he Far Right Conservative, or a Liberal who is poking fun at the Conservatives??) My youngest listened to most of this with me, and for a teenager, she really “got” it.

9. None of Us Will Return by Charlotte Delbo. This is one of the few Holocaust books I have on the list. Why so few? Because I recognize that my chosen field of study is grim, so I will only recommend certain books to my friends. This one was written by Delbo, who was a member of the French Resistance, and was one of 230 women who was sent to Auschwitz. Delbo was one of only 49 who returned from Auschwitz. The book alternates between prose and poetry, and is a stark look at what life in the camps was like. Most memoirs/diaries of victims of the camps were written from the Jewish survivors’ perspective, so this memoir is unique in that aspect.

8. Hitler’s Last Days: The Death of the Nazi Regime and the World’s Most Notorious Dictator by Bill O’Reilly. It’s O’Reilly. Hard-hitting, quick-paced, and succinct, this book gives a quick look at Hitler’s last days. It was a very, very fast read.

7. Gnarr! How I Became the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland and Changed the World by Jon Gnarr. This was such an interesting book, about Jon Gnarr, who created his own political party in Reykjavik. Gnarr is a comedian, but he and his new party turned the economy around in Iceland.

6. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I hated to rank this one so low on the list, because it was so good and heartbreaking. The story was so terrifying, and sickening for the way the Japanese treated their prisoners of war, during World War II.

5. The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore. This was a great look at the creator of Wonder Woman, and the (questionable?) feminist background behind Wonder Woman. I say questionable, because in the early days of feminism, dressing a woman in the way WW was dressed, not to mention, always showing her in chains, was a pretty anti-feminist. But, the creator of the comic strip was a narcissistic psychologist, who had a wife and live-in mistress. So very interesting.

4. Maus: A Survivors Tale, Parts 1 and 2 by Art Spiegelman. This is a graphic novel, written by the son of a survivor of the Holocaust. The novel discusses not only Spiegelman’s parents’ experiences during the Holocaust, but also his relationship with his father.

3. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit. I loved the description of “mansplaining” and realized that this happens all the time! This was a collection of essays, mostly about feminism, but not in an angry, “hate men” way.

2. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. This collection of essays is a description of how the author is a bad feminist, because she likes rap music. Not all of the essays are about feminism, she discusses movies, and other current events as well. Her writing is sardonic and angry, and very enjoyable.

1. 10% Happier – How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing my Edge, and Found Self-Help that Actually Works – A True Story by Dan Harris. Quite possibly the only book on this list where the title is longer than the URL. I loved this book – so much so, that I listened to it twice within two months. The audiobook is narrated by the author, which allows the humorous moments to shine through. Harris had a major freakout on national TV, which led to him trying meditation. He brought a lot of background to mindfulness, and provided a lot of resources. Definite number one for the year.

Fiction

10. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud. This is one of those books that has a narrator you absolutely hate. I hated Nora Eldridge, but she was compelling. I had been hearing that I should read this, so was glad I finally did.

9. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. This book moves back and forth in time, between Nao and Ruth. Nao is a teenager in Japan who is going to commit suicide, but wants to document her great-grandmother’s life first. Ruth is a novelist who is living on an island, and finds Nao’s journal, washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox.

8. Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon. This book was hilarious – it reminded me in a lot of ways of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (the movie, not the book, which I have not read all the way through). The book involves a dog, a questionable woman, a professor, his editor friend, an ex-wife, ex-in-laws, and lots of hijinks.

7. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Oscar Wao is the protagonist of this novel. Oscar is a ghetto nerd, and this tale traces his life as he attends school and tries to get rid of the curse that has plagued his family for years.

6. The Round House by Louise Erdrich. This National Book Award winner was poignant and entertaining. It was the story of a young Native American who lives on a reservation, and whose mother is brutally attacked. A good look into life on a reservation, and how different jurisdictions come into play.

5. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. I loved this book about a Chinese American family, who suffers a great loss. When the book opens, we find out that Lydia is already dead, although her family is not aware of this yet. Lydia is their favorite daughter, and the story is told through flashbacks of the family.

4. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. Love the way this story is told, in flashbacks and police interviews (several months after I read this, I watched the first season of True Detective, and it was done in a similar style).

3. The Girl on the Train . by Paula Hawkins. This has been compared to Gone Girl, but I think I liked this one better. This was told from a multi-POV, which I love anyway. Rachel rides the train every day, and thinks she witnesses a crime. The problem is, Rachel has a drinking problem, and so when she reports what she thinks she saw, no one believes her.

2. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. I read several books by ToMo this year, due to the seminar I took. However, of all the books I read, this one was my favorite of hers for the year. The book follows Milkman from childhood to adulthood, but also describes the childhood of his parents and his aunt.

1. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. This book was so good. I loved the unique way it was told, and the great characters it involved, in particular the nine-year-old Oskar, who makes it his mission to find the lock that a key fits. He believes the key will unveil some secret about his father, who was killed during 9/11. Great book.

There you go folks!

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Books

Books for the Broken-Hearted

Hey, we’ve all been there. Whether it was a newer love, an old love, or just a general heartbreak that comes from a cruel, cruel world, we’ve all had our hearts broken. During times of immense heartbreak, it is often difficult to decide what to read. Make the wrong choice, and you are crying all over again, because you stumbled upon someone’s pain that is too close to your own. I thought I’d put together this little guide of books that I have enjoyed and often turn to again and again, when I am going through my own difficult times.

1) 10% Happier – How I Tamed the Voice in My Head , Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story by Dan Harris. Not your typical “break-up” book, but I read this twice within two months recently, and it gave me something of a fresher outlook. Part of the problem when we are heartbroken is we cannot quiet the voices in our heads, the ones that tell us “if you had done this differently,” or “this is your fault.” Dan Harris, ABC News Anchor, has an enchanting and quite humorous way of sharing his self-help journey. The book does not go deep into the specifics of meditation and mindfulness, but it is an excellent jumping off point and makes you realize that for the most part, everyone has similar problems. The book is very down-to-earth and so darned enjoyable.

2) None of Us Will Return by Charlotte Delbo. Again, not what you would typically consider for a book to read when recovering from a broken heart, this book will make you step back and consider your own pain in a whole new light. I read this recently, and all of my problems just no longer seemed that impossible. Written by one of 230 women rounded up by the Gestapo in France and shipped to Auschwitz, she was one of the only 49 who survived the experience. Delbo’s prose and poetry are stark and sad, and very haunting. She was a beautiful author.

3) Yes, Please by Amy Poehler. It’s Amy Poehler. It was real and funny, and funnily real. It was actually not quite as funny as I would have thought, but I connected with this book, because many of the things she wrote about, I could definitely relate to. It will make you laugh, but you will end the book feeling like you and Amy are great friends.

4) Eat and Run by Scott Jurek. The man is a machine, but more than that, he’s so inspirational. From his mother’s illness to his own heartbreaking DNF’s while running, he bounced back and is such a great role model for us all, to follow your dreams, take care of your body, and eat right. I so enjoyed this book, I became an ultramarathon groupie (almost).

5) Dare Me by Megan Abbott. There is a slight possibility that if you are broken-hearted, you might be angry. This book will allow you to revel in that anger, but then will bring you back from the precipice, when you see what anger, jealousy, and stupidity can lead you to. Especially good if you are a teenager.

6) One for the Money by Janet Evanovich. Many was the night, over the years, when I was feeling blue or alone, that I would read a Stephanie Plum novel and laugh myself right out of my doldrums. Go back to the beginning, meet these unforgettable characters all over again. Stephanie and Lulu, and Stephanie’s grandmother, will have you laughing hard enough to shake the bed (I should know!) I dare you to not laugh while reading any from this series.

7) Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Ahh, the eternal struggle for good and evil, plus the fate of the world in the hands of an angel and a demon, both with questionable morals. This book will have you laughing until you pee yourself, and leave you wanting more of the humor and story.

8) Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. If you’re a female, and a guy just broke your heart, read this. There are places you will be so damned angry, you can’t stand it, other places where you will laugh at the author’s antics, but mostly, you will just enjoy the writing, and the sometimes randomness of it all.

9) Timmy Failure – Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis. Okay, yes it’s supposedly a kid’s book, but for those of you who are fans of Pearls Before Swine, you will recognize Pastis’ humor. You’ll see Rat, Zeeba, and Pig in many of the characters. This is a quick read, and will have you laughing all the way through it.

10) Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon. If you ever saw and loved the movie, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, then you should take this novel for a spin. Much of the book also involves a car, a dog, a woman of questionable gender, lots of weed, a little alcohol, and some big laughs. There’s also some heartfelt moments in here, but Chabon handles them artfully, and they are not overly sappy moments.

Just a few recommendations to help shake you out of your blues, dry your tears, and get you back on the path to laughter.

Of course, if you are just a sadist, and WANT to wallow, then might I recommend:

Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Let’s just rip our guts out through our nose, shall we?

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Two boxes of Kleenex.

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. Just use a spoon to scoop out my heart, Ms. Picoult.

Slavery by Another Name by Douglas Blackmon. This one will piss you off AND make you cry.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. The feels. Oh. The feels.

11/22/63 by Stephen King. An emotional romp by the master.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. The pain in this work will make you weep like a little girl with a skinned knee who just watched her dog being run over.

What are your “go-to” books when you are sad or broken-hearted? Leave me a comment below. If you enjoy this post and think someone else might, please feel free to tweet my link or share it to Facebook. Thanks!

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Books

Summer Reading, Part 1

I have not taken the time to blog or even briefly review any of the books I have read this summer. Folks have been lucky if I have even mentioned, “hey, that’s a great book,” or “meh, don’t read it.” So, here goes, in one mass blog, for my reading thus far. I hope to get some more in before school starts in a few weeks, and will make it a point to come back and do a “part 2”. (Most of the books are hyperlinked to Amazon for a more detailed synopsis).

I started off the summer o’reading with some poetry – partially because it was on the Book Riot “Read Harder” challenge, and partially because it was by a German poet/doctor who was initially a Nazi and then changed his mind. Impromptus by Gottfriend Benn. It was not just poetry, there were some prose and essays included as well. I would like another volume of his work, predominantly from when he was writing about his experiences as a doctor; the few included in the volume above were dark.

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman was next. There’s just something about reading Gaiman that is soothing, not the least of which is I literally hear his voice in my head, since I’ve listened to him read so many of his own stories. Definitely a recommend for fans of his or Stephen King’s – I love how Gaiman twists the fairy tales.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich, National Book Award Winner 2012. I love her writing style and the story, about the year things went wonky for a teenaged boy living on a reservation, was superb. The ending, I did not predict.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. Much like Gaiman, I adore everything Atwood writes. Luckily, I am new to the Atwood party, and still have many of her works ahead of me. I cannot wait to jump into the sequel of this one, but oddly, I have been waiting, but for what, I am not sure.

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige. I love The Wizard of Oz and I love re-tellings of the Wizard of Oz (as long as they are not live action, scary humans dressed as weird animals versions!) This one was good, it was not quite what I expected, but tornado? Check. Cute little pet? Check. Heroine who drops the F-bomb? Oh wait, but that’s a check.

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight. This is the summer of the audiobook for me, thanks to Scribd. I loved this story about a teenage girl who dies from an apparent suicide, and her distraught, single mother who does not believe it. Told from alternating viewpoints of the mother, the daughter (while alive) and Facebook posts, this was intriguing from start to finish.

The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman. Lippman writes cozy mysteries, of which this is one. I do enjoy a good cozy mystery, but prefer mine to be British, along the lines of Agatha Raisin. Still, this was a good story, about a detective stuck on bed-rest a la Hitchcock, Rear Window. Good characters, this was a quick read.

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud. You won’t like this narrator: she’s vapid, egotistical, and bitchy. She does have a few endearing moments, but not many; however, for all that, I did enjoy this book. Nora is a spinster teacher, who insinuates herself into the lives of one of the parents. Really good, a few times, I wanted to hit Nora for being shallow AND stupid, but that’s the sign of a good book for me.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. It was extremely sad, but I did not find myself depressed after reading it. It was somewhat juvenile, not what I was expecting at all. I felt terribly sorry for Esther/Sylvia, and when she throws her clothes off the top of the highrise, I nearly lost it.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. It’s a work book, what can I say? Newly promoted, I felt I needed to brush up on my management skills. Very compelling read, I read it in a few short hours. Have I put it to use? No. Have I even retained it? Not really. But it looks good on my bookshelf at work.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer winner in 2011. (Yes, I am still on my neverending quest to read award winners). This was so different, and completely revolved around the world of music. Each chapter was told from someone else’s perspective, although most of the characters were intertwined somehow. There’s even a chapter done in PowerPoint (or some other presentation software). I started losing interest though, because having a different POV each chapter made it difficult to stay caught up.

As Simple as Snow by Gregory Galloway. I did not realize until I was about halfway through that this was a young adult book (the pain of reading from Scribd), but it was a good YA book. The book is told from an unnamed narrator’s point of view, and talks about his relationship with Anna, who blew into his life and swept him away (pardon for the awful cliche). Anna goes missing one night, leaving behind only a dress on the ice. I was sad to see this one end.

We Are on Our Own by Miriam Katin. Graphic memoir, tells the story of Miriam and her mother as they escape the Nazis. It is heartbreaking.

The Circle by Dave Eggers. This one was frightening, not in an Amityville Horror way, but in a “this could totally happen, and might soon” type of way. The Circle is a company that sounds remarkably like Google. Scary what our new electronic lives can lead to.

This is the Water by Yannick Murphy. This was a very haunting story, but told from a very odd perspective, 2nd person. It was disconcerting, to say the least. There were also many characters, so it almost made it hard to keep up.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. This was so freaking hilarious! Complete with somewhat juvenile drawings, I laughed through much of the book, but there were also some serious chapters on depression.

Dark Rooms by Lili Anolik. Okay, I have to confess, since reading The Girl on the Train earlier this year, I have really jonesed for more multi-POV, unreliable narrators, with a plot that is so twisty, it’s like driving up a switchback in Colorado. This one did not really fit the bill, but it was twisty, and there were some characters that you just loved to hate in the book.

The Hidden Girl by Louise Millar. This was a gem I found on Scribd; British mystery, fast-paced, edge of your seat, “WTH?” type plot! I have some more of hers loaded up on my e-reader now, but…I am trying to be good and read mostly thesis works.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner. I love Diaz’s voice. I didn’t enjoy this as much as his most recent collection of short stories, This is How You Lose Her, but this was interesting, historical, and gutwrenching.

Hitler’s Last Days by Bill O’Reilly. This was a typical O’Reilly book, very interesting, not a whole lot of new information, but told quickly and concisely. The sense I got about this book was that it was “leftover” material from his Killing Patton book (which I have not read yet).

None of Us Will Return by Charlotte Delbo. Delbo was a French résistante who was arrested by the Gestapo, and, along with 229 other women, transported to Auschwitz. Delbo reveals briefly and artistically the horrors of the death camp – her prose is superb, writing in a what seems to be disbelief. She also includes some poems. (Three books down for my thesis!) For additional reading on women of the French Resistance, check out this article.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. I’ve been seeing this and seeing this, it has popped up in all my “you might like” lists across the internet. I’d been wanting to read it, but finally downloaded the audio and listened to it. I was loving the Australian narrator, and it made me really want to read some more works by Nevil Shute (On the Beach). Moriarty is an excellent writer herself, though. I really saw some of the actions, but even feeling like I “knew” what was going to happen, I still stared in disbelief as the events actually unfolded. This is also a multi-character story arc, and I love those.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. I couldn’t help myself, plus the narrator was the same as the last one I listened to! Again, Moriarty just has a superb talent for nuance, and I completely saw the “twist,” but even as I did, my mouth fell open and I was shocked and saddened. Such a great author.

Get Even by Gretchen McNeil. Okay, YA guilty pleasure, something of a cross between Pretty Little Liars (TV) and the new series, Scream, on MTV. I enjoyed it and have blown through it in the last few days. I was not aware it was the first in a duo of books, so was pretty excited when I saw the second one earlier. A group “DGM” is active in a private school, trying to right the wrongs of bullying. The characters are mostly interesting (one or two vapid ones) and the story has some intriguing twists.

And, that’s it for part 1. Not bad with the summer I’ve had…Now, sadly, I’m off to do some thesis reading. Gotta do it now, otherwise my Pavlovian response kicks in, and I start drifting off.

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Book Review – March

Read “March” by Geraldine Brooks at long last. It was the Pulitzer winner for fiction in 2006, and it tells the story of “Mr. March” – the mostly absent father from “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott. I have had this on my TBR for a long time, because a) I have been trying to read Pulitzer winners slowly, and b) I loved the book “Year of Wonders” by Geraldine Brooks.

This book…not so much.

First, I’m not really a huge fan of messing with my childhood favorites. It’s okay in some cases – “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” rocked, and I really loved “Rhett Butler’s People”, but have not been able to get into any of the “Rebecca” followups, “Scarlett,” or any of the other P&P “sequels”. And let me say, I probably have NEVER expressed this before, but “Little Women” was my go-to book for at least a decade. I remember when I checked it out from the library for the first time – and I was very young. I remember when I saved enough to buy this beautiful gold-edged edition from Waldenbooks. I remember reading this book, much as Jo would approve, by sitting in a tree that lightning had struck. Little Women was the FIRST book that caused me to be interested in history – I had to know more about Louisa May Alcott, and it just snowballed from there. (I moved from her to the Bronte sisters – not odd, because Louisa May read a biography about Charlotte Bronte, who she then compared to herself. But then, oddly enough, on to JFK, natural progression, right?) I actually USED Little Women in my grad school letter of intent/personal essay. Sooo…the real wonder here is that I would read anything that might defile my precious March girls. (Also, no version of the movie has ever been able to do justice to the motion picture in my own mind).

Second, Mr. March and Marmee were just perfect in Little Women. Now, of course Mr. March was based on Bronson Alcott, and he might have been crazier than a shit-house rat, or quite possibly one of the most brilliant minds in our country – I will be examining more of his own personal works in the near future (not surprisingly, this book DID give me another possible thesis thought, I have to look into). But…I did not like either of the March parents in Brooks’ work, “March”. Mr. March really reminded me of an even more mealy-mouthed version of Ashley Wilkes, and if I have not waxed poetic on that before, well, I will spare you all – just suffice it to say, I cannot stand Ashley Wilkes. What a wuss. Marmee’s part in this book was brief, to be sure, but she did not act at all like I imagined her to act. Fail.

Third, the timing was off. Of course, Brooks ‘splains that away in the “Afterword” (which I read before I was halfway through with the book and was my favorite part).

But, on the other side of things, it was a bold maneuver. She got the tone right, and it was refreshing to be reminded of all the wonderful literary influences in Louisa May Alcott’s wonderful life – Thoreau, Emerson, and Hawthorne. John Brown even makes an appearance or two. Brooks did a good – albeit toned down – view of slavery; of course, this is not fair after all the texts I read last semester that were definitely not toned down.

3 1/2, maybe 4 stars. The writing was great. Hey, Laurie and Mr. Brooks were in there, briefly. It was nice to have a bit of backstory, could have had more Aunt March (whom I really liked). There was a scene that was basically straight out of LW that I thoroughly enjoyed – teared up and everything, because it did bring back the days of reading it over and over (when I ran out of my books from the library and had, I don’t know, a night before we could go back, yep this is what I read). Thing is, I WAS Jo, at least in my own feeble mind. I digress again.

I did not love this book. It did not leave me with warm fuzzies when I closed the final page, but I did *like* this book. The language was well done, the writing beautiful, I am just glad I did not think of the Ashley Wilkes connection until I was almost done. LOL Now, I have to go find another beautiful gold-edged copy of Little Women.

 
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