Category Archives: Nonfiction

The Haunting of the Gemini

Finished The Haunting of the Gemini: A True Story of New York’s Zodiac Murders by Jackie Barrett.

Summary (from Goodreads):

” On a sweltering summer day in 1992, the body of Patricia Fonti was found in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Highland Park.

She had been stabbed more than 100 times.

The Zodiac Killer had struck again.

Renowned psychic medium Jackie Barrett is no stranger to visits from the dead. But when the spirit of Patricia Fonti comes to her twenty years after her death, Jackie finds herself caught in an unexpected battle for the restless, schizophrenic soul of a murder victim. Here is Jackie’s first-person account of her connection with Patricia Fonti and her murderer, New York Zodiac Killer Heriberto �Eddie” Seda, whose early 1990s killing spree paralyzed the city with fear.

In exclusive letters, drawings and recorded telephone conversations from prison, Eddie divulges things to Jackie that have never been made public, including how he killed and why. Her astounding interviews with the man who calls himself �The Soul Collector” give rare insight into the recesses of a very dark mind. And while Jackie struggles to help Patricia Fonti find peace, Eddie insists he and Jackie are two halves of a whole, that together they make up the astrological sign of the twins—the Gemini….”

This is easily one of the most unsettling books I’ve ever read, and I’ve been watching horror movies since I was nine and reading scary stories for about that long.

I first heard about Jackie Barrett a few years ago when a documentary on her relationship (for lack of a better word) with Ronnie DeFeo was on TV.  Last year, she released a book on it.

Jackie Barrett is psychic and deals with the darker side of life.  She speaks with murderers and their victims, and is privy to things that most of us are not.  Most of us are able to debate whether or not there are angels and demons, and most of us can’t answer that question definitively because we’ve never seen or experienced one.  Jackie Barrett doesn’t debate; she knows.

I said all that to say this: in this book, she communications with the Zodiac (New York one, not west coast one) and one of his victims, and almost loses herself in the process.

There are parts of this book—probably something like 85%, actually, so a little more than “parts,” right?—that sent actual chills down my spine.

This book is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re curious about the paranormal, you need to check out her books.  Highly recommended.

I Don’t Know What You Know Me From

Finished I Don’t Know What You Know Me From by Judy Greer.  I received a copy from the publisherIn case you legitimately don’t know what you know her from, click here.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Like Tina Fey, Chelsea Handler, and other (bestselling) co-stars, Judy Greer is taking pen to paper and in her honest, self-deprecating, and hilariously relatable way reminding us why she’s not America’s sweetheart but America’s best friend.

You know Judy Greer, right? Wait, what was she in again? The Wedding Planner, 13 Going on 30, 27 Dresses, The Descendants. Yes, you totally recognize her. And, odds are, if you’re like most women in America, you feel like she’s already your friend. Thankfully, Greer has finally written a book of essays about all the moments, topics, observations, and confessions that you would hope to hear from your best friend. How a midnight shopping trip to CVS can cure all? What it’s like to have stepchildren? And how she really feels about her mother? Yes, it’s all in there. But Judy Greer isn’t just a regular friend-she’s a celebrity friend. Want to know which celebs she’s peed next to? Or what the Oscars were actually like? Or which hot actor gave her father a Harley Davidson? Don’t worry—that’s included, too. Besides being laugh-out-loud funny, you’ll love her because she makes us genuinely feel like she’s one of us. Because even though she sometimes has a stylist and a make-up artist, she still wears (and hates!) Spanx. Because she starts her book like this: “This is who I am. This is what I think about things. This is stuff that happened to me, that could have just as easily have happened to you. I’m not that special, and we’re probably not that different. I think I am really lucky to be where I am in life, but I’ve never really lost that feeling that I don’t fit in, and if you have, will you please email me and tell me how you did it? I’m serious.“

If you watch movies or have a TV, you know who Judy Greer is (whether or not you know it).  TV-wise, she’s been on Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory and House, MD to name just a few.  In terms of movies, she’s been in 13 Going On 30, The Descendants and the remake of Carrie (again, this is a small sampling).

What you may not know is that she’s also a really funny person.  I laughed out loud reading this book so many times.  It’s sort of like a human version  of that US magazine feature about how stars are just like us.  Except Judy Greer really IS just like us.  (It’s not like how Jennifer Aniston is just like us except crazy rich and can get pretty much whatever she wants.)

There are three parts to this book: her childhood and college years, Hollywood and what I will call her real life.  I love movies so I liked the Hollywood part best, but the entire book was funny and smart and endearing.

I would’ve liked a few more set stories (especially from 13 Going on 30, which is one of my favorite movies) but that didn’t make me enjoy the book any less.

Highly recommended.

Making and Remaking Horror in the 1970s and 2000s: Why Don’t They Do It Like They Used To?

Finished Making and Remaking Horror in the 1970s and 2000s: Why Don T They Do It Like They Used To? by David Roche.  I received a copy from the publisher on Netgalley.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“In “Making and Remaking Horror in the 1970s and 2000s” author David Roche takes up the assumption shared by many fans and scholars that original horror movies are more “disturbing,” and thus better than the remakes. He assesses the qualities of movies, old and recast, according to criteria that include subtext, originality, and cohesion. With a methodology that combines a formalist and cultural studies approach, Roche sifts aspects of the American horror movie that have been widely addressed (class, the patriarchal family, gender, and the opposition between terror and horror) and those that have been somewhat neglected (race, the Gothic, style, and verisimilitude). Containing seventy-eight black and white illustrations, the book is grounded in a close comparative analysis of the politics and aesthetics of four of the most significant independent American horror movies of the 1970s–”The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Dawn of the Dead, ” and “Halloween”–and their twenty-first-century remakes.

To what extent can the politics of these films be described as “disturbing” insomuch as they promote subversive subtexts that undermine essentialist perspectives? Do the politics of the film lie on the surface or are they wedded to the film’s aesthetics? Early in the book, Roche explores historical contexts, aspects of identity (race, ethnicity, and class), and the structuring role played by the motif of the American nuclear family. He then asks to what extent these films disrupt genre expectations and attempt to provoke emotions of dread, terror, and horror through their representations of the monstrous and the formal strategies employed? In this inquiry, he examines definitions of the genre and its metafictional nature. Roche ends with a meditation on the extent to which the technical limitations of the horror films of the 1970s actually contribute to this “disturbing” quality. Moving far beyond the genre itself, “Making and Remaking Horror” studies the redux as a form of adaptation and enables a more complete discussion of the evolution of horror in contemporary American cinema.”

First a caveat: I was expecting a fun discussion of horror movies, and instead this read like a PhD thesis.  And this is published by a university press, so…clearly I’m an idiot. :)

But it’s always fun for me to read about horror movies and this gave me a lot to think about.

He chose to focus on originals from the 1970s and remakes from 2000s, which means that many film franchises aren’t qualified (Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street premiered in the 1980s).  He chose to focus on the originals and remakes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dawn of the Dead, Halloween and The Hills Have Eyes.  Of those, I’m most familiar with the remakes of TCM and DotD and the original of Halloween.

He discusses the movies in terms of economics, gender, race and class differences and puts them in context of their respective eras.

I’d never really considered a lot of what he pointed out (especially TCM in terms of economics) and it was interesting and fun to think about these horror movies on a deeper level.

I’m not recommending this book to many people, mainly because most of my friends aren’t huge on horror movies anyway, and especially would not be interested in majorly in-depth discussions of them.  But if this sounds interesting to you, absolutely read it.  I had a fantastic time. :)

Be Quiet and Listen

Finished Be Quiet and Listen by Sheldon Larmore.  I received a copy from the author.  Click here to learn more about Sheldon Larmore.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“What do you and your wife know about your son’s condition?’ Dr. Davis asked. ‘Very little, ‘ I said. ‘However, we’ve been told not to worry too much about it.’ Dr. Davis looked at me a second or two before commenting further. This was a definite clue to brace myself for what would follow. ‘Your son was born with Spina Bifida.’ There was a noticeable concern in his voice. ‘What is Spina Bifida?’ I asked. This is a real life story about a young man, David, born with Spina Bifida with multiple congenial birth defects. After David’s birth, his parents were strongly urged to place him in an institution since his future, according to medical history of these types of births prior to 1970, would be dim. His parents were warned he most likely would be severely retarded and non-functional. They were told by a prominent pediatrician to expect nothing and appreciate anything. Through infancy until the day of his death, David’s faith and love for God grew stronger each year. His drive and his belief in God’s healing grace brought him much comfort and a desire to help and serve others. This young man touched a whole community, a whole region. David’s father, Sheldon Larmore, never thought of writing a book. However, after his son’s death many people in the community encouraged him to put the story of David’s life in writing. It wasn’t until he received several gentle nudges from God to do so that he realized the need to complete this book. David’s life has served as an inspiration for his family and friends-it will do the same for you. You will find encouragement, strength, and renewed faith in Be Quiet and Listen.”

I didn’t know David Larmore or his parents (Sheldon and Sara Belle) but we have several people in common.  Several of my mom’s friends are friends with the Larmores and her cousin Holly was one of David’s close friends.  (She’s actually mentioned in the book, picture and everything!)  Between that, the fact that the book is set in my hometown (and partially in my current town) and the added bonus that David and I are both graduates of Parkside High School, I felt that I did know David.

And (if you will forgive the cliche) knowing David means loving David.

I think it would be incredibly easy for David to be hostile and bitter given the huge obstacles he had to overcome.  As the synopsis says, he was born with spina bifida, which led to a host of other physical challenges (he was paralyzed and had bladder and bowel issues and spent a lot of time in hospitals).  This could work to make the best person or the worst person, you know?  But in David’s case, it made the best person.

His parents were Christian but David had a different relationship with God.  It sounds completely hokey but I believe David was put here to serve as an example to people.  Like I said, I didn’t know him, but it’s clear that he made a huge difference in the lives of people who met him—the kind of difference that most of us can only hope to make.

And at its core, this is a love story.  The devotion that Sheldon and Sara Belle had for David (and the devotion he felt for them in return) is awe-inspiring and humbling.

The Larmores have established a fund in David’s honor that will help people in similar situations pay for medical equipment.

Should you be so moved, click here to donate to the David Larmore Memorial Fund (specify that’s what it’s for under “Other”).  Click here to learn more about it.

Books to Watch For in 2014: A Guest Post by Darby Karchut

Throughout December, I will be highlighting 2014 releases that I’m incredibly excited for.  I got the idea for this from my friend Kathy, who is doing something similar.  Make sure to check out her blog to see what books she’s excited for next year!

One of my favorite authors, Darby Karchut, was nice enough to share what she’s excited for next year…

When Kelly offered me a chance to talk about some of my favorite books for the coming year, I immediately thought of two I have already pre-ordered, and one that just came out, but I won’t get to read until after Christmas (as I am getting it for a Christmas gift from my husband.

The three books I’m most eagerly awaiting are:

Sunrise by Mike Mullin (April 2104). This is the third book in his award-winning dystopian series. I devoured the first two and fell in love with all the characters, especially Darla, who is a walking Swiss Army knife. She can fix anything!

City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments #6), because, hey, it’s the Mortal Instruments. (No, I haven’t seen the movie. No, I don’t have to tell you why.) Cassandra Clare has written a cast of characters that simply will not stop talking to me long after I close the books. And it’s about angels. ‘Nuff said.

Okay, here’s the one that I am sneaking in, even though it was published in October of this year: Heretics and Heroes: Ego in the Renaissance and the Reformation by Thomas Cahill. This is the sixth book in his Hinges of History series. The first book in the series was How the Irish Saved Civilization. Loved that book so much; it introduced me to the Tuatha De Danaan.

So, here’s to another remarkable year of remarkable books. I only wish I could read faster.

Thanks, Darby! They all sound amazing!

So what are you most excited for?

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories #3

Finished The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories #3 by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“From Golden Globe Award–nominee Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his online creative coalition hitRECord, and in collaboration with the artist Wirrow, comes Volume 3 in the Tiny Book of Tiny Stories series.

To create The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, known within the hitRECord.org community as RegularJOE, directs thousands of collaborators to tell tiny stories through words and art. With the help of the entire creative collective, he culls, edits, and curates the massive numbers of contributions into a finely tuned collection.

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Volume 3 once again brings together art and voices from around the world to unite and tell stories that defy size.”

This is one of my absolute favorite series and the fact that it comes out this time of year makes it almost like a Christmas present to myself (or, just as accurately, Harper Collins’ and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Christmas present to me—so thank you!).

I absolutely love these little glimpses into people’s lives and personalities.  It’s like PostSecret (and yes, I know I make that comparison every single time I review one of these).

The little illustrations are absolutely beautiful.  Sometimes sweet and funny, sometimes sad but always lovely.

My favorite ones:

“You promised you’d never let go…”

“There were memories in that melody.”

“Blessed are they that crumble; from them new worlds are made.”

“Everything has a beginning, even the end.”

These books are just really good for my soul.  It seems like in every volume, I find a few that give me things to think about and several more (see the ones posted above) that just really resonate.

Like its predecessors, this book is perfect.  Highly recommended.

Hollywood in Kodachrome

Finished Hollywood in Kodachrome by David Wills.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Amazon):

Hollywood in Kodachrome is a stunning portfolio of the stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, captured in rich, deeply saturated color photographs reproduced from original Kodachrome negatives and curated by collector David Wills and designer Stephen Schmidt, the creative team behind Marilyn Monroe: Metamorphosis and Audrey: The 60s.

From Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner, and Rita Hayworth to Fred Astaire, Humphrey Bogart, and Gregory Peck—and many more—the silver screen’s elite are all here, in the full blush of youth, captured as if they were taken yesterday. But the true star is the medium itself: late-1940s sheet Kodachrome, a film stock that remains legendary for its rich tonal range, precise color, and detail.

Including a foreword by Golden Age star Rhonda Fleming, and featuring more than 200 photos from classic films and publicity shoots, Hollywood in Kodachrome is a magnificent tribute to Hollywood’s most beloved icons, captured at their glamorous best.”

This book is absolutely gorgeous.  If you’re a fan of movies (especially classics), Hollywood or even just things that are beautiful, you need to get this one.

It’s almost impossible to describe without using words like “vivid” and “stunning.”

Pretty much every major star in the 1940s is featured here.  There are several sections; my favorite was the “candid” section (in quotes because they aren’t really candid).  There was an excellent shot of Joan Crawford and her children, Christina and Christopher which was fun to see given my love of the movie Mommie Dearest.  But there were sections dealing with advertisements and, of course, film and production stills.

(Fun fact: in an early precursor to product placement, studios would send stars to do ads for various products—soap, for example, or cigarettes.  So yes, you can see major movie stars telling people which cigarettes to smoke.)

There isn’t very much text in this book, but there doesn’t have to be.  The pictures are the real stars, and they are absolutely divine.

Highly recommended.

Stitches

Finished Stitches by Anne Lamott.  I received a copy from the publisher through their First To Read program.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A wise and compassionate exploration of how we can make sense of life’s chaos.

What do we do when life lurches out of balance? How can we reconnect to one other and to what’s sustaining, when evil and catastrophe seem inescapable?

These questions lie at the heart of Stitches, Lamott’s profound follow-up to her New York Times�bestselling Help, Thanks, Wow. In this book Lamott explores how we find meaning and peace in these loud and frantic times; where we start again after personal and public devastation; how we recapture wholeness after loss; and how we locate our true identities in this frazzled age. We begin, Lamott says, by collecting the ripped shreds of our emotional and spiritual fabric and sewing them back together, one stitch at a time.

It’s in these stitches that the quilt of life begins, and embedded in them are strength, warmth, humor, and humanity.”

It’s not surprising that this is a brilliant book.  I haven’t read anywhere near all of her books yet (I think this is my second nonfiction of hers and I’ve read one of her novels) but I’ve been incredibly impressed by everything I have read.

I do wish this book had been longer and that things had been explored a little more.  However, anything by Anne Lamott is something to be celebrated and this book is absolutely no exception.

The thing I loved most about this book is the fact that it doesn’t resort to platitudes.  Horrible things happen and they are hard to deal with and they make us sad and angry and no matter how many times you say, “It’s part of God’s plan,” that never gets easier to hear or will make the listener feel all that much better.

But eventually (sometimes almost immediately but generally it takes a while) good things come from the horribleness.  Or sometimes in spite of the horribleness.  Either way, good things do come.

Highly recommended.

Trafficked

Finished Trafficked by Sophie Hayes.  I received a copy from the publisher on Netgalley.

Summary (from Goodreads):

When Sophie Hayes met Bledi she knew he’d change her life – but she had no idea how much. At first, it was a typical whirlwind romance. But one day Bledi told her that love always comes at a price …

Bledi tricked Sophie into travelling to Italy, where he forced her to sell her body to help him pay off a debt. Terrified and ashamed, Sophie worked the dangerous Italian streets without rest, seeing as many as 30 clients in a night. She was completely at Bledi′s mercy for food, clothes and shelter. And without money, friends or family, she was trapped.

But Sophie found the strength to keep going, clinging to life by a single thread of hope: that somehow she′d find a way to escape.”

The pacing of this book is slow in the beginning.  Sophie isn’t forced into the sex trade until almost a quarter in the book.  Some may find this frustrating (a lot of exposition), but it worked for me.  It gave me time to like Sophie.  While obviously reading about anyone who is threatened into becoming a prostitute is appalling and sickening, it was even harder to read because by that point, I felt I knew Sophie.

What Sophie went through is absolutely horrific and it’s made worse by knowing that so many others, girls just like Sophie, are not as fortunate.

The fact that this book was released made me fairly confident that Sophie would escape, but I still was very tense as I read this book and my heart broke for Sophie (and the thousands of girls like her).

This is a hard book to read, but it’s so important.

There is an afterword of sorts that will help explain more about sex trafficking and what we can do to help combat it.  There are websites and phone numbers, as well.

Fakebook

Finished Fakebook by Dave Cicirelli.  I received a copy from the publisher on Netgalley.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“On October 5th, 2009, Dave posted a note on Facebook announcing that he was quitting his job, dropping everything, and walking west. But what no one knew (save a few collaborators) was that Dave was lying and that his westward travels were all an elaborate hoax.

And so Dave’s existence split in two–earning his followers’ trust with postings about everyday activities before escalating the story with tales of teepeeing an Amish horse and buggy and thus being forced to work off his debt on the farm. Meanwhile, the real Dave went into hiding, sequestering himself in his parents’ empty house and growing more and more lonely.

This humorous, thought-provoking memoir will spark discussions of our social media culture and its impact on our relationships and interactions.”

I go back and forth with how I feel about Dave’s social experiment.  Basically, he started to view Facebook almost as performance art and he began to have very real problems dealing with the fact that you only know what other people share.  So, he thought, what if he were to just start making things up?

He decides to make this a six month project and come clean—as naturally you would—on April Fool’s Day.

His story begins fairly plausibly  (“I quit my job”) but immediately takes a turn for the much harder to believe.

While I have some pretty big ethical concerns connected to lying to one’s friends, it was such an entertaining story.  (Side note: as part of the promotional tour for this book, Dave is doing fun with Photoshop! I was so tempted to get a picture of me and my two best friends, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler but quickly realized that way lies madness.  And also, when we really do become best friends, that will be so awkward to explain.)

This story came off as a new version of Catch Me If You Can.  Only Dave never (really) stole from anyone.  Fake Dave? Well, that’s a whole other story…

Recommended.