audiobooks · mini-review · stuff I read

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

35180979Summary from Goodreads:
For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark —the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is a completely absorbing and terrifying (especially in the first third or so) work of true crime reporting/memoir/Google sleuthing about the search for the Golden State Killer (who was not named that until McNamara gave it to him, which was a thing I did not know). The writing is compelling, kudos to McNamara’s research assistant and team who organized and completed the book after her death. They were very careful to note which parts of the book were finished by McNamara herself and which were finished by her team. Although, there’s a weird Epilogue addressed to the killer placed AFTER Patton Oswalt wrote a lovely Afterword to his wife and the timing is just NO. That Epilogue should have come before the Afterword.

I do have to warn you that you absolutely do NOT want to read or listen to this book at night.  Alone.  By yourself.  Unless you want to wind up getting absolutely no sleep and finding out that the cat managed to open the door to the garage in the middle of the night so you spend an hour checking in all the closets of the house to make sure no psychos are lying in wait for you.

Dear FTC: I listened to an audiobook recording that I borrowed from the library.

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audiobooks · Bronte For All · mini-review · stuff I read

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

Summary from Goodreads:

A reimagining of Jane Eyre as a gutsy, heroic serial killer, from the author whose work The New York Times described as “riveting” and The Wall Street Journal called “thrilling.”

“Young Jane Steele’s favorite book, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, mirrors her life both too little and too much…In an arresting tale of dark humor and sometimes gory imagination, Faye has produced a heroine worthy of the gothic literature canon but reminiscent of detective fiction.”
—Library Journal, Starred Review

“Reader, I murdered him.”

A sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim school where she fights for her very life until escaping to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her. After years of hiding from the law while penning macabre “last confessions” of the recently hanged, Jane thrills at discovering an advertisement. Her aunt has died and her childhood home has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess.

Burning to know whether she is in fact the rightful heir, Jane takes the position incognito, and learns that Highgate House is full of marvelously strange new residents—the fascinating but caustic Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars, and the gracious Sikh butler Mr. Sardar Singh, whose history with Mr. Thornfield appears far deeper and darker than they pretend. As Jane catches ominous glimpses of the pair’s violent history and falls in love with the gruffly tragic Mr. Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him—body, soul, and secrets—without revealing her own murderous past?

A satirical romance about identity, guilt, goodness, and the nature of lies, by a writer who Matthew Pearl calls “superstar-caliber” and whose previous works Gillian Flynn declared “spectacular,” Jane Steele is a brilliant and deeply absorbing book inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre.

The first time Jane Steele was pitched to me, I was told it was Jane Eyre as a serial killer.  So I passed.  However, after reading several other reviews it’s clear JE is the inspiration for the story.  The book Jane Eyre has just been published and it just so happens to be Jane Steele’s favorite book with strange parallels to her life.  She’s an orphan, raised by a dreadful aunt, sent to a wretched school, and eventually becomes a governess to a mysterious man with a charming young ward.

Here the similarities end.

Jane Steele is a frank, no-nonsense young woman who believes herself permanently beyond rehabilitation after she commits a series of murders.  All in the name of self-defense or in defense of another woman – she doesn’t murder in cold blood – but given Victorian sensibilities taking a life seems fairly unforgiveable.  She supports herself by writing “gallows confessions” and surrounds herself with the colorful people around the theatre district.  Jane is smart and resourceful and such a great character.

Faye goes further by providing Jane with an equally memorable cast of characters.  Charles Thornfield, who is mentally scarred by what he has seen in the Sikh Wars; Sardar Singh, who provides Jane with an understanding of Sikh culture and history and a great deal so wisdom; Sahjara, Thornfield’s ward who is an adorable, cheeky, and bright little girl; and Becky Clarke, the girl Jane rescues when escaping from their horrible school and who turns out to be hiding quite a surprise.  Faye’s descriptions of the wretched boarding school and 1840s London cause the settings to become characters in their own right.

I listened to this on audio on the way to/from BEA – an excellent production.

(Edit: There was a bit more here where I said this was a really good book to read but apparently I erased them?  Dunno.  But I thought this was really fun and a good way to re-tell a story but do your own thing.  Plus, it’s more diverse than most Victorian literature.)

audiobooks · stuff I read

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

Summary from Goodreads:
Spare and unsparing, God Help the Child—the first novel by Toni Morrison to be set in our current moment—weaves a tale about the way the sufferings of childhood can shape, and misshape, the life of the adult.

At the center: a young woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life, but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love. There is Booker, the man Bride loves, and loses to anger. Rain, the mysterious white child with whom she crosses paths. And finally, Bride’s mother herself, Sweetness, who takes a lifetime to come to understand that “what you do to children matters. And they might never forget.”

A fierce and provocative novel that adds a new dimension to the matchless oeuvre of Toni Morrison.

God bless and keep Toni Morrison. If I am half this articulate and creative at her age….wow.

Now, I had originally picked up at DRC of God Help the Child, and couldn’t get into it.  So I bought a hardcover when it came out – because why wouldn’t I buy Queen Toni in hardcover – and still couldn’t get into it.  This is not a big book, so I couldn’t figure out why this book wasn’t catching on for me.

So then I found God Help the Child on Overdrive, and it’s read by Toni Morrison.  *muppet arms*  Toni Morrison has such a wonderful reading voice, I wanted to marinate in her words (guys, the way she says words that start with “br”…convenient, since one of the main characters is named Bride).   But also, I figured out why I was having trouble getting into this book in print.

The characters are all expert at emotional distance.  Sweetness denies her child, Bride, love or human contact because she isn’t a light-skinned child like her parents.  Bride, desperate for this contact, does something terrible as a child and undergoes a terrible experience trying to right that wrong as an adult.  Booker, sensing that Bride is holding something back, pushes her away.  All this distance was pushing me away as a reader.  One of the things I love about Beloved was the emotionally gripping nature of the characters, Beloved’s anger, Sethe’s anguish – it’s right there from page one.  I was there for those characters almost immediately, but I was having trouble caring for the characters in God Help the Child.

Toni Morrison reading the book was a way in for me.  It took about half the book before I pegged what was going on and then began to care about why Bride was doing what she was doing.  Then the book got really, really good.  This is all beside the point that Toni Morrison can write a sentence.  That goes without saying.

So if you’re having a bit of trouble getting into God Help the Child, I recommend the audio book.  A great listen.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of the book from the publisher via Edelweiss, then bought a hardcover, then borrowed the audiobook from the library via Overdrive.

audiobooks · stuff I read

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell

Summary from Goodreads:
From the bestselling author of Assassination Vacation and Unfamiliar Fishes, a humorous account of the Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette—the one Frenchman we could all agree on—and an insightful portrait of a nation’s idealism and its reality.

On August 16, 1824, an elderly French gentlemen sailed into New York Harbor and giddy Americans were there to welcome him. Or, rather, to welcome him back. It had been thirty years since the Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette had last set foot in the United States, and he was so beloved that 80,000 people showed up to cheer for him. The entire population of New York at the time was 120,000.

Lafayette’s arrival in 1824 coincided with one of the most contentious presidential elections in American history, Congress had just fought its first epic battle over slavery, and the threat of a Civil War loomed. But Lafayette, belonging to neither North nor South, to no political party or faction, was a walking, talking reminder of the sacrifices and bravery of the revolutionary generation and what they wanted this country to be. His return was not just a reunion with his beloved Americans, it was a reunion for Americans with their own astonishing singular past.

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is a humorous and insightful portrait of the famed Frenchman, the impact he had on our young country, and his ongoing relationship with some of the instrumental Americans of the time, including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and many more.

Sarah Vowell has a new book!  Actually, it came out back in October but it took until December for me to get ahold of an audiobook – because that’s the way to put a Sarah Vowell book in your brain.  I love her voice and reading style and she gets a whole load of actor (and sometimes non-actor, cf Stephen King as Abraham Lincoln in the audiobook of Assassination Vacation) buddies to voice different historical and contemporary people.

A book about Lafayette publishing during the phenomenal run that is the musical Hamilton is like the best thing ever.  Impetuous French teenage aristocrat showing up to offer his services to the fetal United States (which aren’t the United States yet since the Revolutionary War wasn’t over and the Constitution just a twinkle in the Founders’ eyes) – I don’t think it’s was ever emphasized in my history classes that Lafayette was so young.  It is really interesting how hard it was to keep the Continental Army from starving to death and how hard it was for France to get promised men and money to America (and then the US stuck its head in the sand during the French Revolution).  A really interesting story.

However, I don’t think Sarah Vowell’s usual format of historical-event-contemporary-aside-historical-event worked as well here.  It works amazingly well in Assassination Vacation because it’s structured more around her travels.  Lafayette in the Somewhat United States has a much more linear structure based around Lafayette’s life so jumping in and out doesn’t work as well.  I was also a bit disappointed that so much of the book focused on the Revolutionary War (despite the title, that should have tipped me off) but very little on Lafayette’s 1824 American tour.  But still, a fun book to listen to, definite recommend if you have a road trip.

Dear FTC: I borrowed this book from the library via Overdrive.

audiobooks · stuff I read

Armada by Ernest Cline

Summary from Goodreads:

[Normally, I’d have the flap copy here but I think the description posted on Goodreads shows that whoever wrote it didn’t really read the book.  Because it’s factually incorrect and then gives away a good chunk of the book making it not as fun to read.  So not posted here.]

After the phenomenal success of Ready Player One, I, along with about a bazillion other people, have been eagerly awaiting Ernest Cline’s next book.  As in rabidly anticipating.  Great title – Armada.  Great cover design.

Weirdly, as happened with Ready Player One, I had trouble getting into the “voice” of Zack Lightman.  Maybe late-teenage male protagonists aren’t quite my thing.  And the plot of the book just wasn’t catching me – gifted gamer with parent issues (deceased father), not great at school, obsessed with eighties/nineties video games and trivia.  So I put the DRC aside and got on the list to borrow the audiobook from the library.  Wil Wheaton had returned as narrator and he had been my way into Wade Watts’s voice in Ready Player One.

Luckily, Wheaton’s narration worked again.  However the stars have aligned, Wheaton’s voice and Cline’s characters are a great fit.  I was able to listen to the book and understand the character better than I had reading it.  I liked Zack.  My only stumbling block now was the actual plot.  I’ve watched movies like The Last Starfighter and 2001 and The Black Hole (my dad and I watched a lot of sci-fi movies when I was a kid) and I’ve read Ender’s Game.  Even though Cline gives us a few twists, I felt like I’d come across portions of Armada in other forms.  It didn’t ruin Armada for me, which turned out to be a great audiobook, it just didn’t seem as fresh or original as RP1.  And I think this is why people seem to be bagging on Armada – it suffers greatly from second-book-anticipation-syndrome because it’s predecessor was so excellent and this one is just similar enough to pale in comparison.

My advice: if you’ve recently read Ready Player One, wait a bit before reading Armada.  If you’ve had some space or you’re new to Ernest Cline, give it a go.  Particularly on audiobook.  Wil Wheaton is a fantastic reader of Cline’s books.

Dear FTC: I originally started reading a DRC of this book I received from the publisher via Edelweiss but then switched to a digital audiobook borrowed from the public library.

audiobooks · stuff I read

Landline

Summary from Goodreads:
Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble;it has been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems beside the point now.

Maybe that was always beside the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

In one of those random happenstances, we got a review advance of the audiobook for Rainbow Rowell’s new novel, Landline, at the store.  I liked Eleanor & Park and looooooved Fangirl so I decided I would give this one a try.

So, actual novel first.  I don’t like this as much as either of the two YA novels (and we can debate until the cows come home whether we can also put them in “New Adult” which I think should be a much more inclusive category than what it’s currently used for), primarily for the reason that Georgie annoyed the crap out of me with her seeming inability to get her head out of the sand and actually realize how she’s managed to treat her very nice husband as part of the furniture.  And also allow her douche-y, controlling so-called best friend Seth to become the third member of her marriage.

I do not like Seth. At all.  From his first appearance in the book.  I’m pretty sure that was Rowell’s intention but ugggggghhhhhhhh he needs to have his ass kicked repeatedly.

But I did really love the magical-realism of the landline telephone and all the flashbacks Rowell employed to establish her relationship with Neal.  They were in college right around when I was in college so I enjoyed wallowing in all the early-to-mid 90s pop culture stuff.  So that was enjoyable.

There’s a surprise at the end of the book if you’ve read one of Rowell’s other books (not going to say which one).

As to the narrator….it was OK.  Her voice fit Georgie but I didn’t particularly care for her “Neal” or “Seth” voices.

Dear FTC: I listened to an advance listening copy provided to my store by Macmillan Audio.

audiobooks · mini-review · stuff I read

The Convenient Marriage (audiobook and book)

Summary from Goodreads:
Unconventional, warm and witty, this Georgian romance by Georgette Heyer unusually begins with a marriage rather than ending with one. When Horatia Winwood steps in to marry the Earl of Rule, the disappointed suitor of her elegant sister, it is the luxuries of high society life that she becomes entranced with rather than her husband. And yet, despite the countless misunderstandings, spats and blunders, somewhere along the line, this marriage of convenience turns into the real thing.

Who likes more Georgette Heyer?  Specifically Heyer that is read by Richard Armitage?  The Convenient Marriage is the last of the three Heyer romance novels Armitage narrated so I started it on the way back from Indianapolis.  Love.  Then I read the unabridged novel once I got home (thanks, nookbook).

The Convenient Marriage is a bit different from the other two in that it is set in the Georgian period, rather than the Regency but it sparkles all the same.  Perhaps even more. I just loved Horry, with all her scrapes and her stutter. She’s so bold and brash and a teenager. Such great character development on Heyer’s part to leave Horry’s stutter alone, that getting married, growing up, gaining self-confidence, etc., didn’t cure her stutter and Rule loved it as part of her.  Rule is also a fantastic Heyer hero – not a rake but a very confident, virile aristocrat who doesn’t have any hang-ups (contrast that with so many current historical heroes).  The development of the relationship between Horry and Rule was so good – how does one broach the possibility that one has fallen in love with one’s spouse when you’ve both previously agreed to the Georgian version of a sort-of open marriage?  Also, there’s a great dueling scene, for Errol Flynn fans.

One quibble: what exactly happened to Louisa, Rule’s sister? She confided all to Horry but it was off the page….are we to assume that Lethbridge had a similar plan for Louisa as he had for Horry?  This is where Heyer’s tactic to leave the salacious details to the imagination leaves much to be desires.

Audiobook specifics:  I had wondered how Armitage was going to play two different rakes with his luscious rake-voice.  Fear not, he plays it off wonderfully.  Also, his foppish, lisping twitter was perfect for Crosby Drelincourt.

audiobooks · movie star drool · stuff I read

Matilda, read by Kate Winslet

Summary from Goodreads:
“The Trunchbull” is no match for Matilda!

Matilda is a sweet, exceptional young girl, but her parents think she’s just a nuisance. She expects school to be different but there she has to face Miss Trunchbull, a kid-hating terror of a headmistress. When Matilda is attacked by the Trunchbull she suddenly discovers she has a remarkable power with which to fight back. It’ll take a superhuman genius to give Miss Trunchbull what she deserves and Matilda may be just the one to do it!

Jackie gets full credit for finding this new audiobook edition of one of my favorite, favorite childhood books (apparently, Matilda is only 25 this year…which is weird because I would swear that I read it before age 10). Penguin Audio put out a Matilda audiobook READ BY KATE WINSLET!!

Breathe, breathe.

It is so, so, SO good. Winslet has an excellent reading voice and distinctive accents for each character (who knew that she had all those different voices in her?). I loved all of it. The only complaint I had (if it is a complaint) is that she’s so dynamic in her reading that it was hard to get a middle-range volume set (was listening in the car so road noise was an issue) so perhaps the sound engineer needs to take another look.

BUY BUY BUY!  Run, do not walk to the store and BUY!!