Recent Read: American Fire

True crime books usually center around murder or death. So when I picked up American Fire by Monica Hesse, I wasn’t sure what to think.

A true crime book entirely about arsons? Fires where no one was injured and only property was damaged — mostly abandoned property at that?

I had nothing to fear.

American Fire is about a pair of serial arsonists, boyfriend and girlfriend Charlie and Tonya, who set more than 60 fires over a several month span in a rural area of Virginia near Chesapeake Bay. Most of the properties were vacant and unoccupied.

americanfire

From Goodreads page

And they may have set many more had it not been for a police tactic where officer camped out on properties that were vulnerable targets. This tactic didn’t work at first, but it worked eventually. The pair were caught and convicted.

But American Fire was not just about the fires. It was also about this area of the country that is rural and struggling to find its place as technology has made many of their business ventures obsolete.

It’s about a couple who seemed to have it all and then somehow got wrapped up in setting fires.

This is one of those true crime books you can’t help but devour. It’s relatively short and written by a reporter. (Hesse was a feature writer for the Washington Post and covered the story for them as it developed and unfolded in court.)

I was fascinated by this book and was left wanting more, especially about what happened in court. I wanted more about the details of testimony and what actually occurred in setting the fires. I wanted more detail, in general.

American Fire may not have been the best true crime book I’ve ever read, but it certainly was worth the couple of days it took to read it.

Recent Read: Actual Malice

Actual malice is a legal concept used in civil law (specifically libel cases) indicating that someone published a false statement knowing it was a lie.

It’s what Gary Condit accuses–through implication and outright statement–the media of doing to him in the wake of the Chandra Levy scandal in early 2001.

Condit’s role in the saga is relayed through Breton Peace’s Actual Malice.

Condit was a rising star in Congress, representing California, in 2001 when he was introduced to a constituent who was a friend of an office aide and an intern in Washington, D.C., Chandra Levy.

Levy and Condit began a no strings attached affair, to hear Condit tell it, that was ongoing up to the time of Levy’s disappearance.

As police attention quickly turned to Condit as a source of information, the media seized on him as a possible suspect and aimed to take him down in a Bill Clinton type cloud of shame.

But in Condit’s telling, many of the media’s tactics and stories were nothing but baloney, based nowhere in truth.

Some of that can be proven with the help of court records and multiple, inconsistent stories sources gave to varying media outlets as the scandal stretched on for more than a year at its peak.

However, some of the stories Condit says are false cannot be entirely disproven. And herein lies my problem with this book.

I understand Condit wants to share his side of events, but why wait 16 years to do it so thoroughly? Why do it through a book that is written by a lawyer associated with the family and not a neutral third-party?

actualmalice

From Goodreads page

Devils’ advocates would argue Condit has lost trust in the media and the justice system because of what he has gone through, and to an extent, that is true.

But Condit argues he was dragged through the mud without sources checking information and doing their due diligence. He does the same in this book in discussing how the reporters did their jobs.

As a member of the media, I am appalled by some of the stories published during the scandal and some of the tactics described. They are the actions that give all of us a bad name and reputation and are disgusting.

But chastising reporters for tracking down leads and asking to speak with people connected with a person involved in a potential scandal isn’t fair. That is what reporters are required to do. We need to chase down possible leads to a story, wherever that takes them.

Granted, we are then required to at least try and verify information and be willing to accept the consequences of what we publish.

However, Condit and Peace don’t try to talk to the reporters or their editors for this book about the tactics they used or what they published. He just takes their word for it.

If he wanted to show he was truly above them and was truly dragged through the mud and was nothing more than a scapegoat for them, they should have done that due diligence and proven they were thorough. Document in the book when they called reporters to try to interview them, document emails or letters sent as they did with regard to actions taken at the height of the publicity of the case. But they don’t.

This book is clearly biased in favor of Gary Condit, so everything in it must be taken with a grain of salt, regardless of how you feel about Condit, the scandal, Chandra Levy’s murder and subsequent legal proceedings (the man ultimately convicted in her death had the charges against him dismissed in 2016) or the media. As a critical reader, you have to consider the source.

I remember the Chandra Levy case as one of the first scandals where I was old enough to understand some of what was going on. I didn’t know everything (I wasn’t even a teenager yet) but I knew enough. This book is an interesting viewpoint into the case from an insider’s perspective.

It’s worth the read (borrow it from a library to not provide financing to either side of the case) and an examination of the case from this new angle.

Recent Read: Scrappy Little Nobody

Very rarely do I want to be best friends with a celebrity.

But there is one exception: Anna Kendrick.

Kendrick’s witty Twitter account has been one I’ve followed for years and when I heard she was writing an essay collection, I couldn’t wait to read it.

Scrappy Little Nobody honestly feels like you’re having a chat with a best friend, not reading a celebrity’s memoir style essay.

scrappylittlenobody

From Goodreads page

With essays entitled “Hell thy name is middle school” and “Boys and the terror of being near them,” how could you not love it?

Kendrick describes her life before and after hitting it big on Broadway (losing a Tony to Audra McDonald) and on the silver screen (being nominated for an Oscar for Up in the Air). Her life really hasn’t changed much.

She has worked with some of the biggest stars in Hollywood (George Clooney and Ben Affleck) and in indie films. She hasn’t lost touch with her roots and she doesn’t necessarily enjoy her fame.

I absoultely tore through Scrappy Little Nobody. I laughed at it and I identified with Anna Kendrick on so many levels. I felt like she really understood me, or I really understood her.

This was the perfect book to take to the pool and relax with while catching a few rays of sunshine. I would highly recommend this book (and many of Kendrick’s movies as well!)

 

 

Recent Read: The Possessions

When someone dies, they leave their physical possessions behind. These possessions allow loved ones to have something remaining of their dearly departed.

And in the case of Edie and the other bodies at the Elysian Society, it allows them to channel the departed’s spirit and personality while under the influence of a “lotus.”

For the five years Edie has worked as a body, she has remained detached and never gotten close to a client. She vows to never break her rule … until she meets Patrick Braddock.

possessions

From Goodreads page

And so begins Sara Flannery Murphy’s The Possessions.

This type of book isn’t my normal fare. The ventures into the paranormal aren’t normally entertaining to me, but the mystery aspect of The Possessions convinced me to try it.

Patrick Braddock’s wife, Sylvia, died under suspicious circumstances. And Edie finds herself drawn to the mystery — both the mystery of Sylvia and of Patrick.

As Edie and Sylvia become more entwined (in more ways than one), Edie begins to question what is going on at the Elysian Society, especially when it relates to Hopeful Doe, a woman who was found dead in a vacant home nearby.

When Hopeful Doe is found to have connections to the Society, Edie starts to think about her exit strategy and worry about her own past being unearthed.

I was really intrigued by this book. It’s a unique premise that isn’t overdone and was used well in this narrative. Edie is a compelling main character because she tells the reader just enough to keep them reading. She doesn’t reveal too much and she reveals things on her own terms.

I did, however, find her “big reveal” to be a little anticlimatic for what it was built up to be over the course of the book.

Overall, Murphy’s debut novel is well-written, easy to read and provides conclusions to many of the questions the reader will have as the book reaches a close. I would be curious to see what Ms. Murphy writes next.

 

Recent Read: The Fate of the Tearling

One of the worst fears I have about reading a book series is that I won’t like the ending. I’ve always been afraid that I will become emotionally invested in a series I enjoy and then the way it ends will change my whole opinion.

And that’s what happened to me with The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen.

I really enjoyed this entire trilogy. Johansen created a world in the Tearling that is totally fascinating and unique to anything else I had ever read.

fatetearling

From Goodreads page

The Tearling is a world in the future, but it feels a lot like the past. There is not technology or medicine like we would expect. There is no printing press, no telephones, no firearms even.

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

Fate of the Tearling picks up right where Invasion of the Tearling leaves off: Queen Kelsea has been taken prisoner by the Red Queen of Mortmense and Kelsea’s guard are desperate to get her back.

In the meantime, Kelsea is continuing to have visions of the past, but instead of following Lily, she’s now following Katie. These visions show the crumbling of the “Better World” created in the immediate aftermath of the Crossing and the rise of Row Finn.

I was really enjoying the story line in the third book. As a reader, I was finally getting answers to questions I had since the first book with regards to how the Tearling came to be and the history leading the “country” to the point it was at.

And then, I got to the last chapter.

I don’t know what exactly I was expecting the ending to be, but I wasn’t expecting what I got. While it makes sense given the plot and the Tearling trilogy being in the fantasy genre, I didn’t like it.

I actually really hated the ending.

I wanted there to be some recognition between the former queen and the people who had been most loyal to her. I didn’t want there to be just an entirely clean slate with only Kelsea having memories.

However, I will acknowledge that Kelsea got what she wanted. She got a normal life with lots of books and none of the pressures of ruling a kingdom. She also got a world in which the amount of evil inflicted upon it by Row Finn did not exist.

But it wasn’t how I envisioned this series ending. It really wasn’t. The ending has now colored my view of what otherwise is a fantastic series.

The Tearling trilogy is incredibly well written and is unique in its premise, character development and plot. I really truly enjoyed it and would highly recommend it to anyone (I’ve already done that to be honest…). But the last chapter of the last book.

Maybe as time passes and  I reflect on the series as a whole, my reaction will soften.

Have you read the Tearling trilogy? What did you think of the ending? Let me know in the comments!

Recent Read: Don’t You Cry

As the summer season has officially begun, let me give you another book to add to what is hopefully a lengthy beach reading list.

Don’t You Cry is the third novel by Mary Kubica. The thriller centers on Quinn and Esther, roommates in Chicago.

Quinn wakes up on a Sunday morning to discover her roommate is gone without a trace. Esther’s keys and cell phone are still in the apartment and a window to the fire escape is open.

Strange, to say the least.

dontyoucry

From Goodreads page

Even stranger is a letter Quinn finds among Esther’s things, addressed to “My Dearest” and signed “EV.” And in the shredder, Quinn finds a photograph … which has a familiar face in it.

Meanwhile, in a small town in Michigan, Alex begins his shift at the local diner thinking it will be a normal day. That is until the new girl with the ombre hair and the pearl bracelet walks in and sits down.

Dubbing her Pearl, Alex begins to develop a relationship with someone he feels may be a kindred spirit … until Pearl begins acting strange.

Told in the format of alternating between Quinn and Alex’s viewpoints, Don’t You Cry is a slow burn thriller. There’s a lot of buildup and then — you hit the last 40 pages or so.

This seems to be Kubica’s signature style. In The Good Girl and Pretty Baby, her two previous novels, the plot was developed in a similar way. Alternating viewpoints, a slow build and a fast tidal wave of information and resolution.

The quick release at the end of Kubica’s novels might be the one complaint about her writing. There seems to be so much build for such little reward. And the amount of closure the reader receives isn’t always in proportion to the amount of buildup.

With that being said, I would strongly recommend Kubica’s books. The writing style is easy to follow, the alternating viewpoints keep the reader engaged and the stories are unique.

Pick up Don’t You Cry this summer and you won’t be crying over a bad book while on the beach. (See what I did there …. OK, enough with the puns. But seriously, you should check this book out.)

Recent Read: Dreamland

Dreamland is a must-read book. It’s as simple as that.
I began reading this book after Sam Quinones was scheduled to speak locally during a forum on heroin/opiate abuse and how the community could work together to find solutions to this problem. I was fascinated from the moment I started reading Dreamland.

dreamland

From Goodreads page

As a reporter covering the court system and crime, I hear a lot about heroin. I see the cases as they come through court and I hear the stories from the families whose loved ones have died. But, I hadn’t heard the story from the dealers and how they got their heroin. I hadn’t heard the stories of the pill mills (which had decreased in size and scale before I became a full-time reporter).
Sam Quinones tells those stories and the history of heroin and opiates/opiods. His writing (as a former reporter) is clear and concise and easy to follow.
With the heroin problem continuing to grow, especially with the growth of the use of drugs like Fentanyl and Carfentanil,  Dreamland is the definitive account of heroin in the United States.

Sidenote: Unfortunately, I did not get to hear Sam Quinones speak when scheduled because of an unexpected health issue. I look forward to hearing him speak at a later date.