Book Review Saturday: Misery

“Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar.”

October is a good month to test your reading limits when it comes to horror and mystery. I try to pick a few books that I normally wouldn’t read and see what the hype is all about. I have read Stephen King before, but I rarely seem to finish what I start with him. Misery is the exception. I read this book in five days, and I would have been faster if I didn’t have that pesky thing called a job. My copy of Misery is banged and beaten, and even featured torn pages with that lovely “old book smell,” and a few thunderstorms even managed to come by to add to the ambiance. Do you believe in books finding the right timing in your life? I do, and this one was perfect.

Paul Sheldon is a bestselling author of the Misery Chastain novels, a historical romance series. He wakes up in a strange place, in unimaginable pain to a woman who claims to be “his number one fan.” Having wrecked his car (dislocating his pelvis, shattering his legs and crushing one of his knees), Annie finds him on the side of the road and brings him to her house to care for him. That sounds all well and good until you find out that her caring is torture. Torture that makes the reader keep asking themselves, WAIT? WHAT? When will it stop? This can’t be happening? Or maybe that was just me… Annie is unhappy with the ending of the latest Misery novel. She brings home a typewriter and requests that Paul begin a new novel. Her requests must be answered in the manner she desires or she inflicts physical and mental pain. Spoiler alert: It even goes so far as amputations. I can’t imagine this occurring in real life because it was so extreme.

My question is: How does King come up with this stuff? I do not usually discuss what I am reading with my friends and family. They know that my head is constantly in a book but rarely ask for details. I can’t count the number of people that I have asked/discussed/shared this book with over the past week. His writing is pure genius. Not only do we follow the story of Paul and Annie, but the novel that Paul is writing. I have never read anything like it. The insight into the life of a writer is without measure. I felt like I was digging around in King’s brain through Paul, and through the eyes of a serial killer. Annie is a character that haunts you. I know there are people out in the world that would be capable of this, but I live in a happy bubble of sunshine and rainbows. King pours gasoline on the rainbow and slices through the sun. I would recommend this book to everyone who dreams of becoming a writer, or dares to dive into the mind of King. Misery stands out from his other novels. The book is worth your time, but know that the content is not suitable for everyone.

Stay tuned for a special Halloween review! Happy (spooky) reading my friends!

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Write About it Wednesday: Andrew Jackson and Reading Goals

“His capacity to build upon his anti-aristocratic instincts, to learn from his mistakes, and still command the loyalty of others, is what finally defined his presidency.”

I made a goal last year to read a biography of each President. Five biographies a year seemed reasonable given the amount of time I spend reading for myself and the blog. October came around and I realized that I have yet to finish one this year. I set about to remedy the situation at my local library only to realize that the library consortium does not carry a biography on every President. Are you as outraged as I was? This seems like something people would want to learn about. Unfortunately, we have hit a digital age where students no longer “read the book” when Google holds all the answers. I for one need to hold a book in my hand, turn the pages and watch history unfold before me. Luckily, I have friends who share similar interests and allow me to book swap or my book budget for the year would be tanked (I mean, I do TRY to stick to it but let’s be honest…I need ALL the books).

Next up on my list was Andrew Jackson, the President that everyone loves to hate. Most known for his part in Indian removal, his courage and willingness to fight the aristocracy is often overlooked. He looked up to Thomas Jefferson and believed that American government was designed to undo artificial inequality. He served as a courier during the Revolution, worked as a public prosecutor in Tennessee, fought his first duel against a fellow lawyer and then became protégé to a territorial governor. He held several elected positions but his military ambition took precedence when he was awarded the post of Major General of the militia leading to his involvement with an expedition to Florida, aborted missions and retaliation against the Indians that are covered in most history classes. He loses his first election to John Quincy Adams and blames Henry Clay. This is a reoccurring theme throughout Jackson’s life, so I will be adding him to my reading list!

Jackson aimed to make merit and performance the basis for preferment in government. He suffered several scandals during his Presidency, and proved to lack judgment when it came to many men’s character. When he set out to accomplish something, he did it. He completely extinguished national debt, but the success was overshadowed by banking issues. He survived an assassination attempt and beat his assailant with his walking stick (I mean that is bad a, I don’t care who you are…). Jackson is responsible for making the presidency the center of action and opening positions in government to citizens outside of the elitist realm. He was a “President of the People” and while reading I noted several similarities to our current President. No one thought he would win, he surrounded himself with smart people, stood by what he said even if it contradicted his original statements, and led with a forceful style.  

How did it take the country so long to go to war over slavery? I had no idea that tensions were already so high during Jackson’s presidency. Jackson regarded the anti-slavery movement as a political threat to the nation and democracy. He respected the Missouri Compromise and managed to shift the focus allowing Van Buren to be elected. I have done my fair share of research on abolitionists but the battle over mail was a new one for me. Jackson proposed legislature to combat the messages sent to the South calling an end to slavery. It brought the slavery issue to the national front but the campaign fizzled quickly. Also, what other President can say he wiped out national debt? Does anyone remember those debt calculators that used to be all over Fox News and CNN? What happened to those? Did we just realize we will never pay it off or is it a distraction from the real news?

I must know more, therefore I read. I need to know what happened and not just what I’ve been told. There is history happening all around us. The more you know, the more you can contribute to society. Bring on Van Buren!

Book Review Saturday: Ghost

“The other kids were looking at me like most kids did. Like I was something else. Like I wasn’t one of them.”

Many of my close friends have recommended this book. I kept putting it off because I usually do not like books with a lot of hype. I try to read a few from my student’s reading lists, but my time is limited and I tend to pick my favorite genre instead of challenging myself. (Bad reader right?) I finished the entire book in one sitting and immediately wanted to share with my class. I brought the book on Monday and began reading a single chapter, or eight pages here and eight pages there. They love it! They look forward to this reading time and what is going to happen next. It is a fantastic book to hook reluctant readers.

Jason Reynolds writes in a way that kids can relate. The story unfolds as if he is right next to you telling what happened. Ghost had a rough childhood; he does not feel like he belongs anywhere and carries a heavy burden from his past. He sees some kids practicing track one day and decides to race a boy from the other side of the fence. He is fast and the coach convinces his mother to allow him to join. His only requirement is to do well in school, which he manages to mess up the very first day. I enjoyed his journey but the ending! I will definitely be reading the next book in the series and hopefully more titles by Reynolds.

As an adult, you may be able to look back on your middle school years and experiences but this book appeals to a younger audience. If you do your research on Reynolds, you will find that his main goal is to write books for boys who do not like to read. He did not like boring books and neither do kids today, especially with technology to keep them occupied. The mindset is shifting to book choice and allowing diversity. This is a definite must in classrooms across the country.

Write About it Wednesday: Serial Killers, Henry Lee Lucas

“I was bitter at the world. I hated everything. There wasn’t nothin’ I liked. I was bitter as bitter could be.”

Disclaimer: Violent crime content.

It is no secret that I love crime. Crime novels, crime podcasts, past crimes and all the in between. I found a copy of Serial Killers by Joel Norris at my local book sale. One dollar to read about the nature, personal statements and unifying patters of a serial killer? Sold! I’m covering this book in small increments because it is loaded with information. Although some of it is outdated, it allows me the foundation for branching out on my own for further research. I had not heard of Henry Lee Lucas before this book. One completely creepy fact before I dive in: We share the same birthday. I didn’t even realize until I was reviewing the text again to write this review…but whoa. Isn’t it weird when you share the same birthday with someone or is it just me? It peaked my interest in his case even more.

Henry Lee Lucas was starved, beaten, forced to watch his mother have sex, even forced to wear girls’ clothing for his mother’s amusement. He watched his mother shoot one of her clients with a shotgun while blood splattered on him. His mother would kill or break anything he liked, just for the sake of taking his happiness away. Her abuse went so far as beating him over the head with a 2 x 4 piece of wood so hard that he laid in a semi-conscious state for over 3 days. The brain damage would later be linked to his lack of control over his violent behavior and ability to manage emotions. He finally killed her. He was sentenced to prison for the murder but was later released.

Lucas claims he committed his first murder, a 17-year-old female, when he was just 15 years old. He had sex with animals, sex with his half-brother and later married his 12-year-old cousin. Beth was originally raised as his “daughter” but the two claimed to be common law married up until her death by Lucas. In a heated argument about her desire to return home, he stabbed her in the chest and then cut her into pieces in Montague County, TX. Although he ended up confessing to 100s of murders along Interstate 35, his only other known kill was Granny Rich who was the only person close to him remaining. Many of his claims turned out to be false, but investigators had to rely on the information they had.

This book does an excellent job of listing out the many reasons behind his behavior. He was unable to cope with negative stimulus and was prone to blackouts. The propensity for violence was there at an early age, and given the constant abuse from his mother, only intensified. He noted that he only committed murder after drinking large amounts of alcohol. That mixed with his brain injuries led to little to no control over his emotions. He did not feel any remorse until he was acclimated to the prison system where his diet, routine and personality development could be nurtured.

How does this type of abuse go unnoticed? How do brain injuries go untreated or acknowledged? I found this case to be interesting for two reasons, a) the amount of research performed on his body, diet, etc. and how it related to his crimes and b) his outright confession to so many murders. We may never know how many he truly committed but that is only half of the story. 

What is everyone reading this month? Any spooky Halloween recommendations? I’d love to hear from you!

Book Review Saturday: Love & Gelato

“Once I read that last entry, it was over. I’d never hear anything new from her again.”

Often, I forget how nice it is to step away from all my heavy reading and just enjoy a young adult novel. I can wrap up in a blanket, brew a cup of coffee and become completely lost in a story for hours. I was hoping to make a trip to meet with Jenna Evans Welch but due to a flat tire (why must I be an adult?), that trip was postponed. As fate would have it, I already finished the book and was packed and ready to go. Luckily, this book was just what I needed to kickstart my month of long October reads and I am planning new book trips for the upcoming year.

Love & Gelato starts off with Lina finding out about her mother’s illness. When she passes away, she requests that Lina travel to Italy to stay with an old friend, Howard. Her mother has sent a journal from her time spent in Italy to the cemetery where Howard lives. Lina becomes immersed in her journey and wishes to experience Italy in the same way as her mother once did. She quickly makes friends and even finds herself falling in love. The story bounces back and forth between Lina and her mother, but in an almost flawless way. The dual experience allows Lina to understand her mother and why she made certain life choices. I think this is a topic that is missed in most literature. The element of generations perception of one another. Most of us believe we “know” our parents, but do we really? Do we take the time to ask them questions and understand who they are? I long for my own journal from my mother so that I could share her experiences. It’s a missed opportunity for so many of us.

After reading this I need to a) try gelato and b) visit Italy…the author managed to describe both in wonderful detail and now it’s a must. The story has some secrets that come to light that will hold your attention, and who doesn’t love a good teen romance unfolding? Any of my fellow book lovers that have traveled to Italy, what is your favorite part? Are there secret bakeries scattered around cities with the good desserts? If so, I need to visit ALL of them. Happy Reading!

Write About it Wednesday: Carry A. Nation

“You put me in here a cub, but I will go out a roaring lion, and I will make all hell howl.”

I love podcasts. I subscribe to anything from history to crime and books in between. Two different podcasts covered Carry Nation and peaked my interest. Most would say that listening to two episodes about a woman would be thorough enough, but leave it to me to have more questions. I had never heard of Nation before listening: first to Stuff You Missed in History Class, and second Criminal with Phoebe Judge and I wanted to know more. I’m a sucker for strong female leaders.

Carry was a trouble maker in her youth until she fell ill and found God. She devoted her life to religion and saw fit to improve the lives of others with HER opinions. She was very reserved until a doctor who was boarding at her home stole a kiss in the dark. She soon found herself in love. Carry married Dr. Charles Gloyd, a well-known to everyone (except Carry) alcoholic, in her early 20’s that set her path in life. He was drunk at the ceremony and she never saw him sober again. Her father came to check on her a few months into the marriage and decided she had to return home immediately and leave her husband. Dr. Gloyd died 6 months after she left from complications due to alcohol abuse. No shock there. Carry was now responsible for her daughter and mother-in-law and needed a career. She became a teacher until she was fired for refusing to change the pronunciation of the short and long a. As a teacher myself, this excuse is so ridiculous that it’s comical. They just wanted her gone.

Her only plan was to marry. When she ran into David Nation she believed it was divine intervention. They were married a few weeks later and moved to Texas. This would be one of many moves as Nation faced disaster everywhere they attempted to settle. Their eventual move to Kansas started the famous saloon smashing and prohibition speeches. Carry noticed that several saloons were still fully operating under laws that forbade the sale of alcohol. She started with warnings but then began to throw bricks into saloons, carry a hatchet which she is well known for, and call out bar owners to close shop. It was her divine calling. She had visions that directed her behavior and many saloons were forced to close after Nation swept into town. Not everyone agreed with her behavior. In 1901, she was beaten by a group of women. She was jailed numerous times and during one of the stays, she began publishing a newsletter that eventually turned into a newspaper called “The Hatchet,” which supported prohibition and women’s rights.

I could talk about Carry Nation all night, but I’m going to save you time. Why in the world is this woman famous? If I decided to walk into a bar, tear it apart and break everything in sight and then tell everyone how they should be living…I’d be in jail for a very long time. Should you be honored for breaking the law because it doesn’t hold true to your own way of thinking? Her visions from God sound almost like Andrea Yates, the woman who drowned her children in the bathtub because she had a vision. Believer or non-believer, do we get to use a vision as an out for committing crimes? My research left me with only one thought: Carry Nation was a stubborn, semi-crazy woman in a network of prohibitionists who blamed alcohol for all the problems in the world. I don’t see her as a leader, but as a woman who is just as bad as the people she is trying to stop.

Book Review Saturday: The Body in the Marsh

“Life is out there and has to be lived.”

Body in the Marsh has an excellent cover. I know the old saying, but that is truly why I picked this book. I was expecting a detective novel, but didn’t realize it would be based in Surrey and Kent. It starts out with Detective Craig Gillard rescuing an unknown woman who gets trapped on a mountain during a winter storm. I was thrown off by this part of the story and was hoping to dive right in to the mystery and intrigue. It was no shock when they developed a somewhat dysfunctional relationship that continues throughout the story. For me, the story began when Craig becomes intrigued by a missing person report. It turns out to be an old girlfriend that broke his heart. He still carries around the baggage and can’t see past the love he still feels for her. Most of the time a relationship would mean that he was taken off the case but he hides it from his boss. The author does a good job of leaving trails of clues along the way, but I called the ending early on. I kept reading because I enjoyed the investigation. The side story of Girl F who reported abuse but was dismissed and later killed herself tied in nicely with the missing person case. Overall, I liked that it had a broader focus but I could take it or leave it.

I am always hesitant to review crime novels because I have read so many. When I discover an ending within a few chapters it makes me wonder if my fellow book lovers do as well. I couldn’t get past Craig’s love for Liz, the missing person. He held on for so long and was STILL in love with her after 30 years. I may be doing love wrong, but this seems a bit excessive for a high school love story. I know Nicholas Sparks would disagree but I like my romance to be a bit more realistic. The cases seemed plausible, but I flagged a quote in Chapter 13 for further review. I have a question for all my fellow crime novelists, detectives, lovers of the law:

“First, we’re monitoring every number on his contact list from the original phone. If any of those numbers is called by a number that’s new to them, we’ll get a copy of the metadata.”

Is this legal? Can the investigators really track calls to all the contacts in a person’s phone? Let’s say I had 5 contacts on my phone, then they would tap into those 5 contacts list to see if any new numbers called? This seems a bit farfetched even with our recent Patriot Act, but maybe this happens? I would hope it would at least require a warrant. I’m interested in your thoughts and opinions! Let me know what you think.