The Fourth Monkey

At some point, JD Barker followed me on Twitter, and I reciprocated. Through this exchange, I heard him discussing his book. So, I added it to my Amazon list and when the price dropped (sorry, man…I buy A LOT of books and can’t afford full price) I bought it, because why not? It sounded interesting, a police detective tries to solve a serial killer case, which is right up my alley.

The story is told from multiple perspectives, Porter (the cop), Emory (a teenage girl), Clair (only a couple chapters from her…another cop) and a diary. Porter is chasing a serial killer when he finally gets a break. The killer ends up dead, splattered by a bus. Sounds easy, right? The book follows a very twisty path of red herrings, various characters, plenty of bait and switch, and a few plot twists thrown into the mix. Normally, these types of narrative back and forths drive me nuts. And I admit that I knew something was up (it’s pretty easy to assume the mystery isn’t easily solved when you’ve only read 25% of the book), but I enjoyed my ride through the story.

The diary was the, um, best? part. It was a horrifying glimpse into the childhood of a killer, but it was shocking and kept me guessing. It was a bit disturbing at times, but I’ve read much worse. Right now, The Fourth Monkey and its sequel, The Fifth to Die, are $2.99 each on Amazon. I have pretty high expectations when it comes to creativity within a police procedural story, and this one hit the mark. Really enjoyed it.

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The Run of His Life: The People Vs. OJ Simpson

I was a recent high school graduate in June of 1994, trying to watch the NBA finals with my dad. He was a Knicks fan and was beside himself with anger that we were being forced to watch a white Bronco drive around Los Angeles. I wasn’t a Knicks fan and didn’t really care, so a car chase was fascinating. I knew who OJ Simpson was, mostly from commercials and the Naked Gun movies, but really had no idea how big of a football star he was. Or what he meant to the African-American community. I knew what he was accused of and had no idea whether or not he was guilty, but that would soon change.

I followed the trial half-heartedly. I was in college, very preoccupied with my freshman year, rarely watched the news, but I knew the trial was a gigantic mess. That was pretty clear just from the brief snippets of information I was receiving. The trial was taking much longer than expected, the prosecution wasn’t handling the witnesses well, and then there were the gloves. Anyone could see those gloves weren’t fitting, no matter how much Simpson “tried” to put them on. The case was close to being sunk. The final straw was the Fuhrman tapes. Clearly this man is a racist. The prosecution put him on the stand early in the trial. They didn’t have much of a choice considering he was one of the first detectives on the scene. However, when, at the end of the trial, tapes of him saying the most derogatory things were discovered, that was it. There was no way OJ was going to be convicted.

This book by Jeffrey Toobin does an excellent job presenting how ridiculous the prosecution was, how they completely bungled the trial, how brilliant Johnnie Cochran was as an attorney, how pathetic Robert Shapiro was, how desperate Judge Ito was for fame, and how OJ got away with murder. If you read the evidence against him- DNA blood evidence at the scene, in his car, on his socks at his house, his hair and fibers on the bodies, shoes prints at the scene matching ones he owned (very rare size 12…only 300 pairs sold in the US) cuts on his left hand, one glove at the scene one at his house….and don’t even mention that glove was planted, given the fact the police didn’t even know if OJ was in the country, let alone planting ALL the blood and fiber evidence- the evidence is BEYOND anything needed to convict a person. Toobin makes it very clear what side of the evidence he is on. He also makes it very clear to the reader. OJ is a murderer.

Where the Crawdads Sing

I’m really skeptical about books that EVERYONE loves. They usually don’t live up to the hype because I have high expectations when it comes to books. I can’t stand anything cheesy or poorly written. Not that everything has to be “literature,” but I don’t want a book that relies on tropes, flat characters, and poor storytelling. So many books out there fall into this category, but I was glad to see that this one didn’t. It might not be worth every bit of hype, but I really enjoyed it and thought the language was superb.

The story is told following a young girl, Kya, growing up in a marsh swamp in the 1950s, but also in 1969 after a death happens in her part of the swamp. As you watch Kya grow up, deal with one devastation after another, find her path in the world, you are also learning about the young man who died. Immediately, you wonder if it was an accident, suicide, or a murder, but the details are slowly revealed as the story unfolds.

The language of the book really is beautiful, and you grow to respect and admire Kya. She deals with more hardships than just about anyone, abandoned over and over by those who claim to love her, she fends for herself at a young age, and turns into an amazing woman. The descriptions of the marsh life- plants, animals, water, weather- are so enveloping that your senses are drawn into the story as well. I don’t know much about the marsh life of North Carolina, nor do I really have any desire to go there, but this book is the next best thing. I can see why this is a book many people want to read.

Rage

This book is one of the most controversial I’ve ever read. So much that it’s out of print and really difficult to find. There is a sneaky way to obtain a copy, which is what I did, but a first edition goes for thousands on eBay. Ages ago, the publishing world didn’t want to publish more than one book a year by a certain author. Stephen King was, and to this day still is, one of the most prolific authors out there, publishing about once every six months. When he first started, though, he was successful, but not enough for the publishers to take a chance on letting him release books twice a year. So, he figured out a way to cheat the system.  He published books under a pseudonym, Richard Bachman. He only wrote a handful before publishers realized what he was doing, saw he was successful no matter what name he published under, and decided to just let him write as much as he wanted. One of the books he published under this pseudonym was Rage, which King has since pulled from being published based on some very disturbing facts.

Rage is a first-person account of a teenager who commits a school shooting.  King decided to let this book go out of print after it was found in the possession of some kids who did actual school shootings, well before Columbine, before the take off of the Internet, where content is unfiltered and as bad, if not worse than you could imagine.  I’ve read a few disturbing stories about school shootings, namely We Need to Talk About Kevin, but I haven’t read one that was a first-person account, which made this book extremely difficult, and I can see why King has let it go out of print. You can still obtain it in a book called The Bachman Books, which is difficult to find, but not impossible. I got one at Half-Price Books.

I don’t really feel the need to discuss the plot of this book. A kid with a gun shoots some people. It’s horrifying, disturbing, and difficult to read. I don’t support censorship, but I do support an author having ownership over his/her own work. King did the right thing by pulling this book, and I’m proud of him for sticking with the decision after 20+ years.

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing

I really enjoy learning about other cultures. I’m a big fan of “own voices” books and try to add them to my reading list when possible. I am a part of the Great American Read group on Facebook and have gotten some amazing recommendations of culturally significant books. I’ve read and loved The Hate U Give, The Sun is Also a Star, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, Dear Martin, The Kite Runner, Everything I Never Told You, Release, The Namesake, and Turtles All the Way Down. If you are looking for a good list of “own voices” novels try here: own voices.

TSGtD follows Amina living a mostly good life in Seattle with her cousin. Amina was once a photojournalist, but a difficult photo she took caused her too much stress, and she is now a wedding photographer. She gets a call from home that disrupts her life, pulling her back to her home of New Mexico. The story is told partly in flashbacks from when Amina was a child and a teenager and partly in the present day. Through the flashbacks, you learn about Amina’s parents coming to America to make a life for themselves, about Amina’s brother, Ahkil, and his struggles, but mostly about Amina trying to find herself and her place in the world.

As much as I love a good plot heavy book, there are times when a good story about an interesting character fits the bill. This is exactly that book. Amina is a wholly fleshed-out character, and you get to dig deep into her life. I read The Namesake about an Indian-American man trying to find his place in both worlds, and I feel like this one is very similar in nature. I loved both books for filling my world with captivating characters and culturally authentic situations.

 

Inspection

I am a huge fan of Josh Malerman’s work. I’ve read everything of his that I can get my hands on including Bird Box, Black Mad Wheel, Unbury Carol, and A House at the Bottom of the Lake and can’t wait to see what he has in store for us with the Bird Box sequel, coming out this fall (last I heard). He’s one of those authors that when I hear he has a book coming out, I make reading it a priority. Bird Box is still my favorite, but Inspection is his best since.

J is an Alphabet Boy. Raised in a turret with 25 other boys (one for each letter of the alphabet), he only knows his small world comprised of only men. The boys, their instructors, and their father figure, D.A.D., live together in a tower. D.A.D. is convinced that the opposite sex causes boys to neglect their studies, which in turn, makes them less productive members of society. So, he creates an experiment to eliminate that distraction. Women don’t exist in the boys’ world. They are told they were born from trees, are educated in traditional subjects, and show tremendous abilities.

However, not everyone is on board with this idea. D.A.D hired a man to write propaganda for the boys in the form of children’s novels, but this man knows what D.A.D. is doing is wrong and creates his own book, hands it out to the boys, and some read it, learning of women for the first time. Once that happens, they are deemed “spoiled rotten” and sent to THE CORNER, which is the scariest place for them. Every day these boys go through an “inspection” to check their bodies and minds for outside influence. They play an honesty game called Boats complete with nodes they place on themselves.

Halfway through the book, there is a giant reveal. I’m sad to say this reveal was in the book jacket summary, which was a bummer because I wish I hadn’t known it was coming. This book had a very 1984 feel to it.  J begins to realize there’s more to life than this tower, but he’s unsure what that means. The boys are blind followers of D.A.D., never questioning his authority, THE CORNER is so much like Room 101 that the parallels are downright obvious. All of these examples made me love the book even more. Once I got to the ending, there was no putting his book down. I was rooting for J to figure everything out and then quite crushed as his world kept collapsing under him, little by little, the curtain pulled back more and more. D.A.D. is an excellent villain, leaping off the page, and watching his transformation from bad to worse is simply horrifying. Another excellent novel from Malerman. Hopefully, it tides me over until the Bird Box sequel.

An American Marriage

I read Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones a number of years ago when it was a selection of The Rumpus’s Book Club selection. I don’t remember much, but I gave it four stars on Goodreads, so I must have enjoyed it. I do remember that it shifted narrators, just like An American Marriage does. I found an ARC of AAM at my local library several months ago and bought it for $1. Turns out I had a signed copy and didn’t realize it until I sat down to read it.  I immediately placed it on a very high shelf never to be read and borrowed a copy from my library.

The story follows newlyweds Celestial and Roy through an all too real situation- the false imprisonment of an innocent man. Roy is found guilty of raping a woman, even though he didn’t do it and his wife testifies they were together. But the jury believes the victim, and Roy is sent away. Much of their story early on is told through prison letters. Each one a bit more heartbreaking than the last. Roy discovers a familial connection while in prison, which makes life a bit easier for him, while Celestial just misses her husband. But time passes and she moves on. She isn’t trying to, but it just happens. Her life is thriving with a small, successful business and her childhood best friend, Andre, becomes something more.

The trouble arrives when Roy is released early. Five years have gone by and he no longer has a wife. They are still legally married, but too much has changed for both of them. The cost of imprisonment, especially for an innocent person, is unmeasurable. Not only did the true perpetrator get away with a crime and justice isn’t truly served, but the lives of all those surrounding the innocent are ripped apart. To this day, 364 people have been cleared of false charges against them through the DNA findings of The Innocence Project. Celestial and Roy are only an example of the true horror of the falsely convicted in our country.