books and reading

Chasing the Boogeyman

Title: Chasing the Boogeyman

Author: Richard Chizmar

Genre: thriller, mystery

Thank you Netgalley for this book!

I was introduced to Richard Chizmar because of his collaboration with Stephen King on Gwendy’s Button Box, which was great. I’ve also read his sequel, Gwendy’s Magic Feather, and am really excited for the next Gwendy book. I follow him on Twitter, but haven’t read much else of his. But when I saw that Netgalley was offering this one, I jumped at the chance to read more of his work. And, my gosh, did I love this one.

From Goodreads: In the summer of 1988, the mutilated bodies of several missing girls begin to turn up in a small Maryland town. The grisly evidence leads police to the terrifying assumption that a serial killer is on the loose in the quiet suburb. But soon a rumor begins to spread that the evil stalking local teens is not entirely human. Law enforcement, as well as members of the FBI are certain that the killer is a living, breathing madman—and he’s playing games with them. For a once peaceful community trapped in the depths of paranoia and suspicion, it feels like a nightmare that will never end.

Recent college graduate Richard Chizmar returns to his hometown just as a curfew is enacted and a neighborhood watch is formed. In the midst of preparing for his wedding and embarking on a writing career, he soon finds himself thrust into the real-life horror story. Inspired by the terrifying events, Richard writes a personal account of the serial killer’s reign of terror, unaware that these events will continue to haunt him for years to come.

This book is amazing. One of the best I’ve read this year, honestly. Even though it’s a work of fiction, Chizmar’s family, parents, siblings, wife, kids, etc that he mentions in the book are all real. The town eh grew up in and the streets, locations, etc are real. But the events are not. He says at the end (no spoilers here) that as he was thinking about this book, he knew that his younger self just had to be the narrator. And it works. Who better to tell a story of your hometown? The plot is great, with Richard and his journalist pal, Carly, trying to solve the murders of these girls. The story isn’t true, but it reads exactly like a true crime book. There are even photos of the “victims” and other people involved. Chizmar, I think, writes horror, but this one isn’t horror at all. It’s just a good old-fashioned mystery. Sure, girls being killed is pretty awful, but this book is not graphic at all. I’ll definitely be recommending it to my true crime/thriller fellow readers.

books and reading

If You Tell

Title: If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood

Author: Gregg Olsen

Genre: True Crime

PopSugar Reading Challenge Prompt: A book from your TBR list chosen at random

I’ve read some pretty horrific stories in my life. The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum comes to mind. Although it’s fiction, it’s based on a true story. This book is extraordinarily difficult to read. Another rough book was one I read last year: The Road Out of Hell which was the true story of the Wineville Murders. But, I think this one takes the top prize of “Most Horrific.”

From Goodreads: After more than a decade, when sisters Nikki, Sami, and Tori Knotek hear the word mom, it claws like an eagle’s talons, triggering memories that have been their secret since childhood. Until now.

For years, behind the closed doors of their farmhouse in Raymond, Washington, their sadistic mother, Shelly, subjected her girls to unimaginable abuse, degradation, torture, and psychic terrors. Through it all, Nikki, Sami, and Tori developed a defiant bond that made them far less vulnerable than Shelly imagined. Even as others were drawn into their mother’s dark and perverse web, the sisters found the strength and courage to escape an escalating nightmare that culminated in multiple murders.

Shelly Knotek is truly one of the worst people I’ve ever read about. The horrors she inflicted on the people in her house, family or otherwise, is just beyond terrifying. I was in shock reading about the atrocities she inflicted on those around her. And from what I’ve read, she has zero remorse. As much as I’ve read about serial killers, it seems like most either had a terrible childhood or have some sort of mental illness that leads them to a propensity for violence. Note: having a mental illness does NOT make a person more violent. But there are enough documented cases of serial killers with a mental illness, such as schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder.

Shelly Knotek didn’t have a terrible childhood. She had a bit of a rough start, but once she ended up in a stable home, she was loved and taken care of by parents who cared about her. But the second she stepped into their home, she was a difficult child. But enough people have difficult childhoods (look at her daughters, for example) and turn out just fine. I’m not going to diagnose a person based on one book, but she’s definitely missing any kind of empathy. She is cruel, manipulative, and downright evil. This book is a difficult book to stomach, knowing that it’s all true. But it was also a fascinating look into how people (her daughters) persevere and overcome.

books and reading

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives

Title: The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives

Author: Dashka Slater

Genre: True Crime, LGBTQ+ issues

PopSugar Prompt: a book in a different format than you usually read (ebook, audiobook, graphic novel, etc).

As much as I love podcasts, I’m not a big audiobook person. I like that I can listen to podcasts in small chunks, doing dishes, laundry, running errands, but to listen to a book in small chunks is really hard. I just forget what happened last time. Yesterday, I had massive chores ahead of me. I knew I was in for the long haul of several hours. Through the amazing site, every summer I download free audiobooks. They give you two choices, you pick one. Knowing I wanted to listen to the whole book yesterday, I selected the shortest one and put it on 1.5 speed. Voila! Entire book in one day.

From Goodreads:

One teenager in a skirt.
One teenager with a lighter.
One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.

I’ve been told how amazing this book is. I knew it was non-fiction but that was all I knew. So when we first meet Sasha and learn that they are an agender person, I realized the magnitude of what this book was about. It wasn’t just about two teens involved in a crime, but it was potentially a hate crime against an LGBTQ+ individual. We learn Sasha’s backstory and how they came to be known as Sasha. Born a male, Sasha never really felt truly male nor truly female, hence the agender decision. They (pronoun of Sasha’s choice) renamed themself Sasha because it’s a gender neutral name and started wearing skirts because that was the clothing they felt was most comfortable.

One day riding the 57 bus in Oakland, Sasha’s life collided with Richard’s. He was a good kid, but he had made some dumb mistakes, fighting, skipping school, bad grades, but he was really trying to turn things around. He and a friend saw Sasha, wondered why a boy was wearing a skirt, and decided to play a prank, or so they thought. Richard took a lighter to Sasha’s skirt, fully expecting a little flame that Sasha would quickly pat out and would go on about their day. However, as Sasha was sleeping, the fire quickly erupted into a fireball, burning their legs from thigh to calf.

The entire book lets you into both Sasha’s and Richard’s lives before and after the first. You really get to know these kids. Richard made a poor decision, but had Sasha not been wearing a skirt, the fire never would have happened. Make no mistake: Richard’s decision was horrendous. He was also 16 and severely underestimated what would happen. That’s no excuse. He deserved any and all punishment he received. I’ve taught 16-year-old, and boy can they be poor decision makers. I absolutely do not justify his actions, but I see how Sasha and their family came to the realization that forgiving Richard (who took full responsibility) was the right thing to do.

This book was fantastic. Pieced together through social media posts, news articles, public records, and interviews, the author does an amazing job of telling the full story. The book, while telling a terrible story, is one of optimism. Sasha, despite the fire, has moved on to college, living a great life. Richard, since he took full responsibility and has the support of his family, could really turn his life around. This book is critical for students to learn empathy for people who might look different, act different, or feel differently than them. I’d love to see every high school student read this one!

books and reading

Devil’s Knot

My interest in true crime started here. I saw Paradise Lost on HBO and was shook. I don’t remember a lot about the documentary, but I remember being captivated and horrified. I had no idea whether or not the West Memphis 3 did the crime, but I definitely saw issues with the case.

As time has passed, my interest has grown. I’ve listened to podcasts, watched the follow up installments of Paradise Lost and have dug through case evidence. So why not add one more item to my list of references. After reading several Reddit threads, this book seems to be the most well-received by the WM3 community. Although it was published before the WM3 were released, it provides excellent insight into the case.

The book follows the initial investigation of the teens and how they were eventually arrested and convicted. The police were well aware of Damien, and he had been on their radar for quite some time for being “disturbing.” He had been in and out of mental hospitals a few times. He had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was medicated. Jason Baldwin, however, was a good kid. He was never in trouble, made good grades, and most people liked him. Jessie Misskelley was a high school dropout with an IQ of around 70, making him at about a second-grader’s level of intelligence. He was constantly in trouble, was always fighting, and had a lot of difficulty keeping a job.

Through a series of ridiculous events, the three boys are arrested for the murders. Jessie was goaded into a confession, and even though he got a lot of the details wrong, the police used it as evidence. Basically, the three boys were viewed as Satan worshippers because they wore black, listened to Metallica, and weren’t good Christians like most everyone else. Oh, and Damien read Stephen King. (Where is my eye roll emoji when I need one?)

After the arrests, the book then follows both trials. Jessie’s was first, then Damien and Jason were tried together in the second trial. This book was great. It was well-researched, well-written, and full of detail. It took me a long time to get through because there’s no skimming a book like this. There are also around 400 endnotes that you MUST read to get the whole story. I ended up using two bookmarks- one for where I was in the book, and one for where I was in the endnotes. But I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in true crime or the case itself. It’s an excellent look at the justice system.

books and reading

The Road Out of Hell

I listen to a lot of true crime podcasts. I read a handful of books on the subject, as well, but sometimes they get too intense. I really enjoyed The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir, Manson: The Life and Times of Charles MansonMidnight Assassin, and The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer. There are a few others that I never reviewed, but not many are as intense as this one was. Although you know it’s non-fiction and the boy we read about escapes, the horrors he and others endured are beyond words.

Sanford Clark was sent to California to live with his uncle, Gordon Northcutt, on a chicken farm. Uncle Gordon was, to put it plainly, a monster. He kidnapped, raped, and killed little boys. Sanford lived there for two years and was forced to endure many horrifying things himself, including helping kill boys and dispose of bodies. As odd as it sounds, this book is also uplifting. Sanford’s survival was nothing short of heroic, as well as his sister, who never gave up on rescuing him. Sanford eventually marries and has kids (this is all in the beginning of the book, so I’m really not spoiling anything for you) and, although he struggled as an adult to let go of his past, he was constantly surrounded by love.

The details of what happened to Sanford and the other boys are terrible, but nowhere near as graphic as I  was expecting. The story really is about Sanford overcoming this terrible part of his life, how he survived, and how he turned his life into something meaningful. I enjoyed it much more than I was expecting.

books and reading

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

I’m a big fan of true crime. That’s a really weird thing to say. But I also know I’m not alone, given the sheer volume of books, tv shows, and podcasts featuring true crime. I’ve read about plenty of serial killers, but the Golden State Killer (GSK) was one I didn’t know much about. I had heard about this book from several people, but I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to read it. Usually, I don’t enjoy when an author inserts him/herself into the narrative. Not that I think they shouldn’t, but rather, it just doesn’t appeal to me as a reader. However, I read The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir earlier this year and really loved it. The author completely immerses herself into the story, and it worked. So, I went ahead and gave this one a try.

Sadly, Michelle McNamara passed away in her sleep before this book was finished. Sections are pieced together from previous stories and notes, but the bulk of it was finished. Michelle was married to Patton Oswalt, a comedian, so she spent a bit of time in the spotlight. Though, it seems she never used this to her advantage. She did her work, dug through countless files, interviewed dozens, etc. She was desperate for the GSK to be revealed. It’s clear she didn’t care if she was the one who identified him, but she was on a mission to uncover as much as she could.

Knowing she never knew who the GSK was (spoiler alert- he was found recently. Look up how. It’s fascinating), made this book hard to read. I feel really bad for her husband and daughter who lost someone they dearly loved. However, if you are someone who is interested in true crime, unsolved mysteries, etc, then this is a great one to read.

books and reading

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir

Trigger Warnings. Some people abide by them, request them, honor them. Some feel like they are useless, a waste of time. catering to a “wimpy” generation. However you may feel about them, it’s almost impossible to escape the fact that our society has its problems that many are uncomfortable discussing or dealing with. Maybe people have pasts filled with trauma, which can be brought to the surface at any moment by something as small as a photograph, a smell, a word. Whether you include trigger warnings in your writing or discussions is entirely up to you. But how do you escape being triggered when your entire career is filled with them? Alexandria Marzano-Lesnivich deals with this very question in her memoir/true crime book.

As a child, Alexandria was molested by a family member for several years. The description is gut-wrenching and difficult to read, even for a person who has never been through a similar experience. And when Alexandria becomes an adult, she decides to be a defense attorney, having to defend the very same kind of person: a child molester. She is a law student when she first encounters the story of Ricky Langley, a convicted child molester who also killed a young boy. The story of Ricky isn’t as cut and dry as you might think. When Ricky’s mom was pregnant, she was in the hospital following a car accident, pumped full of dozens of drugs. She nor the doctors knew she was pregnant. Ricky has been mentally troubled since he was a child, thinking his older brother, though dead from the same car accident, would come and speak to him. And although Ricky wasn’t found legally insane, Alexandria asks whether or not he deserves the punishment bestowed upon him.

As the story evolves, more of Ricky’s story and Alexandria’s story unfolds. In her effort to try and understand Ricky and his motivation, she is forced to deal with her own trauma and her feelings towards her own molester. As difficult as the subject matter of this book is, I still highly recommend it because of how beautifully it is written, how well-researched it is, and how far Alexandria is willing to go in her own discovery of herself and of this case. I love a good true crime book, and this one is one of the better ones I’ve read in awhile.

books and reading

Midnight Assassin

I’m a big fan of true crime stories. I have seen more episodes of Forensic Files than I can tell you,  I subscribe to several podcasts on the subject, and I’ve read a number of books. At some point, I bought Midnight Assassin for my Kindle and when I needed a book with a time of day in the title, I selected this one to fulfill that category.

Midnight Assassin follows the brutal murders of several people, mostly women, in Austin, Texas, in the late 1800s.  The initial targets were black women, and even though slavery was over, clearly equality wasn’t happening. The white families who “paid” these women for their housekeeping services weren’t all that troubled when several of them were murdered in their own servant quarters. The murders became so frequent that servants were begging to sleep in the kitchens of the white homes for protection rather than their own quarters.  But then two white women were murdered on the same night and things changed. People started caring and trying to solve these crimes was put on the forefront.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. The story of the crimes was put into historical context, and it was clear the author had done his homework. I would definitely recommend this book to any true crime junkie.

books and reading

Adnan’s Story

I was very reluctant to read this book, only because I listened to both Serial and Undisclosed and just didn’t want a rehashing of the same facts I already knew. And there are a few pieces of information that I hadn’t known, but mostly it was old information. However, it was really worth reading for a few reasons.

It’s no surprise that Rabia is going to write a biased story about the facts. And I have no problem with this. She makes no apology at all for believing in Adnan’s innocence. And I agree with her 100%. I was pretty sure after Serial, mostly sure after Undisclosed, and completely sure after reading this book. Having the facts in paper in front of me was really helpful to see all the inconsistencies. And one great thing about the book is the inclusion of original documents like police reports, cell phone records, and attorney’s notes. Rabia also does an excellent job of putting a lot of things into context within the Muslim faith. Why is it such a big deal that Adnan was sneaking around behind his parents’ backs? Why is Ramadan such an important holiday? How is faith used in support and simultaneously against him within the trial? This information was touched on in Undisclosed, virtually ignored in Serial, but well explained in this book.

The best part about this book is getting to hear Adnan’s voice. There are entire sections that he wrote himself. These parts give his side of the story behind his relationship with Hae, his interaction with Sarah Koenig, and his thoughts on his situation in jail. These were my favorite parts because I knew his words weren’t being edited or taken out of context. I knew Rabia would do his voice justice.

Rabia gives credit to Serial for bringing Adnan’s story to the masses. There would be no PCR and subsequent new trial without Serial first existing. Although it seems like Rabia is frustrated with Koenig with good reason when Koenig discusses the police mostly did a good job at their investigation (that is absolutely NOT the case; my goodness they were so inept), she is also upset that Koenig didn’t give Adnan the support she was hoping for. And I see this differently. I got up at 6am the morning the last episode was posted. I laid in bed in the dark and listened with excitement for Koenig to take a side on the issue. And it irritated me that she didn’t. However, after much reflection, I believe she did the right thing. She’s a journalist. And in a world of complete bias from most mainstream media, I think presenting the facts and letting the listeners decide for themselves was the right thing to do. It would have been wrong of her for her to flat out tell us what she thought. And granted, she only presented part of the story (obviously, there was no way to put it all out there in the 12 episode limit), Undisclosed took up the slack and filled in the blanks.

I really do recommend people who are not only familiar with Adnan’s case and a MUST read for anyone on Team Adnan. It really did help solidify my thoughts on the case. Rabia might not be a spectacular writer, but that’s irrelevant because her passion comes through loud and clear. She believes in Adnan and so do I.

books and reading

The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer

About a year ago, I participated in a book exchange with some friends. We all brought a book wrapped as a gift, drew numbers, and the book you picked was what you took home. Of all the books my friends brought, this was the only one I had never read, so it was lucky that I picked it. Granted, it took me an entire year to finally sit down to read it, but I should never have waited. What a fascinating book!

I had never heard of Richard Kuklinski until this book. He was a Polish man, abused by his parents, grew up poor, made fun of by all the neighborhood boys, and he turned into one of the mafia’s biggest contract killer. Because he wasn’t Italian, he couldn’t be made, so he worked for the 5 biggest families in NY, and the 2 biggest in NJ. He was simply a killer for hire. And, and far as anyone knows, all the families used him, but never targeted him for a hit he did as retaliation. He was too good, too efficient, too successful to hold any hits against him. If Family A wanted to kill a member of Family B, they called Kuklinski. If Family B wanted to kill a member of Family A, they called Kuklinski, no hard feelings for his previous job against their family.

He was a killer for over 30 years, no regrets, no conscience. He was also a giving family man. He was terribly abusive to his wife (beating her until she had miscarriages, even), but never beat his children. He bought them anything they wanted, paid for sick kids in the hospital to have treatment, enjoyed feeding the ducks at the park. I watched a documentary on HBO after I read this book, and he had such a shift in personality when speaking about the killings vs his family. He teared up (maybe crocodile tears, I don’t know) when talking about how his family meant so much to him, but had zero remorse for the over 100 people he killed. It was just a job to him. He killed at will. Anyone who looked sideways at him was a target.

Kuklinski was eventually brought down by police. An undercover cop gained his confidences and set him up. Kuklinski was arrested and confessed to 5 murders. He wasn’t given the death penalty because of his confession, but died in prison due to a rare blood vessel inflammation.

There are a few books on Kuklinski, and this is the only one I read, but I highly recommend it, if true crime is something you enjoy reading. It read like a novel, telling Kuklinski’s life story. I would love to hear the author speak about all the interviews he did to get this information. This book is such a well written comprehensive of Kuklinski.