Review: The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy: The Shocking Inside Story
Author: Ann Rule
Genre: True Crime
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Lorelei King
Length: 18 hours (548 pages)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Release Date: August 1, 1980
Source: Library
Content Warnings: graphic descriptions of crimes against women

SYNOPSIS

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Ann Rule, “America’s best true-crime writer” (Kirkus Reviews), her unforgettable classic account of the horrifying murders in the Pacific Northwest and her shock when she discovered her friend—Ted Bundy—was not only a suspect but also one of the most prolific serial killers in American history.

Meeting in 1971 at a Seattle crisis clinic, Ann Rule and Ted Bundy developed a friendship and correspondence that would span the rest of his life. Rule had no idea that when they went their separate ways, their paths would cross again under shocking circumstances.

The Stranger Beside Me is Rule’s compelling firsthand account of not just her relationship with Bundy, but also his life—from his complicated childhood to the media circus of his trials. Astonishing in its intimacy and with Rule’s clear-eyed prose, you can’t help but share in her growing horror at discovering that her friend was one of the most notorious American serial killers.

An unforgettable and haunting work of research, journalism, and personal memories, The Stranger Beside Me is “as dramatic and chilling as a bedroom window shattering at midnight” (TheNew York Times).

MY THOUGHTS

Ted Bundy is the serial killer who sparked my interest in true crime. The case is horrific, tragic, and fascinating. It is hard to understand the charismatic effect he had on people.

This book is interesting because it is written by a crime writer who also happened to be a close personal friend of Ted Bundy. The coincidences that made this book possible are wild.

I learned a lot of new details about the case that I didn’t get from documentaries and podcasts I’ve previously explored, but all those details made the book a bit long, especially with the never-ending updates about the case after the first edition of the book was published. The audio definitely helped me get through this bulky story. I haven’t read a lot of true crime books, but this made me want to pick up more, and maybe even check out some of Ann Rule’s other books.

Review: Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Hollywood Park
Author: Mikel Jollett
Genre: Memoir
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Mikel Jollet
Length: 12 hours (384 pages)
Publisher: Celadon Books; Macmillan Audio
Release Date: May 26, 2020
Source: Library
Content Warnings: cults, physical and emotional abuse, addiction

SYNOPSIS

HOLLYWOOD PARK is a remarkable memoir of a tumultuous life. Mikel Jollett was born into one of the country’s most infamous cults, and subjected to a childhood filled with poverty, addiction, and emotional abuse. Yet, ultimately, his is a story of fierce love and family loyalty told in a raw, poetic voice that signals the emergence of a uniquely gifted writer.

We were never young. We were just too afraid of ourselves. No one told us who we were or what we were or where all our parents went. They would arrive like ghosts, visiting us for a morning, an afternoon. They would sit with us or walk around the grounds, to laugh or cry or toss us in the air while we screamed. Then they’d disappear again, for weeks, for months, for years, leaving us alone with our memories and dreams, our questions and confusion. …

So begins Hollywood Park, Mikel Jollett’s remarkable memoir. His story opens in an experimental commune in California, which later morphed into the Church of Synanon, one of the country’s most infamous and dangerous cults. Per the leader’s mandate, all children, including Jollett and his older brother, were separated from their parents when they were six months old, and handed over to the cult’s “School.” After spending years in what was essentially an orphanage, Mikel escaped the cult one morning with his mother and older brother. But in many ways, life outside Synanon was even harder and more erratic.

In his raw, poetic and powerful voice, Jollett portrays a childhood filled with abject poverty, trauma, emotional abuse, delinquency and the lure of drugs and alcohol. Raised by a clinically depressed mother, tormented by his angry older brother, subjected to the unpredictability of troubled step-fathers and longing for contact with his father, a former heroin addict and ex-con, Jollett slowly, often painfully, builds a life that leads him to Stanford University and, eventually, to finding his voice as a writer and musician.

Hollywood Park is told at first through the limited perspective of a child, and then broadens as Jollett begins to understand the world around him. Although Mikel Jollett’s story is filled with heartbreak, it is ultimately an unforgettable portrayal of love at its fiercest and most loyal.

MY THOUGHTS

This incredible memoir is a tale of generational trauma that plagues a family with abuse, addiction, mental illness, and cult membership. Mikel’s relationship with his mom was especially toxic.

The writing was incredible. I love how the narrative matured with the age of the author–he captured a childlike voice for his 5-year-old self (for example, word choice and syntax reflected a child’s use and understanding), but the voice became more eloquent as the narrative progressed.

The audiobook is where it’s at. I love the trend of author’s reading their own memoirs, but Mikel Jollett takes it to the next level by adding music from his band The Airborne Toxic Event. At first I wasn’t sure how to feel about the musical interludes throughout the story, but I loved them by the end of the book.

Review: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
Author: Michelle McNamara
Genre: True Crime
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Gabra Zackman, Gillian Flynn, Patton Oswalt
Length: 10 hours (352 Pages)
Publisher: Harper; HarperAudio
Release Date: February 27, 2018
Source: Library (Libby)

SYNOPSIS

A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer—the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorized California for over a decade—from Michelle McNamara, the gifted journalist who died tragically while investigating the case.

“You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.”

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.

At the time of the crimes, the Golden State Killer was between the ages of eighteen and thirty, Caucasian, and athletic—capable of vaulting tall fences. He always wore a mask. After choosing a victim—he favored suburban couples—he often entered their home when no one was there, studying family pictures, mastering the layout. He attacked while they slept, using a flashlight to awaken and blind them. Though they could not recognize him, his victims recalled his voice: a guttural whisper through clenched teeth, abrupt and threatening.

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. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by Michelle’s lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.

MY THOUGHTS

The Golden State Killer case is fascinating and tragic. It’s also a tragedy that Michelle McNamara died before finishing this book; her research and writing were impressive, but the pieced-together sections were a bit disjointed and repetitive.

Additionally, this book did not translate well to audio, which I found especially odd considering the success of true crime podcasts. I recommend reading a physical copy so you can fully absorb the details of the case and follow the nonlinear sections of the book.

Review: The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women
Author: Kate Moore
Genre: Nonfiction
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Length: 16 hours (479 pages)
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Release Date: May 2, 2017
Source: Library (Libby)
Recommended for fans of: women in science
Content: graphic medical details, gaslighting

SYNOPSIS

The incredible true story of the women who fought America’s Undark danger

The Curies’ newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty, and wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of the First World War.

Meanwhile, hundreds of girls toil amidst the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe; they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” are the luckiest alive — until they begin to fall mysteriously ill.

But the factories that once offered golden opportunities are now ignoring all claims of the gruesome side effects, and the women’s cries of corruption. And as the fatal poison of the radium takes hold, the brave shining girls find themselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of America’s early 20th century, and in a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights that will echo for centuries to come.

Written with a sparkling voice and breakneck pace, The Radium Girls fully illuminates the inspiring young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium, and their awe-inspiring strength in the face of almost impossible circumstances. Their courage and tenacity led to life-changing regulations, research into nuclear bombing, and ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives…

MY THOUGHTS

This is such an important story. It is horrifying, infuriating, and heartbreaking. I am shocked that I had never previously heard about these women since their experiences significantly impacted the development of workers’ rights, workplace safety, and even nuclear safety protocols.

The Radium Girls tells the story of women working at radium-dial factories producing luminous watches for soldiers during World War I. There were absolutely NO safety precautions in place as these women painted watch faces with radium paint, and the women were even encouraged to put the radium-coated paint brushes in their mouths to reshape the bristles. At first, these gross oversights in safety seemed like a result of ignorance–radium was heralded as a “miracle drug” with far-reaching health benefits upon its discover. However, as scientists discovered the dangers of radium, these radium companies hid truth from their workers, lied to female employees who expressed concerns, and did nothing to improve safety in their factories.

Many women who were dial painters eventually developed alarming symptoms: rotting teeth, necrosis, cancerous tumors, sepsis, fragile bones, aches and pains all over the body, and death. The book goes into horrifying detail about their symptoms, their medical journeys, and eventual legal battles for workers’ compensation. The companies’ responses absolutely outraged me.

The story did get a bit repetitive since so many women experienced similar symptoms, but I appreciate how Kate Moore told the individual stories of as many of these women as possible. These women deserve to be remembered, and Moore does a fantastic job of not only detailing a health and legal crisis, but also connecting it to human experience. The Radium Girls gives a voice to these forgotten women and delivers justice for so many wrongs these women and their families faced.

Review: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Between the World and Me
Author/Narrator: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Genre: memoir
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Length: ~3.5 hours (152 pages)
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; Penguin Random House Audio
Release Date: July 14, 2015
Source: Libby app

SYNOPSIS

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

MY THOUGHTS

This is a powerful memoir written as letters from father to son about racism in America. I highly recommend adding this to your list of anti-racist reads. A major theme of this memoir is how “the dream” in America is built upon the plunder of Black bodies in both overt and more covert ways.

Coates recounts how his person experiences shaped his relationship to his own Blackness throughout his life. He describes how his understanding and identity evolved over time from growing up in Baltimore to being a student at Howard to moving to New York City with his wife to traveling to Paris and more. His firsthand account experiences with racism and injustice involving himself and people close to him illustrate how deep and widespread racism is in America if you know how to look for it. This book is incredibly important and well-written, and very eye-opening for those with different experiences who are committed to anti-racism.

Review: Becoming by Michelle Obama

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Becoming
Author/Narrator: Michelle Obama
Genre: Memoir
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Length: ~19 hours (426 pages)
Publisher: Crown; Books on Tape
Release Date: November 13, 2018
Source: Libby app

SYNOPSIS

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.

MY THOUGHTS

Listen to this audiobook and let it change your life. She is so eloquent and inspiring, but also relatable. I ugly cried my way through the last few chapters because this book stirred so many emotions. IT IS SO GOOD.

Michelle Obama’s story makes me want to chase my dreams and fight for what I deserve. She has so many accomplishments in her own right beyond being FLOTUS, and I enjoyed her perspective on the White House and life in general. I also admire how throughout her career she always advocated for more minority and women representation at her workplaces and paved the way for others to follow in her footsteps.

I repeat, go with the audiobook on this one. It was delightful listening to Michelle Obama narrate her own memoir, and it felt like a conversation with an old friend.

Review: The Hairbrush and the Shoe by Jeanne D. Stanton

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: The Hairbrush and the Shoe: A True Ghost Story
Author: Jeanne D. Stanton
Genre: Memoir/paranormal
Audience: Adult
Format: Paperback
Length: 211 pages
Publisher: SparkPress
Release Date: April 21, 2020
Source: BookSparks
Recommended for Fans of: ghost stories, paranormal podcasts

SYNOPSIS

When a workman is pushed and hissed at by something invisible on the stairs of her family’s 150-year-old townhouse, Jeanne Stanton must confront the possibility that a ghost inhabits. She proceeds in the way any former Harvard Business School case writer would: she embarks upon a rigorous search for proof of the ghost’s existence and identity, exploring the literature and lore of ghosts; the practices of mediums, psychics, and “ghost busters;” and the various attempts that have been made over the decades to verify ghostly sounds and sights through scientific methods. After visits to a psychic provide insights but not proof, Stanton enters the equally mysterious realms of physics and neurology, hoping science has answers.

Notables encountered during her research efforts include Henry James, Arthur Conan Doyle, Oliver Sacks, and Sigmund Freud, the latter a colleague of her home’s original owner. Wry and witty, Stanton takes time out to laugh at her own futile attempts at ghost detection―spending a sleepless night in an allegedly haunted bedroom, creeping along the edges of rooms in search of cold spots―along the way. Determined to get to the bottom of the ghost business, Stanton wavers between skepticism and belief, searching for definitive evidence―and almost failing to find it. Almost.

MY THOUGHTS

When unexplained occurrences convinced Stanton her house might be haunted, she began researching the paranormal to prove the existence of ghosts. This is a memoir of her research, chronicling her investigations into the validity of documented paranormal cases.

She explores the history of Spiritualism and seances; the science of quantum physics; the psychology of belief; portrayals of ghosts in fiction; and practices of mediums, psychics, and TV ghost hunters. She acknowledges rampant fraud in the industry, but also identifies cases so inexplicable they could only be the result of paranormal activity.

Some sections of the book got a bit repetitive, but the only section that really dragged for me was the chapter about the candidates for her ghost. If you are from Boston and interested in the history of the Boston Brahmins you may enjoy that sections, but I did not find that chapter particularly riveting because it was the most removed from actual paranormal experiences.

As a fan of the paranormal, I was already familiar with a lot of the information Stanton presented, but I enjoyed reading her perspectives as she consolidated information from a vast array of paranormal resources. This is a fascinating read for anyone interested in learning about the paranormal; although, despite the author’s convictions, it cannot offer definitive proof.

Thank you to Book Sparks for sending me a finished copy of this book for promotional purposes.