true crime

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Nonfiction November Week 4: Reads Like Fiction

Published November 24, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to the fourth week of Nonfiction November! If you’d like to find out what it’s all about, please see my post two weeks ago where I revealed my Nonfiction November TBR. my post for Week 1 where I talked briefly about my year in nonfiction so far and Week 2 where I paired up three nonfiction books alongside similar fiction tomes. Week 3 invited us to Be The Expert/Ask The Expert/Become The Expert.

This week as the title suggests, it’s all about non-fiction that “reads like fiction,” and is hosted by the lovely Rennie from What’s Nonfiction. You can check out her post HERE.

Nonfiction books often get praised for how they stack up to fiction. Does it matter to you whether nonfiction reads like a novel? If it does, what gives it that fiction-like feeling? Does it depend on the topic, the writing, the use of certain literary elements and techniques? What are your favorite nonfiction recommendations that read like fiction? And if your nonfiction picks could never be mistaken for novels, what do you love about the differences?

I’ve found this topic so interesting this week and have been racking my brains regarding my personal thoughts on it. I have to admit, it took me a little while to find my niche in nonfiction, I used to read solely fiction and found the nonfiction I was picking up a little dry and uninspiring. It’s only over the past six or seven years or so (and mainly due to the interaction with all you lovely bookish folk) that I’ve found nonfiction that really works for me.

As I mentioned in my previous posts this month, this tends to fall in the categories of popular science (particularly neuroscience but I’ll read anything really!), psychology, feminism, books about books and anything animal/nature related. I’ve only recently started getting into memoirs after reading two stonkingly good ones this year – I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death by Maggie O’Farrell and Educated by Tara Westover and am dipping my toes into the true crime genre after enjoying I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara.

Nonfiction doesn’t have to read like a novel for me to get something personal or moving from it – the memoirs I’ve mentioned above are a perfect example but I have to say, the O’Farrell and the Westover did have a bit of a “fiction flair,” and gave me the same sort of feeling as if I was reading a novel i.e. all the emotions and all of the pace and grittiness that you get from a captivating story. Then there’s the books that fall in the middle. They don’t necessarily read like fiction but at the same time you’re completely gripped throughout and find it difficult to put the book down.

Animal:The Autobiography Of A Female Body by Sara Pascoe for me is one of those in-between books which I read and reviewed last year and if you’re interested you can read my review HERE. It was hilariously funny, eye-opening, feminist and frank and made me angry for all the right reasons. I find it difficult to give nonfiction five stars usually as there’s almost always a certain point of the book, no matter how brief where either the pace slows or the topic becomes a little dry. This wasn’t the case with Animal, it was an easy, no-brainer of a five stars and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment.

On the other hand, a lot of the popular science I read certainly doesn’t have a story-telling or gripping “must read another page right now” style and that’s okay too – sometimes when I read a nonfiction, I want to be informed, educated and learn something a bit different and usually, I prefer to read these books in smaller chunks to absorb all the information I’m being given.

One book that pops into my mind is Stiff: The Curious Lives Of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, which I read in my pre-blogging days but was another automatic five stars from me. It is a fascinating and occasionally humorous look at death and what happens to our bodies postmortem and was a completely fascinating and illuminating read. It’s a book filled with mind-boggling facts that I read in small doses but was written in such an approachable way that I never felt overwhelmed with the scientific aspects of the topic. I must get round to reading some more Mary Roach soon!

Hope you enjoyed reading this post and have found something you might be interested in reading too. I’d love to know your thoughts on the books I’ve mentioned so please let me know in the comments below if you’ve read them or want to read them!

Coming up next week on Nonfiction November Week 5: New to My TBR (hosted by Katie @ Doing Dewey) – the last week of Nonfiction November!

 

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Nonfiction November Week 1: My Year In Nonfiction

Published November 2, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to the first weekly post of Nonfiction November! If you’d like to find out what it’s all about, please see my post yesterday where I revealed my Nonfiction November TBR. The host for this week is Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness (please see her post and all the links HERE) and the topic for this week is my year in nonfiction. Here’s the discussion question for this week:

Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

Here we go!

What was your favourite nonfiction read of the year?

I think a good nonfiction book should be one that stays with you and continues to have an impact long after you’ve finished it so my answer for this will be I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death, a memoir by Maggie O’Farrell. It was a wonderful, hugely memorable read and I still continue to think about parts of it today. I actually listened to the audio version (which I also highly recommend) but received a physical copy as a gift after I had finished. I was delighted by this as it has a firm place on my favourites shelves and I will definitely be re-reading it in the traditional way in the future.

Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?

I don’t think so, this year I have tended to stick to the topics I know I love like popular science – particularly anything that involves the brain, psychology, nature writing (especially animal-based) and feminism. However, I am open to trying new things and I’ve been particularly intrigued by the true crime genre after I read I’ll Be Gone In The Dark: On Woman’s Obsessive Search For The Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara recently this year.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

Apart from I Am, I Am I Am, I think I have (or would) recommend Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (review to follow shortly) or This Is Going To Hurt: Secret Diaries of A Junior Doctor by Adam Kay which is hilariously funny and a very illuminating read on the NHS currently.

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November this year?:

I currently have two overflowing shelves of nonfiction that I’ve been woefully behind in getting to. I thought Nonfiction November was the perfect opportunity to clear some of my backlog and read some of that amazing nonfiction that I’ve been looking forward to for months (and in some cases, years!). I can’t wait to get started!

Thank you so much to Kim for hosting this week, I’ve really enjoyed taking part and looking back over my year in nonfiction so far!

Coming up next week on Nonfiction November Week 2 (hosted by Sarah’s Book Shelves) – Fiction/Nonfiction Book Pairing.

I’ll Be Gone In The Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search For The Golden State Killer – Michelle McNamara

Published October 16, 2018 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer – the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorised 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.

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.

What did I think?:

If you’re a regular follower of what’s new and what’s hot in the literary world, I don’t think you can have failed to see how much of an effect the true crime book, I’ll Be Gone In The Dark has had on its readers. As with every hyped book, of course I approached it with some trepidation which was also coupled with some unease and a lack of familiarity with the genre in general. My other half, Mr B is quite taken with some true crime podcasts but to be honest, I haven’t really gelled with anything I’ve listened to yet. The worry then was that I’ll Be Gone In The Dark would be a similar experience and I SO wanted to love it, after hearing the highest praise about it from fellow bloggers. Now personally, (please don’t hate me!) this book wasn’t quite the five star read I was anticipating and that was a shame – I had definitely elevated it to astronomical proportions in my mind and sadly, it just didn’t reach those dizzying heights. HOWEVER, there are parts of this book that are utterly fantastic and that I thoroughly enjoyed and I would still recommend this as a must-read book if you’re at all interested in this infamous case or the genre in general.

The late author Michelle McNamara and her husband, Patton Oswalt.

This is the true story of The Golden State Killer and his reign of terror over about a twelve year period that led to thirteen murders, more than fifty rapes and over one hundred burglaries in the state of California. The most fascinating thing about this particular case is how often this one man managed to evade police, leaving very little evidence that would ensure his capture and the way in which he terrified his victims. In the early years of his brutal activities, DNA testing was very much in its infancy and detectives had to rely heavily on anything left at the scene and eyewitness statements. However, our perp was incredibly adept at slipping under the radar and even as his crimes began to escalate, he still managed to escape the authorities and leave them frustrated, confused and eventually despondent. McNamara herself becomes engrossed with the case and spent countless hours often working long into the night, trying to piece together small scraps of evidence, communications between the police and eyewitnesses that may lead to the incarceration of such a sadistic and deplorable criminal.

One of three primary composite sketches of The Golden State Killer.

By FBI – https://www.fbi.gov/wanted/seeking-info/unknown-suspect-21, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60645485

Part of what makes this intriguing work so poignant is that Michelle McNamara sadly died quite suddenly as she was in the middle of writing this book. It has been pieced together by crime writer Paul Haynes, investigative journalist Billy Jensen and her widower Patton Oswalt who obviously had access to the files and notes she was working on. In a strange way, this was one of the things I appreciated about this book and in another way, that’s why I haven’t rated it any higher. Let me try and explain. It was fascinating to read about Michelle’s research, part of it in her own words and part of it in other words and I adored her gutsy determination, passion for justice and effort that she put into the whole project. Nevertheless, I feel like that is one of the problems with I’ll Be Gone In The Dark. At points, it really doesn’t read very well, as if it has been pieced together by too many people (which it has!) and unfortunately, this led to a rather disjointed, haphazard and uneven kind of reading experience as I made my way through it.

I don’t think it helped that I read this book over a period of about a month in little portions at a time. I often found I lost track of the narrative and there were so many facts and figures it made it slightly overwhelming to absorb occasionally. Possibly it may have been better if I had concentrated fully on this book and nothing else until I had finished it? Perhaps, I’m not sure. Saying that, there are some truly wonderful things about this read that make it memorable and still stand out in my mind. I won’t give too much away but there are moments when the author describes our killer’s usual protocol as he enters a house and the terrors that he subjects his victims to whilst he is in there. During these parts of the narrative, it read almost like a suspense or crime novel and I was on the edge of my seat, it was utterly horrifying. I kept reading parts out to Mr B – “did you realise he did this?,” and “how can one man be so sadistic?!” I’m sure he was getting fed up with me by the end!

So to sum up, this is an incredibly gripping read that I believe fans of true crime would really devour. If you’re like me and not a usual true crime reader, perhaps go into it with realistic expectations but I’m sure you’ll find it to be a dramatic and haunting experience. I certainly know there’s passages of this that I’ll never, ever forget!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Another Day In The Death Of America – Gary Younge

Published March 16, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

On Saturday 23 November 2013 ten children were shot dead. The youngest was nine; the oldest was nineteen. They fell in suburbs, hamlets and ghettos. None made the national news. It was just another day in the death of America, where on average seven children and teens are killed by guns daily.

Younge picked this day at random, searched for their families and tells their stories. What emerges is a sobering, searing, portrait of youth and guns in contemporary America.

What did I think?:

This piece of non fiction has been on my TBR for quite a long time and I’m delighted (yet still slightly traumatised from the reading experience) that I’ve finally got around to reading it. If you’re a long-time follower of my blog you might remember a post I did on the short piece of work by Stephen King called Guns. If you haven’t read it and feel as passionately as I do about gun regulations, you really should, I found it to be a phenomenal read. But back to Gary Younge whom in Another Day In The Death Of America, takes one 24 hour period, completely at random and catalogues in detail the stories of young people who have died because of guns. Some of the families of the victims he was unable to speak to personally, (understandably some grieving parents found it too difficult to talk to a journalist) but in these cases, he goes behind the scenes and learns as much about the young person that has died as possible.

It’s absolutely shocking to think that in the one day that Gary Younge chose, TEN young people were shot dead, the youngest being just nine years old which was particularly horrifying to me. I’m not sure if it was the age of this victim, a young boy called Jaiden, or the manner of his death which was so abhorrent to me and I really felt passionately angry at the perp. What kind of grown man or to put it better – monster, inflicts that on a child purely to get back at an ex? With Another Day In The Death Of America, the punches just keep on rolling and I had to keep my notebook handy to write down multiple facts as I read them as I just couldn’t believe what I was reading. Did you know that firearms are the leading cause of death in black children under the age of nineteen in America and the second cause of death in children of the same age groups after car accidents? Furthermore, a lot of people justify these figures as being “black on black crime” (a direct quote from a New York Mayor) but the difference between black people killing other black people and white people killing other white people is barely significant.

I just want to mention one more story that had a profound effect on me, although I have to add that all these stories will touch in you in some shape or form. There was a case of two boys, eleven and twelve years old respectively, who were left alone overnight without adult supervision. Tragically, one of the boys was killed by the other accidentally. The father was held as responsible, often leaving his guns out where the children could reach them and in the end, he was charged with the crime of “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.” Basically, this is the same charge as if the two boys had found his stash of porn!

One of the things I enjoyed most about this book, apart from Gary Younge’s obvious compassion towards all the victims, is that not all of the victims are made out to be angels. He accepts that in fact, some of them made very bad decisions and life choices and illustrates their individual circumstances, situation they were born in to, limited choices, bad schools, the availability of drugs, the lure of gangs etc. He doesn’t make any excuses for them but lays out the cold, honest facts on the table for the reader to scrutinise. At the end of the day however, does anything in the world excuse the fact that they were shot? I don’t think so.

After the horrific Florida Parkland shooting recently, I feel more strongly than ever that there should be more stringent regulations on guns. In this book, Gary Younge could not have illustrated this point any better by including a quote by President Obama who said words to the effect: “if there’s a lock to prevent a child getting into some aspirin, there should definitely be a lock to stop a child pulling a trigger on a gun.” In fact, it’s a sobering thought that 31% of accidental deaths caused by firearms could be prevented by adding child lock/loading indicators. If you’re interested in this topic and have fervent views on gun violence like my own, I highly, highly recommend this book. It will make you think, break your heart and pray that something can be done to stop this madness soon.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Another Day In The Death Of America by Gary Younge is the twentieth book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!