Category Archives: Non-Fiction

#Mx3 Review: Suburban Legends: True Tales of Murder, Mayhem, and Minivans by Sam Stall

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  • Print Length: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Quirk Books (October 1, 2013)
  • Source: Publisher (via Edelweiss)

In this collection of horrifying true stories, Stall proves that living in the suburbs isn’t as quiet or calm as one would tend to believe.   In stories ranging from hauntings to brutal killings and supernatural creatures, Stall terrifies readers with tales destined to be retold around a campfire or at a slumber party.  Stall focuses on well-known stories of murderous individuals we’ve all hear about on the news, but also focuses on local, lesser-known stories. Included, when applicable, are chilling photographic evidence of the haunting, or, even more terrifying, of the killer.  For those more sensitive, Stall does share stories that are more humorous than terrifying, a perfect combination of hilarity and horror.

This collection of 60 stories is broken down into the following categories:

  • Inhumanly Bad Houseguests (hauntings, poltergeists, paranormal activity)
  • The Ghoul Next Door (Do you know what your creepy neighbor does behind closed doors!?)
  • Hellish Commutes (haunted roadways, hotels, etc)
  • Backyard Beasts (unnaturally odd creatures)
  • Really Desperate Housewives (murderous wives/mothers)
  • Lawn of the Dead (Horrifying things found buried in backyards or uncovered during construction)
  • Sundry Cul-de-sacriliges (Miscellaneous hauntings, paranormal activity)

Each story only has a page or two devoted to it, so if you are anything like me, you’ll find yourself wanting to know more. I caught myself hitting Google to find out more, especially when I discovered that one of the stories was based just a few miles down the road (gulp!)

Recently re-released in ebook format, Suburban Legends: True Tales of Murder, Mayhem, and Minivans is a must needed addition to your Halloween reading collection! Highly, highly recommended.

2013MX3

Review: We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (February 1, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 1561456276
  • Source: Publisher

Many of us have basic details about the Birmingham Children’s March in 1963 in which 4,000 students boycotted school in a march to protest segregation. Yet never before have we stepped inside the shoes of those students who stepped up to fight for rights which should have been guaranteed but were not.

We’ve Got a Job follows the stories of four children who participated in the march. Nine-year-old Audrey Hendricks was the youngest to participate. Her parents stood behind her decision, as did her teachers and close friends. Washington (Wash) Booker grew up among poverty and a strong fear of the police. It wasn’t uncommon for parents to threaten their children, ordering them to behave or “the police are gonna come and get you.” James Stewart was an excellent student, opting not to let the color of his skin determine how well he did in school. He lived in a large house with a pool, his parents were lucky enough to have successful jobs. Arnetta Streeter had light skin and could have passed as white, but instead went so far as to attend young activist training so she could stand fight to end segregation. She grew up being called names due to the light color of her skin, even by other black children. Her desire for change was so strong that she started a club at school called the Peace Ponies. Among the stories of these young, brave, individuals, readers get a glimpse of other powerful individuals from both sides of the battle lines  involved in this fight, from Martin Luther King, Jr to Reverend Shuttlesworth and Bull Connor.

Breaking up the text are large black and white photos that allow readers to visualize the intensity of this battle, from the fear in the eyes of those individuals being attacked by police to the shrouded faces of the Ku Klux Klan. Detailed sidebars heighten the intensity, adding even more information to this detail-rich chronicle of a pivotal time in our nation’s history. Words cannot express how moved I was by this book. This is a title that should be added to curriculum in schools around the country so that it may educate and inspire this generation of children to work for further change not just in our own country but world-wide.

I chose to read this book with my boys. Justin is seven, just two years younger than the youngest student in this march. At this point in his schooling, while he he has learned about the great acts of Martin Luther King, Jr., his curriculum hasn’t delved into the deeper and more dark aspects of that time period. He was shocked and horrified to learn of the treatment of children his own age, the crimes that be committed against blacks without fear of punishment from the authorities (and in some cases, at the hands of authorities). So gracious that he will never have to endure this treatment, I still felt it was important for him to learn at an early age just how far our country has come.  John-John is thirteen and well-informed about this pivotal time in our nation’s history. Still, he was unfamiliar with the Children’s March and was devastated to learn about what those young children went through to stand up for what they believed in.  Given the fact that we are a biracial family, I felt it was important that the boys understand just how lucky we are and appreciate just how much those before us did in order to guarantee the freedoms we now have.

Highly, highly recommended.

Review: Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1 edition (November 13, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 145162137X
  • Source: Publisher

Twenty-four year old Susannah Cahalan was a writer for the New York Post. She was a very outgoing young woman, leading an active social life. It’s early 2009 when she wakes to find to small bite marks on her arm. The city is on a big bed bug scare so Susannah instantly thinks she’s been infected. After having her apartment treated, Cahalan’s paranoia about the tiny, pervasive bugs should have diminished. Instead, her paranoia in general increases. This incident is just the precursor for host of other symptoms, including drastic mood swings, sensitivity to bright lights and general feeling of unease.

Her doctors initially diagnose it as mono…yes, the kissing disease. Yet the symptoms not only continue, but intensify, after she receives treatment. Cahalan begins experiencing horrific seizures and hallucinations. It is only the persistence of her family and loved ones that convince doctors to admit her into New York University Hospital.

The doctors don’t actually know how it began for me. What’s clear is that if that man had sneezed on you, you’d most likely just get a cold. For me, it flipped my universe upside down and very nearly sent me to an asylum for life.

 

The diagnoses ranged from epilepsy to alcohol withdrawal to a host of mental illnesses. The most terrifying part of this ordeal is that Cahalan doesn’t remember most of it. She awakes in a hospital bed, under guard, weeks later, unable to speak.

Brain on Fire is Cahalan’s narrative of her descent into madness. Unable to recall the majority of the events that took place in this month-long time frame, Cahalan uses her doctor’s notes, video recordings, and a journal her father kept to relive the living hell that turned a healthy, ambitious young woman into a catatonic shell of a human being. It wasn’t until her case was reviewed by a doctor (a “real-life Dr. House”) with experiences in cases like this that Cahalan received a legitimate diagnosis for her illness, a newly discovered autoimmune disorder. Essentially, her body was attacking itself, attempting to rid her body of a hidden infection of some sort. Her brain was on fire, under attack by her own body.

Cahalan’s narrative is incredibly haunting. Imagine losing a month of your life, waking with no memories of what transpired? Once she did regain conscious, the recovery was not instant. She had to learn to do many of the things she took for granted. Her relationships were tested; luckily she had a dedicated boyfriend and parents who remained by her side throughout the entire ordeal. When she awoke the relationship she had with her parents, divorced, changed. Before the ordeal, she didn’t have that close a relationship with her father, yet was incredibly close to her mother. After her illness, those relationships shifted. Her father was there by her side almost continuously, supporting her when she herself could not, perhaps making up for lost time.

The amount of knowledge and information contained within this book is truly tremendous. In addition to learning about Cahalan’s harrowing diagnosis and recovery, readers learn a great deal about her illness, an illness just recently discovered. While Cahalan’s story is terrifying, what is more terrifying is the number of individuals suffering from this disorder, yet not diagnosed. Individuals banished to mental institutions for an illness that is not at all psychological.

Bottom line: this is a book that must be read, if not for just the subject matter alone but to raise the awareness of the number of illnesses and disorders that go undiagnosed, unknown. Highly recommended.

Review: This Life Is In Your Hands by Melissa Coleman

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 10, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0061958336
  • Source: Publisher

In the late 1960s, Melissa Coleman’s parents, Eliot and Sue, gave up their life in regular society to move to a rural rugged coastland in Maine. They purchased 60 acres of land, planning to exist solely on the crops they grew. They were inspired by Helen and Scott Nearing, authors  of Living the Good Life, a couple well known as proponents of living off the land. Coleman’s parents literally lived off of what they established themselves, including a wood cabin they built from hand, devoid of the conveniences of plumbing, electricity, etc. It was here they raised Melissa and her two sisters.

Melissa was born within months of this move to the rural life. She wasn’t raised as many children were, instead of close friends she relied on farm animals around her to keep her company. It wasn’t too long before she was graced with a younger sister to keep her company in the open expanse of nature around her. For the sake of living off of nature, her parents swore off common practices, including prenatal care, childhood vaccinations, and the like.

This life her parents established for them was not an easy one. Her father worked endlessly to produce crops that, in turn, her mother diligently prepared for storage in their food cellar. Her father became obsessed with providing for his family. Unfortunately, the perfect simple life they craved for wasn’t the life they obtained. Soon the media learned of this family’s farming movement, and the idyllic life they craved to create began to crumble. When a horrific tragedy befalls the family, this facade of a happy life the family created began to fall apart. Instances of mental instability in Melissa’s mother became more prevalent, “checking out” when things got too rough. The patriarch of the family, the proponent behind this movement, begins to falter in his passion and his dedication to his family. By the fall of 1978, this life they created together, out of their own sweat and tears, is nonexistent.

This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family’s Heartbreak is Melissa’s own account of life growing up in a homestead family. Oftentimes, I found myself forgetting that it was her own life she was reliving, for the emotion usually associated with this sort of retelling was absent. I saw this as a clear indication of the sort of family she grew up in, a family more focused on nurturing the land than the members of the family itself.

Knowing from the premise of the book of the sort of tragedy that would befall the family, I became frustrated when it wasn’t brought up until the last 1/3 of the book. That said, the story Coleman portrays is an incredibly inspirational, yet also devastating, book. I was rooting for the family, so set on providing a good life for their children. As I watched the structure, the backbone of the family start to crumble, I was devastated. I wanted the Coleman family to thrive, to prove all those who doubted them that they could seek everything they needed from the land around them.

In today’s society, when we rely so much on technology to exist, I believe it is important to look back at what life was like without these materialistic items.  Coleman’s memoir gives us a glimpse of this simpler life, a life not too far in the past. Highly recommended.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this book. Please be sure to check out the tour page for additional stops in this tour.

Review: The Woman Who Wasn’t There:The True Story of an Incredible Deception by Robin Gaby Fisher and Angelo J. Guglielmo, Jr.

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (April 3, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 1451652089
  • Source: Publisher

After the tragic events of 9/11, those who survived the terrorist attack sought out others in attempts to seek solace and understanding for the feelings they were experiencing.  One of the women who played an active role in the creation and direction of the World Trade Survivors’ Network was Tania Head, a young woman who escaped the carnage of the  seventy-eighth-floor sky lobby of the south tower. In addition to losing her fiance in the other tower, Tania suffered serious burns and injuries. Her retelling of the experience gave other survivors the courage to step forward themselves and thus begin the healing process.

As one of the leaders and advocates for the 9/11 survivors, she was key in saving the “Survivor Stairway” one of the few remaining pieces of the then demolished buildings, as well as providing survivors the opportunity to tour the grounds of the WTC reconstruction.  However, as time continued, as Tania became more prevalent in the press, questions were raised about her retelling of the tragic events of 9/11. When a New York Times reporter attempts to contact Tania to get answers to some of these questions, Tania would cancel scheduled meetings and interviews. She refused to answer even elementary questions about that day.

Eventually, the truth was revealed. Not only was Tania not a survivor of 9/11, she wasn’t even in the city that day. She didn’t have a fiance who perished in the attack, either. The survivors who relied on her for strength had to undergo yet another period of grief, as if the woman they looked up to for so many years had perished herself.

In The Woman Who Wasn’t There: The True Story of an Incredible Deception, Angelo J. Guglielmo, Jr a film-maker and once friend of Tania Head, shares the unbelievable story of this individual’s desperate attempts for attention and acclaim after an event that rocked out country. It reads like a thriller, seeming to be unbelievable, for how could a woman manipulate those individuals already suffering so tremendously into believing she was one of them?

Once I started this book, I couldn’t stop. I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, unable to stop until I finished it. Afterward, I desperately sought to find out why Tania Head would do such a deplorable thing? I found a great deal about this case online. I found myself surprised that I haven’t heard of this story earlier but honestly, so many stories popped up around this time about fake charities and the like I probably glossed over the story.

While the obvious feeling to experience after reading a story like this would be hatred or anger. That said, after I pondered the story over the weekend, there was a happy ending to this story. Despite all the horrible things Tania did, she was able to give hundreds of 9/11 survivors the strength and the confidence to heal, gave them a voice in the construction of the memorial, a voice thus far unheard.

It could be said that this book is once again giving Tania Head undeserved attention and praise, but I implore you to look beyond the story of this woman who betrayed hundreds and instead look at the progress these survivors have made over the years. This is a book that I encourage many to read; those directly affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks may find it too overwhelming to read but I do still encourage them to give it a chance. For ultimately, while there is a great deal of betrayal portrayed, there is a constant glimmer of hope, a glimmer that helped the victims of this tragedy rise up and begin to heal again.  Highly recommended.

Review: Huck by Janet Elder

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway; Reprint edition (October 4, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0767931351
  • Source: Publisher

Michael was a preschooler when the pleas for a  dog began.  He went as far as creating a PowerPoint presentation covering the reasons why he needed a dog.  Despite his incessant begging, his parents Rich & Janet stood strong. They simply couldn’t juggle what is required to do to own a dog with their already crazy lives. Living in New York City made things harder; walking a dog wasn’t as simple as letting the dog out back or taking a quick walk around the park. It required leaving their small apartment, venturing down dozens of floors & venturing out into the busy city streets.

The pleading continued into Michael’s youth and young teen years.  It wasn’t until a life-altering event changed the family’s life that Janet decided: We need to get Michael a dog.  The new puppy would bring happiness and contentment back into their lives.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, The Elders welcome Huck, a red-haired toy poodle, into their lives.  He was full of energy and life, instantly winning the hearts of the entire family.

A few months later, Michael & his parents decide to head to baseball spring training.  They leave Huck with Janet’s sister, a family used to owning and caring for pets.

It’s not until a few days into the trip that they receive the phone call: Huck slipped through a space in their fence and escaped.  Not only is Huck in an unfamiliar area, Michael and his parents are hundreds of miles away.

It is within these first few moments that the Elders start to feel the true power of human kindness.  It doesn’t stop there. Once they get home, throughout their search of Huck, they meet dozens of people, willing to devote their free time & energy to help find Huck.  From random people on the road to police officers, the Elders are given a glimpse of the human kindness that still prevails in today’s world.

Let it be known that I typically don’t review “pet books.”  Books about animals of any sort usually have me sobbing within minutes.  I have a special place in my heart for dogs (and cats!). Yet for some reason, perhaps it was Huck’s adorable image on the book cover, I said yes.

Even before Huck is introduced to the family I had a vested interest in this family.  They were a strong family, one that continued to stand strong despite the tests forced upon them. When Huck came around, he provided their lives with a love they’ve never felt before.  When he ran away, they were forced to deal with yet another heart-breaking blow.  Yet, they continued to stay strong, powered by the generosity of complete strangers, and they trudged on.
Huck is a truly heartwarming book, a perfect read for this time of year when everyone is reflecting on the gifts they have in life. I read it in an afternoon, on almost one sitting (I did have to get up and walk my own dog, Jack, a few times.) Highly recommended for all pet-lovers, those overcoming breast cancer, or simply someone just looking for a heartwarming, hopeful read.

The publisher has provided me three copies of HUCK to give away! To enter, please fill out the form below. Open to US & Canadian residents only. Good luck to all who enter!

Frightful Friday: Monsters in the Movies by John Landis

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week. Feel free to grab the button & join in!

This week’s featured book is Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares by John Landis.

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: DK ADULT (September 19, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 075668370X
  • Source: Publisher

In  Monsters in the Movies, legendary filmmaker features some of the most famous (or infamous) monsters that have made an appearance on the silver screen.   

Starting with vampires (of course!) Landis starts his showcase of vampires with the first cinematic version of Dracula, a German silent film, Nosferatu in 1922.  One can’t mention great vampire films without mentioning the amazing Bela Lugosi.  Many may be unaware that Lugosi was actually offered the role of the Monster in Frankenstein.  However, Lugosi declined, feeling the non-speaking role was beneath an actor of his caliber.  This wasn’t necessarily the best decision for Lugosi was forever typecasted as the Count.

Dozens of other vampire films are portrayed from the older classics through some more recent classics, including The Lost Boys, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Interview with the Vampire, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Moving on to werewolves in film, the process for transformation into these shape-shifting beasts varies from a painful and violent one (An American Werewolf in London) to an almost pleasurable on in The Howling. 

Landis continues to feature dozens of other monsters that have appeared in films, including mad scientists, zombies, ghosts, atomic mutations and many, many more. In each segment, Landis interviews/features a famous filmmaker that has put to film one of the monsters showcased.

Published by DK Publishing, I knew I was in for a treat with this one. Monsters in the Movies is not just a book, but really a work of art.

 

It’s not a book that you read from beginning to end, but one that you pick up and read when you are reminiscing about your favorite horror movie monsters. Flipping through it, I was taken back in time, to the classic horror movies I remember watching as a kid, to the movies I watched, hidden beneath a pillow, as a teen. Monsters in the Movies would make the perfect gift for any fan of horror, in fiction or on the screen. Highly recommended.

Mx3 Review: Monsters in America by W. Scott Poole

  • Hardcover:290 pages
  • Publisher:Baylor University Press (October 15, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 1602583145
  • Source: Publisher

Monsters have been a staple of American culture for decades, from the Salem witch trials to alien invasions and the walking dead. They didn’t just appear randomly; in Monsters in America Poole provides both historical and cultural studies that detail how and why these monsters became a part of our national identity. The book argues 

 ”the origins of all of Amercia’s monster obsessions lie in something more substantial than media-driven cultural ephemera. American monsters are born out of American history. They emerge out of the central anxieties and obsessions that have been a part of the United States from colonial times to the present and from the structures and processes where those obsessions found historical expression.”

Christopher Columbus, great discoverer of the “New World” wrote in his diary of natives he encountered in the Caribbean, referring to them as ” one-eyed men and other men with the dog heads’ who decapitated their victims and drank their blood.” Finding monsters soon became an obsession for Columbus.

Puritans hunted monsters long before the Salem witch trials. The first settler accused of witchcraft was actually Margaret Jones in 1648. The obsession with witchcraft and hunts continued long after the Salem trials, African-American slaves were often accused of “conguration” or “sorcery”, the use of black magic against their white masters a common charge.

The slave industry has long represented a sense of overwhelming doom & darkness, starting from the slave ship itself.  Slaves often believed their masters to be cannibals, the slaves captured to serve as a food source for the slave masters. Many assumed the fires on decks of slave ships, intended to keep disease away, were instead cooking fires. Louisiana slaves saw their masters drinking red wine & assumed it was the blood of their African victims.

A cultural obsession with the dead became prevalent during the Civil War.  Wounded bodies filled the streets, disabled veterans roamed the streets with missing limbs.  These were many of the first visual instances of any sort of trauma to the human body. War photographer Matthew Brady documented the war with photography, showing citizens a side of the war they had never seen. The bodies were actually posed so they would produce the most emotional impact.  These photographs were displayed in an exhibition before being purchased by Congress, then used as photographic evidence of the conflict.

When Jack the Ripper ran rampant in England, the interest in these murders became just as popular in the United States. Several news publications suggested that many unsolved murders were actually victims of Jack the Ripper, despite the fact he was across the ocean in an entirely different continent. The American obsession with monsters continued.

The current obsession with watching grisly scenes of torture and death as a source of entertainment did not start with the Saw franchise. Public viewings of executions, including hangings, beheadings & lynchings, were not uncommon in the 1800s.  Oftentimes, these executions were reenacted for public entertainment.

Human beings as monsters, specifically those individuals of a race other than Caucasian, has run prevalent in American history. African Americans have long been portrayed as monsters, specifically the men. These accusations not only appeared in sermons or public speeches but also in medical journals. African American males were reported to have a monstrous sexual desire that could not be satisfied by women of their own race, all based on the size of their genitalia. 

The claims of hypersexuality in African Americans was showcased in the 1933 film, King Kong. White women have long been victims of this hypersexuality. African males were often referred to as “black beasts” and “ape-like”. The monster in this particular film seeks out a blond, beautiful, Caucasian woman. It was this desire for a white woman that caused the ape’s demise.

Actual monsters have also run rampant in American history. The “monsters” that in the 1930s performed medical tests on poor sharecroppers in Alabama, the infamous Tuskegee experiments, is evidence of this.  In the 1950s and 60s Dr. Albert Kligman performed experiements on prisoners at Philadelphia’s Holmesburg prison. He used prisoners, many African American, to test skin care products.  He would remove large chunks of skin from prisoners for testing. The prisoners were left with a checkerboard pattern of healing wounds on their backs.

As movies, books, comics became even more accessible, authors, graphic artists film makers used these tools to exemplify society’s fears. Following is a brief timeline of substantial events in US history, followed by popular media of that time:

  • 1950s Fear of the atomic bomb created an increased obsession in human abnormalities as a result of nuclear attack. Popular films included: Godzilla (monster created by atomic testing)
  • 1960s Women were often given a tranquilizer called Thalidomide as a cure for morning sickness. It was soon discovered to cause traumatic and extreme birth defects.  Additional The Love Canal tragedy caused numerous instances of cancer and other diseases. Editor Stan Lee created The Fantastic Four, human mutant heroes.  Many more icons of popular culture, all created from some kind of radioactivity, were formed, including Spider-Man and the X-men.

In the 1970s-1990s, the term serial killer became more prevalent. The names Gein, Bundy, and Dahmer became familiar names.  Following the horrible crimes at the hands of these monsters were films describing and featuring similar individuals, including Silence of the Lambs, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Psycho. Citizens of this country had read so many vivid and explicit stories of the real-life monsters’ crime that violence and gore in movies became more prevalent. 

I’d be remiss not to mention The Exorcist,  a film that caused an extreme outcry from the Catholic Church.  This film without a doubt made a statement about the place of religion in our society. Rosemary’s Baby was yet another film that showcased the growing religious crisis in this country.

I could quite literally go on for pages upon pages on this subject.  With my background in psychology, sociology, and criminal justice,  and my love of the horror genre, I couldn’t help but immerse myself in reading Monsters in America.  I barely touched the surface on the wealth of information provided in this book.  To give you a visual, here is what my copy of the book looks like after reading it:

 Those pink things you see sticking out of the book are post-it flags, used to mark passages I found interesting & compelling.

 Monsters in America is a book full of historical data and research, so not exactly light reading, but incredibly rewarding and fulfilling reading. It is not a book meant to be read straight-through, but instead read in bits & pieces.  Unless you are like me, who became so obsessed with this book that I took it everywhere, frequently reading passages allowed to my husband and coworkers. It’s a given that Poole did a tremendous amount of research on this topic, thereby producing a work like none other. I haven’t come across a book that explores our history as it relates to horror in such tremendous and substantial detail.

I don’t read a great deal of non-fiction so the following statement is even more powerful: Monsters in America has without a doubt earned a spot on my favorite books of 2011. Highly recommended.

Check back later today with a special guest post from the author, Scott Poole!

 

Mx3 Guest Post: Truth is Scarier Than Fiction by Kim Ukura

Today I’m excited to welcome Kim from Sophisticated Dorkiness with a guest post. When I was soliciting guest posts for Murder, Monsters & Mayhem, Kim asked if posts about non-fiction books was permitted. Of course, I said yes. Truth is oftentimes scarier than fiction. That is the exact topic Kim writes about today; non-fiction that will send a chill through your bones!

 

The old cliché is that truth is stranger than fiction, which I’ve always thought was true. I also think truth can be scarier than fiction, so when Jenn asked for guests post as part of Murder, Monsters & Mayhem, I couldn’t resist suggesting a post with my favorite scary nonfiction to round out the celebration.

Since some people avoid nonfiction because they think it will be boring or intimidating, I tried to pick book that are so engaging, well-written, and frightening that I hope even a fiction reader would be able to settle into.


Murder

For murder, the most obvious choice is Truman Capote’s 1966 “nonfiction novel” In Cold Blood. In Cold Blood is the true story of the brutal murder of the Cutter family in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959. The Cutter’s — husband Herb, wife Bonnie, 16-year-old daughter Nancy, and 15-year-old son Kenyon — were a well-respected and well-liked family in their small community. When they were found murdered in their home, there seemed to be no explanation for the crime. However, a long investigation eventually led police to two felons, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, who admit to the senseless killings.

In Cold Blood follows the entire investigation process, piecing together the day of the crime and the days after from the perspective of the investigators and the murderers.Capote is there for the entire process — capture, trial, and eventual execution — and he details those events in with a chilling clarity and eye for detail.

Since the book was published, critics have challenged its authenticity, particularly Capote’s practice to not tape-record interviews and instead rely on memory for quotes and details, but I can’t really speak to those challenges. What I can tell you is that In Cold Blood is a suspenseful and engaging read that is definitely horrifying enough for an October read.

Monsters

There are a lot of ways to explore monsters in nonfiction, but I found myself drawn to true crime again with The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi. I have to admit that I haven’t actually read this book yet, but I picked it up from the library today and will be settling in to read it as soon as I can.

When journalist Douglas Preston moved his family to a villa in Florence, Italy, he never expected to be drawn into a murder investigation. After meeting a noted Italian journalist, Maro Spezi, Preston learned that the beautiful olive grove next to his home was actually the scene of a brutal double murder committed by the “Monster of Florence,” a serial killer that ritually murdered 14 young lovers. Creepy and monsterous, indeed.

Mayhem

I have to start out every mention of The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum with the disclosure that Deb was one of my professors in grad school, and I admire her as a writer, teacher, and journalist. That said, The Poisoner’s Handbook truly is a great book that I think perfectly represents the idea of mayhem in nonfiction.

The Poisoner’s Handbook is the story of “murder and the birth of forensic science in Jazz Age New York.” The heroes of the story are a bit unlikely: Dr. Charles Norris, Manhattan’s first trained chief medical examiner, and Alexander Gettler, a toxicologist who pioneered the science of detecting poison in the body. During a chaotic time, Norris and Gettler worked to develop the fledgling science of forensic toxicology and their efforts to develop and reform the science of poison detection.

It’s really the setting of the book that reflects “mayhem” to me. Jazz Age New York was a crazy place to live. Bootlegging was just taking off, Tammany Hall basically ran politics, and the U.S. government was actually poisoning alcohol to deter citizens from imbibing. It’s that last part — the willful disregard for life held by certain government officials — that take this story from a good, science-based nonfiction read to a truly great book about a maniacal time in our history.

Kim Ukura is a community newspaper editor by day, and book blogger and self-proclaimed dork by night. When not reading or blogging, Kim enjoys crocheting, watching television, and hanging out with her boyfriend and cat. At Sophisticated Dorkiness, Kim reviews primarily nonfiction, with a sprinkling of literary fiction and graphic novels. Sophisticated Dorkiness was voted Best Nonfiction Book Blog in 2010 and 2011.
 

 

Frightful Friday: Shock Value by Jason Zinoman

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week. Feel free to grab the button & join in!

The featured book this week is:Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror

  • Hardcover:272 pages
  • Publisher:Penguin Press HC, The (July 7, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 1594203024
  • Source: Publisher

In the 1960′s, horror films were the red-headed step children of the movie industry. Movies of this genre were relegated to drive-in theaters or, even worse, small, dank theaters that only showed sex and snuff films. 

In the 1960s, going to see a horror movie was barely more respectable than visiting a porn theater.  You watched scary movies in cars or in dirty rooms with sticky floors.

Movie houses refused to admit their existence, critics hated them.

It wasn’t until directors like Wes Craven, Roman Polanski, John Carpenter, and Brian De Palma took a chance, risking their careers and, in many cases, their livelihood, to produce “New Horror,” movies that showcased serial killers and the dark side of society rather than the “monster movies” of “Old horror.”  Out of this horror evolution, such movie greats as Rosemary’s Baby, Carrie, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Halloween.

This new wave of horror wasn’t accepted immediately.  Viewers and critics of Rosemary’s Baby shunned the movie as an attack against Catholicism. Several theaters banned the movie.  When The Exorcist was released in late 1973, “audience members were fainting and vomiting, screaming at the screen.”  Religious leaders, like Reverend Billy Graham, shunned it, calling it a “dangerous and strange situation.” But critics didn’t know how to react; how could they describe what they were watching?  Studio executives, who had once shunned the horror film,  were forced to take a step back and reevaluate their opinion of horror. 

Gradually, the perceptions of horror changed; The Exorcist was ultimately nominated for an Oscar in the best picture category. The movie earned ten Academy Award nominations, winning two (Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay). It became one of the highest earning movies of all time, grossing $441 million worldwide.

Night of the Living Dead (1968) showed that horror movies can also serve as social commentary. It was one of the few movies of the time with an African American hero.

New Horror provides an outlet to indulge anxieties in the anonymity of a dark theater before laughing at your fear on the way home….they reflected on the grievances of their time: paranoia about government power and mocking nihilism about the power of the American dream.  They invited audiences to distrust authority adn, most of all, to steer clear of the outside world. (p 75)

 

Shock Value gives the reader a rare, inside look at the men behind the most influential horror movies of our time.  We learn about the childhoods of the horror movie greats, how their upbringing influenced their work.  Despite what many may think, they weren’t all social outcasts, dreaming of madness in the basements of their homes.

Bottom line, Shock Value is the book to read for fans of horror (both fiction and film) as well as those interested in the evolution of the film industry. Going in, I thought I was pretty knowledgable about the history of the horror film.  I was sorely mistaken!  Shock Value is a book I will keep on my shelves, referring to it often.  It has me wanting to go back and watch some of the horror greats and celebrate their awesomeness. Highly recommended.

About the Author:

Jason Zinoman is a critic and reporter covering theater for The New York Times. He has also regularly written about movies, television, books and sports for publications such as Vanity Fair, The Guardian and Slate. He was the chief theater critic for Time Out New York before leaving to write the On Stage and Off column in the Weekend section of the Times. He grew up in Washington D.C. and now lives in Brooklyn.

 

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to participate in this tour. Please be sure to check out the other stops:

Tuesday, July 5th: Fascination With Fear
Wednesday, July 6th: Freddy in Space
Thursday, July 7th: Cinema Suicide
Friday, July 8th: Day of the Woman
Monday, July 11th: Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies
Tuesday, July 12th: Monster Land
Wednesday, July 13th: The Deadly Doll’s House of Horror Nonsense
Monday, July 18th: The Girl Who Loves Horror
Tuesday, July 19th: From Midnight, With Love
Wednesday, July 20th: The Horror Section
Thursday, July 21st: Drunken Severed Head
Monday, July 25th: Chuck Norris Ate My Baby
Tuesday, July 26th: Frankensteinia
Date TBD: I Like Horror Movies