Review: THE ICE MAN: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer by Philip Carlo (2006)

Genre: Adult True Crime Nonfiction
Year Release: 2006
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: Consumption by rats, mafia violence, murder, gore, dismemberment, child abuse, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, spousal abuse, drug use, alcoholism

I got here via The Last Podcast on the Left series on Richard Kuklinski. It covers most of what happens in this book. The abridged version is ridiculous. But the unabridged account of Richard Kuklinski and his career as a mafia contract killer borders on fictional. Taking place in the tri-state area from the later 50’s to the late 80’s, this book uncovers a grisly piece of New York City history. The mafia was at their peak of activity, and the New York Police Department worked to take down the vast networks of associates and core family members. But Richard “The Ice Man” Kuklinski served several families and largely stayed off the NYPD’s radar.

This biography is about as rounded as you can get when examining the life and crimes of a killer who managed to hide his work from his family.

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Review: ENDURANCE: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing (1959)

Genre: Adult Historical Nonfiction
Year Release: 1959
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: Frostbite, graphic descriptions of amputations, hunting, consumption of pets, gangrene

Spoiler alert: they all survive this one.

Told with rich contextualization of the available technology and understanding of wilderness survival in the early 1900’s, Endurance covers the harrowing adventure of Ernest Shackleton and his crew attempting to reach the South Pole. With fantastic characterizations and attention-to-detail, Lansing’s account captures all the trials and tribulations. Ultimately, it shows what a difference exploring a place with a landmass rather than strictly unpredictable ice floes and pack ice can make on the success of a journey. Though they failed in reaching their destination, there is this story to be told in all its rugged excitement.

As it always is with me and these types of stories, I wanna go to the South Pole at the end of the day.

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Review: FATHOMS: The World in the Whale by Rebecca Giggs (2020)

Genre: Adult Science Nonfiction
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: Decomposition, animal death, climate change, animal cruelty

Whales will always be my favorite thing. So large, so unaware of their size. Such a strange route to evolution, where the progenitor whale went back into the sea, rather than staying in the ocean depths.

The angle this book takes isn’t one that’s strictly about whales. It’s about these gentle giants in concert with both the human world and the natural world. How much we can learn about climate change can also be elucidated from examining their biology. Captivating, anecdotal, and quite funny in places at the absurdity of man, I learn a little bit more with each new whale book I read.

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Review: THE GRIP OF IT by Jac Jemc (2017)

Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2017
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: Vomiting, menstruation, cervical injury, stalking, gaslighting

A couple finally gets their shit together, buys a house, and move in. But there’s no evidence of the realtor. Their neighbor stalks them and goes missing. There are teeth in the walls. This quick read is creepy, atmospheric, and makes you question reality along with Julie and James.

The simplicity of the prose in this one was what got me. The details and terrors are presented so plainly, there’s no attempt at using metaphor to describe what’s going on, it’s brilliant. The house just has teeth in the walls and secret doors everywhere, it’s not a big deal.

The other edge of the blade that makes this novel work really well is the almost literary presentation of Julie and James’ relationship. He has been keeping a gambling addiction from her. She resorts to the comforts of friends who only have platitudes to offer. When the hauntings move to physical ailments and distortions in reality’s fabric, the house almost becomes a Dorian-Gray-esque reflection of the couple’s inner turmoil.

Getting your life together seems like a terrible idea.

Review: WE KEEP THE DEAD CLOSE: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence by Becky Cooper

Genre: Adult True Crime Nonfiction
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: Murder, sexual harassment, power imbalance, work place harassment, sexual assault

A murder at Harvard that’s been left unsolved for decades, the murder of Jane Britton is passed around as a bit of a ghost story, a poltergeist haunting the archaeology department. One undergrad, writer Becky Cooper, doesn’t want to leave it at that, and embarks on a quest to find the truth behind this brutal murder.

What unfolds in a eye-widening exploration of misogyny in academia, silencing on an institutional level, and frightening parallels between gender equality in the late 60’s/early 70’s and in the 2000’s.

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Review: THE LOST CHILDREN ARCHIVE by Valeria Luiselli (2019)

Genre: Adult Literary Fiction
Year Release: 2019
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: American border crisis, missing children

A family goes on a road trip to record voices and sounds, but as the trip moves south, the husband becomes obsessed with following the story of the Apaches, while the wife seeks to unravel the mystery of a Mexican friend’s two missing children. All while their own kids watch their parents’ marriage dissolve in real time.

An effective demonstration of the power of multi-media story-telling, this moving and inventive novel makes great use of shifting perspectives to tell a deeply personal story that works so well in its framing narrative.

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Review: BRAIDING SWEETGRASS: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer (2016)

Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Year Release: 2016
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook

The way science and traditional knowledge come together in this work is accessible and simply elegant. Botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer contextualizes her relationship with plants through the lens of Potawatomi culture.

It starts from her family history, to the misunderstanding between academia and her appreciation of plant life, to the specific experiences and research trips she coordinated, this wonderful read follows a central thesis that everything is symbiotic. It is up to us to see the exchange between people and nature, and the ways we can learn from each other.

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Review: THE ABSTAINER by Ian McGuire (2020)

Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: murder, revenge, Irish-English tensions of the nineteenth century, child abuse

One of the reasons that I am so drawn to Ian McGuire’s work is that the writer absolutely does not flinch away from the nasty parts of historical accuracy that permeate both the time period and his characters’ backstories.

In this latest work, we go between Manchester, England and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania as generational trauma and crime in the name of a greater cause chase our two main characters, Stephen Doyle and James O’Connor, respectively.

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Review: THE MERCIFUL CROW (#1) by Margaret Owen (2019)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2019
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: Teeth, vomiting, blood, attempted murder

I’m sorry for having sat on this novel for a little too long. Fie is the chieftain’s daughter of a nomadic caste of mercy killers called Crows which are at the frontlines of protecting the land from a plague. They arrive at a home, thinking that the prince and his guard are dead, when they are very much not. On the run, the trio work together to deceive the Vultures on their trail to get to the prince’s aunts realm of mammoth riders.

This book was so fun for a multitude of reasons. The magic system might seem gross at first, but it fits the rituals of the Crows. There is lore and there is an established learning curve that comes with it. Unlike many fantasies where the main character stumbles upon The Magic, Fie had been training for it her whole life. If anything, it felt like she was taking her final exam and needed to use all the tools and cleverness at her side. Moreover, Jas and Tavin provided support but also deference when necessary when Fie’s rage clouded her judgment. The chemistry among the three of them as the central characters really worked for me and helped move the story along in a way that felt organic both for the plot and for each of their development.

In addition, the world is very thoughtfully constructed. There is a diversity among the cast (the prince is gay and his guard is pansexual). It is implied to be queernorm, which for me, is always refreshing. This work is another to add to the list of young adult studies which are wonderfully sex positive. Not only are periods addressed, but it is also implied that Fie had partners before the love interest, and consent is on the page. All the tension comes from secrets of an interpersonal nature which nod to some tropes, but ultimately only make sense for this cast.

Well-paced, great characters, and a fantastic world I can’t wait to visit in The Faithless Hawk.

Review: RULES FOR VANISHING by Kate Alice Marshall (2019)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Horror
Year Release: 2019
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: Missing teens, some gore, family violence, mention of suicide

A few of my friends had read this book and since it’s officially spooky season, I am so excited to have this be my first read of October. Sara’s adopted sister Becca disappears and a year later, Sara and her groups of friends receive a text invite to “play the game” which involves going down haunted roads and solving puzzles. What comes next are the terrors of the woods, sordid history, and questioning the bonds that keep us together.

I really liked the focus on reliability as it relates to friendship in this novel. There were many blood-curdling scares and many moments where neither the reader nor the characters know exactly what reality has morphed into. Adherence to rules matters, but what really determines survival is trust. And with Sara having withdrawn from her friends due to her sister’s disappearance, that trust is fragmented from the start, which dials up the tension.

In addition to the storyline of the quest to find Becca by finding Lucy Gallows, there are segments which take place later. These are told in multi-media, which gives this novel a very Blair Witch Project feel. I found effective, especially when it throws a wrench in the reader’s understanding of the relationships and situations in the linear timeline. The ending is absolutely harrowing and makes phenomenal use of photo descriptions, texts, and other supplemental materials.

No one had told me before reading, but Sara is bisexual and one of her friends is a lesbian. The character development in general is great. The characters are complicated, and it was hard to predict who would be next to fall.

It’s Silent Hill meets The Blair Witch Project in this queer YA horror that had me genuinely spooked.