Book Review: Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men (Howard Schechter)

Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 6.25.41 PM.pngI’ve been on a bit of a non-fiction kick lately, so, when Chandra from #cjsreads suggested we read Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men by Howard Schechter, I was all about it! I am a fan of historical fiction and true crime so this book seemed like it would be a no-brainer for me.

I hadn’t heard (surprisingly) of Belle Gunness before, so, before I started my reading, I did a quick Google search to get myself a little bit familiar with the story. This ended up being a huge mistake.

The book ended up being a long-winded version of the Wikipedia page. It lacked any real “story” and just ended up being more of a list of facts.

I also really struggled with Schechter’s narrative voice, which I actually found to be a little bit offensive.

Overall, I was not a huge fan.

Thanks to Amazon Publishing for the copy of Hell’s Princess; it was my pleasure to provide an honest review

Want to see if this book worked better for Chandra and Jessica?  Keep reading to find out what they thought of Hell’s Princess

Continue reading “Book Review: Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men (Howard Schechter)”

Book Review: The Girl on the Velvet Swing (Simon Baatz)

Screen Shot 2018-01-22 at 9.35.30 AM.pngI am a bit of a history nerd, so, when #cjsreads decided to delve into a true crime/historical crime novel as one of our picks to kick off the New Year, I was intrigued.   The Girl on the Velvet Swing: Sex, Murder, and Madness at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century, the non-fiction novel by Simon Baatz, followed the scandalous case of love, murder and betrayal by Evelyn Nesbit (the victim), Stanford White (the perpetrator) and Harry Thaw (the murderer).

I am always surprised when I read nonfiction how socially and culturally relevant many of the issues still are today.  Evelyn Nesbit is raped by an older man (White) and is afraid to tell anyone based on social stigma and backlash.  White seems to be untouchable due to his status and wealth.  Truly, what else could be more socially relevant?   Evelyn eventually marries Thaw and he, in revenge, murders White.

For the most part, the work focuses on the backstory and then Thaw’s trial after the murder was committed.  While I did find this incredibly interesting, in theory, the delivery was a little confusing and dry for me at times.  Lots of legislation and legal jargon was used that felt a little bit over my head and, in turn, pushed me out of the moment.

For lovers of true crime and legal non-fiction, I think this book would be a no-brainer.  However, if you are looking for an on-the-edge of your seat suspense, then this would not be the case.

I gave it a solid 3/5 stars.

Thanks to the author and publisher for a copy of this novel; it was my pleasure to provide an honest review.

Want to see what the other #cjsreads members thought of The Girl on the Velvet Swing?  Keep reading to find out!

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Book Review: The Fact of A Body (Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich) @Flatironbooks ‏@alexandriaml

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I always struggle when I review a work of non-fiction- especially when it is a memoir.  Who am I to judge if someone has a story that needs to be told?

However, when #cjsreads chose this book for one of our May titles, I figured I would try!

The Fact of A Body, a non-fiction novel by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, was one that I was very intrigued by. Following an anti-death penalty lawyer in the deep South, her perception is changed when her firm begins working on a case with convicted murderer and child molester, Ricky Langley.   Part true crime, part memoir, Marzano-Lesnevich, recalls her time watching the confession tapes and going through the crimes, but also how it connects to her own personal history.

The book opens with Marzano-Lesnevich arriving at her new law firm for her summer internship in Louisiana. As she begins watching the first tapes of Ricky Langley, something inside her stirs and she cannot ignore her unsettling feeling. Narrated through alternate time periods, the memoir jumps around and then blends together in its finale. Chapters uncover not only Rickey’s life and his crimes but also his past and his family history. Marzano-Lesnevich explores her own past and childhood.

This work was really different.  At times, I felt as if it was a little jumpy, but the author does make sure to label each chapter with their time period so it can be followed.   I was incredibly interested in the chapters surrounding the psychology of Langley; the author does a phenomenal job of presenting the facts of his case and trial.

However, my favourite part of the novel was the author’s ability to recognize how personal histories can affect a perception.

I applaud the author’s courage to be able to share her own tale and publish this body of work.  I feel like all true crime fans will be interested in this one!

Thanks to the publisher (Flatiron) and the author for the copy of this novel; it was my pleasure to provide an honest review.

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Keep reading to see what Chandra and Jessica thought of this one!

What Chandra Thought

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5 beautiful, shiny stars.
Do you ever just turn the last page of a book, sit back, and go WOW? That’s exactly what happened for me with this piece of art. This book tells two different stories – a tale of convicted murderer and paedophile, Ricky Langley, and the author’s own story; how through her research into Ricky, faces her own past – changing her initial view into his case.

I have never read a book like this one. Bouncing back and forth between the tales, the author’s research and clear ability to weave a story seeps through the pages and into ever fibre of your being. You can see her bare her own soul unabashedly while somehow making you empathize for Ricky. She also has the ability in her reconstruction to show how everyone else affected by this case uses their own experiences to try and understand. Personal experiences give people reason to find compassion in some cases. She truly shows the complexities of holding on to secrets, raw emotion, and the scars that become part of human growth, both physically and mentally. Her blending of her own memoir with this true crime story is unprecedented and something that will be with me for a long time coming.

Fans of Serial and Making a Murderer will be fascinated by this novel. If you pick up this book, and you should, take the time to read the foreword, the Sources Consulted section and the Author’s acknowledgement.

What Jessica Thought

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The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich is unlike any other book that I’ve read. It’s a combination of a memoir and a murder case. It was very intriguing reading through the author’s background and what led her to the Ricky Langley case. When I saw that this was part memoir, I was a little curious as to how this would all play out. The legal disclaimer at the beginning of the book is very helpful and informative (how all the information given about Langley is something that is publicly available, from trial, etc). 

We follow two stories. The story of Ricky Langley and the murder he committed – which then leads to the trial where he eventually crosses paths with the author. The other story is the author’s upbringing. She grew up with two lawyers as parents. These two storylines are very important. We get to see Alexandria’s character take shape, as well as her beliefs before entering into the law firm in Louisiana (completely anti-death penalty). All of that changes the second she sees and hears Langley on tape talking about his crimes. Langley is facing the death penalty for murdering 6-year-old Jeremy Guillory.
We dive deep into Ricky’s background with the author. She puts all of her energy into the details of the murder and soon finds herself digging into his complicated childhood. There’s something unsettling and uncanny about his story – Alexandria is forced to face her own childhood and unearthing deep buried secrets and the past that could be affecting her views of Langley’s crime.
This is an emotional and intellectual thriller that definitely does not read like a memoir/nonfiction. It’s interesting diving into the mind of a lawyer who is having an internal battle with herself over this case and what it means for her beliefs. I would highly recommend this to someone that wants a thriller or mystery that has a unique twist to it. Having this be a true story made it even more chilling to read – Ricky Langley isn’t a made up character and what he did is real and cannot be undone.
This was a page turner for me and I loved it!
5/5 stars!

 

Book Review: The Charming Predator (Lee Mackenzie) @RandomHouseCA

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Confession time. I am slightly obsessed with true crime. I often find myself completely absorbed in the newest documentary on Netflix profiling serial killers and crime sprees; then, subsequently go into hour long Wikipedia vortexes as I research for myself!

Needless to say, I was pleased when I was sent a copy of The Charming Predator, the true story of how a woman ended up married to a sociopathic fraud, by Lee Mackenzie.

Mackenzie writes a “to the point” style account of her initial encounters with Kenner Jones, their courtship and the early days of their marriage.  As Mackenzie begins to understand Kenner’s true intentions and is sucked into his fraudulent lifestyle, she must try and combat his lying and manipulative techniques.

Continue reading “Book Review: The Charming Predator (Lee Mackenzie) @RandomHouseCA”