Monday, April 29, 2019

Lady Killers: Deadly Women Through History by Tori Telfer

Reviewed by Ambrea

According to Lady Killers, a FBI profiler infamously declared, “There are no female serial killers.”  Tori Telfer, in her book, sets out to prove him wrong with fourteen examples of creepy, cruel, cunning, and horrific killers—all female, all as violent and as destructive as their male counterparts.  In Lady Killers, Telfer explores the likes of Erzebet (aka Elizabeth) Bathory, Nannie Doss, Mary Ann Cotton, and Darya Nikolayevna, diving deep into the complex realities of female aggression—and predation.

I picked up Lady Killers:  Deadly Women Throughout History when I was putting it on the shelf.  I suppose I had a morbid curiosity about serial killers, plus I found the bright pink lettering and creepy imprints on the cover oddly appealing.  I picked it up, checked it out, and proceeded to enjoy it far more than I probably should have.

I had a handful of chapters that I really enjoyed:  “The Sorceress of Kilkenny,” which featured Alice Kyteler, who was accused of being a witch and killing four husbands; “Vipers,” featuring Raya and Sakina, prostitutes who owned a brothel and murdered several young women (and possible others) in Egypt after World War I; “Wretched Woman,” which focused on Mary Ann Cotton, who killed several of her own children, several of her husbands’ children, several husbands (in fact, she killed all but one) and lovers and, quite probably, many more; and, finally, “The Tormentor,” a chapter about Darya Nikolaevna Saltykova, a Russian noblewoman and genocidal maniac.

These were just a few of the more fascinating chapters in my opinion; however, every chapter was thought-provoking and captivating in its own right.  Tori Telfer does a fantastic job as an author, creating a thoroughly researched and interesting book on an increasingly morbid topic.  She writes with a sense of humor, but also a deep appreciation of forgotten and/or misinterpreted history.

In particular, I appreciated Telfer’s dedication to telling the truth or, at the very least, getting all her facts straight.  Telfer cuts through the terrible rumors and unfounded accusations that surround many of these women, dismissing what she cannot prove, and creates a believable portrait of each individual.

Elizabeth Bathory, for instance, is surrounded by a dark mythos of blood, terror, and sex.  She has become, on numerous occasions, a scandalous icon for debauchery and murder, a female counterpart to the wildly popular story of Dracula.  So much of what I knew of her was unreal; however, Telfer makes an effort to humanize her, to reveal her as a real person.  Yes, she committed heinous crimes and, yes, she was no doubt a murderess, but Telfer tells the story of a woman—albeit, a deeply disturbed woman—rather than a vampire or a dark temptress as she’s sometimes portrayed.

Overall, I think Lady Killers is an interesting book, but I realize it’s not for everyone.  It’s a book about serial killers, which means it’s invariably going to border on being gruesome, macabre, and downright bloody.  The ladies in Telfer’s book are unequivocally terrifying, just as much as any male serial killer.  Many of them, like the murderous women of Nagyrev and Nannie Doss, got away with killing for years; others, such as Alice Kyteler and Kate Bender, escaped justice altogether.  They’re all killers, plain and simple, and they’re frightening in their own right.

Perhaps one of the most frightening, in my opinion, was Darya Nikolaevna Saltykova.  Darya was a Russian noblewoman who lived during the reign of Catherine the Great and she killed, at the very least, 138 people (mostly women) during her lifetime.  She was inventive in her murders and, at times, she would kill someone with her bare hands if she didn’t think anyone else would or could do it.  And, as the author points out, she showed zero remorse:

“So Darya killed and killed again, confident in her impregnability and furious at her serfs for each petty mistake, for getting in her way, for being her responsibility, for existing.  If she was a god, then her serfs were her pitiful playthings.  She could make them clean; she could make them cook; she could make them scream and bleed and beg.  […]  ‘I am my own mistress,’ she cried.  ‘I am not afraid of anyone.’  This belief that she was superior, unassailable, and even consecrated by the law was integral to her sense of self.  Perhaps she killed to prove one simple point:  that she could.”

To me, Darya is petrifying, right up there with Charles Manson or Jeffrey Dahmer.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Firefly: Big Damn Hero by James Lovegrove

Reviewed by Kristin

Science fiction fans have a tendency to hold onto what they love, going to huge gatherings, dressing up as their favorite characters, and clamoring until they get more.  The television show Firefly may have only been broadcast for an abbreviated season with 14 episodes in 2002, but its cult-like following wouldn’t let it go.  Creator Joss Whedon then wrote and directed Serenity, a full length theatrical film in 2005, continuing to follow the plucky crew of spacefaring adventurers.  Over a decade later, readers have now been rewarded for their relative patience with a series of novels based in the Firefly ‘verse.

Captain Mal Reynolds is at his best doing what he always does, taking on cargo to make some coin, in order to keep his ship in the sky.  Take a job; keep on moving—that seems to be Mal’s motto.  He’s not exactly friendly with the Alliance, who fought and won the war to extend their control over the frontier planets around the outer edges of human habitation.  Mal was a Browncoat during the war, one of many rebels fighting for the right to control their own resources and livelihoods.  If Mal had his druthers, he’d just as soon avoid the Alliance.

On board, Zoe is still second in command; Wash is still at the controls; Kaylee is still sweet-talking the engines; Jayne is still crooning to his weapon Vera.  Simon and River Tam, the brother and sister being sought by the Alliance are still along for the ride, as are Shepherd Book and Inara, the Companion who rents one of Serenity’s shuttles.  It’s a full ship, but by this point it feels like family.  When the Serenity crew takes on some potentially dangerous cargo and prepares for a delivery run, Mal unexpectedly disappears.  Suddenly, his past compatriots are showing up and it looks like they have a score to settle.  Fortunately, his loyal crew goes on the hunt to rescue him, showing up not a minute too soon, either.

I am one of those aforementioned science fiction fans who is dedicated to a wide variety of stories woven through time and space and portrayed in print as well as on the screen.  I have to admit that it took me a while to get into the flow of this book, but I expect that is due to my own distracted habit of reading more than one book at a time.  Once I began to follow the storyline, it felt like I was right in the middle of a Firefly episode.  The writing really fit what I expected, so while I wasn’t absolutely knocked over by the story, it was a pleasant way to fill my time and my science fiction Book Bingo block.

Big Damn Hero is the first in a planned trilogy set midway through the timeline portrayed in Firefly and Serenity.  The Magnificent Nine is expected to be published this month, and Generations is planned for October 2019.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Nevermore: Sisters of the Winter Wood, Someone, Lisbeth Salander, Bishop's Pawn, Kamala Harris

Reported by Jeanne

Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner caught the eye of a Nevermore reader who was browsing our new book shelves.  The story is a lyrical, fairy tale about sisters Laya and Liba who live near a small village in Ukraine with their parents. When the parents are called away, the girls are left to fend for themselves but not before being told a secret: their parents are shape-shifters, and they have probably inherited the same ability.  It isn’t long before dark forces seem to be on the rise, stirring up trouble in the village.  Our reader liked the interaction between the sisters in this coming of age story, and liked that the narration was split between the two girls, one of whom speaks in prose and the other in poetry.

When Marie has her heart broken, she tearfully asks her brother who will ever love her.  He replies, “Someone.” That answer forms the heart of Someone by Alice McDermott, which bounces back and forth in time while recounting the lives of Marie, her brother Gabe who becomes a priest, and others in the neighborhood.  Our reader liked the book, noting that it was “very Irish, very Catholic, and very Brooklyn” and that it was also very worthwhile. She also thought it was quite well written.

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye is the fifth title in the Lisbeth Salander series created by Stieg Larsson and continued by David Lagercrantz. As the story opens, Salander is serving time in a maximum security prison for reckless endangerment and destruction of property, but she is not one to allow injustice—even in prison.  Our reader enjoyed the book, which is action-packed.  She also said that she actually liked the ones by Lagercrantz better than the originals, which she found rather horrifying.

Another recommendation for a thriller followed with Bishop’s Pawn by Steve Berry.  Cotton Malone, an ex-U.S. government agent seems drawn to adventures rooted in history but which have repercussions that extend to the present day.  This entry involves a rare and extremely valuable coin and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and provides Berry’s usual swift action, plot twists, and plenty of intrigue.  Our reviewer praised Berry for noting what parts of the novel are based on fact and which are the author’s invention.

Finally, a reader had just started The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris. She noted that Harris had an interesting background:  her Jamaican father was an economist and her Indian mother was a cancer researcher, while Harris herself went to law school and became a prosecutor.  Updates are promised after more of the book is read.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Pacific Homicide by Patricia Smiley

Once again, we welcome back Kevin Tipple with a review.  Catch up with more reviews, book news, and interesting links at his blog, Kevin's Corner.

Detective Davie Richards has a nasty case to deal with as Pacific Homicide: A Mystery by Patricia Smiley begins. A women’s body has caused a shutdown at the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant. Naked and with no jewelry, Detective Davie Richards and her partner, Jason Vaughn, have to figure out who she was and how she got into the Los Angles sewer system to be caught in the workings of a rotating grinder. She could have gone into the system almost anywhere in the vast service area. With no clothing or any distinguishing features, other than the spider web tattoo on one arm which might mean something or it could be nothing, it seems almost impossible to identify her.

After some work, Detective Davie Richards learns that the woman’s name is Anya Nosova. She’s from Ukraine and her short life has ended before she will see twenty or go home again. What happened to her and why is just part of what Detective Richards needs to figure out.  That is assuming she is going to be allowed to continue to work on the more and more complicated case. Her ability to do her job, let alone be free and not locked up in prison, depends on if the ongoing use of force investigation into her recent shooting situation ever ends. Not only does Detective Richards know that everything she has done from the night of the shooting to now is again being scrutinized, her actions on this murder investigation which is her first as lead detective, mean the brass and others are watching more than ever.

Pacific Homicide: A Mystery is a fast paced read that is part mystery and part police procedural. Readers follow the point of view of Detective Richards and numerous others as things in the two cases escalate. Of course, crime does not happen in a vacuum so there are other police situations that interplay with the two primary storylines as does the personal. Some of that is a bit clich├ęd, though it does work well and fits into the overall tale seamlessly. Quite a bit is going on in Pacific Homicide: A Mystery” by Patricia Smiley and it is a very good ride.

Pacific Homicide: A Mystery
Patricia Smiley
Midnight Ink
November 2016
ISBN# 978-0-7387-5021-7
Paperback (also available in eBook format)
312 Pages

Material supplied by the good people of Dallas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple ©2019