Review, RIPChallenge, true crime

Review – The Stranger Beside Me

Meeting in 1971 at a Seattle crisis clinic, Ann Rule and Ted Bundy developed a friendship and correspondence that would span the rest of his life. Rule had no idea that when they went their separate ways, their paths would cross again under shocking circumstances.

An unforgettable and haunting work of research, journalism, and personal memories, The Stranger Beside Me is “as dramatic and chilling as a bedroom window shattering at midnight” (The New York Times). – Good Reads

I have reached a milestone as a true crime junkie and murderino – I finally read The Stranger Beside Me.

I would personally place Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside me as the most well known true crime book of all time (there’s some argument to be had for Helter Skelter, sure, okay). I’m so confident in this that I’m sure the majority of you already know what the book is about (if not, look right up there), but I will mention a few things I hadn’t realized.

Ann Rule was already an accomplished true crime writer for magazines and newspapers. She also had experience in law enforcement. When she got her book deal to write on a series of murders in Washington she had no idea that the killer would eventually be revealed to be her friend Ted Bundy. I knew before that she had met Bundy while working at the crisis hotline, but I wasn’t aware of how close they really were; giving the other a lift home from parties, staying in contact years after working together (He called her after being arrested, attempted to contact her after he escaped prison, and they wrote frequently), ect. This part was the truly eye-opening part for me; just how conflicted Ann was to be writing about a man who was actually her friend.

And this is what sets Ann Rule and this particular book apart from most True Crime. You can feel Ann’s emotional turmoil spilling over the pages as she grieves not just for the victims, but also the lose of the friend she thought she knew. It’s not cold and distant; it’s a personal story that could not be told by anyone else. Ann’s own story is entangled with that of Ted Bundy and his victims and it’s the beating heart of the book, the anchor that can steady the reader through the vicious journey.

While the original edition was published just after his conviction subsequent editions have been released with updates from Ann (the first being after his execution, most recent being 2018). These show the continued journey from a woman still grappling with these tragedies to one who has accepted her role in their histories. Ann Rule is imprisoned to a life of telling Ted Bundy’s story, and to being a source of confidence to women coming forward with their own “Ted Bundy Stories” they felt too frightened to tell for decades.

I have seen numerous Ted Bundy documentaries. These are good for facts, most dig into some facet of the crimes, rooting through the information. The Stranger Beside Me is a much more emotional book. It explains the crimes, and gives a great base line for what happened and how – but ultimately this is Ann’s story. She digs much more into the psyche of Ted Bundy, the understanding of his victims and their families,  the reaction of police and the atmosphere surrounding the crimes, and the relationships Ted Bundy had outside of his victims to better understand from an emotional and psychological understanding – what happened?

Title: The Stranger Beside Me: The Shocking Inside Story of Serial Killer Ted Bundy
Author: Ann Rule
Page #: 592
Published: August 1980
Goodreads: Here
My Rating:  ★★★★★ /5
Read For: RIP Challenge XIV
Suggested Reading: I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara

anthology, fiction, mini review

Mini-review – Bloody Scotland

In Bloody Scotland a selection of Scotland’s best crime writers use the sinister side of the country’s built heritage in stories that are by turns gripping, chilling and redemptive.
Stellar contributors Val McDermid, Chris Brookmyre, Denise Mina, Ann Cleeves, Louise Welsh, Lin Anderson, Doug Johnstone, Gordon Brown, Craig Robertson, E S Thomson, Sara Sheridan and Stuart MacBride explore the thrilling potential of Scotland’s iconic sites and structures. From murder in an Iron Age broch and a macabre tale of revenge among the furious clamour of an eighteenth century mill, to a dark psychological thriller set within the tourist throng of Edinburgh Castle and a rivalry turning fatal in the concrete galleries of an abandoned modernist ruin, this collection uncovers the intimate – and deadly – connections between people and places.
Prepare for a dangerous journey into the dark shadows of our nation’s buildings – where passion, fury, desire and death collide.
  – GoodReads

I picked up this anthology on my recent trip to Scotland this summer. Of course, my attention was grabbed by the promotional banners with a bloody splatter in the shape of Scotland in Edinburgh and Inverness. It wasn’t until my last stop in Fort William that I finally gave in and bought it. I’m not the biggest fan of fictional crime, but I thought I’d give this one a shot – besides it would be a cool souvenir either way.

I ended up really liking it, and the concept behind it was equally interesting. Each story was written by a celebrated Scottish crime author who each wrote a story containing one major Scottish national or historic site. Thank goodness they provided a map and brief history of each site in the back or I’d be a bit lost to the more obscure sites. I also enjoyed the fact that it was a pretty well balanced mix between men and women writers.

While I am partial to the historical tales, there really truly wasn’t a bad one among them. My favorites included “Orkahaugr” by Lin Anderson (a viking age murder mystery), “Kissing the Shuttle” by E.S. Thompson (girls at the Stanley Mills get their revenge on their abusive foreman), “Sanctuary” by Sara Sheridan (a ghost story of Kinneil House), “Stevenson’s Candle” by Stuart MacBride (psychological thriller set at Kinnaird Head Lighthouse), and “The Return” by Ann Cleeves (a twisted tale of revenge served cold).

Title: Bloody Scotland
Author: various
Page #: 288
Published: March 2019
Goodreads: Here
My Rating:  ★★★★ /5
Read For: RIP Challenge XIV


fantasy, Review, RIPChallenge, young adult

Review – Five Dark Fates (Three Dark Crowns Series)

In this conclusion to the Three Dark Crowns series, three dark sisters will rise to fight as the secrets of Fennbirn’s history are laid bare. Allegiances will shift. Bonds will be tested, and some broken forever.

The fate of the island lies in the hands of its queens.  – GoodReads

The Three Dark Crowns series has a special little dark place in my heart. The series is such an odd concept that I loved it – on an island where people are born with certain abilities (control over the elements, animal familiars, foresight, skill in battle, and poison resistance) they are ruled by a single Queen who is born of a set up triplets from the previous queen, and who rises to her crown by defeating her other two sisters. Honestly, it felt like a game I would have come up with during my only-child childhood, and I loved it.

I had small…I wouldn’t say issues but disagreements, with this series. Small things that weren’t huge annoyances, but small things I wished would have been different. Most of these aren’t major plot points, more like plot details or what the author chose to focus on. I understand that I typically end up liking the plot that puts me in the minority, so I’m used to this. Despite my disagreements, I was still satisfied by the ending, and the series as a whole – so I’m counting this as a win.

Blake is not afraid to leave a plot dangling. This can be frustrating, but not all plots in life are neatly tied up. Some questions are left unanswered. Some actions happen without reason explained. It’s oddly realistic. Blake also uses her changing point-of-view to add tension to the plot in really interesting ways. For example, instead of merely showing actions of a point of view character in their chapters she might skip them, and instead have a second point of view character hear of the actions instead. We as a reader are then influenced by the second character’s reaction to the actions of the first character – instead of being influenced by the first character and understanding their intentions. Additionally, Blake allows even her core protagonists to fail. They’re allowed to be wrong and make mistakes and there’s consequences for them.

Equally, Blake’s characters are beautifully formed. The majority of the characters are female – I would say 4 main female characters over the course of the books, each with 2-3 side female characters they regularly interact with. Authors can get a bad rap for their female characters being indistinguishable, but Blake does a fantastic job of giving each of them life. It should also be noted that among the side characters (think B level characters) there’s women aged as young as around sixteen to middle-aged and possibly older. I realized this in the middle of the fourth book and sat back just thinking about this fact – it wasn’t just young girls leading this book but women of all ages. Women were the bulk of the counsel. Women were the leaders of the armies. Women were the heads of the church. Women were the protagonists and antagonists. Heck, the island’s main religion was the worship of a Goddess. The most men we see together is in the first novel when all the suitors are grouped for the queens to meet – after that there’s normally only 2 or at most 3 seen together. Honestly, it was a mind-blowing moment to think about. (In truth, I don’t think the series would pass the reverse Bechdel test.)

Focusing on the final novel (interestingly, this series has 4 books instead of the normal YA-trilogy) I think Blake did well to wrap up the series and to tell the story she wanted to tell. Did I agree with everything? No (a certain plot that led away from the core three queens was a bit annoying to me). But I could see where Blake was going and what she wanted to tell through it.

The fourth book in the series gets back to the action of the first novel – battles, a rebellion, and spy missions fill the bulk of the main plot. The fourth book was truly an ending for the series as a collective – plots from each of the previous three books were touched upon. This worked to show the importance of the three books that came before – there wasn’t a filler sequel as can sometimes happen in series. Look for bittersweet endings here as Blake is not afraid to show true consequences.

I would love to see a prequel novel from Blake. A major plot of the third and fourth book was the island’s history and past queens of the island. I would love to see how a different set of triplets, ones who didn’t defy the odds, handled their destiny. This is a testament to Blake’s world building – the amount of details she put into the history deserve to be explored further (she has released novellas to the like, but I need more!)

Title: Five Dark Fates
Author: Kendare Blake
Page #: 452
Published: Sept2019
Goodreads: Here
My Rating:  ★★★★ 1/2 /5
Suggested Reading: Three Dark Crown Series by Kendare Blake
Read For: RIP Challenge XIV

fiction, mini review, reading challenge, RIPChallenge

Mini-Review – The Body In The Library

Colonel Bantry has found the strangled body of an exotic blonde bombshell lying on his library hearth – and the neighbors are beginning to talk! When Miss Marple takes an interest, though, things begin to move along nicely, and its all far more convoluted – and sordid – than the genteel Bantrys could have imagined.

A curmudgeonly financier, his self-absorbed adult children, a couple of pragmatic and clever hotel workers, tons of money and influence, a wild local lad, some smitten girls, the film business, mix into a classic Christie plot filled with twists, turns, and double-backs galore. Plus the glorious settings of A Great House, a fancy Hotel, and an excessively genteel little village, and let’s not forget Miss Marple… – GoodReads

I have decided I need to read more Agatha Christie. Well, more old school crime novels in general, to be honest. I’m not the biggest fan of fictional crime, but I find the classics easier to digest than the more modern takes. I decided The Body In The Library would be the perfect story to jump into – a murder mystery in a LIBRARY? Count me in.

There’s a reason that Agatha Christie is the queen of crime fiction. She doesn’t a brilliant job of making even the most seemingly insignificant character stand out. There are literally dozens of characters in this book but they’re all flushed out with their own characteristics, drives, and morals. Because at it’s core, The Body In The Library in a character driven story – very little action occurs and the bulk of the story is dialogue, yet it’s never boring and doesn’t feel stagnant.

In an age of “Shock” fiction – where creators feel the need to pull twists out of thin air to surprise the audience it’s nice to read something that perfectly sets up the reader to uncover the mystery with the characters. Agatha Christie presents you the clues you need to follow along with Miss Marple’s own reasoning, and doesn’t try to pull one on you. The satisfaction of arriving at the conclusion is much better than being completely blindsided by the ending.

This is the perfect story for a late October evening.

Title: The Body In the Library
Author: Agatha Christie
Page #: 191
Published: Feb 1942
Goodreads: Here
My Rating:  ★★★★ /5
Suggested Reading: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Read For: RIP Challenge XIV

historical fiction, Review

Review – The Golden Wolf Saga

The fates of Ragnvald and his sister Svanhild unfold to their stunning conclusion in this riveting final volume in The Golden Wolf Saga, a trilogy that conjures the ancient world with the gripping detail, thrilling action, and vivid historical elements.
…as old heroes fall, new heroes arise. For years, Ragnvald and Svanhild pursued the destinies bestowed by their ancient gods. Though the journey has cost them much, their sacrifices and dreams will be honored by the generations that follow, beginning with Freydis and Einar. Emerging from their parents’ long shadows, they have begun to carry on the family’s legacy while pursuing their own glorious fates.
This compelling conclusion to the Golden Wolf trilogy recreates Viking-age Scandinavia in all its danger, passion, power, and glory–a world of brutality and myth, loyalty and betrayal, where shifting alliances and vengeance can build kingdoms . . . and can tear them down. – GoodReads

Oh this book series.

How I love this book series.

I have yet to find a series like it.

The Golden Wolf Saga is three books about the life of Ragnvald Eysteinsson, Svanhild Eysteinsdottir, and King Harald Fairhair of Norway. The novels begin with The Half-Drowned King, the first book, primarily focused on Ragnvald, and his journey to take back his ancestral home, get revenge on Solvi the Short, and aid Harald Tanglehair with his quest to conquer and rule all Norway. The second book in the saga, The Sea Queen, focuses on Svanhild coming into her own as a woman in an era that did not give women many choices. She rises from the sister of a dishonorable man to the wife of the most feared sea raider and captain in her own right. The third book in the saga, The Golden Wolf, follows the next generation and how they will rise to those who came before.

Running through all three books is the arc of King Harald Fairhair, the Golden Wolf of Ragnvald’s dreams; the first book sees his kingdom just starting to take shape, the second is a man on the brink of success, and third see’s a man trying not to lose the kingdom he has formed. I enjoyed that Hartsuyker decided to focus her books just slightly off center from the main action. We don’t follow Harald much, but those close to him. We’re just to the side of the major action, and it allows for a lot more intimate plots to explore.

I love the viking era but often find issues with fiction based on the time period. Firstly, the viking era is not as popular as others, and so the way it was portrayed early (no matter how poorly) is how it became known. The horned helms, the drunken dirty men who know nothing of war but hitting as hard as they can as they raid and pillage more civil people is pretty much how they were viewed. In recent years fiction has started correcting itself, but we still see cliches. The other major issue I typically see is authors prescribing sensibilities and ideals on their characters from the wrong era; be it modern or another closer era. You can tell characters are making choices that someone thought would be more sympathetic to a modern reader.

The Golden Wolf Saga managed to avoid these issues, and that’s why I loved it.

Yes, there are warriors in these books; but there are also mothers, and craftsmen, and raiders, and kings, and advisers. There are smart men, strong women, and those people who want nothing of violence. Actual details of the Norse way of life are presented; the way households are run, the importance of their laws, the relationships between kings and those of their land. There are characters who are devoted to the gods, and those who care little for them. These characters are not stereotypical, cliched presentations of Vikings as we typically see them in fiction.

The characters are all well developed and flushed out, and as importantly expressed earlier; their choices and actions reflect their time period. Characters get divorced, more than one male character has multiple wives (who acknowledge it and don’t refuse it), characters are exiled (and even family members accept this as a facet of life), family dynamics are intertwined and realistic for the time. There are women who choose to fight, women who choose to lead, and women who wish for neither and none is placed above the other as making the “right” choice. It was so refreshing to read.

I was wary about the final book making a time jump and going into the next generation of characters, but it was handled very well. The generations were staggered enough that the first was not missed entirely as the next took over and it was a good commentary on children inheriting from their parents. The plots never felt contrived, or pushed for drama sake, even as the number of them grew in quantity. The main two faults I took with the final book was that at times, I did honestly wish more time was spent with the original generation (as this was the last time we’d see them) or that the we didn’t follow as many of the next generation.

The other fault I found was that my favorite character didn’t get as much attention as the others. Obviously, this is a completely biased sentiment that lends no credibility and actually didn’t hamper the book. I just really loved Solvi Hunthiofsson; the infamous sea raider who was disabled by a childhood accident and who’s smile strikes fear into the hearts of the kings along the Norse coast (but who also loves his daughter and the idea that his legacy will be a line of strong women sea captains). I’d read an entire book focused on him. I’d read an entire series. I love him.

My recommendation is that if you have ever been curious about reading something that takes place during the age of vikings and depicts an authentic representation of them and their lifestyle, pick up The Golden Wolf Saga by Linnea Hartsuyker. Not only is it beautifully researched, but Hartsuyker is a great writer (she made me cry over a character, I had cared little for, dying). It very well might ruin all other books about the viking era for you, but it will have been worth it. Trust me.

Title: The Golden Wolf
Author: Linnea Hartsuyker
Page #: 432
Published: August 2019
Goodreads: Here
My Rating:  ★★★★ 1/2 /5