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Back when Norman Mailer was writing "The Executioner's Song", he started a correspondence with an inmate named Jack Abbott, who's life story was similar to that of Gary Gilmore, the subject of his book. Abbot had spent the majority of his life in reform schools or prisons, often exacerbating a light sentence by breaking prison rules and getting additional time tacked on. Mailer was so impressed by Abbott's letters and the fact that he was self-taught that he championed his cause with the parole board and offered him a job if he was released. Abbott got out of prison and was unceremoniously dumped in a dangerous part of New York. He had a hard time adjusting to life out of prison, and Mailer found he was much more charming in letters than in person and started pulling away from him. For a while, though, Abbott was the toast of the New York literary set, publishing a well regarded book on prison life called "In the Belly of the Beast". Just as the book was set to be released, however, Abbott committed murder, brutally slaying a twenty-two year old man outside a restaurant and then fleeing. He went on the run and eluded capture for awhile, but was eventually caught and returned to prison, where he stayed until he committed suicide. It's a fascinating story, I'd vaguely heard about it (I read "The Executioner's Song many years ago) and it was nice to get some backstory.

"Dodge City" by Tom Clavin was really great, I enjoyed it a lot, so much so that when I visited a new library a few days ago, I bought a bunch of used books in their bookstore on the Old West. It has reignited my passion for that era. Now if I ever get around to reading them is another story :0 At any rate, this one was fun, I learned a lot about Wyatt Earp, who I knew a little about, and even more about Bat Masterson, who I knew absolutely nothing about. There were some bits about Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday, and other notable miscreants sprinkled throughout. He had a very fun writing style, it was sort of snarky, sarcastic, darkly humorous, which made for lively reading.
A quick, fun spoof on the Haggadah (for those of you who don't know, a Haggadah is a book you use for your Passover Seder. You buy the same copy of each one for everyone at your feast, and they're usually pretty short). The Haggadah explains the Passover story, why the Jews fled from Egypt and why we continue to celebrate thousands of years later. The authors (including Dave Barry, one of my favorites) had a good time.
I checked out Paul La Farge's "The Night Ocean" because it was about H.P. Lovecraft, and he's always piqued my curiosity. I really enjoyed this one, I couldn't put it down. Charlie Willet is a nonfiction writer who loved reading Lovecraft as a kid. The book is told from his wife, Marina's, POV. Charlie finds evidence that Robert Barlow, a man who was purportedly a lover of Lovecraft's, is still alive, having faked his death in the 1950s. Charlie goes chasing him down and brings his story to light, publishing a huge book purporting "the truth" about H. P. Lovecraft. There are cracks in the foundation from the beginning that Charlie willfully ignores, hoping for the best, but of course after the book is published and becomes a huge hit, scholars start digging and discover Charlie has been duped, the man claiming to be Barlow is not actually Barlow. After Charlie's suicide (that happens early on in the book, Marina fills us in on what led him to do it) Marina is determined to get to the bottom of things herself and goes looking for Barlow and in the process, the truth about Lovecraft.

Sarah Gristwood's book about the important roles that Queens played during sixteenth century European politics was well written, but unfortunately all the parts about Katherine of Aragon, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, and all the other women in England was pretty repetitive for me based on all the other books I've read on the subject, so I had a hard time paying attention. The queens elsewhere were more interesting. I think I'm just a bit burned out on the Tudors right now, plus I was under a time crunch (due date, holds, couldn't renew it) so I didn't enjoy it as much as I normally would have.
Speaking of due dates and holds...this book was due back weeks ago and I've been waiting anxiously ever since I put it on hold. When it was finally returned, I dove into it (completely ignoring the stack of books I have that were due before this one, but oh well). Book two of the Naturals series picked up where book one left off. There is a killer on the loose who appears to be copying Dean's father's crimes. Talking to Daniel Redding doesn't get anyone anything useful. Because Redding had once captured and held the director of the FBI's daughter captive, he's a big priority. The Naturals figure out that the kills aren't a work of a copycat, but an apprentice and Redding definitely knows more than he's letting on.
I dove right into "All In" after finishing book two. Book three finds the team traveling to Las Vegas, Sloane's hometown. A string of bizarre murders has casino owners on edge. Sloane figures out the kills are following the Fibonacci sequence, and by hacking the FBI's database, she discovers unsolved murders following the same pattern going back for a century. They determine they are dealing with the work of a cult, who keeps recruiting members by forcing them to murder following strict guidelines. They also determine that Cassie's mom is being held hostage by the cult.
Apparently, from all my online digging, I've determined that "Bad Blood" is the fourth and last Naturals novel. Which makes me really, really sad. I'm hoping Jennifer Lynn Barnes will change her mind and continue to write them, but I understand if she doesn't. The team has found the cult that is holding Cassie's mom captive, now they just have to infiltrate it and rescue her. Easy, right? God, these books were so fun.

I was really looking forward to Patricia Cornwell's "Ripper". I enjoyed her previous book on Jack the Ripper, where she claimed to have discovered compelling evidence that artist Walter Sickert was indeed the infamous killer. I didn't realize this book was basically an update of that one. There was some new information, and since it's been a dozen years since I read the original book I didn't remember every detail, so it was nice to get a refresher. She refuted her critics who claimed she destroyed art in her quest to pin the crimes on Sickert. She talked about some of the bizarre things that have happened to her since she started researching the Ripper, and how she feels compelled to keep searching for the truth. I would love to get Cornwell interested in Kurt Cobain's murder, I think we'd have someone in handcuffs in no time. The woman is doggedly determined, that's for sure. Of course after all this time we'll probably never know for sure (Jack the Ripper, not K.C., I still have hope for him), but Cornwell makes a strong case.

I really enjoyed J.D. Vance's story of his upbringing in Ohio, mostly raised by his Mamaw and Papaw, since his biological father wasn't in the picture and his mother was an drug addicted lunatic. He and his sister Lindsay were forced to grow up fast, and learned to live by the hillybilly code of honor his grandparents brought with them from Kentucky. He delved into why the Rust Belt is declining and how we don't need more government programs to fix things (amen, brother) but people need to have the strength and courage to fix themselves. I had a somewhat similar upbringing, although I was raised in a fairly affluent area of Southern California, my parents starting abusing drugs when I was 9, leaving me and my younger sister to shift for ourselves. At least J.D. had a network of relatives as a support system, and he credits them with saving his life. He went into the Marines, went to college, and Yale law school, beating the odds (like I did). It was an important story, I'm glad it's been so popular. I think everyone ought to read it.

I loved Ania Ahlborn's last book, "Brother", so I was really looking forward to this one, and it was great. So much good horror lately! Steve is a troubled ten year old boy living in Oregon. He stutters and is picked on relentlessly both at school and at home by his mean older brother and his abusive stepfather. Steve has one ally in the world: his twelve year old cousin, Jude. Jude disappears one day and everyone in town thinks he just ran away, since he's a known troublemaker. Steve doesn't believe it though, and tries to help search for him. Jude comes back after a few days, but he's changed. He doesn't remember where he was or what happened to him, he's very distracted and keeps running back into the woods, and he's being mean to Steve. The ending was really great, threw me for a loop in the best possible way.

The blurb on the cover of "The Naturals" says it's "Criminal Minds for the YA set". Being a huge fan of "Criminal Minds" as well as YA books, it seemed like a no-brainer. And it was! I loved it. Cassie is seventeen and recruited by the FBI for a program where they train teens with natural talents to become agents. Cassie moves to Quantico, where she is put up in a house with four other kids close to her age: Michael, who can read emotions, Lia, who can tell if someone is lying, Sloane, who is a whiz at stats and probabilities, and Dean, who is a natural profiler like Cassie. Cassie starts training and learning how to deal with the group of teenagers she's now living with. She and her cohorts beg to help with the current case the FBI is working on, but they are kept on the sidelines, until it becomes clear that the case is somehow related to Cassie's mom's disappearance five years earlier. It reminded me a lot of "I Hunt Killers" by Barry Lyga, which I adored. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series.
"World, Chase Me Down" by Andrew Hilleman was one that happened to catch my eye at work so on a whim I checked it out and I'm glad I did, I enjoyed it. It's based on a real person that I've never heard of, Pat Crowe. In Omaha in 1900, Pat just wants to live a simple life. He wants a nice home for his wife and baby daughter, and to make a go of the little butcher shop he and his partner Billy have opened up. In order to get the start up capital, Pat had to go in cahoots with a local political bigwig, Dennison. The beef baron in town, Cudahy, doesn't appreciate the competition, even if Pat and Billy's butcher shop doesn't really make a dent in his living, and Cudahy has Dennison shut Pat down. Poor Pat loses everything. He and Billy kidnap Edward Cudahy, Jr., and hold him for ransom. After getting the $25,000 from Cudahy Sr. and letting Jr. go, they go on the run, endlessly pursued by Pinkertons and the law. The story was told in alternating chapters of what happened as Pat is nearing the end of his life, looking back. It was nicely done. I wish more authors wrote Westerns, I love reading them but they're not so very popular anymore.

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