4 star, adult

Review: I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara

A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer—the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorized California for over a decade—from Michelle McNamara, the gifted journalist who died tragically while investigating the case.

“You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.”

For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

At the time of the crimes, the Golden State Killer was between the ages of eighteen and thirty, Caucasian, and athletic—capable of vaulting tall fences. He always wore a mask. After choosing a victim—he favored suburban couples—he often entered their home when no one was there, studying family pictures, mastering the layout. He attacked while they slept, using a flashlight to awaken and blind them. Though they could not recognize him, his victims recalled his voice: a guttural whisper through clenched teeth, abrupt and threatening.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by Michelle’s lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer. 

I don’t often (or ever, really) foray into true crime because it’s hard to know these are real families’ tragedies and pains that I’m reading about. These are very real people whose lives were upended and very real hurt that may still haunt those that remain to this day.

But I will say that there is a certain appeal to I’ll Be Gone in the Dark that made it such a bestseller when it first came out. I remember seeing it on the shelves at the time as I was still a bookseller then. It drew people in and I couldn’t fathom why. The killer hadn’t even been caught and isn’t that what should matter most? Where is the justice? It’s like a whodunnit story without the ending.

Then I picked up this gem years later and I can totally understand why it drew people as it did. It’s the work of a marvellous writer who not only knew the subject matter of these crimes inside and out, but she cared about the victims and their families too. It wasn’t about the fame or to glorify the inhumane acts done to another human being. It wasn’t even to focus on the killer only.

Because the killer isn’t what maters. It’s the stories of those who were impacted by the actions of such evil.

And that is what makes this a good book. It takes a certain writer to be able to balance the human side of the story without overly emphasizing the horrendous acts alone.

I loved the way we get to read (or hear in my case with the audiobook) the facts around certain crimes (and I do say certain because there were many), and the hunt led by various law enforcement over the decades for a killer that continued to elude them. It painted a picture, but it was also respectful towards the victims and their loved ones. Names were replaced for surviving individuals and there was no particular attention paid towards the gore of the crimes.

The book didn’t go chronologically based on when crimes committed. This made it kind of confusing for me at first but I think I understand why Michelle McNamara (and the people who put this book together afterwards) may have gone this route. Cops didn’t know who was victim 0 or if certain crimes were truly connected at the time across jurisdictional boundaries. It’s not supposed to make sense like a story because this isn’t fiction. Once I tried seeing it this way, I have so much respect for Michelle and the police who spent so many countless hours working through the myriad of information in understanding even a little about this killer.

All of this is to say that I appreciate the breadth of work done here. This was an amazing legacy to leave behind for Michelle McNamara never got to see her work come out before she passed away suddenly. We see her heart in this and for the people impacted. It’s not only a story about the Golden State Killer (a name she coined) and his victims, but more about Michelle herself. And I think this is what made the story all the more compelling.

Whether people debate how much of her work truly influenced the eventual arrest of the Golden State Killer, I think we can see she never wanted (and now never will see) the spotlight but only asked for justice to rain down. And either way, her work helped motivate those wearied from such a cold case and incited fresh inspiration for those who wanted to help in any way they could. That cannot be negated.

So take a look at this book that is unlike many others out there. It doesn’t promise answers or even a resolution. It’s truly just a grab in the dark, hope against hope chronicle of Michelle’s journey to finding the Golden State Killer.

Overall Recommendation:

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is a testament and legacy of an incredible writer, Michelle McNamara, in her ruthless search for the truth behind so many numerous crimes in California in the 1970s and 80s. The writing is respectful towards the families impacted and doesn’t focus only on the killer. In fact, this book is more unveiling of Michelle’s own character and story as she dives into the work numerous law enforcement officers have tried to piece together throughout the decades. This is a wonderful insight into a cold case that didn’t have resolution nor answer until after its release and the unfortunate passing of the writer. But what a legacy she leaves behind, perhaps inspiring multitudes of others after her.

5 star

Review: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these lenses of knowledge together to show that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings are we capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learning to give our own gifts in return. 

Not exactly the most traditional of books to be reviewing, and even less so on this blog. But once again I find it pertinent to mention and at least disseminate this knowledge into the world, so here we are! Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants is more of the full title, and gives you a better glimpse as to what the book is about. If you’re ever looking for something that is more worldly, but still told like a story, please feel free to give this one a try!

I chose this book as a way to connect to the community but also because of its scientific relevance which I found appropriate for my background. I found it extremely intellectually stimulating and emotionally evocative, and if you also have a science background, undoubtedly you will find an extra connection to the words of the author. But even if not, all the information is very easy to absorb, and I promise you the journey is worth it.

Continue reading “Review: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer”

Review: Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

scrappy little nobody -anna kendrickA collection of humorous autobiographical essays by the Academy Award-nominated actress and star of Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect.

Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, Twilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”

At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.

With her razor-sharp wit, Anna recounts the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture as only she can—from her unusual path to the performing arts (Vanilla Ice and baggy neon pants may have played a role) to her double life as a middle-school student who also starred on Broadway to her initial “dating experiments” (including only liking boys who didn’t like her back) to reviewing a binder full of butt doubles to her struggle to live like an adult woman instead of a perpetual “man-child.”

Enter Anna’s world and follow her rise from “scrappy little nobody” to somebody who dazzles on the stage, the screen, and now the page—with an electric, singular voice, at once familiar and surprising, sharp and sweet, funny and serious (well, not that serious).

4 Drink Me Potions

I think Scrappy Little Nobody would’ve been even better if I had listened to the audiobook with Anna Kendrick reading it to me with all the proper intonations. But even with my imperfect understanding of what should be highlighted in the novel, her imagined voice in my head managed to deliver the perfect balance of snark (which was the majority of the book) with a tiny bit of heart mixed in. Honest to the point of self-deprecating, Anna’s voice brings to life her own story that kept me mostly entertained with the stories she chose to share and her down-to-earth attitude about her life even with her current fame.

I’ve known Anna Kendrick since she first was cast in a very minor role in Twilight. Yes, that’s right. She was Jessica Stanley in that novel. And I only knew her name ’cause I stalked all the cast actors and actresses prior to the movie release. (And this may tell you how Twilight-freaky I was in my early teen years). But she’s become so much more well-known since then, and she very much deserves it. Scrappy Little Nobody details her beginnings and highlights how her life has changed (or barely changed) since then.

Her beginnings began in theatre and along with lovely little Anna pictures, this book describes a mostly ordinary childhood with the occasional trip to New York for her roles in theatre productions. This was one of the things that I felt lowered my rating a little. Although important, her beginnings dragged out the novel a little and it made it hard to continue reading straight through. But the one thing I loved about this section was the way she really set the tone for the rest of the novel. She wasn’t some special somebody, even in the beginning. Even after landing certain roles, like her first film credit, pride wasn’t a huge factor in her attitude towards friends and classmates at school. Of course it’s natural to want to share tidbits about the new thing in her life, like, hey, I went to the Sundance Film Festival last week and I met cool people, but none of her “luckiness” got to her head. In fact, she even stated,

“I sometimes think that I should have a sense of pride knowing that I’ve achieved more than my sixteen year old brain would have ever let me imagine, but mostly it’s just the opposite.
I think self-doubt is healthy. And having to fight for the thing you want doesn’t mean you deserve it any less.”

With her very down-to-earth attitude and her general Anna quirkiness, her stories about very regular things like BOYS (omg, that section!) and friends and her initial struggles in LA were made all that much more interesting. Add to that the very honest and sometimes very personal examples she included, it sometimes felt like Anna was sitting next to you telling you this story like you were her friend. Honestly, I think the audiobook would’ve made this 10x better.

But the best part was hearing her stories of being in Hollywood, post-Twilight and shooting in stardom with Pitch Perfect. From her very detailed imaginary holiday parties that she wished to host, to the surprising behind-the-scenes at award shows, and the craziness that is answering the same questions to a multitude of journalists all day, this book has it all. The stories at the end were rather quick and had a specific point, never quite dragging on too long. It was enough of a tidbit of each of these areas of her life that made it satisfactory (although to be honest, I would’ve loved hearing more about some of those experiences…like being rained on during that Twilight wedding scene).

She ended off in the last section of the book very aptly with her book title. And it reinforces her overall attitude about herself. She admires others whom she works with, either directors or actors, and never seems to portray anything but awe and gratitude in working with these different, accomplished people. But she’s also so relatable even to us normal folks. She’s not perfect. She has anxieties and fears about the next potential placement. She doesn’t always want to dress up and go out, but is in fact a fellow Netflix binge watcher and take-out eater for weeks at a time. I guess being famous and leading such high-profile roles on film makes her seem superior but in fact, she reminds us that she’s indeed just a scrappy little nobody (who likes to dole out fun advice like using a childhood psychotic picture to encourage persistence and hard work).

Overall Recommendation:
Scrappy Little Nobody was a fun, entertaining and very honest look into Anna Kendrick’s beginnings and journey into fame. With her quirky and fun attitude, her stories were made so much more interesting and it felt like she was personally sharing these things with you. Her down-to-earth tone made her seem very relatable, no matter if we haven’t experienced half the things she did. She never makes you feel like you’re her inferior, but rather that we’re all facing similar issues, although she has some comical advice to give on getting over some of these problems. Having no issue with making fun of herself, Scrappy Little Nobody was written with heart and if you’re a fan of hers, I would suggest you read it. She makes an autobiography fun to read if that’s not normally your thing.