Turbo Twenty-Three–Janet Evanovich

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The new Evanovich!

Well, new is relative. It’s the most recent Evanovich.

Here’s the thing. I used to really love these books. But they’ve become so formulaic it’s not fun anymore. It’s just…another one of these books. It’s like paint by numbers for mysteries, which is sad because this was such a unique concept when she first started them.

Checklist for a Stephanie Plum mystery:

  1. Find a dead guy in a weird and creepy way. Check, she found an ice cream factory guy in a stolen refrigerated truck, covered in chocolate and nuts like an ice cream bar.
  2. Still torn between Ranger and Morelli? Yep. Double dipping a little bit? Yep.
  3. Wacky side gig for Lula? Check, she and another recurring character are working on an audition tape for “Naked and Afraid” which involves a lot of random activities and hijinks.
  4. Grandma Mazur side plot? Yep. Involving dating? Yep.
  5. Stephanie has to take an undercover job she’s terrible at? Yep.
  6. Poorly executed attempts at capturing felons? Not so many as usual but still present.

I just want to see some progress. SOMETHING. Can we get a little movement on anything? Character growth? Circumstances changing somewhat? A DIFFERENT PLOT LINE, PLEASE I AM BEGGING YOU.

If you like to read the same book over and over, this is a great addition to the Plum series.

 

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Helter Skelter–Vincent Bugliosi

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This book is a true crime classic, written by the prosecutor in the Manson trial.

You probably know the broad strokes of the Manson crimes, because they are so famous and so much a part of our shared past.

But if you don’t, this is the basic story. In the 1960s, Charles Manson gathered around himself a bunch of young people, mostly young women, and created a cult where he convinced them he was God.

He did this by keeping them pretty heavily drugged, mostly on LSD, and breaking down their moral boundaries by insisting that nothing was wrong and pushing them to do things that violated their initial taboos. It was basically a continuous drug-fueled orgy over there.

Eventually they take up residence at a ranch that was used for Western movies filming back in the day, and they would scavenge for food in town and rob people.

They also did a thing he called “creepy crawling” where they would break into homes at night and move around, stealing things or moving things around, to prove they could do it without waking up the people in the house.

He had this theory that there was going to be a race war in the near future and that African-Americans would win but then ultimately be unable to rule, so they would come looking for him. He and his followers would be living in an underground world, the entrance to which was hidden somewhere in the desert around the ranch.

Eventually he decides that the race war is taking too long to start, so he decided to kick-start it by killing some rich people, which would somehow be attributed to the Black Panthers? I still don’t really see how he was going to shift blame that way.

Regardless, he sent a bunch of people out to Roman Polanski’s house, and they killed everyone in the house. That was Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate, who was 8.5 months pregnant, plus three of her friends, and a guy that was there to see the caretaker that lived in the guest house.

The next night they broke into a home in a different neighborhood and killed the couple they found in there.

Eventually they caught some of the people that committed the crime, but the real trick was bringing it home to Manson. He had, as far as anyone could tell, not explicitly told them to kill those people. He was never in the house.

They were convicted, Manson and the three girls who were on trial for the murders with him, and they were sentenced to death. But then California abolished the death penalty so they had their sentences commuted.

This is an excellent book about the Manson crimes. If you want more information than the book can provide, I highly recommend the “You Must Remember This” podcast. One of their seasons was Manson’s Hollywood, which explained Manson’s connections with Hollywood people prior to the murders and really gave a lot more context for the crimes and Manson’s state of mind.

 

Redefining Realness–Janet Mock

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For those who do not know, Janet Mock is a well known trans activist. You may have seen her on various news and talk programs. This is her autobiography, the story of her childhood through her transition in young adulthood, mostly.

She had a hell of a life, let me tell you. She struggled against her dad’s resistance to her feminine side, of course, but she had bigger issues. Her parents divorced and she spent part of her life in Hawaii with her mom before being sent to her dad in California. He got addicted to crack cocaine and her stepbrother molested her repeatedly. It got better when they moved to Texas and her dad’s female relatives were more accepting of her feminine preferences.

When she was sent back to Hawaii, all was well for a while. And then her mom got involved with a meth user and became addicted to meth as well.

Janet found some very unpleasant but resourceful ways to pay for her hormone treatments and her eventual surgery.

Her mom eventually got clean and they got their life back together, but it was still a hard, tough road.

What makes this book so lovely is that she has such a delicate, careful and nuanced hand when she writes. These are delicate topics, all of them–her gender identity and medical interventions, her family issues, the drug issues, the sexual abuse, the poverty–and she handles them all with scrupulously fair and sometimes brutal honesty without losing her thoughtful tone.

She is a model for how to write about difficult topics. I recommend this book for anyone who has an interest in trans people and their lives.