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New Orleans

In 1870, New Orleans and Reconstruction had it so right and the best example of this I have ever come across is this case and this book. I wanted to cry; not because there was a kidnapping, but because for a few shining moments, our country was trying so hard to live the ideal of freedom and justice for all.

Two African American women kidnapped wee Mollie Digby from her front yard in June of 1870. I say African American, however at the time they were called many things, some nice and some that are derogative now. It may seem strange to us now, the “N” word was seldom one of them. We tend to look at the American South as rabid racists in the late 1800’s. New Orleans was different though. It was special and in many ways a utopian sort of place where people of different races and nationalities lived side by side and often mixed and mingled. There were slaves pre-war, so it wasn’t perfect.

New Orleans had a long history as a French Colony before the US made their little ‘ole Louisiana Purchase and the French had always had a better attitude about race than most countries, way ahead of their time. There was this idea of Creoles; French Creoles, Afro-Creole, Louisiana Creole, etc.  The precious gift of New Orleanians was that they were all Creoles. They all got along and for the most part, it looks like it was copasetic until the war or really after the war…or really until people that didn’t understand the concept of Creole moved on in after the war and tried to shape New Orleans based on their old fears and belief systems. If what I am trying to say is coming out like a hot mess, it’s because my thoughts get all muddled and well, it was a hot mess at the time.

Half of the population of New Orleans jumped on this kidnapping because it was two African Americans and the other half were busy trying to use it to show that Reconstruction was working. The problem is that it was the media that was doing the hating and people pay attention when the news shoves crazy stories in their faces all day-all the time. (much like now) The Republicans that really believed in Reconstruction and supported equality got it a bit muddled as well. Instead of finding dear Mollie Digby, they were busy attempting to prove a point and that never works well.

What matters is that for one brief shining moment Justice was truly blind and fair. It was hard won, never assured, and probably the last time that African Americans got a fair shake in a courtroom for decades, but it happened. The story of it is glorious and heart breaking and will make you mad and will make you look back at the political parties and what they stood for and a million other things.

And then, that other political party got busy, there were black codes and Jim Crow then the KKK drew members like a dead skunk in the road draws maggots and it all went to hell for way too long.

An amazing book about a not so amazing crime that highlights not only the great New Orleans culture, but a time when everything and anything was possible.

{Insert apology here because I get really worked up whenever one of the two R’s comes up, Racism & Rape. Those are things that shouldn’t be happening and there is no valid excuse or for them other than ignorance and hate. Not acceptable.}

Much Like Gwen's Signature

The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case Book Cover The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case

History
Oxford University Press
9/1/2014
304

In June 1870, the residents of the city of New Orleans were already on edge when two African American women kidnapped seventeen-month old Mollie Digby from in front of her New Orleans home. It was the height of Radical Reconstruction, and the old racial order had been turned upside down: black men now voted, held office, sat on juries, and served as policemen. Nervous white residents, certain that the end of slavery and resulting "Africanization" of the city would bring impending chaos, pointed to the Digby abduction as proof that no white child was safe. Louisiana's twenty-eight year old Reconstruction Governor Henry Clay Warmoth, hoping to use the investigation of the kidnapping to validate his newly integrated police force to the highly suspicious white population of New Orleans, saw to it that the city's best Afro-Creole detective, Jean Baptiste Jourdain, was put on the case, and offered a huge reward for the return of Mollie Digby and the capture of her kidnappers. When the Associated Press sent the story out on the wire, newspaper readers around the country began to follow the New Orleans mystery. Eventually, police and prosecutors put two strikingly beautiful Afro-Creole women on trial for the crime, and interest in the case exploded as a tense courtroom drama unfolded. In The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case, Michael Ross offers the first full account of this event that electrified the South at one of the most critical moments in the history of American race relations. Tracing the crime from the moment it was committed, through the highly publicized investigation and sensationalized trial that followed, all the while chronicling the public outcry and escalating hysteria as news and rumors surrounding the crime spread, Ross paints a vivid picture of the Reconstruction-era South, and the complexities and possibilities that faced the newly integrated society. Leading readers into smoke filled concert saloons, Garden District drawing rooms, sweltering courthouses, and squalid prisons, Ross brings this fascinating era back to life. A stunning work of historical recreation, The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case is sure to captivate anyone interested true crime, the Civil War and its aftermath, and the history of New Orleans and the American South.

flesh

Repeat after me, “I am lucky that I’m not Kay Scarpetta.  I’m also lucky that I am not one of her friends or family members.”

First things first, have you heard of The Reading Room? They gave me this book, so deserve a mention. Think of it as more all-about-books than that other booksite out there that will-not-be-named. I like that while it does have a social component, it is far from all about that. The design is super clean with pleasing colors and blogs are presented so seamlessly. Two things that have always seemed a waste to me on that other site is that a huge chunk of above the fold space is taken up with the social stuff that I don’t care much about and that blog feeds look worse than RTF.  The staff of The Reading Room is small and totally approachable and that is a boon when you trying to get help or interact with them for another reason.  I like it, check ‘em out will ya? Look for Cybergwen.

Back to Flesh and Blood with Kay Scarpetta…I’m starting to have a love/hate relationship with Patricia Cornwell and her character, Kay. Well, with Cornwell it really started with Portrait of a Killer because as I have mentioned before, everyone has their pet theories about the identity of Jack the Ripper and to finger someone with the evidence we have is, to me, hubris. Scarpetta has always been one of my favorite characters though and I have hung in there.

However, have you ever noticed when after a number of seasons,  TV shows that you love start to get convoluted and silly storylines and you just know that the end is nigh? Ally McBeal pulled the dancing baby out of the hat, but even that didn’t mean that the show would go on forever. The Scarpetta series is getting a serious case of what I will call the “been here, done that’s and we really need you to drink the kool-aid so that you can keep suspending disbelief even though we all no that no one’s life sucks this much” problem.

Without giving real spoilers, Flesh and Blood features a killer that is murdering people and sending subtle messages to Scarpetta, her family, and friends. The relationships and their intense conflicts are really what has always stood out to me in this series and #22 is no disappointment. The bond these characters have is really stunning and Cornwell writes them in such a believable way. I wish that I had friends like that, but being around Kay Scarpetta is once again, mighty dangerous.

And now we go back to repeat after me, “I am really lucky not to be a part of Kay Scarpetta’s life because no matter how great she is as a role model, someone is ALWAYS after her.”

Much Like Gwen's Signature

 

P.S. Just because it gives my spell and grammar checkers fits, let me type it one more time, Scarpetta. Yup, I’m done now.

Flesh and Blood Book Cover Flesh and Blood
Kay Scarpetta

Fiction
Harper Collins
11/11/2014
384

It’s a sunny morning in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and also Dr. Kay Scarpetta’s birthday.She’s about to head to Miami for a vacation with Benton Wesley, her FBI profiler husband, when she notices seven pennies on a wall behind their home. Is this a kids’ game? If so, why are all of the coins dated 1981 and so shiny they could be newly minted? Her cell phone rings, and Detective Pete Marino tells her there’s been a homicide five minutes away. A high school music teacher was shot with uncanny precision as he unloaded groceries from his car. Yet no one heard or saw a thing. In this twenty-second Scarpetta novel, she finds herself in the unsettling pursuit of a serial sniper who leaves no incriminating evidence except fragments of copper. The shots seem impossible to achieve, yet they are so perfect that they cause death in an instant. The victims appear to have had nothing in common, and there is no pattern to indicate where the killer will strike next. First New Jersey, then Massachusetts, and now it looks like the killer has moved elsewhere, to the murky depths off the coast. It’s here that Scarpettadives a shipwreck, looking for answers that only she can discover and analyze. Andwhere she comes face to face with shocking news that implicates her techno genius niece, Lucy, Scarpetta’s very own flesh and blood. With the bravura storytelling and state-of-the-art forensic details that are her hallmarks, Patricia Cornwell again raises the bar with this highly entertaining new tale, her most captivating Scarpetta novel yet.

Tinseltown

There are many keywords that will lead any reader to pick up a book. For me, the list seems a bit endless with history, murder, and classic or silent Hollywood somewhere near the top and that is why when I saw Tinseltown on the Harper’s upcoming books I did a wee bit of a jig.   Being a reformed classic movie junkie and having a festering obsession with John Barrymore (really, I have photos and trading cards of him on my walls) this was a great fit with the other books on my shelf covering this very same subject- the murder of William Desmond Taylor. {insert ominous da, da, da, dum}

Taylor and Jack the Ripper have quite a bit in common; both unsolved, everyone has a theory, pre-modern forensic science, evidence gone missing, and even their own exhaustive websites with information and groupies. Taylor’s murder has something that I don’t see the Ripper as having, it happened at the same time as the birth of Hollywood, which was arguably the the major cultural and entertainment powerhouse of the 20th century.

What is slightly different in Mann’s take on the case is that he comes to the conclusion that the culprit was someone that, while a suspect in most treatments, has not been confidently fingered before, there is a lot more talk of drug use, it’s the most complete picture of Paramount mogul Adolph Zuckor that I have ever read, and he makes many interesting word choices throughout.

A friend reminded me the other day that if there is no controversy of some sort or one can’t be created, the media will not cover it and that really applies to Tinseltown. Mann give the impression that every single person tangentially related to Hollywood had major skeletons in their closets and 99% of them had to do with drugs. Now, I wasn’t there and it was the wild 20’s and yet, I am not a fan of painting an entire industry or time period as drug and sex-crazed.  You might be tempted to throw the 60’s at me after reading that, but do you really think that everyone…your parents or grandparents, if you are younger, were out “turning on, tuning in, or dropping out”? I didn’t think so.

Zuckor? That was probably the most well done part of the book. It will leave feeling grateful for never having worked for the man and perhaps, insight into characteristics were almost vital to have in order to become the leader in many business at the time. His life is the embodiment of immigrant success that makes America great and also proves, yet again, that one doesn’t necessarily have to be likable to succeed.

Word choices? This was interesting and while I need to make note of it, I also need to mention that I have lately been on a lot of rants about this from authors and copywriters in general.  His use of words like clew and athwart might not sound to you like the nails on a chalkboard that they were for me. Think of this as a big case of it’s not Mann, it’s me.

His fingering a culprit? Like the Ripper, there have been so many theories that it is really hard to separate the wheat from the chafe. It’s completely possible and still unable to move beyond reasonable doubt for me based on the few facts that are left.

Tinseltown is like the 1920’s and Hollywood was, one heck of a ride. So much has been written about the murder that I really don’t have a favorite book in the race. If the case is new to you and you don’t have any pre-conceived notions, this wouldn’t be a bad choice and would treat you to a fair amount of somewhat unrelated Hollywood history, which is nice. Like the Ripper, the chance of fingering the dastardly murderer and pleasing everyone at this point are akin to finding a victim’s bloody sweater with DNA on it over a hundred years later. Oh…wait…that’s been done…and debunked. (My family has passed down many things, nothing as strange as a bloody sweater though. Seriously, not one generation thought it weird?)

Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood

by William J. Mann

  • Print Length: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (October 14, 2014)
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers

Much Like Gwen's Signature

Tinseltown fell into my hands like manna from heaven from HarperCollins. As always, the gift has no effect on my personal thoughts regarding the book. 

Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood Book Cover Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood

True Crime
Harper
10/14/2014
480

Who killed Billy Taylor, one of Hollywood's most beloved men? For nearly a century, no one has known. Until now. In the early 1920s, millions of Americans flocked to movie palaces every year to see their favorite stars on the silver screen. Never before had a popular art so captured the public's imagination, nor had a medium ever possessed such power to influence. But Hollywood's glittering ascendancy was threatened by a string of lurid, headline-grabbing tragedies, including the murder of William Desmond Taylor, the handsome and popular president of the Motion Picture Directors Association—a legendary crime that has remained unsolved since 1922. Now, in this fiendishly involving narrative, bestselling Hollywood chronicler William Mann draws on a rich host of sources, many untapped for decades, to reopen the case of the upstanding yet enigmatic Taylor and the diverse cast that surrounded him—including three loyal ingenues, a grasping stage mother, a devoted valet, a gang of two-bit thugs, the industry's reluctant new morals czar, and the moguls Adolph Zukor and Marcus Loew, locked in a struggle for control of the exploding industry. Along the way, Mann brings to life Los Angeles in the Roaring Twenties: a sparkling yet schizophrenic town filled with party girls and drug dealers, newly minted legends and starlets already past their prime, a dangerous place where the powerful could still run afoul of the desperate. A true story re-created with the thrilling suspense of a novel, Tinseltown is the work of a master craftsman at the peak of his powers.

Modern Pioneering by Georgia Pellegrini

Modern

Book space is a major issue in my house and to live without towers of them around me I have to be really brutal about what stays, gets donated, or as part of a specific collection, gets shoved in boxes under my bed. Say hello to the not-so-mini-library of books on Frank Lloyd Wright and the Arts & Crafts movement that, most likely, are holding up my bed right at this very moment.

Anywho, there are three shelves of visible books and a good portion of those are to-be-read with the remaining space for favorites and reference.  It isn’t often that a book falls into that last category because competition is T-O-U-G-H, tough. Modern Pioneering has made the cut.

Growing up in the city with parents that worked their rear ends off had it’s trade-offs and one of those was a lot of my food came out of a box from the freezer, was nuked in the microwave, and slithered onto my plate. Not only that, but we had a gardener, a pool guy, a dry cleaners that delivered, etc. Are you picking up what I am throwing down? There was zero home ec going on in my house. It was so bad that my first laundry load in college all came out blue due to not knowing to separate colors and especially new colors.

As the years have flown by I have learned so much and would have killed for the plethora of books that are out there now like Modern Pioneering. The whole make from scratch and consciousness about where food comes from is something that we lost for a few decades and color me thrilled. This one is a keeper for a few reasons.

There are things in Modern Pioneering that can attract all pioneering skill sets. It’s great for a beginner and the pro will find some new-to-them skills as well.  Kefir, is finally explained in words that don’t sound like something only a crazy health nut would use, priceless. From more space efficient gardening to (gosh I cringe at this word) foraging, then making a birdhouse out of a gourd to how to season a cast iron pan-there is so much packed into 293 actually readable pages.

Foraging to this city girl brings up negative pictures of dumpster diving and those um, freaky people that do it for fun. I might use wildcrafting or creativity in it’s place. It isn’t the wrong word, just has negative connotations for me personally.

Oh, and the photos? Fuhgetaboutit, you’re covered though you might want to bring something to wipe the drool. There are step-by-step directions and tutorials that will make you a pro in no time.

In general, it is a such a great book to grab at first blush that it earned one of the coveted slots on the shelf, even with the use of the word forage.  It fits right in between the 52 Weeks cookbook and The Healing Remedies Sourcebook, which are my go-to books for other similar but not the same reference titles.  Stop judging me for also saving The Resurectionist by Hudspeth, it’s all a part of my evil plan. It will happen with Kefir and cool illustrations of animals that don’t exist. 

 

Much Like Gwen's Signature

I think this one was from the publisher, it seems to have moved in and made a home for itself and that is a good sign. Not all books get along with each other. 

 

Modern Pioneering Book Cover Modern Pioneering

Cooking
Clarkson Potter
2014
304

A homesteading guide helps readers develop new skills in the kitchen, garden, and outdoors, featuring over one hundred recipes for garden-to-table dishes, small-space gardening advice, and DIY projects.

Skeletons Still Not in the Closet

Skull from the yard

I keep my skeletons out all year in spots to spook nosy guests. Be warned if you ever come over and snoop that white canister on the bathroom shelf or move back the leaves of a fern. (although why you would be messing with a fern is beyond me)

There are still a few books that scared me so badly that I waited to catch my breath before I reviewed them. Not that I stop reading horror or ghost stories just because Halloween is over, no way, but I know that many do.

Imagine a dark and stormy night and you’re cuddled up with an herbal tea in your favorite chair, the fire is toasty, no one else is home, the wind howls and you pick up…..

Horro Stories

 

 

This is such a classic that it would be great to read from every year even if the subtitle makes you giggle a bit. Think about it, there just aren’t that many authors whose surnames start with “Ho” and that subtitle implies that the volume just covers that specific grouping. It doesn’t. Full of short stories that are old favorites (Poe, I am pointing at you) and a whole bunch that are new, I suggest that you keep the lights on. Naw, for the best, edge of your seat chills, turn them off and read by candle light or use your Paperwhite Kindle.

P.S. There are 29 stories in this and it feels like so much more. The forward is really worth reading as well.

Horror Stories edited by Darryl Jones, 510 pages, published October 1st 2014 by Oxford University Press

 

 

 

 

 

Are you old enough to remember the 1987 movie Mannequin staring Andrew McCarthy and Kim Cattrall? Synopsis-cute guy falls in love with mannequin and gets a job there so he can chill with her when the store is closed, she comes alive and they have a Horrorstorbeautiful relationship, at night, in the store. That and the fact that I thought it would be so cool to stay in a store over night are the only things that stuck with me. My never-had-a-job-before rear thought that it would be “cool” to hang out in a store at night. Wow, kids are naive. Fast forward a few years and I fell asleep on a pile of scarecrows while doing inventory at Michael’s in the middle of the night. Good times.

Anywho, it was a fun fantasy then and that is part of what made Horrorstor so alarmingly scary. The book takes something that we can all relate to in one way or another, an Ikea knockoff, and turns it into the scariest haunted building you have ever visited.  A lot of it is tongue in cheek with the random Ikea-like descriptions of must-have house wares and that serves to make it more insidious.  I don’t care that it is supposed to be a bit funny or that it is a lightly masked commentary on our materialistic culture; I will never ever open up a cabinet in any store again without thinking of the book. And Ikea? Fuhgeddaboudit!

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix, 243 pages, published September 23rd 2014 by Quirk Books

 

 

 

File this under: Sometimes the remaking is just too much remaking.

Remember when they remade Psycho shot for shot? I was bored out of my mind; did you get through it? The Fall isn’t shot for shot, bThe Fallut it is a retelling of a treasured favorite from a treasured favorite author. That’s a lot to live up to and it is important to mention that if this gets younger folks to appreciate Edgar Allan Poe, it’s all good. However, if you grew up reading Stephen King and Poe like they were oxygen? This one might be okay if you get it from the library and that is still wouldn’t have helped me.

Bethany Griffin’s The Fall is a complete redo of Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher.  It isn’t updated to a modern setting, just cleaned up to add a bit more YA and make it easier for many more to read. While Usher has never been one of my favorites, I do know it well and mea culpa, I set the bar too high. It isn’t Griffin’s fault at all.  This isn’t even the first treatment of Poe that she has done so she must be doing it right for her audience. (I haven’t read the others and therefore can’t judge) The problem was that I thought I was her audience and I was wrong.

If you have never read Poe, abandoned it due to it’s less than modern language, or have a teen that you would like to introduce Poe to, may I present…

The Fall by Bethany Griffin, 420 pages, published October 7th 2014 by Greenwillow Books

 

 

All three of these spooky reads were provided by their publishers and that, obviously, doesn’t mean that they had any hand in these thoughts.

You know how they have bloopers for movies and TV shows? There are times that I would like to post some of the bloopers for my writing. I laugh so hard at some of the spelling errors, typos, and complete butchering of the language. I don’t need auto-correct to embarrass myself, no sir.  Have you had any good ones lately?

 

Sort of Like Gwen's Signature

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