Daisy Jones & The Six: A Novel by Tara Jenkins Reid

Publication Date: March 5, 2019

Its the early 70s and Daisy Jones is a major LA talent playing in small clubs and dreaming of living life to its fullest and making the kind of music she loves but she and her record label have different ideas of success. When Daisy meets Bill, they clash in a big way but together they will become epic. Daisy Jones & The Six: A Novel is a rock and roll autobiography set in the days of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

 

 

The literary circle in which I travel has been raving about this book for a few weeks so I decided to pick it up and would up reading the 336 mock rock history in one sitting. Daisy Jones & The Six: A Novel is a visual read. Framed as an oral history, it starts with Daisy, the poor little rich girl. She is a free-range child with a big talent and is broken in a way that leads her to the sort of self destruction that will lead readers to think they’ve heard the story before….because they have. In fact, I have read that this novel is a fictionalized version of Fleetwood Mac; a band about which I know almost nothing (I was only permitted to listen to gospel music growing up so my actual rock knowledge era is the 90s and Queen) so caught none of the parallels.

Overall Daisy Jones & The Six is a generic saga of decadence in the era of bell bottoms, booze and blow. There is a heavy reliance on readers being familiar with the decadence of the rock scene in the 1970s. Reid paints a very accurate feeling picture of the era. The fashion and music culture read true. Reid is no way goes for broke. She alludes to the uncomfortable, skirting around it. There’s something to be said for a lack of gratuitous self destruction but that’s the 70s, you do it or you don’t and there are ways not to celebrate the illegal. Word on the street is that the novel is becoming a movie and to translate the screenwriters will sensationalize so, in the end, discretion is not valorous.

Daisy, herself; is somewhat poorly characterized. She is an amalgamation of troubled female singers. I have seen the hand-wringing and worried “trigger” warnings. Lets be clear, a lot of what is on the page is very general. There are groupies and there are no ID checks. There’s some really questionable things but they’re glossed over. There is a saint vs whore subtext for Daisy and another female character that is perplexingly overdone in literature and discredits everyone and, really, distracts from the core story adding a tragic Janis Joplin spin without the emotional impact because it’s hard to connect with the Cliff Notes of a 70s singer. This is in no way a spoiler because I don’t know if readers; at the end, will care if Daisy wins or loses…and in this case, winning is perhaps not holding the expected definition. We know Daisy captivates because we’re told she does, it isn’t something we see.

If you’re considering reading Daisy Jones & the Six, do it because it’s getting rave reviews and I may be the lone 2 star. If you’re looking for a really interesting story of the 70s, head over to Netflix and watch When You’re Strange; a film about The Doors.

 

Buy Daisy Jones & The Six: A Novel by Tara Jenkins Reid on Amazon U.S. Amazon U.K. Amazon CA

Mrs. Astor Regrets by Meryl Gordon

Publication Date: October 22, 2009

Brooke Astor lived a rich and adventurous life. Her twilight years should have been comfortable and uneventful. Instead as Alzheimer’s descended, the Centenarian was living under the guardianship of her son, Anthony Marshall, and living in squalor. Her worried grandson approached her dear friends, Annette de la Renta and David Rockefeller for advice and what transpired in the aftermath of that meeting was more than any of them could have imagined. 

 

Let me address the most obvious problem first; the book ends with a statement that as of the writing of the work, the trial goes on. Readers are left to head to Google to find out what happened to Anthony Marshall, who did not share longevity with his mother. Meryl Gordon is a well respected journalist who interviewed Ambassador Marshall prior to the intervention of her friends to wrest guardianship from him. She had an objective look at the man and his second wife, Charlene, that laid parallel with the impressions of her interviewees.

As with the previously reviewed book by Gordon Phantom of Fifth Avenue, Gordon starts with the early life of Brooke Russell and her marriage as a very young person to alleged abusive womanizer, John Dryden Kuser. She considered her next husband, Charles Henry Marshall with whom she produced only child, Anthony Marshall, the love of her life. After Marshall’s death she quickly married Vincent Astor and though it was a brief marriage ending in his death, it seems to have been a mutually pleasant arrangement. Once Astor was gone, Brooke was a 57 year old widow with no desire to marry again and an ever evolving and active social life with a few trusted friends and retainers. Local folks may be interested to know that one of her trusted friends was Freddy Melhado whose first wife was Lydia Buhl was a great-great-granddaughter of Hiram Walker. I’m going to be honest here and say that the first part of the book was reasonably dry. Brooke Astor was a colourful woman but that came mostly from her own account which seemed perhaps whitewashed in reflected memory.

Having met Ambassador Marshall, Gordon seems convinced that he did not consider the machinations that led to his mother’s redirected wealth to be against her interest. Yes, his acquisition of a second wife was coated in controversy and we hear in Brooke’s own words that she didn’t like the woman, but Ambassador Marshall reads as having been misguided while Charlene was mercenary. Her controlling tendency in the interview with Gordon is a good indicator and personality.  Gordon titillates with a reporting of the take of the tabloids but overall her writing style is direct and from a objective standpoint. I found it to be a cautionary tales for people who are caretakers to not stretch the rules whether the motivation is greed or just what they think they can set right that their loved one might regret in reflection of life. David, my now 72 year old father, had a different perspective. He felt that the manipulation of the son and daughter in law were purely motivated by a criminal level of greed. They did, after all, take heirlooms rightly belonging to the Astor family from whom Anthony Marshall was not a descendant. He also felt that once accused, the Marshalls made some really dumb decisions in both legal counsel and PR which complicated the way that the case was viewed.

The bottom line is that Mrs. Astor Regrets is an interesting read that doesn’t have the payoff ending one might expect though the result can easily be found in a Google search. Mrs. Astor lived to the ripe old age of 105 with the end surrounded by the people she most loved and trusted. If you’re looking for a really interesting and different kind of legal story, pick up Mrs. Astor Regrets today.

 

Buy The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark by Meryl Gordon on Amazon U.S. Amazon U.K. Amazon CA

Everyone Can Learn Math by Alice Aspinall (author) and Alexandria Massey (illustrator)

Publication Date: October 23, 2018

Amy is in 5th grade and is frustrated with her math homework. She struggles with a word question sparking an outburst toward her mother, who also struggles with math but is doing her best to help her daughter succeed. Will Amy give up or will she learn the secret to unlocking her potential?

 

 

Let’s get the disclaimers out of the way. Alice Aspinall is a math teacher at the high school my daughter attends. I have never met this teacher and my daughter has never been in her class but I have known of her for quite some time. Alex is routinely in the pit band for the school’s musicals and last year Ms. Aspinall designed an exercise for her class around the musical of the year, Hairspray. I was impressed at the time with her attempt to engage the interest of her students so when I heard she would be the speaker at an upcoming AGM, I purchased her book. While she did subsequently, coincidentally, request a review is just the odd way life works.

The beginning of Everyone Can do Math is a glimpse into the past. Amy’s struggle is one with which I deeply identified. My school required a 90% or better to pass and I was the kid who “just not made for math.” Readers hoping for that secret to cracking the math code, like me, will find a read more focused on cracking the life code. Amy goes about her day enjoying personal success and the success of her friends through dogged perseverance. Could determination lead to success in math as well?

Everyone Can do Math is a direct and simple line for children to follow with the lesson that you never win by quitting. The narrative is frequently the inner dialogue of Amy connecting the dots. She successfully accomplishes a difficult dance move, a friend traverses the monkey bars, another friends sinks a number of free throws and Alice makes the connection. Aspinall doesn’t give us a magic fix but leads readers along the dots to a common sense conclusion. Is it perhaps too basic when boiled down? Sure, but this is a book for children whose societal outlook is developing and not a spell book. 

Everyone Can do Math is beautifully illustrated in cartoon style. While the story is generally well-presented, the attention of the target audience may be challenged as there is more telling than showing. The strength in Amy is that she is wholly identifiable and young readers will see themselves in her. They are helped to see the message through the journey and will know the reward in things that don’t come easy. Amy publicly admires the skills of the people who have stuck to their challenges and they’ll want that for themselves as well as the satisfaction of being that person that can do anything if only they keep at it.

Buy Everyone Can do Math for your young reader today. Its available on Amazon Kindle and contains a great lesson for any young reader.

Buy Everyone Can do Math by Alice Aspinall (author) and Alexandria Masse (illustrator) on Amazon U.S. Amazon U.K. Amazon CA

Book Launch: The True Face of Sir Isaac Brock by Guy St. Denis

On February 24, 2019 at 2pm, author and historian Guy St. Denis launched his newest book, The True Face of Sir Isaac Brock. The fully reserved event was held in the lovely Interpretive Centre of the Duff Baby House located at 221 Mill Street in Windsor, Ontario.

 

 

Duff-Baby House, 221 Mill Street Windsor, Ontario

Windsor, Ontario may seem an odd place to launch a book about Sir Isaac Brock but the author felt the General’s connection to the area, and especially to the place St. Denis chose for the launch, was strong. The Duff Baby House is thought to be the oldest building in Upper Canada and the author believes that given the historic home’s strong military connection, especially to the War of 1812, that Sir Isaac Brock visited at least twice. The first visit likely took place in 1810 and the second in 1812.  Though St. Denis did not locate a definitive primary source that would validate the hunch, his expert opinion of the stature of the visiting military official that his visiting a home so important in military history would have been a given.

 

St. Denis holding a confirmed picture of Sir Isaac Brock painted when the future military hero was 15 or 16 years old.

St. Denis has spent a decade wading through the hosts of portraits painted after the death of Brock at the Battle Queenston on October 13, 1812. A military hero, artists and historians after the death of Brock would accept the image of the hero. St. Denis, a lively and entertaining speaker, regaled the packed house with the story of his search for a true image. The cover image of The True Face of Isaac Brock, while perhaps the best known image of Brock is not actually a picture of the late General. The young, handsome, noble image is actually that of Lieutenant George Dunn. While St. Denis insisted to his publisher that no one should pretend the cover photo is actually Brock, its really the point of his research, isn’t it? A librarian way back when saw the image of the young and handsome Dunn and thought, “That’s what Brock should look like” and suddenly he gets a historic makeover. Why the portrait is cut off is a mystery to the author but makes for a book that will catch the eye of any history buff walking by a bookstore shelf.

 

St. Denis spoke for around 40 minutes about his book and future projects and he was such an engaging speaker that the time flew. The question period following was brief but imbued with laughter as one savvy attendee asked if Brock would be “someone he would like.” St. Denis, who is also writing a biography of Brock, shed some light on what he considered the General’s “humanity” and while he wasn’t initially a fan of the Six Nations, believed that opinion changed when the General met Tecumseh for whom he had great respect. A statue of the pair stands at a newly constructed roundabout leading from the east to Olde Sandwich Towne, the oldest area of Windsor.  Les Amis Duff Baby provided coffee and baked treats including a lovely cake featuring an image of the book’s cover. If only I’d been able to get a picture. I purchased a book which the author signed and must say, I can’t wait to start reading. The author’s next project is a study of the court martial of General Henry Procter.

 

Les Amis Duff Baby hosted a lovely and well organized event. To join them in their quest to preserve and educate, visit them on their Facebook page and send a message to administration.

 

Author and Historian Guy St. Denis

Guy St. Denis is pursuing a Ph.D in History at the University of Western Ontario. You can find The True Face of Sir Isaac Brock at Amazon CA

 

The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark by Meryl Gordon

Publication Date: May 27, 2014

Huguette Clark, born near the beginning of the 20th century, was the daughter of the nation’s second richest man and grew up in luxury. She was a lively and social philantropist who relatives one day realized had become gradually more distant until she virtually disappeared. What happened to this once vibrant personality?

 

 

The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark is an infuriating read. It is a dispassionate account of this life of Huguette Clark and what happened to her once she went into isolation written by journalist, Meryl Gordon. What is infuriating about the book is the connection that Gordon builds between her subject and reader and then the revelation that she was basically a tool for gain in her latter years outlined in objective fashion that could not make clearer the motivations of the century old woman’s carers. 

Before reading The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark, I had not heard of the lively Senator from Montana, William A. Clark. He and his first wife, Katherine, had seven children before her death in 1893. After Katherine’s death, William married his teenaged ward, Anna, with whom he had two children, the youngest of which was Huguette. Gordon’s account of Clark’s early life and the lives of her parents are through and when she embarks on the latter chapters of Clark’s life relies on interviews with key players who seem to have been surprisingly open with the journalist along with court documents that chronicled the struggle between the heiress’ family and the people paid to care for her. Clark lays out in a linear fashion the relationship of Huguette and her parents, the loss of her older, adored sibling and her relationship with her remaining and much older half-siblings with whom she was distant and cordial. Huguette’s mother, by all accounts, was a colorful woman who reveled in her daughter and indulged her while making clear that she was in this life on her own. A brief marriage that went bad cut through the middle of Huguette’s isolated existence.

The sign of a really good book was when the back cover is closed, the reader heads to Amazon and buys everything the author has written and that is truly what happened in this case. The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark is confounding. Huguette’s relatives had a relationship of routine and it took them coming together to realize that no one had heard from her. How she wound up in the hands of people who seem to have had genuine affection for her but were eager to use her to their advantage isn’t a perplexing mystery. She was grateful for their attention. The e-mails that flew between the hospital higher ups and their fundraising department is beyond shameful. Huguette may have preferred living in the hospital with her precious nurse and seemed quite aware that the all hour dedication she gained was contingent on making the woman very wealthy.

The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark is really a story of morality. People knew what was going on with Huguette and her carers and looked the other way. Did they believe the woman was better off or did they look for their own payday? You make the call. I will tell you that I was furious when I finished reading this book. I become so engaged with Huguette and her story and the steps that led her to be the woman who would pay – and pay dearly – for company was just heart breaking. The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark is a must read. Seriously, pick it up today.

Buy The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark by Meryl Gordon on Amazon U.S. Amazon U.K. Amazon CA

 

 

To End All Wars; a Story of Love, Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild

Publication Date: March 6, 2012

To End All Wars; a Story of Love, Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 is a look at the oft ignored World War I moral objectors along with those people who wholeheartedly believed in the cause.

 

 

 

Is it the job of the historian to moralize and pontificate? History is propaganda written by the winners so to read a book highlighting the moral objectors is supremely interesting. To sermonize that an event already placed in history shouldn’t have happened is not appealing. People died in World War I. It happened. It’s done. It’s 100 years in the past. History is about facts and while “woulda” “shoulda” and “coulda” are nice to suggest that a war in which an estimated 37 million people (civilian and military) died was a waste of human life. Maybe. But it happened and isn’t it a disservice to chide key figures in history making portraying them as Keystone Cop archetypes. Despite my distaste at the author’s position, the story of the objectors is one that should be told and was presented with delicacy, mindful of the challenges they faced.

To End All Wars; a Story of Love, Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 begins with the Boer War which took place from 1899-1902. The focus, of course, is British and the attention given to the war efforts of other countries ranges from dismissive to non-existent. Hochschild divides his attention between battlefield anecdotes and the stories of the protest movement. There’s a hero and villain mentality set. The good and just people speak out about the needless loss of life while the people whipping up frenzy for the war twirl their mustaches and rub their hands together in a metaphorical reflection of the animated Snidley Whiplash. The new information is in relation to the protestors and I think To End All Wars; a Story of Love, Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 would have been more interesting had Hochschild stuck with that angle instead of diverting to well tread ground in the war effort. Powerful families are divided by ideology and people who suffered great loss that they felt was needless are painted with a loving and valiant brush.

Okay, so I’m going a little hard on the author. It’s okay to have favorites and agree with one side over the other. The problem with preference in this case is that it really is at the expense of what is, at it’s core, a pretty good book. We, as people, do tend to be for or against issues and do tend to paint the other side with the broad stroke of ignorance, at best, and cruelty, at worst. As a history of World War I, To End All Wars; a Story of Love, Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 falls short but as a narration of a few key players in the effort against the war, it excels even if some of what reads as hyperbole should be taken with a grain of salt.

I’m going to call a To End All Wars; a Story of Love, Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 a “must be read for oneself” book. Hochschild is well regarded as a historian and has a critically acclaimed bibliography of era and occasion focused works. Pick it up if the description appeals and let me know what you think.

Buy To End All Wars; a Story of Love, Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild on Amazon U.S. Amazon U.K. Amazon CA

 

 

Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham

 

Publication Date: January 5, 2016

 

In 1954, Juliet Hulme and her friend, Pauline Parker, killed Pauline’s mother. The crime, committed by two teenage girls who lived rich fantasy lives and simply did not want to be separated when Juliet would be sent to South Africa, rocked Auckland, New Zealand. Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century chronicles the crime, trial and Peter Jackson film that led to the hunting down of the two long released convicts.

 

 

It seems a widely known fact that English author, Anne Perry, was born Juliet Hulme and spent five years in prison after she and Pauline Parker were convicted of killing Pauline’s mother. Given the first name when released from prison and returned to England, she took her stepfather’s last name. A secret for many years, the release of Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures brought the crime back to the public eye and interest in tracking down the now elderly teen killers.

In Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century, Graham lays out in minute detail the connection between the girls, their crime, the trial and what happened after with an in depth psychological analysis of what essentially seemed a thrill kill. Where Graham is quite through in the 384 page work, he could have used a good editor. The trial portion of the piece is retold in excruciating detail showing witnesses debating if the crime was motivated by a sexual relationship. We get it, people at the time thought they were lesbians but in the grand scheme, did it matter? They had an oddly dependent relationship whether it was sexual or is not the point. The narrative at the point of the trial is weighty and, frankly, boring. What is interesting is the lasting affects the trial seems to have had on the ancillary players. Graham doesn’t celebrate the more salacious facts of the case merely presenting what experts said on the stand and representing the disbelief of some of the litigators. They both had somewhat isolated childhoods during which time they were chronically ill and both seem to have been somewhat less of a priority for the people who were supposed to value them most. More is known about Juliet – the now Anne Perry – so it does seem that the focus of the piece is the now famous author.

What is clear from Graham’s telling is that real story will never be known unless one of the two key players decides to open up about the day they decided to kill Pauline’s mother. Perry has spoken about the crime even appearing on an episode of the UK chat show Tricia but really has only gone into already known facts. She is exceptionally gracious to herself in that she seems to have no remorse and when asked if she thinks about the victim, she says that she doesn’t because she didn’t really know her. There’s a vanity in ending of life and not thinking of the victim as inconsequential. One would hope that Miss. Perry is simply poorly spoken though she is shown to be sharply intelligent and have a way with words. Parker, from what I’ve read is a recluse. That their relationship was so dependent and the mother was killed allegedly because they would be separated it’s rather surprising that both of them said that they hadn’t be in contact since their release. I audibly gasped upon reading that Anne Perry, an author I’ve read but never looked into her life, was one of the teens. That she writes crime fiction makes me wish that I remembered the motivation of her fictional killers to perhaps look through fiction to fact, but that’s never a sure thing. Most of the non-fiction work flowed well. As mentioned, the courtroom play by play got a little weighty and I will admit to putting the book down multiple times during the course of the narrative. At it’s base, even if one didn’t grow up to be a famous author, is fascinating. I’ve read in other reviews that some readers were thrown off by the overtly English formality to the writing but, to be fair, I did not notice. Perhaps because I do read a lot of books by English author or, perhaps, because I’ve now lived in Canada for 19 years.

If you’re into true crime, Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century is a great, well researched and well presented read.

Buy Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham on Amazon U.S. Amazon U.K. Amazon CA

 

Paris is Burning (Documentary) by Jennie Livingston (Director)

On December 31, 2018 Hector Xtravaganza, Grandfather of the House of Xtravaganza (one of the early Latino drag families), died at the age of 60. Hector was featured in Paris is Burning and served as a consultant on the Ryan Murphy show about the New York gay ballroom scene of the 80s. Pose.

DVD Publication Date: February 22, 2012

Paris is Burning was filmed in the mid to late 1980s and chronicles the ball culture of New York City’s Black, Latino, Gay and Transgender community.

Paris is Burning

Paris is Burning follows the largely African-American Ball scene in New York City. Livingston became interested in the scene when she met a group of young gay men doing what they called “voguing” in Washington Square Park. Thinking the ball scene would make an interesting University project, the men suggested she contact the creator of the vogue moves, Will Ninja, who introduced her to the ball scene where contestants would have walk off competitions in a variety of categories. Contestants would be scored on a number of categories including realness of drag whether it be boy drag (banjee – or passing as straight), girl drag or androgyny. In exploring the ball scene, Livingston connected with many individuals and highlighted their stories.

As a parent, this documentary tore at my soul. On the one hand there’s the pageantry and over the top nature of the ball scene. A place to be accepted and celebrated for people who normally found themselves on the outside of 80’s mainstream society. A celebration of acceptance, open hearts and love. In the ball setting of everything goes live people who want to be who they are. They want love and happiness and the societal idea of normalcy. Venus Xtravaganza is a trans woman supporting herself as a call girl while dreaming that one day she’ll have the life she’s always wanted. People who love and accept her. People who see her as the woman she knows herself to be. Her longing for a life she’d never have was heart stirring. In my review of this movie I don’t wish to pontificate on gay rights but my heart broke for Venus in her dreamy desire for a life she would never have (not to give anything away). What we’re left with is a clear, unvarnished look at a woman who is hurting no one in her longing for the life of a suburban lady who lunches. Her end is heartrending and tragic and I will admit to wishing that things had worked out differently for this compelling young person.

As a longtime viewer of RuPaul’s Drag Race and follower of drag culture, watching Paris is Burning shined a light on how much the fore-bearers of the ball scene influence gay culture. The drag houses of the film still exist and thrive and the sense of community shines in the artists appearing on our screens weekly. Livingston showed the good and the bad. The nurturing “families” and the danger of daily survival. I searched wikipedia for many of the key players in the film after finishing and many of them lived on their terms and, sadly, met an early end. Hector Xtravanganza became a key player in HIV/Aids activism.

Paris is Burning is engaging, enlightening, joyful, heartbreaking and informative. It is a must see for humanity. Check it out today. I don’t know why I waited so long.

Buy Paris is Burning on Amazon U.S. Amazon U.K. Amazon CA

Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness by Harold Schechter

Publication Date: March 1, 2018

Belle Gunness was a serial killer who operated between 1884 and 1908. She killed at least 14 people (including her own adopted daughter) but possibly as many as 40. Detected in 1908, she apparently died in a house fire with her remaining three adopted children and though a man went to trial for the arson and murder, not everyone was convinced.

Let me say right from the start, Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness is one of the most compelling books I’ve read in a long time. Not a generally well known serial killer today, Belle Gunness was a Norewegian-American who operated out of La Porte, Indiana. Her victims appear to have been exclusively her fellow Norwegian immigrants. She’d advertised in the Norwegian papers located in Chicago for a handyman and then would operate a love scam quite a lot like we see today online. She’d build a rapport telling her prospect that she was a wealthy widow and he could marry her if he had enough money and they would live happily together. He would be instructed to liquidate assets and tell no one of his plans. When he arrived, he’d meet a nasty fate and anyone inquiring would be told that the person had simply moved on….often having returned to Norway. Once the crimes were discovered and Gunness was presumed dead, the public feeding frenzy for information and the spike to La Porte of macabre tourism was fascinating as was the purple prose of he media leading in some cases to wild speculation and outright fallacies.


Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness features Kindle in Motion which allows for animated graphics (which can be turned off) and the animated images really annoyed me at first. When on a page with text, it took a moment to refocus on the story. A picture of an empty room fills with trunks. We get it, Gunness killed a lot of people. Once the story started rolling in earnest, must admit, I didn’t notice the animations except when they featured slideshows of historic pictures of the excavation of the Gunness farm and that aspect was kind of cool as was seeing known pictures of the victims as they appeared in the narrative instead of having to turn to the center of the book. This was just that kind of story. There were simply a lot of people to keep track of and the visuals helped greatly.

The story of Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness follows not only the crimes of Belle Gunness but also her former handyman Ray Lamphere who was accused of having killed her and her children by arson. Schechter is a consummate professional in the liner presentation of fact. For the most part, the story is chronological though thoroughly conferred. In retrospect, I’m surprised to not have seen a book about this particular serial killer before as there was simply so much information that the 336 pages left nothing out and kept rolling right up to the surprising end.

 Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness is a tough book to recommend for holiday reading. Its not light or forthy but it’s so interesting that if you have time off, it would be well spent with cocoa, a fireplace an this amazingly well written true crime read. Pick it up today. Trust me. This may be my top recommendation of the year and at $4.95 for the US Kindle copy, how can you lose?

Read an excerpt and buy Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness by Harold Schechteron

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About Harold Schechter
For more information about Harold Schechter, you can connect with his profile on Goodreads .

American Horror Story: Asylum

Aired: October 17, 2012 – January 23, 2013

Set mostly in 1964, Kit Walker (Evan Peters) is accused of killing his wife (Britne Oldford) and locked up in Briarcliff Manor, an asylum that houses the criminally insane. Court appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Oliver Threadson (Zachary Quinto) is assigned to asses Walker’s ability to stand trial. Reporter Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) requests access to the asylum as she sees exposing the mistreatment of the patients as the making of her career. Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) denies her access so Lana sneaks in and is injured. Jude initially uses the injury and then Lana’s homosexuality to keep her locked away. Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) is using the patients to make the ultimate human beings. Dark forces are at work. In modern day in the ruins of Briarcliff will history repeat itself?

Asylum is the second show in the American Horror Story series.

 

There is a lot going on in Asylum. There are serial killers, alien abduction, demon possession, war criminals, the list goes on. The show tackles homosexuality, interracial marriage, unchecked medical practices and the abuses that occurred unchecked in asylums of the era. People treated as sub-human and disappeared easily. Each character is deeply complex and unique in their own right and few are truly evil, simply misguided in their approach to what they think is best for the world.

As would be expected from the calibre of performer to appear in a Ryan Murphy production, the acting is beyond reproach. I read a tweet not long ago that lauded Evan Peters as the Meryl Streep of the modern age and I can’t say that I disagree. He is an absolutely phenomenal artist. In Kit he is traumatized, confused and desperate. Kit is a man fighting for his life and the audience believes the urgency of his dilemma. Lily Rabe appears in this second outing as Sister Mary Eunice, a nun imbued with childlike innocence who turns evil. Frances Conroy appears briefly as an angel of death of sorts and her brief appearances are simply breathtaking. Though there are sex scenes in Asylum, they are less pronounced than in Murder House though, I must warn viewers that might be triggered, there is a pretty brutal rape scene that is in no way gratuitous.

Because of the many directions in which the stories go, some of them simply aren’t done very well. I know that there are lines throughout that will connect in the final season, perhaps the very poorly executed alien story-line that seems like an afterthought will re-emerge in Apocalypse. The backstories of the varied inmates (woman accused of killing her family, sex addicts, Anne Frank,  Pepper – a nonverbal patient who appears as a main character in the later installment Freak Show, etc…). Each character is explained and their motivations explored. Innocent and guilty melted together and forced to survive. Sister Jude rules the roost but she’s at odds with Doctor Arden believing that the experiments Briarcliff’s founder, Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes), has given Arden the space to perform is against nature but she soon finds herself with a greater adversary…her past.

I expected to be deeply uncomfortable with the cruelty of the Asylum and was but was intrigued with where the story would go and was not disappointed. The tie in of the past storyline with it’s present counterpart was expected but really well done. Adam Levine and Jenna Tatum are perhaps not the strongest actors in the piece but their brief appearance certainly makes its mark. Sarah Paulson especially was a standout as a later life Lana Winters. 

To say much more would be giving away the story so if you are one of the few people who haven’t seen this series and enjoy well acted drama, check it out. Let me know what you think.

 

American Horror Story Asylum is available as a DVD, Blu-ray and on Amazon Instant Video.

Amazon U.S.   Amazon U.K.   Amazon CA

Title American Horror Story Murder House
Director Ryan Murphy (and others)
Actors Evan Peters, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, Sarah Paulson, Zachary Quinto (and others)
Length 13 episodes
Rating NR
DVD Release October 8, 2013