Manson In His Own Words by Nuell Emmons

This book kind of grabbed my interest primarily because several members of “The Manson Family” have recently come up for parole, because there has been a substantial amount of time between the crimes and now and because aside from Charles Manson’s schizo interviews for tv, I have never heard from Manson himself.

I would like to say to the victim’s families if they read the review or come across it – the man admitted his part in both nights’ activities. There was really no shying away from that. In fact, although all the other participants are eager to point the finger, I have to agree with Manson on a few points.

One: It was the perfect storm. A whole bunch of disenfranchised youths met with an older ex-con who was himself socially and emotionally immature. While looking for someone to follow, they made a very poor choice but free choice was involved. The majority of people living on that compound were involved in petty crime and drugs.

Two: There are some players who bear heavy responsibility for the events of those nights. More than others. But Manson made it crystal clear and unvarnished that he was at the Tate residence after the murders and before the cops and the La Bianaca’s before the murders. He has no issues with doing the time. He is a career criminal and he does not shy away from that in the book.

Three: The families should be equally pissed at Vincent Bugliosi. That man wrote Helter Skelter which is sensationalism of the worst kind. It disrespected the victims and actually made the killers way more famous than they otherwise would have been. He did that to self-aggrandize. He was the Rudy Giuliani of his time. I now better understand how he pushed ideas that were not actually part of the case and re-wrote history.

Four: This is a great guide for how a child can turn into a criminal. Poverty, being criminalized and brutalized as a very young child, identity confusion, looking for love combined with social conditions and drugs and then throw in spending a lot of time among the criminal element, will create a Charles Manson.

Fifth and Last: Manson is just a man. A deeply flawed, career criminal who would have continued to commit petty crimes and be in and out of institutions regardless. He admits it, knows it, understands it and accepts it. He himself was at times surprised by the way events unfolded and at other times directed those events. He is a con man but had nothing to lose.

A strength of the book is that it was written by a man who did time with Manson prior to the murders and then became a journalist. He understands prison politics and bullshit and since he knew Manson both before and after, he was immune to the myth and understood the man.
This is probably the most honest account you will get. Very unvarnished. And for all Manson fans, a wakeup call from the man who himself debunks the myth.

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Tehran Noir ed by Salar Abdoh

As people who follow me know, I am very into the Akashic Noir series of books. This is my fifth or sixth review of a book in the series. The series focuses on a city or country and every story is written by a different author. I can’t recommend the series highky enough.

Tehran Noir was one of the best I have read so far. One of my the main reasons I enjoyed it so thoroughly is because it gives readers and alternate picture of Tehran from the people who live there. And everything you think you know about that city and Iran, you should pretty much toss out.

The book is divided into four parts: The Crime Pages, When a War’s Not Over, Proper Burial and The Executioners Song. Every story was strong and every one can stand on its own but I did have my favorites.

From The Crime Pages, I loved “Fear Is the Best Keeper of Secrets” by Rey. It is kind of an underworld story and it has a cast of characters that are so well drawn, you can imagine it as a movie. Great stuff.

In the next section, I loved “The Whitest Set of Teeth in Tehran” by Salar Abdoh. I just could not put the book down while I read that story. All of the stories in part two reflect life where war is the primary occupation of most people and how difficult it is to get to a peaceful place.

If you think women do not have power in Iran, I can disabuse you of that idea just by reading this book. They are leading a silent revolution and my favorite story in the whole book was “My Own Marble Jesus” by Mahsa Mohebali. That story was simply brilliant and spoke to the issues of all kinds of minorities in a country run by religion. So powerful and just a wonderful piece.

My second favorite was “The Restlessness of a Serial Killer at the Finish Line” by Shush. It was quite chilling and also very interesting. It is about death and it does have both a grim and grisly quality but I can highly recommend it.

The final section piece that I enjoyed was written set in what many in the Iranian community call Tehrangeles, which is Los Angeles. It is written from the point of view of an expat. Very entertaining.

Even with my favorites, there is really not a bad story in the bunch. I highly recommend this book. It provides a glimpse into a life and culture that too often is damned by slanted news media portrayals. Tehran is more than the news.

Pleasure and Pain: My Life by Chrissy Amphlett

Many people will not be familiar with Chrissy Amphlett. And they should be. She was at the forefront of bringing in the second great wave of female singers after the deep lull between the early 70’s and early 80’s. She was the lead singer of the Australian band The Divinyls.

The big U.S. hits were “Boys In Town”, “Pleasure and Pain” and “I Touch Myself”. Her style is in the punk vein of the Runaways, Blondie and Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders who she has often been confused with.

One of the things I found most revealing and true is that making a living in rock and roll is a bitch. While they made money, the band was more often than not in debt and simply working to get out of it. They were not living the fabulous glamour life of the super groups. Frankly, most musicians I know, professional or otherwise, live a hand to mouth existence and are willing to do it because they love the music.

Chrissy Amphlett was able to parlay her talent into musical theatre and had she lived longer, I think she ultimately would have established herself on Broadway as a presence. She did Blood Brothers and The Boy From Oz in Australia but she was right at the beginning of exploring this genre when she passed away.

She went through all the rock clichés as well as a gave a brilliant glimpse into life in the early seventies in the surfing culture in Torquay in Victoria. She traveled in Europe, she took drugs, and she spent some time in a Spanish prison.

I relived a lot of really fond memories of Kings Cross and time I spent in Sydney going to clubs, pubs and beer barns listening to amazing live music with friends. I had first seen the Divinyls in Seattle in 1983 before they broke big. I was a fan and stayed a fan.

Chrissy Amphlett passed away in 2013 due to breast cancer. This was a true loss to the music industry but the music lives on and this book is a great guide to both the woman and the band.

Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen

This is my first Hiaasen novel and came at a time when I needed something to read while I rested quietly. This admirably filled the bill. If you’re looking for a fun, relaxing read then this author will be the perfect fit.

Set in the Florida Keys, a reality television personality from a show called Bayou Brethren (think Duck Dynasty here) makes an ass of himself at a personal appearance and disappears. The reason is because his minder failed to show up.

His minder/agent, has been kidnapped in a case of mistaken identity during a bump and run which is a famous Florida method of robbery. The bumper is a wily redhead named Merry Mansfield who figures in all the action. She is one of the great sassy characters in books. I thoroughly enjoyed her because she is a take charge woman.

Andrew Yancy is an ex-policeman, sometime private eye and current Health Inspector who becomes wrapped up in the case. Sometimes it is by accident and sometimes it is by design. Andrew is one of those smart aleck guys who populate detective fiction.

What follows is adventure and comedy throughout the Florida Keys with a minor detour in Cuba. There are Mafioso, a lawyer who is representing class action applicants in a Viagra/deodorant lawsuit and a missing engagement ring.

I also have to admit, even though I know this is fiction, it made me nervous about eating in the Florida Keys and apparently there are some scary giant rats down there too.

In these turbulent days we are in, we need a distraction and this book (and by extension others by this author) are a great distraction. Sometimes you just need to run away in a book. So why not the end of the southeastern United States?

Prison Noir edited by Joyce Carol Oates

I have read several of these Noir books and I love them. All credit to my friend and author Curt Colbert who introduced me to the series when he was editing and writing a story for “Seattle Noir.” We spent a whole evening at a Seahawks game discussing the series and from there, I was hooked.
This is the fourth or fifth Noir book I have read and reviewed.

While many of the books in the series focus on a city, this one focuses on a community. Prisons are very much like a small town with all of the scandal, personalities and intrigues. The backdrop can be quite tragic but there can also be a lot of humor in the day to day that help people cope.

Each of the stories is written by a prisoner, male or female, in a correctional institution. Some are in Federal prisons and some are in state prisons. The amount of time that they are doing varies from a number of years to life. Many have included their former incarnations as white collar workers, tv producers, wives, fathers and career criminals.

The book is divided into three sections: Ghosts in the Machine, Caged Birds Sing and I Saw the Whole Thing, It was Horrible. There are five stories within each of these sections.

From Section One, my favorites are as follows: “Shuffle” which speaks to the prison experience of living in segregation; “Bardos” which is a clever depiction of the day to day routine; and “A Message in the Breath of Allah” which is a meditation on death.

In section Two I was partial to: “Foxhole” which was about the personalities that populate a prison as well as being from the perspective of a Native American and “Immigrant Song” which was about a young Mexican man who did not understand the situation in which he had found himself. The rest of the stories are strong too, these were just my favorites.

Section Three favorites were: “Angel Eyes” which is about the hardening a person can experience. The brutalization that can occur as a person loses hope; “How EBay Nearly Killed Gary Bridgway” which is a very thinly veiled story about serial killer Gary Ridgeway; and 3 Block from Hell” which I am not telling you anything about it because it would ruin the whole story.

These Noir books are some of the best edited anthologies I have had the pleasure to read. This one is no exception. Five stars. You will not be disappointed.

The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock

This is one dark book. I love that about it. In fact, it was much darker than I expected and that is not a bad thing. It lived up to what I expect when someone describes a Southern Gothic novel.

The characters are very dark and very violent. There is a returned World War II vet who falls for a beautiful waitress and settles in Knockemstiff, Ohio. He is kind of a crazy wilderness lay preacher who attempts to pray away his wife’s cancer. Fair warning to sensitive readers, some of his worship involves animal sacrifice that is quite graphic.

There are two crazy travelling preachers who are every stereotype of “Deliverance” characters that you can think of – including the squeal little piggy variety. Those that have read the book or seen the movie will understand.

My favorite creepy couple was Carl and Sandy. Every year they take a two to four week sojourn to different parts of the country and embark on a serial killing spree. It involves sex, photography and death.

What is most interesting is that at different points in the book, all of these disparate stories converge. There were times that I was wondering where this was all headed and then the characters would meet. It made sense when it happened but one thing I loved about that was the author never felt the need to speed the story towards these meetings.

In that sense, the story unfolds at a nice, slow, southern pace. And if I am picturing this story as a color it would be very black with shades of gray and some white. Apparently there is another book called “Knockemstiff” by the same author. I assume that it continues or precedes this one and that it is populated by some of the same characters.

I definitely felt like there was more to say in the story. Even the peripheral characters had very fascinating glimpses that made me want to know more. This was a great bargain and I would not hesitate to recommend this book to other readers.

Welcome to 2017

I wanted to take a minute to thank everyone who has started following this blog. I am working on growing and improving this blog as well as my own writing. As anyone who does any writing knows, it is all a process.

Last year, I set a goal to read 100 books. I managed 75. I am setting the goal for 100 again this year. I am also attempting to set a writing goal of 500 words a day. This is at the low end in terms of numbers of words that many authors aim to achieve each day.I am using that number to establish consistency. I am sure that I can exceed that number but I need to establish a ground floor for myself.

Another part of my life involves volunteering at my local zoo. This has provided me so many stories that I am starting to write a zoo diary based on the interactions I have each day there. It has been very interesting establishing relationships with the zoo patrons but the relationships I didn’t expect were those with some of the animals.

I don’t have anything to give them except my time and love but they have a lot of information and wisdom to impart to me. I always wanted to be Dr. Doolittle and I had no idea how enriching it is to be among animals who are wild and so important to our own existence on the planet.

Modern zoos shoot for conservation and education as starting points. Zoos are definitely no longer the Victorian Age entertainment that they once were. Accredited zoos strive to provide an environment as close to natural as possible and allow people to form bonds with animals that they would not otherwise be able to have. Watching a tv show or reading a book can only take you so far. Being in the presence of species that share our planet is truly an amazing and humbling experience.

I am new to blogging so I thank you for your audience and your patience as I discover how to use this medium most effectively. I hope you also get some good recommendations from the books I read (and at least fair warning of the ones I thought were not so great). I try to read widely across genres and I hope I have been able to introduce you to some new authors that allow you to branch out and explore.

Happy reading in 2017!