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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-10-23 17:00
Hanging the Elephant (Also: Final 2017 Halloween Bingo Read)
She Walks These Hills - Sharyn McCrumb

 

Well, I'm glad that this year's Halloween Bingo ended on a high note for me -- in terms of writing, that is, even if not topically.

 

She Walks These Hills is one of Sharyn McCrumb's Ballad novels, set in the Roan Mountain / Cherokee National Forest part of the Appalachian Mountains -- I'm guessing that the town of Hamelin, TN, featured in the novel is based on Hampton, TN.  (There actually is a Hamelin, TN, too, but it's in a different part of the state, whereas the location of Hampton fits the book's geographical references perfectly.)  The novel is named for the legend of one Katie Wyler, a pioneer girl who in 1779 was abducted by a group of Shawnee, but managed to flee from her captors and walk all the way back home, covering a distance of several hundred miles; only to be killed once she had reached what she believed to be safety -- and whose spirit is believed to still be haunting the area.  While the novel's Katie Wyler is fictitious, McCrumb based her legend on the story of several actual pioneer women who suffered a similar fate (minus being killed upon their return home); most notably, Mary Drapler Ingles

 

That being said, while Katie's story provides the novel's background, the actual plot weaves together the stories of several contemporary (well, 1990s) protagonists:

 

* Hiram "Harm" Sorley, a 60+ year old escapee from a Mountain City prison where he'd been serving a de-facto life sentence without the possibility of parole for killing an affluent neighbor some 25 years previously, and who is (rightly) believed to be trying to return to his hometown of Hamelin, TN -- never mind that he's suffering from Korsakoff's Syndrome, i.e., the memory loss condition where, though you do recall events of your remote past, your short term memory is only able to record things for very brief periods (think of the movie Mememto);

* Hamelin Deputy Sheriff Martha Avery, promoted from dispatcher to her current position (on a probationary basis) as a result of a staffing shortage, who, after volunteering for her current job in an attempt to better herself, unexpectedly finds her relationship with the town's other deputy sheriff (Joe LeDonne) on the rocks -- all the while wondering why she seems to be the only person in the office who is taking Harm Sorley's escape seriously and considering him a potential threat;

* History PhD student and teaching assistant Jeremy Cobb, who has made Katie Wyler's story his pet research project and part of his PhD thesis, and who -- though a city kid and a bookworm who hasn't even gone hiking, let alone camped out in the woods a single time in his life before -- decides there is only one way to "get close" to Katie; namely, by hiking part of the rough, lonesome wilderness trail she must have been traveling some 200 years ago (yeah, well, talk about a recipe for disaster right there);

* Henry "Hank the Yank" Kretzer, a local country & folk music DJ (originally from Connecticut, hence his nickname), who covers the Harm Sorley story on the radio and becomes interested enough to try and track down the circumstances that ended up in Harm's life sentence to begin with;

* and Harm's wife and daughter, Rita and Charlotte, who after Harm's conviction went on to live a life very different from the hillbilly / "white trash" life they had been sharing with him, and whom Rita's new middle class husband Euell had shut off from Harm entirely, enjoining them to consider his being locked up in prison forever the same thing as him being dead.

 

And, in addition to these and other people's stories, which dramatically converge once Harm does actually make it back to the Hamelin area, this is also the story of this particular corner of the Appalachians, whose vast forests, valleys and mountainsides very much make the area's nature and geography a character of its own, and provide for a magnificent backdrop -- and the age-old tale of history repeating itself in that the interests of the defenceless are sacrificed, sometimes very publicly, on the altar of money, power, corruption, and greed: as epitomized by the (real!) story of Mary the elephant, a circus elephant who in 1916 in Erwing, TN, was hanged by a local mob, after she had acted out against and killed a handler who had severely hurt her ... and after the circus owner had realized that as a result she had become a liability instead of the asset she had been so far, and the only way he could generate one last large wad of money out of her was by putting her on display for her public execution.  (Note: You may want to think twice about following the above link or the one in the below first footnote, or researching the story online, if you find it hard to look at images or read descriptions of animals being mistreated.  In fact, I'm going to put the whole passage from the book in which "Hank the Yank" tells the story to his listeners into spoiler tags for the same reason, too:)

"Now the circus was in a pickle. They had to choose between sacrificing an eight-thousand-dollar elephant -- that was Rolls-Royce money in 1916, folks -- or missing play dates in Johnson City and Rogersville.  And the newspaper had fired folks up so that they were screaming for her blood.  It doesn't appear that anybody considered Mary's feelings in the matter.  Ws she a victim of abuse under a  cruel and inexperienced trainer?  Did she consider her actions self-defense? [...]

Those are nineties questions, neighbors.  Nobody asked them in 1916.  The circus owner reasoned that he couldn't afford to lose money from missing show dates, and after the notoriety occasioned by Eldridge's [the handler's] death, he didn't think he could get any other show to buy her.  Apparently, he decided that the only way to profit from the experience would be to reap some free publicity by staging a spectacular public execution.

That's where Erwin comes in.  I mean, how are you going to kill an elephant?  Poison?  How many pounds would it take?  Electrocution?  I wouldn't want to be around if you miscalculated the lethal dosage and pissed her off.  But Erwin, population in 1916 two thousand, was the site of the repair shops for the Clinchfield Railroad.  It offered the circus owner a solution.  Why not hang the beast on a one-hundred-ton railroad derrick?  That's the equipment they used to lift railroad cars.  A five-ton animal would pose no problem at all for such a contraption. [...]

The circus people put a chain around her neck and hoisted her right up off the ground.  It took them two tries,* but they finally succeeded in kiling a rare and intelligent creature, that maybe had no business being enslaved in a sideshow anyhow.  Maybe she even preferred a quick death to a life of servitude.  I don't claim to be an expert on the opinions of elephants."

(spoiler show)

Hank concludes the story of Mary the elephant:

"I do know this: sometimes the law seems more concerned with shutting up mobs who are too dumb to be reasoned with than they are with dispensing justice.  Maybe you're wondering what all this has to do with one old man who took an ax to his prosperous neighbor a quarter of a century ago.  It's just a feeling I have, folks.  Something tells me that Harm was just as much a pawn as Mary was.  I think there's another side to both stories, and while we're never going to hear the truth in Mary's case, I'm still hoping that it can be unconvered for Harm Sorley."**

She Walks These Hills was published in 1994, but given recent political events both in Washington, D.C. and, inter alia, in places like the coal mining areas of West Virginia (which aren't actually so terribly far away from the area where this story is set), large parts of it still read shockingly relevant 23 years later -- now more than ever, in fact.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

* Sensitivity warning: The below spoiler adds a detail on the hanging procedure.

(spoiler show)

**Contents spoiler warning: Don't read the below spoiler if you haven't read the book and don't want to read anything related to its conclusion.

Turns out that while Harm Sorley's action wasn't self-defense, he certainly was severely provoked -- it's at the very least debatable whether his act would genuinely have qualified as first degree murder; and if he had had the money to afford a better lawyer, he almost certainly would have gotten off with a lighter sentence.  Then again, if he'd had the money (and sophistication) to hire a better lawyer, he'd likely have resorted to different means altogether ... if that rich neighbor whom he ended up killing had dared to do what he did to him and his family in the first place.

(spoiler show)

Merken

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review 2017-09-10 14:50
My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Farris
My Favorite Thing Is Monsters - Emil Ferris

 

My Favorite Thing is Monsters is a gorgeously illustrated graphic novel. Karen Reyes is a young girl coming of age in 1968 Chicago when her neighbor is murdered, her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, Martin Luther King is shot and the local mob boss goes to jail.

 

Peppered in between all that are Karen's notebook drawings of all kinds of things-her neighborhood, her brother and mom, and the covers of pulp magazines. She also likes to draw her version of popular paintings which her brother takes her to see at the local museums. All of her drawings are on lined notebook paper and all I can say about them is that they are stunning. All in pen, but not all in color-each and every drawing is so detailed you can stare at them for a long while and continue to find new things.

 

       

 

  Never let anyone's darkness provoke you into your own midnight.

 

 

Tackling subjects like racism, homosexuality, the Holocaust and so much more, this graphic novel adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Highly recommended!

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text 2017-09-08 22:30
Halloween Bingo Book Update-Murder Most Foul
Lightning Men: A Novel - Thomas Mullen

This book is the sequel to last year's most excellent:

 

Darktown: A Novel - Thomas Mullen

This was a novel about the first black police officers in the city of Atlanta. It takes an unflinching look at racism in the south around the 1950's.

 

I'm planning to use Lightning Men this for this square:

 

 

 

Synopsis:  Officer Denny Rakestraw, “Negro Officers” Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith, and Sergeant McInnis have their hands full in an overcrowded and rapidly changing Atlanta. It’s 1950 and color lines are shifting and racial tensions are simmering. Black families—including Smith’s sister and brother-in-law—are moving into Rake’s formerly all-white neighborhood, leading some residents to raise money to buy them out, while others advocate a more violent solution. Rake’s brother-in-law, Dale, a proud Klansman, launches a scheme to rally his fellow Kluxers to save their neighborhood. When those efforts spiral out of control and leave a man dead, Rake is forced to choose between loyalty to family or the law.

He isn’t the only one with family troubles. Boggs has outraged his preacher father by courting a domestic, and now her ex-boyfriend has been released from prison. As Boggs, Smith, and their all-black precinct contend with violent drug dealers fighting for turf in new territory, their personal dramas draw them closer to the fires that threaten to consume Atlanta once again.

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text 2017-08-18 17:37
My Planned Reads for Halloween Book Bingo 2017!

 

Thanks to Moonlight for the pretty card! I think I am going to get this specially printed at Staples and buy some fun stickers to mark off spaces. 

 

Here are my planned reads for the rows I got on my card. Hopefully I will be able to stick to these books or at least find some easy replacements if something pops up.

 

 

Witches: Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

The Dead Will Walk: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

Chilling Children: The Bad Seed by William March

Gothic: Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Country House Mystery:The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Hercule Poirot, #1)
by Agatha Christie 

HEX by [Heuvelt, Thomas Olde]World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie WarCarmillaThe Mysterious Affair at Styles (Hercule Poirot, #1)

 

 

 

Murder Most Foul: I am going to read something by Tana French. I just finished the first book in the Dublin murder series and have fallen in love. 

Aliens: The Tommyknockers by Stephen King

Supernatural: Christine by Stephen King 

Locked Room Mystery: The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada 

Diverse Voices: I will see what is available at that time. I have so many holds that are coming due soon something should fit. 

 

 

Classic Noir: The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

Vampires: Salem's Lot by Stephen King

Free space: Moon Over Soho (Peter Grant/Rivers of London #2) by Ben Aaronovitch

Werewolves: Blood Bound (Mercy Thompson, #2) by Patricia Briggs

Magical Realism: The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende 

 

The Thin Man'Salem's LotMoon Over Soho (Peter Grant, #2)Blood Bound (Mercy Thompson, #2)The House of the Spirits

 

 

 

American Horror Story: The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

Ghost: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Demons: Going to have to think on this one. Any suggestions welcomed. 

Terrifying women: With Malice by Eileen Cook

In The Dark, Dark Woods: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

 

 

Haunted Houses:

Genre: Horror:

Classic Horror:

Terror in a Small Town:

Darkest London:

 

Feel free to give me suggestions for these. I saw so many books I don't know what I am going to read for this row! 

 

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text 2017-08-18 03:15
Halloween Bingo Card!

 

I'll post book ideas tomorrow!

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