I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

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I’ve long been a fan of certain crime shows such as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Most of the stories are based on real-life crimes, some solved and some unsolved. In the past few years, the number of true crime YouTubers has increased, with ones like Eleanor Neale, Stephanie Harlowe and Kendall Rae producing videos detailing current and past cases.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search Quest for the Golden State Killer is a true crime nonfiction book by late author Michelle McNamara. McNamara, who passed away in April 2016, documents her attempt to identify a perpetrator who burglarized several homes, sexually assaulted dozens of females and eventually murdered another 13 people in two different parts of California. Initially dubbed as two separate perpetrators- the East Area Rapist and Original Night Stalker- the two cases were eventually linked. McNamara coined the phrase “Golden State Killer,” the moniker he subsequently became known as.

It was interesting to read about the extensive research she conducted to piece together parts of his crimes- studying the case files, interviewing former investigators from the case, and even traveling to the locations of some of the crimes. These details help narrow down certain parts of his modus operandi (MO), and can help add new details to his profile that might’ve not been considered before.

McNamara profiles the victims as well, both couples and single people who were living their lives normally before unfortunately crossing paths with a killer. There are pictures included in the middle of the book, an important way to humanize the victims.

Another interesting part of the book was reading how technology helps solve crimes. Shows like Forensic Files focus on how certain scientific processes help police crack cold cases years or or even decades later, DNA profiling in particular.

Just after McNamara’s book was released in early 2018, the case itself got an unexpected break: the arrest of a suspect. Authorities were able to enter DNA from the original crime scenes into a public DNA database and narrow down distant relatives of the perpetrator. This lead to the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo, who by now was in his early 70s and still residing in the Sacramento area.

I recommend this read because it shows how many details amateur detectives can uncover with their own investigation and how a case can be solved decades after it occurred.




Hidden History of the Finger Lakes

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My hometown sits along the Erie Canal in Upstate New York. While that waterway is world-famous for its 200-year history, just south of it is a region known as the Finger Lakes. Comprised of eleven long, skinny lakes that run north to south, they got their name from resembling the fingers on a hand. The Finger Lakes are a popular tourist destination for people both near and far, known for the numerous wineries along their banks. However, there’s more to this region than the grapes that grow on the vines.

Patti Unvericht’s book Hidden History of the Finger Lakes documents historical happenings around the region that most might be unaware of. Twenty chapters detail accounts of families, landmarks, events and more, some of which are actually pretty famous. For example, Rod Serling, creator of the popular TV series The Twilight Zone, is a Syracuse native. There’s also Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day. There are even some more unusual ones, like a suspect in the famous Jack the Ripper murders in London in the 1800s.

One of my favorite chapters was Chapter 5, detailing the Hamlin Civil Conservation Corps Camp, which provided jobs during the Great Depression and later served as Prisoner of War camp during the Second World War. Having learned about these historical events on a national angle, it was interesting to read about a local connection.

I recommend this book because it shows just how much history a region can have.


Scratch: Authors, Writing and the Art of Making a Living

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I knew I wanted to be a writer from the age of eight. That was when I wrote my first short story called Katie Goes to Butterfly Land about a girl who turns into a butterfly.

Fast forward to almost twenty years later, and I have a lot of writing credits in my repertoire. I attended college for journalism, where I wrote articles for the school paper and had some of my poems published in the college literary journal. I wrote more articles for my local newspaper and even some scripts for the broadcast news station at the internships I did. Lately though, I’ve been trying to branch out for paid opportunities to publish my work, with the ultimate goal of publishing a book. Wanting to learn more about it, I found Scratch, Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living.

Scratch is an anthology, compiled by writer Manjula Martin, filled with essays and interviews from various authors and writers. The focus is money in writing and whether it’s possible to make a living solely off of writing, a topic Martin feels is somewhat taboo in the literary world. The book is split into three sections: Early Days, the Daily Grind and Selling Out.

One of the qualities I liked about this book is how diverse the writers are. Instead of focusing on authors of just one genre, Martin included pieces from authors of young adult, nonfiction, fiction, thrillers, and so on. Each writer had their own opinion on money in the writing world, some say you still need a day job, while others say it is possible to scrap by on writing. Numerous topics such as ghostwriting, publishing, and agents are covered. They really show how multi-faceted the business of writing really is.

I found it fascinating to learn about how the writers decided they wanted to write, how they came up with ideas and the different ways they execute their writing processes. Each author has their own voice, some truthful, others humorous, some even using expletives. It shows that not every writer is the same and aren’t always afraid to show their true selves.

I definitely recommend this book for people who want to learn more about the business side of writing and what goes into it.


Broke Millennial

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Living in the nation’s capital doesn’t come cheap. I currently live in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city, where rent is basically one whole paycheck. I moved into my own place last summer, and wanting to fine tune my financial skills, I turned to Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life in Order by Erin Lowry. Lowry runs the website BrokeMillennial.com and graduated from the same university that I did. (Shout out to St. Bonaventure University!)

My first experience with finance began at 15 1/2 when I got my first real job working in the dining room of the local retirement home. I only worked about 10 hours a week at making the then minimum wage of $7.15, but earning my own money felt great.  I learned about depositing money, what a debit card is, and why teenagers are too young to get credit cards.

Now, 10 years later and in the real world, I earn a real salary and deal with credit card bills, student loan payments, and 401Ks, all topics that are covered in Lowry’s book. Although it may sound like a bunch of generic information, it’s written in a way that makes it easy and fun to read. She includes vignettes about her personal experiences and the experiences of her friends, which made the book very relatable. Interlaced with the advice are humorous references, an example being on page 65 in the credit report chapter, “Your goal should be to join the ranks of the 700+ Club- not to be confused with the oddball evangelical talk show.” Some chapters even cover more personal topics, such as buying a house, splitting the dinner bill with friends, and even how to discuss finances in a relationship. Each chapter ends with a checklist or summary of the material from it. I found her advice about affording life in the big city helpful, as spending in D.C. is a much different story than life in Western New York State.

I’ve already started to incorporate advice from her book into my own life. I used to buy lunch every day, but now that I have my own apartment with my own kitchen, I can make my own lunch and save a ton of money. Another way I’ve been able to save is trying to walk to work more (depending on the weather.) This saves on bus fare, which costs $2 per way, so that’s an extra $4 I can save everyday for weekend excursions. I also freelance write as a side hustle for some extra money. Buying a house isn’t in my plans anytime soon, but I could use the advice for the future.

I definitely recommend Broke Millennial as a way to figure out your finances, especially since money can sometimes be a taboo subject to discuss.


The Defining Decade

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Truthfully, I haven’t read that many self-help books. There’s a whole market dedicated to them that seem to tell you the same thing: you can be healthy by doing this or that. The Defining Decade, though, is one I found different because of the fact that it is written by a licensed clinical psychologist. I first found out about it through an NPR interview the author gave.

Meg Jay, Ph.D., is a psychologist who has worked in Virginia and California. Several of her clients were twentysomethings who found themselves at a crossroads in their lives. This nonfiction book is a compilation of her experience with those clients (with name and life details changed, obviously) and how she worked with each of them through their issues. After awhile, she realized that there wasn’t a book that focused on the importance of your 20s, which, in her opinion, is when certain decisions are the most critical and can affect the rest of our lives. And so began the basis for the Defining Decade.

The book is split into three sections: love, work and the brain and the body. Each section features the various predicaments of Dr. Jay’s clients, interspersed with facts, history and stories that relate to the issue and how they can help one work through the problem. For example, in one account that describes one twentysomething having trouble finding a job, Dr. Jay talks about the importance of utilizing connections: contacting the alumni from your alma mater, or even an old high school classmate. What makes it more interesting is the psychological angle she puts on it, like why someone is likely to reach out to a person that they don’t know.

One of the major reasons I liked this book is because the accounts documented people like me: those who came from middle-class families, went to college and are trying to figure out what exactly to do with their lives. I found this a contrast from some books “written” by celebrities in which they recall their experiences and struggles, which I’ve found harder to relate to since they usually have plenty of money and no worry about paying rent.

I definitely recommend this book as a read on the reality of how our 20s can be.

Zen in the Art of Writing

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This book suggestion actually came from an author herself. Maya Van Wagenen, whose book Popular I previously reviewed, answered the letter I had sent her earlier in the year. Responding to my question on writing tips, she recommended this book to me.

Prior to reading this book, I was slightly familiar with Ray Bradbury, having read several short stories of his for my high school English class. His novel Fahrenheit 451 is also a popular choice for high school curriculum. I knew his common themes were dystopia and technology. But I wasn’t aware that he had written a book about writing.

This book is split into sections, consisting of a series of essays written over a period of several years. The topics include some of his memories, and a lot of narratives about how he got ideas for his stories. I’ve always been interested in how some authors get the concept for a book in their head.

Although some of the essays were written some years ago, a lot of his perspectives are still relevant to today.

One of the points he talks about is how one should not write just for profit, but because they want to and for their pleasure. It makes me think of how a lot of actresses, singers and other celebrities have books, although most of the time I feel like they were just in it for the money. I admit, I have read some of these books, to see how they compare to people who made their name as writers.

The oldness of the book is reflected in some of his tips. Throughout the chapters, he continually refers to someone writing on their typewriter. Since this book was released in the 1980s, it makes sense that people would still have typewriters before computers exploded in popularity. Laptops didn’t even really become popular until the 1990s, and it only became normal to own one in the last ten years or so.

I myself am writing this review on a new Dell laptop I just got about a week ago, the first completely brand new laptop I have ever owned and that I bought with my own money. But as he says, it’s necessary to have the right tools to be a writer, and having a laptop or some sort of writing device is good to have.