Murder, Italian Style (Twofer Book Review)

Bookshelves: true-crime, in-the-news, investigative-journalism, italy, non-fiction

Well. If you have any doubt as to the guilt or innocence of Amanda Knox, you don’t even need to read a book about the Meredith Kercher murder. What you need to read about is the Monster of Florence, with the awareness that the same investigator/prosecutor/judge (one person serving all three functions, so much for “judicial impartiality”) on the Monster of Florence case was also presiding over Amanda Knox, Raffaele Sollecito, and Rudy Guede. When this idiot asshole gets a hard-on for a suspect or a theory, he will use the exact words of a conspiracy theorist as factual evidence and make up the stupidest shit you ever heard of just to win, going so far as to change the victim’s time of death to fit his pet theory, because heaven forbid a jurist admit to being wrong and look at other leads and theories to actually pursue JUSTICE. Seriously, this guy infuriates me.

Between both of these books, what I’ve learned is this: Italy is an achingly beautiful country, so full of exquisite architecture and art and wine and food and history and purple hills and golden light that you can’t help but fall in love, but if you go there, don’t be anywhere near where a murder was committed, don’t chance to speak with anyone involved, and you’d certainly better not be a sexually active young foreign woman living in the same house as a murder victim or be an investigative journalist trying to write the truth of what happened. The eye of a bumbling and corrupt legal system is not one you want to draw to yourself. And for God’s sake, DON’T store your centuries-old doorstop behind the door when you’re not using it, because you’re clearly trying to hide what everybody knows is a device used to talk to Satan. Yes, that happened.

I read these two books back to back in the order presented below. Separately, they are the journalistic investigations of the Monster of Florence and the ordeal of Amanda Knox respectively but taken together, they are about two shockingly inept criminal investigations and one very corrupt public prosecutor/judge by the name of Giuliano Mignini. Mignini was eventually convicted of a plethora of criminal activities related to abuse of office with regard to the Monster of Florence, but still allowed to persecute prosecute no, I think persecute is the right word — Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito while he appealed. The contrasts between the justice systems of the U.S. and Italy are stark, and you’ll be shaking your head at what passes for “presumed innocent” and “freedom of the press” in Italy.


The Monster of FlorenceThe Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

No complaints. This book is tightly written and difficult to put down, detailing several sets of double murders from 1968 to the Monster’s last known strike in the 1980’s, and how “murderer” after “murderer” was convicted as the Monster only to be exonerated and freed when more killings took place. Preston and Spezi have their own theory about the identity of the Monster of Florence. They make a good case, but the crimes remain officially unsolved. To demonstrate the malfeasance of Mignini and others, as if the false imprisonment of Mario Spezi and the threats against Douglas Preston were’t enough, Preston and Spezi include a final chapter detailing the meat-and-bones of the Amanda Knox travesty. You can’t unsee it.


The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda KnoxThe Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox by Nina Burleigh

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This book pulled off the rare feat of being beautifully written while annoying me at the same time.

1. Only about half of it–if that–is actually about the case. I like some setting and backstory, but for most of the book I felt like I was reading a travel/history book about Perugia. Lots of biography of investigators and attorneys and other players that I found extraneous. Exhaustive research is impressive, but there’s such a thing as too much information. (Although I did appreciate the line about locals turning their noses up at an eighteenth-century buildings as “new construction.”)

2. The timeline is all over the place. If you don’t already know the sequence of events, you’re going to be confused. I did know the sequence of events going in and I got confused once or twice anyway.

3. Nobody else mentioned this that I know of, and the book was published in 2011, before the Trumpster even really hit the world scene as he is now (gods preserve us all), but the fact that he appeared in this book twice pissed me off, perhaps unreasonably so. It merely referred to his call to boycott Italy, in his typical moronic and bombastic fashion, but I only want to read about Donald Trump in a true crime book that’s about his true crimes. That gripe may say more about me than anything else, but it’s still a gripe.

4. This is not the author’s fault, but again–it was published in 2011, before everything had completely played out. There is an epilogue added in 2012 to relate the appellate overturn of Amanda’s and Raffaele’s convictions, but the whole story has an ending the author couldn’t tell because it hadn’t happened yet. If there’s a newer edition with the rest of the story, I’d go with that one.

Those gripes aside, there is still a good amount of insight into the Italian legal system, the circumstantial and physical evidence, and Amanda herself. For that, I’d say it’s worth the read.

May we all take a minute to appreciate American civil rights (in theory, anyway) and go hug a journalist.

Join me on Goodreads.

Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer (Book Review)

Calculating God

Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: critters-from-outer-space, sci-fi, science, spiritual

An alien ship plunks down outside the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and an extra-terrestrial walks in to the reception desk and says, “Take me to your paleontologist.” How much better does a book opening get?

My bookish cousin Mem gave me this book for my birthday after I’d finished the futuristic YA sci-fi Earth Girl and expressed my disappointment at a single sentence referring to scientific proof of the existence of God. That was it, just a single throwaway sentence, with no follow-up. How do you say oh, by the way, we’ve proved God exists, and just leave it there like a wet towel on the sofa without another word?

Calculating God delivers the goods. Our alien friend Hollus has come to Earth to examine fossils, looking for information about previous extinction events to tie in with similar extinction events on other planets. Working with paleontologist Thomas Jericho, scientist-to-the-bone and card-carrying atheist, Hollus shares the evidence and deductions that prove other civilizations’ theory of intelligent design, by turns humorous and poignant and wise, and always fascinating.

This book was perfect for me. I consider myself quite spiritual; it’s organized religion that I have issues with. I enjoy parables and myths from religions around the world, but as allegory, not carved-in-stone fact. I also believe that our planet is considerably older than 4,000 years and think Darwin and Pythagoras and DaVinci and Einstein were sexy as hell. The circumstances for the book’s theory are fictional but the theory uses what is, as far as I can tell, accurate science as far as we know it, just detailed enough to be convincing without going completely over my head. The spiritual aspect is never smarmy or preachy or scripture-y.

And it’s fun.

This was a kick of a read. Loved it.

Join me on Goodreads for other great books.

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward (Book Review)

Fear: Trump in the White HouseFear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One thing’s for sure: Robert Mueller is the sexiest man in America right now.

I’m awarding five stars even though I couldn’t push myself through it. It’s not the research, which seems deep and impeccable and comes from a Pulitzer-winning author renowned for exactly that. It’s not the writing, which is engaging and evocative. It’s not even the ugly picture on the cover.

It’s the subject itself. I have a probably-terminal-at-this-point case of Trump Fatigue Syndrome. I am so utterly sick of that stupid smarmy shit-eating smirk and this White Trash White House and knowing any more about it feels like immersing myself in a tub of flesh-eating bacteria. Trump’s narcissism, his clear and shining prejudices, his divisiveness, and his gross incompetence have become so normalized that it’s difficult to be outraged anymore. I read today’s five slimy and alarming headlines and say “oh, so now that happened, we’re one step closer to economic depression and nuclear war and it’s Tuesday and I need to get that spreadsheet to my boss and remember to pay that parking ticket and boy doesn’t my manicure look like shit” and keep on scrolling, and I have to work to tell the difference between his own Twitter feed and the parody account I follow (which used to be hilarious but isn’t anymore because the real thing has devolved into something frighteningly similar).

I waited months, starting at #859 on my library’s waiting list, and now I can’t make myself read it. I’m giving it five stars to push it higher on the bestseller lists and piss Trumpty Dumpty off. Is that fair? No, and I don’t care, take that, you nasty orange whiny grifter man-baby.

Bookshelves: somebody-get-the-slime-off-me, couldn’t-really-read-it, politics, non-fiction, journalistic, in-the-news

Sign in the Wilderness (Flash Fiction Mashup)

“What’s wrong?” Henry asks.

Jane feels herself, ridiculously, wobbling a bit, and forces equilibrium back. “Nothing, really, just about the strongest déjà vu I’ve ever had.”

“I read somewhere,” Henry says comfortably, “some guru somebody, that déjà vu is a spiritual sign that you’re doing everything you’re supposed to, right where you’re supposed to be.”

“So, me being unable to find a job or have a roof over my head is a milestone? If the powers that be are going to send a big ‘YOU ARE HERE’ sign, it’d be nice if they’d also tell me where HERE is!”



I did it again! Every week, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge, and Denise at Girlie on the Edge hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction blog hop. I combined both formats (99 words and six sentences respectively) and both cues (“sign” and “milestone” respectively) into one flash. Because I’m fancy. Fun flashes from other writers are at the links. Join us; it’s fun!

It’s All in the Packaging (Jane Doe Flash Fiction Mashup)

Jane hesitates at the entrance to the marina, fighting impostor syndrome. But the Lake Union Dreamboats antique yacht show is free and open to anyone, and it’s something to do.

Sleek vessels line the piers, shining even under cloud cover, and her breath catches as she steps aboard the Sea Mist and takes in the tiny space. Efficiency kitchen only big enough for one, built-in bed and furniture, handmade throws, gleaming teak, fresh flowers. Do people really keep flowers in vases with water at sea?

It’s not much bigger than her own tent, but what a difference accoutrements make.

Photo: terimakasih0

If you’re a regular reader, you know I regularly participate in two flash fiction challenges: the Rough Writers and Friends 99-word challenge and the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction linkup and blog hop. This week, I pulled off using the cues for each (“sea mist” and “vessel” respectively) in one story that is both 99 words and six sentences long. Go, me!