REVIEW – Test Gods by Nicholas Schmidle

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth.”

I don’t know many people who aren’t at least somewhat fascinated by space and space flight/exploration. Now, with Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin mere days away from sending their respective billionaire owners into suborbital flight, this is the perfect time to pick up Test Gods.

Test Gods focuses on Virgin Galactic – the triumphs (and tragedies) of the company as they have worked towards making commercial spaceflight a reality. The main “character” here is Mark Stucky, one of Virgin Galactic’s test pilots. Stucky is a complicated man, and his passion for flight has often interfered with his personal relationships. But he’s whip-smart and quite possibly one of the bravest humans on the planet (and, sometimes, off of it).

Test Gods also has an underlying theme of the relationships between fathers and sons – and the author ties in stories about his own father (there’s a fascinating connection revealed later on in the book!)

Thank you Henry Holt for the ARC!

REVIEW – Elizabeth & Margaret: The Intimate World of the Windsor Sisters by Andrew Morton

“When others referred casually to “your sister,” Princess Margaret would snap haughtily, “You mean the queen.””

It’s no secret – the Royal Family is fascinating. I think we’ve all had an interest at one point or another in getting a glimpse behind the scenes of arguably the world’s most famous family. Elizabeth and Margaret is a portrait of two sisters who could not be more different. The book covers most of the sisters’ lives, starting at birth and ending when Margaret passed away in 2002.

At one point, the book really pivots to being primarily about Margaret – i’m not sure if that’s because she’s more “interesting” or if the Queen has just been that well protected, but as someone who didn’t know much about Margaret, I found it fascinating. It’s a little repetitive at times, but overall it’s a very accessible and easily readable book.

Fans of The Crown will be surprised at some of the facts presented in this book (especially concerning Peter Townsend). This is a great supplement to the show, and gave me a little more knowledge behind what I see on the screen (i’m only on season two so i’m catching up!)

Thank you Grand Central Publishing for sending me a copy of this book!

REVIEW – The Babysitter: My Summers with a Serial Killer by Liza Rodman and Jennifer Jordan

Attention true crime fans: you’re going to want to pick this one up. I hadn’t heard of Tony Costa (the Cape Cod Vampire) before, but WOW was he a piece of work.

Costa was active in the mid to late 1960s and, honestly, got away with a lot of his crimes due to the time period but also some really inadequate law enforcement procedures and protocols. There were moments in this book where I wanted to scream about the missed connections and lack of shared information between departments. Lives might have been saved, but isn’t that the case with a lot of serial killers?

The Babysitter is part true crime book and part memoir – Liza Rodman grew up in Provincetown and Tony Costa was her “babysitter” at times (our idea of a babysitter now is not really what Tony was back then. He would take Liza and her sister on errands with him to get them out of their mom’s hair while she worked or went out on the town with her friends). Liza’s sections alone could have been their own book – she was a child who didn’t really stand a chance with her own mother. Liza’s mother was neglectful and mean and hurtful and irresponsible. Definitely proceed with caution if child abuse (mostly neglect and verbal abuse) is a touchy topic for you.

The book moves at a relatively slow pace but it stands up against the heavy hitters in true crime literature like In Cold Blood, Helter Skelter, The Stranger Beside Me, etc. Tony Costa might not be as well known as Ted Bundy, but he was just as horrible (and probably would have been much worse if they hadn’t caught him in time).

Thank you Atria Books for the ARC!

REVIEW – Last Call: A Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York by Elon Green

Last Call is a great read for fans of true crime – it’s a heartbreaking, gruesome tale of a man who preyed on gay men in the 80s and 90s. Last Call is incredibly well-researched and amazingly written – packing a ton of information into a relatively short book.

Elon Green focuses a lot on the victims of the Last Call Killer and less on the killer himself (this is relatively common among newer true crime books, and for good reason), and does so with great care and compassion.

Last Call might also be a good choice for those new to true crime, since it’s a shorter book and the murders are relatively recent, it’s easy to follow if you’re not familiar with the genre.

Thank you Celadon Books for the ARC!

REVIEW – The Officer’s Daughter by Elle Johnson

The Officer’s Daughter is deeply sad and uncomfortable. Elle Johnson outlines how the murder of her cousin in 1981 shaped her life. Both girls were 16 at the time of the murder, and you can tell that the event still has a profound impact even now.

Johnson also spends a lot of time talking about her complicated relationship with her father, who worked as a parole officer. There are really two different stories here – but both feature a theme of healing and forgiveness.

Thank you Harper Books for the ARC.

REVIEW – The Princess Spy by Larry Loftis

The Princess Spy is a great nonfiction choice for fans of historical fiction (especially of the WWII variety). The book is incredibly well-researched and outlined, and begins with a thoughtful, intriguing preface from the author.

When Pearl Harbor is bombed during her final semester of college, Aline can’t help but want to get involved with the war effort. She spends some time modeling but ends up meeting a man who offers her a job. He can’t tell her what it is but he gives her instructions of when and where to be at her interview. She dives in headfirst without knowing any details and quickly finds herself in training to become a spy for the United States.

From there, this book is pretty exciting – Aline’s life almost seems fictional because it’s so exciting and many of the elements and events feel pulled right out of a spy movie. Intrigue! Espionage! A little bit of bullfighting! (Yep. Bullfighting.) Glamourous dinners and Bond-villain-esque “characters.” Sure, The Princess Spy romanticizes the idea of being a spy during WWII just a bit, but you can’t help but be amazed by Aline’s intelligence (and, in some cases, incredible luck).

Her time as an actual field agent is short-lived, but that doesn’t make her service any less impressive. She does fall in love along the way, and the final part of the book covers her budding relationship with her eventual husband.

Thank you Atria Books for the ARC!

REVIEW – Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

“We’ve all been through a lot, Bryan, all of us. I know that some have been through more than others. but if we don’t expect more from each other, hope better for one another, and recover from the hurt we experience, we are surely doomed.”

Just Mercy is truly essential reading for all Americans. Our justice system is so broken – and Bryan Stevenson provides stories about real people who have suffered because of it. There’s not much I can say about this book that hasn’t already been said, but I can say that I have waffled back and forth on the death penalty for years. It really depended on the day, or the news I had most recently read, that swayed my opinion either for or against it. This book solidified my opinion – we need to abolish the death penalty. There are too many people who have been failed by our justice system, failed by a lack of education, or social programs, support, love, care, for those in power to fairly decide if someone should be put to death.

“We’ve given up on rehabilitation, education, and services for the imprisoned because providing assistance to the incarcerated is apparently too kind and compassionate.”

Just Mercy is one of those books that will move you to ACT. This isn’t just an educational read, it’s a motivational read. There are a lot of tough topics covered throughout this book, but I urge you not to look away.

“We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others.”

REVIEW – Barely Functional Adult by Meichi Ng

“It’s important for you to hold on to your good days; they keep you sane in the face of bad ones.”

Are you a human being who has even just a little bit of life experience? Then this book is for you! Somehow this little blue blob is hilarious and profound and insightful – and Meichi Ng created one of the most relatable books i’ve ever read. I mean, at some points I had to stop and think, “Wait, did I write this book…?”

So now, naturally, i’m convinced that the author and I could be friends:
Hi Meichi! I’m deathly afraid of wasps and would also love to be cheeseburger rich. I’m pretty sure we could be friends. I’m sorry I laughed at the story about your dead fish (RIP Bobo). Thank you for writing such a wonderful book.

If you’re a fan of Hyperbole and a Half, you’ll definitely love this one too.

Thank you Harper Perennial for the finished copy!

REVIEW – Becoming Duchess Goldblatt by Anonymous

“We have to love other people regardless of their actions and without any hope of reward. Even our enemies deserve our grace.”

Becoming Duchess Goldblatt was the first book I read after the 2020 presidential election, and it was 110% the correct choice. Before you even consider picking up this delightful memoir, you need to first become acquainted with Duchess Goldblatt on Twitter – you have to have a very particular sense of humor to enjoy this one.

“There are hidden benefits to being a fictional person. If people can’t find you, they can’t break your heart.”

The author makes it a point to differentiate herself from her fictional, online persona, but you slowly begin to realize that our dear author is more like Duchess Goldblatt than she originally believed.

That being said, this book is SO lovely. We follow the journey of the person behind Duchess Goldblatt, and what events in her life motivated her to create the account. This book is laugh-out-loud funny and also very emotional (you’ll have a lot of feelings about Lyle Lovett after you read this).

If you’re looking for something heartwarming and hopeful and hilarious, i’d like to officially welcome you to Crooked Path. The Duchess is waiting for you.

“The world is broken, but you are not broken. Things may not be okay, but you’re okay, and you will be. I promise.”

REVIEW – We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper

We Keep the Dead Close is a very well-researched true crime book with an incredibly elaborate “plot.” Yes, Cooper discusses Jane Britton’s murder and the subsequent investigation, but she also covers the gender politics and discrimination that are rooted deep in Harvard’s history.

This held my interest for maybe the first third, and then slowed down a bit towards the middle. Cooper takes a few detours that are somewhat connected to Jane’s story, but feel somewhat meandering at times. You’ll definitely learn more about archaeology than you ever thought possible in a true crime book. This does have some shades of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark – in that Cooper reminded me of Michelle McNamara. Cooper’s obsession with Jane’s case mirrors that of McNamara’s when she was researching the GSK.

Overall, Cooper’s dedication to researching and telling Jane’s story is admirable, and I have to give her major props for the work it took to make this book happen.

Thank you Novel Suspects and Grand Central Publishing for the ARC!