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This summer I've had my hands full with a new baby. Literally, my hands are full with a baby that wants to eat and be held all the time! That's made reading new books and taking notes on them pretty hard. And the general sleep deprivation has made it harder than ever to pay attention to a complex plotline or in-depth argument. All of this is to say that I've been even more into podcasts than usual.
I decided to try My Favorite Murder and wow! I wish I'd found these guys five years ago! I'm almost caught up and wanted to share a list of books I'd recommend to a fellow murderino, if they asked me. To be clear, I'm not associated with the podcast. I'm just another murderino who's also a library pro and can't help but recommend good books!
Nonfiction for a better life
Karen and Georgia are very open about their journeys to becoming better and happier people. Being on the same journey myself, I've loved hearing them share this process with their listeners. I'm also super proud and impressed by their progress since they started their podcast. These are some titles that will improve your life, in a very practical (to murderinos) way.
Karen and Georgia have been very loud about their love of Brené Brown and her work. I agree with them that Daring Greatly is probably the best of her books for newbies.
It's all about how vulnerability is at the heart of connection, and the barriers we erect to avoid being vulnerable. Unlike other self-help and positive psychology writers, Brown always serves up actionable takeaways for her readers, backed by solid research. You won't just learn what your vulnerability armor is called and what it looks like; you also learn how to dismantle it with practice.
If you want to keep things more professional, Dare to Lead takes the Daring Greatly lessons and applies them to work, education, coaching, mentoring, and parenting. We have a book club kit for that book here.
Murderinos know to trust their gut. If something feels wrong, take steps to feel safe again. But when you're steeped in true crime (or just have anxiety), you might start seeing danger around every corner. When is fear a valuable message, and when is it sounding alarms for no reason?
De Becker's book, The Gift of Fear, seeks to answer that question. He also explores through several case studies why it is important to listen to your real fear. This book is great because it combines stories of true crime with psychology and teaches you how to maybe be a survivor.
If you're the kind of person who always wants to be prepared for dangerous creeps, this is the book for you.
Left of Bang takes trusting your gut to the next level. It was written by some of the architects of the Marine Corps' Combat Hunter program.
Over and over, in debriefs and after action reports, Marines would say that "something felt off" on the day they were met with an attack. Sometimes they trusted their guts and averted casualties, and sometimes they didn't. Van Horne and Riley sought to drill down into what something feeling "off" or "different" means, and more specifically, what it looks like. Their job was to take young people from every walk of life, from all over America, and teach them to recognize off behavior in people from any country or culture in an effort to save lives.
In Left of Bang, they detail what civilians can do to increase their own situational awareness and avoid danger. From the shopping mall to an overseas tourist attraction, you'll learn how to quickly establish a baseline for the place you are and determine if something is off. Learning how to articulate to yourself and others what's normal or not in any given situation is a fun and potentially life-saving activity.
From old timey murders to your grandparents' crazy escapades, MFM is proof that history itself is full of incredible stories. These are the stories I'm dying to tell Karen and Georgia about, because I think they'd really get a kick out of them.
4. The Poisoner's Handbook, by Deborah Blum
Like Daring Greatly, this might be a title that's been referenced on the podcast before. I'm not sure, though, because there are a ton of books and shows with this title or something very similar. This one is my favorite.
In the early 20th century, forensic science as we know it today was in its infancy. Chemists were part scientists and part magicians. The Poisoner's Handbook details how a chief medical examiner and a toxicologist teamed up to use their knowledge, and showmanship, to get convictions.
Anyone who loves an origin story and forensics will love this true story of New York's first medical lab.
The Girls of Atomic City is about an entire town that was built around government secrets. The mostly female workforce was the unwitting backbone of the Manhattan Project during WWII. Despite not being allowed to ask each other what their jobs entailed or what their educational background was, the people of this town managed to forge friendships and even date.
I especially like that Kiernan details ALL of the people and tasks in the town/base. She didn't just write about the fashionable blond girls pushing buttons or the white doctors refining processes. She also addresses the roles of black women in the town, the inferior housing for black families, and the nonconsensual radiation experiments being done on black men. Everyone played a role and lived an experience in that town, and they're all included as a part of the picture.
Another important focus was the emotional fallout for the town's residents when they realized that they'd been involved in developing a weapon that wiped two cities off the map. The titular girls in many cases did not talk about their wartime service until they were interviewed years later. It just goes to show, you should ask your grandma nosey questions about her 20s as soon as possible.
This is another entry in the category of crazy stories your grandpa or uncle might tell after a couple beers. In fact, beer is pretty central to the tale.
The Vietnam war was just heating up, and so were the protests against it. Unfortunately, many people protesting the war were beyond rude to the people who were drafted to serve in it, as well. Chick Donohue and the other regulars at his local bar were dismayed to hear protesters trash their friends serving overseas. The bartender and owner convinced Chicky to execute The Greatest Beer Run Ever. They put together a list of all the neighborhood boys who were serving in Vietnam and gave Chicky a bunch of cash to sneak into the warzone and buy each of the guys a beer. And he did it!
After years of telling this story at the same bar, Chick got sick of outsiders calling bullshit on it. So he teamed up with a journalist friend and put his story to paper. Who doesn't love a spite memoir? Molloy took on the task of interviewing Chick's buddies and confirming his story from their side. The result is a downright cinematic narrative. I got a little teary (hard to do to me; I'm not a crier) when I learned that some of the guys from the story, after sharing their part with Molloy, felt encouraged to seek help with their PTSD from the war. It's never too late to get help with old trauma! Bonus: this is being turned into a movie, which is perfect because it's a truly cinematic tale.
Arguably, part of the reason true crime appeals to women so much is that it's validating. Nearly every woman has been blown off by men in authority at some point in her life. One of the most common places to experience this interaction is in the doctor or therapist's office. Unwell Women explores this theme throughout history, and highlights the cases of women who have fought to change how medicine treats women and their issues.
Fiction is pretty great. Murder fiction is really great, because you can explore important themes that show up in real murder investigations, but without real people getting killed. Plus a little surrealism or fantasy can go a long way in adding twists. And turns.
This book is SO INTENSE! In the foreword, Hendrix says he wanted to pit Dracula against his mom. Because his guess is that 80's/90's moms, hopped up on righteous indignation and true crime novels would win...or at least put up a good fight.
The heart of this book is about how differences in privilege across class, race, and gender gives predators a chance to insinuate themselves in our lives. The protagonist is a Southern housewife and mother, devoted to polishing her wedding silver and caring for her aging mother-in-law. She attends regular meetings of her book club to talk about true crime novels and drink wine with her friends. One day she helps a handsome newcomer in town get established without any forms of ID. The more he solidifies himself as a Pillar of the Community™, the more suspicious of him she becomes.
The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires is so well written and it made me so mad! I loved the cast of true crime obsessed women as much as I hated most of their husbands. It demands answers to the questions, "do you know a red flag when you see one?" and, "what would you do about it?"
I always recommend this book with giant red flags for trigger warnings: there's gaslighting, emotional abuse, physical abuse, rape, drugs, racism, rats, claustrophobia, bugs, suicide, negligent 80's parents. Just all the trigger warnings, really. I made myself finish it in two days, because I didn't want the sun to set on this book for me more than once. It's really scary!
If you decide to read this with YOUR book club, be sure to check out our free kit with awesome questions and fun activities.
Murder house and murderer, a match made in, well, this book. The bloodthirsty Chicago house helps a murderer travel through time to find victims. The girls share nothing in common, except that they're vulnerable and literally shining with potential. The murderer would got away with his multi-decade killing spree, until one of his victims survives. But how can she trap a killer whose M.O. is sprinkled across a century?
I like that the killer of The Shining Girls doesn't have a type. At least not physically. Among his targets are a burlesque dancer to whom he gifts caramels, and a little girl playing with an orange plastic pony. The killer's planning was especially creepy; he makes a point to use cash from the right decade. We know Karen and Georgia love a survivor story, and the survivor of this story is truly a badass.
Robert Cormier's final novel (published posthumously in 2001), The Rag and Bone Shop, is a powerful story about a boy accused of brutally murdering a classmate's younger sister, and the interrogator who always gets a confession. This middle grade book is a quick read, at only 154 pages, but it shows you how false confessions are obtained. Even more significantly, it probes the trauma and consequences left in their wake.
If you've ever found yourself wondering, "why would anyone ever confess to a terrible crime they know they didn't commit," this book is your answer.
That's my list, at least for now. As new topics come up, I find myself giddy to suggest related titles to someone (anyone). Karen and Georgia may have already read these books, but if you're just finding the podcast, like me, these are some titles I would recommend. Which of these books have you read? If you're a fellow murderino, what books would you recommend to other listeners? Leave your recs in the comments; I'd love to check them out myself!
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Ariel and Brianna are friends who met while working in a library. Now they collaborate to develop life-enhancing book club experiences.
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