“The Donnellys must die” by Orlo Miller

I realize it’s very odd for me to read non-fiction, but there is a long story to it! I live near Lucan, and while staying with friends (we are in between homes thanks to our landlady selling the house to fund her next overseas trip and a 1.8% vacancy rate) I heard about a theatre production about the “Black Donnellys” over the local radio. I had heard about them here and there since moving to this town, but no one really explained more than it was horrible and no one really knows the true story.

When the person we were staying with found out I had no idea what it was about, she lent me this book.

The Donnellys were an Irish immigrant family that were brutally murdered in their home. According to Miller, who created this narrative with evidence from newspapers at the time, court documentation, and personal journals, upwards of 200 people were involved.

This isn’t an easy crime to pin down because it traces back to Ireland hundreds of years previous. A division of religion and a martyr put the Donnelly name on the opposite side of most Irish families.

During the famine when many Irish settlers came over to Canada, tension was already high. From massive deaths on their trip over, to forced indenture. (There is a documentary called the Coffin Ship Hannah, showing everything the Irish immigrants went through and how the Canadian Government lied about most of it.) The Donnellys, to separate themselves from the death in small colonies, and the thriving hatred, they found a patch of land and …squatted there. The land itself had an absentee landlord, which Miller believes probably gave the Donnellys a chuckle. They built a home, cleared the land, and then it was something like 10 years and 20 some odd acres later that the landlord came back. Back then there was a law called “Squatters Rights”, so the Donnellys won the case.

That was the start of a rapid decline. Everyone already had a bad taste for the Donnellys, so this event did them no favors. They were already known as thieves and crooks, so this just painted them in an even worse light than before.

At a barn building event, Donnelly came face to face with the Landlord. Irish and Alcohol are a stereotype for a reason (I’m Irish-Canadian so I can say that) and a fight broke out. Donnelly, defending himself according to some accounts, dodged the axe either thrown at him, or thrown NEAR him (accounts of this event say both) and picked up a piece of Iron and chucked it. It nailed his opponent in the temple, and he died several days later. Miller believes if Donnelly had turned himself in, the end result might have been better. But instead, he ran, and hid.

This whole event sounds like a bad mix of religious intolerance, and just poor decision making. Miller states the facts as he has found them, and several times that while Donnelly may have been in the wrong, the punishment did not fit the crime.

It is an incredibly interesting story, and I learned that the reason they were called the “Black Donnellys” isn’t some like the “black mark” or “black dog” thing Scottish families use (My boyfriend belongs to a Scottish clan that has the black dog on their crest, and it means banishment from the main family/highlands), but they were literally black. I’m kind of shocked the term is still used, but I guess if that’s how they were always called, it would travel through the ages.

If you’re into interesting Canadian History, it’s a good read for sure!

“Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding In Plain Sight” by M.E. Thomas

When I first introduced myself to you, our lovely readers, I gave warning that I would be dipping my toe into the taboo here and there. Today we dive right into one of the lesser known sides of mental health with a memoir written by M.E. Thomas detailing her diagnosis and the impact her sociopathy has on her life. I should note that there are a few instances where violent thought is mentioned but fear not, these moments are few and far in between and do not result in actual violence.

Thomas provides unique insight into what it means to be a sociopath that doesn’t quite fit the bill of what you imagine when you hear the term. She is not a criminal, nor a murderer. She is one of the countless sociopaths that live among us every day completely undetected. Thomas is particularly unique because she is the first (that she knows of) to seek out diagnosis by her own free will, and the first to publish anything like this book.

What I find most interesting is the clear impact it has on every factor in her life right down to her writing style. Each chapter seems to be the perfect length; she writes eloquently but avoids filler information entirely. Every piece of this book is carefully calculated to optimize the readers experience and ability to absorb the information being given. Thomas found an excellent balance between relaying facts based on extensive research and connecting it with her own experiences. I believe it is her sociopathy that allows her to write in such a fashion; with no need for an emotional response from her reader she is free to write exactly what she intends to write, no fluff necessary.

As someone who has lived with a sociopath it is incredibly interesting to take a look at things from the other side. Her lack of bias in her retellings allows the reader to connect her explanations to similar experiences they’ve had with other sociopaths. Thomas reports that it’s estimated 1 to 4 percent of the population is sociopathic. If you have ever suspected that you or someone you know may be a sociopath this is an excellent place to start. With notes on everything from her first signs during childhood to maintaining adult friendships with empaths.

Confessions of a Sociopath provides an incredible opportunity for understanding that is seldom an option when it comes to mental health anomalies.

“The 57 Bus: A true Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Lives” by Dashka Slater


asteriaiconI first heard about this book on a weekly podcast I listen to. I knew it pertained to a discriminatory crime that affected two teens. That was it. I thought I had a better idea of what the book was about based on the title, and it turns out I was way way off! I assumed from the title the crime took place in 1957 on a bus. As such, the crime involved was most likely racially related, so I assumed a white teen attacked a black teen. As it turns out, I was way off, and the book revolves around a way more recent crime. Still, I found the book incredibly interesting.

In November 2013, in Oakland, California, two teens are among the riders of the 57 bus. Their paths only intersect for 8 minutes, but that 8 minutes changed everything. Sasha is a white a-gender teen, who attends a private middle school, and was on their way home from school, cat-napping on the ride home. Richard is a black teen who goes to a public school, and lives in a poor area of town. Richard was also on his way home from school, goofing around with his friends.

This particular afternoon, Richard is laughing with his friends, and sees Sasha napping. He makes the quick, thoughtless, decision to take a lighter to Sasha’s lacy skirt. He didn’t expect the skirt to go up in flames quite so fast. By the time the bus reaches the next stop, Sasha’s leg is severely burned and Richard is arrested and charged with 2 hate crime charges.

The author pieces the book together by doing a number of interviews, reading diaries and letters, and checking social media. What is the result is a very detailed, unbiased account, of the teens’ lives and the events that led up to that day.

Sasha identifies as a-gender, neither male nor female.  Sasha prefers the term “they” rather than “he” or “she”. They come from a solidly middle class family. They have worn skirts to school for a number of years, liking the way they feel in them. They were diagnosed with Asperger’s as a child, but it has not had a huge impact on their life.  They are comfortable with who they are. On this particular day, Sasha wakes up on the bus with their skirt on fire, and sustains burns to 20% of their body from the fire.

Richard on the other hand, did not have the same privileges Sasha had growing up. Crime rates are markedly higher in his neighbourhood, and the rates of graduation from high school are low. He knew friends who have died from gun violence, and wanted away from that lifestyle. He is not a bad kid, he wanted to do better for himself, and even sought out extra help from a teacher. He really did not mean for everything to play out the way it did, having not really thought his actions through. He told police that he lit the skirt on fire because he was homophobic, to him a shrug and a “cuz” is a reason, and as a result he was tried as an adult for hate crimes.

I really appreciated how the author wrote very matter of factly. Richard was not portrayed as a villain, just a teenager acting without thinking. If anything, the book was written more to illustrate both teens were victims of their own circumstances, their lifestyles, their lack of foresight and rational logic. I also appreciated the details the author used to illustrate non-binary gender identities, as I had no idea there were so many!

The author also used the platform to illustrate some shocking statistics and raise awareness. As a Canadian, I am not familiar with much in the way of American statistics, but some were absolutely staggering. Oakland, where the boys lived, is the second most dangerous city in America, and seventh overall in income inequality. Of the violence that occurs, it is particularly high against the LGBTQ community.

I found the book to be such a fascinating look at today’s society, how the justice system works, the different gender identities, and how likely black people are charged versus white. Compassion and forgiveness are also explored, which is just as important as the story and the statistics. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a more increased awareness of the world around them!

“Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed


asteriaiconThis is another book that I sold a ton of while working at the book store. However, it really didn’t capture my interest. I remember the author being interviewed by Oprah, which made me lose interest even more. Then Reese Witherspoon picked it up, and decided to make it into a movie, where it became a pop culture reference on the Gilmore Girls revival, and I started to question if I was missing something. I found the audiobook online available through the library, so I finally caved and downloaded it.

The book is the story, as the subtitle suggests, of how Cheryl Strayed hiked the Pacific Crest Trail at age 22. Strayed had decided to hike the trail to help find herself after her mother died and her marriage fell apart. I am so mixed about this book. The parts of the book where she discusses the actual hike were fascinating. The parts about her sexual conquests and how every man she met on the trail wanted to screw her, were not! I mean seriously, she is unbathed, her clothes all sweaty and dirty and smelly…who would want to even think about sex…yuck!

I found the recanting of her mother’s death heartbreaking, and I had to skip parts so I wouldn’t cry while listening to the book at work. I cannot think of life without my mother, she is my best friend, my rock, my anchor. I would be lost without her. I also skipped the part about a dying horse, I found it rather irrelevant, and didn’t enhance the story at all.

I didn’t really like Cheryl. She simply wasn’t an overly likeable person and I couldn’t relate to her. I could understand her making the rash decision to hike the trail after her mother’s death…I am quite sure I will do some crazy things too. But after that, nothing she did came close to something I could wrap my head around. Cheat on and eventually leave her husband? Nope. Date a drug addict and get addicted to heroin as well? Nope! Sleep with any man she encountered? Nope!

At least if you are going to choose to hike such a large and difficult trail, particularly as an inexperienced hiker, perhaps you should do some research? Maybe read a guide book? You have to actually read it though; you can’t just buy it and hope to learn by osmosis. And you should probably read it before you actually hit the trail…just a thought. Maybe put more time into carefully planning the whole thing, make sure enough money is in each supply box, maybe pack more clothing in the boxes, try to bring only necessities, plan a little more for safety. She was lucky to survive after some dangerous mistakes and miscalculations!

I have respect for her for taking on the journey and all that it entailed. It certainly is not something I have any desire to do! I just wish it could have been more of her finding herself and less of her sleeping with the various guys. I wish she could have learned from her mistakes along the way and came out a better person, a more mature person ready to take on the world after doing a badass hike! I know she mentioned at the end in the briefest of sentences how her life has evolved post PCT, but it was rather unmemorable after all that she had been through. I hope she has found happiness and peace after everything, and is a very strong, independent woman who appreciates all that she endured!

“Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America” by Les Standiford with Det. Sgt Joe Matthews


asteriaiconI grew up watching America’s Most Wanted. We often invited John Walsh into our home and hoped that none of these horrifying crimes every happened close to us. I had never known John’s drive was due to the personal loss of his own son until I stumbled onto this book when I worked at the bookstore. I immediately downloaded it when I noticed it was available as an audiobook through the library.

Adam Walsh was only 6 years old when he went missing from a Sears in 1981. Eventually, his head was found, and the Walsh’s had to give up hope of him returning home. His body was never found. There were a number of critical errors made by police, and it took 27 years before the truth finally came to light. It is a sad twist of irony that America’s Most Wanted helped catch hundreds of criminals, but couldn’t help solve the crime that mattered most to its host. Walsh, though, was able to help the United States transition into modern crime fighting, help develop a sex offender database, and I believe a missing children database to be used country-wide, and allowed police officers to track crimes outside of their area.

There was a potential suspect, who repeatedly admitted to kidnapping, sodomizing, killing, and decapitation Adam, and then would deny it completely. As a result, he was not fully investigated properly. Eventually, as science evolved and evidence was found, Ottis Toole was convicted of killing Adam Walsh, but unfortunately, it came after Toole’s death, though at least the Walsh’s got answers.

The writing of the book was aided by the detective who finally put the pieces together. While compelling, it does mean you need to keep some perspective as you read. The other detectives investigating are described through the eyes of Det. Sgt Joe Matthews, and therefore may not be 100% accurate, or they may be painted in a darker light than was actually true. Perhaps they were not as egotistical and inept as they were made to sound. Still, one does have to remember this was 35 years ago, and things were very different. The world knew of serial killers, but they were not so fearful of them, and they were not so sensationalized in the media and movies. Plus, this was a pretty high profile case, and I am sure the detectives were not equipped to handle such a difficult case. Not to mention that technology is so much more advanced today, they did not have the tools and techniques, or even the knowledge of crime scenes that we know and use today.

I cannot say that I enjoyed this book. I do not feel the subject of a kidnapped and mutilated body of a child to be something that one can call enjoyable. It is mind-blowing to hear about all of the mistakes made by detectives, but I do understand that it was a different time and we cannot measure them by today’s standards. I appreciate all of the hard work that went into this book, and I am happy at least that the Walsh’s can finally find some closure. Hopefully, one day, we will live in a world where such tragedies do not happen!

“How to be a Woman” by Caitlin Moran


asteriaiconI know Artemis reviewed this book a few years ago, and I remember her raving about it while we worked at the bookstore. I even picked it up at a garage sale, complete with her staff pick sticker on the cover. When I found it available as an audiobook through the library, I knew it was time to give it a go.

I loved this book and would recommend it to any females, particularly ones who believe themselves to be feminists. It is a very open and honest account of life as a woman, from pubic hair to periods, to strip clubs and porn, to motherhood and abortions. Moran tackles some very serious topics with wit and humour, and I had to fight hard to not laugh out loud a few times.

I found Moran’s honesty and candor to be empowering. She made me proud to be a woman and a feminist. As someone who has been adamant about not having children, she made me feel that my decision is okay. While I knew this was my choice, and I am happy about it, I have always heard that I will regret it and how selfish I am for making such a choice. I have had the arguments thrown at me that motherhood is my responsibility …after all that is what women are for, and how dare I take this opportunity away from my own mother to become a grandmother. Thank you Caitlin for giving me the power and courage to rightfully say “Fuck Off”! It was just a nice little reminder that my choice is as valid as the next, my experiences as real and worthy as the next, and at no point do I need to justify my choice to anyone!

I do not want to go into too much more, as I think Artemis did a great job of reviewing this book further below. But I do want to say that it was immensely enjoyable and damn worth the read! There were so many aspects of womanhood that I had never really considered. I know that sounds silly, but honestly, so much of life just seemed …there. I didn’t consider pubic hair or shaving my legs as anything other than normal. I didn’t think about the porn industry and what it has done to our sex lives. I never considered periods as anything other than a pain in the ass. I guess I never considered so many things through the lens of “life as a woman” so much as just merely life. It was definitely an eye opening book, and one that I will definitely reread again and again!

“On Fire: The 7 choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life” by John O’Leary


asteriaiconA friend of mine recommended this book to me. She had seen the author speak in person, and felt I would like it. John O’Leary was 9 years old when he suffered a terrible accident, receiving burns to 100% of his body. He was most certainly going to die, but fought hard to survive. He spent a grueling 5 months in hospital, receiving numerous skin grafts and having his fingers amputated due to infection. In spite of it all, he remained positive, and currently speaks to audiences all over North America about overcoming adversity to find what you were meant to do with your life.

The 7 choices he discusses in his book are:

1.       Denial v. Self-Acceptance

2.       Entitlement v. Owning it

3.       Indifference v. Purpose

4.       Victim v. Victor

5.       Stagnation v. Growth

6.       Success v. Significance

7.       Fear v. Love

The author goes in depth into each choice, and illustrates how he has done so throughout his journey. How you have to own your actions, rather than feel entitled to everything. How you have to find purpose in your life, rather than live idly day by day. How you have to be the victor of your own story, not go through life as a victim of your circumstance. One needs to grow from what they have learned, not sit miserably by and dwell on the past.

I really appreciated this book, and I am not one for self-help books. While the author is clearly spiritual and there is a religious undertone to the book, the message he was trying to convey still came through clearly. I believe much as O’Leary does; do not take your life for granted, be grateful for each day, learn from your mistakes, try to learn something new each day, and try to look at things in a positive light. My fiancé always tells me I am too positive, too nice, too forgiving, too ready to excuse people’s actions. I personally choose to look at the world in a more positive light, and believe in the good in people. If you want to see the good, you have to be the good kind of attitude. I am a believer that this is my life, I make no excuses, I own my mistakes. I am responsible for my own decisions and actions.  I am not a victim of circumstance, but rather a survivor, a fighter.

I have made tough choices, I have cut people out of my life who I felt didn’t have the same values or who made me feel like a lesser person. I have made new friends and surrounded myself with positive people who want to make a difference in the community. I may not believe in the power of prayer, but I do believe in the power of surrounding yourself with people who lift you up, help you through your rough patches, and show you how to stand on your feet. People who empower you, not belittle you. If it wasn’t for these kinds of people in my life, these lessons, this way of thinking, I wouldn’t have survived to adulthood. I wouldn’t live a comfortable, content life. I wouldn’t have been able to travel to Rome with my mom if I played victim and didn’t rise from my own personal challenges. I have a ways to go I think before I am living my life by O’Leary’s rules, but I feel I have made a very good start. I feel I am on the right path to a “radically inspired life”.

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world” – Desmond Tutu

“My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey” by Jill Bolte Taylor


asteriaiconI remember seeing this when I worked at the book store and thought it sounded interesting, but I just never got around to it. I had heard an NPR podcast with her as the speaker, and I really enjoyed it, so when I had found it as an audiobook read by the author, I jumped at the chance to finally read this.

Jill Bolte Taylor was a 37 year old, Harvard educated brain scientist who had a stroke in 1996. She was in a unique position to know and understand exactly what was happening to her. Where most people would think it would be terrifying, she found it cool and fascinating, and decided to write about her experience in a hope to educate others.

Taylor delves into the science and physiology of the brain, how it works, and what exactly happens during a stroke. She documented each step of that day, when she realized she was having a stroke, trying to call to get help, how she was treated as a patient, the rehabilitation with her mom’s assistance, and how she feels about the standard treatment for stroke patients.

I think I enjoyed the brain science and the play by play account of what happened during the stroke the most. It was fascinating to hear how the brain responded, how it affected the various functions of the brain and body from speech to memory and logic. It was hard to imagine how frustrating it must have been to have to constantly remind yourself what you are doing, and how many precious minutes it took to remind herself enough to call for help. I was surprised to hear her thought process on getting help, struggling to remember a friend’s phone number, or how she spent almost an hour retrieving her physician’s business card and calling for assistance, and at no point thinking to call 911. As someone who works in the medical profession, I also enjoyed hearing her talk about how she was treated as a patient, and how she stresses the importance of treating stroke victims as wounded, not dumb. They deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, and need to be met at their level, with every attempt made in order to not hinder progress.

The final portion of the book was the hardest for me to really wrap my head around. Taylor talks about respecting her cells, thanking them for all that they do and telling them how much they are valued. She consults angel cards daily, and discusses promoting happiness and calmness in your life. She mentions prayer, and her belief in its abilities to help heal. While these are not methods I practice or believe in, ultimately it is her story, and whatever works for her is really all that is important.

Having her read the audiobook added to the whole experience for me, hearing her tell her story in her own voice. I cannot say I didn’t enjoy it, it isn’t something for me to enjoy or not really, I just struggled with it a bit more than I thought I would. It might not have been entirely what I was expecting it to be, but I still feel it is an important read. I appreciate all that she has done to promote education to stroke patients and their families, and discussing first-hand experience with the medical profession to allow better care for stroke patients in the future.

“If You Ask Me (and of Course You Won’t)” by Betty White


asteriaiconI LOVE me some Betty White: who doesn’t!? I grew up watching her on Golden Girls, and the countless other appearances she has made on television shows and commercials. I can’t imagine a world without Betty White!  The audiobook became available, and I burned through it in a morning one day. It is really quite a quick listen, and the Betts reads it herself.

I loved learning all of the things that make her awesome. She started on television when TV was just becoming a thing, and her first regular show she appeared on was Hollywood on Television, where she made $50 per week. But her real passion is animals, and as a child she wanted to become a forest ranger or a zoo keeper, something that just wasn’t done by women at that time, which is sad and frustrating. She was, however, made an honorary forest ranger by the United States Forest Service. Despite her many years in acting, she still has stage fright, something she never got over, and loves to write, preferring to write long hand over using a computer.  She likes puzzles and games, and keeps a stack of crosswords around at all times. She has rooms dedicated to stuffed animals, and even talks to them and introduces new ones to each other!

Betty talks a lot about being in Hollywood, what it is like being on award shows and how much she loathes the red carpet, what it was like being on shows such as Hot in Cleveland, Golden Girls, the Mary Tyler Moore Show, and the movie The Proposal.  She also discusses reasons why she may turn down roles, what it is like to receive letters from fans, what interviewing is like, and her appearance on Saturday Night Live. But the real magic to me was when she discussed her love of animals. You could hear that love in her voice, and it was just so genuine. She discussed meeting a horse named Butterscotch, a beluga whale named Beethoven, and the amazing gorilla Koko.

It was so nice to get a sneak peek behind the curtain that is the amazing Betty White. I think the only sad thing for me was that it didn’t have the humour in it that she is so well known for. Still, it was fun to get to know her a little bit more, and I can appreciate how far her career has gone, how hard she had to work as a woman in Hollywood. She really did pave the way for modern television, and women’s roles in Hollywood.

“Marvel Comics: The Untold story” by Sean Howe


artemisiconEveryone might not know this, but I am a HUGE Marvel nerd, and early 80s – 90s Marvel cartoons helped shaped who I am today. I started drawing Spiderman and Black Cat when I was 8 and 9, and then shortly after, started creating my own Mutants.

So naturally, when I spotted this book, I bought it! Sadly, it’s taken me years to pick it up and start reading, but in my own defense, I have had a lot of books to read.

I will say right off the bat, this isn’t a book for everyone. It’s all about Marvel and Stan Lee from the very beginning and everything he had to go through in the ups and downs of the comic book industry. Off the bat, it seems boring, and for someone used to the fast pace of fiction, it might be. But because of my love for Marvel (and I will admit, when I sat in at Stan Lee’s Q&A a few years ago, I cried realizing I was in the same room as the man who shaped my entire life) I found this book incredibly interesting!

It covers not only the Company and Stan Lee, but it shows the evolution of a lot of Superheroes, and other people that worked there. Because of the ups and downs, Stan Lee was constantly forced to fire and rehire people every few years, so he lost a lot of people to DC, who was still currently dominating the field.

DC was very ‘by-the-numbers’, but Marvel wasn’t, so both companies had a very different method to comics, and caused them to dominate or fail the market. Sometimes Marvels no-formula-formula worked, and more often than not it failed. Many of the block buster movies we have today, are series that had to be cancelled because of budget cuts.

One thing I found incredibly interesting about this book is the use of foot notes. Howe embellishes some parts, but others he references other books and interviews from old employees and artists. The point I found REALLY interesting, is he will put a conversation from an older interview, and then post an exert from another Interview with Stan Lee that contradicts that event. It’s interesting that he would put that in, but it also lets you see how different people want the event to be seen (in a good or bad light).

Sometimes it feels like Howe is trying to paint Stan Lee in a bad light, and then other times it seems like he is trying to build him up. All this really did was make me appreciate Stan Lee even more. He was thrown into this company with NO experience simply because he was the nephew of the boss and had an interest in writing and had to work his way up from emptying ashtrays.

The book is slow because it’s the rise and fall of a company, no explosions or car chases here, at least outside of comic pages. But for Marvel fans, or comic fans at all, it shows how fleeting our trade used to be, and how powerful and resilient Stan Lee and many of the artists (like Jack Kirby) used to be.