Review: “Chain Saw Confidential” by Gunnar Hansen

A review by Brit.

In the eyes of many horror fans, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of the greatest movies within the genre. It was released in 1974 and was quickly renowned for its craftsmanship and surprisingly bloodless violence. It was hated as much as it was loved. And in the form of Chain Saw Confidential, the one taking on the telling of the film’s origin story (and the reckoning of its legacy) is Gunnar Hansen. Who better than Leatherface himself to take on this muddy tale of dead chickens, melted film prints and runaway eight hour makeup chair sessions?

This book is largely an oral history of the making of Massacre, from the origins in the head of cigar-chomping director Tobe Hooper to the placement of the film in the Museum of Modern Art (and the scathing reviews that choice inspired). Helpfully, the story is also organized in the order of the actual movie’s plot. Hansen’s perspective is somewhat limited due to his starring role in the film. But he interviews cast and crew members extensively, openly admitting when details are inconsistent or if something has been completely forgotten. Add in thoughts about the movie from figures like John Landis (director of An American Werewolf in London) and it’s a very fun ride.

There are two reasons why I did not give this book five stars. The first is that readers who are inherently interested in horror and/or the filmmaking process itself will have a much better experience reading this book than those who are not. It’s undeniable. I’m a huge fan of Massacre, so naturally I enjoyed hearing about the nitty-gritty details about chicken bones and poor set insulation.The average reader may not care to hear about the post-production money distribution web of confusion that happened after the movie took off.

The second reason is that some readers may find Hansen’s treatise on horror at the end of the book tiring. It’s understandable that he has strong feelings on horror being connected to violence in American culture. But it’s 2017, and this debate now largely takes place only in academic and highly political circles. Even if you have no plans to watch Massacre for yourself, this book is still a good testament to the power of research and desire to tell the “real story” of how a legendary phenomenon came to be. Hansen writes in a wry voice that often reminded me of my grandfather. He’s exactly the kind of storyteller to take on this twisted, fun story.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “Hetty: The Genius and Madness of America’s First Female Tycoon” by Charles Slack

Review:

A review by Brit.

The 1900s in America were known as the Industrial Age and the Gilded Age both. It was a time of extreme wealth, and extreme flaunting of wealth. But amidst all the millionaires and Jay Gatsby types, there was Hetty Robinson Green. She wore dresses that were years past fashionable. She cooked oatmeal on radiators and hopped from apartment to apartment to avoid paying taxes as a resident. She was also worth $1.6 billion dollars in today’s money.

Most biographies you read tend to idolize the subjects at hand. This book definitely falls prey to some of that, particularly with it’s care to debunk myths about Hetty. For example, she wasn’t actually so frugal that she let her son’s leg problems get so bad that it had to be amputated. She did her best as any mother would. But it is true that she often took him in disguise to be treated at free clinics… because she knew that going there as “the richest woman in America” would make them jack up the prices.

Hetty definitely isn’t a financial how-to guide. But it doesn’t shy away from talking about how Hetty herself became rich. It describes her moves to buy certain assets at certain times, taking the motivations of everyone involved in the deal into account. I’d recommend that readers unfamiliar with finance have a smartphone nearby just so they can look up certain phrases or names (e.g. different kinds of bonds). But overall, you don’t have to be a finance nerd to enjoy this book. The author goes above and beyond with additional historical details that add context to everything. He’s even courteous enough to add brief explainer sentences when someone re-appears in Hetty’s life (such as Collis P. Huntington, a railroad magnate who butted heads with Hetty and her son).

The main reason I would give this book only 4 out of 5 stars is because I don’t think I could recommend it to everyone that asked me for a good book to read. This book is a great read for anyone interested in history, money and how people influenced history in unexpected ways. But don’t expect a book you can skim lightly. This is a dense, absorbing read. You won’t want to set it down.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “You’re Never Weird On The Internet (Almost)” by Felicia Day

You're Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia DayA review by Amanda.

You might recognize Felicia Day from such shows as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse, Eureka, and Supernatural. Perhaps you’ve seen her web series The Guild on Youtube, or as a frequent guest on Wil Wheaton’s series TableTop. She also sang and danced alongside Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion in Joss Whedon’s internet musical Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. If none of these are ringing any bells, then chances are you wouldn’t recognize her if you saw her out and about – something she is used to. This book is the story of a precocious, talented, lonely child learning to embrace what makes her different and make those differences work for her.

Ms. Day tells an eloquent tale of a young girl, homeschooled by her somewhat “hippie” mother, who grew up to be an innovator of internet entertainment, and an inspiration to nerdy girls (and guys) across the world. The book is full of anecdotes and photos; some embarrassing, most hilarious, and occasionally heartbreaking. Anyone familiar with Felicia’s other works will immediately recognize her voice in this book. She comes across as genuine, down-to-earth, and raw.

I found this book to be an enticing read. Felicia’s frankness and humor drew me in and wrung me out, emotionally. I found myself relating to her struggles, particularly those concerning anxiety and depression, more than I had expected. It’s amazing for someone who deals with severe social anxiety to accomplish so much; founding Geek and Sundry, an online digital channel; writing, producing, and performing in various projects; starting a popular book club with thousands of members; and maintaining an active presence in social media.   All of this gives me hope that I can achieve my goals despite my own anxiety issues. I encourage anyone who feels trapped or limited by their fears to read this book, regardless of your familiarity with the author.

 

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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Review: “All You Need To Know About Disability Is On STAR TREK” by Ilana S. Lehmann, Ph.D.

All You Need To Know About Disability Is On STAR TREK by Ilana S. LehmannA review by Domoni.

First, I would like to thank the author Ilana S. Lehmann for allowing me to read her book and provide an honest review.

Though the book has a humorous title, it tackles some serious issues and ideas about disability and people’s understanding of it. The author informs us that her aim was to write a book for Star Trek fans living with disabilities, whether it is their own or a family member’s. She warns that people uninterested in Star Trek may not have as much enjoyment in this book. Using scenes and dialog from the Star Trek universe, which included all series and original movies, the author makes comparisons and explains aspects of disabilities and other medical factors and places them in easier to understand scenarios.

I was attracted to this book because of the title. I will honestly admit I was expecting it to be a campy and geeky, yet heartwarming book about people with disabilities. I was surprised when I started reading it that it is a much more serious work. This review was hard for me to put into words as it is not a typical book. After pondering and rereading the entire thing I would more accurately label it a text book. In fact it covers almost the entire scope of issues covered in my medical ethics text book. With the humor and finesse of Kirk, Spock and all of the Star Trek universes companions, some difficult topics were covered with ease.

The first portion of the book covered ethics in the medical profession and if you don’t already understand beneficence and nonmaleficence then I suggest having Google somewhat handy for parts of this book. Moral quandaries are discussed through the use of similar scenes addressed on episodes of Star Trek. Comparisons are made between fiction and history and applied to real life possible situations.

Moving through the book we read about mental health issues, physical disabilities, addiction and developmental delays. All topics are handled rather beautifully with a perfect character or situation. From comparing autistic tendencies to Data or Seven Of Nine’s struggle to understand the crew members they live with, to the lengths Janeway will go to to recharge the ships energy reserves just to be able to power the replicators so she can have her cup of coffee. All topics were beautifully managed with just the right dialogue.

I would not recommend this book to someone based simply on their love of Star Trek, but if you have someone in the medical field with a geeky side, this book would be a great read.

 

My rating: 4 /5 stars.

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Fangirl Book Club Pick of the Month: “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed

Wild by Cheryl StrayedEvery month, our club votes on the book that we will read for that month. This month, the Fangirls Read It First book club voted to read Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed.

Spoiler-­free Synopsis:

Twenty-two year old Cheryl Strayed is struggling. Her overwhelming grief over her mother’s death, her family’s emotional distance, and her failing marriage have sent her to the brink of personal destruction. Four years later, she makes the impulsive, life-changing decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. More than a thousand miles of trail, crossing through California, Oregon, and Washington, the PCT is not for the inexperienced or the faint of heart. It is, however, just what Cheryl needs to get back to herself.

Fangirls’ Analysis:

March’s hostess chose this book for the club to vote on because it is an inspirational and true story about a woman confronting her demons and challenging herself both physically and emotionally. Club members voted for it because they had seen so much about the movie, because it had been on their TBR (To Be Read) list, and because they are fans of journey and travel stories.

What We Liked:

Club members enjoyed Cheryl’s no-nonsense approach to the gritty details of the hike – descriptions of her toenails falling off, for example. The author did not appear to sugarcoat anything about her experiences on the Pacific Crest Trail, or in her personal life that lead to her impulsive decision. The landscapes were brought to life vividly, and the story flowed well between past and present. We also appreciated that Cheryl didn’t live a “cookie cutter” life. She made a series of poor choices that led to her downfall. We find it admirable that Cheryl was able to recognize and acknowledge her mistakes and take drastic measures to correct her life. Her openness was refreshing and lacking the wallowing, pity-seeking tone that can be found in similar stories. There were several aspects of Cheryl’s life that members found themselves relating to, like the distance in her family after the loss of her mother, wanting to be alone with her grief, and the problems in her marriage.

What We Didn’t Like:

Some members felt that the story weighed too heavily on the physical journey. We would have liked to know more about Cheryl’s life leading up to her mother’s death and before her decision to leave on the hike. One member felt that Cheryl might have been more likable if they had gotten to know more about her.

Fangirl Rating: 4/5 stars

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