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Incredibly vivid, heavily detailed, brilliantly written and fast-paced, Columbine is one of the best true crime books I’ve ever read. Written like a thriller, Dave Cullen, one of the first reporters on the scene that day, covers everything to possibly know about the Columbine massacre that took place on the morning of April 20, 1999, carried out by high school students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. The book covers three major events: the evolution of the attack stretching out two years, the attack itself, and the aftermath that spans over the next decade.

There is honestly way too much to dissect for a simple analysis or review. To cover all of it I’d need to write a full-length essay. In short, it’s a true crime masterpiece that hits you hard in the chest. A large portion is dedicated to the survivors of the attack. Not just those in the school but the families of the thirteen. Cullen takes you along their recovery stories, particularly Patrick Ireland’s and Valeen “Val” Schnurr’s who pop in and out of the narrative as if to lend readers their resilience when things get too heavy.

The description of the attack itself is harrowing. Cullen’s words chase you down like that junkyard owner in Stand by Me, hitting you over the head with a rock in his dirty hand. Before I picked up the book I already knew a lot about the attack, that the bulk of it ended after about 17 minutes, that Eric and Dylan ended their own lives and that there were 13 victims, and yet I was biting my nails the whole time. Subject matter aside, it’s clear that Cullen is a phenomenally talented writer. He puts you in the moment. You’re there at Columbine not only living the event but watching it unfold.

You can hear the police sirens, the blaring fire alarm honking for hours, and feel the quaking rattle of the gunshots. It’s graphic and violent, every survivor shares a bit of the story so that readers get a full picture of that day, including the image of Eric smiling as he shoots through a glass door at a teacher and the slow, agonizing death of Dave Sanders.

The thirteen victims of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold

Debunking the myths of Columbine

It’s easy to tell that Columbine started from Dave Cullen’s desire to set the record straight. Facts about the massacre have never been 100% accurate, starting from contradicting personal statements to the first blundered press conference. Rumors have taken on a life of their own, becoming facts in the eyes of the public.

The biggest myth about the attack was that had to do with the toxic atmosphere at Columbine High. If you browse the internet you’ll find many Tumblr and Reddit posts featuring “evidence” of the harassment Eric and Dylan supposedly faced at their school. Cullen addresses these claims by saying that they were largely made by those who didn’t know the boys and were projecting hateful comments onto their characters post-mortem. Friends of Eric and Dylan have repeatedly refuted these claims, that they never knew either one to suffer at the hands of bullies.

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The myth comes from our desire to give reason to such an event. Anything that would neatly wrap up the blame in a box and shape it into something acceptable. There was no obvious motive so people created one they could understand but even after all these years, the world is still bewildered. It’s just as Eric predicted:

“The majority of the audience won’t even understand my motives either. All you f***ers should die! DIE!”Passage taken from Eric Harris’s journal, The Book of God

The motive of the psychopath

Warning. I am a major nerd for psychopathology so this section is a lot of rambling.

The psychology of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold is what inspired me to pick up this book. Anyone interested in the same should definitely give it a try. There is an amazing chapter in Columbine that works at explaining not only Eric but the reason why he and Dylan were a pair because, as most true crime enthusiasts know, most killers work alone.

Page 239, “Chapter 40: Psychopath.” Easily my favorite chapter of the whole book. It explains the reason why people such as Eric grow attached to people such as Dylan and why both committed the crime.

Psychopaths crave constant stimuli. They can’t feel or experience emotion the same way as everyone else yet they crave it. They’re aware of that spark they’re missing and often seek it out elsewhere. Usually, they find it in rushes of adrenaline or in the presence of explosive individuals, and Dylan Klebold was Eric’s explosive individual. Prone to impulsive fits of rage, Dylan ran hot and cold all at once. He was packed to the brink with raw emotion which made him incredibly stimulating to someone like Eric- a textbook psychopath who struggled to feel even a flicker of anything.

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“The psychopath is in control, of course, but the hotheaded sidekick can sustain his excitement leading up to the big kill. ‘It takes heat and cold to make a tornado, ‘ Dr. Fuselier is fond of saying. Eric craved heat, but he couldn’t sustain it. Dylan was a volcano. You could never tell when he might erupt. Day after day, for more than a year, Dylan juiced Eric with erratic jolts of excitement. They played the killing out again and again: the cries, the screams, the smell of burning flesh… Eric savored the anticipation.”Columbine pg. 244

A psychopath is not the Michael Myers type of killer most of us associate with the word. Their actions are used to meet specific goals. In Eric’s case, it was fame or rather, recognition. Columbine was a performance and the public was the audience. The objective was to leave a mark on the world. Just a single glimpse at Eric’s journal “The Book of God” shows how hungry he was for recognition. Not companionship or even success, but acknowledgment of his superiority. The kid really thought himself a god.

The hard truth of it is, Eric and Dylan walked into Columbine that day with no targets in mind despite their different objectives. Eric wanted mass extermination and fame and Dylan wanted suicide.

Final verdict

The attack didn’t happen out of the blue. There is a gradual buildup as well as some concerning red flags. As it turns out, there were MANY chances to stop Columbine. At least a year before the attack, multiple complaints were filed against Eric for threatening behavior and the reported detonating of crude bombs in isolation areas. Even more shocking is how Dylan attempted to warn several people! He hinted at the attack on several occasions, warned Eric’s neighbor (a boy who Eric sent repeated death threats to) about Eric’s desire to kill, and wrote a short story for class that appeared to be a foretelling of the attack just months earlier. It was as if he was begging someone to stop them. But of course, no one did.

We’ll probably never have the full story about what happened at Columbine. There are only two people who know the truth and they both took their own lives. They robbed the world of ever knowing the truth and so now, we do our best to fill in the blanks. As I said, there is a lot covered in Columbine. It does its very best at giving you the full picture or rather the picture that Dave Cullen has discovered for himself. Even if you don’t agree with his account, Columbine is still an incredible read. 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Rachel Roth is a writer who lives in South Florida. She has a degree in Writing Studies and a Certificate in Creative Writing, her work has appeared in several literary journals and anthologies. @WinterGreenRoth

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Book Reviews

Brutality, Motherhood, and Art: Nightbitch Review

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“In the distance, she heard her husband in the backyard call for her , but she was not that woman anymore, that mother and wife. She was Nightbitch, and she was fucking amazing. It seemed she had been waiting for this for a very, very long time.” -pg 89, Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

Nightbitch is the debut novel of Rachel Yoder about a stay-at-home mother coming to terms with the loneliness and brutality of motherhood. The main character, only referred to as The Mother, begins to undergo a frightening change as she sinks deeper into a depressive state. She transforms into Nightbitch, an animalistic creature full of anger, bloodlust, and freedom. The Mother must utilize the help of a strange book and a group of multi-level marketing mommies to harness her newfound strength before she loses herself or her family.

The novel is a stunning commentary on the everyday violence of motherhood centered within the context of werewolf and mystical woman mythos. The Mother spends much of the book contemplating her future and the abandonment of her dreams. Specifically, she grapples with the loss of her ability to create art, her longtime passion. On a larger scale, Nightbitch examines how many women are asked to stop being individuals after having children and only become mothers–existing only in the presence of their child. The message is clear, poignant, dark, and at times, hilarious. The prose and structure of the book are abnormal, however, it works with the overall messaging and plot. 

As far as negatives go, Nightbitch was pretty ambiguous. This was by design, and created an aura of magical mysticism around many of the characters and events. The Mother is the definition of an unreliable narrator. However, towards the end of the book, I would have liked a little more clarity in what certain characters knew. 

Nightbitch is a must read for any parent. As a non-parent, I highly recommend it for those interested in feminist horror or more avant-garde approaches to horror narratives. Those who don’t like books with heavy introspection or ambiguous storytelling may enjoy something else, however I still think it is an interesting read nonetheless. 

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4.4 out of 5 stars (4.4 / 5)

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Book Reviews

Gothic, Ghosts, and Tlachiqueros: The Hacienda Review

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“Dread washed over me. Had she been sitting there, watching me sleep, the whole night? Her skin gleamed like candle wax in the light; then she grinned and whatever color her eyes had been before, now they turned red. In an instant, her skin transformed, dried and desiccated into leather, and her teeth grew long and needle sharp.” -pg 214, The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

The Hacienda is a gothic horror novel by Isabel Cañas set in the wake of Mexico’s War for Independence. The debut novel by Cañas, it delivers a classic haunted house tale with a twist of Mexican high society. Recently made homeless by the execution of her father, Beatriz marries Don Solórzano to escape her cruel treatment by her relatives. However, once she joins him on his estate, she finds that the promise of a new life holds dark secrets and darker spirits. She enlists the help of a priest, Andrés, to uncover both. Together, they find the home has more dangers than they bargained for. And more threats both supernatural and far too material await every corner.

I adored The Hacienda from start to finish. Cañas’s prose was accessible but full of deep imagery. While told from the perspective of both Beatriz and Andrés, neither outweighed the other. The perspectives were interesting and the transition between the two was well executed throughout the novel. I usually don’t seek out romantic books, but I loved the romantic and sexual tension between the two main characters. Specifically since the romantic tension developed within both perspectives, the relationship’s “will-they-won’t-they” felt both plausible and full of stakes. And of course, The Hacienda was spooky! I loved the way the spirits manifested and the impact that had on the characters.

My only minor criticisms would be the resolution was fairly quick and mostly offscreen. Though maybe I’m just saying that because I wanted to keep reading, even after the book ended! I also found myself slightly annoyed at the characters for not picking up on some of the more obvious clues to what had happened in the house. 

A thoroughly enjoyable gothic (and dare I say, romantic) novel that kept me on the edge of my seat, I highly recommend The Hacienda. If you enjoy haunted house tales, you will enjoy this book. 

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4.8 out of 5 stars (4.8 / 5)


Preorder Isabel Cañas’s new book Vampires of El Norte now!

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Book Reviews

“The Family Game” Glimpses Into The 1%

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Are their traditions innocent or are they darker than they seem?

The Plot

Harry, short for Harriet, is a British writer gaining popularity after the publishing of her first novel. She meets Edward, a member of the widely known Holbeck family, and the two strike up a relationship. The Holbecks are high powered executives, running family businesses that bring in massive amounts of wealth. When Harry learns she is pregnant, the couple decide that it is finally time for her to meet the family.

During her first meeting with the family, Edward’s father, Robert gives Harry a vintage tape that he says holds a story that he’d like her to listen to. As Harry listens to the tape, she begins to believe that the Holbecks have done some very bad things.

As she continues visiting the family, their strange traditions are revealed to her. The games that they play traditionally involve darkness and fear. Can Harriet find out the truth about the mysterious Holbecks?

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The Verdict

Catherine Steadman outdoes herself in The Family Game. She creates such a mysterious family in the Holbecks and their dynamics are intriguing. Readers will follow Harry as she tries to determine the truth about Robert’s misdoings. The cast of family characters are a wonder to watch. We’ve all always wondered what the extremely rich live like. Harry shows us their virtues and misdeeds.

The novel really remarks on the power of wealth and the wealthy’s ability to commit audacious crimes and pay for them to go away. Robert, as the patriarch of the family, is a prime example of such. As Harry begins to discover that Robert may be confessing to a series of murders on the cassette tape, she must decide how to proceed. She knows that the power that Robert holds cannot be taken lightly.

As Harry navigates potentially deadly Christmas traditions, she races for the truth, unable to forget once she finds it. Harry is such a compelling character – a developing mother willing to risk life and limb to protect her unborn baby. Harry is brave and unapologetic and is a true testament on how to write a female main character.

It was very difficult for me to decide between 4 and 5 Cthulus, so we will call it 4.5. This is a novel I highly recommend thriller lovers check out. 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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