Review: Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders by Kathryn Miles

Anna: Calling all feminists, outdoorsy people, and true crime readers. I know I’ve already posted about this book several times on the feed, but that’s because you should read it! 

Author Kathryn Miles, a hiker and journalist, investigates the 1996 murders of Julianne “Julie” Williams and Laura “Lollie” Winans. Julie and Lollie were seasoned hikers who were backpacking along the AT when they were found murdered in their sleeping bags. Miles tells Julie and Lollie’s story and advocates for bringing their killer to justice. First, she has to find him. She also exposes a plethora of corruption in the investigation, from convicting the wrong suspect to outing Julie and Lollie as gay to the world and to their families. And the conclusion that Miles comes to in the end about what really happened is truly haunting. 

Miles does a good job of centering this on Julie and Lollie’s story instead of sensationalizing the crime, which can be a big problem in the true crime genre. She also extensively interviewed those close to Julie and Lollie and is dedicated to telling both their stories. By the end, I felt as if I’d lost two close friends. 

This book hits close to home in so many ways. Shenandoah is a local national park, where I hike frequently (although I’m nowhere near as outdoorsy as Julie and Lollie were). I’ve never been concerned for my safety there, even when hiking with just one other woman. I don’t think I’ll feel the same way next time I visit.

Julie and Lollie felt safe in the woods. We expect our Natural Parks to be a sanctuary. But the truth is that nowhere is safe, especially for women.

Verdict: 4.5/5 stars

Review: Sugar Run by Mesha Maren

This review is spoiler-free and from both of us!

There is a dog in this book, so that’s our excuse for featuring a very confused Indy in this.

Alexis:

I’m thankful I had the opportunity to hear Mesha Maren discuss her book, because I feel like I really understood her vision. In Sugar Run, Jodi, the main character, is just released from prison, where she served eighteen years. She enters into a relationship with a young mother named Miranda, and their lives become tangled together. It’s a story of hope and hopelessness.

I love Maren’s lyrical writing style. Her writing has such a hard realness to it. She writes lush descriptions as she paints life in West Virginia. As Maren discussed in her talk, her book is hard to categorize. It’s a noir, crime, Southern Literature, and LGBTQ novel. But this is one of the great things about it: it’s a collage of genres, and it works.

This is a dark book that deals with vices to the max. It deals with crime, murder, sex, and lots of drugs. All of the characters are flawed, and make really bad decisions, yet I cared about them. The first half of the book is more character driven, while the second half is more plot heavy. The chapters alternate between the present (written in past tense) and the past (written in present tense) which I thought worked really well.

VERDICT: 4 out of 5 books

 

Anna:

Like Alexis, I’m so happy we had the opportunity to meet Maren at the Fountain Bookstore here in Richmond. Hearing an author discuss her book and writing process always enriches my understanding of it as a reader. The way Maren described her characters before I’d read about them made me more invested as a reader.

Maren’s writing is exactly what I love about literary fiction, even though, as Alexis said, this is a blend of genres. It is so dark and violent, but it is beautifully and breathtakingly written and full of nature imagery. The characters are well drawn out and real.

The violence in the lives of all the characters contrast so starkly with Jodi’s obsession with the rural landscape of her homeland. Her love of West Virginia mirrors themes of stability and nostalgia in Jodi’s life. It also offers commentary on the ways humans inflict violence on the earth, as the horrors of fracking is something frequently discussed.

The ending of books is something I’m constantly disappointed by, and, happily, this was not the case with Sugar Run! I thought the conclusion of both the interwoven timelines is so well done, and, most importantly, believable. Maren’s pacing is perfection.

During her talk, Maren touched a bit on the book she’s writing next, and you can bet I’ll be picking that up when that comes out!

VERDICT: 4 out of 5 books