Two for Tuesday

I’m going to start a new tradition here. I’m going to talk about two books that have changed my life every Tuesday. (Hence the title). Sometimes, they will have related themes and sometimes they will be totally different from each other. Today’s two have related themes.

The first is To Kill A Mockingbird, which I am sure is on everyone’s list. But. This book is what made me decide I wanted to be a lawyer (in 4th or 5th grade). And I refused to deviate from that path. I still love this book and try to reread it every year. I think it’s one of the most important books every written in this country. It speaks to discrimination – not just based on race (see Boo Radley.) It speaks to family. It speaks to justice. It speaks to race. It is a book that I think every school aged child should be required to read – “N” words and all. The book not only made me want to be a lawyer, it informed how I think of race and people who are “different” in all the best ways.

It also made me curious about Harper Lee. Until Go Set A Watchman was published (which I think was wrong on many, many levels), it was the only book she had ever published. And the only book published during her life time. Some people may only have one story to tell. In this case, it was one of the most important stories that could be told.

Fast forward to 2017. I picked up The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas when it first came out. I had read some rave reviews and heard fabulous things about the book. And it did not disappoint. Far and away the best book I read last year (and I read some really good books), The Hate U Give is the To Kill A Mockingbird for the 21st century. Starr Carter is the only witness to a police officer shooting and killing her best friend. The book hits all the hot-button issues of today – race, policing, poverty, wealth, inter-racial dating. And it hits them perfectly. I still am in awe that this book was Angie Thomas’ first. The characters are fully developed and the story is compelling. I really didn’t want it to end. It was the perfect story, as far as I am concerned.

Having a teenage son (albeit not a minority), who attends a minority school, this book gave me a glimpse of high school today and the issues that teenagers have to confront. I never had to worry about whether my African-American friends were going to be killed by the police when I was in high school, something my son worries about every day. I am thankful that Angie Thomas wrote this book.

Both of these books had a profound impact on me. While separated by 57 years, the themes and issues presented in each book are extremely similar. The injustice of a black man wrongfully convicted for raping a white woman and a white police officer who wrongfully kills a black teen present the same questions – What is justice? Is the system inherently racist? Why do people automatically shun those who are different? Why do people automatically believe a white person’s version of events? What do you do in an inherently unfair world? These questions are not answered in this books, at least not completely. But they do provide food for thought.

I’ll be back next Tuesday with two more books that changed my life. Happy reading.


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Chasing Phil

This was probably one of the most entertaining true crime books I have ever read. It is the story of two FBI agents who chased a charming con man for years.

Phil Kitzer was a world-class conman. He headed the Fraternity and swindled and conned anyone he could. Jack Brennan and Jim Wydick were the FBI agents who wanted to take him down. They worked in an FBI that didn’t want to focus its attention on con men. It wanted to focus on anti-communism. But they persisted and eventually took down the Fraternity.

I think the best part of the book was that Brennan and Wydick convinced Phil Kitzer to work for them after they caught him. This book is well-written and gives the reader an interesting look at a complex conspiracy. I highly recommend it.

I received this book from Blogging for Books and received no other compensation in exchange for my review. The opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.

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How My Job Ruins Reading

As any of you who know me know, I love to read. Books are the love of my life after my kids and husband. A good book is one of my very favorite things. Almost a year ago, I took a job with the Court of Appeal. My job, as a Judicial Assistant, is to proofread opinions. I have to look for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and citation. I love my job. But. It has made me a little more than OCD when I read.

Because I read on my nook when I can’t sleep, I read a lot of free books. Some of them are self-published. And, evidently, self-edited. And poorly, at that. I have found more errors in the last five or six books I have read than I have in a long time. Some of the errors are small-a misplaced comma or a missing comma. But some of the errors are larger, and more annoying. Like use of “plaintiff” when the author clearly meant “plaintive”. These errors annoy me because it takes me out of the story. I get suck on the error.

This has me wondering if there are book editors as a professional career any more. I know most people probably don’t think much about it. But editing is an important job. Word choice, punctuation, sentence structure…..these are things that can make or break whether a person stays with a book or stops reading.

My job has made me hyper-aware of errors and it actually annoys me so much. So, my job has ruined my ability to read without noticing errors.

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The Terminal List

Watch out Scot Harvath, Mitch Rapp, and John Wells, there’s a new badass on the block. The Terminal List is a page-turner. A military/political thriller in the best sense of those words. The basic plot is this: Lt. Commander James Reece is a Navy SEAL. His unit is ambushed in Afghanistan and he and one other teammate are the only survivors. They return home under a cloud of suspicion. His teammate commits “suicide” and James’ family is murdered. He goes on the run to find those responsible and exact his revenge.

I liked this book. The characters are well developed and Jack Carr knows his stuff. His descriptions of weapons and procedures are thorough, but not overly technical or complicated. I liked James as a person. The dedication he feels towards family and friends. The intelligence. The practicality about his chosen profession and its consequences. He didn’t feel like an over-the-top hero. He didn’t feel like he was too-good-to-be-true. He felt real.

There are some excellent plot turns. And while I did figure out an important plot point, knowing that information did not make me feel like I missed out on anything. The story is tightly woven and it is an excellent book.

I won this book from Goodreads and received no other compensation in exchange for this review. The opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.

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The Wife Between Us

I’m going to start by saying I almost quit reading this book when I was about a third of the way done. I wasn’t understanding what was going on and I was having a hard time putting everything together. Now, I will say I am so glad I didn’t give up on it. This book will literally keep you guessing until the very last page. Things I thought were true weren’t. And as the facts are slowly revealed, you realize you have been wrong about almost everything.

Without giving anything away, this is the story of Richard’s ex-wife who is trying to stop the wedding of Richard and his new fiance. I really can’t say much more than that. Every little fact and detail adds to the story and leads to the revelation that things are not what you think they are.

This is a well-written thriller. Like I said, I did not know what was going to happen until the very end of the book. I read very few books that keep me off balance and guessing until the very end, but this one did it. In my opinion, it’s even better than Gone Girl and The Girl On The Train, books that I really loved.

Stay with this book and don’t quit. Trust me when I say this book is totally worth sticking with it until the end. I highly recommend this book.

I won this book and received no other compensation in exchange for my review. The opinions contained herein are mine and mine alone.

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The Best Books I Read This Year

I read more books this year than I have in the past. But even though I read more than 100 books, there are a few that really stood out. Ones that I can’t stop thinking about and probably won’t for a long time. So, in no particular order (except for the first one), here are my favorite books of the year.

  1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I read it when it first came out and then in October for book club. It was my pick. If I had my way, everyone would be required to read this book. It follow Starr Carter-a sixteen year old girl who lives in a tough neighborhood, but attends a private, mostly white school. She is a witness to a white police officer shooting one of her oldest friends. The book touches on everything relevant today. And it is a spectacular read. Not only will Starr live with me for along time, this is a book I will revisit.
  2. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I loved her first book, Everything I Never Told You. Like that book, Little Fires Everywhere delves into suburban teenage lives. It is the story of a mother and daughter who move to Shaker Height, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. They infiltrate the lives of the family they rent their house from. It’s a complicated story of love and acceptance and secrets and all the things that family does to hurt each other. I loved Ng’s storytelling. I love her voice. I love this book. She even replied to my tweet, letting her know how much I loved it.
  3. Love & Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford. Ernest, the main character, will stay with me for a long time. This is a piece of historical fiction, covering an incident that I was not aware of. Ernest is put on a ship in China and ends up in Washington state. He is raffled off at the World’s Fair in Seattle. This book brings out all the feels. It made me angry that people would consider others less than human, but is a reminder that (1) they do, and (2) that sometimes humanity shows up in places you would least expect it to be.
  4. Y Is For Yesterday by Sue Grafton. Not only do I love mysteries, I love this series. I have been reading it since high school. Kinsey Millhone has been my friend for a long time. The penultimate book in the alphabet series is, I think, my favorite. It is a complicated mystery and entertaining as well. I am going to miss this series when it ends.
  5. The Garden of Small Blessings by Abi Waxman. I won this book and I am so happy I did. This is the story of a widow and her two daughters. Lillian is an illustrator who is tasked to illustrate a book of vegetables. She takes a gardening class from the author and she learns about growing vegetables and the potential for new love. This book is well written and a lovely story. I love that Lillian isn’t perfect. I love that she tries.
  6. Crime Scene by Jesse and Jonathan Kellerman. This book introduces us to Clay Edison, former college basketball star and current coroner’s investigator for Alameda County. He investigates the death of a former psychology professor at Cal Berkeley. I loved this book. I used to read the Alex Delaware series and stopped several years ago. I liked it, and I like this one. I cannot wait for number two in the series.
  7. Tie. Back Blast and The Grey Man by Mark Greaney. Jason Bourne meets James Bond in this series. The Grey Man, Courtland Gentry was a dark operator who was blamed for killing his team. He did not kill them. The U.S. Government has a kill on sight order against him. He is intent on clearing his name. Back Blast is the fifth book in the series and the first one I read. It was a fantastic story and full of action. The Grey Man is the first book and was equally awesome. If you are looking for a good spy series, this is it.
  8. Aftercare Instruction by Bonnie Pipkin. I won this book and was glad I did. I might have otherwise missed it. Gen is a girl who has been labeled as trouble. She gets pregnant by the “good” boy and has an abortion. The boy leaves her at the clinic. It’s a really good story. It’s well-written and I loved it. So much of it hit home.
  9. The Dry by Jane Harper. The first in a series set in Australia. The book looks at the two happenings – Ellie’s suicide and Luke’s death – and whether they may be related. Was it really murder? Did Luke kill Ellie and then kill his family? Was it because of the drought? Money? Guilt? Aaron agrees to stay in Kiewarra and look into the murders with the local cop at the behest of Luke’s parents, whom Aaron was close to. Their investigation leads to the resolution of both cases, but not necessarily with neat and tidy bows wrapped around them. I can’t say enough good things about this book. Jane Harper brings Southern Australia alive.
  10. The Prisoner by Alex Berenson. The John Wells series hit a slide for a couple of books. This one brings it back. It was as good as the first book, The Faithful Spy. Wells has to find out who in the CIA is passing messages to ISIS. He goes undercover in an Afghan prison. It is a true page-turner. And a really good book.

Hopefully you will you this list to discovery some new books and authors. I am going to try to post more often and give people something to read regularly.

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Sometimes I Lie

Alice Feeny’s debut novel, Sometimes I Lie is a book I really wanted to like. And I really tried to like it. Ultimately, however, I gave up. I usually don’t review books I don’t finish, but I won this one and figured I owed a review.

The story is about Amber. She’s in a coma after an accident. Her husband, Paul, a writer, is suspected by the police of causing the accident. Her sister, Claire, may or may not be having an affair with her husband. Her former boyfriend, Edward, may or may not be a creepy stalker who caused Amber to be in a coma.

Honestly? Amber lies. A lot. You never really know what’s real and what’s not and I got tired of trying to figure it out. Like all suspense novels today, this one jumps in time a lot and sometimes it’s is quite annoying.

So. This book wasn’t for me. But if you liked Gone Girl and Girl On A Train, you might like this one.

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Little Fires Everywhere

If I am very lucky, once a year, I read a really great book. This year, I have read more than one. Little Fires Everywhere is one of the really good ones. I know that I will not do this book justice in this post, because, even now, a week after finishing it, I am finding it hard to put into words how good this book is.

The story is of Mia and Pearl Warren and the Richardson family. They meet in 1990s Shaker Heights, Ohio, a planned community where everything is supposed to be a certain way. Mia and Peal rent an apartment from the Warrens. Mia is a photographer who works odd jobs to make ends meet. Peal is in high school with the Warren’s four children, Trip, Izzy, Lexie, and Moody. Mrs. Richardson investigates Mia’s past and it is the domino that starts the others falling.

Celeste Ng is really a poet who works in prose. I savored every word in this book. Each word flows into the next and makes the entire story and book seamless. I read very few authors with the ability to make music from the page, but she does it effortlessly. The characters were written so richly and are so fully developed, they could have jumped off the page and into my life. Her ease of description puts pictures in your head better than any television show or movie does.

Okay, that may sound like a bit much. But this book is utterly amazing. Without providing any spoilers, I will say that if you like endings tied up in neat little bows, you will walk away a bit unsatisfied. But, if you want tread an amazing story and a well-written book, you will not go wrong with this one.

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Crime Scene

Clay Edison is a Coroner’s investigator for Alameda County. He used to be a basketball star at Cal before his knee blew out. He responds to the death of a former professor at Cal who was involved in a scandal years before. The professor’s daughter thinks it was foul play and wants Clay to investigate. He does. And what he finds is something he did not expect.

It has been years since I read anything by Jonathon Kellerman. I used to read the Alex Delaware series, but gave up some years ago. Not because they were bad. But because i just stopped reading them. Alex Delaware does have a cameo in this book. And it was like running into an old friend i hadn’t seen in a long time. The writing was easy, flawless.

I really liked this book and I hope that there is more to come from Clay Edison. He’s basically a good guy and he’s trying to do right by the professor’s daughter. He also comes to discovery some things about himself in the process. I liked Clay because he was human. He has his faults and they aren’t sugarcoated. This was an interesting crime novel with plot twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. Nothing along the lines of Gone Girl, but perfect for the story.

If you are looking for a new mystery series or a new character to follow, I recommend this book. It is well worth your time.

I won this book from Goodreads and received no other compensation in exchange for this review. The opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.

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Convicted: A Crooked Cop, An Innocent Man, and An Unlikely Journey of Forgiveness and Friendship

Convicted tells the story of Jameel McGee and Andrew Collins. Jameel got a ride with an acquaintance to a  store to get milk for his son. He was arrested and convicted of being a drug dealer when he was truly in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was arrested by Andrew Collins, a crooked cop. Eventually Collins got caught. Both McGee and Collins went to prison. They met up again after they both got out. This book is their stories, told in alternating chapters – one from Jameel’s point of view and one from Andrew’s.

I liked this book because it was truly a story of redemption and forgiveness. Both men were earnest forming a friendship and being able to walk away from their past. It also made me sad because I have a feeling this type of thing happens a lot more than any of us would be willing to admit. A dirty cop framing an innocent man.

While the state of policing in this country wasn’t the main theme of this book, it sits front and center through most of the story. And it really made me think about being a person of color in a society where it doesn’t matter how good you are – if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, you have to prove you’re innocent rather than being presumed innocent. For me, having gone to law school and believing in our form of government and justice, that is a bitter pill to swallow. It also made me think that we need to seriously look, not only at criminal justice reform, but at how we treat minorities and people of color in general. This book definitely provided a lot of food for thought.

I recommend this book.

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