Plea for Justice

I was prepared to hate this book. First of all the main female character is a chubby redhead and I resemble that remark. But. I didn’t hate. I loved it. It’s a really good legal thriller. I most especially loved the ending because it didn’t do what I thought it was going to do.

Jackie is chubby. She works as a paralegal. She is good at her job and doesn’t have a lot of friends. She lives alone. Her best friend in high school, Aaron, is arrested for a gruesome murder. He reaches out to her from prison and asks for help. She goes to see him, but is upset that he abruptly cut off communication with her 10 years ago, the summer after high school. She agrees to help him file a Writ of Habeus Corpus.

Jackie is awesome. Though she suffers from low self-esteem, she finds ways to better herself and finds that it’s easier to believe in yourself when someone else believes in you. She has a good heart and she’s smart and funny.

And that is all I’m going to share about the plot. Because if I share more, I will give it away. I am glad I got to meet Jackie. She’s a great character. So real. And while the plot twist is somewhat fantastical, I honestly didn’t mind. The story was well-written and went in a direction I didn’t see coming – and I love it when that happens.

If you like legal thrillers, this is a book for you. 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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100 Book To Read Day 4

Today, one of my favorite things to read about – crime. True crime. Fictional crime. Doesn’t matter. I have always been fascinated with mystery and crime. So here are my top ten nonfiction crime books.

  1. The Run of His Life by Jeffery Toobin. The OJ Simpson trial was the biggest thing in the news when I was in my first year of law school. Toobin reported on the trial. This book is, I think, the best one about the events that preceded the trial and of the trial itself.
  2. Ghettoside by Jill Leovy. Leovy, a reporter, follows an LAPD homicide detective who tries to solve the hardest murder cases – black on black killings in LA. The book is sad and frustrating and a must read.
  3. Five Days At Memorial by Sheri Fink. I hesitate to classify this as crime. But at the center of the book is the question of whether a crime was committed by a doctor in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, euthanizing patients. This book will make you mad and sad and frustrated.
  4. True Notebooks by Mark Salzman. He taught writing at a juvenile facility in Los Angeles. This book stayed with me for a very long time. Salzman is a gifted writer and he tells a compelling story about the status of our juvenile detention facilities.
  5. Devi’s Knot by Mara Leveritt. This is the story of the West Memphis 3. Damien Echols spent 19 years on death row in Arkansas for a crime he didn’t commit. Jesse Miskelly and Jason Baldwin were imprisoned for 19 years for a crime they didn’t commit – the gruesome murder of three boys. This book made me LIVID angry. Our justice system is broken and it needs to be fixed.
  6. A Good Month For Murder by Del Wilber. Wilber, a reporter (I see a pattern here…) followed a homicide unit in Maryland for a month. I loved this book. It talks about homicide detection as it actually is. The detectives are human and this book catches their idiosyncrasies and foibles so well.
  7. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Read this book and you will also believe that mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow in this country. A powerful and disturbing read.
  8. Homicide by David Simon. The book the spawned the show. If follows Baltimore City Detectives. Gritty and raw and rough. I love this book.
  9. All The President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The ultimate true crime book. I have read this book and seen the movie so many times, I know parts of it by heart. But that is the mark of a good book – wanting to read it again. This is a classic.
  10. Columbine by Dave Cullen. Full disclosure – Dave Cullen is my friend on Facebook. I have actually conversed with him about this book, albeit in comments and he wouldn’t know me from Adam if he bumped into me on the street. That having been said, whether I had spoken to him or not, this book should be required reading for every parent in America. After Columbine, we all asked, how could the parents not have known? This book answers how EVERYONE – teachers, administrators, cops, parents, etc – missed the signs. If you haven’t read this book, you need to read it.

Tomorrow – the lighter side of crime – fictional crime.

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100 Books To Read Day 3

Today, I’m giving you the top ten books that others have recommended to me. Every once in a while, someone will ask me what they should read. I always ask what they like to read in response. Unless you like Sci Fi or Dystopian or Romance, I can come up with good recommendations. And everyone in a while, someone will tell me, “You have to read this…” so here is my list of those recommendations.

  1. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. My grandmother told me to read this after I exhausted her Agatha Christie collection. I am a mystery junkie and these stories helped make me that way.
  2. Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. I was dating a guy and taking an Native American Studies class. He suggested this book would go nicely with the class. And it did. While I’m sure the HBO miniseries was good, the book is always better. And in this case, it would be hard to top this book. You will understand what we took from the natives when you read this.
  3. Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat. This was recommended so much as required by my high school English teacher, but either way, this book is amazing. Mowat was in Canada and studying wolves. It’s one of the best books I have ever read.
  4. The Princess Bride by William Goldman. The same guy who recommended Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee recommended this one. Who doesn’t love this book? My favorite fairy tale, by far.
  5. The Bitch In The House by Cathi Hanauer. A friend (who no longer speaks to me) recommend this book. 26 women talk about being women. Working. Families, Co-parenting. Taking care of aging parents. All the things we face and have to deal with. This is a must-read for all women as far as I’m concerned.
  6. Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams. I have a very dear friend who calls himself, “the most illiterate English major ever.” While I will not comment on that statement, he read this book when he was in college and told me I needed to read it. And it turns out he was right. In 1983, Terry’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. And the Great Salt Lake was rising and threatening the bird population. She tells the story of her mother dying and the birds learning to deal with the rising lake. I’m not doing it justice. Just read it.
  7. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. The friend who no longer speaks to me recommend this one as well. We even had a virtual book club about it. While my friendship may have died, this book actually did give me some ideas about what happiness really is and how to be a happier person. For the most part, I think it worked.
  8. All Involved by Ryan Gattis. This was recommended by a podcast. And while I have read many books recommended by podcasts, not one of them hit me they way this one did. It is about the LA riots in 1992 and is told from 17 points of view. To me, this book is storytelling mastery. I don’t have any other words for this book. Read it.
  9. The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. In 1982, when the movie came out, my grandfather took me to see it. Other than the James Bond movie, Octopussy, he never took me to the movies. After seeing The Right Stuff, I wanted to be an astronaut. My bad eyesight and inability to do math ruined that. But my grandmother told me if I liked the movie, I should read the book. So I did. And I still love it. This story, in particular, for me, epitomizes America. We wanted a man in space, we put a man in space. I got to know John Glenn, Alan Shepherd Jr., Gus Grissom, Deke Slayton, Gordo Cooper, and the other two, whose names I can’t remember right now. One of my all-time favorite books.

Tomorrow, I will talk about crime.

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100 Books to Read Day 2

Today, the list is fictional books about war. There are only nine books on the list. However, they are well worth reading. Without further ado, here we go…

  1. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. The ultimate anti-war book, according to many. Frankly, I find this book laugh-out-loud hilarious. War book or not, it’s just funny. It’s not just the absurdity of war, but the absurdity of life.
  2. Slaughter-house Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Honestly, I was not sure I should include this on my list, as it’s not one of my favorite books. But the list was 100 book you should read. And I think it should be read, even if it’s WWII on an acid trip.
  3. The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk. I could have put The Winds of War or War and Remembrance on the list as well, but, to me, this is his best book. Humphrey Bogart won and Oscar for his portrayal of Captain Queeg. Really, this book has everthing – war, the Navy, romance, and a trial. It’s just a great story.
  4. The Quiet American by Graham Greene. This is a book I keep going back to. It should be mandatory reading for everyone. It’s set against the back drop of Viet Nam before America was fighting. It is about American hubris and patriarchy, though I doubt Greene would find that characterization satisfying. It is also a really well-written book.
  5. All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Remarque. I read this book in college and it shredded me. It is written from a German soldier’s point-of-view during WWI. It is, and always will be, the best anti-war novel ever written. It is also a reminder that while evil may lead, most of the time, followers have no choice but to follow.
  6. The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins. While my fiction list didn’t contain any WWII books, my nonfiction list more than makes up for it. A NAZI plot to kidnap Churchill and disable the British war effort. He really is the master of spies and suspense. I could not put this book down.
  7. Confessional by Jack Higgins. Okay. Technically, this is not a war novel. It’s set in the Cold War, so I’m counting it. The USSR is plotting the assassination of the Pope on British soil. It’s a race to see whether pope will be saved or assassinated. I will say no more….
  8. Redeployment by Phil Klay. This is a book of short stories about a bunch of different characters all having some connection to the global war on terror. The stories are sad, funny, infuriating, and just good. Klay was a Marine and his experience in the military informs his writing. I bought this book when it first came out and started it, but then put it down. It wasn’t until I read the next book on the list that I was able to really read and appreciate this one.
  9. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. Many people call this “THE” book about Viet Nam. I am loathe to disagree. I read it in college and again last year. I have to say that I have a much bigger appreciation for it after reading it the second time. O’Brien managers to bring combat to life. He even managers to convey the smell – something my father, who served in Viet Nam, says no one is ever able to capture. The book is disturbing in the best possible way.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss the ten best books other people recommended to me.


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100 (or 200) Books To Read

A former student of mine recently asked me for a list of 100 books I thought she should read. Anyone who knows me, knows that it is an impossible task. So I came up with 100 fiction and 100 nonfiction books to read. I decided I would share this list – in pieces – with you all. I will discuss ten or so books at time until I’m done. (This is also an effort to get me to blog more.) I am going to start with non-fiction. The category for this first post is books about war.

  1. The Great War For Civilization by Robert Fisk. I tell anyone who will listen that this is THE book to read about the modern Middle East. It’s been nine years since I read it and I still picture the scene from Algeria where rebels had put the heads of sympathizers on pikes. I also love the chapter about arms dealers. It is, by far, the most comprehensive book I have read on the Middle East.
  2. War by Sebastian Junger. This book reminds me so much of All Quiet on the Western Front. It is an amazing meditation on war and the effect it has on those who fight them.
  3. Ghost Wars by Steve Coll. An in-depth examination of the CIA’s involvement in the making of Al Queda. An excellent read.
  4. The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright. An examination of the events leading up to 9/11. While not about war directly, it is an examination of what led to this never ending war.
  5. The Forever War by Dexter Filkins. This book is an excellent examination of the war in Iraq and all the things that went so wrong.
  6. The Good Soldiers by David Finkel. This book follows a group of soldiers through the surge in Baghdad. It is harrowing. It is one of the best descriptions of war I have read.
  7. The Final Salute by Jim Sheeler. Follows a soldier who escorts the bodies of fallen soldiers home. It is the basis for the HBO movie “Taking Chance” with Kevin Bacon. This book is so very sad. It’s a meditation on service and death and it is well worth reading.
  8. The Only Thing Worth Dying For by Eric Blehm following Army Special Forces soldiers whose job is to get Hamid Karzi to Kabul in the wake of 9/11. I loved this book. It’s so good. It shows the absurdity of war, along with how decision making far away from the theater of battle is not always a good idea.
  9. Fearless – Eric Blehm – the story of Adam Brown. Adam had a troubled early adulthood. He delved into drugs and petty crime. He joined the Navy. And, against all odds, became a decorated SEAL. He was killed in battle. This book paints an beautiful picture of determination and sacrifice.
  10. Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer is the story of Pat Tillman, former Arizona Cardinal, who gave up millions of dollars to join the Army after 9/11. Though killed early in combat operations in Afghanistan, it took years for the public to be told that he was killed by friendly fire. This book broke my heart. It is such a good depiction of the confusion and fog of war that causes so many good young men to die.

Now that I have finished the list, I notice I have left off WWI, WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam. That was not intentional. This is the war of my generation. For WWI, nonfiction, Barbara Tuchman is a good bet. For WWII, Stephen Ambrose (also for Korea). For Viet Nam, Eric Blehm wrote about a Medal of Honor winner Roy Benevides in Legend. I gave it to my father, a Viet Nam vet, and he said it was the best description of the war he’d read. My fiction picks for war will cover far more ground in terms of the wars written about.

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The Norman Mailer Incident

When I was 18 or 19, I routinely read 1,000 plus page books. A Thousand Days and Robert Kennedy and his Times by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. to name just two. So book length has never intimidated me. I was assistant coaching debate for a local high school and we took the kids to Stanford University for a debate tournament. Naturally, I made my way to the campus book store. Instead of buying a sweatshirt of other Stanford gear, I bought a copy of Harlot’s Ghost by Norman Mailer. I had read The Executioner’s Song a few years prior and since I had a fascination with the CIA and Harlot’s Ghost was about the CIA, I got it.

I immediately started reading. It was a monster of a book. 1,282 pages of text. That’s not counting the notes at the end. I looked at the last page to get a page count, but I deliberately did not look at the end because I didn’t want to ruin anything. Had I done so, I probably would have thought twice about reading the book at all.

While Harlot’s Ghost was touted as a “history of the CIA,” no one mentioned how long it was. Or that it ended with three words you never, ever want to see at the end of a 1,282 page book – “To Be Continued.” When I read those three words, I closed the book and hurled it across the room. It is the only time I have ever thrown a book. I was so mad. I invested so much time into reading this book and following its convoluted plot, I thought I was being punished with the end. And, as it turns out, it was not continued because Mailer died before he wrote a squeal, though I am not convinced he ever intended to.

Because of that no fun surprise at the end of the book, I ALWAYS read the last paragraph of the book I am starting. Most of the time, it makes no sense, but at least I know what’s going to happen. And I will never get to the end of a book that says, “To Be Continued” and be surprised.

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Agent in Place

Due to an unfortunate incident with Normal Mailer in college, I always read the last page of a book first. No surprises. So. That having been said, I read the last page of Agent in Place first. So I knew, very vaguely, the end. Even having done that, this book kept me on the edge of my seat from page 1 to page 507. Since I started the Gray Man series, my favorite books have been Back Blast and The Gray Man. But I think Agent in Place might be number 1 now.

Court is not working for the CIA in this one. He’s on his own and he takes a contract from two Syrian ex-pats in France to prevent the mistress of the Syrian dictator from returning to Syria. When Court sees that he was set up, he gets mad. But he, for reasons that I won’t discuss here, decides to see the mission through. Which means going to Syria, working for mercenaries, running into U.S. Special Forces, and attempting to assassinate the Syrian dictator.

I honestly don’t understand how Mark Greaney comes up with these books. He puts Court into all kinds of situations that seem impossible to get him out of. And he gets Court out – in ways that are believable. At least, they are to me, not having been a soldier or spy.

I like Court. He’s trying to do what he thinks is right -even though his idea of right isn’t always what most of us would consider right. The things that I wish were different for Court – having a life outside of what he does – are the things that would probably get him killed in his. I like that he realizes that about himself. I like that he’s flawed and human.

If you haven’t been reading The Gray Man books, you should be.

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

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TBR in Perpetuity

My To Be Read pile of books is a little out of control. Actually, it’s more like multiple piles and a book case. Two of the piles are shown below. Most of the books in these piles are books I have won and need to read and review. Some are ones I have bought. Some I have been given. No matter what, I have finally gotten to the age where I think I have more books than I can possibly read.

I love to read. I always have. I can remember the first book I ever read on my own – The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. I remember Don and Donna Go to Bat, the ultimate 70s feminist children’s book. I remember my dad taking Robert Blair Kaiser’s RFK Must Die away from me because he didn’t think I should read it. (I was 11 or 12.) My mom warned me about Helter Skelter, which I read anyway (and had nightmare about Charles Manson for the better part of a year). And I like having books in the house I haven’t read. It gives me goals. But I think I have now created a monster I may never slay.

I need to figure out a way to get a handle on all this. The only solutions I have come up with are: (1) don’t buy more books (NOT going to happen), (2) don’t enter to win any new books (“As if” to quote Cher from Clueless), (3) learn to read faster (possible, maybe, but I read pretty fast now as it is [about 100 pages an hour]), (4) find a job where I get paid to read books. So far, number four is, by far, the best option. I just haven’t figured out how to make that happen yet. I will let you know if I do. In the mean time, I will keep reading. And my TBR piles will continue to grow.

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How Democracies Die

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have written a book that, like On Tyranny, everyone should read. They trace the death of liberal democracies around the world and ask: Is our democracy in danger? I will not tell you their answer, but suffice it to say, they do an excellent job of showing why they reached their conclusion.

This book is full of historical analysis and examples of what happens when democratic institutions die. It discusses the signs of authoritarianism, and threats to the Constitutional system. This book is important because it talks about the subtle things that are done to undermine democracy – things that even the smartest people may not notice until it’s too late.

Please read this book.

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

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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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