Clean Protein by Kathy Freston & Bruce Friedrich

As a non-carnivore, I have had some concern about whether or not I am getting enough protein in my diet, how much protein a woman my size actually needs, and whether I really need as much protein as my husband keeps reminding me I do, so I was pleased to receive Clean Protein by Kathy Freston and Bruce Friedrich from Perseus Books/Weinstein Books (really?doubtful this imprint will last) and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

I read that Freston is a well-known “author and vegan lifestyle expert,” and Friedrich is the Director of the Good Food Institute…which basically told me nothing. But I had read some of Freston’s work before  (including her blog), and I remembered that the GFI were the ones who had advocated for the addition of a veggie burger to the menu at In-N-Out, so I decided that for my purposes they were expert enough! This, of course, was as long as the book wasn’t just a load of what I think of as nutribabble—lots of words and advice about how to eat without anything to back it up.

I was happy to see how well sourced the book is, including peer-reviewed scientific studies and medical experts. When combined with the numerous personal stories they relate, the result is an information-packed handbook that will be a good resource for those interested in eating well without meat who don’t really need or want to wade through scientific literature. The book is extremely readable, and includes a plan, recipes, and tips for those who are moving toward a plant-based diet. Three and a half stars.

I Can’t Breathe by Matt Taibbi

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I love Matt Taibbi, so I admit to a preconceived bias toward this book. I went in wanting it to be good. And I thought I was familiar with the sad story of Freddie Gray, the African-American man shot as he was selling “loosies” (single cigarettes) in New York. But I realize I knew SO LITTLE of the real story. For starters, Freddie was not a large, shambling doofus as he was often portrayed. He was incredibly intelligent, and a hard worker. And the actual killing was way more complicated than I had previously thought.

I’m not completely ignorant of the realities of big-city crime: I have read some books about the serious issues in law enforcement in the U.S., particularly as pertains to African-Amercians. But I had not read ANYTHING that was so accessible – so well written in terms that are easily understandable. It’s just a huge accomplishment the way Mr Taibbi has told Freddie’s story along with informing the reader about the realities of the justice system — which, for too many Americans, particularly those of color, is better referred to as the “justice” system. Shocking, sad, needs to be widely read. Five gigantic stars.

Need to Know by Karen Cleveland

SPOILER ALERT: The basic premise (which is a surprise at several points) of Karen Cleveland’s Need to Know is laid out here; so if you want total surprise, stop reading! But I’m not giving away the BFD ending which is designed to be a real shocker, so if you don’t mind reading a plot outline, have at it!

I had read some of the hype about this book (optioned as a film with Charlize Theron, so my image of protagonist Vivian Miller was of Charlize), so I was pleased to get an advance copy of this book from Random House/Ballantine and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. As the story begins, we meet Vivian Miller (Charlize), a super-dedicated CIA counterintelligence analyst who has been working for years on a project that, if successful, will uncover the identities of people living in the U.S. as members of Russian sleeper cells. She has developed this system to identify the people who appear to be normal residents of the U.S., but who are actually working as Russian agents.

Vivian’s life has gotten complicated as she and her husband Matt and their four children live the lifestyle of a middle-class couple, complete with a big mortgage and some medical problems for one of their kids that guarantee they can’t just walk away from her job on a whim. One day, while she is online accessing the computer of someone she thinks may be a Russian operative, Vivian stumbles on a secret file that contains information about deep-cover agents in the U.S. As she scrolls through the photos of the agents assigned to the suspected handler, she is stunned to see her husband Matt’s photo. She is torn about what to do – if she turns him in, her job will be over, her kids will be devastated, and everything that matters to her will be gone. Should she confront Matt? Maybe tell her boss? Or tell her trusted friend who works with her on the special project, FBI Agent Omar?

She seems to be faced with impossible choices. She starts looking back at her entire relationship with Matt – how they “met cute,” fell in love, got married, had kids, lived together for a decade – is it possible she is wrong, her life’s work of developing a method to identify the sleeper agents a failure?

I really enjoyed the process of reading this, and it was pretty much all-engrossing. But it required a bit of willing suspension of disbelief, because this genius woman seemed to keep making some dumb decisions. But then, I’d think, “Who knows what I’d do in her situation?”

Good plotting, good character development, good escapist entertainment. More than a bit unsettling, TBH. Just like you sometimes find out the seemingly normal guy down the block is a serial killer, you might have a member of a sleeper cell in the neighborhood, coaching your kid’s soccer team. Four stars.

1917 by David Stevenson

Over the years, I have gone through periods of fascination (obsession?) with WW I, reading fiction and nonfiction. It’s always been something I never could quite get my hands around in terms of understanding – we learned in school about Archduke Franz Ferdinand, trench warfare, etc. but that was just skimming the surface. With the recent disaster surrounding U.S. involvement in the Middle East making me struggle to learn more about the history and reasons for the seemingly random carving up of the Middle East, I welcomed the opportunity to receive a copy of David Stevenson’s 1917 from Oxford University Press and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Stevenson, a renowned WW I scholar and historian at the London School of Economics and Political Science, has several previous books including Armaments and the Coming of War: Europe, 1904-1914 (1996), 1914-1918: The History of the First World War (2004), and With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918 (2011). Clearly he is up to the task of presenting his readers with the facts about the events of this pivotal year.

But this is more than just facts. The full title of the book is 1917: War, Peace, and Revolution, and while it focuses on how events in one year can transform history, it also examines what made the war escalate in subsequent years. Stevenson focuses on two areas in particular: the Russian Revolution and American intervention. He looks at key decisions that were made along the way, including the German campaign of “unrestricted” submarine warfare, he official declaration of war by the U.S. in response, the abdication of Russian Tsar Nicholas II, and Britain’s actions in the ill-fated Third Battle of Ypres.

In addition to his close look at 1917, Stevenson points out the consequences involving other countries (including, India, Brazil, China the promise of a Jewish national home in Palestine). Both military history and political history are included and, as noted above, Russia and the U.S get the prime focus.

TBH, this book is awesome but may have been even more than I needed to know about 1917! For anyone with a particular interest in this time period, or wanting to delve into the root causes and trace the horrible branches of turmoil that continue to this day in the Middle East, this book will be treasured. Superb history! Five stars.

 

Deep Freeze by John Sandford

OK, I’m biased. I admit it! I love Virgil Flowers (aka “That f—– g Virgil Flowers,” as he is often referred to). Virgil is an investigator with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), sometimes sidekick to Lucas Davenport (one of Sandford’s most frequent protagonists), hunter and fisherman, wildlife photographer, and all around good guy.

So I was pleased to settle in with Virgil’s latest adventure in Sandford’s new title, Deep Freeze (with thanks to Penguin Group/Putnam and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review). Virgil’s most recent adventure takes him back to the town of Trippton, Minnesota, where in Sandford’s Deadline he dealt with a corrupt and murderous school board. Now, a successful local businesswoman has been found dead, frozen in a big block of ice. Apparently she is part of a group that has been planning a high school reunion, so members of the planning group all need to be investigated.

The book opens with the murder, including the identity of the murderer, so it isn’t really a “whodunit”—but Virgil is on the case, so we know it will be solved somehow, and it will be entertaining. At the same time as this murder is being investigated, Virgil is tasked by the governor to deal with another situation in Trippton: some women are making a living by modifying Barbie and Ken dolls in an interesting (some might say obscene) way. When Virgil starts to investigate, he is beaten by a group of women who just want to be left alone to make a living in this economically distressed time and place. This story parallels his murder investigation throughout the book.

I love the way Sandford captures the  locations in his work. This time, I felt cold just reading about the Minnesota winter weather – but I could still visualize the natural beauty. And as usual, Virgil meets up with interesting characters, which Sandford captures perfectly. This time, we again encounter Johnson Johnson, one of his best friends. Sandford (and Virgil) warm my heart with observations like this: “Pretty people, Virgil believed, both male and female, had a totally unwarranted, unearned lifelong advantage over average and ugly people.” And “As he drove up the driveway, it occurred to Virgil that if it had been a scene from a Stephen King movie, somebody was gonna die and it was gonna be ugly.”

This title is part of the Virgil Flowers series, but stands on its own. Although there is plenty of the expected humor in this book, beneath the laughs it really is is a fairly dark story of rejection, economic hardship, and violence. Great talent to combine those two things so well. So, overall, I really enjoyed the experience of reading it, and I will eagerly grab the next Sandford release – but I have to say this one loses a star for the ending. I hated it. Just didn’t work for me. (Not the ending of the mystery – the actual final paragraph).  Four stars.

Murder in Palm Beach by Bob Brink

Palm Beach is in the news quite a bit lately – you know, the Mar-a-Lago version of Palm Beach. Well, apparently, there is another side to this town, and it is the setting for Bob Brink’s Murder in Palm Beach, a work of what is sometimes called “faction.” It is a novel that is based on true events, in other words.

In this story, Mitt Hecher is not a model citizen and he was known to battle other individuals and even the police. He wasn’t a murderer, but with a corrupt judicial system and some local prosecutors wanting to make a name for themselves, there is a conviction of an innocent man.
The murder victim, Rodger Kriger, lives with his family in the “nice” part of PB. He was shot at home and died after 11 days in the hospital. As is often the case (I watched The Wire, so I know these things!), the cops and courts can’t be relied on to provide justice. All the police want is to solve the murder (get a conviction of SOMEONE) to boost their statistics and they don’t take time to be sure of the facts.

Mitt has a sick wife and a child, to add to his problems – as in, who can care for them with him in prison? TBH, I found this a bit depressing, and as it is/was apparently Mr. Brink’s debut novel, I don’t want to be too harsh. It just wasn’t my thing. Two stars, for effort. And thanks to BooksGoSocial and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.

 

The Curl Revolution by Michelle Breyer

I grew up on the beach back when the only acceptable hair was stick straight. Mine was curly. Not the fall-into-soft-ringlets-like-an-angel curly that my sister got — mine was the Bozo-frizz-around-the-face curly. I spent years hating it, straightening it, sleeping on huge rollers–you get the idea.

A few years ago, I found someone who knew how to cut curly hair, and when I think of all the hours (adding up to months, maybe years) I spent (wasted) dealing with my hair, it makes me want to…well, actually it makes me want to recommend this book to anyone with curly hair, whether they hate it as I did or love it as I am learning to do!

The Curl Revolution: Inspiring Stories and Practical Advice from the NaturallyCurly Community by Michelle Breyer is amazing. There is a website from these people  (NaturallyCurly.com is their website) who have spent years figuring it all out. They don’t focus on any one method, product line, ethnicity — they tell you how to identify what your hair is and needs.

I always know I had thick, coarse curly hair. Or at least I thought that was it. Apparently there is a whole formula that takes into account width as well as amount of hair plus texture. Then there is the proper cut. Then there are an increasing number of products available for curlies.

The picture-filled book also functions as a how-to guide with the goal of helping people identify hair type, determine a hair care regimen, find a good haircut, and get inspiration from other curlies.

Thanks to Greenleaf Book Group and NetGalley for a copy of this treasure in exchange for my honest review. Five gigantic stars.

Murder in the Courthouse by Nancy Grace

OK, I admit to watching Nancy Grace years ago before she was quite as…Nancy Grace as she is now. Recently I’ve just thought of her as the woman-in-danger-true-crime obsessed blonde who is quick to label males suspects as guilty (admittedly, she is often right).

Apparently, she has written other novels, including two others featuring the protagonist Hailey Dean, the prosecutor who has never lost a case. In this third in the series, Hailey goes to Savannah, GA to testify as an expert witness and, while there, she gets embroiled in other murders…so far, so good. But the details of a man murdering his pregnant wife and then hers and the baby’s (fetus’s?) bodies washing up after being dumped in a body of water…it made me wish Nancy had written a more original plot. It isn’t like she was writing a roman a clef — too many differences. In any case, that kept getting in the way of my being able to just go with the story and assess this book fairly.

I do think that this might be perfect for the people who want something light with a mystery and some twists to read while sitting on the beach. Nothing that makes you think too much, you know? But it just wasn’t my thing.

Thanks to BenBella Books and NetGalley for a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review. Two stars.

The DBT Solution for Emotional Eating by Debra L. Safer, M.D.

Some years ago, I was the foster parent to a teenager whose adolescence had been filled with abuse by various people, including her father, brother, and even the man who played Santa Claus. Finally, some 25+ years after she left our home, she began working with therapists to deal with the consequences of her upbringing. To this day, she still is wandering in the wilderness of therapy, doing a lot of therapist-shopping and -hopping, and I am still fascinated by the possibilities for treatment and the various options available. In the past year she has begun working with a therapist who specializes in DBT. Because of this and because her issues have manifested in behaviors that include out of control eating I was particularly pleased to receive an advance copy of the new book, The DBT Solution for Emotional Eating, from Guilford Publications and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Dr. Debra Safer is a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University Medical Center. After she attended medical school at the University of California, San Francisco she had a residency in psychiatry at Stanford where she worked closely with W. Stewart Agras, MD, and his eating disorders research team. In February 2017, her textbook, Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Binge Eating and Bulimia was released. She wrote this along with three other professionals. This new book, which is scheduled for release in January 2018, was written in conjunction with two other doctors and clearly designed for a general audience.

I admit to having had some confusion between dialectical behavior therapy and cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). One outstanding thing about this book is the clear way it explains DBT: “This DBT program for binge eating focuses on the relationship between your feelings and your urges to use food…” And that there are “…three modules or categories of DBT skills: mindfulness emotion regulation and distress tolerance…Central to DBT is that individuals turn to food to self-soothe, numb and avoid emotional discomfort because food “works” temporarily…” And the BFD for me:” Dialectical thinking involves holding two seemingly contradictory viewpoints at the same time by recognizing that there is always more than one way to view a situation more than one way to solve a problem…”and most of all “Don’t confuse dialectical thinking with rationalizing a binge.”…accepting yourself does not require that you approve of where you are or like it.”

There were many other things that resonated with me: “…for their whole lives they’ve been told that they’re “too sensitive”…” and “Hedonic eating …involves an increased appetite drive or preoccupation with highly desirable food even without physical hunger…”

Finally, “Another valuable way to use dialectical thinking involves accepting who you are at this moment while at the same time accepting that you want to change….you are accepting yourself exactly as you are in this moment so you can change…what can be changed is the way you react to your distress and difficult emotions.” POWERFUL STUFF !!

I think this book is terrific. It is extremely straightforward well organized, and readable. It includes very specific skills and strategies for managing emotions without turning to food…and it has such a supportive tone reminding the reader constantly that they are where they are and it isn’t the end of the world if they do binge…but there are ways to work on modifying this behavior. Very highly recommended for anyone who knows the struggles with food and weight management and who wants to be healthy, with a healthy approach to food and nutrition. Five enthusiastic stars. And I hope my former “daughter” will benefit from DBT!

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan’s new book Manhattan Beach is a puzzle. I enjoyed reading it, and then felt less than positive about it…but now, a few weeks later, I realize I keep thinking about certain aspects of it, so I think that adds at least one star! The story begins in Brooklyn during the Depression, when we meet Anna Kerrigan. She is almost twelve years old and loves accompanying her father as he “does business.” It’s clear both her father and her mother are extremely influential in her view of the world: “Never part with a fact unless you’ve no choice. Her father’s voice in her ears.” And “Working with your hands meant taking orders—in her mother’s case, from Pearl Gratzky…” While accompanying her father on a particular visit, she views an interaction that leads her to understand there is some secret pact between her father and a man named Dexter Styles. Not long after, her father disappears, leaving Anna alone with her mother and sister.

Two major events as Anna is growing up: her father disappears and the country goes to war. She needs to work as she is the sole support of her mother and her beautiful sister (who is totally disabled). She begins working at the Navy Yard in Brooklyn where, suddenly, women are being allowed to do work that had always been men’s jobs. Egan does a great job using that environment to convey a great deal about her characters using descriptive language: ” Dunellen gave a drooping, corroded impression, like a freighter bone to rust after being too long at anchor.” Egan also shows the reader Anna’s unique personality and quirkiness: “She’d never been good at banter; it was like a skipping rope whose rhythm she couldn’t master enough to jump in with confidence.” But she DOES have the confidence to jump into being the first female diver, an incredibly dangerous job, repairing the ships that are critical to the War effort.

One night, she is at a nightclub and meets Dexter Styles, the man she visited with her father before he vanished. Anna’s life away from work leads her to begin to understand the reality of her father’s life and the reasons he might have been murdered (which is surely what happened, otherwise why would he have just gone away and she would never have heard from him?).

The story is historical fiction and also sort of a “noir thriller.” There is a ton of information about organized crime, the merchant marine and the clash of classes in New York, Thinking about it after the fact, I realize it was the ending/resolution that made me think I didn’t care for it. (Also perhaps my extremely high expectations based on all the hype). But the story of a young woman fighting to make it in a man’s world at a time of social turmoil is fascinating, and Egan does have an outstanding gift for character development. I’m grateful to Scribner and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of Manhattan Beach in exchange for my honest review. I first thought four stars, then it slipped to two and a half, but after a couple of weeks’ reflection, it is back to a solid four stars.

 

Recovery from Trauma, Addiction, or Both by Lisa M. Najavits, PhD.

Some years ago, I was the foster parent to a teenager whose adolescence had been filled with abuse by various people, including her father, brother, and even the man who played Santa Claus. Finally, some 25+ years after she left our home, she began working with therapists to deal with the consequences of her upbringing. To this day, she still is wandering in the wilderness of therapy, doing a lot of therapist-shopping and -hopping, and I am still fascinated by the possibilities for treatment and the various options available.

Lisa Najavits, a professor of psychiatry at Boston University and adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, is a well-regarded academic who has published widely on the topic of trauma and abuse, and developed the Seeking Safety program of treatment. Thanks to Guildford Publications and Net Galley, I received a copy of her new book, Healing from Trauma, Addiction, or Both in exchange for my honest review.

There is no doubt that Dr. Najavits knows her stuff. She noted “women with current posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) comprise 30-59% of substance abuse treatment samples and experience a more severe course than women with either disorder alone. “ Following clinical studies, she has developed a manual-based 24-session cognitive behavioral group therapy protocol treatment. The results of her studies showed “significant improvements in substance use, trauma-related symptoms, suicide risk, suicidal thoughts, social adjustment, family functioning, problem solving, depression, cognitions about substance use, and didactic knowledge related to the treatment.”

While she has published Seeking Safety: A Treatment Manual for PTSD and Substance Abuse, which is a treatment manual geared toward academic studies and/or professionals, this new book is designed for a general audience, and effectively presents stories of particular sufferers as well as exercises and other practical tools to help sufferers of trauma, addiction, or both to begin to deal with their issues and heal.

I appreciate the presentation, and only wish there had been some information about the “difficult cases” that were mentioned at the end of some chapters. Four stars. I hope my former foster daughter will read this!

 

The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Geoffrey C. Ward

I’ve been looking forward to the upcoming PBS series on The Vietnam War, which I expect to be another in Ken Burns’ consistently outstanding series. I was in high school and college in the late 60s and early 70s, I still don’t understand the why of this war and I get angry when I consider the incredible loss of life and the way the country of Vietnam was changed forever. So I was very pleased to receive an advance copy of the companion book in exchange for my honest review (thanks to Knopf Doubleday and NetGalley).

In a nutshell, the book exceeded my high expectations. It is gorgeous (and BIG. And LONG. And THOROUGH). It provides an outstanding history of the war, like many other books. What really sets it apart is the way it presents more than the U.S. perspective, reminding us that this was didn’t just affect US.

The photographs are amazing. And, like some of the text, occasionally upsetting. But this book belongs in every library and will be appreciated by anyone interested in Military History in general or Vietnam in particular. If I could give it six stars, I would.

A Convenient Suspect: a Double Murder, a Flawed Investigation, and the Railroading of an Innocent Woman by Tammy Mal

What a sad story! I am something of a true crime junkie (my guilty pleasure) and was grateful to receive a copy of A Convenient Suspect from Chicago Review Press and NetGalley in exchange for this honest review.

Because I am a hard-core true crime junkie and a podcast aficionado (and don’t even get me started on my favorite true crime podcasts!), I have increasingly become aware of the many outrageous examples of prosecutorial misconduct and evidence tampering that have been brought to light by journalists, investigators, and just plain folks looking for truth and justice. Well, this book is another example of what seems to a case of settling on a suspect then tailoring the actions of the police and prosecutors to fit.

Here’s the situation: Shortly before Christmas in 1994, a young mother named Joann Katrinak and her three-month-old son, Alex, disappeared from their home in Catasauqua, Pennsylvania. Their bodies weren’t found for four months, when they were found in nearby woods. The police investigated for three years before arresting another young mother named Patricia Rorrer. Although Patricia was the ex-girlfriend of Joann’s husband, she had never met either Joann or Alex.

The prosecution’s theory was that Patricia brutally beat Joann, shot her and left her and her baby for dead in the woods, and Patricia Rorrer was quickly tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Fast-forward to Rorrer filing for FBI records under the Freedom of Information Act, and finding a document stating that hairs that were looked at by the FBI did not have a hair root. This was the critical piece of evidence used at Rorrer’s trial, and her attorney is working to re-examine what he sees as a totally flawed forensic investigation.

He is adamant that once state police started to focus on Rorrer as a potential suspect, they went to North Carolina where she was living and they obtained a sample of her hair to compare to the ones found at the scene. He asks a good question: “… whether the hairs that were actually tested were in fact hairs taken from the seatback or were they part of that general pile of hairs that were taken from Patricia Rorrer in North Carolina?”

In writing this book, Mal uses information that was not previously made public, gathered from more than 10,000 official documents, including Pennsylvania State Police reports, FBI Files, forensic lab results, and the 6,500-page trial transcript.

The case has been covered by the usual sources that have popularized true crimes, including People magazine, Dateline, and Investigation Discovery but none of them have the depth of this book. It was well done, and sufficiently provoked enough outrage in me to cause me to read further about this case. Yes, the deaths of Joann and Alex were very sad, but a thirst for resolution that results in a rushed conviction based on sloppy forensic work is not only sad, it’s unjust. The subtitle wraps it up nicely: A double murder, a flawed investigation, and the railroading of an innocent woman. I’m giving this one 5 stars — for its genre, it’s OUTSTANDING.

The Readymade Thief by Augustus Rose

I read about The Readymade Thief, the debut novel from Augustus Rose, and was really excited: an “addictive literary puzzle” with a female teenage protagonist and a “secret society with a dark agenda” – sounded like just my thing. So when I received a copy from Penguin Group/Viking and NetGalley, I could hardly wait to dive in.

I am convinced that sometimes a book that seemingly everyone else on the planet thinks is GREAT gets a resounding “meh” from me because of my mental state. And that may be the case with The Readymade Thief. It just wasn’t the thing for me right now.

I did love the beginning! Lee’s angst and desire for acceptance were so well written, I just totally wanted her to find what she needed/wanted. But I never really cared about any of the other characters, particularly the teenagers/young adults, so it was hard for me to get into the literary puzzle. I just wanted to get through it. And I wasn’t enthralled by the whole “secret society” aspect. Maybe there were just too many things going on? Anyway, I will definitely read the next book from Augustus Rose, because this debut author can WRITE!. Three stars (two for the book, one for the author’s obvious talent.

The Other New Girl by LB Gschwandtner

I loved this book! Possibly because I went to high school in the 60s, and this story is set at a high school in 1960? Nah — there the similarity ends! This story revolves around two 16 year olds at a private boarding school in the east, both of them  new to the school. Susannah, the new girl, gets taken into the “cool girls” clique right away, even though she is a sophomore and the cool girls are juniors and seniors. The other new girl is Moll, also a sophomore. So why did I relate to this so much? I went to a small public high school in a beach town in Southern California, and was definitely not part of the cool girls clique! But part of the reason so much of this story resonated with me was the shame and anxiety that Moll felt as she tried to fit in or at least find her place in the weird world of high school. I’m fairly sure most high school girls have felt similar feelings.

In The Other New Girl, Moll, a brilliant but nerdy social outcast, is encouraged by her only friend Susannah to overcome her fears enough to get her courage up to the point where she can attend a school dance. She works hard on looking right, trying SO hard to fit in, and finally overcomes her anxiety and fear enough to get herself there. But then (in what I thought might become a Carrie moment), she experiences bullying that is so hurtful to her that she decides to take extreme action as she desperately wants to find out who she wants to be. As her actions and disappearance reverberate throughout the school (especially for Susannah), the book explores themes of loyalty, obedience to authority, friendship, and betrayal.

Not exactly a mystery or a thriller or a coming of age story, it is all three! It is a very compelling read that is extremely well done, with realistic characters, dialogue, and situations (even for those of us who haven’t been to a private boarding school in the East). With thanks to NetGalley and She Writes Press, this one gets five stars—and I look forward to reading more of Ms. Gschwandtner’s work.

 

Heart of the City by Robert Rotenberg

 

About 8 years ago, I read my first Rotenberg book, and totally enjoyed the story, characters, and OMG the setting! He captures Toronto in a way that makes you FEEL the city, whether you have only visited a few times (like me) or are extremely familiar with the city.

Throughout what I think of as “The Toronto Series,” I’ve always enjoyed Ari Greene as a lead character. He’s very smart, has good intuition, and is persistent. The latest in the series, Heart of the City, continues Ari’s personal storyline, but it can easily be read as a standalone (although some of the plot points in earlier books will be revealed). In this latest entry in the series, Ari has left the Police Department and his former mentee Daniel Kennicott has been promoted. Ari has moved back to Toronto, bringing his daughter from her childhood home in London. A murder happens at the location of Ari’s new job, and guess who is the detective working on it?

The storyline in this book revolves around the development taking place in downtown Toronto, and the controversy is brings. Because Rotenberg is a criminal attorney in Toronto, he knows his subject well, and he has a good story that kept me guessing til the end (although I am not great at figuring out the who in whodunits).

I’m a bit on the fence about the resolution of the mystery, but am totally sure I will eagerly continue to read whatever Mr. Rotenberg publishes! Four and a half stars (sorry it only shows up as four)

Deadly Obsessions: Three True Crime Sagas by Joan Barthel

What a deal for true crime junkies!!! Three books in one, and all of them fascinating!

The first story, A Death in California, is way more interesting than its generic title might suggest. More than thirty years ago, a beautiful Beverly Hills socialite named Hope Masters fell in love with Bill Ashlock, a handsome advertising executive in Los Angeles. She had been married an divorced twice, but she thought her life was finally turning around – and then this bizarro story: she and Bill went to her family’s ranch in Central California, and were joined by a new acquaintance of Bill’s for a weekend getaway and supposedly a photo shoot. The next day, Hope wakes up with a gun in her mouth and her Bill dead in the next room. Then, after a weekend of rape and torture, Hope began to fall in love with Taylor Wright, the killer.

There is more family dysfunction than you can imagine, and I don’t think anyone will ever know what really happened…but this is another case set in Los Angeles, where you can definitely get all the justice money can buy.

The second book is A Death in Canaan. When eighteen-year-old Peter Reilly arrived home to find his mother naked on the floor with her throat slashed, he was immediately the prime suspect. local police made him their prime suspect. After eight hours of interrogation and a polygraph test, Peter confessed following many hours of harsh interrogation and a lie detector test. But the people in Canaan, CT couldn’t believe he did it, and they began a campaign to seek justice. It reminded me of Adnan Syed, where the police first decide on a suspect, then look for evidence (and, ideally, a confession) to point to that suspect as the killer, without looking anywhere else. Scary stuff.

Finally, in Love or Honor, a police officer named Chris Anastos, who was happily married and busily working on the NYPD’s anti-crime unit, was assigned to go undercover in order to investigate possible links between the Italian mob and a Greek criminal network in Queens. Anastos did this for five years, going back and forth between his comfortable home life and a criminal underground world of “wise guys, pimps, and thieves.” Then he fell in love with the daughter of a Long Island gangster…what could POSSIBLY go wrong?!?!

Excellently written, and sure to be enjoyed by fans of true crime. Four stars and thanks to Open Road Integrated Media and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my review.

 

The Death of An Heir by Phillip Jett

I admit, when it comes to my reading habits, my guilty pleasure is true crime. So a title like The Death of An Heir: Adolph Coors III and the Murder That Rocked an American Brewing Dynasty leaps out at me! That title turned out to be a spoiler for me, because I admit I had no awareness of this notorious crime – no idea that the CEO of the Coors family beer empire had been kidnapped and murdered at the age of 44 as he was on his way to work one morning in Golden, Colorado. (Of course, I was 12 when it happened, so I claim adolescence as my excuse!)

In the 1950s and 60s, the Coors name represented the dynasty that ruled over business and society in Colorado. Emerging stories about possible unionization of workers at the family business were seen as a threat by the patriarch, Adolph Coors, Jr., who drew a hard line against organized labor. His view was that the family had worked hard for what they had, so they could decide how to run the business and no one had a right to direct their activity. This led the authorities to suspect possible retaliation from one or more disgruntled workers when they began to investigate the disappearance of Adolph Coors III.

In February 1960, Adolph “Ad” Coors III, got into his car and left for work at the brewery, located twelve miles away. He saw a car stopped by a bridge, with the hood up, so he stopped to offer assistance. There he encountered a convicted murderer who had escaped from prison in California several years earlier, who thought if he made one big score by holding Ad for ransom, he would be set for life. Unfortunately, Ad was never seen alive again, and the search for his killer was exhaustive and included turf wars between the FBI and local law enforcement officials.

The search for Ad was the largest manhunt in the U.S. since the Lindbergh baby had been kidnapped. Everyone in the FBI up to and including the director J. Edgar Hoover worked on the attempt to locate the kidnapper(s?) and the victim. For months, Ad’s wife and four children waited and hoped for a miracle.

The Death of an Heir is a fascinating look at the incredibly detailed manhunt that resulted in the conviction of the kidnapper/murderer. The amount of tedious investigation that was required to be done manually before the Internet and the dedication of the FBI agents to “always get their man” is astonishing, although it turned out to be a Canadian officer who successfully located the suspect. The dislike between the federal and local authorities is emphasized by the way the showboat Colorado Sheriff (who later resigned in disgrace rather than be prosecuted on corruption charges) happily went to escort the suspect and escort him back to Colorado early one morning, only to be told that the suspect had been flown out of Canada in the dead of night by the FBI.

It’s an interesting story, particularly the detail on the manhunt and the impact of the tragedy on the family members, both in Ad’s immediate family and the larger Coors family empire. Very well researched and sourced, and an entertaining read. With thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for my honest review, I give this one four stars.

 

Mindfulness On the Go Cards by Jan Chozen Bays

Like many others, in the past when I had thought of mindfulness and meditation, what came to mind was the Transcendental Meditation of the 60s or, if not that exactly, possibly extremely long periods of silence  sitting in an uncomfortable (or, for many of us, impossible) position. When I spent time at the Tassajara Zen Center I had seen the residents on their way to and from sitting, and heard their tinkling bells at o-dark-thirty every morning. That kind of confirmed for me that meditation wasn’t something that I could do. Plus, there is that mind-you-can’t-shut-off thing that I had going on…

More recently, I have realized that mindfulness is more about being in the moment and experiencing life fully, moment by moment. As the author of the Mindfulness On the Go Cards I received for review defines it, “Mindfulness is deliberately paying full attention to what is happening around you and within you—in your body, heart, and mind Mindfulness is awareness without criticism or judgment.” I have read a few books on the subject, and have tried exercises to foster the ability to BE, but it seems like I am someone who can’t quite get there. I mean, I want to be someone who meditates, I just don’t want to do the work of actually meditating.

This set of cards developed by Jan Chozen Bays, MD, a pediatrician and Zen teacher, sounded intriguing, and thanks to Shambhala Publications and NetGalley, I received it in return for my honest review.

The idea is that there are 52 cards, each with an exercise or meditation practice that the author has used in her teaching and found helpful for students who are getting into mindfulness.

The author suggests selecting one card each week for a year. Each card has three components: first is a description of the practice to be followed during that week, followed by some of the possible insights that might come out during the week, and finally a brief statement designed to sum up the exercise and inspire the student to continue the practice.

Some examples of the topics are:

  • Each time the phone rings, take three breaths before answering
  • When eating, just eat
  • Listen like a sponge
  • Resolving to pay a compliment each day

The idea is that small moments of awareness such as these will become second nature and promote a naturally mindful life.

Frankly, I love this idea. I don’t want to wait to review this because I want to get started, and so I have ordered a set of the cards. TBH, the digital version I received is a bit of a challenge because the topic is displayed clearly, but the sections with the possible insights one might receive is very faint and difficult to read. The third section (the summing up/inspiration section) is displayed in italics and is very clear. I expect the physical cards to be much easier to use.

It’s a simple idea, and having looked through all the topics am hoping that the result will be a more conscious way of being in the moment, without having to pretzel myself into a lotus position or get up in the dark for early practice in sitting. As Dr. Bays says, I want to “learn to be present with things just as they are.” I give this idea and these cards five stars!

 

 

 

Amanda Wakes Up by Alisyn Camerota

 

Ms. Camerota worked for Fox (or as it is known in my home “Faux”) News (their slogan: “Fair and Balanced”). She then went to work for CNN. Her protagonist in Amanda Wakes Up works for FAIR, whose motto is “True and Equal.” Write what you know, right?

Alisyn has had a busy career and has covered several Presidential campaigns. Amanda is an ambitious newswoman who has her share of adventures, particularly covering the Presidential aspirations and eventual campaign of a brash TV star-turned-politician who basically has no shame. Her network is in the tank for him, and their reporters generally pander to him, giving lots of coverage because his over the top personality gets ratings. (Hmmm, sounds familiar, although Ms. Camerota assures her readers that the character is an amalgam of several personalities. Oh- kay, whatever you say!).

Amanda works for a boss who may or may not represent someone at Fox, CNN or other networks. In her own career, Ms. Worked for Roger Ailes, and has reported that when she asked him about her career, as she was looking for more and better opportunities at the network, he told her: “Well, I would have to work with you — I would have to work with you really closely — and it may require us getting to know each other better, and that might have to happen away from here. And it might have to happen at a hotel. Do you know what I am saying?” All together now: EEEWWW.

To be honest, I was not familiar with her but heard her interviewed on the radio, talking about the book, and thought it might be a fun read. It is! For lovers of satire and news junkies in particular! Four stars.