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.

 

Fatal Deceptions by Joe Sharkey

WHAT?!?! Khalessi as a murder victim? Daenerys Targarian a wife whose husband cheats on her? OK, now that I have your attention, Joe Sharkey’s book Fatal Deceptions is a collection of three previously published true crime books, one of which has been made into a movie starring Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones fame, set for 2017 release. And, thanks to Open Road Integrated Media and NetGalley, I received a copy in exchange for my honest review.

The first story, Above Suspicion, is the one that is “soon to be a major motion picture.” A well-written story, this is the true account of Mark Putnam, the only FBI agent ever to confess to murder. In his first posting, he was assigned to Pikeville, Kentucky, he was a real go-getter as he cultivated paid informants, broke up drug rings, and captured bank robbers. He was a rising star in the Bureau, but he became too close to one informant (played by Emilia Clarke). When she fell in love with the Bureau’s rising star, things spiraled so far out of control you could just FEEL the inevitable train wreck coming.

The second story was made into a movie (“Goodnight, Sweet Wife”) in the 1990s. Deadly Greed tells the story of Charles Stuart who called to report to the police that he and his wife, Carol, were in a car and had been robbed and shot by a black male on the streets of Boston. By the time police arrived, Carol was dead, and the baby, delivered at 7 months, died soon after. There was a media frenzy as politicians and police administrators jumped on the story. Charles, a really disgusting creep, then identified a suspect and the media frenzy continued. But the only killer was Charles himself. This story resonated with me for the parallels with stories about the police today who first identify a suspect and then gather their evidence to support that story. Ugh.

In the final story, Death Sentence the vice president of a Jersey City bank moved his mother, wife, and three teenage children into a nineteen-room mansion in Westfield, New Jersey. Then he lost his job and everything changed. So fearful of what this and the changing social mores as the 1960s became the 1970s would do to his children, his solution was to shoot the entire family then disappear, taking on a new identity.

Summing up, three well-written books in the true crime genre all in one package. By the time you finish these, your concerns about police may be deepened, and you will likely think something along the lines of “What the ^&*% was he thinking?”  Four stars.

 

The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti

The opening of The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti creeped me out, as it was designed to do: “The day the birds fell, I dealt the tower card.” Based on the title, you might infer the birds mentioned were blackbirds, yes? But no, we learn at the start of chapter 2 that “A month before Nate was fired, nearly a thousand starlings fell from the sky. Not fluttering to the earth like snowflakes, but plummeting, like quarter-pound raindrops.”

So I was already thinking maybe I was just not reading carefully enough (happens more with each passing year, but I went back to resolve my ornithological confusion). TBH at the end of this excellently written and paced mystery/thriller, I was still not clear on the whole bird thing. But a fun read!

Here is the basic premise: there is a small town in the east where the high school has a beloved high school teacher, who is also the baseball coach in a town where baseball means WAY more than either football or basketball. We are led to wonder about his possible involvement with the disappearance of a female student as we learn that Nate, the teacher/coach, “…always had a soft spot for her and those like her: the damaged, pretty girls.” When the police become involved, Nate is less than fully honest about his involvement with Lucia, the missing student. While being questioned, he “…had no way of knowing that this moment would become the linchpin, the moment that all the moments after would hinge upon. The papers would call him a murderer; …ex-friends, his gym buddies…would say, Nate was the last one to see her alive, right?”

Really nice way she reveals information about the four main characters who tell the story in alternating points of view: Nate, his wife Alecia (who is a frazzled stay-at-home mom to their autistic son and maybe is inclined to suspect Nate’s involvement; Lucia, the missing student: and Bridget, a co-worker and buddy of Ned who was part of the two-couple friendship with Nate and Alecia before her husband dies (and was the only character I REALLY liked). Not everyone in the story is likable or smart. In fact, Nate seems like quite a dolt and Alecia sure was quick to suspect her husband of possibly killing a student with whom she is sure he was having an “inappropriate relationship” and she was awfully bitchy to Bridget. I wanted to like her, but found her annoying as her frustration with Nate, their child, and the marriage in general kept moving her actions along.

Again, some great writing, as in this passage where we learn a great deal about both Lucia and Bridget: “Lucia tackled pain and death clinically, a biology lab discussion. As if Bridget’s hurt could be pulled apart like little frog’s legs, pinned back to the wax, sliced clean down the middle and simply exorcised.”
Okay, there are lots of clichés here, in the small town, star athletes, rocky marriage, beloved teacher, etc. But Kate Moretti is a GOOD writer and my only thought was some editing of the narrative about the woods/mill etc. might have helped. Overall, it’s a fairly quick read, and quite well written. I’ll definitely check out Kate Moretti’s other work, and I appreciate Atria Books and NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for my honest review. Four stars.

 

The Kennedy Imprisonment by Garry Wills

Garry Wills, who has been described as “a sort of intellectual outlaw” by the New York Times, has written many books related to politics, including Reagan’s America, Nixon Agonistes, Lincoln at Gettysburg (for which he won the Pulitzer Prize), and The Kennedy Imprisonment, originally published in 1982. This 2017 edition of The Kennedy Imprisonment includes an updated preface, but is still essentially Wills taking on the myths surrounding the Kennedy clan and disabusing people of the popular vision of the Kennedy image as viewed through the lens of Camelot.

For Kennedy fans who haven’t done much reading about the reality, this book may be unsettling as it pulls back the curtain and reveals a corrupt and opportunistic political family who valued image over reality, flattering myths and stories over truth,
and a world of “almost-Kennedys” and hangers-on who gave up their own integrity for the privilege of basking in the reflected glory of the Kennedy clan.

Wills covers the PT-109 story and the expert manipulation of it in print and film, the question of actual authorship of Profiles in Courage, the story that was presented as historical fact about the handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the notorious womanizing of Joe Sr., John, and Teddy (with Bobby allegedly being the faithful one).

The book is divided into five sections, each devoted to a particular aspect of the Kennedy family: Sex, Family, Image, Charisma, and Power. But even before we get to these, the prologue tells us the particular slant of the author: “Because of privilege of various sorts, bad behavior does not have consequences, which means that it continues and becomes more pronounced.” The heavy weight on each of the brothers following the deaths of their siblings culminates in Teddy’s sad comment: “After Robert was killed, he told his aide Dun Gifford: “I can’t let go. We have a job to do. If I let go, Ethel will let go, and my mother will let go, and all my sisters.”” Yikes, what a heavy load he carried…and his dysfunctional, doomed campaign for the Presidency in 1980 is covered in depth, including a good look at poor Joan, who never really made it into the insular inner circle of the clan.

Wills says there was a palpable energy between and among the Kennedys that excluded all outsiders: “When the nurse took the Kennedy children swimming at Taggert’s Pier, back in the thirties, they all wore the same color bathing hats, so they could be distinguished from the other children…Ever since they have been wearing invisible caps that signal to each other on a radio frequency no one else can use.”

I have vivid memories of JFK’s inauguration (when a TV was wheeled into my elementary school classroom so we could watch and hear his speech) and the assassinations, including the televised coverage of the aftermath each time another tragedy unfolded. I admit it was a bit disconcerting to learn the level to which coverage and myth protection was managed and manipulated, but I was still pleased to have the opportunity to read a copy of this edition (thanks to Open Road Integrated Media and NetGalley).

For me, the problem is that this book, written as it was in the early 1980s, assumed a familiarity with many of the people and events that was likely appropriate 30+ years ago, but for many of us, memories fade – and for others, there is complete cluelessness about who these people are and what their significance was to the Kennedy story of the 1960s-80s.

In addition to needing to figure out the characters and their roles, the author’s writing became annoying. I appreciate a strong vocabulary, but in several instances, it seemed like a simpler word might have served the purpose: for example, “jansenist,” “circumnambient,””orotundities,””thurible,” and “perdured’ seem a bit over the top (while the less puzzling “circumlocutious,” panegyric,” and “simulacra” seem to adequately demonstrate the author’s fine vocabulary). Or maybe it’s just me, and everyone else is completely familiar with the over-the-top examples listed above? In any case, that detracted from my appreciation of the book. (And spellcheck was equally puzzled by 7 of the 8 words listed above!)

In any case, it is a fine history of the clan and their impact on U.S. history and, while it may provoke a certain level of disappointment for readers to learn about both the human frailties and downright corrupt actions of their heroes, it is hugely entertaining. Political junkies in particular will love this. Four stars.

 

The Late Show by Michael Connelly

I’ve enjoyed many books by Michael Connelly, and when I learned his new book, The Late Show, was coming out, I looked forward to reading it. I didn’t know anything about the storyline, and I think perhaps I assumed it would be another in the long line of Connelly’s crime novels set in Los Angeles with a strong male protagonist (such as Harry Bosch or Mickey Haller).

But no! In the first paragraph, we learn that two police officers (“Ballard and Jenkins”) are working the night shift. We soon learn that Ballard is a female officer (at which point I thought, “OMG, is she the lead character here? A woman? AWESOME!!)

The way Connelly reveals Renee Ballard’s backstory, interweaving it with a complex police procedural full of the workings of the LAPD, is masterful. We learn that she is working nights (aka “the late show”) as a punishment for filing a sexual harassment suit against a former supervisor. She managed to keep her badge, but is clearly a black sheep in the squad room.

One night Renee catches two assignments that seem unrelated: the brutal beating of a prostitute left for dead in a parking lot and the killing of several people in a nightclub. Although typically the night shift turns all their cases over to the day shift, Ballard is determined not to give up these two cases. As the plot moves along, she chooses to go against both explicit orders and her partner’s wishes, working on both these cases during the day while still taking her regular shifts at night.

She is definitely a woman with a past that drove her to become a cop. After a fatal shooting, she notes there “…was something inside her she didn’t know she had. Something dark. Something scary.” As her investigations progress, she calls on sources she has developed, including navigating the intricacies of dealing with the media: “She knew a couple of things about how the murky lines between the media and law enforcement were negotiated. She knew there was little cooperation.”

She is advised that her job takes her “…into the bleakest side of the human soul…If you go into darkness, the darkness goes into you. You then have to decide what to do with it. How to keep yourself safe from it. How to keep it from hollowing you out.”

No spoilers here, just a STRONG recommendation for Connelly fans, anyone who likes a good mystery, appreciates police procedurals, or just enjoys a good story with a strong, interesting female character, to READ THIS BOOK. It is terrific! Five stars (only because I can’t give six)!

With gratitude to Little, Brown and Company and NetGalley, as I received a copy in exchange for my honest review.

 

UNSUB by Meg Gardiner

UNSUB by Meg Gardiner has gotten GREAT reviews, so when I started it and found my mind wandering, I put it aside for a couple of weeks and picked it up again.

I knew going in that the story involved a serial killer in the Bay Area with a catchy nickname, reminiscent of “The Zodiac Killer.” This time, the name is “The Prophet,” and this book is a dark, twisted thriller revolving around the apparent reappearance of a criminal who terrorized the Bay Area before disappearing a couple of decades ago.

Back in the initial hunt for The Prophet, Mack Hendrix was the lead police detective in the effort to stop the crime wave. His failure to do so has haunted him ever since. Now, his daughter Caitlin is also a police officer, whose focus has been narcotics. She looks to her father for help as she takes up the work of catching the killer whose victims bear the characteristics of The Prophet’s victims.

I suspect my lack of enthusiasm for this book is based on my own weird experiences. Living in Solano County in the Bay Area during the time of the Zodiac spree, I knew a man who was creepy. I saw a large flashlight in his car with clear red wrapping paper over the lens, held on with a rubber band. The Zodiac supposedly used a flashlight as he approached victims’ vehicles, possibly a large red flashlight to make people believe it was a police vehicle approaching. And as if that wasn’t enough, someone had tracked this guy’s schedule and he was always out sick or otherwise unaccounted for on the dates of the killings. I distanced myself from this creepy guy, but he contacted me by email in the year 2000 to tell me he had been “following” me online. So, yes, anything about the Zodiac brings up some less than positive feelings!

But, I digress. Lisa Gardiner has done a masterful job of plotting and character development showing both Caitlin’s strengths as a police officer and her softer, more human side. I expect we will see a string of stories featuring this feisty young woman. The ending was a bit abrupt, so that knocked off a star. The creepy factor almost knocked off another one, but the “it’s not you, it’s me” thing isn’t something I like to bring into my reviews. Thanks to Penguin Group/Dutton and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for my review. Three and a half stars, will show up as four.

The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham

I am most familiar with Australian author Michael Robotham’s series of novels featuring protagonist Joe O’Loughlin, and I have recommended him to many people without hesitation. When I received a copy of his latest, The Secrets She Keeps, from Scribner and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review, I had no idea what the premise was, whether it was an O’Loughlin book, or something new and different. And it WAS different – for sure. This is the story of two women who are apparently pregnant at the same time. One of them, Agatha, works at a supermarket, isn’t married, and spends a lot of time and energy dreaming of the life she doesn’t have (especially the roles of wife and mother). She watches (and seriously at first her stalking really creeped me out) Meghan, a beautiful mother of two seemingly perfect children, wife to a good-looking television personality, whose pregnancy seems about as far along as Agatha’s own.

We learn that although everything LOOKS perfect. Meghan is restless in her marriage: “…sometimes I rake my memory to find moments that make me truly happy.” Told in the alternating points of view of these two women, a recurring theme of honesty and trust is voiced by Meghan early on: “Anyone who says that honesty is the best policy is living in la-la land. Either that or they have never been married or had children. Parents lie to their kids all the time—about sex, drugs, death, and a hundred other things. We lie to those we love to protect their feelings. We lie because that’s what love means, whereas unfettered honesty is cruel and the height of self-indulgence.”

Agatha is no less unsettled: “How can she ever understand my life? What it’s like to live in a cramped, claustrophobic tunnel that gets smaller and darker as each year passes.” Much of her viewpoint is revealed when she says to Meghan “I am an outlier. I am the incredible disappearing woman. I am childless. Less of a person. Not in the club. You take those things for granted.”

Agatha wants the life she thinks Meghan has. Meghan sees Agatha as a familiar face from her shopping trips and yoga class, but little does Meghan know that the ho-hum exchange she has with a store employee during her hurried afternoon shopping trip is about to change the course of her not-so-perfect life!

It’s quite the page-turner, as the characters of the women and their families are revealed in alternating chapters. I was somewhat skeptical about Mr. Robotham’s ability to write from the perspective of two different pregnant women, but he did it with his usual outstanding plot development and attention to details of the characters’ personalities. Never having been pregnant myself, lots of the feelings about pregnancy were unfamiliar – but the lines about childlessness really resonated. I take off one star just because I wasn’t wild about the ending, but I really did enjoy reading it (in pretty much one sitting – I was riveted). Four stars.

The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain

I started a neighborhood book club a little over two years ago, not sure it would work out. The first book we read was Diane Chamberlain’s Necessary Lies, and it was a great choice: it was set in a small Southern town fifty or so years ago, it included social issues (mental illness, forced sterilizations, the “appropriate” role of women in marriage) and it was filled with characters who stayed with the reader long after the last page was read. It also had the added EEEK! factor that occurs when you find out a novel is based on reality: in this case, forced sterilizations and racism. It made for some good discussions! So, with all that, I was happy to receive a copy of Ms. Chamberlain’s new book  The Stolen Marriage, from St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

This new book is also set primarily in a small town in the South, 50+ years ago. The protagonist, Tess DeMello, ends her engagement to a man she loves dearly, quickly marries a stranger, and moves to Hickory, North Carolina. Hickory is a small town struggling with racial tension and the hardships imposed by World War II. Tess finds out her new husband, an extremely successful furniture manufacturer, is quite mysterious: he often stays out all night, hides money, and is totally uninterested in any physical contact with his new wife. Although her new husband tries to give her everything she might want, Tess feels trapped and desperately wants out of the unhappy situation: “I hadn’t been happy in so long, I doubted a new house was going to fix what was wrong with me.”

The people of Hickory love and respect her husband, and see her as an outsider. When Tess is blamed for the death of a prominent citizen in an accident, she is treated with scorn and derision. She begins to feel like she is being followed, and becomes more and more unhappy. The town is a classic racist town, and even the “nice people” have stereotypical views of the times, reflected in Tess’s feeling that “…it was crazy that any state in the country allowed colored and white to get married in the first place. It only created problems for everyone.”

When a sudden polio epidemic strikes the town, the townspeople band together and build a polio hospital in just a few days (!). Tess begins to work at the hospital, finding a rewarding sense of identity in caring for the young victims. But the whole mess with her husband and his horrific mother and sister continues to make her life as a married woman completely NOT what she had dreamed of. It has suspense, drama, and a surprise ending that I loved.

This will be a good choice for book clubs, with the issues of women’s rights and roles in their marriages, interracial marriage, medical ethics (as an epidemic breaks out among people of all races and religions), honesty and trust. It is an easy read, but has a lot of depth. I read it a week ago, and keep thinking about the town, the people, the situation…so it’s an easy five stars for me…and a good future choice for our book club, still going strong.

BTW, the true story of a town that built a hospital from the ground up in just a few days in order to deal with the polio epidemic is awesome!