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Posts made in September, 2017

Book Reviews: Historical Fiction

Posted by on Sep 22, 2017 |

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn


Historical Fiction > Women’s Fiction

“Are you ever afraid?”

“Yes, just like everybody else. But only after the danger is done—before that, fear is an indulgence. Welcome to the Alice Network.”

Based on real characters and events, The Alice Network is a historical novel about two women who meet in 1947. Eve had been a spy in World War I. Charlie is a pregnant American in search of her cousin, Rose. Everyone assumes Rose died during WWII, but Charlie wants proof, which leads her to Eve.

The story weaves back and forth between 1915 and 1947. Eve was a talented spy because she kept her ability to speak German a secret. Also, she has a stutter, so everyone assumes she’s dull witted, an advantage when you’re trying to learn enemy secrets.

Both Eve and Charlie are likable women, although when Charlies meets Eve, Eve drinks whiskey for most of her meals and is a little bit crazy.

It’s an admirable novel about two women facing challenges and discrimination because of their gender. Highly recommend.

Daughters of the Night Sky by Aimie K. Runyan


Historical Fiction > Women’s Fiction

Runyan has a gift for writing historical fiction about strong women that aren’t taught about in history class. In Daughters of the Night Sky, we learn about women who become pilots in the Red Army under Stalin in World War Two. I never knew that Stalin essentially advocated for something like equal rights for woman. They still faced discrimination and the dismissive attitudes of men, and they were not required to fight. They could return home at any time, unlike the men. Also, they had to be better than their male counterparts. They had to be flawless.

Through the point of view of Katya, we learn about how the women of the Red Army faced danger not only from enemy gunfire, but also sometimes from male soldiers they were supposed to be fighting alongside.

Runyan did a great job with research on what it was like to be a pilot during that era. You really feel like you’re in the cockpit with those women, facing uncertainty not just about your own life, but about everyone you care about and even strangers. Fans of historical fiction will definitely want to add this to their to-be-read list. RELEASES JANUARY 1, 2018.

Thanks to NetGalley and Lake Union for the opportunity to review an advanced copy of this book.

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Book Review: Nonfiction

Posted by on Sep 18, 2017 |

I Can’t Breathe by Matt Taibbi



I found this nonfiction book hard to put down. It’s about Eric Garner and his death at the hands of overzealous police, but it’s also about all the lawyers and judges and policies in place to protect police officers and encourage the harassment of black and brown people.

Garner comes off as a sympathetic though flawed individual. The police officers and other members of law enforcement do not come off looking good at all. This is not about good cops; it’s about the bad ones who go unpunished.

I’ve been a fan of Matt Taibbi’s journalism for years, and this book cemented my admiration for his work. He criticizes liberals and conservatives alike for allowing this sort of discriminatory policing to be encouraged. Garner was a large man and an easy bust, and because of various quotas police officers were given, he was often arrested for his petty crimes. He didn’t get worked up when he was arrested for actually committing a crime, but they harassed him when he’d just be doing his laundry at the laundry mat or something, too.

The man who took the famous video of Garner was also harassed endlessly after the video went viral the world over. Some of the minor crimes he did commit, but many of the busts were entirely fabricated to get him to cop to a plea.

The descriptions of police brutality are hard to read. What this book is more concerned about, though, are things like why the prosecuting attorney Dan Donovan brought in 50 witnesses and yet failed to bring an indictment against the officer who did the illegal chokehold. (Daniel Pantaleo is still a police officer despite numerous abuse allegations, including completely unfounded strip searches conducted on the street in broad daylight.) Moreover, countless lawyers tried to get the grand jury information unsealed, to no avail. What did they have to hide? Donovan successfully ran as a Republican to fill the seat by congressman Michael Grimm, who’d been indicted on twenty federal counts. You may remember him as the lovely man who told a reporter (while a TV crew was filming) that he’d throw him over the balcony.

The reason the Garner case made so much news is because it was all caught on video. “Absent the cellphone videos, in other words, nobody would like have heard how Eric Garner really died.” But in this way his case was the exception.

I was shocked to hear all the obstacles a person has to go through to get a substantiated abuse charge against a police officer. All we, the public, ever hear about are the families who get million-dollar settlements. They represent virtually none of the cases actually alleged.

This is an important book about race and policing—not just individual police officers but the system as a whole. I could quote huge passages from this book. Highly recommend.

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Book Review: Mystery

Posted by on Sep 18, 2017 |

Dead Stop by Barbara Nickless



I was excited to get my hands on an advanced copy of Dead Stop because I loved Nickless’s first novel, Blood on the Tracks. A couple of the elements from the first novel are also what I enjoyed about Dead Stop. First, in addition to having a complex character in railroad cop and former marine, Sydney Parnell, her partner and dog, also a former marine, is an important character in the book. Second, Nickless really does her research, and I learned a lot about the dangers of railroad crossings and the complicated world of the railroad industry.

Sydney is called to the scene of what at first appears to be a suicide: A woman on the tracks who doesn’t move and of course the train can’t stop fast enough not to kill her brutally. But upon further investigation, it becomes obvious that this case is much more complicated than suicide. Much, much more complicated.

This is a complex story of a tenacious cop and other officers who help track down both a murderer and a kidnapped little girl. Especially when I got to the end I could easily see this as Hollywood movie. It’s not a breezy read, but if you like imperfect characters untangling a web of deceit of greed and resentment, it’s great fun.

Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas and Mercer for an advanced copy of this novel.


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Book Review: Young Adult

Posted by on Sep 15, 2017 |

A Messy, Beautiful Life by Sara Jade Alan


Young Adult

I love books that make me laugh out loud AND cry. There is a saying that about the connection between humor and pain, and that’s what this book proves: How to find humor from difficult situations.

This is an original novel with a great cast of characters. Ellie is a senior in high school who does improv comedy. She does improv competitions with her team against improv teams from other schools. One of the improvisers is a guy she’s crushed out over—and at a party she finds out he feels the same way! Life seems good. She’s planning for college, has a great relationship with her mom and a tense relationship with her dad, who remarried a woman Ellie is less than enthused about.

Just when she thinks maybe a relationship with Jason could be going somewhere, she discovers she has a rare cancer. Obviously, life is turned upside down.

She initially has a strained relationship with her stepbrother—I loved how that relationship evolved over the course of the book.

The characters are well drawn and believable. More important, all but the dad and stepmom are likeable. I highly recommend this young adult novel.

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