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Book Review: Nonfiction

Posted by on Sep 18, 2017 | 0 comments

I Can’t Breathe by Matt Taibbi

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Nonfiction

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 | 0 comments

Dead Stop by Barbara Nickless

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Mystery

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 | 0 comments

A Messy, Beautiful Life by Sara Jade Alan

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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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Book Review: Romance

Posted by on Aug 31, 2017 |

It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover

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Contemporary Romance

This is definitely one of the better contemporary romances I’ve read in recent memory. What makes it good is that Hoover deals with some challenging topics, and I found myself wondering which love interest I was supposed to be rooting for. It was more complicated than other romances I’ve read, which I like. A lot.

The main character Lily is young but already working hard to achieve her career goals. She’s haunted by challenges she’s faced in her childhood as well as by memories of her first love. She never seems desperate to fall in love, but then again, she’s twenty-three when the novel begins. In any case, I highly recommend this for people who like books with romantic elements.

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Book Review: Nonfiction > Biography

Posted by on Aug 29, 2017 |

Hard Time by Shaun Attwood

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Nonfiction > Biography

The appalling pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio by President Trump was the reason this prison memoir jumped to the top of my To Be Read list. I knew how vile Arpaio was a long time ago despite not living in Arizona or knowing anyone in his jail. He’s notoriously bragged that it cost more to feed the prison dogs than the prisoners, who he fed moldy bread and green bologna to for two meals a day (40 cents a day) and the “red death” for the other meal each day. Naturally, for inmates who were indigent—meaning they had no one to put money on their commissary books to buy nuts, cookies, and crackers—chronic diarrhea was a constant companion.

The other constant companions were cockroaches and sweltering Arizona heat. Prisoners had perpetual heat rashes and bug bites that would become enflamed, but they wouldn’t get medical attention until one inmate’s thumb needed to be amputated, for example. If there were going to be inspections, suddenly the air conditioning would work again. As soon as the inspectors left, mysteriously the jail cells would once again be as hot as the Arizona sun could make it, which is why they had rashes that left them bloody, plus all the spider and cockroach bites. Some men died from heat exhaustion, especially men battling diabetes or other ailments. Some died from their beatings from other prisoners, which could inflicted for a variety of spurious reasons. Others died from suicide. These men were in jail, not prison, meaning they hadn’t been sentenced yet.

Many people in prison battle drug and alcohol addiction because they are self-medicating for the PTSD they have from the abuse they suffered as children or for bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Mental illness can be treated, but a person needs the proper pharmaceutical cocktail, which means access to decent medical care. No one got such care in Arpaio’s prison.

The author Shaun Attwood came to Arizona from England. He was a successful stockbroker who relaxed by going to raves and doing ecstasy. He made so much money he no longer needed to work. Unfortunately, he used his good education and business mind to become a wildly successful dealer of ecstasy. He’d throw wild raves. However, by the time the police busted down his door, he was in a solid, healthy relationship with a woman who didn’t use drugs and had been clean and doing real work for a year. The police didn’t find any drugs in his place, but incarcerated him for two years without charges.

It’s important to note that most people who are incarcerated will return to society someday. “When a society treats its prisoners like animals some will behave like animals when they return to society.”

Attwood writes, “The media led me to believe that jails are full of serial killers and rapists, but they are only a small percentage of the population. The disproportionate amount of stories about killers and rapists keeps the public in fear of all prisoners and feed the lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key attitude. Most of the prisoners I’ve met need counseling, mental-health care, education and job skills.”

The other intriguing thing the book talks about is race relations in jail. Attwood is white, and when he was incarcerated he decided to learn Spanish, and the Mexicans and Mexican Americans (who are bitter enemies in jail), helped him learn in exchange for commissary, but this got him in trouble with other members of his race. He writes about the hierarchy of the Aryan Nation, and what the various tattoos mean. I wonder how many white people became Aryan Nation converts to survive incarceration and carry that hatred back with them on the outside, vs. how many started out as racists. Attwood is writes about “the saner whites” and “the saner guards.” (Meaning nonracist whites and guards that didn’t abuse prisoners for fun.)

“From what I’ve seen, the prisons are being packed with mostly petty drug offenders. That’s how the system stays in business, and the corrupt few like Sheriff Joe Arpaio enrich themselves.”

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