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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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Book Review: Women’s Fiction

Posted by on Aug 27, 2017 |

Left to Chance by Amy Sue Nathan

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Women’s Fiction

What I liked about this novel was the premise: photographer Teddi Lerner fled her small town of Chance, Ohio, six years earlier and landed a job photographing weddings around the world, sometimes for the rich and famous. However, she always kept in touch with her best friend’s daughter, who is twelve when Teddi returns home to photograph Shay’s father’s second wedding.

Shay is the only person Teddi kept in touch with, however. Teddi’s own parents move around the country in a camper, so her dead best friend’s kid is the only one she texts and FaceTime’s with in Chance. It’s difficult for her to come back because she has to face the people she hurt by leaving so abruptly. She also has to face the death of her friend up close instead of from a distance.

What I didn’t love about this book was that I felt the author at times was reaching to evoke emotion that, for me, did not succeed. There was a little too much swallowing and gulping, thump-in-throat sort of stuff.

Nathan does do a good job of portraying what it’s like to be unwed nonmother trying to understand and navigate the world of twelve-old-girls.

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Book Review: Suspense

Posted by on Aug 23, 2017 |

The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti

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Suspense

Moretti’s work gets better and better. This novel is suspenseful as promised: Did beloved teacher and coach Nate Winters rape a troubled female student? If not, will he get off, and if so, how? But I think what makes this such a good novel is the way Moretti portrays the subtle challenges of human nature. A marriage already under strain because Nate’s wife, Alecia, has been overwhelmed by taking care of the needs of their autistic now-five-year-old son. Alecia finds clues that make her doubt Nate’s side of the story. Nate, wanting everyone to love him and making stupid decisions because of it (but if characters/people always made good decisions, there would be no such thing as suspense novels). Then, there are the newly strained friendships because people don’t know whom to believe. Now, when Alecia and Nate need support from friends and from each other more than ever, they don’t have it.

The story is told going back and forth in time from an odd day when hundreds of starlings fell from the sky to a baseball field, bringing dozens of reporters into town. It’s also told from the multiple points of view of Nate and Alecia, as well as creative writing teacher Bridget, a good friend to them both, and Lucia, the student who levels the charge to one of the reporters in town.

Also, a side note: Everywhere else the wife’s name is spelled Alicia, but in the advanced copy I received from NetGalley, it was spelled Alecia—who knows how it will be spelled in the version that WILL RELEASE SEPTEMBER 26, but, in case thanks to NetGalley for the advanced copy!

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Book Review: Fiction

Posted by on Aug 11, 2017 |

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

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Fiction

Eleanor Oliphant is a unique, memorable character. She spent most of her childhood being shuffled around different foster homes and schools. For the last nine years she’s worked at the same stultifying office job and doesn’t believe she deserves better, although when she gets a crush on a local musician, for the first time in her life she makes some effort with her appearance.

Eleanor has difficulty understanding social cues. She’s like an anthropologist studying a foreign culture. There is some humor in some of her observations, like when the coffee shop wants her name to put on the coffee cup, and she freaks out about them invading her privacy as if it were a matter of national security.

But she gets through these experiences with the help of Raymond, a man from the IT department at her office who makes poor sartorial choices and whose facial hair that could use some updating. They become friends when they help a man who collapses on the road. They go back to check on him in the hospital and meet his family, who are all grateful for their assistance. Through weekly lunches and visits to the man they rescued and his family, Raymond and Eleanor’s friendship blossoms. Eleanor needs that support to finally face the tragedy of her youth. Until now, she’s always though that as long as she had food, shelter, and clothes, that’s all a person needed . . . she’s completely fine. With Raymond’s and some other’s help, she learns there is more to life than simply surviving.

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Book Review: Suspense

Posted by on Aug 9, 2017 |

The Good Sister by Jess Ryder

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Thriller > Suspense

The Good Sister is a well-done suspense novel told from the point of view of two sisters. When Josie’s father dies, she discovers she has a half-sister named Valentina who looks like her. They were born only a few days apart, and though her father is technically married to her mother, he has spent half his life living with Valentina and her mother. All those times he said he was at conferences or when he took an apartment in Manchester to be closer to his job, it was a ruse so he could have two families.

The twists in the novel were good. It wasn’t always clear which character was speaking or telling the story from her point of view, but you figure it out eventually. I liked the way Ryder opened each chapter with the Viking lore that the sisters’ father was so enthralled with.

Valentina is a troubled woman, but Josie, who has a loving boyfriend and a good job, wants to be connected to her sister, so she ignores the warnings of her boyfriend and aunt and uncle, causing her a tremendous amount of trouble.

Thanks to NetGalley and Bookouture for the opportunity to review this book.

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