Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Book Review - Indefensible by Lee Goodman

Synopsis:  In the bestselling tradition of Defending Jacob, this taut legal thriller follows the trail of a man determined to protect his community—and his family—at any cost.

Sometimes a simple walk in the woods can lead you down the deadliest of trails…

When birdwatcher Cassandra Randall stumbles upon two men digging what appears to be a grave in a state park, she immediately reports it to the authorities. Federal prosecutor Nick Davis is initially incredulous about her claims, but he agrees to investigate. To his surprise, the far-fetched account turns up a body, and Nick is drawn into a case that will shake both his morals and his personal life to their very core.

One body quickly leads to another. The danger Cassandra has uncovered is just the beginning of a game of deadly stakes that implicates small-time drug dealers, petty thieves turned murderers, domestic abuse perpetrators, child pornographers, the highest offices of the legal system…and a criminal who is closer to Davis than he can even imagine.

First Line:  I don't honestly expect to find a body.

Random Quote:  "If I may," Dorsey says.  He reaches into one of the black garbage bags and takes out an evidence bag that was right on the top.  "One of the smallest packages," he says.  It is a Ziploc quart bag with a human hand inside, severed about three inches above the wrist.  Something travels down my spine and spreads out and dissipates, but then I'm fine.  The hand is covered with frost; Dorsey holds it up and tells me to look closely.  I do.  I see the green-black ink of a home (or prison) tattoo job.  It is a square divided into four smaller squares, like a window made up of four panes.
Birdwatcher (image source)

Review:  The plot of Indefensible is a decent one and it moves along as a thriller should, but the writing in this book is really clunky, perhaps because of the first person narrative.  Our hero, Nick Davis, is an aging player and lawyer who spends big chunks of the books hitting on various women, thinking about hitting on various women, and being proud of himself for his brief periods of parenting his teenaged daughter.  When a woman he was attracted to and hit on is murdered, he takes it upon himself to pursue justice in her name.  Character development is likewise clunky and the whole thing, despite its plot, left me feeling "meh."  Not a great read, not a terrible read, but certainly an easy read.

FTC Disclosure:  Advance copy from the publisher for review

Publishing Information:  Atria/Emily Bestler Books - June 3, 2014

Format:  Kindle

Rating:  ★★

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Book Review - The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Synopsis:  The Emperor of All Maladies is a magnificent, profoundly humane “biography” of cancer—from its first documented appearances thousands of years ago through the epic battles in the twentieth century to cure, control, and conquer it to a radical new understanding of its essence.

Physician, researcher, and award-winning science writer, Siddhartha Mukherjee examines cancer with a cellular biologist’s precision, a historian’s perspective, and a biographer’s passion. The result is an astonishingly lucid and eloquent chronicle of a disease humans have lived with—and perished from—for more than five thousand years.

The story of cancer is a story of human ingenuity, resilience, and perseverance, but also of hubris, paternalism, and misperception. Mukherjee recounts centuries of discoveries, setbacks, victories, and deaths, told through the eyes of his predecessors and peers, training their wits against an infinitely resourceful adversary that, just three decades ago, was thought to be easily vanquished in an all-out “war against cancer.”

The book reads like a literary thriller with cancer as the protagonist. From the Persian Queen Atossa, whose Greek slave cut off her malignant breast, to the nineteenth-century recipients of primitive radiation and chemotherapy to Mukherjee’s own leukemia patient, Carla, The Emperor of All Maladies is about the people who have soldiered through fiercely demanding regimens in order to survive—and to increase our understanding of this iconic disease.

Riveting, urgent, and surprising, The Emperor of All Maladies provides a fascinating glimpse into the future of cancer treatments. It is an illuminating book that provides hope and clarity to those seeking to demystify cancer.

First Line:  On the morning of May 19, 2004, Carla Reed, a thirty-year-old kindergarten teacher from Ipswich, Massachusetts, a mother of three young children, woke up in bed with a headache.

Random Quote:  Baillie described cancers of the lung ("as large as an orange"), stomach ("a fungous appearance"), and the testicles ("a foul deep ulcer") and provided vivid engravings of these tumors.  But he could not find the channels of bile anywhere - not even in his orange-size tumors, nor in the deepest cavities of his "foul deep ulcers."  If Galen's web of invisible fluids existed, then it existed outside tumors, outside the pathological world, outside the boundaries of normal anatomical inquiry - in short, outside medical science.  Like Vesalius, Baillie drew anatomy and cancer the way he actually saw it.  At long last, the vivid channels of black bile, the humors in the tumors, that had so gripped the minds of doctors and patients for centuries, vanished from the picture.
Breast cancer treatment - 1809 - Japan
(image source)

Review:  Cancer has been with us as long as there has been an us.  We have studied it, theorized on it, treated it, cured it, and died from it - and, as we live longer, more and more people are living with (or dying from) it.  Its history is intricately intertwined with our own, with the history of our ever changing understanding of our own biology and of its.  Just as patients are storytellers, so are doctors and oncologist, Siddhartha Mukherjee tells the story of cancer, of patients, of doctors and scientists and of how we look at the world.  It is deeply literate, utterly compelling, and a fabulous read.

Dr. Mukherjee's book explicates not only the history of cancer, but also the revolutionary, creative, and very visual process of science.  The number of discoveries that occurred because someone could see are astonishing.  I was reminded of a woman I knew as a child in Memphis - Dorothy Stern.  She taught my father enameling at Memphis Academy of Arts and also did medical illustration.  She drew sickle cell anemia for a paper a doctor was writing on the morphology of human blood cells and her illustration is considered a classic because she could see and show others what she saw through her drawings and this led to new thinking about the cells.  Likewise amazing things happen when a scientist spreads pictures out on her dining room tables and looks for patterns.

If you read one non-fiction book this year, read The Emperor of All Maladies.  It's a fascinating suspenseful story of a disease that we will all be touched by at some time in our lives - directly or indirectly.  It is in us, it is us.  We should know it.

FTC Disclosure:  I bought it for my own self

Publishing Information:  Scribner - November 16, 2010

Format:  Kindle

Rating:  ★★★★★★

Monday, July 07, 2014

Mailbox Monday

Vermont Mailbox (image source)

Thanks for joining me for Mailbox Monday! Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia, who graciously hosted it for a long, long time, before turning it into a touring event (details here). Mailbox Monday has now moved to its own new home!  Be sure to visit to check out all the cool books we're bragging about sharing. I'm reading Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian so the mailbox with the lovely tiger lilies is in Vermont where the book is set.

A Beautiful Madness by Lee Thompson.  A Texas Senator and his wife go missing…On the same day, their son is slaughtered by an enigmatic killer on the lawn of ex-Governor Edward Wood's residence. Sammy, Wood's drug dealing son, suspects his father of the crime. After all, his old man snapped once before and crippled his wife with a lead pipe. But there's something more to these events…something deeper and festering just beneath the surface…  In direct opposition to Homicide Detective Jim Thompson, Sammy begins an investigation of his own, searching for the truth in a labyrinth of lies, deception, depravity and violence that drags him deeper into darkness and mayhem with each step. And in doing so, brings them all into the sights of an elusive and horrifying killer who may not be what he seems.  A brutal killer on a rampage of carnage…a hardened detective on the brink…an antihero from the shadows…a terrifying mystery that could destroy them all…

Bones Never Lie by Kathy Reichs.  Unexpectedly called in to the Charlotte PD’s Cold Case Unit, Dr. Temperance Brennan wonders why she’s been asked to meet with a homicide cop who’s a long way from his own jurisdiction. The shocking answer: Two child murders, separated by thousands of miles, have one thing in common—the killer. Years ago, Anique Pomerleau kidnapped and murdered a string of girls in Canada, then narrowly eluded capture. It was a devastating defeat for her pursuers, Brennan and police detective Andrew Ryan. Now, as if summoned from their nightmares, Pomerleau has resurfaced in the United States, linked to victims in Vermont and North Carolina. When another child is snatched, the reign of terror promises to continue—unless Brennan can rise to the challenge and make good on her second chance to stop a psychopath.  But Brennan will have to draw her bitter ex-partner out of exile, keep the local police and feds from one another’s throats, and face more than just her own demons as she stalks the deadliest of predators into the darkest depths of madness.

The Competition by Marcia Clark.   A Columbine-style shooting at a high school in the San Fernando Valley has left a community shaken to its core. Two students are identified as the killers. Both are dead, believed to have committed a mutual suicide.  In the aftermath of the shooting, LA Special Trials prosecutor Rachel Knight teams up with her best girlfriend, LAPD detective Bailey Keller. As Rachel and Bailey interview students at the high school, they realize that the facts don’t add up. Could it be that the students suspected of being the shooters are actually victims? And if so, does that mean that the real killers are still on the loose?

Guilt by Degrees by Marcia Clark.  Someone has been watching D.A. Rachel Knight—someone who's Rachel's equal in brains, but with more malicious intentions. It began when a near-impossible case fell into Rachel's lap, the suspectless homicide of a homeless man. In the face of courthouse backbiting and a gauzy web of clues, Rachel is determined to deliver justice. She's got back-up: tough-as-nails Detective Bailey Keller. As Rachel and Bailey stir things up, they're shocked to uncover a connection with the vicious murder of an LAPD cop a year earlier. Something tells Rachel someone knows the truth, someone who'd kill to keep it secret.

Killer Ambition by Marcia Clark.When the daughter of a billionaire Hollywood director is found murdered after what appears to be a kidnapping gone wrong, Los Angeles Special Trials prosecutor Rachel Knight and Detective Bailey Keller find themselves at the epicenter of a combustible and high-profile court case. Then a prime suspect is revealed to be one of Hollywood's most popular and powerful talent managers—and best friend to the victim's father. With the director vouching for the manager's innocence, the Hollywood media machine commences an all-out war designed to discredit both Rachel and her case. 

The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh.  Jenn and Greg have been married for fourteen years, and, as the book opens, they are enjoying the last week of their annual summer holiday in Deia, a village in Majorca off the coast of southern Spain. Their days are languorous, the time passing by in a haze of rioja-soaked lunches, hours at the beach, and lazy afternoon sex in their beautiful villa. It is the perfect summer idyll . . . until Greg's teenage daughter (Jenn's stepdaughter), Emma, arrives with her new boyfriend, Nathan, in tow.  What follows, over the course of seven days, is a brilliantly paced fever dream of attraction between Jenn and the reckless yet mesmerizing Nathan. It is an intense pas de deux of push and pull, risk and consequence . . . and moral rectitude, as it gets harder and harder for Jenn to stifle her compulsion.

Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce.  Marie, a young single mother, lands a job at an upscale Dallas steakhouse. She is preternaturally attuned to the appetites of her patrons, but quickly learns to hide her private struggle behind an easy smile and a crisp white apron. In a world of long hours and late nights, where everything runs on a currency of favors, cash and cachet, Marie gives in to brutally self-destructive impulses. She loses herself in a tangle of bodies and the kind of coke that 'napalms your emotional synapses.' But obliteration—not pleasure—is her goal.

Personal by Lee Child.  You can leave the army, but the army doesn’t leave you. Not always. Not completely, notes Jack Reacher—and sure enough, the retired military cop is soon pulled back into service. This time, for the State Department and the CIA.  Someone has taken a shot at the president of France in the City of Light. The bullet was American. The distance between the gunman and the target was exceptional. How many snipers can shoot from three-quarters of a mile with total confidence? Very few, but John Kott—an American marksman gone bad—is one of them. And after fifteen years in prison, he’s out, unaccounted for, and likely drawing a bead on a G-8 summit packed with enough world leaders to tempt any assassin. 

Saffron and Brimstone:  Strange Stories by Elizabeth Hand.  America boasts no finer, more acclaimed or accomplished literary fantasist than Elizabeth Hand. Poetry, magic, and love intermingle as she tears down the walls that separate the mundane from faerie and fancy. In this stunning collection of eight “strange stories,” the multiple Nebula Award– and World Fantasy Award–winning author weaves spells that enrapture her readers, ranging freely from Greek mythology to the contemporary nightmares of AIDS and 9/11.  The celebrated chiller “Cleopatra Brimstone” chronicles the aftermath of a brutal rape and the bizarre transformation of a young entomology student into a vengeful angel of death. An emotionally unmoored tattoo artist discovers an unusual deck of tarot cards that enables her to profoundly alter bare skin and her personal reality in the mind-expanding masterwork “The Least Trumps.” An artist attempts to capture her wayward modern-day Odysseus in oils and otherwise; a woman tragically in love isolates herself from a catastrophe-prone world; the death of a dear friend inspires profound personal reflections and strange pagan rituals; and in the brilliant concluding story, an artifact from a lost world reveals the inescapable vulnerability of our own. Odd and touching, provocative and disturbing, the selections in this magnificent collection showcase a master of the fantastic at the very peak of her storytelling .

You by Caroline Kepnes.  When aspiring writer Guinevere Beck strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe works, he’s instantly smitten. Beck is everything Joe has ever wanted: She’s gorgeous, tough, razor-smart, and as sexy as his wildest dreams.  Beck doesn’t know it yet, but she’s perfect for him, and soon she can’t resist her feelings for a guy who seems custom made for her. But there’s more to Joe than Beck realizes, and much more to Beck than her oh-so-perfect fa├žade. Their mutual obsession quickly spirals into a whirlwind of deadly consequences . . .

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Let's Talk about an Old Vermont Cocktail

Old Vermont Cocktail (image source)
I'm reading Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian.  It's pretty wonderful and set in Vermont and, although cocktails do not play a part in it, this one (made with maple syrup) sounds pretty yummy.

Old Vermont Cocktail


1 1/2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce grade B pure maple syrup
1/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice
2 dashes bitters, such as Angostura
Orange rind


Combine the gin, maple syrup, lemon and orange juice and bitters in a cocktail shaker. Add some ice and shake a few times. Strain the drink into a martini glass and garnish with the orange rind.

A shout out to Bobby Flay for coming up with this one!

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Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Book Review - Endangered by Jean Love Cush

Synopsis:  An innocent black teenager is accused of murder in this provocative and compassionate thriller that skillfully probes issues of race, class, crime, and injustice and offers a searing portrait of modern America.

From the time her son, Malik, could walk, Janae taught him that the best way to stay alive and out of trouble with the law was to cooperate. Terrified for his safety, she warned him, "raise your hands high, keep your mouth shut, and do whatever they say," if the police ever stopped him. But when a wave of murders hits Philadelphia and fifteen-year-old Malik is arrested, Janae's terror is compounded by guilt and doubt: Would Malik have escaped jail if he'd run?

Unable to see her son or pay for his defense, Janae, a cafeteria worker, reluctantly allows Roger Whitford, a white human rights attorney, to represent Malik. With the help of an ambitious private attorney named Calvin Moore, Roger is determined to challenge the entire criminal justice system and expose its inherent racism--racism that threatens the very existence of America's young black men.

Offering a startling and unprecedented defense, the lawyers spark a national firestorm of debate over race, prison, and politics that burns to the very core of Janae herself. As she battles to save her son, she begins to discover that she is also fighting for her own survival and that of her community.

First Line:  Before the sound of the sirens ...

Random Quote:  "What I think is that a lot of black boys are suffering and not a lot is being done about it.  Yeah, they'll study and debate the problems, but they don't actually do anything to help black boys.  They throw them in jail, and that's killing your community.  did you know that the suicide rate for young black males has tripled in the last decade?  It's now the third-leading cause of death for them.  Homicide is number one."  Roger shook his head in frustration.  "Calvin, at thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen, young black males are being convicted as adults, and they are serving hardcore time.  I don't know about you, but I think that's ridiculous."  Roger shook his head.  "We just throw them away."

Jean Love Cush
Review:  Along with recent current events (see also, Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant - shot by a BART police officer on a train I ride every day), it hasn't escaped my notice that the people I most often see the police hassling are black men - usually young ones.  When I lived in a different community in the Bay Area, the police wouldn't come for anything - not people screaming, not gang fights, not drug dealing, not property crime - nothing.  For awhile I thought they were just understaffed - then I saw 5 of them throw a 13-year-old black boy across the roof of a police car and dump his backpack (full of school books and granola bars) out on the pavement.  They were all white and ten times bigger than him (or me).  I guess they were too busy with keeping us safe from children to deal with actual crime.

In the city where I work (home of high tech), the only people I've ever seen in a traffic stop have been people of color.  The neighborhood social network for my neighborhood here in my oh-so progressive city is frequently the site of posts by people reporting suspicious activity that appears to be suspicious only because the shady character in question is black.  This circumstance fills me with rage and despair.  How will our children ever be safe, ever achieve, if all the cards are stacked against them from the very beginning?

Endangered is a novel that explores this issue from the perspective of a young man arrested for a murder he did not commit, his family, and the lawyers who are arguing his case.  Ms. Cush tells a great and topical story without losing itself on a soapbox.  In a real sense this story is "ripped from the headlines," but like the amazing film, Fruitvale Station, it works best because of Ms. Cush's compassion for everyone involved.  Complex, compelling, and enlightening - this is well worth the read.

FTC Disclosure:  Advance copy from publisher for author's virtual book tour through TLC Book Tours

Publishing Information:  Amistad - July 1, 2014

Format:  Printed matter

Rating:  ★★★★

I am pleased to be a part of Ms. Cush's virtual book tour through TLC Book Tours.  Be sure to stop in at the other tour sites to read all kinds of opinions about this book.

About Jean Love Cush

A native of Philadelphia, Jean Love Cush worked for the Philadelphia district attorney’s office directly out of law school before spending three years as a family law attorney helping low-income women escape domestic-abuse situations. After moving to Fort Wayne, Indiana, she hosted a weekly radio show called A View from Summit, where she covered such topics as public safety, urban violence, and inner-city education. Cush now lives in Illinois with her husband and two children.
Find out more about Jean at her website and connect with her on Facebook andTwitter.

Jean’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, July 1st: Turn the Page
Wednesday, July 2nd: Chaotic Compendiums
Thursday, July 3rd: A Book Geek
Monday, July 7th: Joyfully Retired
Tuesday, July 8th: Literally Jen
Wednesday, July 9th: FictionZeal
Thursday, July 10th: Books on the Table
Monday, July 14th: Between the Covers
Tuesday, July 15th: Pearls & Hoses
Wednesday, July 16th: The Most Happy Reader
Thursday, July 17th: Veronica M.D.
Monday, July 21st: Priscilla and Her Books
Tuesday, July 22nd: Giraffe Days
Wednesday, July 23rd: The many thoughts of a reader
Thursday, July 24th: Queen of All She Reads

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Book Review - Down the Shore by Stan

Synopsis:  Tom Alison has it all within his reach. He’s smart, handsome, and about to graduate from a prestigious East Coast boarding school. After that it’s off to the Ivy League and then a job on Wall Street, alongside the power brokers he’s been watching from a distance as the working-class son of a single mom. And then the very life his mother worked so hard to escape catches up with him when he gets busted selling drugs.

Lucky for Tom, there are places for boys and girls with ruined reputations. First, he returns to his roots on the Jersey Shore, reconnecting with a hard-living crew and cementing a bond with his new friend Clare Savage—the son of a recently disgraced financier. The two boys spend their summer surfing and partying. When fall arrives, they head to St. Andrews University in Scotland, a haven for Americans in need of a second chance and a favorite of the British rul­ing class. Tom and Clare escape to Scotland together, but it’s Tom who discovers a world shaped by even more powerful forces of greed and am­bition than the one he left behind. Sucked into a maelstrom of sex, drugs, and status, Tom learns what it takes to break the rules—and how we can be broken by them.

Driven by a cast of young men and women living in an age of riotous prosperity, Down the Shore is an unflinching and unforgettable story of youth steeped in excess. Stan Parish has crafted a gripping novel that masterfully captures the lives of fallen financiers and the people they bring down with them—and reminds us that not even an ocean can separate us from our fam­ily, our friends, or our past.

First Line:  The birthday girl kicked off her heels and boosted herself onto a barstool to propose a toast.

Random Quote:  A cork shot out of a bottleneck, glanced off the ceiling, ricocheted around the room.  After two drinks, the alcohol under the sludge of tomato and spice had a constricting effect, as if it were dehydrating everything else in Kelsey's flat.  The surfaces, the sunlight shooting through the windows - it all seemed harder, brighter.  I wasn't used to day drinking.
Surfing - Scotland (image source)

Review:  I am a sucker for a book about youthful excess if it's written well.  Down the Shore scratches that itch.  The tale of Tom Alison, the scholarship student at a fancy boarding school, on probation for selling drugs, with a life and friends that intersect many different social strata.  A random encounter at a party brings him into a friendship with Clare Savage, the rich son of a Wall Street financier whose parents have absconded with ill-gotten proceeds leaving Clare adrift on the tide.  Together they venture off to St. Andrews University in Scotland - a school famous for second chances.

Down the Shore follows Tom and Clare on their journeys and sweeps us along as we watch the pair begin to grow up, begin to figure out who they are.  I imagine that some reviewers may dislike the casual drug use and general narcissism and flailing about in the book, but it was precisely these qualities that made it so real for me - this is what it's like to be young and experimenting with who you want to be.  We are none of us paragons of compassionate virtue at 18.  Loved the story and its characters, found it all highly entertaining and well worth my time.  A great summer read.

FTC Disclosure:  Advance copy from publisher for review

Publishing Information:  Viking Adult - May 29, 2014

Format:  Kindle

Rating:  ★★★★