Sunday, April 23, 2017

Review: Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham

Title: Rogue Lawyer
Author: John Grisham
Year Published: 2016

Genre: Adult Fiction
Pages: 388
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)USA

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): On the right side of the law--sort of--Sebastian Rudd is not your typical lawyer. His office is a customized bulletproof van, complete with wi-fi, a bar, a small fridge, and fine leather chairs. He has no firm, no partners, and only one employee: his heavily armed driver, who also happens to be his bodyguard, law clerk, confidant, and golf caddie. Sebastian drinks small-batch bourbon and carries a gun. He defends people other lawyers won't go near: a drug-addled, tattooed kid rumored to be in a satanic cult; a vicious crime lord on death row; a homeowner arrested for shooting at a SWAT team that mistakenly invaded his house. Why these clients? Because Sebastian believes everyone is entitled to a fair trial--even if he has to bend the law to secure one.

Review: Yep. Another John Grisham novel. I know (mostly) what to expect: a good storyline; interesting characters; and fast-paced action. This book did not disappoint.

Rogue Lawyer differs from Grisham's other law stories in that it feels more like a series of stories rather than one long novel. Usually one main character has one major case that lasts the length of a Grisham novel. Rogue Layer, however, has six parts, which all have the same lawyer covering six different cases. Some elements/stories reappear later in the book, but it's nice to get multiple storylines.

As with all Grisham novels, the reader knows just what s/he is going to get: good story telling; a lawyer on the side of the defendants (not always the good guys); and a fast-paced story. Rogue Lawyer definitely has all of these. Sebastian Rudd, the lawyer, isn't exactly someone that I would want to spend time with, but if I was charged with murder he'd be my guy. He knows all the tricks, has lots of useful contacts, and isn't afraid to bend the rules a bit. One thing I wish Grisham did better was female characters. There often aren't any or very few and they are either beautiful or fat (and, therefore, unattractive) and don't have much to contribute to the story.

I will continue to read Grisham's books whenever he writes a new one.
Challenges for which this counts:

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Year Published: 2017

Genre: YA Fiction
Pages: 243
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)USA

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor black neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, Khalil's death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Starr's best friend at school suggests he may have had it coming. When it becomes clear the police have little interest in investigating the incident, protesters take to the streets and Starr's neighborhood becomes a war zone. What everyone wants to know is: What really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does--or does not--say could destroy her community. It could also endanger her life.

Review: Talk about a timely book and storyline! And it is so well done, I was swept up in Starr's story (and that of her neighborhood) from the start.

It's funny, I am so into geography that I really like to know where books take place, but while this book names the areas, the state is never mentioned. By the end I realized that didn't matter because it could have taken place anywhere, in a major city where African-Americans live in the city projects and the suburbs are safer and have better schools. Sadly, that is all of our larger and smaller cities.

The characters in this book come alive from page one; they are strong, interesting, and real. Starr's mother is educated and a nurse, but her father is an ex-con who is now has his act together. In fact, he is still connected in many ways to the gangs and violence in the area. They want what's best for their children, but also for the neighborhood, a tension in their lives that continues throughout the book. Does leaving the "hood" mean you're turning your back on your people or are you doing what's best for your family?

This book reflects the events that have taken place over the past few years in this country: an unarmed black man is killed by a white police officer. How does that event affect the police, the victim's friends and family, and in turn, a neighborhood? To read about it up close and not just in the newspaper is powerful. Angie Thomas' voice is clear and strong, showing all sides of the issue, and is a voice that needs to be heard.

Challenges for which this counts:

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sunday Salon: April 16, 2017

My life in books:
Now that it isn't spring break my reading has slowed down a bit again. And my daughter was here for a week so I wasn't reading as much.

  • We Are Okay by Nina LaCour--a YA novel dealing with family and emotion that is really well done
  • The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon--super good novel about love and immigration
  • If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo--a fabulous novel about a girl who is transgender
Challenge updates:
  • Read Your Own Damn Books--My goal is to read 25 books from my TBR shelves this year. So far I've read 16, adding three this week.
  • Travel the World in Books--The idea is to read books set in as many countries as possible. I didn't add any books set outside the US.
  • Literary Escapes--Similar to the previous challenge, this one tracks the US states. This month I added a book read in Georgia.
  • Read all of the ALA YA Award Winners--One book I read this pas week was an ALA winner. I only have two categories left.

My life outside books:
Not a lot to report outside of my reading. I ran a professional development day for the social studies teachers in my district and it went well. Otherwise, work has been cruising along. We are getting ready to do a 1:1 iPad deployment in our district so when that happens (in the fall?), I'll be super busy, but right now we're dealing with all the prep details as well as convincing many teachers that it's a good idea.

A new season of The Amazing Race has started so that's fun. This season the partners are all strangers, which is a new twist. They are heavily firefighters, police officers, and military personnel so I bet it's a physically demanding season. I also binge-watched the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, which I liked and I've returned to watching old seasons of The Great British Bakeoff that I haven't seen yet.

My daughter was home for the second week of her spring break so that was really nice. We did a lot of hanging out together, which hasn't happened in a long time! Her first week of break she was on the east coast looking at colleges and Georgetown, Vassar, UPenn, and Wellesley ranked high for her. I am so interested and excited to see where she ends up applying and attending!

Happy Easter everyone!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Review (Netflix): Thirteen Reasons Why

Years ago, before I began this blog, I read the book Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and thought it was fabulous and important. A few months later, in 2009, I had the opportunity to meet Jay Asher (see the post here). In his talk that day he mentioned that the book was going to be made into a movie. How crazy is it that eight years later, Netflix has made the book into a series, with season 1 available now. Eight years later!

I'll confess I watched all 13 episodes over only 3 days.

I still think this book and series is important. The issue of teen suicide is often ignored, with communities assuming it's a one-off problem when a teen is successful. However, the number of suicide attempts, cries for help, and successes are far too high (and when gay or transgender youth are considered, the numbers are staggering). Our community had two successes and an attempt over the course of a weekend last month. Perhaps that's one reason this feels important to me.

In case you are one of the few who hasn't read the book or seen the Netflix series, Hannah committed suicide before the book begins. Before she died, she recorded 13 sides of audio cassettes, each containing the story of someone at her school who contributed to her suicide. The tapes were given to the first person on the tapes with instructions to listen to all the tapes then pass them on to the next person and so on. There is a second set of tapes that will be publicly released if the chain is broken.

Since I read the book so long ago, I don't remember all the details and I think that made watching the series that much better. I know that characters and scenes were added so that each "reason" became an episode and sometimes I felt it moved too slowly with extra scenes. That said, I feel like Netflix did a really good job with this show.

My 16 year old daughter loved it and said everyone is watching it and talking about it. Apparently her Twitter feed is full of 13 Reasons Why. I hope that means teens are talking about the impact of suicide, who teens can turn to, and the behavior of the characters. The behavior makes me so angry. Why are teens so mean? Not everyone is cruel in the story, but each of them does play a role: perpetrator; bystander; victim. The angst and angry oozes from their pores. And none of them seems to feel that adults can help. That is the part that saddens me the most. As someone who works in the schools, I want to think that the adults are open to listening to the students. Maybe we, the adults, know that, but the students don't.

Anyway, I highly recommend reading and watching 13 Reasons Why!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Review: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Title: We Are Okay
Author: Nina LaCour
Year Published: 2017

Genre: YA fiction
Pages: 234
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)USA (NY)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Marin hasn't spoken to anyone from her old life since the days she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friends, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of life and tragedy she's tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit, and Marin will be forced to face everything that's been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

Review: I have really enjoyed the other Nina LaCour books that I've read: Hold Still and the Disenchantments so when I started seeing reviews of this book I was excited. I was not prepared the for the emotional ride that this book took me on.

Marin (pronounced like the CA county) is at college in New York and isn't communicating with her best friend, Mabel. It takes a long time for us to find out what happened, but that is the heart of the story. It isn't one event or one specific thing that set off Marin's departure from her old life, but rather a series of events over a life time that finally come crashing down around her. 

Marin's emotional state is so fragile and done so well. She takes two steps forward and one step back as she and Mabel try to bring her back to the living, so to speak. I could feel Marin's pain, Mabel's wanting to help her, and the dance they were doing to slowly get to a point where Marin might be okay. This is a story of friendship, family, heartache, bravery, confidence, and love. I was overwhelmed in the last 50 pages of this book with emotion as it all came to a head and the details of Marin's experiences came out. Sometimes family is hard and this story does it so well. 

Challenges for which this counts: