Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Dear Fellow Readers,

I would like to strongly urge you to read the book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. This amazing book is not new but I had not read it until now and I feel like I have been missing out. The book is very powerful.

Bryan Stevenson and Kelly Corrigan

Let me start at the beginning of how I found this book. I have reviewed a couple of Kelly Corrigan’s books – Tell Me More (https://cecooney.com/2018/01/09/tell-me-more-by-kelly-corrigan/) and Glitter and Glue (https://cecooney.com/2014/02/28/glitter-and-glue-a-memoir/) and had enjoyed them. I had seen some reviews of a new interview show on PBS with Kelly Corrigan. Her first interviewee was Bryan Stevenson. I had never heard of Bryan Stevenson. (I apparently live under a rock.) Since I had read great reviews and vaguely followed Kelly Corrigan for years, I thought I would watch the show. You can watch it (and I urge you to watch it) at PBS.org/video/bryan-stevenson-acdjum/.

It is hard to know where to start in telling you about the book. The book reminds me of the book, Janesville: An American Story. Both books are about hard subjects, but they are written about the people involved in the hard subjects. They tell the story of the people who have been affected rather than just talking about the systems that caused the problem. By humanizing the subject, you are pulled into the story and it is easier to see the problem.

Bryan Stevenson is a Harvard educated lawyer. While he was in law school, he found his passion in working with innocent people on death row and with children who have been sent to adult prisons for life. In the book, he writes their stories and what happens to them. Some he could save and some he couldn’t. While telling you the stories, he also fills in how the attitudes and laws of the time affect the justice system and how they have changed over time. Most of the stories take place in the south, particularly Alabama. One story that threads through the book is the story of Walter McMillian. The story is shocking. In overly simple terms, a young white woman was killed in a small town in Alabama. The police had no idea who had killed her but needed to find the killer. They decided to arrest Walter McMillian for the crime. Walter McMillian was on their radar because he had had an affair with a married white woman. The police and prosecutors then bribed several men into testifying against Walter. Even though Walter had many many witnesses to prove that he could not possibly have committed the crime, he was sentenced to be executed. I am giving you the bare bones of the story. It is more twisted than this.

“Walter’s case taught me that fear and anger are a threat to justice; they can infect a community, a state, a nation and make us blind, irrational, and dangerous. I reflected on how mass imprisonment has littered the national landscape with carceral monument of reckless and excessive punishment and ravaged communities with our hopeless willingness to condemn and discard the most vulnerable among us. I told the congregation that Walter’s case had taught me that the death penalty is not about whether people deserve to die for the crimes they commit. The real question of capital punishment in the country is, Do we deserve to kill? “

Bryan Stevenson

In between Walters’ story, we learn about other cases that Mr. Stevenson worked and how the views of the courts have changed over time.

The book itself is easy to read and moves quickly. The subject is incredibly hard but very important. The book humanizes the subject and makes it much clearer.

And yes, if you are much quicker than I am, the book was made into a movie starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx. Obviously, I have not seen the movie.

If you have any questions about whether or not you want to read this book, I urge you to watch the Kelly Corrigan interview with Bryan Stevenson. Also, you can watch Kelly Corrigan’s show, Tell Me More with Kelly Corrigan. There are three episodes all available on PBS.org. She also has a new podcast, Kelly Corrigan Wonders.

Thanks for reading!

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Jingle All the Way by Debbie Macomber

Dear Fellow Reader,

Fall is working its colorful magic outside. Yes, it is getting colder, but we are getting nature’s final show for the year before we settle into a world of whites and greys. No, I am not very excited about winter coming. After spending a lot of time at home, the prospect of the time of year where we spend a lot of time at home is not as exciting as it might have been in the past. But decorating the house is more fun for the next few months.

I went back to the well of ARCs. (Advanced Reader Copies) I try to keep myself from going there too often because there is so much that interests me. And in the past, I have taken many more than I can possibly read and write about. And there have been times that I have written about them and forgotten to report back that I did read and write about the book. I try to be much more careful now. Despite my efforts, I have five books. Yikes! I pick up five books (!) and three of them are new Christmas themed books. I think it is a bit early for Christmas books but not for publishers. I have read two and 1/3 of them so far. I regret to say that the one I have not finished is about to go on the “not going to finish pile”. I feel bad not finishing a book but there are so many books to read that I find that I need to just give up on some. (My husband would point to the large pile of books that I have not read yet as proof.)  I will say that sometimes it is the mood that I am in rather than the book itself. As I am sure you know, if you are stressed about something it influences your interpretation of the book.

I was asked recently if I review books that I don’t like or would not recommend. The answer is no. There are a few reasons for this. The primary reason is that the author has put a lot of work in to writing a book. Even if it is the worst book on earth, there were hours and hours of work put into that book and I am not interested in knocking the work that was put into a book. There are plenty of reviewers who will do that. Also, as mentioned in the last paragraph, your moods can affect your interpretation of a book. Also, your maturity can affect your feeling about a book. When I was younger, I loved the book Pentimento by Lillian Hellman. When I read it a few years ago, I was not as smitten. As a rule, I will not review a book that I didn’t like.

That leads us to today’s review. I was surprised that I was given an advanced copy of this book. Debbie Macomber is a well-established author. I would not have expected them to have a desire to ask for reviews as her books will sell well without any reviews. She is very popular.

Jingle All the Way is Debbie Macomber’s latest Christmas book. If you have never read one of her books before – how? – she writes contemporary woman’s fiction books. They are almost always from the female perspective. In this story, we meet Everly Lancaster. She is a very successful real estate executive who is frustrated with her business partner and his niece, who has been installed as her assistant. The niece has screwed up again and Everly wants her gone. The business partner decides that what Everly really needs is a vacation and tells her to take the month of December off. He practically pushes her out of the door. But he does tell his niece to book Everly on a cruise for the first two weeks of December. A wonderful relaxing cruise with all the perks. Instead, Everly is booked on a nature cruise down the Amazon. The boat is utilitarian. There are no phones or internet. Everly tries to get off the boat but that isn’t possible. Then she gets sick from a bug bite and spends days in bed with a fever. The boat’s naturalist, Asher Adams, takes care of her and spends time talking to her. When she is finally back up on her feet, she has two misadventures on the boat’s excursions. As a result of the trip, Everly finds herself and true love.

Okay, is it a bit formulaic? Yes. Is it a pleasurable read? Yes. This book is a salve to the holiday crazies. And you get to learn some fun facts about the Amazon. If you haven’t read Debbie Macomber before then you are in for a treat. If you have, then you know the pleasurable experience.

This book comes out on October 13. And time for the usual disclaimer – I was given a copy of this book for my unbiased opinion.

Thanks for reading!

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Things in Jars by Jess Kidd

Dear Fellow Reader,

There are times that I admire a book for the imagination of the author. I may not love the story, but I respect that the author could imagine a complicated story full of unbelievable events  and pull me into it. Have you ever read a story like that? A story that you keep reading even though it may be completely weird?

Sometime in the past, I read the book Himself by Jess Kidd. Do I remember the book? Not well but I do remember that it was an odd story. I don’t even know why I read it in the first place. Recently, I noticed that Jess Kidd has a new book out. The new book is Things in Jars. I had to wait a couple of months to be able to get it from the library. I just looked and there are still 70 people on the waitlist for the eBook. So, I am not alone. I don’t think I read a description of the story prior to reserving it. (Why would I do something that would make sense like that?)

This story is imaginative. I truly appreciate the creative talent of Jess Kidd. I am blown away by the plot of the book and the things that go on. Please note that if you are not willing to be open to things not known in this world, this is not the book for you. As our protagonist goes to a church to look at bodies that have been holed up in a cupboard, she attracts a ghost who stays with her for most of the book. He is occasionally helpful. His tattoos seem to have a mind of their own and move according the scene. (Yes, you read that right – his tattoos move around.)

The book takes place in 1863 London and in the countryside around London. The main part of the plot is that a child has been stolen and Bridie Devine has been asked to find the child. But it becomes apparent that the child is a bit odd. The servants are not allowed anywhere near the child and the Baron refuses to bring the police into the matter. He also won’t let Bridie see the child’s rooms. A bit odd? The child has pointed teeth like a pike, attracts snails (and eats them) and if she bites a male, he will die. That’s all. Wait, no, that’s not all. She looks like an angel and as she approaches puberty has an unquenchable desire to get to the sea. She does not talk. A woman is then found dead on the Baron’s property. Who was the woman and why was she there?

Bridie determines quite quickly that the “nanny” and the family doctor have taken the girl and Bridie starts hunting them down. She goes to a showman she knows to see if he has been approached to buy the child as an oddity for his show. He has built a decidedly large tank and was advertising a new attraction. And then Bridie’s 7-foot-tall housemaid and the snake charmer find each other. But don’t be detoured by that.

We learn about Bridie Devine during the story. We learn how she left Ireland for England with a man who sells bodies to doctors and scientists. And then was sold to a doctor who had a very jealous and cruel wife and an amoral son.

The plot has many twists and turns. (What can she think of next?) but it comes to a satisfying conclusion. I would suggest this book if you are willing to go on a ride with the author. Everything does work out but you need to be able to go with a suspension of belief.

Thanks for reading!

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The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

Dear Fellow Reader,

While I write to you today, there is a rainstorm outside. Thunder and lightning – the whole Midwest rainstorm show. I am delighted because it has been dry where I live and we need the rain. There is one member of the family who doesn’t agree that we EVER need thunder and lightning. Sadie, the dog who is afraid (of everything) is under the desk at my feet hiding from the day. So while she tries to burrow through the floor, I will tell you about a new book I read.

Each morning, I receive an email from BookBub with the eBook deals of the day. (You can subscribe at www.bookbub.com)  I really try not to buy any books but sometimes there is one that captures my eye and for $1.99, I’ll buy it. That is what happened with this book. It was on the sale list and it sounded intriguing. And of course, I was supposed to be reading my book club book. Sometimes, that rebel in me that just can’t settle in to read what I am supposed to read. (Just kidding, there is no rebel in me.)

The School of Essential Ingredients was a pleasure to find. It is a story about a group of 8 people who meet in a cooking class at Lillian’s restaurant. The class is held once a month on Monday nights. The stories about the 8 students and Lillian are woven through the classes. We learn first about Lillian and her involvement with food and how she learned how to use food to get her mother’s attention and the woman who helped her learn about food and cooking. The students in the class each have a different reason for being in the class. There is the older married couple, the lawyer coping with loss, the young girl trying to find her way, the older woman whose memory isn’t quite what it should be, an Italian kitchen designer with a design problem, a new mother, and the software engineer who tends to look at things in black and white.

This book tells the story of these people and how they came to be in the class. Through the writing, you feel that you get to know them and will miss them when the story is over. There is not some big pivotal moment – it is a nice story. The book reminds me of a Maeve Binchy book. I don’t know if Maeve Binchy is still in as much favor as she once was but there was a time when I couldn’t wait for her next book. (I even saw her in person once. I could have been an author groupie…)

I sometimes feel that if I say, “it is a nice story” that that will undersell the book. The truth is that while we can appreciate books that share a lesson or review something about the world, it is great to just read a nice story and take a break from current events or history. That is what I am offering to you to read. A nice story to entertain you.

There is a second book in the series, The Lost Art of Mixing. I just got it from the library yesterday, so I can’t comment on it yet. But so far, so good.

Be good to yourself.

Thanks for reading!

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A Deception at Thornecrest by Ashley Weaver

Dear Fellow Reader,

Back in January, I reviewed the book Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver. (https://cecooney.com/2020/01/10/oh-those-cozies-three-cozy-mysteries/) Remember back in those good old days? That was back before we were all inside for the pandemic. ~sigh~ 

Anyway, I enjoyed that book and talked about reading the rest of the books in the series. I have been making my way through the series and then I found that I could get an advanced reader copy of the newest book in the series. ( So this is my unbiased review.) 

A Deception at Thornecrest finds Amory Ames at her summer residence, Thornecrest, waiting for the birth of her first child. Milo (her husband) is out for a few days but should return later that day. A guest arrives at the house and introduces herself as Milo’s wife, Mrs. Ames. Even though they have had several rocky years in their marriage, Amory is sure that the woman is not married to her Milo. But then the young woman identifies him in a picture. Needless to say, Milo has a lot to explain when he gets home. But then another person arrives at Thornecrest, who announces that he is Milo’s (surprise!) stepbrother. It would be hard to deny the relationship as they look amazingly alike. Milo is not happy with this arrival. (But could it explain the first visitor?)  

While they are trying to figure out the situation, there is a murder of a village youth at the village festival. Solving this mystery will take them some time to find out who is who they claim they are and who is not being entirely truthful.

This is another good cozy mystery and I have enjoyed the series. I will say that book 5 in the series, An Act of Villainy, has the biggest surprise ending. I will admit that I don’t usually spend any time trying to figure out “who done it”, when I am reading a mystery. When I get to the end, I generally am not surprised but I don’t put any effort into trying to solve the mystery. I just want to be entertained. I was surprised by the end and I was pleased to be surprised. I thought the author did a good job.

As I seem to have this thing about reading books that are in a series in order, I would suggest that you do the same. By doing so, you see the progression of the relationship between the two main characters. These mysteries are set in the 1930s so they are mysteries written to be from that era. The main characters are very rich. It is a time between the World Wars and the characters seem light and breezy.

Thanks for reading!

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