Wednesday, June 30, 2021

News for the Rich, White, and Blue

News for the Rich, White, and Blue by Nikki Usher
7/6/21; 376 pages
Columbia University Press

News for the Rich, White, and Blue: How Place and Power Distort American Journalism by Nikki Usher is a recommended, informative examination of journalism from 2016-2019 and the direction newspapers should take. (Highly recommended for for professionals in the industry.)

It is obvious to anyone who was ever devoted to reading their local daily newspaper that journalism and newspapers have changed over the years with the prevalence of the availability of online news. Obviously this switch hit the newspaper industry hard with a loss of income resulting in a reduced staff. Currently, according to Usher's research, the main supporters who are continuing to pay for their daily news are largely rich, white, and liberal. Naturally, the news is written with a slant toward the views of those who are paying for it and keeping the newspapers relevant and in business. Usher states in the opening, "Like many journalists, scholars, industry observers, and policy makers, I was frustrated by the blind spots of national journalists whose media bubble insulated them from the groundswell of right-wing populism in the United States. It became clear to me that place, partisanship, and inequality were increasingly intersecting when it came to how people felt about news and where journalism seemed to be on the decline."

As the journalists serve the readers who will pay for the news, they are increasingly losing touch with the larger scope of diverse public opinions and thus reinforcing the distrust in their coverage. It is a vicious cycle that leads to a continuation of the present state of journalism. Additionally, there is an increasing lack of specifically local and regional news stories as the well-funded media outlets write to cover the viewpoints of a global "placeless" reader.

In part and greatly summarized: Chapter one tackles the reasons behind the change in newspapers. Chapters two and three pinpoint the audience who pays for news, the reasons for journalism's realignment of their focus, and the implications of this. Chapter four looks in-depth at Washington DC correspondents and their role in journalism, as well as the increasing Beltway-Heartland divide in news. Chapters five and six examine how the "place-based dynamics of digital economics shape the future of newspapers at an institutional level" and compares newspapers to the New York Times to show the areas that will shape the future of newspapers. Finally, chapter seven scrutinizes data about supporting newspapers through nonprofit philanthropy and how this support furthers the current charges of news having media bias as the papers are located in liberal cities. Usher concludes with recommendations to overhaul the current practices to increase the ability of journalists to reach a divergent group of readers and cover a varied set of issues.

One recommendation would be to purchase the hardcover edition of News for the Rich, White, and Blue due to the many charts and graphs included in the text and notes covering all the research and data Usher compiled don't translate well to an ebook. Now, while interesting, this scholarly novel can also be repetitive and the information included can be dense. Anyone who has an abiding interest in journalism and the current state of news should read this work and take the conclusions seriously. There may be some additional changes that have happened since the focus of the book since 2020 certainly resulted in many changes.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Columbia University Press.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Lie Beside Me

Lie Beside Me by Gytha Lodge
6/22/21; 368 pages
Penguin Random House
DCI Jonah Sheen #3

Lie Beside Me by Gytha Lodge is a highly recommended police procedural and the third novel featuring DCI Jonah Sheen.

Louise wakes up with a hangover after a night of drinking with her friend April and instead of finding her husband Niall next to her, she discovers a dead man she does not know in her bed. Drunk Louise is fun Louise, but Drunk Louise also makes bad decisions and poor choices. Drunk Louise first emerged on the day Louise met Niall and her best friend wealthy American April Dumont. Sober Louise moves the body out to her front yard and calls the police. Jonah Sheen and his team, DC Juliette Hanson, DS Domnall O'Malley, and Ben Lightman, are on the case. The man is identified as fitness instructor Alex Plaskett, who is married to Issa Benhawy. Louise is the prime suspect. As they work the case the team also has their own personal issues and problems.

In the narrative between chapters covering the investigation, Louise writes a letter to her husband, which provides the back ground information on their relationships and the problems and struggles they have encountered. As the evenly paced plot unfolds, the case pointedly becomes less straightforward as the investigation uncovers more information, secrets are exposed, and more suspects emerge. At the same time Hansen is being harassed and stalked by a man she was in a relationship with previously.

The writing is quite good. Lie Beside Me is very successful as a procedural since it keeps you guessing about what really happened as the list of suspects increases and more evidence is uncovered. The twists are real as more information is discovered. The less successful part is the rather nonchalant way Louise's drinking problem is reduced to "Drunk Louise" versus "Sober Louise." I found it a rather offhand way to portray someone with a drinking problem. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Monday, June 28, 2021

What to Do When Someone Dies

What to Do When Someone Dies by Nicci French
6/22/2021; 368 pages (originally 2008)
William Morrow 

What to Do When Someone Dies by Nicci French is a recommended drama.

Ellie Falkner’s husband Greg Manning has died in a car accident. There was a passenger in the car who also died, Milena Livingstone, a woman Ellie doesn't know. The assumption of everyone is that Greg was having an affair with this woman. Ellie refuses to believe this. In her grief, Ellie sets out on a seemingly obsessive mission to to prove that Greg was not having an affair and discover who Milena was and why she would be with Greg. Ellie is certain that there is something more disturbing behind Greg's death. Even though she has a group of supportive friends trying to care for and encourage her through her grief, Ellie secretly sets off on her own search for more information.

Ellie's thought process as she grieves for Greg and tries to prove he was not being unfaithful is the focus of the plot. It is heartbreaking when she learns of his death and initially tries to deal with the aftermath and all that must be done. Some of the subsequent choices she makes and actions she chooses to undertake are not quite as understandable and the reactions and results of her search do require readers to suspend disbelief. Her search does help increase the suspense and tension, and raises doubts about Greg's death.

There were several times I questioned the reactions of characters in this novel. The first and most glaring was the assumption by seemingly everyone that Greg was having an affair because he had a woman in the car with him. How many people would really jump to this conclusion and then openly share this with Ellie when offering condolences? Perhaps I have a different group of friends, but this would never be something they would openly speculate over, jump to that conclusion, and then share their thoughts. After this point there were several other questionable occurrences, which I won't share due to the fact that they would be spoilers.

Setting aside my question over the character's reactions, What to Do When Someone Dies does create enough tension and suspense to hold your attention and keep you reading to the end. I predicted the ending early on while reading, but I did keep reading. 3.5 rounded down. I was reading a 2021 re-release of the 2008 novel. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of William Morrow.


Saturday, June 26, 2021

This Shining Life

This Shining Life by Harriet Kline
6/22/21; 336 pages
Penguin Random House

This Shining Life by Harriet Kline is a highly recommended poignant family drama.

When Rich dies from brain cancer his family must learn to deal with grief and each other. The novel is written with short chapters that are from the different points-of-view of Rich's wife Ruth, son Ollie (almost eleven), sister-in-law Nessa, mother-in-law Angran, mother Marjorie, and father Gerald. Ollie is on the autism spectrum, and he misses his dad who provided stability for him and could help him understand the world. After his dad dies, he is determined to solve the puzzle he thinks his dad left for him that will explain what it means to be alive.

Ruth is grieving and struggling with depression. Rich brought joy to her life and she depended on him. Nessa, who was friends with Rich before introducing him to Ruth, is also grieving but must try to help Ruth and handle her indomitable mother Angran, who is not only a force to be reckoned with but also deals with depression and repressed anger. Marjorie wants to mourn her son and have a relationship with her grandson, but Gerald is sinking into dementia and makes life even more challenging and difficult. Angran doesn't help as she steadfastly steps in-between them. All of them are dealing with numerous emotions and reactions to Rich's death.

Although all the characters are given room for their voices, Ollie is the heart of the novel since his are the only chapter's written in the first person. He is greatly concerned with solving his father's puzzle, the answer to what it means to be alive, but no one seems to be listening or understanding what he is saying. They also seem to be forgetting that he also is grieving. The puzzle focuses on the special gifts his dad picked out and chose for everyone before he died. Ollie was given a pair of binoculars so he could focus on things. Now he is sure he needs to determine what connects all the gifts to solve the puzzle

A novel about a grieving family is naturally going to be sad, but Kline also shows how members were trying to help in their own ways. The result is a beautifully written novel about loss, endurance, sorrow, love, and acceptance as a family tries to navigate their journey in grieving and life. The short chapters and even pacing help propel the novel along. Ollie's obsession does become a bit tiresome and repetitive, but that is also indicative of being on the spectrum and how he deals with his emotions. All of the characters are portrayed as complex, unique individuals with unique voices. This character driven, poignant family drama is a fine debut novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Friday, June 25, 2021

God Spare the Girls

God Spare the Girls by Kelsey McKinney
6/22/21; 320 pages

God Spare the Girls by Kelsey McKinney is a very highly recommended family drama and coming-of-age tale about two sisters. This is a sensitive, extremely well-written debut novel that is presented with the emotional depth of a seasoned writer.

Abigail and Caroline (Caro) Nolan are the daughters of Luke Nolan, the head evangelical pastor of a mega church in Hope, Texas, and Ruthie, their mother. Luke Nolan became famous after delivering a sermon on purity that went viral. It was co-written with Abigail, as have most of his sermons, although that fact is unacknowledged. Abigail, however, is the shining example of a perfect daughter. The sisters and their mother have always lived in the shadow of their father and under the scrutiny and expectations of others. The novel opens on the day of Abigail's wedding shower which is held at the house on the ranch the two sisters inherited from their maternal grandmother. Caro, eighteen, is sure Matthew is the wrong man for twenty-four year old Abigail, and is feeling at loose ends. She is leaving for college soon and is questioning everything about her life.

After the shower, Ruthie informs her daughters that she wants to talk to their father alone. Abigail and Matthew take off together and Caro is left at her grandmother's house. Caro calls a young man she's been secretly seeing over to the house and removes the purity ring she has worn for years. Later that evening, after she gets phone reception at the farm, she sees numerous messages. Apparently Luke Nolan has been having an affair and Ruthie has confronted him. He claims it was over a year previously, but now his sin must be brought before the church elders and confessed to the church. Abigail and Caro escape the turmoil and drama created by their father's actions by moving out to the ranch and working out together how they will respond to the betrayal. In the process they uncover some uncomfortable facts about their family dynamics, and make some hard decisions about their future plans, personal faith, and identity.

The main character of the God Spare the Girls is Caro and the novel follows her inner dialogue and emotional turmoil. She and Abigail develop a closer relationship while out on the ranch, isolated, where they are given the time and opportunity to bond and share their true feelings. The two sisters are very different and portrayed as very distinct characters, but the closeness and bond that is present between sisters, even though they have very different personalities, is perfectly captured on the pages. While I longed to talk to Caro and Abigail, to share some insight on faith and family, the sisters do manage to come to decisions about their faith and beliefs for their own lives and develop some inner strength in the process.

God Spare the Girls is very well-written. McKinney captures both the time and place deftly and descriptively. The subtle implications of belief, faith and women's place in the church is handled with sensitivity and a depth of understanding. When Caro discovers more evidence of the affair, which was conducted in the ranch house, it brings a reality to the situation. Betrayal is never a comfortable topic, especially that of a father, but that along with the personal examination and confrontation of their faith and beliefs is depicted with sensitivity and compassion as it effects the daughters of a well-known pastor caught in a scandal.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.


Thursday, June 24, 2021

Tell Me the Truth

Tell Me the Truth by Matthew Farrell
6/22/21; 336 pages
Thomas & Mercer
Adler and Dwyer #2

Tell Me the Truth by Matthew Farrell is a highly recommended murder mystery featuring investigators Susan Adler and Liam Dwyer.

Noel Moore returns home at 2 AM from a business trip to find only his 13 year-old son, Charlie, asleep in his bed. When he sees a light out the window in the woods behind the house he goes outside to investigate. What he finds is horrific. His wife, Mindy, is covered with blood, holding a knife, and says their 18 year-old daughter, Jennifer, is dead in the woods. After seeing Jennifer's dead body, stabbed, in the woods, Noel immediately takes charge. He takes Mindy inside, cleans her up, and cleans up the mess. Charlie, woken up by the commotion, witnesses the bloody mess but is told to go back to bed. Finally, at 8 AM Noel calls 911 to report his daughter's murder. Mindy is catatonic and Charlie is instructed to say he was asleep and saw nothing.

New York State Police investigator Susan Adler and consultant partner Liam Dwyer, a forensics specialist, are assigned the case to assist the local authorities. Dwyer immediately feels that something is being left unsaid or information is being hidden by the family. As the crime scene is processed and more information uncovered, the story the family told is increasingly suspect. The family is being protected from further questioning by their high priced attorney, Charlotte Walsh. The whole family is suspect, but there are also several other suspects that have been uncovered along with an increasing number of secrets.

This is the second book with Adler and Dwyer, but it works fine as a standalone novel. Enough of their history and backstory is explained to easily follow their relationship. This is good, because you have a handful of other characters which require closer observation and consideration in this procedural. As the evidence points to falsehoods being told and misdirection happening, almost everyone is a suspect as they are all keeping secrets from each other as well as the investigators. The characters are all believable as they are introduced to the story.

Chapters alternate from the point-of-view of Adler, Dwyer, Noel, and Charlie. and also give a look into the personal life and burgeoning relationship between Adler and Dwyer. Honestly, while I appreciate a glimpse into the personal lives of the investigators, I like my professionals in procedurals to act like professionals and not develop a burning desire for each other, so I could have done without that story line. I will grudgingly admit that it acted as a pause between new suspects emerging and new information being exposed, but that could have been accomplished without the hidden desire. It detracts from the case, which is why I would be reading the novel.

Cudos must be given to Farrell for keeping the plot moving at a steady pace and the intrigue high. The chapters are short which assists in the steady pacing. (Admittedly, I quickly read over the chapters featuring Adler's personal life because they added nothing to the plot.) This is a novel that is hard to predict the outcome because the investigation keeps uncovering new suspects as well as new discoveries. This writing strategy works well as it keeps your interest high and the pages turning. The ending was a surprise for me.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Thomas & Mercer.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Dream Girl

Dream Girl by Laura Lippman
6/22/21; 320 pages

Dream Girl by Laura Lippman is a highly recommended psychological thriller.

Gerry Andersen, 61, is a successful novelist who relocated from NYC to an upscale apartment in Baltimore so he could care for his aging mother. She died soon after he moved in and Gerry was at loose ends when he had an accident that left him confined to a hospital bed in his apartment. Now he is cared for during the day by his assistant, Victoria, and at night by a nurse, Aileen. On a regimen of painkillers and physical therapy to build upper body strength so he can use a wheelchair in the future, Gerry's mind wanders back among his various life experiences. When he begins receiving phone calls from a woman who claims she is Aubrey, the main character in his phenomenal best seller, Dream Girl, Gerry knows there is no Aubrey. What does the mysterious caller want and why doesn't the number of the caller show up? Could Gerry be hallucinating?

Chapters alternate between Gerry's current situation and various incidents that happened in his past. The past recollections skip around widely from his childhood to a few years before his accident. He recalls his childhood, three marriages, last girl friend, affairs, book tours, and teaching jobs, in no particular order. Gerry is, naturally, the star of his recollections, but it becomes increasingly clear that Gerry is a bit of a cad and clueless over his less than stellar actions. Clearly, Gerry is an unreliable narrator. He starts out as generally agreeable and quickly loses his charm as his hazy memories jump from one memory to another. To Lippman's credit, the novel delves deep into the mind of this writer and his version of his experiences. In the end, everything merges into a picture of the writer and his life.

With such a limited cast and a house bound main character we really only have Gerry's thoughts available to help us decipher what is really going on in the story line. After a certain event, the novel takes an ominous turn and becomes akin to a horror novel, although I would still place it firmly in the realm of psychological suspense. The plot device of having Gerry housebound, helpless, drugged, and dependent on others for his care merges smoothly with Gerry's concern that he may be hallucinating or losing his mind. The pace is slow, but Lippman does a great job of including little tidbits of cultural, literary, and movie references. (I will admit being hopeful when Tess Monaghan made an appearance in the plot, but it is just a brief visit.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of William Morrow.


Monday, June 7, 2021

The Twin Paradox

The Twin Paradox by Charles Wachter
8/27/20; 372 pages
Trevaney Bay

The Twin Paradox by Charles Wachter is a highly recommended, wildly entertaining YA techno science fiction tale that will make a gripping, engrossing movie.

Alastair, Leo, Milk, Kat, and Zack are high school students in an honors program when their whole class is told they will be graduating a year earlier. At their private graduation they learn that they aren't who they thought they were. They are all clones from the DNA of famous scientists and leaders, including in part Albert Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci, Martin Luther King, Jr., Catherine the Great, and Isaac Newton. Their next year is to be spent as interns in research for the Gene-E Corporation. Seven members of their class will be headed to North Dakota, while Alastair, Leo, Milk, Kat, and Zack will be sent down to Corpus Christi, Texas.

Their first day of orientation in Texas, which is covered in entirety in the novel, is a time-bending, mind-numbing, action-packed adventure of unthinkable on-the-job training. The group along with a government representative is shown an example of what can be done by Gene-E founder, Ralls, and an older Isaac Newton clone who is considered the genius behind parts of the project. The teens are to be a part of the Cornerstone Project, where a large, powerful particle accelerator is used to control energy, mass, light and time. The eco-system and evolution in the area is manipulated by the particle accelerator.

Divided into six sections, The Twin Paradox reads like a movie and that is exactly what it should be. While reading I kept thinking of Malcolm's quote in Jurassic Park, "Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should." Which is a great intro to use for all sorts of unexpected events and heart-stopping struggles. The world building and the action are perfect for a series of action movie or a TV series. The plot zooms along at a break-neck pace, which I found thoroughly enjoyable.

Admittedly, the characters are light in development and you have to suspend disbelief, but that wasn't a detraction for me to enjoy the novel. I liked the teens; they are presented as enjoyable characters. There are so many twists and turns as the plot unfolds that I was totally engrossed in the story. The world building and plot make up for any deficits in writing and depth. What The Twin Paradox excels at is sheer adrenaline-packed action and an entertaining plot set in cinematic scenes. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Trevaney Bay.


Saturday, June 5, 2021

The Chief Witness

The Chief Witness: escape from China's modern-day concentration camps by Sayragul Sauytbay and Alexandra Cavelius, translated from the German by Caroline Waight
5/4/21; 320 pages
Scribe Publications.

Sayragul Sauytbay shares her life story, her oppression, and her escape from China in this very highly recommended biography. She was trained as a doctor but later retrained as a teacher and was appointed a senior civil servant. She was arrested and sent to a prison based only on her ethnicity. She managed to escape from China into Kazakhstan where she was reunited with her family who had fled there years before. Shockingly, she was then arrested by the secret police in Kazakhstan (with the CCP involved) and put on trial for entering the country illegally. It was during her trial that her courage to speak out over what was happening in China resulted in worldwide attention and support for her. Since Sauytbay shares her whole life story we get to know her childhood, her feelings, and the lifestyle of her family before the CCP and the camps threatened her life. She and her family now live in Sweden but still have the CCP calling and threatening her.

Sauytbay was born a Kazakh in what was called East Turkestan until China annexed the whole region in 1949. Later Mao Zedong renamed it the Autonomous Region of Xinjiang. The area is home to a predominantly Muslim population, chiefly Uighur, but there are also Mongolians, Kyrgyzstanis, and Tartars. The north-western province has also become home to over 1,200 penal camps which are called "reeducation camps" where all these minorities are being incarcerated beaten, raped, tortured, and used as subjects for medical experiments simply based on their ethnic heritage and religion. They are treated as slave labor or bodies to harvest organs from by the CCP. This Chronicles the deliberate extermination of an entire ethnic group. But the CCP ambitions are far beyond this as they have plans to conquer the whole world using the same nefarious strategies. As long as companies and citizens in the free world fail to hold China accountable and continue to value financial interests above human rights, we will be selling our souls to the devil.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Scribe Publications

Thursday, June 3, 2021

A Good Kill

A Good Kill by John McMahon
6/15/21; 384 pages
Penguin Random House
P.T. Marsh #3

A Good Kill by John McMahon is a very highly recommended outstanding procedural and the perfect conclusion of a three book series featuring P.T. Marsh. This is an intelligent, perfectly crafted series and I very highly recommend reading The Good Detective, The Evil Men Do, and A Good Kill. This whole series is a winning combination!

P.T. Marsh, a police detective in the small Georgia town of Mason Falls, is called by his partner Remy to the scene of a shooting at the Falls Magnet Middle School. One teacher has been shot while another teacher and three students are being held hostage by former journalist Jed Harrington. When Marsh gets into position to remove the threat, he receives a phone call from Governor Toby Monroe encouraging him to shoot Harrington to avoid bad press. Considering this request becomes a moot point when Marsh witnesses Harrington put a gun to the head of the teacher and then turns it toward the students. He chooses to protect the students, but wonders what Harrington's motive was and why Monroe was concerned. As Marsh and Remy look into Harrington, they are called to another murder scene.

In a A Good Kill Marsh investigates three complex crimes and uncovers more evidence and secrets that not only connect to the current cases, but also to the death of his wife and son. This is a riveting un-put-downable procedural. I was glued to the pages and totally immersed in the plot and invested in the outcome. McMahon keeps the investigation discerning, discoveries perceptive, and twists pertinent with no implausible leaps in the plot. The pacing of the novel is absolutely impeccable. It held my attention throughout while allowing the tension and suspense to build to a consummate denouement.

You can read all three books in the series as standalone novels, but the growth of the characters and the richness and complexity of the interconnected story lines work best when all three novels are read. By the time you finish the second novel you will know these characters, be invested in their stories, and care about what happens to them. Apparently McMahon may take a break from the P.T. Marsh series after this third novel. I enjoyed meeting his characters and following the compelling plots enough to allow that the quality of his writing ensures I will follow a new character in a new series. A Good Kill is one of the best procedurals of the year!

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Should We Stay or Should We Go

Should We Stay or Should We Go by Lionel Shriver
6/8/21; 288 pages

Should We Stay or Should We Go by Lionel Shriver is a very highly recommended satirical novel featuring twelve alternate universes in which a couple take the time of their demise into their own hands.

After her father dies, Kay Wilkinson only feels relief after helping care for him during his prolonged illness with Alzheimer’s. Kay is a nurse and Cyril, her husband, is a doctor. Between them, over the years they have seen many elderly patients with declining health issues. Kay and Cyril, in their early fifties, discuss what may lie ahead for them when Cyril makes a proposal that they should agree to set the time of their death on their own terms at a time of their choosing. They decide that the time will be when they both reach age eighty.

Three decades later the time of their choosing has arrived and Shriver gives us twelve alternate endings to the story in parallel universes. Each ending features a different choice and a different ending for Kay and Cyril. It is satirical fun. Sure, it is perhaps a bit morbid at times, but still each ironic future for them is vastly different. Some of their outcomes are based closer to reality while others veer toward science fiction. As reading I appreciated the idea that we can't predict the future, what our life will be like, or how we will feel about it when we are there.

The time for Kay and Cyril's exit is to occur in 2020. Shriver, who is known for often including her opinions on current topics in her novels, includes current events in Should We Stay or Should We Go. These include, in part, immigration, cancel culture, the pandemic, political correctness, and Brexit. In a perfect humorous passage, Shriver writes herself into the novel, much to my pleasure and enjoyment: “Please tell me you’re not listening to that Shriver woman,” Kay groans to Cyril. “She’s a hysteric. And so annoyingly smug, as if she wants civilization to collapse.”

The multiple perspectives on multiple timelines was very successful for me. Certainly some of their endings were more successful or gratifying to read than others, but that seems to be the point of the matter. You can't always know the value of your life, what will happen in the future, and what other factors will come into play. Should we embrace exercising free choice or accept what life/fate has to offer? Each alternate ending introduces a whole different set of issues and twists - some good, some awful, some realistic, some implausible - but reading through all of them was enjoyable.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.