Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and RedemptionSometimes my work allows me to listen to books while I work. I was happy to see this one available from my library online service. I had heard the title and was interested in the topic.

Stats: It was published in 2014, which surprised me. I didn’t know I was so slow on the draw, but it explains why it was available to me from the library. Narrated by the author. It is 11 hours in length.

Blurb: Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

What I liked: Mr. Stevenson is an impressive man and this book does a good job telling his story. It’s not surprising that they picked this up to make a movie about it (which I would also recommend). It’s quite a story. A definite eye opener of the continued injustices in our judicial system.

What I didn’t like: Not sure I can think of anything.

Rating: 5/5

A Better Man by Louise Penny

44034500I always enjoy a stroll through the small but dangerous town of Three Pines 🙂

Stats: Published in 2019, print is 437 pages, audio is 11 discs, narrator, Robert Bathurst (as always)

Blurb: It’s Gamache’s first day back as head of the homicide department, a job he temporarily shares with his previous second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir. Flood waters are rising across the province. In the middle of the turmoil a father approaches Gamache, pleading for help in finding his daughter.

As crisis piles upon crisis, Gamache tries to hold off the encroaching chaos, and realizes the search for Vivienne Godin should be abandoned. But with a daughter of his own, he finds himself developing a profound, and perhaps unwise, empathy for her distraught father.

Increasingly hounded by the question, how would you feel…, he resumes the search.

As the rivers rise, and the social media onslaught against Gamache becomes crueler, a body is discovered. And in the tumult, mistakes are made.

What I liked: There are enough questions about “Who done it” that you really don’t know until Penny tells you (or at least I didn’t). I don’t know what number this is in the Gamache series and I’ve only read a few of this series, but it still feels fresh. Penny is so good at making the characters and their lives seem very real. The backstories of the supporting characters play into the mystery so well. Bathurst does a wonderful job, as usual. I love his interpretation of the duck.

What I didn’t like: (Spoiler Alert) To keep the real “killer” hidden, Penny kind of lies to the reader. The person really responsible tries to pin it on someone else. Is that lying or is that what a person might actually do. For this character, it seems unlikely, but it makes the story work.

Rating: 4.5/5

The Giver of Stars – Jojo Moyes

The Giver of StarsI have read this author before so I thought this would be a safe pick.

Stats: The audio book (which I “read”) is 11 discs, 14 hours, narrated by Julia Whelan. The print book is 400 pages, published in October of 2019.

Blurb: Alice Wright marries handsome American Bennett Van Cleve hoping to escape her stifling life in England. But small-town Kentucky quickly proves equally claustrophobic, especially living alongside her overbearing father-in-law. So when a call goes out for a team of women to deliver books as part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s new traveling library, Alice signs on enthusiastically.

The leader, and soon Alice’s greatest ally, is Margery, a smart-talking, self-sufficient woman who’s never asked a man’s permission for anything. They will be joined by three other singular women who become known as the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky.

What happens to them–and to the men they love–becomes an unforgettable drama of loyalty, justice, humanity and passion. These heroic women refuse to be cowed by men or by convention. And though they face all kinds of dangers in a landscape that is at times breathtakingly beautiful, at others brutal, they’re committed to their job: bringing books to people who have never had any, arming them with facts that will change their lives.

What I liked: I enjoyed the story in part because it was obvious it was based on some facts. It initially appears to be about Alice – the immigrant from England, but it really seems more about Margery – the feisty local that does and says what she likes. The library and the bond that forms with the women that run it is heartening and the things they encounter seem very real, as do the characters. I can see how, if they enjoyed reading, how they would like sharing that with people that would normally not be exposed to books. Plus, it’s understandable for the time period for the women to appreciate the independence this job gave them, a job men would generally have little interest in so suited them perfectly. Julia Whalen does a wonderful job with the narration, making each character unique.

What I didn’t like: It seems to takes Alice an extra long time to figure out what she decides to do once she (spoiler alert) leaves her husband. It also takes too long for the trial to happen. (I won’t tell you who is on trial.) I’m not sure why Moyes draws this out for so long. Generally, the book moves along in a saunter, like the women on their horses. It’s not the “epic” the publisher would have you believe, but it’s enjoyable.

Rating: 3.5/5

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson

43107933. sy475 I haven’t read anything by this author but it looked good, so I picked it up.

Stats: Published in June of 2019, 352 print pages, 10 audio discs, 11.5 hours. Audio narrated by Jason Issacs. Book 5 in the Jackson Brodie series.

Blurb: Jackson Brodie, ex-military police, ex-Cambridge Constabulary, currently working as a private investigator, makes a highly anticipated return, nine years after the last Brodie, Started Early, Took My Dog.

Jackson Brodie has relocated to a quiet seaside village, in the occasional company of his recalcitrant teenage son and an aging Labrador, both at the discretion of his ex-partner Julia. It’s picturesque, but there’s something darker lurking behind the scenes.

Jackson’s current job, gathering proof of an unfaithful husband for his suspicious wife, is fairly standard-issue, but a chance encounter with a desperate man on a crumbling cliff leads him into a sinister network—and back across the path of his old friend Reggie.

What I liked: An awful lot (hows that for vague). If you like happy endings (and British humor), you’ll like this book. It’s not that the book is light and fluffy stuff – it is far from that, but all the bad guys get their just due and frequently at the hands of people that need to see justice done. The characters are all very real (drag queens, teen angst, parent angst, pasts that catch up to you… I don’t want to give anything away so I’ll stop there), the story line is also all very real (the underbelly of human kind), other than the lovely ending for all the good characters and the not so lovely ending for all the bad ones. But it feels so cathartic that you can overlook the unlikelihood of this happening in real life. Jason Isaacs does a wonderful job narrating. Each character is very distinct; I could see them all in my mind’s eye.

What I didn’t like: The only down side was it took until disc 4 for the story to really start. I was listening and the characters in the story before disc 4 are all interesting, but they don’t all start to come together until then, and then it’s off to the races. I don’t think it would have made a difference if I’d have read other Jackson Brodie books first. This one stands on it’s own just fine.

Rating: 4/5 (I’ve hit the jackpot recently, two really good book in a row!! (see my The Casual Vacancy review). Maybe I just like British humor, growing up on Monty Python. They seem particularly good at highlighting the silly things we humans do.

The Casual Vacancy By J.K. Rowling

13497818I hadn’t read anything else by Rowling other than the Harry Potter series, so when I saw this audio book on the library shelf, I thought I’d give it a go.

Stats: Published in 2012 (boy, am I behind the times), print is 503 pages. Don’t remember how many discs but it’s 17′ 51″ long. Narrator is Tom Hollander

Blurb: When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.

Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.

Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils … Pagford is not what it first seems.

And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?

What I liked: Most everything about this book I liked. I could tell right away is was written by Rowling – her Harry Potter style of deep omniscient point of view is unmistakable and I think even better in this book than in the Potter series. I recently read Where the Crawfish Sings and I think the author Delia Owens was trying for this point of view (though not deep, like this book) but wasn’t able to pull it off. (I’ll go more into that in a specific review of that book in another post). And what a topic – the death of a small-town politican (or whatever his “seat” was on the parish council – not church parish but district/parish. This is set in England). How does one make a story about a banal subject like that? Well, by creating wonderful, real characters with wonderfully messy lives. I wanted to get to know many of these characters upon first introduction, they were done so well. I think I have to buy this book just to study how she does this.

And the narration of Tom Hollander is superb! Definitely listen to the audio on this one. He’s so entertaining and makes the characters that much more richer.

What I didn’t like: It was a bit ago that I read it so maybe there was something, but it wasn’t enough that I remember what it was.

Rating: I guess I’m on the fringe on this one with Goodreads averg at 3.3/5 and Amazon at 3/5. Were people expecting something fanciful because of her Potter series? I’m not sure. But it’s superb writing (and narration) so I giving it a 5/5

The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

The Girl with the Lower Back TattooI really like things I have seen Amy Schumer do on the big screen, so I wanted to listen to her book.

Stats: I listened to this online so I don’t know how long it was. It was published in 2016. The print book is 323 pages. It is narrated by Amy.

Blurb:In The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy mines her past for stories about her teenage years, her family, relationships, and sex and shares the experiences that have shaped who she is – a woman with the courage to bare her soul to stand up for what she believes in, all while making us laugh.

Ranging from the raucous to the romantic, the heartfelt to the harrowing, this highly entertaining and universally appealing collection is the literary equivalent of a night out with your best friends – an unforgettable and fun adventure that you wish could last forever. Whether she’s experiencing lust-at-first-sight while in the airport security line, sharing her own views on love and marriage, admitting to being an introvert, or discovering her cross-fit instructor’s secret bad habit, Amy Schumer proves to be a bighearted, brave, and thoughtful storyteller that will leave you nodding your head in recognition, laughing out loud, and sobbing uncontrollably – but only because it’s over.

What I liked: Amy doesn’t dodge any punches. She really seems to be telling the truth (not that I’d know, of course) – the pretty and the not so pretty aspects of her life. She also comes across as a real person – like her excitement when she is able to give her sister a large hunk of cash because she just could and how excited they both were because of what that meant to them as siblings and friends. It’s also a well-written book. I don’t think I ever got bored listening to it.

What I didn’t like: Amy’s humor can be kind of crude at times and that is not my kind of humor, but if you don’t mind that, you’ll fully enjoy this book. I would also recommend listening to it. Since Amy is the narrator, you get the full feel her words convey.

Rating: 4/5

Braidi Sweetgrass by Robin W. Kimmerer

17465709I was looking for a book to give my husband for his birthday. He is a big student of Native American literature of all genres, so I thought I’d “read” this one and see if he’d like it. I don’t think he would.

Stats: Published in 2013 (thought it was sooner than that), print is 391 pages, audio was published in 2016 and narrated by the author. Sorry- didn’t keep track of how many hours it was.

Blurb: As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these lenses of knowledge together to show that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings are we capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learning to give our own gifts in return.

What I liked: Kimmerer does a nice job of narrating the book. Not all authors are good narrators but Robin is. I think it is also an advantage because you get a better feel for the meaning behind the words, and Kimmerer is ALL about meaning – a deeper meaning of most everything! I particularly liked learning about the uses of various plants and how the Native Americans used various plants and why. Like my own German culture, I’m not sure why we would still use some of the things they used in the past because they didn’t have the luxury of wasting anything (head cheese is one examle), but to each his own. Of course, there are things that have been left behind that would be useful to look at again. It is also interesting to see how Kimmerer strattles academia and what she learned from her own culture. She has done a wonderful job of this and imparted some important thoughts to many of her students because of it or at least made them think.

What I didn’t like: The thing I had a hard time with is that notion of “meaning.” Kimmerer bestows a deeper meaning to almost everything she encounters, which is a bit much for me. It’s like the arguments an English professor may make about the meaning an author may have given the color of the walls in a room in a particular scene in a book – lets say blue. Maybe the color has no more meaning than blue is the author’s favorite color. Sometimes a rock is just a rock.

Rating: I struggled with giving this book a rating. I waffle between 3.5 or 4. It goes on at times a bit too much for my taste but it was well written overall and has some very interesting parts, so ultimately, I’ll give it a 4/5