Jenn’s Review of A Game of Proof

I just finished reading A Game of Proof (The trials of Sarah Newby) a British legal thriller by Tim Vacary. I think I got this one for free from  ebookfling and I’m glad I read it. It really was a pretty good story.

Sarah Newby, the lead character, was a single teenaged mom who with sheer ambition and determination worked her way up to a be a criminal barrister in England. The downside is that she focused more on her career than her children; her relationships ultimately becoming very strained and fragile.

At the beginning of the story she is defending a likely guilty man accused of raping his girlfriend. Despite everyone’s unfavorable opinions of her profession, Sarah was there to disprove evidence provided…even if deep down she felt her client had committed the crime. There were plenty of questions she could raise about the evidence, her real problem was how to appeal to the jury, to get them to feel good about acquitting a man who not only looked liked a horrendous thug but probably was one…That was the problem. To question the evidence was easy, to gain the fury’s shymathy…not so easy. Not even slightly easy. Impossible, probably. Well, that’s what I’m paid to do.

The irony comes when shortly after this trial concludes her son Simon is charged with raping and murdering his girlfriend…and she finds that he is connected to the client she just defended. Many also suspect that he is responsible for a string of recent rapes and murders.

This book is very well written. The characters are very well-defined and you can palpate the tension portrayed. Sarah’s family is understandably separated by their own issues and their opinions of Simon’s guilt or innocence. Even Sarah can’t ignore the evidence that links her son to the crimes. However, she puts her reservations aside and decides to defend him…not knowing if that will help or hinder his case.

The book has many twists and turns that flowed nicely. I must say, I had my strong suspicions about the outcome of the story but I enjoyed reading it anyway; it’s the kind of fiction that I like to turn to after reading historical fiction or true crime books.

Even though I knew it was fiction, it still sparked my frustration with the legal system. As Sarah put it, you don’t ask clients if they’re innocent; you ask how they wish to plead. Then you present their case to the best of your ability. The search for truth is conducted by the court and the jury. I’m not sure how lawyers defend people they suspect (or know) are guilty. In this case, I guess it didn’t matter. Her job as a mom came first.

I’ve read that Tim Vacary has two more novels in the Sarah Newby series, A Fatal Verdict and Bold Counsel . I think they will both be on my reading list. The writing reminds me of James Pattersonwith a British flair. Great combination 😉

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Guido’s comparison of The Hunger Games: Book vs. the Movie

I would love to introduce Guido as our youngest book reviewer on BBB. Guido is just 10 years old! His mother, an English teacher and one of my best friends from college, finally let him read The Hunger Games this summer. Of course, after reading the book he wanted to go see the movie. As a way to persuade his mom, he offered to write a compare/contrast essay for the book vs. the movie. He knew which strings to pull and it obviously worked as his mom let him watch the movie and here is his wonderful review! Way to go Guido!!

We all know that a lot of books turn into movies. Some books that get turned into movies are famous like Harry Potter, Twilight, and the Hunger Games. Books get turned into movies by how good they are. Movies usually change some parts, to give them a kick in action. A kick in action gets good reviews and more fans for the book and the movie. In the book The Hunger Games, the districts of Panem, 1 boy and 1 girl will go into an arena. For a fight to the death with 23 dead and one victor, the government forces the kids to die. The book is better but the movie is also really good.

The book has some differences from the movie. In the book Katniss Everdeen gets a mockingjay pin from a girl named Madge, the daughter of Mayor Undereese. This is very important because when Katniss goes into the hunger games her mockingjay pin becomes her symbol, the symbol of rebellion. Further, the book doesn’t show the game makers (the people who control the Hunger Games) because they didn’t need to. They didn’t need to because the book was Katniss Everdeen’s thoughts and it kept on saying what will the game makers do next. Furthermore, the book goes WAY slower than the movie so you get attached to a little 12 year old girl named Rue who is like Katniss’s little sister Prim. Rue is really important to the story because Katniss and her get bonding time and when Rue dies Katniss covers and decorates her in flowers. It adds a bond between the districts.

The movie changed some things from the book. In the movie Katniss gets her pin in a black market in her district, and gives it to her sister Prim. However in the book she gets it from a girl named Madge. In addition, they showed game makers to show that people ran the hunger games. They did this because in the movie it wasn’t Katniss’s thoughts but yet in the book it was. To show people that people run the hunger games. Further, the movie goes faster so you really don’t get as attached to anyone like Rue, so when she dies we’re not really as sad as we are in the book.

In both the book and the movie. Katniss gets a mocking jay pin. And it is really important because in later books District 13 uses it as a sign of rebellion. In addition, Katniss is called “Katniss Everdeen girl on fire”. It is very important because that’s how people notice her and pay attention so she can get sponsors and she becomes a victor. Furthermore, the Peeta, Katniss, Gale love triangle is in both. It’s important because Katniss can survive with the excuse of she loves Peeta and Gale is important in later books because he kisses her and protects her.

In conclusion, the book is better than the movie. The book has more action and adventure. The book has a better flow to the groove of the hunger games. Books are often better than the movie. It’s always better because you experience more from the book than the movie.

                vs.                

What do you think? Do you agree with Guido? I sure do! 

Jenn’s review of The Badge, The Street and the Cop: A Lance Lapore Fictional Memoir by Leo LePage

I read this book on a recommendation from my dad, a retired Hartford Policeman of 30 years. It’s a fictional memoir written by a Hartford Cop in the 60s – 80s who served during the infamous riots. My dad went into the force in 1970 so he worked with him for a little over 10 years. The riots were over but the tension remained high.

I want to start by saying that I have the utmost respect for police officers. Like in any profession there are dishonest and dirty cops, but I truly believe that most that enter the field do so with the purest of intentions. They want to make a difference; they want to keep us safe.

 I remember those kids in the projects. Their eyes glazed over with the thousand-yard stare, surrounded by violence and empathy, they battled to survive. They pondered their future and wondered what swallowed them. I would like to think I helped some of them and made a difference. I can only wish that I could of helped them all, but that just could not be.

Being a police officer is most often a thankless profession. They face criticism and put their lives at risk on a daily basis. The author did a great joy of portraying that. He served during a time when cops walked the beat without radios and had to rely on store owners, call boxes and skeptical home occupants. Cages that currently separate the accused from the police officers weren’t there for protection.

I felt the pride that I feel for cops like my dad swell in my chest when I read the speech that the author received as a new recruit from his Chief:

Starting tomorrow you will be assigned to squads within the ranks of the Hartford Police Department. You will fill the gaps on the thin blue line! You have chosen an honorable profession, but I warn you, it will take all you can give. Most of your career will be spent dealing with unsavory types, lost souls. You will be called upon repeatedly to show personal restraint. You will be asked to place your heart and soul, even your life, on the line on a daily basis. You will be constantly under the scrutiny of the public you serve. You will be harried and criticized over and over by the media and political bodies who govern them. Yet you will remain silent and go about your business in a professional concise manner. You must stifle rear, grief, and at times loneliness. As you go about this great calling, you will be besieged by temptation everyday of your careers. At times, you will be a psychiatrist, a teacher, a minister, and motivator of life. You will bring life into this world and you will see countless lives leave this world. As police officers, you are given a sacred trust. Men and women of society will trust you with their homes, their property, their children, even their lives. It is a trust given by man but monitored closely by our maker. A trust I would hesitate to violate.

The author provides a compilation of countless stories of the life of a Hartford cop. Even though the author admits to embellishing, the stories still feel true. You feel the fear, the tragedy and the camaraderie. He details the strong bond between all service workers and you can really appreciate the brotherhood. Men of all races come together like they do on the battlefield.  Men, black and white, had momentarily laid down their arms forgetting about hate. They had risked their lives to save what they had placed in peril: innocence. For a moment, out in the turmoil and civil strife, time had stood still and smiled.

The grammatical and spelling errors throughout the book were a little distracting, but as I understand it the publishers got the wrong manuscript so I tried to ignore them.

I was very happy to see his tribute to the wives of cops at the end of the book. Throughout the story, I was surprised that the author’s wife was not portrayed more. He certainly had his share of brushes with death and I think it would have added a personal element to focus on how that affected his wife and children.

I remember once, watching TV with my mom. The media was filming a bomb call that my dad was at. The next thing we knew we were watching as the windows of the building blew out. We had no idea what was happening and could only think the worst. I can’t remember if my dad had a cell phone at that point, but I do know that it seemed like forever before we found out that he was ok. It was agony. Spouses and families of cops go through this every day. When the phone rings or as you watch something unfold on TV; you hold your breath and pray that today isn’t the day you find out that you’ve lost them to the job.

So, his tribute that he shared was very close to my heart:

Tribute to a Cop’s Wife 

To my beautiful and loving wife

I’m sure you’ve heard times during our married life

From those who ask, aren’t you proud to be a policeman’s wife?

But let me say this; it’s you I’m proud of,

And they would be, too.

To be a lawman, is no easy task to do,

It’s what we have to do,

But it’s a much harder job to be his wife,

And it takes someone special like you.

And I know God chose you to be with me in this life.

Because he knew you had the quality and strength to be a cop’s wife.

Some may say that I have courage and I’m a hero and that sort of thing,

And when I hear it this thought to my mind it always brings,

It’s you, you’re the courage behind the man’s badge, don’t you see,

And it’s you who’s the real hero, not me.

And I know you get lonely and frustrated at times and wonder it it’s worth it all,

But if you ever left me, this brave, courageous, hero would be no man at all.

And I know you worry about the temptations I face on the streets, of the women of the night and girls I met,

But let me tell you this and you listen good,

There’s nobody on this Earth who could replace you,

They certainly never could. And I know there are times when I go to work and you kiss me good-bye,

That you must worry and wonder if this is the day I’ve been chosen to die,

And honey, if that should even happen and someday come true,

Remember, my very last thoughts on this earth will be of you

Jenn’s review of Flowertown by S.G. Redling

I just finished reading Flowertown, a conspiracy thriller by S.G. Redling. The story is about a small town in Iowa that is quarantined after a chemical company (Feno) spills their experimental pesticide near the town. The inhabitants are held captive to a restrictive infrastructure, countless med checks and less than ideal living arrangements. They are isolated from the outside world to prevent the spread of the contamination. The side effect of the drugs they are forced to take is that their bodies give off a sickly flower like smell; hence the designation of “Flowertown”.

The main character (Ellie) was in the town by chance at the time of the spill. Those closest to her were either killed instantaneously by the spill or shortly thereafter from the medications given to rid their bodies of the poison.

Ellie, after a two-year stint in a mental institution, slips into an existence of apathy, laziness….oh, and marijuana. She is a complicated, hot mess. She is sarcastic and sassy and even though she appears to be clueless, she is actually quite smart. She has a budding “romance” with an Army sergeant-turned Feno employee that is plagued with mistrust and betrayal. Her fight for survival lies dormant until she starts to see things crumbling around her as the conspiracy unfolds.

The company that is to blame for the spill collaborates with a big pharmaceutical company to manage the treatment of the town members. It’s obvious as the story develops that there are motivating factors at play. Whereas you would think that with the advent of pharmaceutical advances, after 7 years the town’s inhabitants would be cleansed by the contaminant. Instead, many of them have been told that their livers are failing and they are just being treated with “comfort meds”. While most would resign to their fate, Ellie’s rage unleashes her sass and defiance in the face of authority. You see her true colors when she is backed into a corner. Most animals when caged and abused are eventually going to fight back.

I found that I enjoyed the twisted plot and the storyline kept my attention for the majority of the story. I actually acquired Flowertown on a free Prime membership loan. About 60% into the story, I turned on my Wi-Fi to update my Kindle and it disappeared!! When my free month of prime membership expired, so did my book. Needless to say, I purchased it right away. Those that know me and know that I hate spending money on something that I already had for free can appreciate how much I was enjoying this book.

I felt the big twist coming, but I was pretty surprised anyway which is refreshing. Even though I was pretty close to piecing it together it still had the shock factor.  The author develops the supporting characters just enough for you to be pulled into their stories. She makes you wonder if something like this can really happen, and how the government would handle it if it did. Would you stand by and watch as everything unfolded around you or would you rise up and fight?

The story did leave some unanswered questions, which I would imagine could lead to a second book but I’m not sure where they would take the storyline. I felt it wrapped up too quickly and lacked closure for many of the characters we met.

Overall though, I enjoyed it. It was a pretty easy read and I was intrigued by the suspense and paranoia. I found myself pulling for Ellie and hoping that everyone would escape from the greed and abuse of power of those capitalizing on the misfortune of others.

Also available at Barnes & Noble/Nook

Jenn’s review of the Dark Monk by Oliver Pötzsch

For the most part, I truly enjoyed The Dark Monk: A Hangman’s Daughter Tale. It falls into my favorite genre, Historical Fiction. The author bases many of his characters and locations on true people and places. He reports in the afterword that he is the descendant to numerous hangmen including Jakob Kuisl, who apparently had a daughter named Magdalena. He also includes detailed descriptions of the historical sites that played parts in his story, just in case you find yourself in Germany and want to take a tour. I appreciate when authors do this; it really helps to piece everything together for me.

I especially enjoyed the lead characters: Jakob Kuisl (the hangman), Magdalena (the hangman’s daughter) and Simon (the local physician and “boyfriend” to Magdalena). I am glad that I got to know the characters well in the first novel, as the author doesn’t focus on them as much in this story. You can appreciate their connections to each other as their stories intertwine, but the author takes them on separate adventures throughout the book. I would have liked to see Magdalena and Simon’s relationship grow some more, but maybe the author didn’t want to distract from the main storyline.

I was also captivated by the relationship that Jakob and Magdalena had with the town’s characters. I found it intriguing how they could be so shunned and feared by members of the town, yet they run to them when they need cures for their illnesses. Everyone looks down on their family until they are in dire need of their medical skills and knowledge. Even knowing this, you still see their characters evolve. Jakob, for instance, seems to become more empathetic and fair. He won’t let a criminal suffer at the hands of his torture if he feels that person has shown penance or has been wronged by society.

As in books like the The Da Vinci Code (which I also loved), the author takes you on a tour of churches and other religious areas to investigate relics, and how those relics lead to the next clue of the riddle created by the Knights of the Templar. I did find that I really had to pay attention and often had to reread sections as I tried to keep all the sordid details straight. I found myself getting the rival characters mixed up.

In stories where there is friction and discord in the church it always amazes me how the antagonists, often members of religious sects, are able to justify murder and crimes against humanity when it was in the name of God. It really makes you think.

Whereas parts of the story were a little dry and the ending was somewhat anticlimactic, I enjoyed trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Also like the Da Vinci Code, I think this series would make a great movie.  I am looking forward to the next installment of the Hangman’s Daughter series: The Beggar King. I’ll usually take a break between historical fiction books, but this one will be on my upcoming list for sure.

Also available for the Nook (Barnes & Noble)

Criminal

I just finished, Criminal: A Novel by Karin Slaughter. Wow, that was pretty intense and captivating.  I loved reading it from the different character’s points of view, including that of a female cop back when female cops weren’t accepted. If you like “CSI“, you’ll like this book. Be ready though…this book evokes a wide range of emotions including fear, horror, anger, disbelief and grief. Great pick BBB!

Duma Key – Recommended by Dee

My friend Dee just read and “loved” Duma Key: A Novel by Stephen King.

A terrible construction site accident takes Edgar Freemantle’s right arm and scrambles his memory and his mind, leaving him with little but rage as he begins the ordeal of rehabilitation. A marriage that produced two lovely daughters suddenly ends, and Edgar begins to wish he hadn’t survived the injuries that could have killed him. He wants out. His psychologist, Dr. Kamen, suggests a “geographic cure,” a new life distant from the Twin Cities and the building business Edgar grew from scratch. And Kamen suggests something else.

Edgar leaves Minnesota for a rented house on Duma Key, a stunningly beautiful, eerily undeveloped splinter of the Florida coast. The sun setting into the Gulf of Mexico and the tidal rattling of shells on the beach call out to him, and Edgar draws. A visit from Ilse, the daughter he dotes on, starts his movement out of solitude. He meets a kindred spirit in Wireman, a man reluctant to reveal his own wounds, and then Elizabeth Eastlake, a sick old woman whose roots are tangled deep in Duma Key. Now Edgar paints, sometimes feverishly, his exploding talent both a wonder and a weapon. Many of his paintings have a power that cannot be controlled. When Elizabeth’s past unfolds and the ghosts of her childhood begin to appear, the damage of which they are capable is truly devastating.