gimmethatbook

Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Tag: Politics

Just Life by Neil Abramson

Just-Life-Jacket_book

Veterinarian Samantha Lewis and her team are dedicated to providing a sanctuary for unwanted, abused, and abandoned dogs in New York City. But every day it gets harder to operate her no-kill shelter. Sam is already at her breaking point when she learns of an unidentified, dangerous virus spreading through their neighborhood. The medical community can only determine that animals are the carriers. Amid growing panic and a demand for immediate answers, suspicion abruptly falls on dogs as the source. Soon the governor is calling in the National Guard to enforce a quarantine—no dog may leave the area.

Samantha knows from her own painful history that, despite the lack of real evidence against the dogs, a quarantine may only be the beginning. As questions about the source of the virus mount and clash with the pressure for a politically expedient resolution, Sam is forced to make life-altering choices. She finds allies in a motley crew of New Yorkers — a local priest, a troubled teen, a smart-mouthed former psychologist, and a cop desperate to do the right thing — all looking for sanctuary from their own personal demons. But the person Sam needs the most to unravel the mystery of the virus and save the dogs is the last one she’d ever want to call on—because contacting him will mean confronting the traumatic past she has fought so hard to escape.

 

Thanks to the author and publisher for providing this review copy.

Imagine a neighborhood in Manhattan in the grips of panic over a virus – one that is killing children and could possibly be spread by dogs. Imagine a shelter vet pushed to her breaking point by lack of money and no lack of politics. Add in a priest who may be losing his faith, an orphaned teen, and a few stray dogs who need homes.

Put yourself in the shoes of the veterinarian, who deeply loves her faltering shelter and all the dogs who call it home. Feel the only emotions that seem to be present in the first half of the book: incredible sadness, defeat, and frustration. Think about the sources of help available to you: none. At least none you can trust.

Welcome to JUST LIFE.

Not a happy, comfortable read, for sure. It is, however, a thought provoking and emotional story about making choices, standing up for what you believe in, letting go of your personal demons, and learning to trust.

Each character is deeply flawed but holds a spark inside them: the priest who throws a rock through his own church window because he is feeling distant from his Savior; the teen who was abused in foster homes and who is determined to save all the dogs at risk, no matter what; the assistant deputy mayor who is practicing good politics by shutting down the shelter.  The sun in their world is Sam, the veterinarian who gives everything she has to the stray dogs, her only family.

As the virus swirls around the neighborhood the tension ratchets up, and Sam is forced to make hard choices to save the dogs. Who will back her up?

My attention was held during the entire reading of this book. The veterinary medicine is correct, and the possibility of a bird flu – like virus (but with deadlier complications) was plausible. Each character’s story is revealed bit by bit, and sometimes they are sympathetic, sometimes not.

The character of Beth Cohen provides much needed comic relief during many dark times. She is a disgraced psychologist forced to either submit to a jail sentence or “volunteer” at the shelter. She asks probing questions, making Sam confront her fears and doubts. As I mentioned, she is also sarcastic and self effacing, adding a lighter touch here and there.

Gabriel, the priest, provides one of the most human touches in JUST LIFE. He is suffering from dementia, and his portrayal is poignant and heartbreaking. His backstory is the platonic love he held for his best friend and confidant Channa, who died recently. He wonders if he will be able to remember her, and the emotions she stirred in him. He questions his God, in a crisis of faith that pervades the entire book until the end. The scene with him in chapter 35 made my heart well up, and brought tears to my eyes. Well done, Mr Abramson.

JUST LIFE is a tightly woven story that will not leave you easily. It is not a story with a bright shiny ending, nor is it a depressing tale of failure. It is a tour de force of the human condition and the bond we share with our animal friends; and the lengths we will go to in order to protect them.

You can get your copy [easyazon_link identifier=”1455591041″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

 

Mind Me, Milady by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Ken Hicks

mind me milady

MIND ME, MILADY is a mystery set in New York City. As the book begins, the life of thirty-five year old Eve Petersen is in upheaval. She is an attorney who is in the process of winding up her recently deceased mother ‘s law practice, and she has just broken up with her control-freak boyfriend. She now has a new client to protect: a sweet but troubled young woman named Susan, who is struggling to understand both her foggy memories of the past and her constant sense of unease and danger in the present. And, as if all that weren’t enough, Kate herself keeps receiving unsettling phone calls from an Upper East Side serial rapist who has named himself “the Gentleman.” Each time he calls, the Gentleman casually discusses his latest victim in his eerily even, British-accented voice, hinting all the while that Kate will be the next one.

As the Gentleman continues his reign of terror, reprimanding each victim with his catchphrase, “Mind me, milady. Mind the Gentleman,” suspense and anxiety on the Upper East Side build to a fever pitch. A series of seemingly random women are brutally assaulted. Warring local political candidates fasten on these rapes as a pivotal dividing issue. Frightened and confused as to what to do, Susan undergoes hypnosis in an attempt to fill in memories that she had lost in the aftermath of a car accident years ago. Under hypnosis, she “remembers” living as an indentured servant in New York City during the period of the Revolutionary War and being raped by her Master while the Battle of Manhattan raged on the East Side. Whether these impressions are based in real memories remains a question, but as these bits of her past come to light, it seems more and more possible that Susan may be the Gentleman’s next target. With the Gentleman seemingly closing in on both women, Kate must try to put the pieces together and figure out the Gentleman’s identity so they can catch him before he strikes again.

Thanks to the authors for giving me this book in exchange for a review!

There is a lot going on in this book! Eve is a wonderful protagonist, especially when she is waxing sarcastically at the idea of hypnosis-as-healing. Her musings while having to clean up loose ends in her mother’s law practice were truthful and honest.  However, at times the various sub plots divided my attention and slowed things down. Susan was a sweet girl, but her mood swings made me wonder why everyone was continuing to deal with her at all. It also seemed that the endings to the sub plots were abrupt and didn’t serve anything except to get rid of characters.

It also seemed that there were some characters that were just filler and didn’t further the plot much either. The political machinations seemed murky at the beginning but by the time you get to the end, it will become clear.

One thing I did enjoy was the inclusion of the Old New York City detail, told through the hypnotic state of Susan. The Revolutionary War history is told well, and as more layers are uncovered, Susan’s story begins to seem almost truthful.

Another plus was that the murderer is not obvious, even after multiple red herrings pointing you in various directions. There are certainly enough suspects, and at the end I was completely surprised by how it turned out. I would have liked to know more about what made him tick; the mini chapters with his internal thoughts served more to confuse instead of enlighten.

Other reviews note that the writing style in the book seems divided, as it sometimes can be with dual authors. Perhaps this is the reason I felt MIND ME, MILADY to be disjointed at times. The plot is a good one, but I felt that the path to really get to the gist of the story took too long to get me hooked.

I think with tighter editing and some fewer characters this would have been a better book. Let’s see how the authors do in their next outing. I’m willing to read more about Eve Petersen and her law career!

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”B00IVV22AG” locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

 

 

Biography Review: Russell Long by Michael Martin.

The Short Version

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 1.43.59 PM

Russell Long: A Life in Politics starts off even before he was born to one of the most powerful American politicians outside the Capital, Huey Long. We come to know Russell as a man who seems to have ideals: whichever ones suit his purpose. We meet a chameleon who grows more conspicuous and powerful . He skillfully harnessed his father’s controversial legacy to shape his own. Many biographies are stories of rags-to-riches. This one shows us political royalty begetting political royalty. Like father like son.

Cinderella stories and train wrecks are interesting, sure. But at the heights of national politics, all things ordinary are extraordinary. You just need to be close enough to see what’s actually going on. Michael Martin points his microscope at characters who can raise up or ruin thousands of lives with a phone call. More than just a biography, Russell Long is a life-size portrait of some of the invisible forces that shaped American civil rights and economic intervention policy from the 1920s through the 1980s. I had mixed feelings about how Mr. Martin treated some topics, but overall this book was a joy to read, and particularly transformative for my personal understanding of Congressional politics in the middle of the last century.

You in a hurry? Take your coat off, why don’tcha? Keep reading!

 

My Full Review:

Excellence in the Biographical Craft

I read a lot of really dry books. I like’em that way. I’m all about the information density. Crank it up to 11! Don’t get me wrong. I love good narration and storytelling, but I’ve left mountains of biographies more relatable than Russell Long unfinished. Why did I finish Russell Long, but not the others?

As long as a biography helps me understand the place and importance of the person in the title, I’m happy. There are plenty of ways to do this. Some authors use personal accounts of people who knew the title character to construct a story. These biographies usually have a very personal touch. Their success or failure depends on how easy it is for the reader to get to know the person they’re reading about. Russell Long doesn’t even try to do this, so I won’t judge it on this basis.

This book wants to teach you about Russell, not introduce you to him. Enjoyment doesn’t issue from its style or wit, but from its combination of clarity and insight. Every page is pressurized to the bursting point with information. Russell Long is such a dense piece of pulp that the absence of any one sentence would immediately stand out to most mildly-attentive readers. Even being as dense as it is, however, it’s still easily accessible. Usually, accessibility correlates well with the complexity or depth of the content. I believe Mr. Martin created this outlier by focusing on a narrative structure before thinking in terms of timelines, events, and explanations.

Russell Long’s overall structure is evidence that Mr. Martin took spectacular care to produce an account that covers a wide canvas without becoming obtuse. The lesson other biographers can learn here is that contextual information is not a commodity. What does that mean?

In the Land of the Confusing, Context is King

Some contextual information pairs best with its related content when nestled in with a tangentially related account. We learn of Earl Long’s ultimate fate early, to lose his marbles while in the Senate in 1960. Seemingly a non-sequitur at first, this knowledge casts its foreshadow over Earl’s actions leading up to that year. At no time does Mr. Martin suggest any relationship between Earl’s escalating political aggressiveness and his meltdown. Even so, I would expect any reader to make his or her own judgment about the cause for his behavior, and whether his actions or his meltdown were the chicken or the egg. Regardless of the determination you make, the very fact that I was involved so deeply for so long leading up to the reveal is thanks to a masterful measuring of just the right amount of suggestion early on and an otherwise-innocuous lead-up to the event in question. You could argue that leaving the cause for his meltdown for the reader to intuit is unsatisfying, but remember, this book is interested in the facts. Guessing and wondering is the reader’s half of the contract here. Besides, have you ever called a book that left your brain chewing on its contents long afterward a “bad book”?

Russell Long is loaded with foreshadowing that seems like fact-stating at first blush, but produces satisfying “Aha!” moments throughout the proceeding text. Much of this foreshadowing occurs in the meaty first chapter entirely devoted to the life and career of Huey Long, Russell’s father. Mr. Martin depicts him as a powerful and ruthless Louisiana governor and political boss. Huey was a New Deal-era populist, and early on we come to know Russell as a Truman/Kennedy/LBJ Fair-Deal-era/Great Society-era populist. The account of Russell’s time striving toward and later working within the U.S. Senate during this period stands tall on its own, but it benefits tremendously from the foreshadowing earlier on.

As for sections of the book that trace the cause of a significant even to its effect, Mr. Martin provides context in step with the content. He seldom leaves the reader wondering what motives the actors might have had. Often, when an author does not give particular consideration to the distribution of contextual knowledge, the reader is burdened with wondering if he or she missed something until the author gets around to providing helpful context. The combination of foreshadowing and unconstructive inline explanation makes Russell Long a relatively effortless read.

Small Book, Big Ambition: The Compromise Shows.

In spite of all of the great things that I have to say about this biography, I do have complaints. Mr. Martin’s application of foreshadowing sometimes seems to guide the book’s focus away from very important details in favor of events that mesh well with the scaffold of foreshadowing upon which the biography seems to be built. Mr. Martin glosses over, and sometimes neglects even to account for, very important transitions in Russell Long’s political career. I found the explanation of the machinations by which Russell became Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, for example, to be unsatisfying. In sections describing the use of connections by either Long to usurp the function of government agencies, some more detail regarding how these connections were formed and maintained would have been beneficial.

Am I nitpicking? You may not even think twice about the informational gaps if you give this mainly solid book a read. I’m probably asking too much from a book in the range of 300 pages. If an editor demanded that I tamp down the word count, I might have nixed these details, too. Regardless, fleshing out these details in a longer book would have been well worth the longer read. In the end, every book must stand on it’s own two… covers. Russell Long certainly suffers from several unsatisfactory, unsatisfying, and sometimes missing explanations of what I though should have been key elements of a complete narrative.

The Last Word

To get hung up on any of these qualms would be to miss out on appreciating this book’s most important feature. Before Michael Martin’s Russell Long became available, there had been no quality account of Russell Long’s place in American history accessible to the layperson. The alternative for the average person seeking to learn about the younger Long would be a greatly fruitless Google search. Even Wikipedia, with it hordes of fanatical volunteer editors, hosts relatively little quality, cross-referenced information about this troubled, controversial, and interesting man. The publication of this book fills a conspicuous void, and there’s nothing but good in that.

The information density of Russell Long is actually dumbfounding. That Mr. Martin was able to make such a dense work so easy to read is a testament to his mastery of the biographical form. I swallowed about 300 pages of pure knowledge in hardly more than four hours. (If I’m being honest, the speed was just as much thanks to the “Spritz” reading software I use as to Mr. Martin, but I digress.) If all non-fiction books were like Russell Long, we would all be far more knowledgeable. People would read more books. People would patronize their libraries and coffee shops with equal frequency. Heck. The coffee shops would probably just be in the libraries.

 

© 2020 gimmethatbook

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑