Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Review of American by Day by Derek B. Miller

Author: Derek B. Miller
Release date: April 3, 2018
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: 352
Sigrid is in a tough place. A star investigator in Oslo, she’s been cleared of any wrongdoing after a confrontation with Kosovan immigrant turned deadly—but reading the neat report that plainly states she took the appropriate course of action only disturbs Sigrid more. She’s ready for some quiet introspection on her family farm, but upon arrival it’s clear her father has other plans for her.

In fact, he’s purchased her a ticket to America: her elder brother Marcus has dropped off the map in upstate New York, and she’s been dispatched, somewhat reluctantly, to find him. It doesn’t take her much time upon arrival to reach her first conclusion: America is weird.
But soon she discovers more to dig into: that Marcus’s disappearance seems inextricably linked to the death of the woman he loved, an African American professor named Lydia Jones. Moreover, this conclusion—and Marcus—are now the focus of an investigation led by irreverent, cowboy-boot-wearing, utterly American local sheriff Irving Wylie.
While initially their divergent investigation methods seem bound to clash, it becomes clear that they must work together: that each sees parts of the case through a glass darkly, as Wylie puts it—but by looking together, they just might be able to find answers.
Derek B. Miller’s American by Day takes a suspenseful and engaging look at police brutality and race relations within the American justice system. Miller tackles this explosive topic in a refreshingly thought provoking manner. Miller is the award-winning author of several novels that include Norwegian by Night (2013) and The Girl in Green (2017). He lives in Norway with his family and has worked on international peace and security for think tanks, diplomatic missions, and the United Nations.
In his novels, Miller’s characters are appealing and far from stereotypical. They suffer through all sorts of issues and definitely have passionate opinions on a wide variety of incendiary topics. Protagonist, Chief Inspector Sigrid Ødegård was first introduced to readers in Miller’s debut novel, Norwegian by Night. She and Irving Wiley provide plenty of entertaining and clever dialogue that represents opinions on individualism versus collaboration. Sigrid’s observations about America, men, and life in general are intuitive and humorous.
“She is angry at men. All men. For their stupidity, their lies, their egotism, their irrelevant words, their aggressive personalities and hairy backs. She is angry at them for what they did and didn’t do. For what they say and leave unsaid. For the timber of their voices and the length of their strides, the ease by which they open jars and their inexplicable incapacity to return even the smallest objects to their rightful locations. She is tired of investing in them without dividend . . . to solve everything herself.”
Overall, American by Day is a fascinating crime novel and the use of unorthodox characters, stinging observations, and lack of stereotypes is refreshing. A quick read and highly recommended, the plot develops into a thoughtful but grim exposé on societal challenges of inequality and the brutality of racism that are running rampant in modern America.
Michael Thomas Barry is a staff reviewer at New York Journal of Books.

Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on April 3, 2018 - https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/american-day

Friday, March 30, 2018

Review of Paris in Stride: An Insider's Walking Guide

Authors: Jessie Kanelos Weiner and Sarah Moroz
Release date: March 27, 2018
Publisher: Rizzoli Books
Pages: 176

It is hard to go wrong in Paris, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Paris in Stride: An Insiders Walking Guide is an attractively illustrated and easy to follow guided stroll to all of the important locations within the City of Light.

Jessie Kanelos Weiner is an American illustrator, author, and food stylist based in Paris. She creates watercolor imagery for many international companies and her illustrations have appeared in numerous publications. She is the author of several books that include Edible Paradise: A Coloring Book of Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables (2016) and pens a popular blog about her life called thefranofly.com. Sarah Moroz is a Paris-based journalist, writer, and translator. This is her first foray into published travel writing. 

“Paris is a ceaselessly mythologized city. Many wistfully extoll the beauty, the history, the architecture, and the gastronomy of the French capital; it is only natural that visitors come with the ambitious aim of extracting the very best of its sights and tastes.”

Divided into ten compact and comprehensive walking tours, the authors have woven the “must see” locations with a plethora of quirky and lessor known destinations. Each section has a map and key with carefully selected locations with tiny descriptions. The authors encourage “an adventurous approach” to seeing the city. The reader can follow their preplanned walks or explore the city indiscriminately.

Paris in Stride is intended to be helpful both in terms of cultural decoding and in terms of ease in circulation.”

This useful and handy guide transports the reader to the Paris that only locals know. With unique and compelling narratives on culture and history, the authors have created an authentic glimpse into Parisian life. The attention to detail, originality, conciseness, and readability will most certainly delight the casual and veteran traveler.
Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on March 30, 2018 - https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/paris-stride

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Review of Speed the Dawn by Philip Donlay

Author: Philip Donlay
Release date: March 6, 2018
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing
Pages: 336
Buy from Amazon - 

Hundreds of white-hot meteor fragments plunge toward earth near Monterey Bay, California. Huge fires ignite—dry landscape and, the sun sets, the power grid collapses and the fires grow, illuminating a nightmare created in hell itself. Donovan Nash realizes he is trapped.
Injured and growing desperate, his options dwindling, Donovan fights to keep himself and a small band of survivors alive until dawn, when they can make one last attempt to escape the inferno. Meanwhile, Donovan’s wife, Dr. Lauren McKenna, working with the Pentagon as well as the Forest Service, envisions a bold approach to stop the fire from spreading all the way to the Bay Area and the seven million residents living there. She’s terrified that, if not executed perfectly, her plan could cause the death of thousands of people—including Donovan.
With Speed the Dawn: A Donovan Nash Novel, Philip Donlay has delivered another superb suspense thriller. The eighth installment in the extremely popular Donovan Nash series, the author has created a new adventure that’s bursting with peril and mayhem. Writing from the basis of his own experience as a professional pilot, Donlay doesn’t hold back as the white-knuckle edge of your seat action starts on the first page as this novel.
“Lauren squinted as another burning object fragmented under the tremendous forces of high speed and friction, creating hundreds, if not thousands of small separate hazards racing downwards. The noise came all at once, like a sudden hailstorm. Instantly, hundreds of small pinholes opened in the ceiling. Lauren gripped the seat as the Gulfstream shuddered.”
Speed the Dawn continues in the same pattern of Donlay’s other novels with the tense, exciting, and action-packed thrills that puts wealthy environmentalist Donovan Nash right in the middle of a natural disaster. Fraught with danger and terrifying realities, Donlay effortlessly manages to bring new layers and situations to his multidimensional characters with each new installment.
Whether it’s by air, sea, or land, his writing style keeps the reader captivated. The plot is a twist on an old and effective theme, but Donlay succeeds in making it seem fresh and his own.
In an effort to retain tension, he adds chaos and a touch of hopelessness to the wild-ride narrative. The fear of being trapped and trying to find our loved ones during a disaster is palpable and heartfelt. Fast paced, spellbinding, and packed with exhilarating thrills and chills, Speed the Dawn is a well-written and electrifying novel. An outstanding addition to the Donovan Nash collection and quite possibly the best yet, the suspense will keep the reader glued to the edge of their seat until the very end.
Michael Thomas Barry's most recent book is In the Company of Evil: Thirty Years of California Crime, 1950–1980. He is the author of six other nonfiction books and is a columnist for CrimeMagazine.com
Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on March 6, 2018 - https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/speed-dawn

Friday, March 2, 2018

Review of Time Pieces: A Dublin Memior by John Banville

Author: John Banville
Release date: February 27, 2018
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Pages: 224

“Certain moments in certain places, apparently insignificant, imprint themselves on the memory with improbable vividness and clarity…so vivid are they, the suspicion arises that one’s fancy must have made them up: that one must, in a word, have imagined the.”

Born and bred in Wexford, a train ride away from Dublin, John Banville as a child saw the city as a place of enchantment. It was first a birthday treat, the world his beloved, eccentric aunt inhabited. When he came of age and took up residence there, the city was a frequent backdrop for his dissatisfactions as a young writer. When he lived outside Ireland, the city remained alive and indelible in his memory. In a once grand but now dilapidated flat in Upper Mount Street, he wrote and dreamed and hoped. Returning to live in Ireland, he found Dublin to be as fascinating – albeit for different reasons – as it had been to his seven-year-old self. 

“Dublin was for me what Moscow was for Irina in Chekhov’s Three Sisters, a place of magical promise towards which my starved young soul endlessly yearned. That the city itself, the real Dublin, was in those poverty-stricken 1950s, mostly a grey and graceless place did not mar my dream of it…”

Banville is an award winning Irish novelist and screenwriter. He has penned sixteen novels that include The Book of Evidence (1989) and The Sea (2005), which won the Man Booker Prize. In Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir, he turns introspective and reflects on his cherished memories of his adopted hometown. In it he alternates between monologues of his own past, and present-day historical explorations of the city. 

“O time, O tempora, what places we have been to – where will you take me yet?”

One of the great but elusive metaphysical questions of history has been the nature and substance of time. In the very first chapter, Banville writes, “…the past is where we live, while the past is where we dream. Yet if it is a dream, it is substantial, and sustaining. The past buoys us up, a tethered and ever-expanding hot-air balloon.” This provides, in many ways, the rhetorical theme of the book that combines memoir and guidebook, with social observation. As a result, Banville takes us on a swift journey through his life and Dublin both, providing just enough detail to make it enlightening, but not so much that it gets tedious and dull. The writing itself is amusing and entertaining with plenty of colorful references to other Irish writers and poets: “For good or ill, as a writer I am and always have been most concerned not with what people do – that, as Joyce might say, with typical Joycean disdain, can be left to the journalists – but with what they are.”

Overall, Time Pieces is a quick and well-written read that pays tribute to a humbler and more influential place and time for the writer. Fascinating and atmospheric, the narrative is complimented with beautifully illustrated images by award winning photographer Paul Joyce. For anyone who loves Dublin, every page of this memoir will be a delight and for those not acquainted with the city, it will bring better understanding into what makes it so charming and distinctive.

Michael Thomas Barry is the author of seven nonfiction books that includes Literary Legends of the British Isles and America’s Literary Legends.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Review of Bone Music by Christopher Rice

Author: Christopher Rice
Release date: March 1, 2018
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Pages: 450

Charlotte Rowe spent the first seven years of her life in the hands of the only parents she knew – a pair of serial killers who murdered her mother and tried to shape Charlotte in their own twisted image. If only the nightmare had ended when she was rescued. Instead, her real father exploited her tabloid-ready story for fame and profit – until Charlotte finally broke free from her ghoulish past and fled. Just when she thinks she has buried her personal hell forever. Charlotte is swept into a frightening new ordeal. Secretly dosed with an experimental drug – but pursued by a treacherous corporation desperate to control her. Except from now on, if anybody is going to control Charlotte, it’s going to be Charlotte herself. She’s determined to use the extraordinary ability she now possesses to fight the kind of evil that shattered her life – by drawing a serial killer out from the shadows to face the righteous fury of a victim turned avenger.

Bone Music by Christopher Rice is a fabulously entertaining genre bending new thriller. Rice is the critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of four novels and is an executive producer for The Vampire Lestat, a TV show based on the novels penned by his mother, Anne Rice. In this new page-turner, Rice attempts to reinvent the superhero origin story with a tale of female empowerment while opening a thought provoking dialogue into what survivors of evil have to endure.  

This novel is an excellent start to the new “A Burning Girl Thriller” series. The plot is fast-paced and engaging with firm character development. At its core, Bone Music is about the human need for socialization and our ability to face the fears that often hold us back from our potential. Rice has masterfully woven elements of a coming of age love story with tons of mystery, suspense, and thrills. A roller-coaster ride of adventures that’s filled with kick-butt superhero excitement that doesn’t let up from page one.

Michael Thomas Barry's most recent book is In the Company of Evil: Thirty Years of California Crime, 1950–1980. He is the author of six other nonfiction books and is a columnist for CrimeMagazine.com.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Review of The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington

Author: Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington

Release date: February 27, 2018
Publisher: Public Affairs
Pages: 416
After two three-year old girls were raped and murdered in rural Mississippi, law enforcement pursued and convicted two innocent men, Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks. Together they spent a combined 30 years in prison before being exonerated in 2008. Meanwhile, the real killer remained free.
The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South, co-authored by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington, recounts the story of how the criminal justice system allowed this to happen, and how two men, Dr. Steven Hayne and Dr. Michael West, built successful careers on the back of that structure.
For nearly two decades, Hayne, a medical examiner, performed the vast majority of Mississippi’s autopsies, while his friend Dr. West, a local dentist, pitched himself as a forensic jack-of-all-trades. Together they became the go-to experts for prosecutors and helped put countless Mississippians in prison. But then some of those convictions began to fall apart.
Radley Balko is an opinion writer and investigative reporter for the Washington Post and authored two books that includes Rise of the Warrior Cop (2013) and The Militarization of America’s Police Force (2013). Tucker Carrington is criminal defense lawyer and director of the George C. Cochran Innocence Project at the University of Mississippi.
“In America, actual wrongful convictions estimates range from 2 to 10 percent, but getting an exact number is difficult. These numbers may seem low, but when applied to a prison population of 2.3 million, they become staggering: Anywhere from 46,000 to 230,000 innocent people could be locked away right now.”
This books main focus is on Steven Hayne’s and Michael West’s roles in the trials of Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, both men were wrongly convicted and eventually exonerated in the sexual assault and murder of two children in the 1990s. With keen insight the authors methodically dissect Hayne’s and West’s false and misleading testimony and pin point major flaws in the prosecution’s case.
Of course, it is not just these two men at fault here. They argue that bad forensics, blatant racism, greed, and systematic institutional failures are fundamentally at fault in this case and many others, and these failings have raised thought provoking questions about Mississippi’s ability and willingness to address these central problems.
In this riveting new exposé Balko and Carrington have detailed the fundamental flaws of the broken Mississippi criminal justice system, which is a relic of the Jim Crow era. They reveal that the root of police misconduct lay in corrupt political maneuvering and the justice system's reliance on shaky expert testimony. Because prosecutors were primarily interested in pushing cases off their dockets. They relied on flimsy and dishonest testimony to guarantee quick convictions for black defendants rather than identifying the actual perpetrators. How this occurred for so long, unrestrained and unapologetic, is perplexing.
“Those in innocence work have made some strides. Over the last 25 years, more than 2,000 exonerations have occurred in the United States, but workers know that they have only truly begun to scratch the surface.”
The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist is a wide-ranging and explosive investigation of a racist criminal justice system that allows for the tragic exploitation and incarceration of black people in Mississippi. With detailed and wide-ranging storytelling techniques, Balko and Carrington build a hard-to-ignore case for comprehensive criminal justice reform. This book is certain to give pause to even the most ardent supporters of law enforcement and is a wake-up call to anyone who thinks police militarization and brutality isn't a political issue.
Michael Thomas Barry's most recent book is In the Company of Evil: Thirty Years of California Crime, 1950–1980. He is the author of six other nonfiction books and is a columnist for CrimeMagazine.com.

Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on February 27, 2018 - https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/cadaver-king

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Review of My Fathher's Wake by Kevin Toolis

Author: Kevin Toolis
Publish date: February 27, 2018
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Pages: 288

“The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?” Edgar Allan Poe
In American culture, death and mortality are often seen as taboo subjects because no one really likes to think about them. However, death comes in many pretexts. Whether we rage against the dying of the light or eagerly embrace the darkness, we must all find our own way.
“Death is a universal occurrence with two options; you can do death well or you can do death badly. You can encounter your own death and the death of those you love in terror, in denial, in confusion, in blind panic, in shocked surprise and in despair . . . Or you could try the other option and learn how to die.”
Talking about death in our society makes most people incredibly uncomfortable. They do not speak very openly or in much detail about it. Rather they allude to it, avoiding tackling the subject directly. Americans do not die. They “pass away, “expire,” “kick the bucket,” “go to their reward,” “breathe their last,” “cash in their chips,” “meet their maker,” “depart this life,” “give up the ghost,” or other avoidances. Insurance companies advertise plans designed to meet “your final expenses.”
Once death arrives, its victims are not “dead.” Instead, they are “loved ones,” “the departed,” “the deceased,” the “late so and so.” Rather than being buried, the dead are “laid to rest” or “sent to their reward.” Those about to die are “terminally ill.”
Throughout most of American history, death, sometimes by violence and often by sudden disease, was an everyday experience. Today it is remote. People no longer die at home, but in nursing homes, hospitals, or hospices. When they die, they do so within a cultural structure that may not include close, supportive families or ingrained cultural rituals for acceptance of death and grieving.
At the same time, a deep sensibility of optimism and hope has always been a part of the American psyche. Death in the American mind is something for the distant future, and we hope they invent a cure before we get to that place.
The Irish, however, have a very different relationship to death. Generally speaking, the Irish people are known for being gregarious and polite, with a belief in good luck, and uplifting spirits, especially when it comes to enjoying good partying. The most well known is the Irish Wake.
During a person’s final moments, families gather at the foot of the bed to sing the Five Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, a lullaby to cradle their loved ones into death. Surrounded by those who know them best and care about them most, the dying come rest.
And then the living’s responsibilities begin in earnest. Upon death, men dig the deceased person’s grave by hand, a sign of dedication and a labor of love. Every male family member then gathers together to carry their loved one’s coffin on their shoulders to the grave, while others stand outside the deceased person’s home as the coffin is carried out the front door and placed onto two household chairs on the lawn.
The walls of the house are splashed with Holy Water. Then the coffin is lifted into the hearse and the chairs are kicked over to mark an irreversible rupture between the living and the dead. Such is the Irish way of death. If you’ve only seen the movie version, you might think it’s just another occasion for social drinking. You’d be wrong.
In My Father’s Wake: How the Irish Teach Us to Live, Love, and Die, Kevin Toolis examines death from an Irish perspective. Toolis simply clarifies that death and funerals in Ireland are seen as a social responsibility and communal act of kinship. An Irish born writer and BAFTA- winning film maker, Toolis is the critically acclaimed author of Rebel Hearts: Journeys within the IRA's Soul (1996, St. Martin Press) which has been featured in the New York Times Magazine and the Guardian.
“Death is a whisper in the Anglo-Saxon world . . . We have pulled the curtains across, privatized our mortality . . . Officially the deceased have become obscene.” But on a remote island off the coast of Ireland's County Mayo, death has a louder voice. Along with reports of incoming Atlantic storms, the local radio runs a daily roll of ordinary deaths. And the islanders go in great numbers, often with young children, to be with their dead. They keep the corpse and the bereaved company through the long hours of the night. They dig the grave with their own hands. It is a communal triumph in overcoming the death of the individual.
In this stimulating and poignant narrative, Kevin Toolis armed with his Irish heritage gives a heart wrenching description of the death and wake of his father as he delves into the broader history, rituals, and meaning of the Irish wake.
“Sonny was a very ordinary man and his life passed unnoticed by a wider world. But Sonny did have one advantage over most of us: he knew how to die. And he knew how to do that because his fathers and mothers on the island, wake after wake, had shown him how. They had trained Sonny all his life to die by giving a voice, a place, in their daily lives for the dying and the dead. And in showing Sonny how to die, those Irish fathers and mothers taught him other more important lessons. How to live. And how to love.”
With an inspiring and refreshing message at its core, My Father's Wake rejoices in the spiritual depth of the Irish views on mortality. But do not be mistaken, this book’s purpose is not to solve the meaning of life, but it does ask some very challenging questions. Thinking about our own death does inescapably return to the existential questions: Is this the life I wanted? Or still want? Can we learn to deal with mortality and death in a better way—by living and loving as the Irish do
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of seven nonfiction books that includes Literary Legends of the British Isles and America’s Literary Legends.

Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on February 27, 2018 - https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/my-fathers