Book Review #68: “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City”

evicted

Image Credit: Amazon

I think I first heard about this book from friends on Facebook, who all said what a powerful book it was.

Then, author Matthew Desmond was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air in April 2018. My local area, Hampton Roads in Virginia, was specifically mentioned in the interview regarding high numbers of evictions in three separate cities. It stung, and propelled me to want to learn more. As soon as possible.


I bought the book in August, and finally started it in late December. But once I started, I could not put it down. By the time we came home from the farm on December 26th, I’d flown through Part One. I was itching to go to bed that night, eager to dive in to Part Two. It only took me a few more nights of intense reading to finish it. I came away from it with a greater understanding, and appreciation, for being able to own my own home with my husband. It’s one of those books that makes me realize how good I have it, especially as a white woman with no children.

I’m drawn to books like this because of the human interest. I was reminded of the term “ethnography,” which is the systematic study of people and cultures. Author Matthew Desmond settled in Milwaukee, in the trailer park and other low-income neighborhoods, to not only interview people for the book, but to learn about their lives, and specifically what they go through day by day. The housing crisis and recession of the late-2000s began while he was conducting interviews, and it’s referenced in the book as well.

However, the housing crisis and recession are not all to blame here. It’s just one factor. There are many other factors involved with eviction and those who struggle with it. Landlords have profited by buying cheap, often dilapidated houses or buildings, charging rent, and then sometimes refusing to fix inherent problems in these properties. The tenants complain, nothing gets fixed, and rent can go unpaid or withheld. There are certain processes for evictions, but they vary greatly. There are voluntary and involuntary procedures. It’s definitely not black-and-white.

When someone is evicted, that goes on their record. It’s exponentially harder for parents with children to find an affordable place to live, and eviction(s) exacerbate that problem. Multiple evictions are even more problematic. It’s a vicious cycle, where parents want to protect their kids from negative influences and crime, but can’t break out of those areas because of their eviction record. Welfare benefits can also be affected. If you’re lucky to have a job, getting evicted can cause immense stress, affecting job performance and more. Choices have to be made, painfully – Pay rent, or the utilities, or the car repair, or a need for your kids. Kids are uprooted, shuffled, changing schools, and also stressed. It’s a horrible experience all around.

Desmond’s dedication to these interviews, living in their space, researching the processes and procedures, and soaking up everything he could about eviction shines through this book. It’s depressing, in more ways than one, but incredibly informative, educational, and eye-opening.

This is one of those books, in my opinion, should be studied and taught in schools, especially upper levels of high schools and colleges/universities. It’s an important issue that needs more focus, discussion, and change.

My eyes were opened widely to the multiple problems regarding eviction. I thought I knew a few things, but this book turned my thinking completely on its head. The book focused specifically on Milwaukee during a set number of years, but there are eviction problems and issues throughout the entire U.S.

That was one of the focuses of Desmond’s interview with Terry Gross – Thanks to receiving a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant in 2015, Desmond has started The Eviction Lab, where a dedicated team of researchers and students from Princeton University are creating the first-ever eviction database in the U.S. At the time of the interview, in April 2018, the Lab had already collected 83 million records from 48 states and the District of Columbia.

The book was also awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2017. That says something, too.

“Stabilizing a home has all sorts of positive benefits for a family,” Desmond said in the interview.

Desmond has written two other books, and co-authored one on race. I look forward to reading and seeing more from him.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #67: “Small Town”

I found this book at a thrift store in Florida in May of this year, for $1.50. Why it took me so long to read it, and finish it, I don’t know. But, overall, I enjoyed this book. Lawrence Block was a new name to me, but what captured my attention was the setting – New York City. I’m a sucker for books set in the Big Apple!

Originally, it took me a while to read more than two chapters per night. Block’s writing is so incredibly detailed, and the cast of characters is extensive. His chapters are meaty, but mighty. I told a group on Facebook that this is a good thriller, but if you’re not a fan of sex, violence, and profanity, I would avoid this book. Those three things are very prevalent in this one!

I liked this book, for the most part. It’s not my favorite thriller in the whole world, but I liked the structure of the story, and how the title is so fitting. Despite several heavy subject matters – It’s set in 2002, so that gives you an idea of the circumstances in New York City – the characters were constantly engaging. Each character was unique. Also, one of the main focuses is on a published author, and seeing the process of a book deal in a fictional story was really cool to see. I enjoyed following the author’s story, and the saga he’s involved with.

I could have seen less graphic sex, and the violence was definitely unsettling. But, it’s a thriller. And Block accomplished that with his writing.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #66: “WHO KNEW? …Reflections on Vietnam”

I received this book as a gift! My dear friend, Lydia, sent a sweet card with the book, explaining that she knows the author, and wanted to send it to me after reading a blog post regarding my interest in Vietnam. Thank you, Lydia!

The best way I can describe this book is a mix of a memoir, photo album, and poetry collection, all wrapped up into a nice book. It gave me a sense of what Watts went through during her year of service.

While preparing to receive her undergraduate degree at Villanova, she knew wanted to travel. She wanted to join the Peace Corps, but they wanted her to start before graduation. Then, she found a brochure for the Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas (SRAO) program of the American Red Cross.

What she ended up with was a year of service, and a lifetime of memories.

Watts blends photos, poems, soldiers’ artwork, and her memories into a powerful book. It made me feel like I was there with her.

I also learned about the SRAO program of the Red Cross, and how instrumental these women have been since World War II. I gained a new perspective, and a sense of gratitude. I know Watts and her crew were appreciated by the men in the jungles of Vietnam, during a very trying time there, and here at home.

Although I wasn’t alive during her service, I appreciate Watts for writing this book. It provides a unique perspective on a unique type of service during the war, and I’m grateful for her to show me, and others, this insight. Reading accounts like this makes me want to learn even more about the Vietnam War and the people who were involved, both soldiers and civilians.

Thank you again, Lydia, for this gift!

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #65: “Fallible Justice” (ARC Review)

Over the summer, I received an email from Louise Walters, who owns and operated Louise Walters Books, asking if I was still interested in receiving an advance reading copy of Fallible Justice. I couldn’t remember how or why this happened, but I said yes. I’m so glad I did.

Although it’s taken me a full four months to finish, I’m thrilled to publish this review right before the book is scheduled to publish on November 8th.

Fallible Justice is the first in the Wilde Investigations series. I can’t wait to read more!

Like Louise wrote in her lovely letter to me that accompanied the book, the characters are one of the great strengths. I loved their interactions, and to discover how many characters worked together to achieve the same goal – Working to save a man’s life before his scheduled execution.

I also loved Laakso’s world-building. I’ve always been fascinated with the U.K. and London, but she puts an awesome spin on it with her Old London, the wilderness, and the different classes of characters. I hesitate to compare Laakso to other writers, but I felt distinct hints of J.K. Rowling throughout.

In addition, whomever created the cover should be given an award. It’s one of the most beautiful and intriguing book covers that I’ve seen!

When I first read the synopsis to my husband, Al, he immediately thought of Martin’s Game of Thrones series. While different in its own right, Laakso is definitely on to something with this first book. I was delighted to read the first chapter of book #2 at the end of the ARC, and I truly can’t wait for it to be published.

The only significant complaint I have was the book was a bit wordy and/or lengthy. It dragged in a few places, but I also recognize this to be a part of Laakso’s world-building and integrating characters. Despite a few slow areas, the book captivated my imagination and the characters kept me engaged.

I particularly loved the way Yannia and Karrion work together as they try out Karrion being a potential apprentice during this investigation. They both have different strengths, and weaknesses, but together they are a great team, and I can’t wait to see what they are assigned next.

I felt very sad when I came to the end of the book. That’s how much these characters made an impression on me. However, I’m thrilled that Laakso is creating a series. I eagerly await the publication of book two!

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #64: “Forgetting My Way Back to You” (ARC Review)

Forgetting My Way Back To You

Image Credit: Amazon

Karina Bartow asked me months ago to be a part of her blog tour, and I happily agreed! I chose to review her new book Forgetting My Way Back To You.

Here’s the link to her release /announcement blog post: “Forgetting My Way Back To You” Release: Twelve Years in the Making

Here are my thoughts!


It was just released yesterday – October 15th – but Karina was nice enough to send me a PDF to read in advance. Thanks, Karina!

Many of you know that I prefer physical copies of books to e-books, but I made an exception in this case. My eyes were a bit blurry once I finished, but I enjoyed the story.

It’s not a super-long book – The PDF was roughly 218 pages. However, it has been a LONG time since I’ve touched a book that was a love story / romance.

I liked Charlee from the beginning. I recognized several themes from the first few pages – Perseverance, determination, and grit. She’s been through a lot in a few short years, between her own struggles, and her family dealing with a serious illness / setback.

I was very skeptical about Hunter. I wasn’t sure if I could trust him, or not. I think other characters had that vibe, too. However, I feel like the skepticism was a benefit to the story. It kept me interested. Considering I flew through the first 17 pages in less than 20 minutes, and then I read pages 17-58 in just thirty minutes during one of my lunch breaks, Barlow’s writing kept me engaged and interested. My husband thinks I broke a speed record with how fast I read this book!

The one plot point I had a significant issue with (no spoilers, I promise) was integral to the story, but it definitely made me roll my eyes and groan a little. Having that situation happen to Charlee was a bit cheesy, I’ll admit. I told my husband what happened in the story – I was reading next to him on my iPad while we were relaxing one night after work – and he had a similar reaction.

Despite the slight cheesiness, I really enjoyed this book. I loved the characters and their interactions. The dialogue was well-written, and it was really easy to follow along and lose myself in a book for a while. The Pennsylvania setting was picturesque, and she captured it so well!

I look forward to reading more of Bartow’s work!

4 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #63: “Among The Hidden” (Shadow Children #1)

Among the Hidden

Image Credit: Amazon

If my memory serves me correctly, I bought this from Amazon last summer after reading about it on Thrice Read. It makes sense, because I think this book is one that one of them read in anticipation of teaching it to their students.

Regardless, I thought this was a good book to use in a classroom setting, or to encourage reading in general.

It’s definitely a middle-grade book, designed for younger readers. But, as I was explaining it to Al in the car over the weekend, I thought it was one of those books, and series, that could capture the interest of a boy or young man very easily. At the same time, girls could easily be interested in it, too. As an adult woman, I was definitely intrigued by the story.

Luke, the main character, is a hidden child, in a world where things are changing, and not for the better. There’s this force called the Population Police, and Luke’s family is almost living in fear, afraid that Luke will be discovered, and taken away. Luke is watching his family struggle with their farm, as gorgeous, brand-new houses are built behind them.

Why is Luke a “hidden child”? Why is his family so fearful and protective? Will their farm be shut down? What’s going on with all those brand-new houses behind them? And, who are the Population Police?

It’s a quick read – I breezed through the majority of the book within two nighttime reading sessions. I’m not sure I’m going to read the rest of the series, but I highly recommend it for younger readers. It’s a unique story, blended with several real-life themes and elements that readers can easily relate and identify.

4 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #62: “The Casual Vacancy”

The Casual Vacancy

Image Credit: Kobo.com

It took me quite a while to read this book. I purchased it at Barnes & Noble at least two years ago, if not longer than that. I think I had a gift card to spend, because the paperback had the bargain price of $5.98.

I’ve been interested in this book since it was published in 2012. Having been a massive Harry Potter fan, and this being her first novel for adults, I had full confidence that I would enjoy this book just as much.

Poor Al. He’s heard me gripe and complain and whine about this book for weeks! But, I finally finished the book earlier this week after he went to sleep. It took way too long for me to finish 503 pages, but I DID IT!

Rowling is still one of my favorite authors, by the way. But, this book doesn’t make my list of favorites.

It’s not a bad book, but it’s really dense. There are SO MANY characters. It made my head spin initially. I get it – She’s focusing on multiple families, all who are involved in some way with the parish council. Also, the book could have been condensed. In my opinion, 503 pages for this book was too long. She could have certainly told this particular story in 300-400 pages.

As an American, I’ve been fascinated with England, British life, and so on for several years. Getting this fictional perspective of a parish council, different communities, and challenging decisions was really interesting. Overall, the cast of characters were diverse, and interesting. There was a lot more drama than I was expecting, but it wasn’t too distracting.

The book dragged quite a bit through the first half. I almost gave up – I was struggling with the characters, and it was a lot of mundane exposition.

However, around Part Five or Part Six, the action increased, and I actually started to enjoy it. Toward the very end, I was on the edge of my seat – The last 75 pages or so were really exciting. Definitely dramatic, and more than a bit of tragedy, but it felt like a thriller at that point. I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. I was slightly sad when I got to the last page.

Again, not my favorite book by Rowling, but I was happy I plowed through to finish.

3 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂