Book Review #32: “Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison”

Orange_Is_the_New_Black_book_cover

Image Credit: Wikipedia

At the end of April, during a long weekend with Al and his parents, I found this paperback while visiting the Virginia Avenue Mall in Clarksville, Virginia. There were so many books – It was a really cool indoor, two-story flea market. I was hunting for something else, but for $4.00, I couldn’t pass this up!

I haven’t watched the series on Netflix, but I’ve always been curious about it. I knew it was based on a true story / inspired by true events, but I didn’t realize that Piper Kerman had written a book about it!

This was another book that I finished quickly, but forgot to write the review. I’m trying really hard to break this habit! I think it only took me about two weeks to read.

It was crazy to read about how Piper’s unfortunate globe-trotting escapades caught up with her several YEARS later. She was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison, and served her time in three different facilities.

Having only learned about prison from books and other media, reading a first-hand account from a woman who was not a typical inmate was eye-opening, and oddly fascinating. I say “not typical” because Piper was well-educated (She graduated from Smith College before getting involved with her criminal activities), and had an immense support system on the outside.

She did a fantastic job of painting the experience for the reader – I felt like I was right beside her the entire time. I really got to know Piper, as well as all the women around her. I went through many emotions – I laughed, I teared up, I wanted to scream. Mostly, I laughed. I personally think Piper tried to make the very best of her not-so-desirable situation, and I think she handled it really well.

I didn’t want to put the book down. I started to limit myself to only 1-2 chapters per night, because I wanted to read 5-6. It’s no wonder that this book has transformed into a successful series on Netflix.

Kerman did a great job with details, and made sure that the reader got as much of the full experience of her 15 months between Danbury, Connecticut; Oklahoma City; and Chicago as possible. It was also really interesting to go back in time, in a way, reading about headlines and news from 2003 through 2005.

She displayed a significant amount of courage by writing this book. She gives the reader an inside look into a tough place, and she does a really good job of showing honesty, sympathy, and advocacy.

I highly recommend this book. It’s definitely not the easiest read, but it really opened my eyes. I have a better understanding of what these women go through, and how those on the outside should be better about treating them. There’s still a huge stigma around incarceration, and these women deserve better.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #31: “The Da Vinci Code”

davincicode

Image Credit: Wikipedia

In short, I liked this book MUCH better than Angels & Demons. It was significantly shorter in length, and I got through it much faster than the first one.

I actually finished the book at the end of April, but I dove head-first into my next book and basically forgot to write this review!

This installment involving Robert Langdon was centered in Paris, with London thrown in. It was another fascinating thriller. I liked Sophie better than Vittoria, and I wasn’t as turned off. The ending was more satisfying, too.

I felt I was more interested in this story and I wanted to learn more. I wanted to read at least one chapter every night. This book was also less graphic, and it had more adventure!

The Da Vinci Code focused on cryptology, another secret society, a heavier emphasis on religion, and so many fascinating facts. Brown does a good job of balancing facts with action. Having had the opportunity to visit The Louvre, I was thrilled to see it play a big role on paper.

I don’t have a lot of criticism for this book. After my frustration with Angels & Demons, I’ve experienced renewed excitement to see what happens to Robert next. I’m actually excited to pick up book three! I’m ready to dive into The Lost Symbol very soon.

4 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #30: “Angels & Demons”

angels-and-demons

Image Credit: Amazon

I originally thought The Da Vinci Code was the first book to feature Robert Langdon, but I was proven wrong!

This was a HUGE book. I wanted to finish it last week, but it was so dense that it took me until 11:00 p.m. last night to finally finish. It’s 616 pages total!


To be blunt, I have several praises, as well as several criticisms.

I was instantly drawn into Robert Langdon’s world. Brown hooked me within the first few sentences. I was along Langdon’s side from Harvard, to Switzerland, to Vatican City, to Rome. It was a bit of a whirlwind at first, and then you get plunged into the worlds of CERN,  Vatican City, the Catholic Church, history, and symbolism.

Trying to figure out the puzzle that Brown laid out kept me interested. A scientist at CERN is brutally murdered, and he has connections to both the scientific and religious communities.

I liked Vittoria Vetra almost immediately. She’s feisty, gorgeous, and a great addition to Langdon. Langdon is the main character, but there were times that Vittoria was faster, and took control, and I liked it! She’s a smart cookie, and I knew Robert would be attracted to her.

The menagerie of twists and turns made me feel like I was on a high-speed ride through Europe! It was exhilarating. There were several days where I flew through multiple chapters and dozens of pages.

I applaud Brown’s dedication and commitment to historical accuracy, and being totally up front about not fictionalizing any locations, historical figures, or places (There’s a disclaimer in the very beginning). It felt even more real!

However, I had several issues with this book. There were three particular instances where I feel Brown is almost too graphic in his writing. As an aspiring writer of fiction, I know that, at certain times, it’s necessary to be graphic to illustrate and illuminate, But, Brown’s style was too much for this reader. I almost gave up every time. I almost didn’t want to find out what happened next. Some of it almost made me sick.

But, I pressed on.

Toward the end, as the intensity was reaching its peak in Vatican City, where decisions needed to be made quickly – Brown inserted this multiple-page speech by the Camerlengo (papal chamberlain) that just dragged on and on. I got the significance – The man was addressing the cardinals at a critical point in the conclave – but it could have been much shorter! Maybe dedicate a page or two, but not five or six! I felt so impatient during that section. I wanted to skip the entire speech and get just back to the action!

Finally, I hated the ending. It felt abrupt, it felt weird, it left me hanging a bit. It wasn’t a cliffhanger, but I hated how nonchalant it felt. I won’t give it away, but I felt a bit empty when I closed the book.

My first thought was, “That’s it? That’s how you end this ridiculously long book? Wow…”

After sleeping on it, I realized this morning why he ended it the way he did, but I still wasn’t happy about it!

If you’re looking for a thriller that involves conspiracy, mystery, secret societies, art history, exploring historic sections of Europe, and learning a lot about the Catholic Church – This book is for you.

Overall, I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone for this one. I’d heard of the movies, but haven’t seen them. The first few pages of The Da Vinci Code I read about a month ago made me curious about who Robert Langdon is and how he got himself into such a twisted web of history, religion, and murder. It’s an exciting book, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him, and what happens next.

Despite my issues with Angels & Demons, I’m still motivated to read the other books with protagonist Robert Langdon – The Da Vinci Code (2003), The Lost Symbol (2009), Inferno (2013), and Origin (October 2017). Look for these reviews over the next few months.

3 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #29: “The Whistler”

the-whistler

Image Credit: Amazon

This was another book that I picked up with the generous Barnes and Noble gift card from my parents. John Grisham has always been one of my favorite authors – I give partial credit to his writing for getting me interested in the legal field!

When I bought this book, this marked one of the first times I bought an author’s newest book within a few months of its release. With Grisham, I’ve typically found copies of his books at libraries and thrift stores. However, as I’m wrapping up my Paralegal Studies degree, I’m finding that I want to read as many new legal-themed books as I can get my hands on, even if it is fiction.

The Whistler is a powerful thriller, full of twists and turns. I liked the setup of the Board on Judicial Conduct (BJC) – Grisham followed a different angle of the legal profession with this one. 

I liked Lacy and Hugo working together. I’m partial to books set in Florida, too.

No spoilers – But there’s a big bombshell almost smack in the middle of the book that made me stop reading for almost a whole week. It was too painful!

To be honest, I almost gave up on the book altogether.

However, once I picked up the pieces from the bombshell and soldiered on, it got better. At the end, I felt it was a very long book. I thought it could have been about 100 pages shorter. There were several characters that weren’t crucial to the overall story, and they muddied the waters quite a bit. It got a bit confusing to keep up with, and that always bothers me with novels.

Despite a few pitfalls, I liked the structure of the book. When I got completely engrossed, it was really hard to put the book down. I found myself flying through 4-6 chapters for several nights in a row!

Grisham disappointed me a bit with this latest work, but The Whistler had enough drama, mystery, and intrigue to keep me interested!

3.5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #28: “The Underground Railroad”

the-underground-railroad

Image Credit: goodreads.com

I first heard about this book when Colson Whitehead was interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air back in August 2016. It’s one of several podcasts that I subscribe to, and I’ve learned about a lot of books, both new and old, in this way.

It took me a long time to finish this book. Not that I was in a hurry, but it was a tough book to read.

Whitehead took one of my childhood thoughts – That the “Underground Railroad” during the time of slavery in the U.S., was a real railroad – and turned it into a fascinating, yet heartbreaking story.

I can’t say much in this review without giving away potential spoilers, so I’ll keep this brief. I enjoyed Whitehead’s world-building, how he created the characters, and how he wove historical accuracy into an alternative reality.

I imagine he researched for a long, long time, to make sure certain parts of this story were as accurate as possible, at least for the time periods that were being viewed.

There’s so much emotion packed into this one book – Fear, anger, sadness, joy, trust, love, to name a few. He weaves horror into relief, courage and bravery into fear, love into disappointment.

There’s a little bit of everything in this book – Pulse-pounding action, a dash of romance, lots of drama, and a bit of thriller.

I look forward to reading more from him, in the future. I need a few days to recover from this amazing, yet horrifying piece of literature.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #27: “The War That Saved My Life”

the-war-that-saved-my-life

Image Credit: books.google.com

“It had been awful, but I hadn’t quit. I had persisted. In battle I had won.”

~Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, The War that Saved My Life


This was another book I picked up at Barnes & Noble recently. I could tell it was historical fiction, and I’ve been itching for more historical fiction to cross my path.

I wasn’t disappointed. This book immersed me into the world of London and the English / British countryside at the beginning of World War II. Seen through the eyes of Ada and her younger brother Jamie, I started to understand how difficult life would have been back then.

This book is technically written for middle-grade readers, but I really enjoyed this one. It was hard to put down at night to go to sleep. The chapters are shorter, but each one had this grip on me that didn’t want to let go. I wanted to see what happened next to Ada, Jamie, their Mam, and the other characters they encounter along the way.

I can’t say too much about this book without spoiling things, but Bradley captured the time period nearly flawlessly. And, to write from a child’s perspective is remarkable in itself. I think she did a great job.

I was very excited to read on the back cover of a sequel to the story. It’s being released in early October, and I can’t wait. I look forward to writing the review of The War I Finally Won later this year.

I also want to read more of Bradley’s books – There was a preview of Jefferson’s Sons: A Founding Father’s Secret Children in the back of this book, and that one is going on my soon-to-be updated TBR.

This is a great book for almost any age.It has a good grasp of history, drama, family, relationships, and compassion. I highly recommend it!

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #26: “Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America”

ghettoside

Image Credit: amazon.com

“This is a book about a very simple idea: where the criminal justice system fails to respond vigorously to violent injury and death, homicide becomes endemic. African Americans have suffered from just such a lack of effective criminal justice, and this, more than anything, is the reason for the nation’s long-standing plague of black homicides.”

~Jill Leovy, Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America


I picked up this book less than a month ago, when I was in Barnes & Noble, deciding what to get (rather, how many books I could get) with the generous gift card that Mom and Dad gave me for Christmas.

I think this was on the “Recommended Reading” shelf – Plus, the 20 percent off sticker didn’t hurt, either.

I’ve been interested in true crime stories for a long time. It’s fascinating to see stories unfold on TV – Castle, Cold CaseLaw & Order: Special Victims Unit, Criminal Minds, NCIS, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and so on. But, most of the time, the stories we see on shows like these are fictionalized. Some are based on true stories, but most are created by writers.

This book initially caught my attention because of the title. I was asking myself, “Okay, what is ‘Ghettoside?’ That sounds interesting.”

The story Leovy, a reporter for The Los Angeles Times, writes is full of twists and turns. She follows John Skaggs, a Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) homicide detective, as he works to solve the murder of Bryant Tenelle. Bryant was 18-years-old when he was shot in 2007. Bryant was also Wally Tennelle’s son – A LAPD detective assigned to Robbery Homicide Division (RHD).

She goes deep into some of Los Angeles’s worst areas – Watts, south of the Ten, and so on. But, she tries to dispel some stereotypes and myths along the way. She identifies several of the worst gangs in the area, and tries to figure why black men kept killing black men. It’s evident that she’s a talented researcher, as well as a writer.

I could tell, almost immediately, that this book took a long time to write. Leovy spent years on this book. Simultaneously, she was attempting to capture and track every homicide in Los Angeles County, in real time.

Ghettoside was riveting. It has a few weak points – There were a lot of characters introduced early on, and it was difficult to keep up at first. I found that I had to stop myself early several nights, because I didn’t want my brain to be overloaded, even though my brain wanted me to keep going. The timeline flipped and flopped a few times.

I felt every emotion while reading this book. Some scenes almost made me sick; Leovy is incredibly detailed. This book is not for the faint of heart. She writes graphically at times, but only to hammer home the point at hand. She wants to emphasize how awful these homicides are. She does a tremendous job of capturing emotions from the characters involved – The LAPD, the grieving families, witnesses who are terrified to testify, and even the prosecutors.

In addition, she shines a spotlight on divisions within the police department that are frustrating to many. It’s evident there’s still work to be done.

Fortunately, progress has been made. Homicide rates in the area have fallen dramatically. Leovy appears pleased and proud of the work that’s been done. She strikes a good balance of narrative and statistics – A balance that kept me reading several chapters a night.

It would be interesting to have a follow-up book several years from now, to see what’s changed.

4 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂