Book Review #73: “Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone” *Re-Read*

Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone

Image Credit: Amazon

Thank you, J.K. Rowling, for pulling me out of what looked like a long reading slump.

I finished the series for the first time roughly a decade or so ago, after waiting what felt like FOREVER for Deathly Hallows to be available at the library.

Late last year, I decided I wanted to re-read it all. And it did not disappoint!

I was surprisingly nervous when I started reading the first few lines. Having read all the books, and seen every movie adaptation multiple times, I wasn’t sure how this re-read would go. Thankfully, I was worried for nothing.

I was instantly transported to Rowling’s London. I fell in love all over again. Her writing is truly spellbinding. I couldn’t put it down, promising myself one more chapter.

I felt almost the same way as I did when I was first taken by these books. I was a “late bloomer” with the books. While my friends had read and re-read the books years before I started, I was a bit of a fantasy snob. I declared I wasn’t interested in a book about wizards and witches. J.K. Rowling, darling, you proved me wrong.

Nearly 20 years after first falling in love and wanting more of Harry, Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, Professor McGonagall, and Dumbledore (and having to actually wait for the next book to be released!), I’m so happy I decided to re-read this book. The minute I closed the book, I wanted to go downstairs and crack open The Chamber of Secrets.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #72: “Columbine” *Re-Read*

I try my hardest to post Book Reviews within 24-48 hours after finishing the book. However, life has been pretty hectic recently. I finished Columbine in mid-April, just after the acknowledgment of it being 20 years since the tragedy. I’m just now posting my review.

I have a special connection with this book. The author, Dave Cullen, came to Longwood in the spring of 2010 as a guest lecturer. I was able to interview him for an article I wrote for the student newspaper, The Rotunda. He graciously signed my copy when I bought it at his lecture. It was strange, reading his message from March 17, 2010. That feels like a lifetime ago!

I’m glad I re-read this book. I remember how I felt after I read it the first time. Part of me wishes I’d re-read it before now, before nine years had passed. However, I still felt similar emotions as I did the first time.

I have to give major props to Cullen on his research and dedication to this book. This is one of the best accounts I’ve read of the events that occurred on April 20, 1999. And Cullen goes deeper than that. He covers the massacre, but also delves into the lives of the shooters, their families, and survivors.

It’s not perfect, but as someone who originally read memoir-style books such as The Journals of Rachel Scott: A Journey of Faith at Columbine High and She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall years ago, when the tragedy was still relatively fresh (I was almost 10 when it occurred), I appreciate the time and effort Cullen devoted to this book.

If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. Cullen makes it clear that he is a journalist first, and it’s evident throughout. His amount of sources is simply incredible. It’s very dense, and tough to read, but it’s an important work. I’m glad Cullen devoted many years to writing this book.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #71: “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America” *Re-Read*

Nickel and Dimed

Image Credit: Goodreads

When I initially read this book, it was assigned reading for one of my very first college classes. I can’t remember which one, but this book left a profound impact on me. Slowly, I started reading more from Barbara Ehrenreich. However, this is the book that started it all.

I started college in the fall of 2007, about a year before the financial crisis that began in 2008. I believe I was assigned to read this book at a poignant time. I also believe I’m re-reading this book at another poignant time, at the beginning of 2019.

Going into re-reading this, I realized my copy of the book was updated with a new afterword, published in 2008. However, the overall concept – Studying low-wage jobs and attempting to understand their socioeconomic impacts – is nothing new. That’s part of the reason I was drawn to Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.

Ehrenreich embarked on an experiment in 1998 – Trying to see if she, as a single, middle-aged woman, could survive as a waitress, a cleaner (hotel maid and house cleaner), a nursing home aide, and a seller / retail associate for a month, in three different cities. Each chapter explores a different type of job and a different city. She quickly realized the challenges with each one, and each city presented its own obstacles with housing, food, and assistance. Along the way, she met a variety of people working these jobs. A few were fortunate, but many were barely making ends meet. Several were working 2-3 jobs full-time, and still struggling with their incomes and their partner’s / spouse’s income(s) as well.

I won’t spoil anything, but she learns many lessons along the way. She discovers multiple issues with affordable housing, child care costs, fast food, health care, education, and the way these companies treat their employees.

I got a bit lost with the footnotes, statistics, and percentages, and glossed over a few of them toward the end. However, reading the updated afterword was important, and appreciated. This country has a lot to learn, still, in 2019. We need to treat employees, especially those earning the absolute minimum, better.

Overall, I’m glad I took the time to re-read this book. It’s a bit “dated” now, since Ehrenreich’s experiment started and concluded 21 years ago. However, it’s still relevant in many aspects today. And, like her, I’m grateful for everything I’ve had and worked for. This is a valuable book that will stay on my bookshelf forever.

4 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #70: “Bonfire”

Bonfire

Image Credit: Goodreads

I bought this book from Barnes & Noble for two reasons: (1) The cover, and (2) The author! Known recently as Marvel’s Jessica Jones, I admire Krysten Ritter in many respects. I wanted to see how she wrote a book!

To be completely honest, I nearly DNFed this book around the 50-page mark. It was a good story, but I felt it was moving really slowly. The world-building was good, the characters were good, but it felt like it was moving at a snail’s pace.

One of the things that kept me going was Ritter’s use and creation of fantastic, realistic imagery and scenery. Wow! I felt like I had been dropped straight into Barrens, Indiana, and walking beside Abby Williams, the MC.

I’m glad I stuck with the book, though. It got better. I can’t exactly pinpoint when it got better, but the pace did pick up, and it felt like a rush after that. This book is part mystery, part legal thriller, part psychological thriller. I wasn’t expecting all of that when I started the book!

In terms of characters, Abby reminded me so much of Erin Brockovich, but where she is returning home to investigate the seemingly-stellar company that’s put her hometown on the map and revitalized everything. Seeing her attempt to navigate past relationships with her father, and former classmates, was really interesting.

There wasn’t a huge twist, per se, but I know I didn’t see it coming. I audibly gasped when it struck me between the eyes, as I was reading it on the page. Ritter weaved several story lines together so well, and entangled multiple characters.

I felt Abby was slightly gaslighted, in a way, because she started to believe she was truly crazy, and couldn’t tell fact from fiction. It was tough for me to keep up with and navigate the stories of 10 years prior and her present, but I feel like Ritter did a good job, overall. I was hooked, and couldn’t put the book down at the very end. She also divided the chapters really well, and the flow was great.

It’s not my favorite book in the whole world, but I’m glad I read it. It’s going on my bookshelf. I look forward to see what she writes next.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #69: “All The Missing Girls”

All The Missing Girls

Image Credit: Amazon

It took a long time to get to this place, let me tell you!

This book was originally a Christmas gift from Al in 2017. I first started reading it in the summer of 2018, and then abandoned it about halfway through.

However, abandoning it started to bother me several months later, so I committed to pick it back up. Finally, after about a month of effort, I finished it!

Part of the reason I abandoned it at first was due to the story structure. Told in reverse, Miranda presents quite a complex set of characters, all trying to piece together the reasons why certain events occurred ten years prior.

The main character, Nicolette, known as Nic, was hard for me to grasp at first. She appears likeable, but as you get deeper into the story, it gets muddled and messy. Almost all of the characters have darkness in their pasts. Some, in their present, too.

On the surface, it’s a mystery story. Everyone in Cooley Ridge, or mostly everyone, is trying to find out what exactly happened to Corinne Prescott ten years earlier. Is she dead? Is she still missing? What the hell happened to her?

Then, just as mysteriously, Annaleise Carter vanishes off the face of the Earth. Everyone is a suspect. And Nicolette is at the center of it all.

This was not my favorite book in the world. It was a good idea, a decent mystery. Once I finished reading it, I started to better understand why I originally abandoned it. Nicolette was a tough main character for me, and it was almost too much trying to keep up with everyone else in her world. There were too many people involved in the story, and it got muddled and confusing from the first chapter. And maybe that was part of the point? To make it confusing to add to the story.

However, I’m glad I stuck with it. Miranda did a good job building the world of Cooley Ridge, and made the past and present blend together well. At the same time, I feel like she tried to accomplish too much in one novel, her debut for adults. I felt exhausted after just 1-2 chapters in a night, and struggled to read more than that in one sitting.

If you’re a fan of suspense and solving mysteries, this is a good read to try when you’re on vacation, or wanting a different book to read. Other than that, it’s a challenge for me to recommend it higher.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

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 🙂