Book Review #30: “Angels & Demons”


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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”


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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”


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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”


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“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”


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“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 🙂

Book Review #25: “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls: 101 Stories about Friendship for Women of All Ages”


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“Friendship is the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words.”

~George Eliot

My beautiful friend, Diana, gave me this wonderful book one Sunday at church. I couldn’t wait to start reading it!

I’ve been collecting the Chicken Soup books ever since I was in elementary school. I think I have at least 20 of them at my parents’ house!

Just Us Girls was published in 2013, and I was excited to read some new stories. I love how these books are anthologies, and feature both new writers and past ones. I even read the writer biographies at the end!

I found that I was reading through the stories so quickly, that I had to force myself to stop reading almost every night so I could get adequate sleep.

A majority of these stories featured moms struggling to find friends when they were staying at home with their child or children. I can’t identify with that right now (Not yet, but hopefully I will be able to do that), but reading their stories made me smile, and gave me hope. All the stories contain a good dose of inspiration, and definitely laughter. It was very hard to suppress my laughter some nights while Al was asleep next to me.

Receiving this book made me want to go to my parents’ house and pick up the rest of my Chicken Soup books. I can’t wait to put all of them on my big bookcase in my office, some day soon.

I sincerely think they’re aptly named – They’re delicious, heartwarming, and each volume leaves you feeling full again.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Reviews #22, #23, and #24: “The Hunger Games” Trilogy


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“One of the reasons it’s important for me to write about war is I really think that the concept of war, the specifics of war, the nature of war, the ethical ambiguities of war, are introduced too late to children. I think they can hear them, understand them, know about them, at a much younger age without being scared to death by the stories.”

~Suzanne Collins

This is the fourth book from my 2016 Reading Challenge!

I honestly can’t remember the first time I read The Hunger Games, but as soon as I did, I was hooked. I was elated that there was a trilogy, and I couldn’t wait to read all three.

My copy of The Hunger Games is in paperback, but I decided to buy Catching Fire and Mockingjay as hardbacks. I think hardbacks hold up better, in the long run.

I re-read these books for the challenge as voraciously as I had when I first bought them. I think I’ve read the entire trilogy three times now. Katniss’s story just grabs you by the collar and pulls you in within the first few pages.

While preparing this review, I realized that I made a comparison to this trilogy in my book review on the “Divergent” trilogy, published nearly two years ago:

It’s interesting to see how young adult (YA) literature has had its trends over the years. Even more fascinating is how similar The Hunger Games and Divergent are, in terms of structure.

Like the Divergent trilogy, I planned to break down this review into the three books. Here we go!

The Hunger Games


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Like I said earlier, Katniss and her story instantly grabbed me by the collar and pulled me into the world of Panem and its districts. It made me think of war zones, and some of American history. How divided some of our countries are, and how divided our own United States appear to be, too.

Reading her story made me think of courage, honor, family, love, and bravery. I was absolutely appalled at The Hunger Games and how long they had gone on, and how brutal people could be, but at the end, I was left wanting more.

5 out of 5 stars.

Catching Fire


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Picking up at what feels like the moment that The Hunger Games ended, Catching Fire held on to me and never let me go. It was an adrenaline rush the whole time.

This is the one that I powered through the fastest because the story would not let my mind stop to put it down.I detected political waves during the first book, and it became abundantly clear here. We follow Katniss through more tribulations and tragedies than triumphs, but I’ll take it. Like the first book, I couldn’t wait to start the third after finishing this one. Collins has that power that leaves you desperate to find out what happens next.

5 out of 5 stars.



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I’ll admit, the first time I read this book, I absolutely hated it. It was really hard to force myself to get to the end.

The second time through – It was a little easier. I started to understand how important this book was to the overall story. It still wasn’t my favorite book,  and it took longer to read than the other two, but I started to appreciate it more.

This most recent time – I couldn’t put it down. I think part of it is because I started Mockingjay immediately after finishing Catching Fire. I didn’t realize how much of a difference that made until now. The way Collins writes, by the end of Catching Fire, I just couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen to Katniss, Peeta, Gale, and President Snow, among others. There is quite a myriad of characters to keep up with by the time you reach this book, but I think  Collins does a great job of keeping the characters straight. I also appreciated that the narrator was consistent throughout the trilogy, and I didn’t have to deal with multiple narrators.

At the very end, I felt sad. Not because of the book’s ending, but that my journey with the books was actually over. It’s a captivating story, one that Collins created beautifully, with great attention to detail. I felt immersed in the world the entire time. It was hard to get back to reality.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

One more note: I don’t normally do this, but I think this next part is worth mentioning.

I had read all three books once when the movies began to be released. When we first saw The Hunger Games in 2012, I was blown away at how well they had adapted the books to the silver screen. It’s certainly not an easy task to do so, since other book-to-movie adaptations have been criticized. But, I think this trilogy was nearly perfect for movie adaptations, and I think the filmmakers did a great job in doing so. I wasn’t happy that they divided Mockingjay into two parts, and made us wait a WHOLE FREAKING YEAR for Part 2. However, I think it was worth it.

I usually sit and watch them when they come on TV. Plus, these movies made me fall in love with Jennifer Lawrence. I told Al recently that I can totally see why they picked her – She’s a nearly flawless choice.

I highly recommend both!

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂