#BookReview: For Roger by Laura Drake

If You Only Read One 2023 Release, Make It This One. Wow. Phenomenal. I’m writing this review roughly 12 hrs after finishing the book, and I am still in awe of what Drake was able to do here. When I first encountered her books, Drake was writing cowboy romances. She’s extended into women’s fiction more recently and done a great job with it, and this one I would assume would mostly classify within that space as well.

But let me be clear: This book has a LOT going on, a lot that places Drake writing about very serious issues and very different spaces. We get medical discussions and specifically discussions around terminal illness, suicide, assisted suicide, and related issues. We get a legal courtroom thriller that dives deep into questions of justice vs mercy vs the letter of the law and even into what are laws and why do we have them. We get open discussions of how to make different spaces better and more responsive, and in these areas Drake shows several practical ideas that could genuinely work – even though this is a fictional tale. Throughout all of this. Drake proves herself capable of at minimum holding her own with even the masters of these spaces who only write explicitly within them, such as John Grisham’s legal thrillers.

And then there are the more traditional women’s fiction aspects, the relationships that make this book truly sing throughout all the heaviness of the above discussions. The loving wife who is barely older than her stepdaughter, despite being in absolute love with her husband. The stepdaughter who resents the stepmother being so very close to her own age. The brilliant husband who dearly loves his wife *and* daughter. The best friend who happens to be the Governor of Texas, with all the behind the scenes politicking that entails. The mother who loves her daughter no matter what. The misunderstood older sister. And yes, in a nod to Drake’s real life (as anyone who follows her socials will know), a mischievous and nearly scene-stealing cat named Boomer.

In telling such a moving story, Drake truly masters bringing in such difficult discussions that *need* to be held at every level and in every corner of this great land.

Issues of how to handle terminal illness within a marriage – how far is each willing to go? What is the loving thing to do? Do the local statutes matter when it comes to trying to make the right decision? What *is* the right decision?

Issues of criminal justice as it relates to terminal illness, echoing at a societal level the same types of questions every relationship needs to answer within itself.

Issues of what we expect from our penal system – can people be rehabilitated, or should they be exclusively punished? Is there a difference between someone committing suicide, their spouse helping them, their doctor helping them, another person outside of a legally protected relationship helping them? Does the situation itself matter, and if it does, what do we condemn and what do we excuse?

All of this and so much more, Drake crafts into a moving and poignant tale of one particular family struggling to navigate these very complicated and delicate issues.

Read this book. Think about how *you* would handle these things. Think about how *we* should handle these things…

Or not. Maybe you jus need to cry, or even bawl your eyes out. Maybe these issues aren’t theoretical for you – maybe they’re as real for you as they are for the characters in this book. Maybe you’re just trying to find answers yourself.

Read this book too. And may you find comfort within its words even in the midst of your own storm.

But read this book, regardless. Very much recommended.

This review of For Roger by Laura Drake was originally written on November 20, 2023.

#BookReview: The Shadow Docket by Stephen Vladeck

When The Pendulum Swings… Where Will Vladeck Be? This is one of those historical/ current event analysis books where, particularly in the “coming of age” of a novel (ish, as Vladeck shows) concept of the “shadow docket”, it will be interesting to see if the author is just as adamant against the idea when his own “team” is using it as heavily or moreso as he is when his political opponents do. Though to be clear, the history and analysis here, while necessarily hitting the current (post-Trump era) SCOTUS the hardest for doing this the most *because they have*, does an excellent job of showing just how we got to this point where it was even possible for this particular problem to exist at all. On that front… there isn’t a political “side” in current America or American history that is fully blameless in enabling or using this bad behavior, and Vladeck shows this quite well indeed and indeed seems to be a fairly objective-ish student and teacher of legal history. For such a dense overall topic, Vladeck handles the telling of the tale quite well, such that even people who have barely ever heard of the Supreme Court of the United States of America will be able to clearly see what the current problem is and how we got to this point and why both of them matter.

Indeed, the only real reason for the single star deduction is the slight lack of documentation, coming in at just 15% of the overall advance reviewer copy text rather than the more typical in my experience 20-30%. Though as I’ve been noting a few times on similar points of late, given just how many newer nonfiction books seem to be coming in within that 15-20% range, I may yet need to recalculate my seeming average.

Overall an intriguing tale, and one that every American truly needs to understand – and Vladeck does a remarkable job of making that particular task as easy as reading this particular book. Truly great work making such a dense topic so relatable and understandable, and very much recommended.

This review of The Shadow Docket by Stephen Vladeck was originally written on April 25, 2023.

#BookReview: The Plea Of Innocence by Tim Bakken

An Interesting Proposal. Bakken is a clearly knowledgeable and frequent writer of this field, and I’m certainly far from being anywhere near his level – so I’ll not directly debate his points in this review. Instead, this is absolutely a book that I think anyone who is interested in reforming the American legal system should read and consider. While I personally don’t think I would go as far in those reforms as Bakken thinks is necessary, I do agree with him that there needs to be better ways for wrongly convicted genuinely innocent people to reverse their convictions in a timely manner. Overall this is a well documented and seemingly strong argument for his position, and one that is fairly easily approachable even as a non-expert (though college educated) reader. Very much recommended.

This review of The Plea Of Innocence by Tim Bakken was originally written on July 15, 2022.

#BookReview: Next Of Kin by Kia Abdullah

Legal Thriller With Most Explosions Outside The Courtroom. This is a British legal thriller where the trial actually ends with about a quarter or so of the book left to go… and *then* the explosions start. By the end of the trial, you think you know what happened. And then there is the Detective, who, like in V for Vendetta, just isn’t quite satisfied with the answers he’s been given. So he continues to poke around a bit… and in the process the reader gets put through a shock and awe campaign that would wow even the Iraqis circa 2004. Truly an excellent tale very smartly told but covering topics which make a lot of us cringe at – which is one surefire sign of a tale that *needs* to be told. Truly the only potential negative mark here is for those readers who like every single plot thread tied up neatly in a nice little bow by the end of the book. This book… is more messy and “true to reality” than that. Still, partly *because* of that abrupt ending, this book is thus very much recommended.

This review of Next Of Kin by Kia Abdullah was originally written on September 15, 2022.

#BookReview: Mystic Wind by James Barretto

Strong Legal Thriller Debut. As a former District Attorney’s Office employee (I worked on their tech) and (mostly) former police accountability activist who also happens to be a former trailer park kid… I have quite a bit in common with our hero of this new series. Which may have made this particular book have a bit more impact for me – while not having these *exact* experiences, I’ve been close enough that they all rang all too true. And what experiences we have, from having (and losing) it all in order to truly find yourself (which to be clear, never really happened in my own life) to crime lords not caring about the “little people” they are destroying to cops, prosecutors, and judges – who are *supposed* to care about those very people – placing their own profits and aspirations ahead of truly serving the people and truly seeking justice. Of course, Barretto also does himself a few favors in setting the book in the early 80s, before American police – and the entire “justice” system – became as militarized as it now stands, and before activists really rose in response to such militarization. For example, data does not exist for the period in question, yet American police are known to have killed over 10,000 people within the last decade as I write this review. In setting this story (and likely series?) in such a “simpler” time, Barretto manages to be able to tell his tale(s) without having to worry about such issues. Overall truly a solid legal thriller that also provides a solid look at some areas many might prefer not to see. Very much recommended.

This review of Mystic Wind by James Barretto was originally written on September 5, 2022.

#BookReview: The Appeal by Janice Hallett

Interesting Premise. Novel Concept. Quite Verbose. This was a book that had an interesting premise for a story and a novel concept for storytelling – particularly with its emphasis on more modern communication methods – but ultimately was just. too. long. There are so very many characters here that few of them truly get fleshed out and many of them become very hard to keep distinct even in a mind normally attuned to doing just that. And so very many extraneous details that while enhancing the epistolary feel, really drag the overall narrative to the speed of a human baby just beginning to learn to crawl. But other than these two points, the story was quite good and the overall concept is something I’d like to see done better, either in future works from this author or by other authors generally. Recommended.

This review of The Appeal by Janice Hallett was originally written on February 2, 2022.

#BookReview: The Genome Defense by Jorge L Contreras

Dense Yet Enlightening. If you’re like me and don’t like taking books across into a new month, I do *not* recommend trying to read this on the last day of the month while still working or having virtually any other obligation. Though its bibliography is a touch low at just 17% of this advanced copy (and it has numerous problems, at least in this form, of saying something like “the industry spent $ billions of dollars” without actually giving the number – a problem I’ve never noted before in any other such text), much of the reason for that is that the author himself conducted so many interviews and consulted the public court records so much, so at least there is that on that particular point. Beyond its sourcing though, this is truly a fascinating yet *dense* look at the particular issue of the AMP v Myriad patent lawsuit that eventually became a landmark Supreme Court of the United States case, detailing its full history and the personnel involved, at least insofar as their personal involvement with the case goes. (Vs other similar books looking at a particular issue like this, where full biographies of the personnel are given. Here, just enough biography is given to establish who this person is within context of this issue and their motivations surrounding it, without giving their full life stories outside of events connected to this exact case.) You may say to yourself “this is just 350 or so effective pages, that is an easy day’s read”. IT. IS. NOT. I cannot reiterate enough just how dense (yet truly readable and fascinating) this book is. Almost as though it seems to try to pack in double the amount of words of a book of similar length. Still, it is truly compelling, truly comprehensive, and truly well written, and for this it is very much recommended.

This review of The Genome Defense by Jorge L Contreras was originally written on October 1, 2021.

#BookReview: Desperate by Kris Maher

Erin Brockovich In Appalachia. This is one of those books where the description from the publisher really does tell you pretty well exactly what the book is about: One town’s, and really one man’s, courtroom war against a coal company that was polluting its water supplies. There are the requisite dives into the various histories of the prominent people, including the lawyer, the CEO of the company, and the general region itself – home of the infamous feud between the Hatfields and McCoys – but mostly this is a tale of how the courtroom drama came to be, how the war was waged, and its ultimate outcomes. If you’re looking for a more general examination of Appalachia and its issues… this isn’t that. But if you’re interested in “Little Guy vs Big [Insert Industry]”… this is gonna be right up your alley. Very much recommended.

This review of Desperate by Kris Maher was originally written on August 18, 2021.

#BookReview: Punishment Without Trial by Carissa Byrne Hessick

Another Critical Book For Those Seeking To Understand The American Justice System. This is yet another critical book for those seeking to understand the full scope of all that is wrong with the American justice system and how we got here, along with Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop, Michelle Alexander’s New Jim Crow (referenced herein, with solid points about where Alexander goes wrong in her presumptions), and Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law’s Prison By Any Other Name. Whereas Balko looks at police militarization, Alexander looks at mass incarceration, and Schenwar and Law look at probation and parole, here we look at the critical phase *between* arrest and conviction – the various and severely punitive pre-trial punishments and plea bargains. It is within the scope of this particular problem that Hessick shows just how large and pervasive this particular problem is – to the level that even as many often acknowledge its shortcomings, it is often protected as a means of not “overburdening” the courts! (A tip for “lawmakers”: Rescind 10 laws for every 1 you pass. That would go quite far in reducing the burden on the courts. #ijs ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

Truly a remarkable and shocking work, and one that every American needs to read. Very much recommended.

This review of Punishment Without Trial by Carissa Byrne Hessick was originally written on August 22, 2021.

Featured New Release Of The Week: An Unreliable Truth by Victor Methos

This week we’re looking at a compelling court room drama set in a fascinating world. This week we’re looking at An Unreliable Truth by Victor Methos.

But A Reliable Author. This was my first time reading this author, which makes me a bit different from most of the other ARC reviewers on Goodreads just under three weeks before publication. And I can tell you without hesitation that this is a perfectly fine first-for-you book, so long as you don’t mind coming into a world where at least some of the characters have already had other adventures with each other. (Though the way this one reads, one presumes even the first book was written such that the reader is coming in to already-established relationships.) The crime at the heart of this one is particularly grisly, and worthy of a capital trial (for those that believe murdering a murderer is something anyone, let alone a government, should be allowed to do). The personal dramas among the lawyers are compelling. The courtroom drama as the lawyers fight with and against each other is at least as compelling as any other factor. And the outcomes are satisfying within the realms of the world and particular story – though that in no way gives you any hint as to what they actually are. ๐Ÿ˜€ Basically, if you like courtroom dramas, you’re likely going to like this one. If you like compelling mysteries, you’re likely to like this one. If you like just good stories period, you’re likely to like this one. So if you’re open to any of the above at all, you should read this book. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Very much recommended.