#BookReview: DARE To Say No by Max Felker-Kantor

Well Documented History of DARE Marred By Undocumented Editorial Commentary. Coming in at over 30% documentation, this is one of the more well-documented books I’ve come across in my ARC reading over the years. However, the weakness here is that while Felker-Kantor cites nearly every word he says about the DARE program and those involved with it, he then proceeds to make quite a bit of left leaning social commentary that he then fails to document *at all*.

Which is sad, because this is a program that I too grew up in – the first uniformed cop whose name I remember is Deputy John Morgan of the Bartow County (Ga) Sheriff’s Office, the DARE officer for much of the Bartow County School System (if not the *entire* school system, at first) in the early and mid 90s. Deputy Morgan became a local legend there in Cartersville and Bartow County, to the tune that he could well have challenged either his then boss or his newer boss when he retired a few years ago for the top job – all because of his work with the DARE program. I even actively went to church with the second Deputy to begin teaching DARE in the BCSS – Deputy Richey Harrell, who was very active with the youth of Atco Baptist Church when his own kids were small and who served on the Deacon Board of the church with my dad.

But despite knowing Richey in particular so well – though as his sons were closer in age to my brothers, they knew him and his family even better than I myself did – as an adult to say my views on policing have changed would be an understatement. Which is where I approached this book from – having been a former DARE student who now sees just how problematic the entire program was, from top to bottom, and indeed who even concurs with Felker-Kantor on just how problematic the program’s insistence on using active duty police officers as front line teachers really is.

Not to mention agreeing with him on how truly ineffective it is. Not even just with a police officer teaching children he isn’t connected to outside the school. Again here, I know people directly who went through these same DARE programs in the same system and also knew Richey as well as my family did – and who later fell so deep into drugs that they lost pretty well everything except their actual life, yes, including their kids.

Had Felker-Kantor at minimum documented his editorial comments such as about the disparate impacts of the war on drugs based on race – not hard to do – or other related commentary about mass incarceration (also not hard), the rise of the militarized police force (ditto), or any similar editorial comments, this would have been a slam dunk five star book, even with the left leaning commentary. It is that strong and that complete a history of the program, including discussions of its *continued existence* in a much diminished capacity – something I myself did not know until reading this book.

So read this book for a truly comprehensive history of something so many of us experienced first hand, particularly those of us who grew up in the 80s through early 2000s. And may we finally kick this particular program to the curb in favor of something that might actually work.


This review of DARE To Say No by Max Felker-Kantor was originally written on December 31, 2023.

#BookReview: Sex Ed by Kristen Bailey

Fun With Sex. My god this review is going to get me on so many porn bot radars, isn’t it? But the title here really fits – starting with the very title of the book, “Sex Ed”…. which then features a 28yo virgin named Ed being taught about sex by his wildchild best friend. The friends to lovers trope is in perfect display here, the friendship and trust there deeply established… until we get into Hallmarkie level drama at the exact point in the story you expect Hallmarkie level drama in a romcom. We even have the “interesting grandparent” trope hitting and hitting well, as well as some sisterly bonding. And yes, there is a lot of sex, pretty much all of it “on screen”. So if you’re not a fan of that… maybe the title here (of the book and/ or review) clued you in that this isn’t the best book for you? Speaking of the sex, while not necessarily the “oh my God this is nuclear hot” type found in some other works, this was more of the playful variety that to my mind is just as important in a relationship and doesn’t always get the attention it deserves in romcom books in particular. So kudos to Ms. Bailey for going that direction with it, it was clearly an inspired choice. Overall a fun tale that will offend few other than those actively looking to be offended, great for both fans of romcoms and for those looking for some level of a “palate cleanser” from darker tales. Very much recommended.

This review of Sex Ed by Kristen Bailey was originally written on June 30, 2023.

#BookReview: The Peer Effect by Syed Ali and Margaret M. Chin

Overt Racism And Extensive Elitism Mar Otherwise Intriguing Premise. In “shit sandwich” form, let’s start out with something good, shall we? The premise here, that peer groups affect behavior more than most other factors, is one that few sociologists – at least those I’ve seen in my 20+ years on the outskirts of that field – have openly espoused. Thus, this book was immediately intriguing and in fact had at least some promise here.

But then we get to the overt racism against anything white male and the extensive elitism in promoting New York City and in particular one particularly exclusive high school as the epitome of virtually everything, openly declaring multiple times that NYC is the cultural heart of the US, among several other elitist (and typical New Yorker) claims. The longer the text goes, the more and more overt the authors get in showing their anti-white male racist misandry, until finally at one point, after clearly establishing “cultures that are longstanding” and similar phrases to mean “white male”, the authors openly state “Cultures that are longstanding have a built-in legitimacy to them; to change them means that people inside and outside of that culture *have to see aspects of their identity, their culture, as illegitimate, as immoral, as wrong.*” (emphasis mine). Imagine the outcry if a white author had made the same statement in reference to virtually any other demographic – and *that* is my standard for detecting bigotry: invert the demographics involved. If there would be outcry, it is likely bigoted. Thus, one star is deducted for the overt racism in particular, and the other star is deducted for the pervasive elitism.

Finally, I can say that the bibliography being roughly 20% of the text was perhaps a touch low, but at least on the low end of *normal* in my extensive experience with Advance Reviewer Copies. And yes, as I am writing this review almost fully six months prior to publication, this means that I am in fact reading and reviewing an ARC here.

Overall, there is enough positive and worthy of consideration here to keep this fairly safely above my dreaded “gold mine” label, but there is still enough detritus here that one should approach the text a bit warily. Still, it does in fact bring some worthy wrinkles to the public discourse, and for that reason it *should* be widely read. Recommended.

This review of The Peer Effect by Syed Ali and Margaret M. Chin was originally written on May 24, 2023.

#BookReview: Snatched by James Beltz

Chilling Combination Of Police Procedural And Paranormal. Beltz apparently wrote this entire trilogy at once, before releasing each book a month after the previous entry, and here we find the two cops at the center of Book 1 – Twisted – involved in yet another paranormal mystery where the only connective tissue between the books is the cops themselves. Here, rather than the tele-muchness of Twisted, we get a different type of paranormal ability, and yet Beltz still manages to use these abilities in surprising ways to fight a particularly cunning and chilling bad guy. This is one of those books that will absolutely make you rethink some of the things you allow your children to do/ you allow to be done to your children – and yet Beltz does this perfectly within the story he is telling here, without ever being preachy about any real-world topic. Very much recommended.

This review of Snatched by James Beltz was originally written on September 29, 2022.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Why She Left by Leah Mercer

This week we’re looking at a solid family drama that has some elements of mystery and even a few of suspense – but is completely grounded within the family drama. This week we’re looking at Why She Left by Leah Mercer.

Solid Family Drama With Some Mystery. Reading through the Goodreads reviews (as I do before writing my own), a lot of the more negative reviews (anything less than 4* is considered by Goodreads/ Amazon to be negative, fwiw) tended to center around complaints that this book wasn’t a suspense/ thriller. And yet looking around through the description and other materials available, I find no claims from the publisher that this is a suspense or a thriller. The closest claim is that it is a “suspenseful family drama”, which is 100% accurate. There was an event years ago that caused one daughter to flee, and there are a few different events in the present day that build a decent amount of suspense (for a family drama, which is truly what this is, anyway). Yes, the years-ago event becomes rather obvious rather quickly – *hopefully* Mercer intended that. But there are many more wrinkles here that aren’t so obvious, and even my usually fairly perceptive reading didn’t actually catch some of the bigger reveals until they were actually revealed. Indeed, arguably the one true weakness here I can think of isn’t actually one anyone else has cited – it is never truly established just how bad the situation the returning daughter is fleeing from now actually was. Still, for what this tale *actually* is, and seems to *actually* be being marketed as, this is actually a fairly solid story that will trigger some in a variety of ways but which is a truly solid story for most everyone else. Very much recommended.

After the jump, the various “publisher details” including book description, author bio, and social media links.
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