February 2017 Bookshelf

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
Kindle Edition 432 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Crown Publishing for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Wow. What an excellent look into one of the many issues of poverty in America - and probably in other countries as well. Honestly this isn't a book you read to be uplifted, it's actually very depressing. It's a book you read to become informed, to gain insight and hopefully some understanding, to realize that people are people no matter their circumstances, to force yourself to think in ways differently than you've been taught to think about issues like this. Matthew Desmond didn't just sit down with some people and shadow people for a week - he LIVED there for months, he experienced first hand from both a landlord's pov and a tenant's pov the issues that add to the muddy waters of poverty.
Desmond's look takes place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin - America's fourth poorest city. He features 8 people in his insiders look - two landlords and six families. Sherrena Tarver, one of the landlord's, is a study in contradictions, in my opinion. She wants to help people but she doesn't. A sink is leaking? She refuses to fix it, says the tenant has broken it on purpose. This is a small example of a very large problem. The tenant's, not all of them in the book have Sherrena as their landlord, then refuse to pay rent until the problem has been fixed and around and around it goes until the landlord evicts the tenant. Sherrena came across to me as whiny and unwilling to be a true landlord. She wanted it to be easy and comfortable. She wasted time, in my opinion, evicting people instead of working with them - like fixing the damn sink so it worked. No matter how much insight Desmond gave the reader into Sherrena's thought processes regarding being a landlord I felt zero sympathy for her "plights" and a whole lot of disgust for her and her husband instead. It's true that not all tenant's are going to pay their rent on time when everything is in working order but many more would be compelled to. It's true that not all tenant's will hold a steady job but many more would be able to if they weren't expending so much energy trying to ensure they have a roof for their children and themselves. It's true that not all tenant's have ambition to do more than live off of any government assistance they can qualify for but the majority do have ambition - such as Arleen who had a dream of starting a ministry to help people in need or Vanetta who wanted to be a nurse or Scott who was a nurse and loved it but allowed his drug addiction to interfere and lost his license. Desmond peels back the outer layer of the people featured to expose the person and some of the real reasons why they are in the position they are in - always reminding us that they are humans. At the end of the book Desmond offers possible solutions for this piece of the poverty puzzle while acknowledging that it would take a mindshift of many and cooperation of many to see changes to the system.
Excellent book. Not dry at all but very read worthy and engaging. Again, do not read if you are looking for light and fluffy.

Searching for Happiness: How Generosity, Faith, and Other Spiritual Habits Can Lead to a Full Life
by Martin Thielen
Kindle Edition

Thank you to NetGalley and Westminster John Knox Press for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Contented people: know external circumstances don't determine happiness, use trials as growth opportunities, cultivate optimism, focus on the present, practice forgiveness, practice generosity, nurture relationships, express gratitude, care for their bodies, care for their souls. Thielen's short but succinct book about the source of happiness - contentment - is an easy to read book about the work of contentment and where that work occurs. It's an inside job. Thielen takes scripture, science, and experience - personal and otherwise - to make the case for contentment. And it's a compelling case.

Southern Spirits (Southern Ghost Hunter Mysteries #1) by Angie Fox
Kindle Edition 270 pages

I picked this up thanks to an online book club I'm part of. This is what I love about book clubs - you read things you might not even be aware of or wouldn't normally pick up.
When we meet Verity Long she is living in her grandma's empty house having just sold anything she could. She's buying ramen at the dollar store and burning candles so she doesn't have electricity costs. And she stills owes $20,000 to her ex-fiance's family. What? Verity left her cheating fiance at the alter and he turned around and sued her for costs. Not only is she losing everything but the town she grew up in has turned against her. The days are lonely. Then she meets Frankie, an unusual acquaintance as she is the only one who can see him. In an effort to save her grandma's house Verity and Frankie go searching for some treasure. And suddenly Frankie isn't the only spirit Verity can see.
This is a fun, easy, mindless read which everyone needs every so often. It was an enjoyable read.

Wrong Place (D.I Sally Parker #1) by M.A. Comley
Kindle Edition - 181 pages

Young barmaids are showing up dead in the village. As the count rises DI Sally Parker and her team are coming up upon dead end after dead end (no pun intended). Whoever the killer is has taken chances that should be getting them caught but just seem to lead away from him. How many more young girls will have to die before they can catch a break and catch the killer? As if trying to catch a killer wasn't time consuming enough Sally has some trouble in her personal life as well to deal with, And even though she's a copper what is happening in her personal life doesn't make sense. What will break first? The case or a resolution to Sally's personal drama?
There is a lot of potential for character development in this new series by Comley, as well as fine tuning details for plot development and storyline. It was a little elementary in all the major aspects but not so much so that I'm not interested in reading book 2 plus as I said there's a lot of potential and I'm hoping Comley can live up to it in the writing.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
Kindle Edition 390 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

A short, easy flight between Martha's Vineyard and New York City turns deadly for its 11 passengers. But it shouldn't have, so what happened?
Meet Scott, floating in water and watching jet fuel burn off, wondering if there is anyone else alive after the plane he was just in crashed into the ocean without warning. Just as he's decided to try for land, surmising there are no other survivors, he hears a faint cry. Turning back toward the wreckage he locates JJ, the four year old boy from the private flight. Now Scott knows he has to make it to land, if nothing else so that JJ can have some kind of life. But the night is dark and shrouded in fog, no moon or stars can be seen to give Scott and JJ direction to land. But they set off for it anyway. How did they even survive the crash? Why did they and not the others? Why was there a crash?
Hawley gives us the story of an airplane crashing - what happened the couple of days leading up to its fatal flight - and the aftermath. Each passenger on the flight has a story that leads them on to the plane and we are led to wonder if this was more than an accident, perhaps it was on purpose. As the investigation digs into personal and professional lives, questions are raised and some are answered. But other questions are going to take longer to discover the answer to. In the meantime, Scott and JJ - the survivors - are left with loss and bewilderment and loose ends.
Overall, I really liked this story. Hawley did such a good job with character development that for one or two of the characters I almost forgot they were fiction and my extreme dislike for them was riling me up! The relationship between Scott and JJ, because of what they survived together, was really heart-warming to witness. I liked the character backstories, it added a lot to the questions of why the plane may have nosedived into the ocean to become a watery tomb for the majority of its passengers. The thing that frustrated me about the story is the thing that frustrates me about our culture today. As Gus, the head of the investigative team, says in the book, "In the absence of facts, we begin to make up stories." Hawley highlighted that bit of truth through a couple of characters and their roles post-crash. And these days it's happening in real life as well. It's so damaging. But Hawley doesn't get points off for that, rather he gains points for writing that so accurately.

Honorable Mention:

Almost four years ago I read the Harry Potter series for the first time (it won't be my last) and have been hearing how good the audio book versions are - a good narrator/reader makes ALL the difference people.
In October I started listening to the series on audio during my commutes. This month, I squeezed in book 5 on audio. It was a marathon listen! I read the book in 3 days but it took me a full month to listen to the 23 discs since I only listen when I'm driving.


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