Thursday, December 12, 2019

REVIEW: Hands Up by Stephen Clark

Title: Hands Up
Author: Stephen Clark
Genre: Adult Crime Fiction
Publisher: WiDo Publishing
Release Date: September 28, 2019
Acquired: Hardcopy sent for review
Goodreads: ADD

Officer Ryan Quinn, a rookie raised in a family of cops, is on the fast track to detective until he shoots an unarmed black male. Now, with his career, reputation and freedom on the line, he embarks on a quest for redemption that forces him to confront his fears and biases and choose between conscience or silence.

Jade Wakefield is an emotionally damaged college student living in one of Philadelphia’s worst neighborhoods. She knows the chances of getting an indictment against the cop who killed her brother are slim. When she learns there’s more to the story than the official police account, Jade is determined, even desperate, to find out what really happened. She plans to get revenge by any means necessary.

Kelly Randolph, who returns to Philadelphia broke and broken after abandoning his family ten years earlier, seeks forgiveness while mourning the death of his son. But after he’s thrust into the spotlight as the face of the protest movement, his disavowed criminal past resurfaces and threatens to derail the family’s pursuit of justice.

Ryan, Jade, and Kelly--three people from different worlds—are on a collision course after the shooting, as their lives interconnect and then spiral into chaos.

Hands Up is about the (unfortunate) realistic scenario of racial profiling by a white cop, and the even more unfortunate outcome of that profiling: an innocent black male getting shot to death. Told through three alternating perspectives, we hear from Jade, the victims' older sister, Kelly, his estranged father, and Ryan, the officer that shot him. Together they attempt to paint a larger picture, one steeped in misplaced justice and forced forgiveness.

There is a desperate need for important books right now. There is a gaping void that needs to be filled with literature, both fiction and non-fiction, and with videos, and movies, and television shows, and news reports, and emails, and texts, and damnit actual human beings standing on their roofs SHOUTING about the injustices that our species is enduring. But most importantly the injustices of young black youth, of black men, and of the black community as a whole. There is a desperate need for people with the means to contribute their voices on this matter to use those means. To use them and use them until it helps the next person do the same. Stephen Clark used his means, as a writer, to create a social commentary in Hands Up. He shed light on a topic that should be breaking down doors with its force, but sadly still feels as though it falls on deaf ears. I applaud Stephen for writing this book, but as my star ratings have first and foremost always represented my concluding opinion on writing style (based on genre) as opposed to subject matter, I couldn't grant it the 5-stars that my justice-seeking heart would have given it had it come to me as a news report or a documentary.

Stephen Clark wrote like a true journalist, in the sense that telling was favoured heavily over showing: 

"As pallbearers carried the casket to the burial site, Kelly and Regina held hands. As his son's casket was interred, Kelly cried and let out a scream. Regina laid her body his coffin and wept".

The entire novel read like a 290-page report, and sadly both characters and storyline suffered for it. I also took issue with the many descriptive and stereotypical ways in which a certain gender was described or represented. There was even some fat-shaming on two occasions whilst describing or referring to Jade's best friend. Hands Up would have benefitted from remaining a depiction of racial profiling and its sometimes tragic consequences, as opposed to attempting to highlight other triggering areas such as self-harm or sexual abuse, which I found to be handled quite poorly by secondary characters. 

I really appreciate that Hands Up can be now be counted among the too-few books out there surrounding this topic, but further research was definitely needed in order to turn this into something truly spectacular. More emotion, more sensitivity, and a more genuine delve into the psyche of those who were suffering was needed to make this a true winner for me.

Trigger Warnings:
racial slurs, self-harm, sexual abuse

Read if you like:  
The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Key themes: 
racial profiling, racism, injustice, black lives matter activism



Stephen Clark is a former award-winning journalist who served as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and as a politics editor for the Washington, D.C. bureau of As a reporter for the Utica Observer-Dispatch, he won a New York Newspaper Publishers Association Award of Distinguished Community Service for his investigation into the financial struggles of nonprofit services.

He also won a Society of Professional Journalists Award for Investigative Reporting at the Stamford Advocate for his series exposing an elderly grifter’s charity organization. Stephen grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and now lives in North Jersey with his wife and son. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Arcadia University and a master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.

Contact Links

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

REVIEW: Thirteen Doorways Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby

Title: Thirteen Doorways Wolves Behind Them All
Author: Laura Ruby
Genre: Young Adult - Paranormal/Historical
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Release Date: October 1, 2019
Acquired: Library borrow
Goodreads: ADD

The unforgettable story of two young women—one living, one dead—dealing with loss, desire, and the fragility of the American dream during WWII.

When Frankie’s mother died and her father left her and her siblings at an orphanage in Chicago, it was supposed to be only temporary—just long enough for him to get back on his feet and be able to provide for them once again. That’s why Frankie's not prepared for the day that he arrives for his weekend visit with a new woman on his arm and out-of-state train tickets in his pocket.

Now Frankie and her sister, Toni, are abandoned alongside so many other orphans—two young, unwanted women doing everything they can to survive.

And as the embers of the Great Depression are kindled into the fires of World War II, and the shadows of injustice, poverty, and death walk the streets in broad daylight, it will be up to Frankie to find something worth holding on to in the ruins of this shattered America—every minute of every day spent wondering if the life she's able to carve out will be enough.

I will admit I do not know the answer. But I will be watching, waiting to find out.

That’s what ghosts do.

I have a specific weakness for stories narrated by the dead. It feels so inclusive and deliciously secretive, so unceasingly mysterious. How did they die? Will we get to find out? If so, dear God WHEN !? Thirteen Doorways Wolves Behind Them All is a National Book Awards finalist, which for all intents and purposes means that it's been deemed worthy of high praise, of a truly fantastically executed plot. Ruby writes with a master hand, so beautifully descriptive and full of genuine yearning, unfortunately, the mixture of two plot lines in this one muddled the experience a little too much for me.

An unknown spirit opens this tale. We enter her world as she's moving through the orphanage of our second main character, Frankie. Abandoned by her father for his newfound family, Frankie, along with her younger sister and older brother, are left in the care of nuns who are sometimes prone to care giving, but are most times harsh and confusingly abusive. In getting to know Frankie, we also get to learn more about the narrator as she floats through a pre, and then present, WWI Chicago. With war as the background, and other unspeakable griefs as the foreground, Thirteen Doorways Wolves Behind Them All is at once a story about love, and loss, and the pain that can be found in the most obvious places, and the places no one cares to check.

I'm in the camp that would have preferred the main storyline to revolve around the deceased narrator. She felt more fleshed-out (pun intended), than her living counterparts, her story more deserving of emotional investment. Even remembering it now is splitting my heart in two. But the writing, OH the writing, it was the saving grace that kept me reading about Frankie's plights, despite my eyes glazing over a few times. 

Ruby's writing deserves to be read regardless, so I will definitely be reading the rest of her work.

Trigger Warnings:
Physical and verbal abuse

Read if you like:  
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal
The Magic String of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom

Key themes: 
death, loss, abandonment, racism, injustice, war (not directly) 


 A National Book Award Finalist, Laura Ruby writes fiction for adults, teens and children. She is the author of the Printz Medal Winning novel BONE GAP, as well as the forthcoming novel THIRTEEN DOORWAYS, WOLVES BEHIND THEM ALL. Other works include the Edgar-nominated children's mystery LILY'S GHOSTS, the ALA Quick Pick for teens GOOD GIRLS (2006), a collection of interconnected short stories about blended families for adults, I'M NOT JULIA ROBERTS (2007), and the YORK trilogy. She is on the faculty of Hamline University's Masters in Writing for Children Program. She makes her home in the Chicago area.

Contact Links

Saturday, November 30, 2019

REVIEW: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Title: Scythe (Arc of a Scythe #1)
Author: Neal Shusterman
Genre: Young Adult - Dystopia/Sci-Fi
Publisher: Simon & Schuster - Books for Young Readers
Release Date: November 22, 2016
Acquired: Purchased for my collection
Goodreads: ADD

Thou shalt kill.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

I must quietly, and with much distress, announce that the Goodreads community really swindled me with this one. Swindled me right into a two book, one preorder purchase *sigh. I didn't love this book. For the love of a nearly perfect 5-star average rating on Goodreads, I DID NOT LOVE THIS BOOK. How do I trust again? How do I, with confidence, go book shopping and trust a Goodreads rating to lead me down the right path !? Okay I'm being dramatic. I digress, Scythe has a phenomenal concept, it was the execution that had me wondering how it garnered such a well-rounded 5-stars from almost everyone.

I started off reading with the fervor that comes with reading something brand new! and exciting! and therefore precious and oh so indulgent. That's what Scythe began as for me, a delicious delve into a world that held so much promise of detailed explanation, and while it handed me the answers to some questions, it left me in the dark in places that needed a well-lit space. For example, 'religion' (as we know it) has become obsolete, and has been replaced with a parody of itself. But how? Why? How does a large population of pious humans, who have spent their entire lives being rooted in such strong beliefs (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism) suddenly not see the use in believing anymore? Simply because death is no longer inevitable? How about death by Scythe? Is death not death not death? I found this to be a key flaw in so many "issues" that were no longer issues in this world of immortality.

Note: I want to take a moment to say that I ADORE Neal Shusterman, I read the Unwind series and could not, for the life of me, put them down or stop my feelings from spiralling out of control. So I'm not here to say that I doubt his talent, because the man is TALENTED.

Anyway, moving right along. The Romance. Let's talk about, though there isn't much to talk about. I saw what Shusterman was trying to do, and while it definitely could have been a relationship we died rooting for, it was instead a dull, gray, flopping fish of a thing. It struggled for air, and not in the good, I'm-too-busy-kissing-to-breathe way, but in the ugh, why are we-forcing-this-to-be-a-thing kind of way. The relationship should have been left in its rightful environment: platonic friendship. I would have respected and appreciated that SO much more. Not every YA novel needs to have an aspect of romantic love to launch it into stardom.

I will conclude with what I liked, because contrary to what the above portion of the review implies, my 3-star rating meant that there were many things I did enjoy, and that did work for me. Side characters Scythe Faraday and Curie were incredible, and easily maintained my admiration and interest. I really enjoyed the journal logs of the aforementioned Scythes, and the ones from not-so-loved Scythes-it added a deeper layer to the content. There were many explanations of this new world that did fascinate me and was explained in ways that blew my mind with its logic. It was what kept me reading to be honest, and what led my purchase-happy finger to order the next two installments. 

Here's hoping that I start feeling differently about this series, because hell, can we agree that it's hard to be the odd one out when it comes to such raved about books!? Ugh.

Read if you like:  
Unwind Series by Neal Shusterman
Red Rising Series by Pierce Brown

Key themes: 
death, loss, dystopia, ethics, revenge 


credit: author page (Goodreads)

CLICK HERE to read more about Neal on the 'About' page on of his website.

Contact Links

Monday, October 14, 2019

REVIEW: Recursion by Blake Crouch

Title: Recursion
Author: Blake Crouch
Genre: Science Fiction - Time Travel
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Release Date: March 3, 2020
Acquired: Borrowed ecopy from library
Goodreads: ADD

Memory makes reality.

That’s what New York City cop Barry Sutton is learning as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

That's what neuroscientist Helena Smith believes. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious memories. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent.

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.

But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?

Friday, May 10, 2019

BLOG TOUR: National Geographic Complete Guide to Pet Health, Behavior, and Happiness: The Veterinarian's Approach to At-Home Animal Care by Gary Gary Weitzman

Title: National Geographic Complete Guide to Pet Health, Behavior, and Happiness
Author: Gary Weitzman
Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: National Geographic
Release Date: April 2, 2019
Acquired: Print copy received for review
Goodreads: ADD

In National Geographic's comprehensive and easy-to-use illustrated pet reference, a renowned veterinarian offers expert advice on common health, behavior, and training for cats, dogs, and other domestic pets.

Combining first aid, medical reference, and tips and tricks of the trade, here is your go-to-guide for at-home animal care, focusing on dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, and more! Building on more than two decades of veterinary experience, Dr. Gary Weitzman covers topics including upset stomachs, house training, physical ailments and behavior tips. The president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society and former co-host of the weekly NPR show The Animal House, "Dr. Gary" brings a wealth of experience to essential veterinary questions, revealing basic first-aid techniques, when a trip to the vet is necessary, dietary recommendations, simple training techniques, necessary supplies, essential behavior cues, and much more.