Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Blue Ticket by Sophie MacKintosh

Blue Ticket
by Sophie MacKintosh
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Calla knows how the lottery works. Everyone does. On the day of your first bleed, you report to the station to learn what kind of woman you will be. A white ticket grants you marriage and children. A blue ticket grants you a career and freedom. You are relieved of the terrible burden of choice. And once you've taken your ticket, there is no going back. But what if the life you're given is the wrong one? 

When Calla, a blue ticket woman, begins to question her fate, she must go on the run. But her survival will be dependent on the very qualities the lottery has taught her to question in herself and on the other women the system has pitted against her. Pregnant and desperate, Calla must contend with whether or not the lottery knows her better than she knows herself and what that might mean for her child.

An urgent inquiry into free will, social expectation, and the fraught space of motherhood, Blue Ticket is electrifying in its raw evocation of desire and riveting in its undeniable familiarity.

My Thoughts: 
About a year ago, I read Mackintosh's debut, The Water Cure, and was impressed enough with her storytelling and writing to grab this one up as soon as it became available. 

As with that debut, Mackintosh drops readers straight into a dystopian world where women are once again the target of manipulation while being made to believe that what's being done is for their benefit. Once again, Mackintosh raises a lot of questions - why was the lottery instituted, why are the blue ticket girls sent off to make their own way to the city with almost no assistance and no transportation, how does the machine determine who should get white tickets and who should get blue, and, if this is such a great plan, why do the blue ticket women require regular visits with a doctor? 

As with The Water Cure, Mackintosh left a lot of my questions unanswered; but this time, knowing that she had done that in her previous book, I was surprised by it and it didn't bother me so much. I did get enough answers to make the story feel whole and to understand the choices that Calla made and why she spent so much of the book feeling so angry and questioning her own motives. 

There were some plot pieces I felt might have been left out, although they certainly underscored the risk that Calla was taking and the fear underlying her choice. A lot of time is spent in Calla's head which is often filled with quite violent thoughts. That might have been toned down but as the book developed I did begin to understand why she might feel that way. 

There is certainly an strong sense of The Handmaid's Tale here but Mackintosh takes that and makes it her own. It's a short book and a fast read, thanks it part to it's somewhat unique style and because Calla's journey is so compelling. Mackintosh has certainly found her niche and I look forward to reading more of her work. 

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Life: It Goes On - July 5

Happy Sunday! Anyone else happy that the Fourth of July is over? I feel like a cranky old lady these days about fireworks. In my defense, it was literally so loud for about an hour and a half last night that we could hardly hear the friends we were with as we sat on their deck watching fireworks; everyone seems to be trying to one up each other. On the plus side, I don't think that I heard sirens all evening (although, again, I might not have been able to over the noise!) so I'm hoping everyone survived the evening with all of their body parts intact. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I'm still working my way through The New Jim Crow and also started Brit Bennet's latest, The Vanished. And, of course, I had to listen to the Hamilton soundtrack to get ready for the movie. 

 Hamilton, twice, on Friday - once with Mini-me and his gf and Miss H, lights out, stereo at the highest volume I think it's ever been, and snacks. Loved, loved it and may well watch it again today. 

Read: I'm not reading much, to be honest. I finished Manderley Forever and started Blue Ticket (which I hope to finish today) but I can't really focus on reading right now (again). No idea what's up next to read in print.

Made: Steaks, sweet potato fries, and caprese salad for Hamilton viewing night dinner and an egg casserole for the annual Fourth of July breakfast. It's that time of year when you'll see caprese salad show up a lot on this weekly post!

Enjoyed: It wasn't the usual Fourth of July breakfast, only about 15 of us on my parents' neighbors' patio, but it was nice to just have people I know around and really get a chance to talk to people. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On doing some gardening today. My parents are reducing their garden beds so this gal, who can never saw "no" to something free, has quite a lot of peony plants to get in the ground.

Thinking About:
Thursday I watched the first episode of When They See Us, which is heartbreaking and made me so angry. I know that it's a dramatization but even taking that into account, it made me ashamed of our judicial system. If you're of at least a certain age, you'll remember the case of the Central Park Five, the five innocent black young men that were railroaded into prison for raping a white jogger in Central Park. 

Feeling: Relieved - Miss H hit a deer on her way home last night and, while her car will need some work, it is drivable and, most importantly, she is fine. But it was one of those calls you don't want to get late at night and it was hard to go back to sleep once I knew she was fine. I'll be dragging today!

Looking forward to: Mini-me's and Ms. S's visit next week. Can't wait to see them!

Question of the week: How are you holding up with all that's going on?

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Manderley Forever: A Biography of Daphne du Maurier by Tatiana de Rosnay

Manderley Forever: A Biography of Daphne du Maurier
 by Tatiana De Rosnay
Published April 2017 by St. Martin's Press
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
As a bilingual bestselling novelist with a mixed Franco-British bloodline and a host of eminent forebears, Tatiana de Rosnay is the perfect candidate to write a biography of Daphne du Maurier. As an eleven-year-old de Rosnay read and reread Rebecca, becoming a lifelong devotee of Du Maurier’s fiction. 

Now de Rosnay pays homage to the writer who influenced her so deeply, following Du Maurier from a shy seven-year-old, a rebellious sixteen-year-old, a twenty-something newlywed, and finally a cantankerous old lady. With a rhythm and intimacy to its prose characteristic of all de Rosnay’s works, Manderley Forever is a vividly compelling portrait and celebration of an intriguing, hugely popular and (at the time) critically underrated writer.

My Thoughts:
I love Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca; it's one of the few books I've reread. But, strangely, I've never read any of her other books, despite having a couple of them on my bookshelves. In fact, I had no idea how prolific du Maurier had been nor how versatile she had been, writing everything from her own autobiography and biographies to shocking short stories (she penned The Birds, on which the Alfred Hitchcock movie is based) and novels of all sorts. Rebecca is, of course, her most famous, the book that made her an international sensation. But it was also the book that she grew to regret writing. Her notoriety impinged on her wish for privacy and set a standard she was never able to reach again, despite having great success. 

If you've been here long, you'll have notice that when I reference Kirkus Reviews, it's generally because they tend to be so harsh on books and I rarely agree with them. This book is the except. To my opinion for their review, not their opinion of the book. I can't speak to how well researched this book is - certainly De Rosnay has amassed a lot of information about du Maurier and her life and I did learn a tremendous amount. But according to Kirkus Reviews, she hasn't broken any new ground, just reframed the information that was already available. De Rosnay writes the book in present tense, in an effort, she says, to make the book feel more intimate. But for me (and Kirkus Reviews), it didn't work. I found it really disconcerting. It also felt like De Rosnay wanted to cram in every detail she found about Du Maurier, often inserting details or paragraphs that added nothing to the topic at hand. For example, in Du Maurier's early life, she devotedly wrote in her journal and much of the early part of the book felt very much like De Rosnay was taking pieces straight from the journals rather than giving readers a full picture. 

Du Maurier did live a fascinating live and was surrounded by so many well-known people. The brothers Llewlyn Davies, the inspiration for J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, were her cousins and Barrie, himself, was an intimate of the family through both the theater (Du Maurier's father was a famous actor) and his role as guardian of the Llewelyn Davies brothers after their parents' deaths. Du Maurier's husband worked directly with both Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth and both visited Du Maurier's home. Du Maurier traveled extensively, most often to her beloved France which called to her because of her connection with the country through her ancestors. De Rosnay does best when she is describing Du Maurier's trips to France; other destinations are little more than a postcard home. And we are reminded, again and again, that Du Maurier preferred wearing slacks and a cardigan to dresses. Perhaps that was done as a reminder (although there were plenty of other, better, reminders) of the boy that Du Maurier felt lived inside her. 

To her credit, De Rosnay doesn't shy aware from showing Du Maurier's warts, including Du Maurier's failure as a mother to her daughters for much of their formative years and her selfishness in refusing to live with her husband most of their marriage as his career kept him away from the places she wanted to be.  Du Maurier was certainly a woman of passions. When she wrote, her passion for writing took precedence over all else and when she loved, she could think of little else. In the end, she died as much from an inability to find the muse any longer as she did from age or the depression that plagued her family. 

To be fair to the book, Kirkus Reviews and I seem to be in the minority; there are plenty of positive reviews for this book. Du Maurier's daughter, in fact, seems to feel De Rosnay has captured her mother. So take my thoughts for what their worth and, if you're interested in this one, look at other reviews before you write this one off. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

Three Bodies Burning by Brian Bogdanoff

Three Bodies Burning: The Anatomy of an Investigation into Murder, Money, and Mexican Marijuana 
by Brian Bogdanoff
Published 2011 by Press, LLC at Smashwords
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
A haunting triple murder... the inside story of the investigation.When two worlds collide-the illegal transportation of tons of Mexican cartel marijuana to inner city gang members in a Midwestern city's "hood"-three bodies end up burning, caught in a web of greed as a major international drug deal goes very bad.The chilling trail of evidence from a remote wooded area where three bodies are set on fire leads homicide detectives across the country chasing down witnesses and conspirators in a two-year search for cold-blooded killers. This case has it all: murder, piles of cash stashed in the most unlikely of places, a blood-soaked crime scene, the remote dump site for bodies, luxury cars, flashy jewelry, and hundreds of pounds of illegal dope.An unbelievable break takes detectives down the rabbit hole where CSI meets Law & Order and where good old gumshoeing and meticulous forensic procedures bring down a mega-million-dollar drug conspiracy and lock up the bad guys for life.Follow the case through the eyes of the gritty homicide/narcotics detective. A handbook for the amateur criminologist, this book is for true crime fans, prosecutors and defense attorneys, and cops and robbers.Warning: This book contains graphic crime scene photos and adult language.

My Thoughts: 
In my previous job, we were required to have a certain number of hours of fraud training annually. To that end, we attending several lunches hosted by a fraud group every couple of months. Finding people who wanted to speak became difficult and the tie to fraud was often tenuous. For example, the lunch where the county attorney spoke, along with former police officer, who were, to the best of my recollection, talking to us about fraud caused by drug dealing. Completely irrelevant to my line of work but one of the most interesting lunches we ever attended as the former officer was Brian Bogdanoff who spoke about his work in the narcotics division and in solving the crime to which the book title refers. I had every intention of picking up a copy of the book shortly there after and thought of it again when my daughter began studying criminal justice. Eight years later I finally got around to reading it. My thoughts about this book would certainly have been different had I read it years ago. 

I can remember watching the morning news fifteen years ago and learning that three bodies had been found burning just on the edge of Omaha. It's frightening to think that you live in a city where that kind of thing happens. And then, as happens when something ceases to be a news story, I forgot about it. A year later, I recall the trial, in no small part because of the fact that my husband was serving jury duty at that time and, fortunately, was excused from this case. Five years after that, I had forgotten about it again until Bogdanoff talked about it at our lunch and I was fascinated about how the police managed to identify three bodies without identification on them and then track down their murderers. 

I'm still fascinated by that and by the amount of luck, tedious work, and detail it takes to solve crimes like this one. And how much the police rely on the criminals to screw up. Two pieces of paper were left in the pockets of the three men who were killed; had those not been overlooked when the killers emptied the victims' pockets, this case might never have been solved. Finding out who the victims were was key to solving the case - that led officers to their families who confirmed that the men were in Omaha on drug business and gave them the street names of the men the victims had been working with. Still, those were not names the police were familiar with and it would be some months before their identities were discovered. The amount of paperwork and the number of people involved in solving this case are staggering. The detail involved in putting together a case that won't be able to be overturned later due to some technicality is unbelievable. I 100% believe that the men who committed these crimes were terrible people who deserve to spend the rest of their lives in prison and I'm glad that Bogdanoff and the people he worked with were able to find them and get them off the streets of Omaha. 

That being said, in light of things I've learned in the past few years and of my new way of thinking about the way police departments work, I did have some problems with the book. For example, in the first chapter, Bogdanoff says, "...very few times do the good guys, the cops, catch a break or get lucky." It wasn't the only time he referred to the police as "the good guys," setting up "us versus them" mentality that I'm growing to believe is one of the problems with how our criminal justice system works. 

That's reinforced when he defends a practice the policy use known as a "bar check" which caused some problems for him once. He, of course, says he and the other officers involved did nothing wrong and that the leaders of the African-American community who "claimed they were threatened, harassed, and intimidated by officers coming into a celebration they were having" might have been doing so as a media ploy. I can't say for certain, but knowing what I know now, I'm guessing that these "bar checks" were more often done in neighborhoods were persons of color live. Bogdanoff says that they went into that particular bar because there was a "large volume of foot and vehicle traffic in the parking lot of a bar that was directly next to one of the housing projects." It clearly never occurred to him then, or in retrospect, that it might have been anything other than suspicious. Bogdanoff grew up in this town, he'd worked extensively in that neighbor, and I can't help but think that he surely must have recognized some of the people going into that bar. But he says "I...learned that I would face people...who have certain agendas, and to support those agendas, they will manipulate situations and facts." I'm sure he's not wrong, that he did encounter people who did that. Again, though, it doesn't seem to occur to him that he may have done the same thing. 

I wish Bogdanoff had had a better editor - I didn't need to know that the prosecutor from the county attorney's office looked like Diane Lane or that once he could "literally hear [another office] crap his pants." And perhaps a little less of the braggadocio. It's a book that could have been tightened up and more focused. Because there is a hell of a story here and an impressive job of bringing two murders to justice. 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Life: It Goes On - June 28

Happy Sunday! Can you believe June is ending? It's been a strange four months that feel like they drag on and on but then suddenly we are to the Fourth of July. How has this virus affected your plans for the coming holiday weekend? We go, as you may remember, most years we go to my parents for the neighborhood Fourth of July breakfast which has been held every year except one (when it was rained out) since 1976. God love the ladies who have taken over the organizing - they have set up a Zoom breakfast so the event can continue. My dad will do his annual talk and then the neighborhood children will hold the first ever Fourth of July parade. I love the way people are finding ways to carry on even when everything has changed!

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I'm working my way through The New Jim Crow. It's slow going because, as my friend who's had to listen to my continual outrage can testify, there is so much here to learn. I do have about five hours left to listen to in the next couple of days so I'm going to have to just listen and stop bookmarking. Then I think it's time for something lighter for a bit. 

Watched: We watched the movie adaptation of Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy this weekend. I felt like they did a pretty good job of adapting a book that isn't just one story. One thing that did stand out to me, though, was that the movie actually made the prison guards look better than they did in the book. I wondered if that was to make the movie more palatable to a wider audience.

Read: I'm hoping to finish Manderley Forever in the next couple of days. Daphne du Maurier was certainly an interesting person who led an interesting life.

 Homemade ice cream for Father's Day and a new hot fudge sauce. I lost my ice cream recipe - it was nearly a disaster, especially since it came from, of all places, a Muppets recipe brochure I got more than 30 years ago. Miraculously, I found a copy on the internet and the day was saved!

Enjoyed: Father's Day with my daddy last Sunday. We had to eat in the garage but whatever it takes to be together I will do!

This Week I’m:  

Planning: For a visit in a couple of weeks from Mini-me and Ms. S! I must admit to be a little nervous about having people in my house but I know they've been taking care to be safe and I'm not willing to miss a chance to see them. 

Thinking About: What needs to be done before Miss H moves. The restaurant she was going to work at has permanently closed so she is job hunting now and will move as soon as she has a job, hopefully by the end of July. 

Feeling: Like I need a lazy day. It's not going to happen anytime soon though. Maybe I'll have time for that in August!

Looking forward to: I know that the Fourth of July is the highlight of the coming weekend for most but Mini-him, Miss H and I are most looking forward to Friday, a.k.a. Hamilton day. 

Question of the week: How will you be celebrating the Fourth?