Monday, November 9, 2015

Stolen Years: Stories of the Wrongfully Imprisoned (Giveaway)

Why I read it:
Years ago a friend's ex-husband did something that could have landed him in prison. He'd been desperate, but, still, had broken the law. Around this time I was reading in bed one evening, my cat snuggled against my leg, when I was overwhelmed by the thought of what it must be like to go to prison. I shivered, then got up, grabbed a beverage and a snack, and snuggled back into bed with my book and cat, resolving to never do anything to land in prison.

But what if you land in prison for a crime you didn't commit? It couldn't happen to you, right?

In Stolen Years journalist Reuven Fenton tells the story of ten people who didn't think it could happen to them either. Yet these ten people were wrongfully convicted for crimes they didn't commit. These eight men and two women spent a combined total of 176 years in prison. The shortest time was nine years, the longest thirty. Can you imagine?

Reuven Fenton
False accusations, eyewitness miss-identification, false confessions made under duress, improper forensic science, and official/government misconduct are what wrongfully put these people behind bars. Studies estimate that between 2.3 to 5 per cent of people currently serving time in U.S. prisons are innocent. That's up to around one hundred thousand people wrongfully convicted. Not only are the inmates' life ruined, but the impact on family and friends is monumental. Not to mention that the real murders were left to walk the streets.

These stories are compulsively readable yet I found myself only able to read one or two per sitting. It's overwhelming to read about real people who are plucked out of their lives and thrown into a nightmare. At the heart of the matter is a legal system that's based on winning or losing rather than justice.

In his conclusion Fenton offers suggestions on how to change the system, what reforms some states are already implementing, and what citizens can do to help. One of the easiest things citizens can do is thank journalists who write about people who have been exonerated and share the stories on social media. Doing this will help keep the focus on such stories. The more the public learns about problems in the justice system and begin the put pressure on elected officials, the sooner reforms will be implemented. Visit to learn more.

Stolen Years is a quick read that will stay with me for a very long time. I highly recommend it to readers who are new to the issue of wrongful imprisonment and/or interested in our criminal justice system. It will no doubt make for interesting book group discussion.

Stolen Years: Stories of the Wrongfully Imprisoned
Reuven Fenton
Tantor Media, Inc. Release date: November 10, 2015
Available in paperback and audio
Source: Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours.

Simply leave a comment with your email to enter to win a paperback copy of this book.
(US/Canada only)
Winner will be randomly chosen on Monday, 11/16, and will have 48 hours to reply 
before alternate winner chosen.

To read more about this book and visit other blogs on this tour (with more enter-to-win options), please click here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Nonfiction November ~ Week 1

Nonfiction November is a month long focus on reading nonfiction books. It's hosted by multiple bloggers this year. Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness is the host for week one.

The topic this week asks participants to look back on the year and share some thoughts on their reading life.

Here goes!

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? 
I've only read six nonfiction titles so far this year, which seems a bit low compared to previous years, but I haven't done any number crunching yet. They are:
  1. Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James
  2. Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir by Frances Mayes
  3. Rowing Against the Wind by Angela Madsen
  4. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  5. Hiroshima by John Hersey
  6. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

It's tough picking a favorite out of this group because they were all good, solid books, but since I'm tasked with choosing one I'll go with Anne Frank's Diary. For starters, its been on my TBR forever. It's one of those books I didn't want to read for a long time and then I wanted to read it, also for a long time. It was amazing to finally read it and I'm glad the 40-something version of me read it rather than the teenage me, because I don't think it would have been as profound or as moving to my younger, less thoughtful self. Unless, perhaps, my reading experience was in the hands of the "right" teacher. And by "right" teacher I mean someone who is not only an excellent teacher of teens, but someone I had a crush on. Like most people who've read Ann Frank's diary, I was stunned and felt ill when it ended so suddenly. It was a sublime reading experience for me, both joyful and horrific.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? 
Probably The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus by Richard Preston. I've recommended it to people I know well and to complete strangers back when I was a bookseller. I've never had someone come back and tell me they just couldn't get into it. It's one of those books that makes you feel like you've been through the wringer and also learned a few things along the way. I want more people to read In The Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathanial Philbrick, which is probably my favorite nonfiction book of all time (movie based on the book is coming out in December). Also  literature lovers and writers might be fascinated by Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg. Perkins edited F. Scot Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, and Ernest Hemingway, among others. Read the book now before the movie starting Colin Firth as Perkins comes out (supposedly in 2016).

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? 
True crime or nonfiction about crime and crime fiction. I'm a fan of crime fiction, but there's something about the idea of reading true crime that makes me shudder. I once flipped through a book about suicides and murders in the 1930s or 1940s and almost passed out in the middle of the bookstore. Seriously, I had to sit down and breathe for a while. I'm currently dipping my toe in the water by reading Stolen Years: Stories of the Wrongfully Imprisoned by Reuven Fenton. It's a collection of ten short biographies about people who've served years or decades in prison for crimes they didn't commit.

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?
To reignite my reading and my blogging. I've read some good books this year, but I've been rather listless about both my reading and blogging. I'm looking forward to having a focus this month and seeing what everyone else is reading & recommending.

Do you have any nonfiction reading plans this month? 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Patricia Cornwell's New Release: Depraved Heart

Kay Scarpetta and her crew are back. Depraved Heart was just released yesterday (10.27.15) in the States. It's the twenty-third entry by Patricia Cornwell in her ground-breaking Scarpetta series.
From the publisher: Dr. Kay Scarpetta is working a suspicious death scene in Cambridge, Massachusetts when an emergency alert sounds on her phone. A video link lands in her text messages and seems to be from her computer genius niece Lucy. But how can it be? It's clearly a surveillance film of Lucy taken almost twenty years ago.

As Scarpetta watches she begins to learn frightening secrets about her niece, whom she has loved and raised like a daughter. That film clip and then others sent soon after raise dangerous legal implications that increasingly isolate Scarpetta and leave her confused, worried, and not knowing where to turn. She doesn't know whom she can tell – not her FBI husband Benton Wesley or her investigative partner Pete Marino. Not even Lucy.

In this new novel, Cornwell launches these unforgettable characters on an intensely psychological odyssey that includes the mysterious death of a Hollywood mogul's daughter, aircraft wreckage on the bottom of the sea in the Bermuda Triangle, a grisly gift left in the back of a crime scene truck, and videos from the past that threaten to destroy Scarpetta's entire world and everyone she loves. The diabolical presence behind what unfolds seems obvious - but strangely, not to the FBI. Certainly that's the message they send when they raid Lucy's estate and begin building a case that could send her to prison for the rest of her life.
Depraved Heart takes place within 24 hours, much of that time is inside Scarpetta's head. The action picks up two months after the end of the last novel in the series, Flesh and Blood (2014). Scarpetta is recovering and still in pain from getting speared in the leg while scuba diving a wreck in the Bermuda Triangle during her last case.

The day starts with Scarpetta and Marino investigating what was initially thought an accidental death and morphs into a strange trip down memory lane. A trip that may have devastating consequences for some in the present. Videos are texted to Scarpetta's phone, videos that she can't pause or save. She's riveted to her phone and we're riveted to the page. Then there's an FBI raid on Lucy's estate. A law enforcement officer goes missing. It all seems to be a game, or trap, constructed by an old nemesis, someone the FBI has declared dead.

A colonial era home in Boston, Lucy's state of the art estate in Concord, agent housing in Quantico, and flash-backs to diving the wreck in the Bermuda Triangle are the back-drops of this story.

As usual cutting edge technology plays a central role. Have you heard of Data Fiction? It's when a hacker covers their nefarious tracks by creating false information that gives the appearance of the status quo. Say they do it with your bank account. You look at your account and see regular debits and credits, but in "reality" your money is long gone and by the time authorities are notified, so are the criminals. Or how about the idea of criminals creating their own invisibility cloaks using materials that render them invisible to the naked eye and security cameras? Harry Potter's invisibility cloak was fun and came in handy, but in the possession of a criminal master mind who also happens to be a depraved serial killer, it's not so cute.

Cornwell fans will be thrilled to read another entry in the series. I was left wondering exactly who is really responsible for what. Who is doing what and why? How much is the work of the old nemesis and how much does Lucy know? What has Lucy done? Is Janet going to become a bigger player in this series? And what's up with Benton? Sometimes I wonder why Scarpetta even stays with him.

I have no idea how this book would read to someone coming to the series for the first time. Would it be more gripping because you don't know the characters? Would it be confusing because much of what goes on hearkens back to prior books? I'd be interested to hear from readers whose first experience with Scarpetta is Depraved Heart.

So now here we go again: waiting a whole year to get some answers to these questions.

Title: Depraved Heart
Author: Patricia Cornwell
Publisher: William Morrow
Source: Review copy provided through TLC Book Tours.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Mount: Edith Wharton's House

On Saturday my friend Emily and I drove up to Lenox, MA for an evening storytelling event at Edith Wharton's house, The Mount.* We planned to arrive a couple hours prior to the event to visit the house and have dinner in town. I had to work earlier in the day and we arrived at The Mount only fifteen minutes before closing time.

The Mount viewed from the flower garden.
Still in bloom.
That's my friend, Emily, at the foot of the steps leading up to the east facade of the house. Although the house closed promptly at 5pm, the gardens remained open for visitors to enjoy.
This manicured limestone walk runs parallel to the east side of the house. At one end is the flower garden, which is more French and English in design, and at the other end is a walled Italianate garden that is much more rustic.
A picture taken just outside the Italianate garden, looking back at The Mount. I'm standing next to one of the columns. Can you see me?
The entrance or forecourt where carriages and later automobiles dropped off guests or waited to whisk Edith away for a drive in the country.
Forecourt wall detail.
The sign reads: "Edith Wharton at The Mount. 'We have to make things beautiful; they do not grow so of themselves,' Edith Wharton, The Decoration of Houses, 1897. Edith Wharton's short decade at The Mount (1901-1911) was a period of tremendous change, self-discovery, and personal turmoil. Amidst it all, she built a home, a persona, and a world rooted in beauty and structure. Always the writer, Wharton transformed even her innermost emotions into words that continue to be as fresh and compelling today as when first written."
From the staircase looking toward the gallery.
Edith Wharton's bed, from which she did much of her writing. It was here that she wrote The House of Mirth, one of my all time favorite novels.

The view from Edith Wharton's bedroom.
Edith and her husband Teddy often traveled with their dogs. Here's one of their carriers.
The dinning room table set for guests. The sign reads: The Inner Circle: Friends & Family: Edith Wharton liked her tables round, her lights low, and the conversation sparkling. The dogs were always invited.
Although we did see Wharton's famed library, the lights were already off so I didn't attempt a photograph. I am tantalized, however, by the idea of a private tour of Wharton's library.

A quick note of thanks to the kind docent who showed much patience with us as we dashed from room to room trying to squeeze in just a few more sights as she was trying to do her job and close up the house for the night.

I look forward to going back for an official tour of The Mount and spending some time soaking up the beauty and ambiance of this historic home and gardens. Tours are conducted throughout the day through October 31st. My next visit may have to wait until the spring when the house opens again in May.

Until you can schedule your own visit, or perhaps to refresh memories of your last visit, enjoy this introductory video to The Mount and visit for more information about Edith Wharton's house, life, and writing.

The Mount
2 Plunkett Street
Lenox, Massachusetts 01240-0974

*The storytelling event was a Speak Up event by Matthew & Elysha Dicks held at The Mount's stables.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Morgan Library and Hemingway Exhibit, Manhattan, NYC

My mom visited from Chicago a couple weeks ago and we went to check out the Hemingway exhibit at the Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan. I was excited to finally visit the Morgan Library. I first learned about Pierpont Morgan's collection and his library in the Newberry Library's seminar on the History of Library Architecture that I attended a few years ago.

Mom at the Morgan
Mom is originally from Germany and first read Hemingway in German as a young woman. I've been a fan of Hemingway's writing since she recommended I read A Farwell to Arms when I was in my early twenties. Mom's recommendation and my subsequent reading healed a wound from a high school English class reading of The Old Man and The Sea. I would like to note that while we both admire Hemingway's writing, the more we've learned about his behavior and character the less we appreciate the man. And while I loved my high school English teacher, I question his choice of The Old Man and the Sea when there are so many other Hemingway stories that are more accessible for teens. Sadly, my teacher passed away before we could have that conversation.

The exhibit focuses on Hemingway between WWI and WWII. It's a fascinating exhibit for those interested in Hemingway's writing--his life experience, subject matter, and process. The exhibit is at The Morgan through January 31, 2016 and after that it is heading to Boston. Hard-core Hemingway fans should definitely also make a pilgrimage to his birthplace and museum in Oak Park, IL.
The court of the Morgan Library and Museum building is a modern addition--beautiful wood floors with lots of glass, metal, and stone. The stairs leading to that small door is the entrance to Morgan's study and library.
It's rather a shock to walk through the cold and bright modern design of the court where everything is hard and echos into this warm, soft study where everything is muffled.
I can imagine how cozy this room must have felt with a raging fire in the fireplace on a cold winter's day.
The rotunda between Morgan's study and library.
George Washington's face, plaster cast, made in 1785 by the French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. On display in the rotunda. Washington was alive when this cast was made, it is not a death mask.
The library. Simply breathtaking.
These pictures do not do justice to the beauty and calm of this room.
Bookcase, brass door detail. Morgan collected a lot of Goethe.
My eye kept being drawn to this well-lit statue of St. Elizabeth of Schonau (1129-1165), a German nun who published three volumes describing her divine visions. Lindenwood with polychromed and gilt decoration. Early 16th century.
In a room where there are so many treasures, this one made me say "wow" out loud. The manuscript of Beethoven's tenth and last violin and piano sonata (op. 96 in G Major, 1815) completely captured my imagination. Morgan purchased it in 1907.
Mom in what was once the librarian's office--a smaller room off the rotunda, between Morgan's study and library. It now features artifacts from the ancient world.
Click here to read a room by room summary of Morgan's library and see some before and after pictures of a major restoration completed in 2010.

The Morgan Library and Museum
225 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016
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