Review: The Education of a Coroner

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Review for "The Education of a Coroner" by John Bateson (to be published on 15 Aug 2017)

Rating: 4 out of  5 stars

If “CSI” on CBS is a little too sunny for you and you prefer darker, grittier shows about real forensic science like HBO’s “Autopsy” or HLN’s “Forensic Files,” then this is the book for you. Right away it grabs you with its painstaking attention to detail about everything you want know (and more!) about the day to day life of a real coroner. Holmes opens his case files and discusses dozens of cases he’s worked in and around Marin County, California, where he served as the official coroner for many years. He discusses death investigations, how the cause and manner of a person’s death is determined, the evidence of various methods of homicide on the body, the ‘how’ of suicides (i.e., what really happens when people jump off the famed Golden Gate Bridge). Call me weird, but as a self-confessed forensic science fan my fascination with the subject matter here spurred be to finish it pretty quickly.

There were a few errors in the writing, but since this is an advance copy, I won’t mention them here. There’s really nothing bad I can say about this book. Definitely recommend if this is a subject of your interest.

[Note: A free, digital copy of this book was provided via the publisher, Scribner, and NetGalley in exchange for an honest opinion of this book.]

Review: The Story of Vicente, Who Murdered His Mother, His Father, and His Sister: Life and Death in Juarez

I’ve been on a nonfiction reading kick lately. A little real life adventure never hurt anyone anyone, does it? Anyway, on to my next book…

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Review for "The Story of Vicente, Who Murdered His Mother, His Father, and His Sister: Life and Death in Juarez" by Sandra Rodriguez Nieto (2015)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

True crime/investigative journalism book that uses the murder by a young man of his parents and sister to explore many of the issues that plague Juarez, the infamous Mexican border city that’s only miles away from El Paso, Texas. Only the first few chapters discuss the actual details of the crime and what happens to Vicente in the aftermath (he only got a measly five years in prison, btw). It’s not Vicente’s fate that drives this book as much as its overarching message: that when violence occurs in a place with impunity, it effects everyone–including a 16-year-old who decides to slaughter his family.

Nieto spends the majority of the book breaking down the rampant political corruption, cartel wars, gang conflicts, and the other cogs of the machine that are the cause of the epidemic violence that go on in Juarez. At the height of the violence in 2010, there were 20 homicides a day and 8 kidnappings. It’s pretty shocking stuff. Brutal kidnappings, dead bodies left in the street, in front of schools, in neighborhoods. Criminals that walk right out of prison because well, umm, the guards left the door open. Oops. There’s also a chapter that discusses the joke of a police department Juarez has. How does a city rack up thousands of murders in one year? It’s because they don’t even bother to investigate. Case received, case closed. Next…

I recommend this book for anyone interested in current issues, particularly in Mexico.

Review: Boy Erased

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Review for "Boy Erased" by Garrard Conley (2016)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Just finished this book. Wiping away the tears. Whew…my allergies.

This is a beautifully written book. From the first couple of pages I was completely enthralled, not wanting to do anything but turn to the next page. Garrard Conley certainly has a way with words, his beautiful sentences coming from a place of so much pain and isolation, sadness that I did not have to be an LGBTQ individual to understand, to feel in the very depths of my soul.

This story is all about Garrard, a boy growing up in a super religious Missionary Baptist family in Arkansas, the son of a pastor. From the time he is an adolescent, he knows he is gay. He tries to pray it away, to talk to God about it, all to no avail. When he is ‘outed’ to his parents by a phone call while at college, his parents suggest a ‘cure’ for his ‘problem.’ With nowhere else to turn, he attends several sessions of Love in Action, a “sexual re-orientation” program that uses ‘conversation therapy’ to change gays and lesbians to back to straight people.

This book is not a linear narrative. Scenes from Conley’s life are interpersed with his memories of ex-gay therapy, and a couple of times I found myself putting the book down and thinking to myself: do people really believe this shit? According to LIA, homosexuality is a sickness, a result of the past sins of our family members, sexual abuse, a lack of sports participation, subconscious effeminizing influences, and too much of our mother’s meddling. It’s crazy. But at no time does Conley demonize the people who clearly wronged him, he simply tells the story in a way that leaves you no choice but to listen and feel. I loved that about this book.

I’d recommend this book to people who are interested in a narrative of the intersectionality of LGBTQ identity and religion. I am a Christian, and even though I am of a progressive and inclusive mindset, I gained a much deeper understanding for LGBTQ individuals who grew up in deeply religious communities.

Review: Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose

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Review for “Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose” by Gillian McCain and Legs McNeil (2014)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Dear Nobody was published after the 1999 death of the author, a girl named Mary Rose, who reportedly kept a 600+ page journal. This condensed version of her diaries chronicle roughly about 3 years of her life in harrowing detail as she struggles with low self esteem, drug addiction, sexual assaults, and living with cystic fibrosis. As a writer I was impressed with her ideas, the complicated pattern of her thoughts, the intricate way she expressed them. There’s not much of a narrative flow here, but that’s ok. I came into this fully expecting for Mary Rose to be happy one moment, and completely subdued in the next. Welcome to adolescence, folks…

With that said, this journal had a lot of extremely disturbing content. Mary Rose had a shitty home life, shitty parents, and no one to talk to about it. For 75% of the book, she’s either drunk or thinking about drinking, high or under the influence of some other drug. Her addiction is sad to watch. You watch her move from tragedy to tragedy in an increasing fog of drugs and alcohol and in the company of people (including her own family) who could have cared less about her. In between all of the drama she’s constantly in and out the hospital, fighting infections and just plain fighting for her life. You desperately want to hug her, to help her, to stop her from falling into an abyss. Whew.

I felt like the book was realistic, but I’m not quite sure if I believe that what’s presented here is exactly as she wrote it. The spelling is perfect, there’s no typos. Although the collaborators who put the book together claim that not a single word of text was changed, I have a hard time believing that it wasn’t touched by an editor in some form or another. If she was in the impaired mental state that she constantly refers to being in, I’m sure there’s a hiccup somewhere. But I’ll digress…

Anyway, do read this. This book is the Go Ask Alice for all of us who laughed and rolled our eyes 25 years ago at the end of that book and were still waiting for a real journal to happen out there. Look no further.

Review: So Sad Today

Happy 4th! Currently sitting in my den, curled up with my pooch, watching b&w episodes of The Twilight Zone marathon on Syfy. 🙂

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Review for “So Sad Today” by Melissa Broder (2016)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

*puts book down*

Alrighty then…

These essays revel in their TMI-ness. If you aren’t ready for pages and pages of Broder’s musings on vomit, shit, nose-picking, masturbation, and the particulars of just about every kind of sex imaginable, you probably aren’t ready for this book. For me, the overshare was a bit annoying (I skipped the vomit fetish essay, no thnx), but I did manage to find some gems here that I liked. Her essay on working for a tantric sex guru was hilarious, and the very last essay on her anxiety disorder was quite moving.

The problem here is that I can’t take this book seriously. For me, the intended shock value of these essays takes away from the seriousness of this book as a whole. Toward the end, when Broder drops the witty one liners and gets real about her afflictions, the book actually becomes (dare I say it?) interesting. It shouldn’t be that way. Or should it? Either way, I think I’ll stick with her poetry. Or just reading her tweets.

Meh.

Review: Inside the Criminal Mind

Remember when I said that I’ll never review nonfiction? Well, I kinda lied. Not in a bad way, though. I read NF all the time, I just prefer not to write about it here.

This book is different. I had to read it for a class I’m taking on social deviance, so therefore the ‘review’ was already there. I had to type it last night, so I’m sharing it here.

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Review for ‘Inside the Criminal Mind’ by Dr. Stanton Samenow (2004)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

I read this for a doctoral level class I’m taking in Social Deviance. I wish I hadn’t though. In this book, Dr. Samenow sets out to answer the age-old question of why criminals commit crimes and spends 50,000 words (or how ever long this book is) answering, simply, “well, because they choose to.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am not the one to coddle or play hug-a-thug either with the big bad wolves of society. I did agree with some of the points he makes here. Samenow says that criminals are usually narcissistic, selfish people who feel entitled to the finer things in life (agreed) and feel that they shouldn’t have to work for them (agreed). Their need for power and validation feeds into their desire to victimize others in whatever way they can–fraud, sexual assault, robbery, etc (agreed). Work places, schools, family units, and other social institutions are where they hone their con game, and if and when they’re caught and locked up, they’ll hopefully change their thinking (agree). Samenow is adamant that prisons, rehabs, reading programs, and career counseling will not change the criminal because of how he thinks. He scoffs at sociologists who point to indicators such as poor schooling, drug abuse, lack of job opportunities, mental illness, poverty, and other factors as the reasons why people turn to crime.

And I understand this, I really do. But how can Dr. Samenow completely dismiss these sociological viewpoints? Most of the case studies of criminals he gives in this book are of middle class men he has interviewed–men who came from the so-called ‘normal’ two-parent homes, whose folks more than likely had the resources for therapy, and, who despite all of their efforts, still went on to choose a life of crime regardless. One cannot help but to notice the lack of socioeconomic diversity in this book, which, I’m sad to report, makes this book terribly biased. While I am not saying that all poor people are criminals (nor are all criminals poor), one cannot deny the effects of poverty and class stratification on a large number of the people in our criminal justice system. Poverty itself does not cause crime, but it definitely leads to the illusion that illegal means are necessary to achieve prosperity.

Another jarring problem with this book is how Dr. Samenow talks about criminals as one homogeneous group. We know that a woman who is addicted to crack cocaine and sells her body for profit and a Jeffrey Dahmer-like sex predator/murderer are both criminals according to the law, but are they really in the same category of deviance? According to Dr. Samenow, there isn’t much of a difference between a weekend ecstasy user and John Wayne Gacy. He also disregards ‘addiction as a disease’ pathology and with it, pretty much everything that’s been written in the field of human psychology for the past 25 years. As a psychologist, you would think he wants to understand what really drives people to do what they do beyond the most obvious, the motivator of choice.

I got almost zero information from this book. I imagine that this book is hot with prosecutors and other right-wingers who want to ‘get tough’ on crime by locking up people doing everything from robbing a bank to stealing a chicken. It doesn’t make it correct though. Not in the least.

To Whom it May Concern

Before I go any further, let me remind you all: I don’t review nonfiction on this site. I mention this on my review request page.

Yet, strangely, I get a lot requests to review biographies and memoirs. Don’t get me wrong, I do read bios, memoirs, books on public policy, books on social issues. As a matter of fact, I read them quite often. The reason why I avoid reviewing them here though is simple: I don’t like writing about nonfiction. Call it personal preference, being picky, whatever…but it’s important for me to keep this site enjoyable. The moment that I find myself taking on certain books and reviewing them out of obligation, habit, or a need to keep myself busy is the day that I probably should be shutting this site down, you know?

I don’t take money for reviews. I do this for the love of the written word. The bottom line is this: the books that you see reviewed here (even if I hated them) are books that I chose to review, upon my own free will. Book review requests that I receive in my inbox that I review here will always be books that I choose to review, upon my own free will. I wouldn’t want it any other way. A book author who writes their heart out in a labor of love wouldn’t want it any other way either.

Had to get that off my chest. Ya’ll carry on.

Love, Kellan