Book Review (ARC) ~ ALMOST INNOCENT

Almost Innocent: From Searching to Saved in America’s Criminal Justice System


by Shanti Brien

Synopsis:
Shanti Brien was a practicing lawyer and a recovering NFL wife when the Department of Justice began a criminal investigation of her husband’s company. This collision of her personal and professional lives altered her view of the system she’d dedicated her life to and frames Almost Innocent, an insightful examination of the broader criminal justice system.


Detailing the stories of nine of Brien’s clients, from the obviously guilty to the surprisingly innocent, Almost Innocent candidly describes how each of Brien’s clients journeyed through the messy and tragic criminal system and touched Brien’s life, saving her from stupid mistakes, strengthening a football-ravaged marriage, and teaching her about humility, redemption, and humanity.

        
Almost Innocent walks the line between memoir and political commentary, crafting an intimate portrait of the criminal justice system and offering suggestions for what it could be: more fair, more humane, and more just.


My thoughts: This is Shanti Brien’s experience in the criminal justice system that she experienced beginning first as a law student, on through becoming more experienced as she became a full-fledged practicing attorney. She was also the wife of an NFL player and businessman, and eventually a mother to three children. The book recounts some of her more fascinating cases and how she dealt with them while juggling being a wife and mother, and many relocations. I found the criminal justice aspects really riveting as she kept getting such awful cases and worked so hard to try and help them somehow. These are horror stories of young people being sentenced to one or more life sentences, either wrongly, or for seemingly minor offenses. There’s just something off about each one that really requires looking into. I really enjoyed her book, sharing about her career, family, and insights. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Shanti Brien, and the publisher.


Almost Innocent

Publisher: Amplify Publishing – 203 pages
Publication: March 2nd, 2021
My rating: 5/5 STARS


About the author– Shanti Brien has a Bachelor’s degree in Ethnic Studies from UC Berkeley and a JD from Stanford Law School. She is an accomplished criminal defense attorney, with a specialty in appeals and post-conviction proceedings. She is co-Founder of Fogbreak Justice, an education and consulting company with the mission to transform the criminal justice system through experiences which reduce bias, promote fairness, build community trust, and create equity. Shanti writes about criminal justice and other social justice issues on Medium @shantibrightbrien. She co-authored June Jordan’s Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint (Routledge, 1995); and contributed to The Road to Independence: 101 Women’s Journeys to Starting Their Own Law Firms (American Bar Association, 2011) and Lose the Cape: The Mom’s Guide to Becoming Socially and Politically Engaged (Kat Biggie Press, 2018). She lives in the East Bay with her husband and three kids.


Book Review (ARC) ~ BUGSY SIEGEL

Bugsy Siegel: The Dark Side of the American Dream

by Michael Shnayerson


Synopsis:
In a brief life that led to a violent end, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel (1906-1947) rose from desperate poverty to ill-gotten riches, from an early-twentieth-century family of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side to a kingdom of his own making in Las Vegas. In this captivating portrait, author Michael Shnayerson sets out not to absolve Bugsy Siegel but rather to understand him in all his complexity. Through the 1920s, 1930s, and most of the 1940s, Bugsy Siegel and his longtime partner in crime Meyer Lansky engaged in innumerable acts of violence. As World War II came to an end, Siegel saw the potential for a huge, elegant casino resort in the sands of Las Vegas. Jewish gangsters built nearly all of the Vegas casinos that followed. Then, one by one, they disappeared. Siegel’s story laces through a larger, generational story of eastern European Jewish immigrants in the early- to mid-twentieth century.


My thoughts: I got this as an audio book to give my eyes a rest, as I’m really having trouble with them. I very much enjoyed listening to this look at the life of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, as I really hadn’t known a lot about him beyond the casino and his gruesome end. It’s a good dive into his life as a Jewish gangster who had to really work his way up from nothing, and became fairly powerful in his own right. He was always just a bit full of himself, and I think it came back to bite him later on. He felt he was invincible and it turned out that he was not. The description of his final evening after he gets home becomes quite graphic and beyond. Overall, it was a good experience, I enjoyed the narrator’s voice and the book was good. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Michael Shnayerson, and the publisher.


Publisher: Tantor Audio, Unabridged edition
Publication: Feb 9th, 2021
My rating: 4/5 STARS
Format: Audio CD
Narrated by Steven Jay Cohen
Time: 7 hours 12 minutes


Bugsy Siegel

About the author
Michael Shnayerson became a contributing editor at Vanity Fair in 1986 and is the author of eight books on a range of nonfiction subjects, including Boom: Mad Money, Mega Dealers, and the Rise of Contemporary Art. He lives in New York City.

Steven Jay Cohen has been telling stories his whole life, and has worked professionally as a storyteller since 1991. A classically trained actor, he has worked both on stage and behind the microphone for most of his career. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Steven now resides in scenic western Massachusetts.


Book Review (ARC) ~ THE DARKEST GLARE

The Darkest Glare: A True Story of Murder, Blackmail, and Real Estate Greed in 1979 Los Angeles

by Chip Jacobs


Synopsis:
Late-seventies Los Angeles was rampant with killers and shady characters, but all the go-getters at Space Matters saw was possibility. Richard Kasparov was handsome and charismatic; his younger associate, Jerry Schneiderman, brilliant and nerdy. When the pair hired a veteran contractor to oversee construction, the space planning firm they operated out of a hip mansion in LA’s Miracle Mile district appeared poised to transform the boundless skyline into their jackpot.

After the promising team imploded, however, the orderly lines on their blueprints succumbed to treachery and secrets. To get even, one of the ex-partners launched a murder-for-profit corporation using, among other peculiar sorts, a bantam-sized epileptic with a deadeye shot and a cross-dressing sidekick. The hapless criminals required a comical number of attempts to execute their first target. Once they did, on a rainy night in the San Fernando Valley, the surviving founder of Space Matters was thrown into a pressure cooker existence out of a Coen Brothers movie. Threatened for money he didn’t have, he donned a disguise, survived a heart-pounding encounter at the La Brea Tar Pits, and relied on an ex-Israeli mercenary for protection. In the end, he had to outfox a glowering murderer, while asking if you can ever really know anyone in a town where dirty deals send men to their graves.

In The Darkest Glare, Chip Jacobs recounts a spectacular, noir-ish, true-crime saga from one of the deadliest eras in American history. You’ll never gaze out windows into the dark again.

Included as a bonus is an original true crime short from the same unhinged era. In “Paul & Chuck,” a flashy, crusading attorney wages war against the messianic leader of a bloodthirsty cult determined to teach the world to stay away.



My thoughts: This was kind of a mixed bag for me, and not the easiest to review. I found the writing to be very good in a different way. It does grab you and pull you in, and makes you keep reading to see what happens next. I did feel it got rather weird/draggy during the killing attempts. Throughout I see lots of effort in research and plenty of eye-catching descriptions and sentences.

The story is about a unique niche in construction that two men, Richard Kasparov and Jerry Schneiderman partnered up to kick butt in. They hired a third man to handle the construction sites, juggling all the details, supplies, and people necessary to keep things moving forward and on time. Things start off wonderfully and then are followed by many twists and turns. Bizarre true crime you’ll wonder about long after its over. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Chip Jacobs, and the publisher.



The Darkest Glare

Publisher: Rare Bird Books – 304 pages
Publication: Mar 9th, 2021
My rating: 4/5 STARS


About the author– Chip Jacobs is an award-winning author and journalist. His novel, Arroyo, about Pasadena, California’s mysterious Colorado Street Bridge, was a Los Angeles Times bestseller, CrimeReads most anticipated book. His other books include Strange As It Seems: The Impossible Life of Gordon Zahler, the bestselling Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution and its sequel about China, The People’s Republic of Chemicals, the latter two with William J. Kelly. His writing and subjects have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Daily News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marketplace, Slate, C-SPAN, LA Weekly, CNN, and elsewhere. Jacobs, a graduate of the University of Southern California, is at work on his follow up novel, and several non-fiction projects.


Book Review (ARC) ~ CLARKSTON’S CURSE

Clarkston’s Curse: One Child’s Quest to Explain the Series of Tragedies in Her Hometown

by Ann Margaret Johns

Synopsis:
Based on actual events, Clarkston’s Curse is the compelling true story of a child growing up in a small town plagued by tragedy.


Fleeing the violence and uncertainty of Detroit and big city living, Ann Margaret’s family moved to Clarkston, Michigan, population 1,024. But this sleepy town has a dark side. Between 1969 and 1982, more than forty unexplained accidents and incomprehensible murders struck residents of this rural community.


A true story of mystery, murder, family, and friendship, Clarkston’s Curse is a first-hand account of what it was like to grow up in the 1960s and 70s in a small town where tragedy struck with unsettling frequency. More than forty families are forever changed, and thirty people – young and old – didn’t survive to tell their tale. Ann did.


My thoughts: I just had to pick up this book, once I realized it was the Clarkston from my area growing up in Michigan. From Pine Knob to passing through her town on our way to Pontiac to our family’s business, we saw a lot of Clarkston. I found the book to be better than expected, with some decent story telling from her youth, and I could surely relate to much of it from my experiences growing up not far away in Holly. I sure never realized that there was so much tragedy going on nearby, that’s for sure though. Of course, we all know about the Oakland Child killings, which are still a thing, and are still being written about, but possibly solved, according to some. But all of the rest, well they were new to me, so it made for an interesting read, especially for a local area person. The lack of proofreading showed, but I’ve seen that in books from name publishers as well. Electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Ann Margaret Johns, and the publisher.


Clarkston’s Curse

Publisher: BooksGoSocial – 197 pages
Publication: Sep 19, 2017
My rating: 4/5 STARS


About the author– Ann Margaret Johns is a fourth generation Irish immigrant, passionate writer, and CPA by trade who, in spite of the tragedies she witnessed, still lives in Clarkston, Michigan. These days, you can often find Ann and other characters from Clarkston’s Curse sharing stories and a bottle of wine in one of Clarkston’s quaint restaurants.

Ann is currently working on a series of children’s books and memory care books for seniors.


Book Review (ARC) ~ THREE ORDINARY GIRLS

Three Ordinary Girls: The Remarkable Story of Hannie Schaft and the Oversteegen Sisters, Teenaged Saboteurs and Nazi Assassins


by Tim Brady


Synopsis:
An astonishing World War II story of a trio of fearless female resisters whose youth and innocence belied their extraordinary daring in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. It also made them the underground’s most invaluable commodity.


May 10, 1940. The Netherlands was swarming with Third Reich troops. In seven days it’s entirely occupied by Nazi Germany. Joining a small resistance cell in the Dutch city of Haarlem were three teenage girls: Hannie Schaft, and sisters Truus and Freddie Oversteegen who would soon band together to form a singular female underground squad.
 
Smart, fiercely political, devoted solely to the cause, and “with nothing to lose but their own lives,” Hannie, Truus, and Freddie took terrifying direct action against Nazi targets. That included sheltering fleeing Jews, political dissidents, and Dutch resisters. They sabotaged bridges and railways, and donned disguises to lead children from probable internment in concentration camps to safehouses. They covertly transported weapons and set military facilities ablaze. And they carried out the assassinations of German soldiers and traitors–on public streets and in private traps–with the courage of veteran guerilla fighters and the cunning of seasoned spies.
 
In telling this true story through the lens of a fearlessly unique trio of freedom fighters, Tim Brady offers a never-before-seen perspective of the Dutch resistance during the war. Of lives under threat; of how these courageous young women became involved in the underground; and of how their dedication evolved into dangerous, life-threatening missions on behalf of Dutch patriots–regardless of the consequences.
 
Harrowing, emotional, and unforgettable, Three Ordinary Girls finally moves these three icons of resistance into the deserved forefront of world history.


My thoughts: This book, about three teenaged Dutch girls who fought in the resistance against the Germans in WWII during the occupation of their country, was really the kind of book I can’t get enough of. I stayed up all night reading it because I became so engrossed in it, and it was just so good. Two of them were sisters, but later they all ended up working together. It’s filled with action and danger, and so many close calls, yet the girls keep going back for more. You will meet the sisters, Truus and Freddie, and then there is Jo, who is also known as Hannie, the girl with the red hair. Each of them is special in her own way, and valuable to the resistance. This is an amazing true story of courage, as so many of these types of war books are, and I do recommend it if you like this genre. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Tim Brady, and the publisher.


Three Ordinary Girls

Publisher: Citadel – 336 pages
Publication: Feb 23rd, 2021
My rating: 5/5 STARS


About the author– Tim Brady is an award-winning history author who’s critically acclaimed books include Twelve Desperate Miles, A Death in San Pietro, His Father’s Son and Three Ordinary Girls. In addition to contributing numerous articles, reviews, essays and short stories for a wide range of magazines, newspapers and journals, he has written and helped develop a number of television documentaries, including the Peabody Award-winning series, Liberty! The American Revolution for PBS. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.


Book Review (ARC) ~ HISTORY OF A DROWNING BOY

History of a Drowning Boy

by Dennis Nilsen
The Autobiography


Synopsis:

In 2020, the three-part show featuring David Tennant, ‘Des’, was ITV’s biggest drama launch in 14 years with 10 million viewers. In February 2021, Dennis Nilsen’s abridged autobiography will be published for the first time.

Seven years after his conviction in November 1983, Dennis Nilsen wrote more than 3.5 million words during his decades in prison. The Home Office banned the release of History of a Drowning Boy while Dennis was alive. He died in May 2018, leaving his memoirs to his next of kin.  

Dennis Nilsen is one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers, jailed for life after being convicted of six counts of murder and two of attempted murder. Nilsen’s (abridged but unedited 125,000 words) autobiography presents his life story in his own words alongside a foreword from criminologist Dr. Mark Pettigrew and an introduction from his friend and next of kin, Mark Austin. Advance review copies of History of a Drowning Boy are available.

History of a Drowning Boy includes:

• Expansion and detail on Dennis Nilsen’s early life, childhood abuse, and time in the military.

• Discovering (and trying to hide) his sexuality.

• Motives behind-and memories of-the murders.

• His relationship with alcohol.

• Insight into his 35 years inside the maximum-security prison system.

• The unravelling of a series of horrific events experienced by Nilsen during his childhood and through his life in the military and into adulthood.

• The details leading up to, and surrounding, his death.

Criminologist, Dr. Mark Pettigrew, writes, ‘As the reader will learn from these memoirs, a confluence of factors met to form Dennis Nilsen: the social and legal disapproval of his homosexuality during his early life; the long shadow cast by his grandfather and the sexual abuse he reports to have suffered as a child; the strained relationship he had with his mother; social isolation; the lack of supportive and long-lasting relationships; and alcohol abuse, they all played their part. Yet, these memoirs do not offer a neat answer as to why a boy from a fishing town in North East Scotland, a man who served in the police and in the military, became a serial killer. In all the academic and clinical research on the topic, there is no definitive answer as to why or how a person becomes a serial killer. Indeed, it is highly unlikely that any theory can or will account for all or even the majority of serial killers. Realistically, we can only identify risk factors. What this book offers though is an insight into how those killings are comprehended and understood by the killer in retrospect. In my own conversations with Dennis Nilsen, over several years, he did not try to excuse what he did, nor trivialise the devastating effect his actions had upon the families and loved ones of his victims. Instead, he sought to understand his actions in light of his particular circumstances. I cannot honestly say that he ever found a definitive answer as to why he became one of Britain’s most infamous serial killers, but if the answer is ever to be found it will be found within these pages.’


My Thoughts: I have read a couple of other books on Nilsen previously, one just recently, but to read one by Nilsen himself is another thing altogether. In the many years he was locked up, he had plenty of time to contemplate and to write his memoirs, and he revised them too. I was amazed at the number of pages he wrote during that time, just incredible. I’m not sure who he thought would have the time to read it all. With that aside, it is a fascinating story and he seems to have quite a detailed memory, as you can tell by how he describes his various stories throughout.

He reminds me of Jeffrey Dahmer, with how he really wanted to keep his victims with him longer, because he was so lonely. But he would eventually end up having to kill them when they wanted to leave, then he had the problem of disposing of their bodies. Dahmer had similar problems, but after he had made his visitors unconscious by drugging them and eventually tried different means to keep them that way indefinitely. That never worked out, and he ended up with another dead body to deal with. Nilsen’s autobiography is certainly a good read for most true crime fans as it gives an inside look at how they think and look back over their crimes. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Dennis Nilsen, and the publisher.


History of a Drowning Boy


Publisher: RedDoor Books – 336 pages
Publication: Feb 25th, 2021
My rating: 4/5 STARS


YEAR END BOOK WRAP UP

FIVE STAR READS

Borderline Shine: A Memoir of Complex Trauma and Reovery by Connie Greshner

The Encyclopedia of the Ted Bundy Murders by Kevin M. Sullivan

Citizen Canine: Dogs in the Movies by Wendy, Mitchell and Katryn Ali

A Tangled Web by Leslie Rule

Alice & Gerald: A Homicidal Love Story by Ron Franscell

More Than Love: An Intimate Portrait of My Mother, Natalie Wood by Natasha Gregson Wagner

Beast of New Castle by Larry Sells

Trial by Fire: A Devastating Tragedy, 100 Lives Lost, and a 15-Year Search for Truth by Scott James

First Degree Rage by Paula May

A Convenient Death: The Mysterious Demise of Jeffrey Epstein by Alana Goodman

Love Her Madly: Jim Morrison, Mary, and Me by Bill Cosgrave

Big Kibble by Shawn Buckley

Gentle on My Mind: In Sickness and in Health with Glen Campbell by Kim Campbell

The Killer’s Shadow: The FBI’s Hunt for a White Supremacist Serial Killer by John E. Douglas

We Thought We Knew You by M.William Phelps

The Nilsen File: Updated by Douglas Bence

American Daughter by Stephanie Plymale Thornton

Killer Triggers by Joe Kenda


4 STAR READS

Monster by Aileen Wuornos

Undaunted: Surviving Jonestown by Jackie Speier

Investigating the Almost Perfect Murders by Anthony Nott

Magnetized Conversations with a Serial Killer by Carlos Busqued

To Me, He Was Just Dad by Joshua David Stein

Restorative Yoga by Carin Baginski

The Hostage Rescuer by Darren Franklin

The Kidnap Years by David Stout

Boots in the Ashes by Cynthia Beebe

Dopeworld by Nika Vorobyov

Promise Me You’ll Shoot Yourself by Florian Huber

The Louvre by James Gardner

Unspeakable Acts by Sarah Weinman

The Book of Atlantis Black by Betsy Bonner

The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend

Unspeakable Acts by Sarah Weinman

The case of the vanishing blone by Mark Bowden

The Heart and Other Monsters by Rose Andersen

Losing Jon by David Parrish

Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett

Lord High Executioner by Frank DiMatteo

The Devil’s Harvest by Jessica Garrison

In the Shadow of the Valley by Bobi Conn

The Perfect Father: The True Story of Chris Watts by John Glatt

Snowbird by William Norris

Catastrophes and Heroes by Jerry Borrowman

Men to Avoid in Art and Life by Nicole Tersigni

Before Chappaquiddick by William C. Kashatus

Escape From Auschwitz by Andrey Pagozhev

A Brotherhood Betrayed by Michael Cannell

The Golden Thread by Ravi Somaiya

Hell in the Heartland by Jax Miller

Breakfast at Bronzefield by Sophie Campbell

Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad by Dick Kirby

Call Girl, How Did You Make it in the Treacherous Streets of Detroit by Tianna Jones

Doctor Dealer by George Anastasia

Broken Shield by Ray Morrow

Tiger Wars by Al Cimino

The Unusual Suspect by Ben Machell

The Mourning Report by Caitlin Garvey

Poetic License: A Memoir Gretchen Cherington

Cold Case North Michael Nest

Dark Horses: A Novel by Susan Mihalic

The Red Ribbon Pepper D. Basham

Two Truths and a Lie by Ellen McGarrahan

Sorry Not Sorry by Naya Rivera

Willful Misconduct: The Tragic Story of Pan American Flight 806 by William Norris

Flight 7 is Missing by Ken H. Fortenberry

Nazi Wives by James Wyllie

Father-ish by Clint Edwards

BrodyMonster by Liz Maritz

Manhunt by Peter Bleksley

100 Ways to Be Kind by Theresa Cheung

Bad Medicine: Catching NY’s Deadliest Pill Pusher by Charlotte Bismuth

Pretty Evil New England by Sue Coletta

Aromatherapy by Louise Robinson


THREE STAR READS

The Silver Swan: In Search of Doris Duke by Sallie Bingham

Wake up, Wanda Wiley by Andrew Diamond

Killers Keep Secrets by James Huddle

They Called Him a Gangster by Zali de Toledo

The Racetrack Gangs by Dick Kirby

Juror Number 2 by Efrem Sigel


2 STAR READS

The Shapeless Unease, A Year of Not Sleeping by Samantha Harvey

Nothing Can Hurt You by Nicola Maye Goldberg

Book Review (ARC) ~ KILLER TRIGGERS

Killer Triggers
by Joe Kenda


Synopsis:
The most common triggers for homicide are fear, rage, revenge, money, lust, and, more rarely, sheer madness. This isn’t an exact science, of course. Any given murder can have multiple triggers. Sex and revenge seem to be common partners in crime. Rage, money, and revenge make for a dangerous trifecta of triggers, as well.


This book offers my memories of homicide cases that I investigated or oversaw. In each case, I examine the trigger that led to death. I chose this theme for the book because even though the why of a murder case may not be critical in an investigation, it can sometimes lead us to the killer.


And even if we solve a case without knowing the trigger, the why still intrigues us, disrupting our dreams and lingering in our minds, perhaps because each of us fears the demons that lie within our own psyche — the triggers waiting to be pulled.


My Opinion: Ah, my favorite retired homicide detective who switched to TV actor and author is back with another book. Yes, Joe Kenda, who has become a social media sensation with memes galore. Your fans on Facebook can’t wait until you are back on the tube again, they are tired of reruns. They will enjoy this book just as much as your first, if not more, I will assure them. It’s full of gritty stories of your nights catching bad guys as you got called out to crime scenes as grisly as ever. Telling your stories in the unique way you have of sharing how they appeared to you, and affected you. Giving your gut felt opinion of the perps and their methods.

You don’t mince words. You tell it like it is, and people love you for it. We dream of an army of RoboKendas out there right now protecting us, 24/7. Keeping the peace and catching the bad guys. But short of that we’ll be happy to watch you in whatever capacity you return in. Thankfully, you are starting soon hosting American Detective. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Joe Kenda, and the publisher.


Killer Triggers

Publisher: Blackstone Publishing – 200 pages
Publication: Mar 9th, 2021
My rating: 5 of 5 STARS


About the author– Lt. Joe Kenda, a twenty-three-year veteran of the Colorado Springs Police Department, spent twenty-one years chasing killers as a homicide detective and commander of the major crimes unit. Kenda and his team solved 356 of his 387 homicide cases, getting a 92 percent solve rate, one of the highest in the country. After retiring from law enforcement, he starred in Homicide Hunter, an American crime documentary series that ran for nine seasons on the Investigation Discovery network and averaged more than 1.9 million viewers in 183 countries. In 2021, he will host a new television crime series on Investigation Discovery.