*Giveaway* Stolen Years by Reuven Fenton

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Less than a year away from the next United States Presidential Election, Americans are talking about the issues that matter to them and the things that they hope the presidential candidates will speak about. One of those topics is the reform of the criminal justice system. Social movements such as Black Lives Matter have shined a light on the alarming amount of police brutality that takes place in our nation. Many of the presidential candidates have spoken about reducing the severity of punishment for petty crimes and attempting to decrease the number of Americans who are incarcerated. In his new book, Stolen Years: Stories of the Wrongfully Imprisoned, author and New York Post reporter Reuven Fenton delves into another equally important aspect of this conversation.

In the book, Fenton tells the stories of ten individuals who were tried and incarcerated for crimes they did not commit. Through these personal recollections, readers gain insight into the alarming lengths that investigators and prosecutors will go to for a conviction. Many of the people who are featured in this work were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fenton writes of the grueling interrogation techniques meant to eat away at a person until they confess. Several of the people featured here were fed confessions that they then repeated simply so that they could escape the arduous process.

As I worked my way through each of the short stories, I was shocked to learn how easy it is for a person to slip through the cracks of the justice system. Whether by police oversight of undeniable evidence or an overeager prosecutor willing to spin a narrative so that their version of the events seems the most correct, many people have had large parts of their lives stolen from them. Can you imagine sitting in a confined cell on death row for 15-20 years, all while knowing that you are innocent? The bureaucracy involved in overturning a false conviction can often be even more trying than the events leading up to imprisonment. These personal stories combined with exhaustive research illuminate the absurdity of parts of the system.

There is no denying the importance of police and the criminal justice system. Most of the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect and serve deserve our utmost respect and gratitude. Fenton never approaches these stories with a biased disdain for law enforcement. Rather, he shows how the system is not a flawless entity. These mistakes affect people just like you and I. The ramifications of wrongful convictions linger in their lives long after redemption and release. With this sympathetic, informational, and consistently engaging portrait of injustice, Fenton gives a voice to the men and women whose stories deserve to be part of our important national dialogue.

For more information visit Amazon and GoodReads. This review is part of a blog tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours. Check out the full tour schedule here.

(2015, 35)

If this books sounds like something you would like to read, enter to win a copy! US residents only please.

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Fan Feature/Giveaway: The Oldest Living Graduate by LTG William J. Ely


Congratulations to our first ever FAN FEATURE Winner, Richard Ely. Below you will find a guest post where he summarizes the book The Oldest Living Graduate: A Story of Love, Luck and Longevity by LTG William J. Ely, USA (Ret), Live Member. Lulu Publishing. 
ISBN 978-1-4834-3541-1

Richard has also generously provided with 3 copies of the book to give away. After reading his summary, use the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post to enter. 

From Richard Ely:
The Oldest Living Graduate is the auto biography of William J. Ely. He was raised on a modest farm in Pennsylvania, graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1933, served with the Corps of Engineers in the South Pacific during WWII and retired as a highly decorated lieutenant general in 1966. Subsequent to his service in the Army he became the senior vice president of Sverdrup and Parcel overseeing operation and construction around the world. He is also a published writer, and entrepreneur, a philanthropist and an extraordinary bridge and golf player. 

He fell in love and married his wife Helen on a short break from Midway Island in 1940. They lived the American Dream together for more than 74 years before she died at the age of one hundred. Next to his wife Helen, his greatest passion was the game of golf. He was a highly acclaimed amateur golfer who won multiple championships, shot his age more that 2000 times and was inducted into the Quail Ridge Hall of Fame with such notables as Sam Snead and Claude Harmon. 

The Oldest Living Graduate reaches its end with a summary of the author's "lessons learned" from more that a century of living and a personal status report of his daily life. 

The General is still active in Delray Beach, Florida at nearly 104 years of age. 

For more information about this title, visit the publisher's website, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble

If this sounds like a book that might appeal to you, please enter for a chance to win one of three copies of it. Open to US residents only.

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After Alice by Gregory Maguire


"How very like a dream this all is."

Gregory Maguire, author of the bestselling novel Wicked, is back with his latest novel, a re-imagining of Lewis Carroll's classic Alice in Wonderland. Whether you've read Carroll's novel or seen any of the numerous film adaptations of the work, you are probably familiar with Alice's adventures in the strange Wonderland. But what about Alice's family? How did they cope with her mysterious disappearance? And what kind of impact did Alice's presence in Wonderland have on all of those curious characters that she came across? As he's done in most of his other novels, Gregory Maguire uses After Alice to fill in the gaps and answer some of these questions.

Young Ada is around the same age as her neighbor Alice. She wears an unwieldy contraption that is intended to correct her posture, but the device only accentuates her awkward personality and deters many potential playmates. Alice, however, has never seemed to mind Ada. Whether Alice truly enjoys Ada's company or is simply too preoccupied with her own fantasies to notice the other girl's presence, she is the closest thing to a friend that Ada has.

One day, Ada is asked to take some homemade marmalade to Alice's house. As she wanders into her friend's yard, she sees a peculiar sight. A small white rabbit adorned in a waistcoat and clutching a pocket watch stands before her. As the animal runs off, Ada follows. She suddenly falls through a rabbit hole and is thrust into a crazy world populated by odd characters. As the novel progresses, Ada travels a few steps behind Alice's famed journey and aims to reconnect with her friend and find her way back home.

Parallel to this is the story of Alice's older sister Lydia. Lydia is supposed to be keeping watch of her sister, when the girl descends into Wonderland. She isn't worried at first. Alice is notorious for exploring their grounds. But when Ada too is noticed to be missing, Lydia begins to worry about the two girls. She hesitates to interrupt her father who is meeting with Charles Darwin. When Ada's housemaid comes looking for the girl, Lydia enlists her help.

This is my first novel by Gregory Maguire. After the high praises of Wicked and his other works, I was eager to get my hands on this one. Maguire's writing style takes a bit of time to get used to. He writes in a way that seems to hearken back to the Victorian era that this story occurs in. The entire novel is approached with a high-brow air of superiority that initially caught me off guard. While this could certainly be an attempt to mimic Lewis Carroll's prose, it ends up coming off more as an unnecessarily pretentious device that does little to enhance the story.

The story itself is equally confounding. The parts that focus on Lydia offer many promising insights about a young woman's role and expectations in Victorian Era England. By introducing Charles Darwin as a guest to the family's residence, Maguire also explores issues of science, evolution, and race. This narrative could easily have been fleshed out into a fascinating novel on its own. However, by placing this thread alongside the surprisingly less vibrant Wonderland narrative, Maguire ultimately does not have enough book to adequately devote attention to either plot. In the end, After Alice is a novel that is full of interesting elements that never reach a cohesively satisfying whole.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.

(2015, 34)

Slade House by David Mitchell


A few years ago, I succumbed to the pressure of numerous recommendations and read David Mitchell's acclaimed novel Cloud Atlas. While I appreciated the unique construction and technically inventive writing of that novel, I found myself slightly unsatisfied by the end of it. The changing perspectives of different characters at vastly different time periods made reading the story quite a chore. When I finally made it to the end, I didn't feel any significant payoff to my efforts. Despite all of that, I still found myself reflecting upon the book, closely watching Mitchell's career, and waiting for the chance to read more of his work.

His latest novel Slade House immediately caught my attention. The first chapter was initially published as a serialized set of tweets. Mitchell then went on to expand that short story by adding four more chapters to complete the novel. At a little over 200 pages, Slade House is a work that is a bit more digestible than some of his heavier tomes, but equally thoughtful and enchanting.

Slade House is a mysterious dwelling that plays host to 120-year-old twins, Jonah and Norah Grayer. It is one of those places that exists somewhere in the outer edges of our minds. A Narnia like "reality bubble" of the imagination that is visible only to the select few who possess the psychic abilities to engage with it. Every nine years, Slade House appears to those (fortunate?) souls, enticing them to enter into the grand estate. Logically speaking, the residence and expansive garden surrounding it should not be able to exist in the narrow alley between the neighboring two homes. Still, those who push on the small iron door in Slade Alley are granted access to the extraordinary lair that defies space and time.

Each of the five chapters follows an individual as they explore Slade House. Beginning in 1979 and reconvening every nine years to the present day, the mystifying Grayer twins greet their guests with a specially tailored performance in the "Theatre of the Mind". They take the form of different characters each time, affably luring their visitors deeper into their shadowy "lacuna". By the time the true intentions of the Grayer's are revealed, it is too late. The guests become victims to their nefarious hosts and ensure that the cyclic nightmare will continue.

In Slade House, David Mitchell produces an astonishing story that defies genre and engages the innermost recesses of our imagination. Each chapter adheres to a similar form as the characters methodically approach their doom. This simple formal device creates an ever-mounting dread as readers become attuned to the ominous inevitability of the characters' fate. In the hands of a less capable author, the explanation of the Grayer's back story and "operandi" could easily have become convoluted and difficult to comprehend. Fortunately, Mitchell's effortless linguistic manipulation conjures a coherent description of this intricate mythology. Slade House comfortably succeeds as an intelligent and terrifying page-turner that brilliantly showcases the proficiency of its visionary creator.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.

(2015, 33)

Friday Flicks: Jaws


Noted for being the first summer blockbuster, Steven Spielberg's 1975 adaptation of author Peter Benchley's Jaws was a groundbreaking cinematic achievement. A thriller that continues to terrify audiences to this day, Jaws combines a great story with interesting characters and a threatening monster to create an iconic and timeless movie.

The film takes place in the small New England tourist town of Amity Island. The town is shocked when the remains of a young woman who died of an apparent shark attack washed on shore. Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) is determined to protect beach-goers from any further attacks, even if that means closing the beaches. Amity's mayor is equally motivated to keep the beaches open, and enlists oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) to examine the remains. But the mayor, sensing a publicity nightmare that would destroy the town's reputation and financial stability, refuses to search for a long term solution to the problem.

When Brody and Hooper discover the remains of another victim, this one with a great white tooth embedded in their boat, they decide to enlist the help of eccentric shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw). The unlikely trio heads out to hunt the animal and restore peace to their small town. Along the way, they learn that they are not facing any ordinary animal. The shark that is preying on their town is a real monster with only one goal. . . killing any person who comes in contact with it.

Jaws is one of those rare horror films that scares not by shock but by imagination. In fact, many of the scenes that do not show Speilberg's monster are far more terrifying than when we actually get to see it. Composer John William's iconic score instantly creates an ever mounting tension that foreshadows the impending doom of the shark's next victim. Populated with unique characters who each receive a fair amount of development, Jaws becomes the standard for a blockbuster film that succeeds through emotional connections, not purely spectacle. The greatest achievement of this classic movie is the way in which Speilberg trusts his audience to imagine things far scarier than anything he could ever put on the screen. Ultimately, Jaws stands the test of time and remains a highlight of Speilberg's illustrious career.

Tiger Heart by Katrell Christe


Katrell Christie never expected to start a charitable non-profit organization in India. In fact, she never had any intentions to even visit the country. The Atlanta native was perfectly content overseeing her eclectic tea shop, Dr. Bombay. To be fair, she had never intended to run the shop either. Before she bought the establishment, Dr. Bombay was a local coffee store that Katrell frequented. When the owner mentioned that the shop would be sold, Katrell intervened. Before the fresh coat of paint was dry on the walls, Katrell began building lasting relationships with the customers of her newly established tea shop. It was one of these customers who convinced her to take a vacation to India. Little did she know that this trip would change her life.

Katrell did not immediately fall in love with India. In fact, she initially regretted her decision to spend her first vacation in six years in a poverty stricken, overpopulated country. She could have been on a beach sipping margaritas instead! But at the insistence of her good friend Cate, she agreed to volunteer by helping women in one of the local industries. As Katrell worked alongside women who meticulously labored for pennies a day, she began to fall in love with the people of India. Their kindness and generosity in spite of their poverty, deeply affected her. As she volunteered at an orphanage in Darjeeling, a tea producing area, Katrell began to recognize a real need.

In India, women are not granted the same rights as men. In fact, many families of the lowers castes will place their unwanted daughters into orphanage simply because of their gender. Girls can stay in the orphanage until they are seventeen. At that point they must either begin working in some menial job or be forced into an arranged marriage. While there is plenty of support for orphanages and higher education, there was a real gap between the two. Katrell befriended three older girls in the orphanage and vowed to return to find a way to help them bridge that gap.

Back in Atlanta, Katrell began to form the basis for her charity. Starting with those three girls from the orphanage, she would support them by giving them a place to live, food to eat, and any other support they would need to pursue a higher education. This would afford them the chance to rise above their poverty and work for a life that they could become self-sufficient from. Placing an old fish bowl on the counter of her shop, Katrell asked customers to donate the change from their drinks for this worthy cause. From these very humble beginnings, her organization Learning Tea was born.

In Tiger Heart, Katrell Christie chronicles the genesis of her charitable organization. Each chapter of the book provides short and insightful anecdotes about her background and experiences in India. Christie's dry wit rings through each page as she speaks of both her successes and failures. What she lacked in experience (and she certainly admits to all of her shortcomings), she made up for in good intention and sheer willpower. Ultimately, Tiger Heart is a funny and inspiring story of the way in which even the smallest of actions can make a huge impact on the lives of others.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads. Also, check out the full tour schedule for this book.

(2015, 32)

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