Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Reviews On My 2019 Reads

My index of all interviews of the last ten years up until 2018 is here

My list of all 2018 reads is here

My list of 10ish favorite books read in 2018 is here

Book #1 - Astrophysics For People In A Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I read this both to try to understand this stuff and for a book club.. Finished it last nite and the discussion group is Tuesday. Hoping I can retain the information until then, at least. While it was easier to read this as an audiobook I think I remembered it less well because of that. Tyson is excellent at explaining things and I better understand some subjects now. This was all happening while he was facing more ramifications due to the allegations against him. 8 out of 10.

Book #2 - Scrublands by Chris Hammer -
In Scrublands, Australian author Chris Hammer writes about a journalist, Martin, sent to a drought-ravaged town in Australia where the one year anniversary of an event is coming up: A year earlier a priest, minutes before a weekend service, stood on the church steps with a gun and shot several people before being killed himself.
Scrublands Cover ImageMartin finds things are not as it seems as far as the story told about the incident and, while investigating, there are fires, a fatal car accident and he falls in love with a local resident.
The old journalism rule about not becoming part of the story is broken repeatedly. This book has twist after twist including Martin publishing stories that seem accurate at the time, but soon turn out to be otherwise. This is great writing that will keep surprising you.

I give it a 9 out of ten
 i interviewed him here:

Book #3 of this year is this excellent book , Tear It Down

From the introduction of my interview: "I have a theory that if you give an awesome book full of adrenaline, excitement and plot twists to someone who usually needs a cup of coffee to get moving in the morning, the book will do the job. Nick Petrie’s new novel, Tear It Down, is one such book.
As the book, the fourth in Petrie’s Peter Ash series, begins, Ash’s girlfriend sends the restless war veteran to Memphis to help a friend, Wanda, with a situation: she’s receiving strange threats. By the time he arrives her home is under attack, bulldozed by a garbage truck.
Meanwhile, a young homeless musician in Memphis, on the run after a jewelry store heist goes sideways, steals, at gunpoint, Ash’s car and Ash finds himself immersed in a second case with Ash trying to help not just Wanda but also this musician, Eli.
Petrie masterfully advances both stories while fleshing out all the characters."
“Lots of characters get compared to my own Jack Reacher, but Petrie’s Peter Ash is the real deal…The writing is terse and tense, full of wisdom and insight, and the plot is irresistible.”
I give it a 9
and interviewed %url ( the author here )

Book #4 - I was hooked on No Mercy as soon as I read the opening line: “You kill one guy, one time, and suddenly everyone thinks you need therapy…” The protagonist, Ellery Hathaway, a police officer, is famous because she killed a particularly brutal murderer. He’s in prison, she’s involuntarily suspended. 

The author, Joanna Schaffhausen, keeps the action and adrenaline and droll wit that first sentence implies. This is the second book in a series involving Hathaway, the first is called The Vanishing Season, for which she won the Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award in 2016.

While dealing with harassment, unwanted attention and personal threats for her actions, Hathaway is pushed to join a group therapy consisting of other survivors of terrible crimes. As she and an FBI profiler, Reed Markham, began to investigate the cases of two of the survivors in the group they find things are not as simple or clear as one would expect.  There are many twists and turns as well great character development.

I give the book a 9.

I interviewed the author here:

Book #5 - How Not To Get Shot: And Other Advice From White People by comedian D.L. Hughley.
I read this for a book discussion we just had tonite but also  out of curiousity. It's an interesting read because he finds a way to bring humor to such terrible topics as cops shooting people of color, how
no matter what you do when  stopped by police some cop can/will find it to be in error and justification for shooting. He also destroys the idea of reverse racism, points out that when white people talk about welfare they forget to talk about things like all the money given away to corporations not to mention sports stadiums. This is a good read that will make you laugh until you cry. I give it an 8.

Book #6 - Lincoln In the Bardo by George Saunders. This is my first reading of Saunders and while there is a lot of hype about him I really liked this book. It took me about 100 pages to really get into because one of his devices (to quote from multiple sources, one by one) was somewhat jarring but I got used to it.
I recommend listening to it on audiobook because there's a cast of more than 100 folks, mostly actors but also Saunders himself, voicing all the characters, which made it both more entertaining but also easier to follow.
I give it a solid 8 out of 10.

Book #7 - Kindred by Octavia Butler. This is my first book by Butler but I was so blown away that I will definitely be reading more. I read this
partly out of curiousity and partly for a book discussion I co-led yesterday for Austin Justice Coalition. The novel's concept is that Dana, a black
woman, and Kevin, her white husband, are in their residence in the 1970s when she gets pulled back in time to the south before the Civil War war where she gets a
first hand glimpse of life as a slave and how white people were treated. She time travels back and forth a few times - as does he but only once -
and what she sees and feels and what happens to her and others there is horrendous. As a white man steeped in anti-racism work i strongly recommend this, especially to other
white people, for a fascinating fictional take on race relations back in the 1800s not to mention even back in the 1970s. I give it a 9 out of 10.

Book #8 - The Midnight Line by Lee Child. The criticisms of this series are all fair: somewhat predictable, not a lot of character depth. On the other
hand sometimes we just need a good guy beats bad guy fun book. This book accomplished that. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Book #9 - Cemetery Road by Greg Iles. This new book by Iles, a standalone, is interesting but not nearly as good as his Nachez Burning trilogy. I had the opportunity to interview him here for this new book.

Book #10 - Trespasser by Tana French. This is the sixth book in her Murder Squad series. While it was good it seemed loooong. Some of that may have been become I didnt read the earlier books yet. I'm giving it a 7 out of 10. It'd be an 8 if it'd been shorter. (The long/short may have been because I listened to it on audio)

Book #11 - The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny - I really enjoy Louise Penny's books about Inspector Gormcuh. This is my third one and all three take place in Three Pines. Do some take place elsewhere? Anyway I listened to all 3 on audiobook and driving around with these characters on does sure relax and entertain me. I give it an 8.  

Book #12
The Ex by Alafair Burke. I'm trying to read more non-white-males lately and between that and wanting to see if James Lee Burke's daughter's prose is as amazing as his I thought I'd try one of Alafair Burke's books.
It was completely different: the style, the genre, the quality. The concept is that a lawyer's ex has been arrested, accused of murdering three people, and she, pressured by him and his daughter, takes the case. The book has some good plot twists. But for every plot surprise there were predictable parts and that left me wanting more. I'll give it a 2 out of 5 and stick with her dad's books instead 

I've interviewed Alafair twice but in relation to books she wrote with Mary Higgins Clark, most recently here:

Book #13 - The Trail of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson.
Excellent book, an exhaustive (but not exhausting) look at this fascinating case.
I also interviewed the author here:

I give it 4 out of 5

Book# 14 - Game Of Thrones - Graphic Novel, Volume One. A good primer as I begin watching season one. I give it a 4.

Book #15 - One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy by Carol Anderson. Excellent, thorough look at how in history, as well as in the present, government agencies have stopped groups, often marginalized groups, from voting. Reading this while hearing of current voter suppression investigations made it more fresh and powerful. Looking forward to a discussion of the book on Sunday.

Book #16 - Hamilton: The Revolution by by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
This is an excellent, engrossing book walking the reader through how Hamilton the play went from just a gem of an idea to the huge hit it is. I got this partly because i'm going to get to see it in late May. Next up is the audiobook of Ron Chernow's book on Hamilton that put this whole idea in Lin's head in the first place. 4 out of 5
Book #17 - Becoming by Michelle Obama - Excellent memoir looking back at not just her eight years in the White House but her whole life. Fascinating glimpses into who she is, her thought process, excellent stories about life with Barack. 8 out of 10.

Books #18-20: Soon after moving to Austin, TX, about ten years ago I was introduced to the fascinating wonder that is flat track derby and rollergirls. If you have never gone to flat track derby, you need to. It's amazing and fantastic. It made a comeback here in Austin then it became big again across the country
Two books of photographs capture the rollergirls and their sport in all their splendor from their creative names (Bonnie Collide, Bettie Rage, Mo Pain, Fisticuffs, Vicious Van GoGo) to them not hesitating from hurting each other at times if that's what's needed to win. Those books are "Scars and Stripes: The Culture of Modern Roller
Derby" by Andreanna Seymore and "Rollergirls: The Story of Flat Track Derby" by Felicia Graham.

Those are good supplements to a book by Melissa "Melicious" Joulwan, "RollerGirl: Totally True Tales From The Track," where she describes seeing roller derby and seeing out joining a team, learning what she had to do to be a good player and her experiences as a rollergirl. It's all fun, amazing stuff - well, except when they got hurt. I give them all 8's. All three books are available via the Austin llbrary. .

#21 - Below the Fold By RG Belsky -
As a former journalist and a fan of mysteries I’m a bit biased in favor of books about the news media written by current and former journalists. I thought I should mention that as I introduce an interview about the latest book by R.G. Belsky, Below The Fold.
That said, R.G.’s books would be great reads even if they were not based in the world he knows best, the news media.
As the book begins one of the news reporters wants to go against the grain and do a news piece on the murder of a woman who is homeless. While that story would often not get much media attention Clare approves a story about this woman who called herself Cinderella.
Soon there are more murders, more victims, more questionsI interviewed Belsky here:
I give it an 8

Book #22 - Hamilton by Ron Chernow – I probably would not have started listening to the audiobook of this engrossing, fascinating book had I not picked up tickets to see Hamilton here in Austin but I am sure glad I did. I have heard raves about Chernow’s book and I’m a new convert. He has the ability to tell great stories about famous people in a way where I’m both forced to rethink my opinion of some of them while pulled in by all the details. While this 29 (!) cd book took more than a month to “read” it was well worth it.
For an upcoming two-part book discussion with the Austin Justice Coalition we will be discussing essential Howard Zinn’s The People’s History of the United States and I’m looking forward to seeing where these two books will agree on some people and events and where they will differ.
Book #23 - The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda. Excellent story. I give it an 8. Here's my interview with the author

Book #24 - Girls Like Us by Cristina Alger - is an engrossing, intense story. The novel centers on the investigations of three grisly murders on Long Island, inspired by the real-life Gilgo Beach murders.
As the book begins, FBI Agent Nell Flynn has returned home to Suffolk County for the first time in ten years following the death of her father, a local homicide detective, with whom she’s always had a complicated relationship. Her mother was brutally murdered when Nell was just 7.
Intending to spread his ashes and take care of his affairs and leave, Nell instead gets pulled into investigating local murders.  She becomes increasingly convinced that her father, who died in a motorcycle accident, should be the prime suspect and his follow cops were covering his tracks.
Alger let me interview her for Mystery People.

Book #25 - Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward - An excellent, engaging, fascinating story about a family living near Parchman prison. The author does an amazing job switching perspectives from the rich characters as well as having two ghosts, two folks who seem stuck in between life and death in a way reminiscent of Lincoln at the Bardo. I highly recommend it. I read this partly for a book club i wont be able to attend but am so glad i decided to read it. A 9 out of 10.  

Book #26 - Shameless by Ace Atkins - Ace Atkins is one of my three favorite current crime writers, for his captivating series about former U.S. Army Ranger Quinn Colson, and he continues to impress on his 8th book in the series, The Shameless.
(In case you’re curious the rest of the three are Laura Lippman and Craig Johnson.)
📷The Quinn Colson books always have fascinating characters and interesting plots and plot twists. This new one is better than usual because there’s a political candidate criticizing the media as “fake news” as well as an alt-right group, so he’s capturing some of the current climate in America.  This new one also has buried secrets, dirty lies, and lots of greed and ambition.
One of the main plot lines in the new book involves how 20 years ago a teen boy named Brandon Taylor was thought to be just another teenager who ended his life too soon. Now, two New York-based reporters working on a podcast show up in town, asking Sheriff Quinn Colson and others important questions: What happened to the evidence? Where are the missing files? Who really killed Brandon?
While Quinn wants to help and his wife was a close friend of Brandon, Quinn was just a kid himself when this all happened in 1997. Quinn’s also busy now dealing with a criminal syndicate trafficking drugs and women through the MidSouth.
Quinn’s been fighting evil and corruption since he was a kid, at home or as a U.S. Army Ranger in Afghanistan and Iraq. This time, evil may win out.
In between writing Quinn Colson books Atkins, a former newspaper reporter, writes novels about protagonist Spenser, Robert B. Parker’s iconic character. After Parker’s death in 2010 his estate asked Atkins to continue the series.
Atkins was nice enough to let me interview him again about his new books.

Book #27 - With Bad Axe County, John Galligan completely blew me away with a character and plot that kept me on the edge of my seat.
📷I was particularly taken with a protagonist who as a teenager in the midwest was named Dairy Queen, but in the present is a bad-ass interim sheriff of rural Bad Axe County, put in that role after the death of her corrupt predecessor.
In addition to fighting crime, dealing with misogyny and corruption she is also trying to solve the mystery of her parents dying more than ten years prior and being skeptical of the police writing it off as a murder-suicide. In the middle of a storm she is also trying to track down and stop human trafficking.
Galligan let me interview him via email.

Book #28 - Andrew Wilson, Death on a Desert Island - I bring good news for fans of Agatha Christie:  Author Andrew Wilson is writing a series I think Christie fans, and many others, will truly enjoy.
Wilson, an award winning journalist, has written biographies of Patricia Highsmith, Sylvia Plath and Alexander McQueen and that work enriches his other fiction writing.
Wilson, a big fan of Christie, has come up with a clever idea for a series: Have Agatha Christie as a character in the books.
📷In Death in a Desert Land, Agatha Christie gets a letter from a family who believes their late daughter, a prominent archaeologist, recovering ancient treasures in the Middle East met with foul play. While Gertrude Bell overdosed on sleeping medication, found near her body was a letter claiming that Bell was being followed and to complicate things further, Bell was competing with another archaeologist, Mrs. Woolley, for the rights to artifacts of immense value.
Christie travels to far-off Persia, where she meets the enigmatic Mrs. Woolley as she is working on a big and potentially valuable discovery. Temperamental but brilliant, Mrs. Woolley quickly charms Christie but when she does not hide her disdain for the recently deceased Miss Bell, Christie doesn’t know whether to trust her—or if Bell’s killer is just clever enough to hide in plain sight.
Wilson was kind enough to let me interview him

Book #29 - Eleanor Oliphant Is Perfectly Fine by Gail Honeyman - I had trouble getting into this one at first and paused. It also reminded me a bit of the Man of Ove, which I liked but also just read, as far as a character so out of step with the world. But after hearing so many positive reviews and raves from friends I returned to it and I'm glad I did.
I really liked the main characters, her observations cracked me up (she said to herself of one her office mat's attempt
a a speech: "That wasn't exactly Churchillian). There were parts of the story that were hard, thus my stopping, but it became clear it was essential, not gratuitous. 9 out of 10
m about his novel and his series.

Book #30 - a dangerous crossing by aysma khan. This book is part of the esa khattak and rachel getty mysteries series and as such it combines deep characters with interesting plot lines and plot twists but its also educational about world events, in this case about the problems in syria and the difficulties faced by those trying to leave syria to go to other countries. Its not a fun and easy book, rather it can be a hard read at times which seems appropriate given the hard lifes lived by some of the characters. I give it an 8.

Book #31 - Open Season by C.J. Box - This is the first book in the Joe Pickett series and my first exposure to this author. I enjoyed the plot and the characters. This wasn't a deep book but it was fun and entertaining and now i'm hooked. I give it an 8.

Book #32 - The Late Show by Michael Connelly:
I was a big fan of Michael Connelly's early novels and was lucky enough to interview several times as well as hear him speak in a very packed journalism conference worshop where everyone
wanted to hear his "trick" on going from L.A. Times crime reporter to crime fiction writer. Then we had our collective hearts broken when he said the "trick" was not sleeping more than a few
hours for a few years as he'd do his day job than his fiction writing.
Like many mystery authors after they've had some best-sellers they fall into a slump of sorts. And I considered his Lincoln Lawyer series less impressive than the Bosch books and stopped reading
him for a few books.
But then I heard with this new book he unveils a new character, Rene Ballard, and I gave it a try and I really like the characters and just when I think I know what plot twist to expect next he surprises me. A fun read.
So I'm back to being a Connelly fan. I give this book an 8.5 up from a few 7's.

Book #33 - A People's History of American Empire by Howard Zinn - I've been reading Zinn's classic essential People's History of the United States for a book discussion im co-leading later in the month but I was intrigued by this book, which is a graphic adaptation of the book.
It's quite well down and I think it's good to have this more accessible read for some folks who might be deterred by the more dense text of People's History. I give it an 8. 
Book #34 - The Last Widow by Karin Slaughter - With her 19th novel Karin Slaughter continues writing fast-paced action stories with excellent plots and fascinating characters. After writing some books about Will Trent and some about Sara Linton in recent years she’s combined them, meaning both characters are in the same books. Sara is a medical examiner and Will, her boyfriend, is an investigator with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
In this one Karin starts the book with a great twist, Will and Sara try to help strangers at a crime scene and he gets hurt and she gets kidnapped, becoming part of a crew that has already kidnapped another woman. Great plots and character insights follow.
I first read and interviewed Karin about 9 years ago and I was struck by the amount of violence in her books. So I asked a possibly sexist question, namely, Why so much violence? It’s a question she gets asked a lot and she has a perfectly reasonable response: If women are more often the victims of violence why shouldn’t female writers be addressing that. 

Book #35 - A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn - A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn - I first read this book in my 30s and can recall my mind being blown with this work as well as the book Lies My Teacher Told Is by James Loewen and realizing how much the history lessons of me and most Americans had been affected by omissions, skewing of facts and, yes, just plain lies. This probably helped me gradually along my road to eventually learning how to speak truth to power, to question everything and to understand that not all laws are just and some should be broken.

I re-read A People's History this summer in order to co-lead a book discussion of it and since it's such a dense text we split it into two months, the first part of the book last month and the
second part is tomorrow, Sunday. My mind was less blown this time by certain topics and issues than by trends. Did you know there was a significant resistance to serve in all U.S. wars, not just,
as I was taught in schools, for Vietnam? Which isn't to say the history book and classes, at least in my personal experience really covered Vietnam or the Civil Rights movements - all my history
aclasses ran out of time right before covering either.

For those who have not read Zinn and/or wonder why this book is so popular that for many years each year it sold more copies than the prior year... for decades now... what Zinn does is he tells us U.S. history not from the perspective of rich white men in power but from the marginalized groups. So instead of telling of Columbus from his perspective, for example, he tells from the writings of Native Americans.

In recent years there have been other excellent books telling U.S. history from the perspective of other groups and those are good too but Zinn's excellent at telling, in an exhaustive comprehensive way, U.S. history from the vantage point of those who resisted war, those who served in the Revolutionary Arm but were not paid, etc. well into incidents and issues in the 1980s that didnt get much media coverage.

Read it and prepare to find yourself asking lots of questions, realizing parts of history you want to dig into in more detail and learning even if you lived through a certain president or issue that doesn't mean you heard all of what was really going on.

 Book #36 - Savage Run by CJ Box - The second book in CJ Box's series about Joe Pickett. I read book #1 earlier this year.
 Up until the last 100 pages I was underwhelmed by this book, preferring the first book in the series to this one and wishing there was more depth in plot and character.
But then, without giving away spoilers, the book became more interesting in the last third of the book as a character gave an interesting analysis of environmental groups and  the structure of organizations. And then there were some good plot twists that pulled me in further and ended up liking it more than expected.
 I would have given it a 7  until that last third of the book which bumped it back up to 8.
Next, as far CJ Box goes, I am going to try his other series about Cody Hoyt.

Book #37 - David Lagercrantz, The Girl Who Lived Twice -
Like many I really loved the Millenium Series both for the plot, but even more so, for the characters of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. The series was The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Author Stiegg Larsen’s books received great reviews and became best-sellers…but there was a problem: He had died in 2004 and his books were published after his death.
In 2013 author David Lagercrantz was commissioned to continue the series. Resuming a series started by another is a tough challenge. Some, like Ace Atkins, who has done an awesome job continuing the Spenser series after Robert Parker died, have done it well. But it’s not an easy task. Since being commissioned, Lagencrantz continued the series with The Girl in the Spider’s Web in 2015 and The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye in 2017.
Which brings us to his new book, the latest entry in the series, The Girl Who Lived Twice. Lagencrantz will be speaking at Book People on Friday, August 30 at 7pm.
Lagencrantz was kind enough to allow me to interview him for this book.
------------------I'd give this book an 8

Book #38 - Internent by Samira Ahmed
This novel is sort of a "what if" scenario but it's not far fetched at all given the sorry state of our presidency. The concept is this: What if our federal government passed laws restricing Muslims to internment camps?
The story is told from the perspective of a teenage girl who refuses to accept these new rules and resists and the reader cheers her on. It's an interesting, engrossing, fast read.
I read it for this month's Austin Justice Coalition book discussion, which is this Sunday at 5 pm. You do not have to be a member, or have read the book, to participate in the discussion 

Book #39 - The Hangman's Sonnet by Reed Farrel Coleman - Coleman took over Robert Parker's Jesse Stone series after Parker passed. I think I have read all of Parker's books about Spenser and Jesse Stone. They are not particularly deep but i'm ok with some casual crime fighting.
This book had two things which moved this one up a notch: There was a scene in which Spenser and Jesse Stone meet for what I think is the first time. That was fun to read. Also, it's also interesting when you're sitting in Austin reading a story set on the East Coast and a character announces she's moving to, yes, Austin.
8 out of ten. 

Book #40 - The Devil's Missal by Cathy Dobson - I know Cathy from an online community we were in together and so i agreed to interview her to help promote her book. Her new book is good but a bit on the scary dark side as the title implies.
I give it a 7. You can read the interview here 

Book #41 - Last Woman Standing by Amy Gentry,  who lives in Austin
I really liked this book and not just because it is mostly set in Austin, deals with Austin's annual Funniest Person In Austin contest, and addresses a clever yet
horrifying way women could respond to men who engage in sexual assaults.

Our protagonist, Dana Diaz, is an aspiring comedian living in Austin and through  her eyes we learn about the comedy world but at the same time her own world is getting more intense and appalling as she meets a new "friend" and they
bond over how hard it is to be a women in their field and how they have both been assaulted in L.A. The new friend, Amanda, convinces Amy they
should go after each other's attacke, Strangers On a Train Style. Things increasingly escalate out of control and become more intense for all involved,
including the reader.
I give this a 9.

Book #42 - My Grandmother's Hands by Resmaa Menakem - This book is about how trauma from racist actions affects people's bodies and gives suggestions on how to help your body deal with trauma espectially from racism. It talks about trauma ,
A reviewer summed it up this way:"
My Grandmother's Hands is a call to action for all of us to recognize that racism is not about the head, but about the body, and introduces an alternative view of what we can do to grow beyond our entrenched racialized divide."

I give it an 8.

Book #43, The Night Fire is Michael Connelly's latest in both his Harry Bosch series and his Renee Ballad series, two strong, fascinating characters. I've really enjoyed this series especially since Connelly began putting these two characters together. This book has lots of good plot twists but not at the expense of good character development. I give it a 9.  

Book #44 - A Dangerous Man by Robert Crais, part of his Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series. Crais writes great thrillers with the excellent protagonists of Cole and Pike, often based in my old stomping grounds of Southern California. They are not deep or complex but fun, effective brain candy and that is ok. I give it an 8. 

Book #45 -Land of Wolves by Craig Johnson, the latest in his Longmire series. I love this series, especially the well-developed cast of characters. The tv series is pretty good too. In the latest book Walt has returned from Mexico (detailed in the prior book) victorious but not fully healthy physically or otherwise. So when there is a report of a wolf and a dead shepherd he works the case but is also struggling. He tries to solve this and other cases with his usual helpers. Oh and the officer crew tries to get this old-fashioned sheriff to finally begin to use a computer. An 8 out of 10.  

Book #46 - Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen - An excellent memoir in which he tells his life story, warts and all. As a music fan and writer I'm all about good lyrics and I like Springsteen both for good music and even better lyrics and because he uses his music to get people thinking and acting on various issues.
I hoped for explanations in the book about how he came to write certain songs, as well as write albums that were less popular and accessible, yet so important because of the song topics (I'm thinking here about albums like Nebraska and Ghost of Tom Joad.). I was greatly moved by his description of his struggles with his dad, having spent some time writing on that topic myself.

But the best part for me, as someone who encourages people to talk publicly about mental health issues to reduce the stigma, was reading Bruce talking, at great length, about his struggles with depression, which became almost crippling at times.
If you are going to read this, and I suggest you do, I recommend listening to it on audio. Bruce continues the trend, which I'm loving, of celebrities reading aloud their own books. To hear Bruce's story in his own voice, occasionally with an instrumental by him of one of his songs, moves this book from an 8 to a 9.

Book #47 - White Elephant by Trish Harnetiaux - I interviewed this author about this clever book which uses the annual game of hijinks, white elephant, as a way to tell a murder story. Without the white elephant it would be just a 7 but with it i'll give it an 8.

Book #48 - In The Woods by Tana French - This is the first book in Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series. I read her book, The Trespasser, a few years back  and loved it and I understood the hype and praise: The great attention to detail of in-depth characters and lots of good plot twists. I decided to do this right I needed to start at her first book in the series. I like this one even more than I liked the Trespasser, which is saying a lot. I plan to continue on to read the other books in her series. 

Book #49 - How To Be Anti-Racist by Ibram X Kendi. which takes a different angle regarding discussing racism: It is insufficient for people against racism to simply not be racist, they must instead be actively anti-racist. He goes through what that means, to be anti-racist, in terms of class issues, gender issues, etc. It is interesting and thought-provoking.
His prior book, Stamped From The Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America did an exhaustive history of racism. With this book he goes through what he thinks people should be doing today and he writes it in a way where he is also admitting his own mistakes along the way as well as walking us through his evolution of these ideas. I give it a 9. We had a great discussion of this book at Austin Justice Coalition last month and will be having one at my church in about two weeks

Book #50 - my final 2019 book read, since i finished it last month, is Heart of Junk by Luke Geddes. I interviewed him for the book here:
For his debut novel, Luke Geddes has written a clever, sharp book with lots of intriguing, well-drawn characters. The book, Heart of Junk, is about an eclectic and eccentric group of merchants at an antique mall in Kansas who become implicated in the kidnapping of a local beauty pageant star, Lindy Bobo.
While Wichita is panicking over the kidnapping, the collectors have their own concerns, namely their compulsions, neurosis and collections of just about anything you can imagine.
Meanwhile, there’s another drama afoot: the impending arrival of two stars of a famed antique show, Pickin’ Fortunes, for an episode some are hoping will save the mall from bankruptcy.
Geddes does a great job making these collectors interesting, fascinating even, drawing readers into their lives and their drive for this or that last item that will complete their collection.

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