Betrayal: The Crisis in The Catholic Church

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Review #31: Non-Fiction

Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church by The Investigative Reporters at The Boston Globe

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This is a collection of articles and research done by the “Spotlight” staff at The Boston Globe that brought the groundbreaking story of a Catholic priest child molestation epidemic to light. Betrayal is the work that spurred the film “Spotlight,” named for the department that was tasked with shedding a spotlight on these monumental stories.

And if you’ve seen “Spotlight” and think that was the whole story — you’d be astronomically incorrect.

This book is more of a companion to the film — a jumping off point with the hard facts and figures leading up to the story that is told in “Spotlight” and continuing on after the final credits rolled.

There is so much devastating information contained in these pages. Several times I had to stop reading and just take a breath, knowing these are real people, the story is real, the numbers are real…and this collection is not even the tip of the iceberg. It’s heartbreaking from start to finish, but that is what makes it so necessary. The harder the stories are to tell, they harder they are to hear, the more we absolutely need to hear them.

It was mind blowing how deep the corruption went, just how big this whole thing was. And knowing it was merely one city, one community that was put through so much…it seems nearly impossible to fully grasp the magnitude.

Betrayal is expertly written. It does not shy away from or sugarcoat the most horrific details. It says what needs to be heard. And it is far from one sided. As any good piece of journalism will do, Betrayal delves into the life and experiences not only of the victims and their families, but it largely examines the background of the perpetrators and their families, as well as the Church itself, and the community. It is well-rounded and all encompassing in its research. It is structured to give us the history of religious institutions, the Catholic church and the men in charge, this huge Boston scandal, and the epidemic that seems to be prevalent even now.

Betrayal is a truly tough read, but such an important one that it really cannot be missed. To make a safer future, we must fully know and understand the past.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

*Cover art from Amazon.com

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I Will Find You

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Review #30: Non-Fiction

I Will Find You by Joanna Connors

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At times equally terrifying and engrossing, I Will Find You grabs ahold of you from page one and demands to be read until the end. Joanna Connors writes with such honesty and bravery about such an uncomfortable topic for readers, and an extremely traumatic one for her, that you can’t help but keep turning the page. We don’t want to to know, and yet, we have to know.

This must be how Connors felt when she decided to research her rapist 30 years after the attack. She documents her experience and tells her survival story with courage and grace, even allowing the reader into the moments she decided she needed to tell her children what had happened to her, something she thought she would never do. Connors brings us along on her journey to find peace, and does it beautifully and intelligently.

Being a journalist, it is no surprise that this book is extremely well written, well researched, and unbiased — amazingly so. It is spectacular the way in while Connors is able to research and write about a man who brutally raped her, as if he were any other person she were covering for a story. She speaks to his family and friends, people who were involved in her lawsuit and other cases against him, and stays mostly neutral.

Though she does explain who she is and why she’s interviewing them to some of the man’s family, mainly Connors just tries to find out who he was, and maybe why he did what he did to her, and to others. In doing so, she touches on so many important and topical issues. This book sheds light on institutional and socialized racism, sexism, domestic abuse, victim blaming, and the failure of our current justice system to really do anything about any of them. I Will Find You is so much more than one woman’s search to understand her rapist and to find closure from her one experience.

Joanna Connors perfectly recounts her rapist’s life, the actions that lead to his attack on her, shedding even more light on the idea that crime begets more crime, violence, more violence. He lived in poverty, was addicted to drugs at a young age, was subjected to domestic violence and a violent life on the streets. Though none of this makes you sympathetic to the man who committed such gruesome acts of violence against Connors and others, it does make you pay more attention to the underlying causes of such acts; it makes you see how society both creates criminals and punishes them for it.

In heart-pounding, stomach-wrenching, thought-provoking prose, Connors gives us an awakening not to be missed.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Spinster

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Review #25: Non-Fiction

Blogging for Books #6

Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick

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I was pretty excited to read this book; I’d heard some good things about it, friends had highly recommended it, and having recently ended my own engagement, it seemed like a fitting read as far as timing goes.

I didn’t, however, find what I was expecting. I thought it would be funnier, for starters. Though there are definitely tidbits here and there that forced a smile, a giggle, and in one case, an all-out head-thrown-back laugh, it is a mostly very serious book. This doesn’t make it bad, per se, but it did turn me off a little. There are things in life that humor helps ease, and coming to terms with the realities of human relationships and romance is, in my opinion, one of them.

Bolick give us a ton of information about her “awakeners” (the women who inspire or have influenced her “spinster” lifestyle) in this book. She has absolutely done her research and really brings these women to life through her own commentary about them, as well as their own writing and other secondary sources describing them in detail. Part of me loves all these details and inclusions, and part of me feels it was too much. At one point I felt like staying, “Alright already. If I wanted to know this much about this woman, I would read her biography and her life’s work myself.” I was left knowing a lot about Bolick’s “awakeners” but wanting for how they really influenced Bolick –what I was ultimately hoping for from this book.

It also felt extremely dated. Many of the women Bolick writes about span all the way back to the 1800s and the majority of their lives and decisions play out in the early 1900s. Bolick herself is writing about her life mostly in the 1990s and early 2000s. I had never heard of many of the women and other influencers Bolick mentions, and felt their lives and choices really couldn’t be related to the lives of women today. I definitely didn’t feel like I could really relate to Bolick well – in some ways, of course, but the world has changed so drastically from even the 1990s that these anecdotes fell rather flat.

Bolick’s life, arguable much more recent, felt distant from life for women (especially women writers in New York City today.) Many of the opportunities Bolick and others she writes had about just don’t exist in NY today. The publishing industry just isn’t the same, and Bolick’s opportunities and successes in NY offered her greater options in her personal life than many would be offered today. This is wonderful for her, don’t get me wrong (I’m admittedly jealous of what she was able to accomplish and the relationships she was able to experience), but I was unable to really connect to the writing knowing how these experiences probably couldn’t exist today.

Overall, the book started slowly, picked up in the middle but eventually became distant from the reader. Though there are a few grains of wisdom and valuable insight sprinkled throughout, it is by no means a must read.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Modern Romance

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Review #24: Non-Fiction

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

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This book is phenomenal. The subject matter and the writing are extremely approachable; it’s filled with Aziz Ansari’s typical humor, as well as being truly engaging and informative.

This is not, however, a comedy book. Ansari partnered with real sociologists, conducted real interviews and studies in cities around the world over the course of a few years to make this book what it is. This is a collection of real information and research about real people and real relationship changes and trends.

Ansari really opens the curtain on the differences in relationships, love, marriage, break-ups, and life between generations and through technological changes over the years. The information age has truly turned romance and personal relationships on their head, and Ansari’s book documents this transformation with intriguing facts, figures, and charts.

In addition to the fascinating data Modern Romance presents, it is brilliantly peppered with Ansari’s signature wit through clever asides, footnotes, anecdotes and laugh-out-loud funny photos.

With the information and the humor of this book, I could not put it down. It is a fast-paced and easy read that presents real, fresh data in the style of a friendly conversation. If you’re interested in romantic relationships or how people connect to each other in today’s day and age at all, pick this book up immediately. But also pick it up if you’re simply after a quick chuckle.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

*Cover photo from Amazon.com

Dead Wake

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Review #23: Non-fiction

Blogging for Books #5

Dead Wake by Erik Larson

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It would honestly go against everything I know about good writing and storytelling, not to mention come as a complete and utter shock, if anything by Erik Larson wasn’t phenomenal. Not only is what he writes informative, but it’s entertaining; something that doesn’t happen all that often with non-fiction, unfortunately.

Firstly, Dead Wake is extremely well researched. Even without the dozens of pages of reference material and notes at the end of the book, you can tell just from the meat of the book that Larson labored over it extensively. There are more than a handful of characters in this book, but none of them is neglected. We are never introduced to someone who we don’t hear from again. Larson has created a well-balanced cast from several different sides of this story, with myriad viewpoints. We really get to know these characters, and though we know how many of their stories will end, we are still drawn into their journey every step of the way, waiting to see if we will find out their exact fate. Larson ties up as many loose ends as he can with his research. Each character has a story that is both heartbreaking and beautiful — stories that wouldn’t be known if it weren’t for Larson.

One of the hallmarks of a good historian and researcher is to find the information that hasn’t been discovered or distributed before. Many say that history is written by the victors, and in many cases, this is very true. History will always have bias. Here, Larson tells the story of the Lusitania from the views of Americans, the British, passengers on the ship, naval officers, German u-boat crew, and many others. He uses first and secondary accounts of what was going on with the Allies as well as the Germans through this wartime, and humanizes both sides. Though through the evidence he gathers, it is very obvious that there are heroes and villains in this story, he reminds us that both groups are people, something that oftentimes gets lost among the pages of our history books.

There is an element of mystery and adventure to Larson’s book. He is a master of writing a story that we know the ending to and still fostering thrills and suspense. Larson admits to having believed a different version of the story of Lusitania before beginning his research; a false story that I had also assumed, and suppose many others might as well. The sinking of the Lusitania, to my understanding before reading Dead Wake, directly and immediately lead to the United States’s involvement in World War I. However, Larson, in great detail, paints a very different picture. From the lead up to the Lusitania’s voyage; to its attack and eventual sinking; and the aftermath for friends, family, and country; Larson painstakingly presents the decisions that had to be made by everyone involved along the way. In fact, several years passed and other events lead to the US eventually entering the war efforts. And Larson presents all of these facts in a way that is both informative and interesting.

I was expecting nothing less than a good read out of Dead Wake, but what I got was much better than expected. Larson weaves exceptional details about a time in history that seems to be little-known with human interest stories and an action packed nautical thriller seamlessly. Dead Wake has it all, and does something that, in my mind is nearly impossible; readers will be thoroughly entertained, while simultaneously informed.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Driven

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Review #21: Non-fiction

Blogging for Books #4

Driven: From Homeless to Hero, My Journeys On and Off Lambeau Field by Donald Driver

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I was really excited to read Donald Driver’s book. I’m a die-hard Packer fan and have loved Driver and his contribution to the Green Bay Packers from the moment I became a fan (which I think is required at birth when you’re born in Green Bay.) I was looking forward to reading about Driver’s time in Green Bay, specifically his journey to, and victory in, Super Bowl XLV in the 2010 season. I was also interested to read about where Donald came from, how he found his way to the NFL and started and retired as a Green Bay Packer. This book covers all of that, and also some of what Donald has done since leaving the NFL, his charity (the Donald Driver Foundation), and  his season on Dancing with the Stars.No matter what, I think I would have enjoyed this book, since Donald Driver is someone who I’m interested in, however, that aside, the writing wasn’t my favorite.

I know that Driver had a writing partner or two, who he mentions in his acknowledgements, but I think even without knowing this, I would have been able to tell that the stories weren’t coming directly from Driver 100% of the time. In many areas, the flow seemed off, some sentences were more technical and less personal than other sections of the book; the more personal and relatable language and writing coming from the sections I assume were mostly in Driver’s writing voice. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, some people may not even be able to tell, though I think most will. I don’t mind having other writers help on these kinds of projects, but that’s not the point; when I stop after reading a sentence and think, “That felt out of place,” it becomes a problem with readability.

The sections of the book that cover Driver’s time in the NFL and his season on Dancing with the Stars were the easiest to read and follow. Though interesting, and definitely inspiring, I thought the sections where Driver described his childhood were disjointed and sporadic. It started out more chronologically, though soon became like a collection of side stories and tangents. It became a stream of consciousness style story, which adds personality for sure, but also confused me along the way.

I was most interested in Driver’s time with the Packers, and that section was great. Some stories were before my time as a fan, which was really interesting to read about. Driver was with the Packers his whole NFL career, and when he was drafted, he had no idea who the Packers really were as a team, or where Green Bay even was. It was great to see his transformation from his childhood into adulthood; and then his attitude change from being drafted later than he wanted to be to a team he didn’t know, to loving the team, the city, and its fans. He had an incredible journey from his childhood to where he is now, from being homeless and enduring the struggles of living on the street to being able to give back and help people in those same situations with his own charities.

He talks a lot about his family and what they’ve meant to him over the years and how they’ve always stuck together no matter what. He also speaks about how important his education was to him, and how playing football professionally wasn’t originally his plan, but how blessed he felt to have taken the path he has.

Overall a good read about a really interesting guy, and an inspiration to young kids in tough situations in life. It was very honest and personal which is great to see from a memoir like this. He could have written about how happy he was to be drafted to Green Bay, but instead was honest about his disappointment at not being taken earlier by a different team. And he was open about his change of heart and his progress with the team and as a person. Some writing issues aside, it’s a good read that I would recommend to football fans and definitely Packer fans.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Revolution

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Review #20: Non-fiction

Revolution by Russell Brand

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Russell Brand has clearly been making some waves lately with his involvement in the discussion of inequality in the world and his call for non-violent revolution.

This book puts everything that you think you know about the staggering wealth and political power inequality in the world alongside things you probably don’t know or choose not to see all in one place and the outcome is a reality that you cannot ignore.

He writes passionately, honestly, and intelligently about so many problems with equality in the world that when reading you cannot help but get swept up in and feel like you’re having a deep and meaningful conversation with a friend. Everything he says drips with truth and in many places it was physically painful to realize just how bad things have gotten. Brand focuses mostly on the government and wealth and power inequality in the UK and US, while pointing to the policies of other countries that have more inclusive and, by definition, real democracies. He shows us that inequality doesn’t have to be the norm, that as a collective the disenfranchised can do something about it, and that policies that are more inclusive and representative are possible.

The best part of this book is that it is so very obviously Russell Brand. He doesn’t censor himself at all (read: there will be profanity and crude jokes). He speaks his mind, he stays true to himself and his views and beliefs, and doesn’t sugarcoat or hold back. He calls it like he sees it, and it is unbelievably refreshing to read such an honest account of the world today from someone so influential, intelligent, and passionate as Brand is.

The downside to this book is his use of personal spirituality throughout. His wonderfully honest account of how he found his faith and followed his beliefs to where he is now and the work he’s doing now is great; he holds nothing back here either (you’d know a lot of this already if you’ve read either of his Booky Wooks) which, again, is refreshing. However, I don’t know if it really had a place to be so prominent throughout the book. It’s great to see that he is so passionate about his faith and his beliefs and that he uses his religious and spiritual life to guide him in his work toward this Revolution, but I have a feeling a lot of readers of this book may not feel that way. I was able to see his religion as his driving force and be happy that it works for him while also agreeing with his views on the world and the state of equality and wealth and power. That doesn’t mean everyone will, and I worry that highlighting his religious beliefs may turn people away from the truly important and, well, revolutionary material in this book.

Overall, Brand’s writing is exceptionally engaging and has a way of drawing you in and forcing you to think. I put the book down several times just to let the last passage that I read sink in. I laughed out loud throughout. Revolution is beautifully researched and brilliantly presented. If you read this with an open mind and an honest desire to know the true state of wealth, power, and political inequality, you will not be disappointed with this book. It’s also very refreshing to know that all proceeds are going to creating non-profit social enterprises. I encourage anyone who may be turned off by the religious and spiritual aspects to take it with a grain of salt; just because he uses his faith as the basis for why he believes in the connectivity of humanity and working toward a more equal world doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

*Cover art from Amazon.com