Review of The Magpies by Mark Edwards

After absolutely falling in love with Mark Edwards’ most recent novel Follow You Home earlier this summer, it seemed like a no-brainer to add his previous works to my never-ending reading list. In The Magpies, Jamie and Kirsty move into their dream first home in London. However, their excitement is quickly thwarted as their neighbors, Chris and Lucy Newton begin to torture them with various hoaxes that drives them to an absolute state of despair.

As was the case in Follow You Home, Edwards develops a beautifully organic relationship between Jamie and Kirsty that endures the mundane, the traumatic, and everything in between. However, what I loved about The Magpies in particular is that it is grounded in reality. When you think of a psychological thriller involving neighbors, you typically expect the neighbors from hell to be depicted as Disturbia-esque psychopathic serial killers who have torture chambers in their basement. While this choice is entertaining, it is not very believable. However, by making the Newtons the most ordinary of couples and Jamie and Kirsty so relatable, Edwards made this tale all the more gripping because the reader recognizes that this madness could happen to anyone, including themselves. Moreover, this novel is perfectly paced. Edwards has a truly remarkable ability to make the reader feel the paranoia that the characters were experiencing as they struggled to process what exactly they were up against as well as the desperation, as Jamie unraveled towards the end of the novel.

I do, however, have mixed feelings about the ending. Initially, I was disappointed by the lack of a twist that occurred however, after reading Edwards’ letter to the reader, my disappointed subsided a bit and I had a better understanding of his creative choice. That being said, I’m still not sure how I feel about an ending that requires a bit of reassurance from the author for the reader to accept it. Ultimately, while I respect the realism of the ending, I don’t think a small twist would have destroyed the integrity of the story. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and I would encourage everyone to curl up with this page-turner this fall and prepare to never want to live in close proximity to others ever again. 🙂

4 out of 5 stars

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Review of Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Let me just preface this review by saying I’m a HUGE Jodi Picoult fan. The Tenth Circle, Nineteen Minutes, and House Rules are three of my all-time favorite books and needless to say, I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to review this book before it is released this October.

Small Great Things follows the story of Ruth Jefferson, an African American labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital who is charged with murder after the death of a child who was born to white supremacists Turk and Brittany Bauer. In typical Jodi Picoult fashion, this story is told from the perspective of Ruth herself, her defense attorney, Kennedy Mcquarrie, and Turk, the father of the baby at the center of the case.

Part of what makes Jodi Picoult’s novels so captivating is the tremendous amount of research she puts in to make the story and setting come alive and Small Great Things is no different. Picoult expertly made the streets of my home state come alive. I was particularly impressed with her special attention to detail which allowed her to accurately capture the stereotypes and overall vibes of different regions of New Haven. I was also pleasantly surprised by the way Picoult captured the racial tensions that this story was built upon. As a person of color raised in an interracial and interfaith home just 30 minutes from where this story unfolds, I was a bit wary of how well Picoult would tackle the complexities of race relations, especially in an area like New Haven. However, Picoult expertly captured both active racism, which was embodied by Turk Bauer’s white supremacy, and passive racism, as demonstrated by Kennedy’s problematic colorblindness. She also demonstrated a clear understanding of the privilege that being light-skinned gives people of color in addition to the guilt associated with “forgetting where you came from” when an individual begins to succeed and navigate a predominantly white world.

My only criticism of Small Great Things was the ending (and I’ll try not to give anything away since it hasn’t been released yet!) I felt that Jodi Picoult worked so hard and, in my opinion, succeeded at creating a story that was very grounded in our every day world and then the ending was very story book.  As a reader, I understood why the choices she made worked best on a literary level, however I couldn’t help but be a tad disappointed with how it all turned out.

Ultimately, I can’t wait for this book to come out in just a few short weeks so you all can get your hands on it because I think you’ll really enjoy it. In the comments below, let me know what your favorite Jodi Picoult book is or simply what you’re reading this week!

4 out of 5 stars

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Review of Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado

For those of you who don’t know me personally, one of the things I’m truly passionate about is criminal justice reform. During my senior year at William & Mary, I mentored residents of a local juvenile detention center and as part of my training for this, I learned a tremendous amount about the injustices that are built into both out juvenile and adult criminal justice systems. As a result of this experience, I’ve made it my mission to educate myself as much as possible on the issues plaguing our current system and Adam Benforado’s Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice was the perfect next step to expand my horizons.

In this incredibly eye-opening book, law professor Adam Benforado demonstrates not only the flaws in our current criminal justice system but also how we, as humans share the culpability for perpetuating these inadequacies in our system. He demonstrates how on all levels from police officers, to judges, to jurors, to eyewitnesses, that despite our best efforts to implement safeguards against our own biases and make impartial decisions, most psychological studies do not support our ability to this. This is due to the fact that we may no even be aware of some of the biases we have and therefore think we are not acting on them. Furthermore, Benforado demonstrates how many of the “impartial” decisions we make are actually the result of automatic brain processes instead of careful deliberation.

For me, what made this book so powerful is Benforado’s ability to present a strong argument that both demonstrates our responsibility in allowing this flawed system to continue without change and our incredible ability to implement change for the better. One of my favorite quotes from the book that clearly highlights the duality of Benforado’s argument is on page 259 where he says, “Human nature, while deeply flawed in some ways, is also a source of profound goodness. We are all capable of transformative compassion. And our greatest opportunity for achieving true justice is learning when to override out basic instincts and when to draw on our deep well of empathy” (Benforado, 274). It is his structure that truly makes his argument so palatable and convincing to even the most ardent opposition to criminal justice reform.

Furthermore, I loved the interdisciplinary nature of Benforado’s stance. To combine law, psychology, and the latest technology in neuroscience seems to be a no brainer, however for some reason, we as a society seem to ignore the scientific facts that demonstrate that our criminal justice system is not up to par. By illustrating this so brilliantly, Benforado makes all of his readers an advocate for a reduction of “our legal system’s reliance on human perception, memory, and judgement” (Benforado, 259.)

Ultimately, Benforado’s Unfair was one of most well-written and well supported stances on criminal justice reform that I have ever read. I encourage everyone who is passionate about social justice or frankly, anyone who is interested in how we can do better as humans to read this book. Please let me know in the comments below your thoughts on this book or all things related to criminal justice reform! Also, if you have any recommendations for non-fiction titles related to this topic or other aspects of social justice, please let me know! 🙂

5 out of 5 stars

Favorite Quotes:

“Injustice is built into our legal structures and influences outcomes every minute of ever day. And its origins lie not inside the dark hearts of a bigoted police officer or a scheming DA but within the mind of each and every one of us.” –p xvi

“Genetic, biological, and experiential factors leave some individual at a vastly higher risk of committing a crime, but most people’s moral identities are never set in stone. The particular circumstances in which we find ourselves can make all the difference.” –p. 57

“Running from the police is that last thing many Americans would ever do, but for young African American men–for whom the threat and fear of harassment, capture, and incarceration is ever present–it can be a basic instinct, learned as a kid.” –p. 102

“Some 2.3 million individuals are behind bars across the country, and in excess of 6 million are under “correctional supervision”–more, by far, than in any other nation. Even at their height, the Gulag labor camps never came close to the number of our citizens currently on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole...A country that abolished slavery 150 years ago now has a greater number of black men in the correctional system than there were slaves in 1850 and a greater percentage of its black population in jail than was imprisoned in apartheid South Africa.” –p. 209

“Just because humans created the criminal justice system doesn’t mean that we are ideal operators of its processes and institutions. Our natural limitations can prevent us from living up to our principles and achieving our goals. And the implication is that we need to reduce our legal system’s reliance on human perception, memory and judgement.” –p. 259

“Somehow that powerful common purpose–to figure out what really happened and reach a fair outcome through a fair process–that has been lost. In the roar of the adversarial juggernaut, the prosecutor forgets that the defendant is a real person and the defense comes to ignore the fact that a victim has been seriously hurt.” –p. 274

**I received this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review**