Saving Justice by James Comey

James Comey, former FBI Director and bestselling author of A Higher Loyalty, uses his long career in federal law enforcement to explore issues of justice and fairness in the US justice system.

James Comey might best be known as the FBI director that Donald Trump fired in 2017, but he’s had a long, varied career in the law and justice system. He knows better than most just what a force for good the US justice system can be, and how far afield it has strayed during the Trump Presidency.

In his much-anticipated follow-up to A Higher Loyalty, Comey uses anecdotes and lessons from his career to show how the federal justice system works. From prosecuting mobsters as an Assistant US Attorney in the Southern District of New York in the 1980s to grappling with the legalities of anti-terrorism work as the Deputy Attorney General in the early 2000s to, of course, his tumultuous stint as FBI director beginning in 2013, Comey shows just how essential it is to pursue the primacy of truth for federal law enforcement. Saving Justice is gracefully written and honestly told, a clarion call for a return to fairness and equity in the law.

This is the second book James Comey has written about his time as FBI Director under Presidents Obama and Trump, but unlike in the first book, it was not the main focus of his writing.

In Saving Justice: truth, transparency and trust, Comey recounts his career from his early days as a law clerk and then junior member of the Justice Department in the Southern District for New York. This book is written in defence of Lady Liberty and the blindfold that she should wear in dispensing justice in the United States judicial system.

I listened to Comey read Saving Justice for the whole seven hours over the course of a couple of days. He is a good narrator, with a smooth voice. I imagine he was very good in his telling of Goodnight Moon to the Comey children all those years ago. He intersperses stories of some of his previous cases with small tidbits of personal information, and then relates it all back to lessons he learned about the importance of political impartiality in the Justice Department, something strikingly sparse in that of Trump’s Presidency.

Comey helped me to understand the importance of many of the department’s traditions and their importance in maintaining the trust of the American people. By maintaining the highest values and rigorous norms, that office is able to maintain the trust of the nation. This is why, in the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, every single door (of hundreds!) the FBI knocked on opened to them, answered their questions, and suggested other families the FBI interview. Given the historically terrible relationship between the Ferguson Police Department and African American citizens, it speaks volumes to the deep well of trust the Justice Department, including the FBI, has built in America.

Much of this well has been depleted in the final days of Trump in office, and will be of vital importance that the Justice Department rebuild it, by maintaining previous traditions of remaining at arm’s length from the Executive Branch. Unfortunately, it is much easier to lose trust than to rebuild it, but I think the understanding of the process Comey communes in Saving Justice will help to do that.

I enjoyed listening to this book, as I did A Higher Loyalty. Personally though, I think Comey has pretty much exhausted his ability to touch on these subjects again in print. I would be greatly interested though if he were to write another book about his and wife Patrice’s experiences as foster parents, a topic near and dear to my heart that can always benefit from positive, high profile recognition.

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Too Much and Never Enough by Mary L. Trump

In this revelatory, authoritative portrait of Donald J. Trump and the toxic family that made him, Mary L. Trump, a trained clinical psychologist and Donald’s only niece, shines a bright light on the dark history of their family in order to explain how her uncle became the man who now threatens the world’s health, economic security, and social fabric.

Mary Trump spent much of her childhood in her grandparents’ large, imposing house in the heart of Queens, where Donald and his four siblings grew up. She describes a nightmare of traumas, destructive relationships, and a tragic combination of neglect and abuse. She explains how specific events and general family patterns created the damaged man who currently occupies the Oval Office, including the strange and harmful relationship between Fred Trump and his two oldest sons, Fred Jr. and Donald.

A first-hand witness to countless holiday meals and family interactions, Mary brings an incisive wit and unexpected humor to sometimes grim, often confounding family events. She recounts in unsparing detail everything from her uncle Donald’s place in the family spotlight and Ivana’s penchant for re-gifting to her grandmother’s frequent injuries and illnesses and the appalling way Donald, Fred Trump’s favorite son, dismissed and derided him when he began to succumb to Alzheimer’s.

Numerous pundits, armchair psychologists, and journalists have sought to parse Donald J. Trump’s lethal flaws. Mary L. Trump has the education, insight, and intimate familiarity needed to reveal what makes Donald, and the rest of her clan, tick. She alone can recount this fascinating, unnerving saga, not just because of her insider’s perspective but also because she is the only Trump willing to tell the truth about one of the world’s most powerful and dysfunctional families.

There are approximately a gazillion books written about the Trump family or presidency that have been published over the last five years. Several I have read, most I have not. However, I heard an interview with Mary Trump, the niece of former President Trump, where she analyzed her uncle’s White House and promoted her book which is aptly titled Too Much and Never Enough.

I was able to listen to this nonfiction account of the Trump families arrival in America and rise to power in New York over the course of two evenings, as I was painting a bedroom. It is only a seven hour audiobook and is narrated by the author herself.

What set this book apart from the myriad of other tell-alls available is that Mary Trump is a registered, practicing psychologist, very well educated and uniquely suited as both a family inside and outsider to access family stories and documents unattainable to outsiders and still offer the perspective of someone outside of President Trump’s orbit. To my mind, this makes her more credible and her conclusions are well thought out. I certainly found her assertions to be believable.

If nothing else, this book helps to explain why Donald is the way he is, as are most of this family members. To quote my Dad who also listened to this book, “that is one messed up family”.

I fervently disagreed with the majority of policies and actions undertaken by then President Trump, and disapproved of him as a person. Reading Too Much and Never Enough helps to explain how he became the way he is and makes clearer some of the mental health conditions he likely has. He certainly is not someone who is now, has ever been, or ever will be suited for public office. Mary Trump describes her uncle has having been institutionalized all his life, and that is the clearest descriptor I have ever heard to describe Donald J. Trump.

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Love Without Borders by Angela Braniff

A wife and mom, Angela Braniff and her husband oversee a house full of laughter and love thanks to their eight children—all from varying backgrounds—who range in age from twelve to newborn. The Braniff household includes their two biological daughters, Kennedy, 12, and Shelby 10; Rosie, 7, who was adopted from China with special needs; Noah, 7, adopted from Congo; Jonah 5, adopted domestically, Ivy and Amelia, their two year old twins who were adopted as embryos, and implanted in Angela, who gave birth to them; and finally Benjamin who was also adopted domestically shortly after this book was written.

Angela’s love for life and her family radiates through everything she does. In Love Without Borders she opens her heart and her home to share her story, offering a relatable and honest view of motherhood and love. With both humor and honesty, Angela chronicles her journey to discover God’s purpose for her and how she welcomed it—even though it meant raising a large, non-traditional family that looked different than she ever imagined. She talks about diverse aspects of her kids’ lives, from the challenging adoption process, to secondary infertility, and homeschooling. And most important, she reflects on coming to terms with her own sense of identity and worth, on learning to accept there is no “perfect” way to be a woman, wife, and mother, and on embracing and sharing God’s message that love has no borders.

Funny, moving, and deeply spiritual, Love Without Borders will inspire other women to discover their own purpose—and to cherish those who God has put in their lives.

Love Without Borders is a spiritual, loving book written about womanhood, finding one’s true self, motherhood and adoption. As usual, I listened to the audiobook version which is read by the author.

I have followed Angie’s main Youtube channel “This Gathered Nest” for several years now, since around the time the twins were born, and it was so unique to see some of the behind of the scenes of her process writing this book, having it published and recording the narration in studio. Did you know that on the day she finished in the studio, she and the employees were trapped inside by torrential rain, severe thunderstorms and tornados? It is pretty cool to know tidbits like that.

Love Without Borders tells Angie’s story from childhood through to about 2019, including her delivery of twins girls who were adopted as embryos, otherwise known as snowflake adoption. For followers of their social media accounts, it does not include the story of their adoption of Benjamin, who came along after the book was written and going through the publishing process.

This is a short memoir and it only takes about five hours to listen to the narration. Adoption and foster care are two things close to my heart and I listen to a memoir about this process at least once a year. Angie’s recollection did not disappoint and if you don’t mind some religion in your book, I highly recommend you take a change on reading it. Without a doubt, this is the best book I have read by a social media influencer to date. It seems I am not alone in this opinion as it has an incredibly high rating on Goodreads.

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Last Breath (The Good Daughter 0.5)

The fantastic prequel to The Good Daughter, the stunning new standalone from the No. 1 bestselling author of the Will Trent and Grant County series.

Protecting someone always comes at a cost.

At the age of thirteen, Charlie Quinn’s childhood came to an abrupt and devastating end. Two men, with a grudge against her lawyer father, broke into her home – and after that shocking night, Charlie’s world was never the same.

Now a lawyer herself, Charlie has made it her mission to defend those with no one else to turn to. So when Flora Faulkner, a motherless teen, begs for help, Charlie is reminded of her own past, and is powerless to say no.

But honour-student Flora is in far deeper trouble than Charlie could ever have anticipated. Soon she must ask herself: How far should she go to protect her client? And can she truly believe everything she is being told?

— — —

Last Breath is the prequel novel to The Good Daughter … which I wish I had known before I read The Good Daughter. Le sigh. Either way, it is still a great little novella and you don’t have to read them in order. But I prefer that I had.

Last Breath kept me guessing right to the end, just as the majority of Karin Slaughter’s books do. She is truly the queen of mystery/thrillers in my not-so-esteemed opinion. Slaughter’s books are not for the faint of heart and never promise a happy ending, although some do end fairly well for the protagonists. I won’t spoil which way Last Breath ends but I did find the story to get progressively disturbing as it went on.

I listened to the audiobook version of Last Breath, narrated by Kathleen Early. She did an excellent job and I would definitely listen to another book performed by her. As this is a novella, the audiobook is only four hours long and easy to listen to in a day.

I loved both Last Breath and The Good Daughter and desperately wish Slaughter would write another about my favourite lawyer, Charlie.

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Desolation Road (Torpedo Ink #4)

Torpedo Ink is Aleksei “Absinthe” Solokov’s whole life. They’re his brothers, his family—his everything. But that doesn’t stop him from wanting something that only belongs to him. That’s why the tough biker has spent the last six weeks at the library, reading every book he can get his hands on and watching the prim and proper librarian who makes his blood rush. 
 
For the past six weeks, Scarlet Foley has been fantasizing about the handsome, tattooed man whose eyes follow her every move. She senses he’s dangerous. She wants him to get close enough to touch. She wishes she could let him know the real woman, not the one she pretends to be. But Scarlet has a plan to carry out, and she can’t afford any distractions.
 
Absinthe is well aware that Scarlet is hiding something. She’s a puzzle he intends to solve, piece by intoxicating piece….

Desolation Road is the fourth book in the Torpedo Ink Series, which is set within the broader Sea Haven series that incorporates the Drake Sisters and Sisters of the Heart / Bound books. You don’t need to have read the previous books / series to enjoy Desolation Road but it would add to the story, especially to help establish the large cast of background characters.

This book is typical Christine Feehan, which means I enjoyed it very much. I have been reading this author for almost two decades now and the Sea Haven books are my favourite series.

Unlike the last several books, the heroine in Desolation Road is highly trained in self-defence and doesn’t flinch at the actions of most members of Torpedo Ink. One particular event happens though that scares the life out of her and she and that member have to come to terms with it.

Like in Feehan’s other biker romance novels, there is a new kink introduced to readers. In this case it is pet play, or kitten play. Absinthe needs Scarlet to be his submissive little kitty in the bedroom, although he always treats her as an equal outside of sex. This is not my kink and didn’t really appeal to me, but it also didn’t turn me of the book. I enjoyed the rest of the story outside of the bedroom scenes, and am excited to read the next in the series. The fifth book, Reckless Road, comes out next week, on February 9th, 2021.

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The Girls With No Names by Serena Burdick

The Girls with No Names pulls readers into the gilded age of New York City in the 1910s, when suffragettes marched in the street, unions fought for better work conditions—and girls were confined to the House of Mercy for daring to break the rules.

Not far from Luella and Effie Tildon’s large family mansion in Inwood looms the House of Mercy, a work house for wayward girls. The sisters grow up under its shadow with the understanding that even as wealthy young women, their freedoms come with limits. But when the sisters accidentally discover a shocking secret about their father, Luella, the brazen older sister, becomes emboldened to do as she pleases.

But her rebellion comes with consequences, and one morning Luella is mysteriously gone. Effie suspects her father has made good on his threat to send Luella to the House of Mercy and hatches a plan to get herself committed to save her sister. But she made a miscalculation, and with no one to believe her story, Effie’s escape from the House of Mercy seems impossible—unless she can trust an enigmatic girl named Mable. As their fates entwine, Mable and Effie must rely on each other and their tenuous friendship to survive.

The Girls with No Names is a wonderful novel by Serena Burdick set in New York City in the early 1900s. The characters in it are fiction, but the House of Mercy which features prominently in the story is historical, as are the social conditions and fight for better conditions for working class Americans.

Most of the story is told from the point of view of fifteen year old Effie, although parts are also from the perspective of Mable, a fellow prisoner of the ironically named House of Mercy.

I listened to this book, narrated by Emily Lawrence, Nancy Peterson and Amy McFadden, is about twelve and a half hours long. I listened to it in two days, unable to put the story down. At times The Girls with No Names ripped my heart out. It is a thoroughly engaging story and my first by Burdick, but most certainly will not be my last.

This historical fiction weaves together mystery, family drama and the complicated social issues of the day into a book that thoroughly entertain any reader.

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Famous Authors who Share Your Zodiac Sign

One of the challenges on this year’s Popsugar reading challenge is to read a book by an author who shares your zodiac sign.

Well, when it is the middle of the night and you cannot fall asleep, it seems like the perfect time to start looking for someone who matches your birthday, right?! And since I have all these authors I have looked up before finding one who matched my sign, I figured I might as well make a list for some other poor soul struggling with this challenge. Hear ya go…

Aries March 21-April 19

  • Maya Angelou
  • Min Jin Lee
  • Nick Hornby
  • Caitlin Moran
  • Barbara Kingsolver
  • Jo Nesbo
  • Brad Meltzer
  • Anthony Horowitz
  • Beverly Cleary

Taurus April 20-May 20

  • William Shakespeare
  • Charlotte Bronte
  • Harper Lee
  • Daphne Du Maurier
  • Richard Adams
  • Hank Green
  • Barbara Park
  • Terry Pratchett
  • Tana French
  • Jodi Picoult
  • Etaf Rum
  • Chevy Stevens

Gemini May 21-June 21

  • Walt Whitman
  • Tess Gerittsen
  • Salman Rushdie
  • Fredrick Backman
  • Anne Frank
  • Thomas Hardy
  • Rick Riordan
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Peter Swanson
  • Louise Erdich
  • Ken Follett
  • Maria Semple
  • Billie Letts
  • Rachel Carson

Cancer June 22-July 22

  • George Orwell
  • Octavia Butler
  • Alice Munro
  • Ian McEwan
  • Erin Morgenstern
  • Joanne Harris
  • Lisa Jewell
  • Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Alexandre Dumas
  • E.B. White
  • Markus Zusak
  • Cormac McCarthy
  • Ernest Hemingway

Leo July 23-August 22

  • J.K. Rowling / Robert Galbraith
  • Isabel Allende
  • Herman Melville
  • A.A. Milne
  • Emily Bronte
  • Madeline Miller
  • Daniel Keyes
  • Suzanne Collins
  • Diane Setterfield
  • Ray Bradbury
  • Veronica Roth
  • Cassandra Clare
  • Stieg Larsson
  • Celeste Ng
  • Sue Monk Kidd

Virgo August 23-September 22

  • Stephen King
  • Agatha Christie
  • Angie Thomas
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Orson Scott Card
  • George R.R. Martin
  • Roald Dahl
  • Ken Kesey
  • Fannie Flagg
  • Yasmin Rahman

Libra September 23-October 23

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Shel Silverstein
  • Elie Wiesel
  • Jay Asher
  • Rupi Kaur
  • Roxane Gay
  • Patrick Ness
  • Mark Haddon
  • Carrie Fisher
  • Michael Crichton
  • Nicola Yoon
  • Nora Roberts
  • Ursula K. Le Guin

Scorpius October 24-November 21

  • Margaret Atwood
  • Lee Child
  • Chinua Achebe
  • Sylvia Plath
  • Zadie Smith
  • Neil Gaiman
  • Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
  • Liane Moriarty
  • Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Ann Cleeves
  • Anne Perry
  • Neal Shusterman

Sagittarius November 22-December 21

  • C.S. Lewis
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Jane Austen
  • Shirley Jackson
  • L.M. Montgomery
  • Nancy Mitford
  • George Saunders
  • Louisa May Alcott
  • Mark Twain
  • Madeleine L’Engle
  • Cornelia Funke
  • Tamora Pierce
  • Penelope Fitzgerald
  • Sophie Kinsella

Capricorn December 22-January 19

  • Edgar Allen Poe
  • J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Donna Tartt
  • Stephanie Meyer
  • Walter Mosley
  • Philippa Gregory
  • Julia Quinn
  • David Mitchell
  • Jack London
  • Harlan Coben
  • Karin Slaughter
  • J.D. Salinger
  • Michelle Obama

Aquarius January 20-February 18

  • Virginia Woolf
  • Toni Morrison
  • Charles Dickens
  • Amy Tan
  • Marissa Meyer
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Alice Walker
  • Stephen Chbosky
  • Jonathan Safran Foer
  • Jules Verne

Pisces February 19-March 20

  • Dr. Seuss
  • Jack Kerouac
  • Victor Hugo
  • Douglas Adams
  • Lois Lowry
  • Khaled Hosseini
  • Trevor Noah
  • Yuval Noah Harari
  • Gillian Flynn

Happy Reading!

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Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris

In this follow-up to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, the author tells the story, based on a true one, of a woman who survives Auschwitz, only to find herself locked away again.

Cilka Klein is 18 years old when Auschwitz-Birkenau is liberated by Soviet soldiers. But Cilka is one of the many women who is sentenced to a labor camp on charges of having helped the Nazis–with no consideration of the circumstances Cilka and women like her found themselves in as they struggled to survive. Once at the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia, where she is to serve her 15-year sentence, Cilka uses her wits, charm, and beauty to survive.

Cilka Klein was originally introduced to readers in Heather Morris’ award winning novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz as a prisoner and friend to Lale and Gita. Unlike her friends, she didn’t emerge from WWII to establish a new life, find marriage and begin anew. Cilka is a true historical figure who was deemed to be a Nazi collaborator by the Russian Army, and sentenced to 15 years hard labour in Vorkutlag, Siberia.

The conditions under which Cilka and the other women served their sentences was remarkably similar to those of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. That is to say, depressing, dangerous, cold, and inundated with illness, hunger and abuses.

I listened to Cilka’s Journey, narrated by Louise Brealey who did an excellent job portraying the different characters. I have no knowledge of Russian but her pronunciations sounded perfect to my uneducated ears. The end of the audiobook contains an afterword by the author, describing her research process and clarifying which secondary characters are historical figures and which are imaginary, or an amalgamation of several real people.

Ms. Morris had much less first hand research with which to write Cilka’s Journey than she did in writing The Tattooist of Auschwitz. In the tattooist, the story was based on three years of interview between Morris and Lale, whose story she told. Cilka died before Morris ever met her, or indeed Lale, so more of this story is told based on research by the author and professional researchers she hired. As such, this story is inevitably less accurate than The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Cilka seems to have been quite the private person, and no wonder based on everything she was subjected to in her teens and adulthood.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Cilka’s Journey but was disappointed afterwards to learn that several characters and story lines I thought were historically accurate were actually fictional. I felt that too much creative license was taken, whether that is because of a lack of historical evidence or because the author wanted the book to follow a similar path to her previous bestseller. Either way, this information dropped what would have been a five star book in my mind, down to three or four stars.

I still highly recommend this novel, but if you are someone like me who is easily swept up by the story, you might want to learn some of the facts before you get carried away, thinking the story is gospel.

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2021 Popsugar Reading Challenge

I’m a few weeks late posting this year’s challenge, but better late than never. The Popsugar Reading Challenge is my favourite to do because the categories are versatile enough to fit almost any reader. Print out a copy and follow along with me. It’s like a book club without all the extroverting. You can also download a PDF version at the link above.

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Democracy in Action: January 2021

Do you live in Ontario? Me too! Democracy is more than just voting once every few years. It requires active participation from you to remain representative. Don’t worry, it is easy to do. I have provided some current links for residents of Ontario down below, and they are much more interesting that some Buzzfeed quiz that tells determines your secret Disney princess alter ego…

Here are some ways you can participate in democracy from the comfort of your couch and comfy, cozy PJs:

Public Consultations There are numerous surveys and other forms of public consultation at the provincial level on that website, but the one that most interested me was the 2021 budget consultation which asked for a lot of feedback on the types of aid being provided for COVID-19 relief.

Don’t forget to regularly check the Government of Ontario’s online consultation website EngageON.