Category Archives: Uncategorized

The New Jim Crow

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (The New Press, 2012)

I have been meaning to read this book for several years, and I’m glad I finally did. Michelle Alexander is an accomplished civil rights lawyer, and she makes a solid case for the idea that the mass incarceration of black men in the U.S. is the latest way for powerful forces in our country to keep many black men in a state of second class citizenship. It’s hard for me to believe that it could be deliberate, but according to her, the War on Drugs was always meant to target black men, and continues to do so. Instead of focusing on violent crimes, the criminal justice system is incentivized by federal funding to target minor drug violations, but only for people of color – the same minor drug violations by whites are ignored. Laws impose huge penalties for possession of small quantities of drugs, and police round-ups in poor neighborhoods often force innocent people to plead guilty to felony misdemeanors in order to avoid years in jail. Racial profiling similarly targets black men for minor traffic violations so that their cars can be searched for drugs. Even when these men serve their jail sentence and are released, their felony records make it very difficult for them to find jobs and housing, and they are not allowed to vote. All in all, it’s a very disturbing book. It would be interesting to know what Alexander makes of all the police killings of black men in the past couple of years.  

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2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

Click here to see the complete report.

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On hiatus

Hello fans of denisereviewsbooks,

As you can probably see I am taking a break from blogging. I will leave the blog up for a while, in case I decide to go back to it.

There are lots of book blogs out there, so thanks for reading mine!

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Christianity for the rest of us

Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith by Diana Butler Bass (HarperOne, 2006).

This is an excellent book for a small audience: members of traditional Protestant denominations in the United States – the Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Congregationalists and Presbyterians. The fact that it is a small audience, and how to make it bigger, is the point of the book. In recent decades Christianity in the United States has become almost synonymous with the evangelical, fundamentalist brand of Christian that fills the center of the country and votes Republican. The traditional denominations, where people are more concerned with being welcoming than being born again, have suffered steep declines in membership. Christian historian Bass visited congregations all over the country which were growing, to find out what they were doing right. She found a number of common practices among them, which she calls the ten signposts of renewal: hospitality, discernment, healing, contemplation, testimony, diversity, justice, worship, reflection, and beauty.  These churches retained their welcoming attitude and appreciation of diversity, but distinguished themselves from secular liberal organizations by re-emphasizing the spiritual dimensions of Christianity.

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The Drunken Botanist

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World’s Great Drinks by Amy Stewart (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2013).

This book is full of fascinating historical tidbits and explanations of the plants and processes that create all sorts of alcoholic drinks, from wine and beer to flavored vodkas and types of whiskey. Stewart delves into all kinds of alcohol-related terminology and trade regulations that will help you understand the labels on bottles. She goes into so much detail that it is almost an encyclopedia in 355 pages. If you want to know the Latin names for the varieties of mint used in mint juleps, you’ll find it here. She also supplies illustrations of all the plants, warnings about plants that are toxic (either raw or after distilling), and cocktail recipes for even the most obscure drinks. Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware is mentioned several times because of their passion for recreating ancient drinks based on archeological evidence. I can imagine this book on the bookshelf of a bartender at a very expensive hotel, or the owners of a craft brewery, winery or distillery. The author was interviewed on an NPR’s The Splendid Table not long ago.

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Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard

Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard by Sally Cabot (William Morrow, 2013)

I was disappointed by this novel. I think it was a mistake on the author’s part to base her story on well-known historical figures, because it limited the actions that characters could take. Not only did we know how the American Revolution was going to turn out, we knew that the mother of Benjamin Franklin’s “bastard” was never going to live happily ever after with Franklin. This didn’t leave a lot of room for suspense, and the writing was not good enough to make up for the preordained plot. I also think Cabot should have told the story solely from the point of view of William Franklin.  It was as if the main character, William, wasn’t interesting or important enough to focus on exclusively. Benjamin Franklin apparently has a tendency to hog everyone’s attention, both in his time and in ours.

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Death comes to Pemberley

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James (Alfred A.Knopf, 2011)

The long-awaited (I’m talking centuries) sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Death Comes to Pemberley is rewarding in one sense: it has an actual plot.  A murder mystery is a big improvement on young women scheming to catch rich husbands. Sadly, P.D. James’ prose is just as convoluted and stilted as the 19th century novelist’s headache-inducing style.  I suppose she felt obligated to imitate the original. I expected the question of “who fired the gunshots” to be a major plot element but instead it was casually dismissed. The real story of the murder didn’t even come out in the trial; it was revealed afterwards in conversations among some of the characters. There were so many characters, often called by last name only, that it was tough to keep track of what was going on (though this is probably not a problem for fans who have read P&P many times). Overall it was disappointing, even though I wasn’t expecting much to begin with.

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