Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

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Small Great Things will be published on October 11, 2016. I love Jodi Picoult’s novels because they usually tackle a time relevant and profoundly sensitive issue, causing readers to step back and take a look at things from different points of view. Small Great Things is written in the same manner, but this time Picoult explores the heavily debated and recently newsworthy issues of prejudice, race, and justice. This is one of my favorite Picoult novels, ranking up near the top with Change of Heart and The Storyteller.

On a routine shift in the labor and delivery ward at Mercy-West Haven Hospital where Ruth Washington has been a nurse for 20 years, her life changes dramatically based upon a family member’s request. Ruth is assigned to postpartum care of the mother and routine infant care for the Bauer family, who she quickly learns are white supremacists. Ruth happens to be the only black nurse on the ward, and the Bauers request that she is not allowed to care for their infant son solely because of the color of her skin. Though hurt and embarrassed by the hospital’s actions in not allowing her to care for a patient despite her stellar work record, Ruth tries to move on and focus on caring for patients, for which she is more than capable. However, when Davis Bauer goes into cardiac arrest after a routine procedure, Ruth is the only one in the room with him. She hesitates, knowing that she has been forbidden to touch the child, but ends up performing CPR and trying to save Davis’s life. Tragically, Davis Bauer dies. As expected, Turk and Brittany Bauer are out for justice and revenge, believing that Ruth Washington is the sole reason their son perished. Ruth finds herself on trial with a white public defender who has not yet defended anyone in a murder trial. Ruth’s husband passed away 10 years prior while on military duty, leaving her the sole provider for their son Edison, now a high school student working hard to get into college and be successful. An overly independent woman, she must learn to trust and lean on Kennedy, her lawyer, if she wants to be around for her son’s future.

Kennedy McQuarrie begs her boss to take on Ruth’s case, in part because she wants the challenge of her first murder trial, but also because there is something about Ruth which Kennedy can’t shake. She knows in her heart that Ruth, a nurse who took the Florence Nightingale pledge and cares deeply for her patients,  would not deliberately cause the death of an infant. Though she has hundreds of public defender cases open and precious little time, Kennedy throws herself into Ruth’s case with a new fervor, and in the process learns a lot about Ruth, but even more about herself. Kennedy claims that she doesn’t see color, and believes blacks and whites to be equal. She cautions Ruth from bringing up race in the trial, knowing that it will blow any chance of an acquittal. Even though race is the sole reason for the unfortunate tragedy and the underlying reason Ruth is on trial, Kennedy is scared to bring the issue to light in front of the media and jury. As she spends more time with Ruth, Kennedy begins to notice so many things Ruth faces that she would have never noticed before. Readers will be proud of the way Kennedy “grows up” during the course of the story. I know I was.

All in all, this is a wonderful story about human connection, no matter the color of one’s skin. The ending had me teared up, but smiling because the outcome from such an ugly, unfortunate situation turned into something truly beautiful when the final chapter came to a close. The story shows that one person can cause a ripple which can lead to a tidal wave. It only takes a small, great thing to start a change that can affect a great many people.

Picoult does a fabulous job of showing the perspective of two very different sides of racial equality and prejudice. The story progresses back and forth between Ruth, Kennedy, and Turk Bauer. Picoult’s author notes at the end of the story are not to be missed. She explains why she wanted to write a story about race, why she waited so long to do so, and about the real life situation she used as background for Small Great Things. The research she completed for the story is phenomenal and much appreciated.

The title of the book references a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” The characters in this story certainly did small things in a great way, as well as Jodi Picoult did by writing this story. Picoult notes that she will get push-back for this story, both from white people and people of color. She knew it wouldn’t be easy or fun, but she wrote the novel “because the things that make us most uncomfortable are the things that teach us what we all need to know.” Well said, Jodi Picoult. I am very grateful you wrote Small Great Things and I truly believe it will change the perspectives of many readers.

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Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

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Wilde Lake will be published May 3, 2016 by Harper Collins.

Wilde Lake is an atmospheric, family-centered, legal suspense novel which will keep readers interested with a quick paced plot, as layers of buried secrets are uncovered one at a time. Each family member:  Lu, AJ, and their father, is hiding secrets of their own, and they all come to light, some very tragically, in the final chapters.

The story line might sound familiar to an old classic, To Kill A Mockingbird. This was by design, according to the author. She wanted to portray the idea that a crime, namely rape, committed in 1980 is looked at differently at the time, both legally and socially, than it would be in 2015.

Setting plays a large role in the story, beginning with the way the Brant family ended up in Wilde Lake, back when it was a newly developed area, offering such promise for success. Lu’s mother was talked into moving there against her wishes. Interestingly, the Brant family has become very important to the area, and are well-known for having two state attorneys in the family, Lu’s father, and Lu herself.

The dynamic between Lu and her older brother, AJ, adds a richness to the story. From as far back as Lu can remember, she has been in AJ’s shadow, trying to measure herself to him, while others are drawn to him and his talents like a magnet. Their relationship is strained, and ultimately broken when Lu finds out the truth about the night when teenage AJ saved his best friend Davey’s life and was deemed a hero. Is he really the hero that everyone believes he is? Is Lu forgetting something important about those events; or was she not privy to what really happened during her childhood?

The story switches back and forth between present day Lu at age 45, all the way back to when she was only 6 years old. Lu’s mother passed away when she was 1 week old, so she was mainly raised by Teensy, a nanny hired by their family.  Her father was a prominent lawyer and political figure who spent more time in the courtroom than he did at home. As snippets of Lu’s childhood and her upbringing are revealed, readers may better understand Lu’s demeanor and outlook on life. In the present, Lu, the first ever female state’s attorney in the state of Maryland, is prosecuting a case against a young man who murdered a woman who comes home to her apartment to find him, a stranger, there. Their town doesn’t see many murder trials, so Lu wants to do her best to seek the truth and prove herself worthy as the newly appointed state’s attorney. The more involved she becomes in the investigation, the closer she gets to uncovering some long buried family secrets.

I enjoyed this novel, and would recommend it to any fans of suspense and/or legal suspense.

 

 

 

 

Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham

Though I enjoyed the new John Grisham novel very much, it wasn’t one of my favorites from Grisham and not his finest work, in my personal opinion. My favorite was Gray Mountain, which was released last year.

This story reminded me quite a bit of Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly. The book doesn’t read like a typical legal narrative suspense thriller. Each section focuses on a different case being handled by the main character, Sebastian Rudd. Rudd takes cases which other lawyers would not dream of handling, and he does a great job for his clients. He’s been thrown in jail, threatened by past clients, and even setup by the police department. He believes everyone is entitled to a fair trial, even if he has to pull some strings or bribe the right people to get one. He works out of a customized bulletproof van, driven by his one and only friend and bodyguard type, named Partner. Partner isn’t a big talker, but he is there for Rudd at all times, supporting him through all the crazy trials and murder threats. Some of the cases that Rudd handles are unbelievable, which make this book hard to put down. Rudd distrusts the government, and despises the corruption within the police department and judicial system. He’s not a very happy character, and his love life, or lack thereof is evidence of this fact. However, during the course of the story, Rudd happens to meet a girl while dealing with some trouble with his young son, a second grader. Along with drinking bourbon and playing pool, Rudd’s favorite past time is watching and betting on cage fighting. Oh, and he doesn’t enjoy it too much; but he spends a lot of time fighting his ex-wife Judith, also a lawyer, who keeps trying to take away his parental rights to their son, Starcher. Rudd sponsors a young, talented cage fighter and serves as his corner in the ring. When the cage fighter snaps after a match and kills the referee, Rudd must defend him. This case could proof to be the toughest case he has dealt with yet, and may be his last. This is a great book for fans of suspense, legal thrillers, or fiction in general. Not too much romance, and not too much language or graphic violence. Just enough to keep things interesting.

The Ex by Alafair Burke

The Ex will be published January 26, 2016 by Harper.

Olivia Randall has earned her reputation as one of New York City’s top criminal defense attorneys. Her personal life is not as neat and tidy as her office life, but makes her an interesting main character. Out of the blue, she receives a call from a teenage girl asking her to represent her father, Jack Harris. Olivia hasn’t seen or heard from Jack Harris in twenty years, not since they were engaged and then parted ways after a tragic accident. Olivia harbors quite a bit of guilt about her past with Jack, so she agrees to take his case. She also immediately decides that Jack, her Jack whom she feels she knows better than anyone else, couldn’t be guilty of the charge – a triple homicide. Jack is accused of killing Malcom Neely, a high profile person who happens to be the father of Todd Neely, who killed Jack’s wife Molly and a dozen others three years ago. As Olivia begins to work on Jack’s case, she finds herself back in a tolerant, but not overly friendly relationship with Charlotte, Jack’s best friend and her own old college acquaintance. Olivia remains convinced of Jack’s innocence at first, but what if she finds out that she never quite knew him as well as she thought? This was a well-written book with a great twist at the end. The author did a nice job of keeping the reader interested in the plot, without tying everything up in a bow at the end. I would suggest this book for fans of John Grisham, Michael Connelly, and/or David Baldacci.

Gray Mountain – by John Grisham

Gray Mountain by John Grisham

Gray Mountain is mostly what I would expect from reading most of John Grisham’s previous novels. The main difference is that this is the first novel with a female in the lead character role. And, Samantha, the main character actually is perfect for this story.

Though it is considered a legal thriller, there is not too much legal jargon. The layperson shouldn’t be worried about getting lost in all the legalese and not following the story line. The story is very believable, centered around strip coal mining in Appalachia where small town folk with barely a dime are up against huge wealthy coal mining companies denying any benefits the miners and their families should be receiving. This is where the lawyers come in. Samantha, once a well-paid, overworked New York City lawyer that had never been in a courtroom is laid off and moved to rural Virginia to intern at a legal aid clinic. The story picks up and becomes fast paced once she arrives in Virginia. There are a few subtle hints of romance, but nothing mushy. Because we all know the laws and love do not usually mix, right?

It’s clear that Grisham researched the topic and the area of Appalachia well, which makes for a great novel. I would highly recommend checking this one out – if you can get your name on what will probably be a long hold list at your local library.