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David Dow is a death penalty lawyer in Texas – this must be one of the hardest jobs to do, *especially* in Texas. He believes that the death penalty is always wrong and fights to save his clients’ lives, while acknowledging that the vast majority of them are guilty of their crimes. He freely admits that he doesn’t like a lot of his clients but he is compelled to do what he believes is right.

This book however, while discussing other death penalty cases, focuses mainly on the case of Henry Quaker, a man who is convicted of murdering his wife and children – and who was almost certainly innocent of the crime. In discussing the various measures that David and his team take to try and save Quaker’s life, some deeply uncomfortable truth about the justice system are revealed. Quaker was a poor black man with a deeply incompetent trial lawyer. Despite there being another very viable suspect, and several reasons why Quaker almost certainly did not commit the crime, the lawyer failed to disclose any of this at the trial. Indeed, the book talks about public defender lawyers who literally go to sleep in the middle of trial.

I am completely against the death penalty in any and all circumstances, so I was also predisposed to be drawn into this book (I can’t say I enjoyed it, and it’s not a book that is really meant to be enjoyed, but it needs to be read). However, whatever anyone’s views, the truths about the ‘justice’ system revealed here should make anyone feel uncomfortable about the death penalty. I felt angry and frustrated learning about how bureaucracy and red tape, the laziness of judges, the incompetence of lawyers all have more to do with someone’s fate than the evidence for or against them.

The author also talks about his home life with his wife and young son. He has a lovely family and he acknowledges this. But there is no doubt that the job he does would have an effect on anybody, and he includes snapshots of their lives to illustrate this.

I recommend this book very highly. It is not always an easy read, but it is as compelling as any novel and the lessons contained within need to be heard.

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Another audiobook which I listened to while running. Sue and Brian Jackson’s daughter has stepped in front of a bus and lies in a coma. Brian is convinced it was an accident, but Sue believes that Charlotte intended to kill herself and is determined to find out why. As she conducts her own investigation, the story is interspersed with her diary flashbacks which reveal an horrifically abusive relationship with her ex-boyfriend James. Sue believes that after 20 years, James has tracked her down and that her life – and her family’s life is in danger.

Honestly I wanted to like this book. I used to love psychological thrillers and still do sometimes, but there seems to be so many of these kinds of books around at the moment, and consequently there are a lot of cliches – and this book contains them all. James is such a monster that he ends up being a caricature, and Sue was so wishy washy that (in the present day storyline) I found it hard to feel much for her at all. Brian is a background character, who the reader never really got to know, and even though the book is about Charlotte and what may have driven her to try and kill herself, I ended up feeling that she was never a properly developed character. Maybe I’m sick of reading about abusive men and the women who forgive them time and time again – it seems to be a trope in fiction drama lately.

Certain parts of the story did keep me listening, but some situations were ludicrous and the ending was ridiculous beyond belief. I could say why, but it would mean revealing spoilers.

Anyhow, despite the somewhat scathing review, this wasn’t all bad. But it certainly wasn’t all good. I’ll probably be giving this author a miss from now on…but there are plenty of favourable reviews around for this book, so don’t let me put you off!

A note about the narration: I did think Jenny Funnell did a good job, but not good enough to cover the flaws in the story!

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Year of original publication: 2014

Genre: Psychological thriller

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The Watcher (2000)

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For my money, Keanu Reeves is one of those actors who it is impossible to dislike. People may say he can’t act (I disagree with this) but I never hear anyone say that they don’t like him. Personally I’m interested in seeing pretty much any of his films – he’s always entertaining, picks interesting roles – and okay; on a shallow basis he’s lovely to look at.

So it’s almost disconcerting to see him playing a cold hearted serial killer here. He’s charismatic and charming, but evil to the core. James Spader is Joel Campbell, the FBI agent, who haunted by his inability to catch the man who has been killing young women in LA, moves to Chicago, where frankly he becomes a mess. Semi conscious half the time, on all kinds of medication and suffering from guilt induced migraines, his purpose is restored when Reeves’s David Griffin follows him to Chicago and continues his killing spree. The two have a symbiotic relationship – Griffin needs Campbell to notice him, and Campbell lives to catch Griffin.

The director of the film is apparently a music video director and it shows. The stylised flashbacks, the slow mo effects – they’re all here. The script too does not really contain anything groundbreaking or shocking, but nonetheless the action moves on at a decent pace, and kept me interested.

If you like thrillers, give this one a try – as long as you go in expecting an hour and a half of decent entertainment and nothing too mind-glowingly brilliant, I think you might enjoy it.

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Year of release: 200

Director: Joe Charbanic

Writers: Darcy Meyers, David Elliot, Clay Ayers

Main cast: James Spader, Keanu Reeves, Marisa Tomei, Chris Ellis

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Genre: Thriller

Highlights: The delectable Keanu Reeves, always

Lowlights: Slightly over stylised

Overall: A pretty decent thriller and a good way to pass 90 minutes of your time

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Never afraid to tackle controversial subjects, Jodi Picoult has based this novel around a hostage situation in an abortion clinic in Mississippi. It’s told in reverse chronological order, which I wasn’t sure I liked at first, but actually the format does work quite well. The story starts with the hostage situation already well underway, at least one hostage dead at the hands of the gunman, and a police negotiator desperately trying to end the situation without more harm – because his fifteen year old daughter is one of the hostages.

Each chapter starts an hour earlier than the last one, taking the reader all the way back to the early morning and showing how each character came to be in the clinic that day.

While the book does look at the abortion argument from all sides – and this is obviously very relevant to the story – and also goes into some details regarding how abortions are performed, on one level this is a story of a hostage situation that could have taken place in any public area. We get to know the various characters and peel back the layers of their lives, each chapter revealing a little more. I thought a few of the characters were very well fleshed out – Hugh the negotiator, and Wren his daughter. I really liked the feisty nurse Izzy, but my favourite of all characters was Dr Louie Ward, who I really cared for by the end of the book.

This is not my favourite Jodi Picoult novel and I’m not sure if that was because of it being told backwards as it were, but I still did enjoy it and would probably recommend it.

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I listened to this audiobook over the course of several training runs. The storyline revolves around a marriage between Simon and Marianne Wilson – and it soon becomes apparent that it is a deeply unhappy marriage and that Simon is a bully and a liar. There are no spoilers here, as this is made clear very early on in the story.

Marianne, who narrates the story, becomes suspicious when her husband mentions a woman who he works with, and immediately suspects that he is having an affair. She has had such suspicions before but this time it’s different. She knows deep inside that something is going on, and that this relationship could be the one that threatens her marriage and could cause her to lose her children. And Marianne is determined that that won’t happen.

I’ll be honest – for the first couple of hours of this book, I was tempted to give up on it. Within half an hour I had decided that I didn’t like either Simon or Marianne, and there seemed to be so much repetition in what Marianne was saying  that the whole listening experience was somewhat tiresome. This is no fault of the narrator Katie Villa, who did an excellent job, but more the writing itself.

However, about halfway through it suddenly got a lot more exciting and things started moving at a much quicker pace. I actually enjoyed the second half of the book a lot – there were two twists, one of which I guessed quite early on, and the other which I did not guess at all (always a plus in my book).

Overall I would say that this was a book of two halves, and I am glad I stuck around for the second one. If you like psychological dramas and unreliable narrators, I would give this a try.

We Were Here (2011)

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This incredibly moving documentary tells the story of the early days of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco in the early 1980s, by people who lived through it. Four gay men and one female AIDS nurse recount the terror, the heartbreak and the anger at seeing their friends die, at the complacency of the government and the prejudice against the gay community. The film will break your heart and make you angry – in just three years in San Francisco along 15,500 young men died of AIDS – and the government did nothing. (In fact, it wasn’t until 1985 when Reagan’s friend Rock Hudson succumbed to the disease that the then president even uttered the term ‘AIDS’).

As upsetting as it is to watch, this is a story that needs to be heard, and it is filmed with courage and compassion. I urge everyone to watch it.

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Andy Samberg is Connor Friel (stage name Connor4Real), popstar formerly of The Style Boyz, and now a solo artist. The film charts his rise and fall, and does so hilariously. Imagine Spinal Tap with an American pop star, or The Office’s David Brent (UK series) as a young singer. Connor believes his own hype and is desperate to hold onto success, but he’s so pathetic about it that that it makes the viewer wince. Make no mistake though, this is a funny, funny movie. Packed with cameos from the likes of Adam Levine, Michael Bolton, Snoop Dogg, and loads more, Connor’s lurching from one bad publicity move to another makes for lots of laughs.

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Year of release: 2016

Directors: Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone

Writers: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone

Main cast: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccome, Akiva Schaffer, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Imogen Poots

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Genre: Comedy, music

Highlights: All of it!

Lowlights: None of it!

Overall: Bombed at the box office, but that is no reflection on how good this is. Give it a try if you like cringe-comedy

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