“The King of Torts”
By John Grisham
Though a lawyer himself, John Grisham oftentimes reveals what he considers the flaw in the field of criminal and civil law. This is another assault on the greed and avarice of tort lawyers, justified or not. In this unusual legal thriller, hero and villain are the same, a young man with the tragic flaw of greed. The suspense arises not from physical threat, but moral turmoil.
Mass tort lawyers are Grisham's target, the men (they're all men here, at least) who win billion-dollar class-action settlements from corporations selling bad products, then rake fantastic fees off the top. Clay Carter is a burning-out lawyer at the Office of the Public Defender in Washington, D.C., when he catches the case of a teen who, for no apparent reason, has gunned down an acquaintance. Clay is approached by a mysterious stranger, the enigmatic Max Pace, who says he represents a mega-corporation whose bad drug caused the teen — and others — to kill. The corporation will pay Clay $10 million to settle with all the murder victims at $5 million, if all is accomplished on the hush-hush. That way the corporation avoids trial and possibly much higher jury awards.
After briefly examining his conscience, Clay bites. He quits the OPD, sets up his own firm and settles the cases. In reward, Pace gives him a present — a mass tort case based on stolen evidence but worth tens of millions in fees. Clay lunges again, eventually winning more than a hundred million in fees. He is crowned the new King of Torts by the press, with enough money to hobnob with the other venal-hearted tort royalty, to buy a Porsche, a Georgetown townhouse and a private jet, but not enough to forget his heartache over the woman he loves, who dumped him as a loser right before his career took off.
Clay's financial/legal hubris knows few bounds, and soon he's over-extended, his future hanging on the results of one product liability trial. The tension is considerable throughout, and readers will like the gentle ending, but Grisham's aim here clearly is to educate as he entertains.
“Summers of Fire: A Memoir of Adventure, Love and Courage”
By Linda Strader
Summering at the rustic Florida Ranger Station in our Santa Rita Mountains may sound ideal to some of us Southern Arizona desert dwellers, but surely not if we had to fight fires and clear heavy tree limbs up and down the steep slopes! But it was a dream come true for 20-year-old Linda Strader when in 1976 she began seven years of seasonal work with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
Kudos to Strader for pursuing a career as a firefighter in the 1970s and early '80s, and persevering as one of the first women hired on a Forest Service fire crew. No easy task in a male-dominated profession. From the Santa Ritas to the Santa Catalinas, up to Flagstaff, then in Alaska and Colorado, Strader shares it all: the excitement, hard work and danger; the camaraderie and her love interests; and her tremendous personal successes and hard knocks on the job and in her personal relationships.
As a first-time author, Strader's writing is insightfully descriptive, from nature's wonders and brutality, to times when she survived only on sheer willpower, truly pushing herself physically to the brink, and the rewards she found working in the great Western outdoors. Strader cites support from several local writers and her friend, advisor and writing coach Joanne Burch. She put their advice to good use. This well-written memoir will have readers caught up in the adventurous twists and turns to very end.
“Wit, Wisdom, and Verse”
By Cody Hedges
He thinks deep and he writes well. Cody Hedges, a young Green Valley resident, has printed his first book of poems, thoughts and, as he calls them, fragments. And they're pretty darned good:
A Young Man's Prayers
Do please me with flowers,
Liquor, and witty girls,
A well-tempered keyboard,
And Roman curls
It would be too easy to call Hedges (whom I know personally) “an old soul.” And not quite accurate. He's 25, and was probably born about 100 years too late and in the wrong country. I picture him talking art and philosophy with Gertrude Stein on the Left Bank in Paris, circa 1910, not hitting the Continental Safeway for a loaf of bread on his way home from work.
But we bloom where we're planted, and Hedges' first effort is fun reading. His thoughts on love, lust, history and nature are thoughtful beyond his years and probably yours. If you like verse and more, this is worth picking up. I eagerly await round two.
A final thought from Cody:
“Obscurity is a fate worse than celebrity, and celebrity a fate worse than public admiration.”
By Sarah Dunant
Her furious, howling screams shatter the night silence. Zuana waits patiently. As dispensary mistress it’s her duty to determine at what point it might be necessary to administer a sedative to the new novice. The girl is from a noble family of Milan. Eager to show loyalty to the city of Ferrara, they’ve given their virgin daughter together with a large dowry to Santa Caterina convent. But the child’s anger at being deposited — against her will — to live as a bride of Christ is audible.
Hours pass, but the belligerent bellowing does not diminish in intensity. When the next blood-curdling shriek echoes through the halls followed by a crash and the sound of splintering wood, Zuana knows it’s time. She takes a vial from a drawer; and using her knowledge and experience of more than a decade, adds what she feels to be the safest, most effective dosage. She moves quickly to reach the girl’s cell and, upon arriving, trips the latch, opens the door and enters cautiously. By the light of her candle she finds the young postulant flat against the wall, clothes sweat-stuck to her body and eyes wild with terror and defiance — a reflection of her own demeanor 16 long years ago.
My penchant for historical fiction drew me to this unusual novel set in Italy in the year 1570 during a time of oppression associated with the Counter-Reformation. In addition to enlightening the reader to the hardships of life in the cloister, it tells the very moving story of a friendship between two nuns. A sisterly bond that is tested by deceit and betrayal and the strength of which ultimately threatens the very foundation of the convent. A fascinating read and an incredible history lesson.
“Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City”
By Mathew Desmond
With “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” Harvard sociologist Mathew Desmond delivers a powerful indictment against both the money-grabbing landlords and the governmental
agencies charged with helping the poor keep a roof over their heads. Using the backdrop of the rust-belt city of Milwaukee, he spent years studying the ugly patterns of poverty and documenting the
destruction of human dignity caused by government-approved eviction and displacement.
Desmond explains his desire to write the book: “Poverty was a relationship involving poor and rich. To understand poverty, I needed to understand that relationship. This sent me searching
for a process that bound poor and rich people together in mutual dependence and struggle. Eviction was such a process.”
“Evicted” follows a series of eviction clear-outs by hired moving companies. Every story is different yet tragically similar — and so very sad. Desmond paints an ugly portrait of the running battle
between landlords and renters in which the landlords always win.
Using the courts like a private police force, landlords fear no limits on what they can do to the powerless renters. Also, a whole industry of sideline vultures, such as storage companies, steal and cheat the evicted of the last possessions and dignity they own. As Desmond so clearly illustrates, Milwaukee is only one example of this vast tragedy occurring throughout the United States.
“If incarceration had become to define the lives of black men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women,” he writes. “Poor Black men were locked up; Poor Black women were locked out!”
This powerful book exposes extreme poverty and massive exploitation of the poor but also provides do-able, clear ideas for solving the problem. This book's horrible scenes of desperation, as well as occasional flashes of hope, remind us that every human needs a place called “home.”
By Patricia de Arias; Illustrated by Laura Borràs
“Marwan’s Journey” is a stunning picture book which was originally published in Chile as “El camino de Marwan” in 2016. Marwan is a young boy traveling in a group of refugees, but without his family. He is traveling to escape the war and the angry tanks that “swallowed up everything: my house, my garden, my homeland.” Despite the desperate circumstances, Marwan keeps going. He hears his mother’s voice in his dreams telling him: “Marwan, keep going, walk, and walk and walk.” So Marwan keeps walking toward the border and toward “another country, another house, another language.”
“Marwan’s Journey” is beautifully written and illustrated. The story is heartrending, but carefully presented for a younger audience. Marwan is a remarkably resilient protagonist who never gives up hope. The big question of what happened to Marwan’s mother and the rest of his family is never explicitly addressed and will, undoubtedly, be one in the mind of observant young readers. Likewise, although Marwan looks ahead to crossing the border, finding safety, and one day returning to his homeland, he is still on his journey crossing the desert when the story ends.
You can borrow a copy of “Marwan’s Journey” from your local library.
Robin Green, Librarian
“Dear Hunting with Jesus”
By Joe Bageant
If you can stand the noise, “Dear Hunting with Jesus,” by Joe Bageant, has something for everyone. Joe Bageant was an ironically funny, loud-mouthed, gonzo-like Redneck Socialist. At first glance, he seems to have somehow revealed why Clinton lost or why Trump won. But wait! Some things didn't compute and a look back to publication date shows 2007. 2007?
“Dear Hunting with Jesus, Dispatches From America's Class War” is a scream into the night from a very angry man. You will either love-hate it or hate-love it. His point of view is focused in a tiny factory town — Winchester, Virginia — where work there was for Rubbermaid or pulling guts out of processed chickens, hardly work at all. Rubbermaid, once a Fortune 500 company, died a slow death in a contract dispute with Walmart.
The losers were, of course, the local hourly workers. Poorly educated, with a vision that could not exceed the horizon, fiercely independent, no handouts accepted and generations inbred with the notion that if they labored hard and long, they could live on the fuzzy fringes of the American Dream. Unions were the cause of their problems, they thought. Exorbitant hourly wages forced companies to flee off-shore to cheap wages and NAFTA, they believed, caused factories to relocate to Mexico.
Massive commercialization and the make-believe world of television commercials led to spending more and more of their ever-decreasing take-home pay into debt. Worse, the money was spent at Walmart and other big box stores, thereby pushing even more American manufacturing jobs off-shore.
Bageant furiously attacks the South's "Old Time Religion," the Democrat AND Republican parties, the appalling needs of a shrinking public health system, redneck NASCAR racing, football and even beer.
In his prophetic view, the eternally poor redneck is the not-spoken-about issue that left a pool of disenfranchised working-class Americans and others ready to elect Trump into the Oval Office, all this inadvertently written years before Clinton-Trump.
“Dear Hunting with Jesus, Dispatches From America's Class War,” out of print, is available on Amazon, as a used paperback for next to nothing (see all editions), but absolutely worth the trouble.
“OUR 50-STATE BORDER CRISIS: How the Mexican Border Fuels the Drug Epidemic Across America”
By Howard G. Buffett
Howard Buffett brings the reader a conservative perspective to the complexity of the issues regarding immigration from Mexico and Central America. His primary concern is illegal drugs and the resulting addiction problems facing the United States today.
Buffett supports strengthening border security and opposes decriminalization of even marijuana. He is not in favor of a conventional wall as is apparently envisioned by the President and some of his supporters. However, he advocates a "persistent presence" to include more canines, the right kind of sensors, and better trained, more carefully vetted Border Patrol agents. He considers securing the border a top national security priority.
Because the Department of Homeland Security was put together at a time of panic response to 9/11, it is a bureaucratic mess that needs to be totally disentangled. Buffett would consolidate some key functions ideally under the command of the U.S. Coast Guard, as currently "an estimated ninety or more different Congressional committees and subcommittees have at least partial oversight responsibilities."
He advocates the necessity of working with Mexico and Central American countries to restore the rule of law wherever it has been virtually and totally compromised. He has debated with some of their leaders the concept of decriminalization and respectfully disagrees with some. He holds up U.S. military cooperation with Columbia as an example of how to neutralize the power of the drug cartels and restore democratic control of the country. (However, that was a 50-year effort and is only recently beginning to function. It is still a very fragile democracy.)
One of the more interesting historical side tracks in this story is that of the opium profits that funded Harvard and Yale. "Boston's well-known Cabot family made some of its vast fortune in opium and later made large grants to Harvard and also to MIT … the Russell family funded Yale's famous Skull and Bones society," he writes.
Whatever the reader's opinions before reading this book, Buffett is likely to provide a far better and more comprehensive view of the importance of addressing the issues of drug smuggling into and within the U.S. as a critical priority issue now.
For readers wanting different perspectives on border issues and the war on drugs, I would recommend “The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches From the Border,” by Francisco Cantú, and “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs,” by Johann Hari. All of these are available at the Joyner-Green Valley library.
• Come listen, read your own poetry or share a favorite poem during the Poet's Corner informal gathering at 3 p.m. on Monday, July 9, and Thursday, July 26, at the Joyner-Green Valley Public Library. All are welcome.
• The First Friday Music Program at the Green Valley Library features a variety of jazz styles by the NoethenButJazz Quartet performing on July 6 at 1 p.m.
The 10 most popular books at Joyner-Green Valley Library for the past month:
“The Disappeared,” by C.J. Box
“The Midnight Line,” by Lee Child
“Deep Freeze,” by John Sandford
“The Wanted,” by Robert Crais
“The Rooster Bar,” by John Grisham
“The Fallen,” by David Baldacci
“End Game,” by David Baldacci
“Duel to the Death: an Ali Reynolds novel,” by J.A. Jance
“City of Endless Nights,” by Douglas J. Preston
“Twisted Prey,” by John Sandford