Tag Archives: journalism

These Shallow Graves


Title:  These Shallow Graves
Author:  Jennifer Donnelly
Publisher:  Random House Teens
Publication Date:  2015
ISBN:  978-0-385-73766-1

Book Summary:
Josephine Montfort is of the New York Montforts, and that means Miss Sparkwell’s School for Young Ladies, balls and galas, and finding a suitable husband.  It does not mean writing school newspaper stories about the abuses of young girls in the textile mills.  Even in 1890, after Nellie Bly’s exposés, true journalism is not an opportunity open to Jo.  However, when Jo’s father dies from an accident while cleaning his gun, her world crumbles.  Her mother descends into a depression and Jo is all but cooped up in the house of mourning.

When a chance opportunity occurs for her to deliver an item bequest in his will, Jo jumps at the prospect of visiting one of her late father’s holdings, the Standard, a city newspaper.  In awe of the bustle and excitement of the newspaper, Jo overhears the shocking accusation that her father’s death wasn’t an accident; it was suicide.  Overwhelmed by grief and confusion, Jo searches her father’s study for some indication of rationale and finds her father’s agenda.  Questioning of her uncle reveals that the cause of death was suicide but Jo continues to search for more answers.  The further she delves into the mystery, the more uncertain the facts become until Jo realizes that her father’s death wasn’t an accident or suicide; it was murder.

With the help of a scrappy ace reporter, a talented pickpocket, and a budding forensic doctor, Jo stretches out further from the home and life she has known and faces a new, sometimes exhilarating and sometimes terrifying, world.  The question is how much of her old life is she willing to let go and how much does she not want to return to.  The stakes of status, honor, and integrity are high but the threats to her sanity and life may be even greater.

Book Commentary:
I’ve read a few of Jennifer Donnelly’s adult books and enjoyed them, but this mystery book really caught my attention.  It is a young adult book but is unique in that it is a true historical mystery; mystery books are a rarity among young adult fiction.  Although I could see where the plot was going, I enjoyed how the author showed the growth of experience and knowledge in the young protagonist.  The concept of a young girl from a well-to-do family exploring the seedier side of the world is not a new one; what makes this story a bit unique is her clear awareness of both sides of life.  She realizes what sacrifices must be made on both sides while still maintaining a realistic naivety and open-eyed outlook on the world.

I found the book to be very enjoyable and I loved the gothic feel.  Amazon recommends the book for 9th grade and up and I think that is appropriate.  Although there is no sex, references and discussions are made in a youthful questioning and reflective way.  As the character learns what a brothel is, what it entails, and what it means for girls less privileged that she, the innocence is almost heart-breaking.

Who might like this book:
My daughter and I have had numerous discussions about the dearth of good young adult mysteries – historical or not – that don’t involve vampires, dystopian societies, or sappy emotions.  I think this book is a refreshing change and one that adults – both young and old – may enjoy.

The Girl Next Door

The Girl Next Door

Title:  The Girl Next Door (Carter Ross 3)
Author:  Brad Parks
Publisher:  Minotaur Books
Publication Date:  2012
ISBN:  978-1-250-01340-8

Book Summary:
Strolling through the obituaries looking for inspiration for a story, Carter Ross reads about the death of Nancy Marino, a waitress and a delivery person for the Eagle-Examiner.  Even though Carter never meet her, he feels that he owes a fellow employee an article about the life of this everyday woman.  Carter heads to her wake to get input from friends and family but the combination of a confrontation with his publisher Gary Jackman and the whisperings of Nancy’s family indicates that there is much more to this story.  One sister clams up quickly but the other one is convinced that her death was not an accident.

Carter searches the scene of Nancy’s hit-and-run death and uncovers a witness whose story indicates that the accident was intentional.  Unfortunately, Carter’s new editor and sometime girlfriend, Tina Thompson, has removed him from the story upon the request of her higher-ups.  Carter, however, cannot let it go.

His quest for the truth involves a English major intern, Lunky, whose knowledge of literature vastly surpasses his ability to write copy; Nikki, Nancy’s fellow waitress at the Greek restaurant; Jim McNabb, local union executive director; and Tommy Hernandez, City Hall beat writer.  The more involved Carter gets into the story, the more his personal and profession life seem to fall apart and he must decide if his job and his life are worth the story.

Book Commentary:
This is the third Carter Ross book I have read and they just keep getting better.  Carter is a truly likable character but he is always very real, very human, and very flawed.  There are times when I am cheering for his decisions and other times I am smacking my face at his mistakes.  He is someone the reader wants to root for.  The author has also done a great job at incorporating multi-dimensional secondary characters; they are interesting and believable enough to help advance the plot without taking away from Carter and his main story.

I really enjoyed Carter’s struggle in this book with “machine of newspaper publishing.”  In this day and age of computers and the internet and instant news, it is sometime difficult to see the necessity of in-depth reporting and research.  Carter’s quest for the truth and the hurdles through which he must jump show just how intricate and complex news and truth really are.

Who might like this book:
The series does a great job at presenting modern journalism in a useful and meaningful way.  The series highlights the classic respect of the newspaper age as it struggles to find its place in a modern world.  However, the stories aren’t meant to be social commentary and the facts about the industry never detract from the main story itself.

It is obvious that the writer is a former newspaperman.  He truly tells a good story.  I have to thank my daughter for this one; I got her interested in the series and she put this book on her birthday wishlist.  I bought it for her but had to read it first!  Guess I will have to give it to her a bit early!

Faces of the Gone

Faces of the Gone
Title: Faces of the Gone (Carter Ross 1)
Author: Brad Parks
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: 2009
ISBN: 978-0-312-67280-5

Book Summary:
Carter Ross is an investigated reporter for the Newark Eagle-Examiner and reporting on a dead body being found in a vacant lot really isn’t big news. However, when four bodies are discovered shot execution style, the public tends to get nervous. In an effort to quell fears, the police leak a story to Carter’s colleagues that the murders are revenge for a bar holdup. As one who has spent some time writing about Newark’s ghettos, the story doesn’t feel right to Carter and he starts to dig. He discovers that although the four murder victims were all drug dealers, they were from various locations and served very different clientele.  When Carter discovers a unique quality to the drugs peddled by the four victims, he begins to see a pattern worth further investigation.

With the help of his intern Tommy and the City Editor Tina, Carter delves into the gritty world of street dealers of Newark. Although encouraged by both the local police and the FBI to let this story pass, Carter feels that he owes it to the families of the dead for truth. When his own life is threatened, Carter knows that he is on the right track. The question is, will he have the conclusion to the story printed under his by-line, or will he be the headline himself?

Book Commentary:
Don’t you love when you discover a series and it already has a number of books in it so you can keep reading!! Brad Parks has written five more stories about Carter Ross and I am really looking forward to reading them. The author is a former reporter for The Washington Post and The Star-Ledger; his writing shows both a deep knowledge about the newspaper industry combined with a direct story-telling style. There is enough detail presented to know what is going on while still keeping the story fast paced and engaging. I really enjoyed the wit and sarcasm of the characters and there is enough edginess to keep the story interesting without turning the reader off.

I like Carter. He has a sense of morality combined with an honest look at reality. He is a good guy but definitely not a hero. His flaws are human; not due to some great mistake or failure of his past, but rather because he is an ordinary man, living in the real world.

Who might like this book:
This book is a great procedural; not a police one but rather one based on news-writing. It is a quick moving piece with very enjoyable characters. There are some coarser moments but none seemed to detract me from the story itself. Anyone who has an interest or experience in journalism will enjoy the commentary and reality of life in the modern publishing age. Readers will also appreciate the humor; the book is funny without being a caricature of itself. I look forward to reading more of Carter’s exploits!