Reading Sara Review: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
by Bryan Stevenson

just mercy


Paperback: 368 pages

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; Reprint edition (August 18, 2015)

Reading Sara Rating: 9/10

Girl at War Rating


Amazon Book Description: Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.


Reading Sara Review: Just Mercy is the type of book that is heartbreaking to read – but everyone needs to read it. As a humanitarian, a responsible adult – frankly, as a human, we must understand the disparity in our criminal justice system. Bryan Stevenson tells this story so well. I warn you: it’s a hard book to read. It is unfair. But it is also inspirational because there are people like Bryan Stevenson fighting for fundamental human rights and justice.

The stories that Bryan tells about his clients, their families and their stories are moving to the core. It is also moving to read about Bryan’s story – his coming of age and creating a career and organization – we watch him grow as the book continues. Highly recommend for anyone looking for a serious read, and something that will inspire you to make this world a better place – for everyone.


Reading Sara Review: The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth, by Christopher Scotton

secret wisdom of the earth

Hardcover: 480 pages

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; First Edition ~1st Printing edition (January 6, 2015)

Rating: 7.5/10

Rating for Secret Wisdom

Reading Sara Review:  I will admit, this book has been on my TBR list for far too long – and I am so glad that I finally had a chance to read it. The Secret Wisdom of the Earth is a dramatic, intense, and moving story of a boy coming of age when he sees his younger brother die. His father, who is angry and bitter, sends him and his mother, who is inconsolable and unable to care for him, to stay with his grandfather in rural Kentucky to the town of Medgar.

Medgar has its own secrets and its own battles, and Kevin begins to heal as he discovers these secrets and finds friendship. Medgar is having challenges of its own, from the battle to save their environment from mountaintop removal to the poverty that has stricken the community, and the prejudices that lie deep in people’s hearts in 1985.

There are too many wonderful characters for me to write a proper review – but I would be remiss not to write about his grandfather. A man who lost the love of his life far too early, his grandfather was a proud, respected veterinarian in the area with deep roots. Kevin learns values by working alongside him during the day and then listening to him and his friends have evening chats on his porch.

Scotton tells a unique story that kept me up late many nights because the characters stuck with me. As the reader, I felt like I developed with Kevin. As he discovered more about his family’s history, I discovered more with him. I believe that it takes a great writer to do that, to make the reader anxious, angry, sad, and feel redemption with the characters – but I felt all of those emotions and more.

No spoilers in this review, but I will say that what I loved most about this book is the message of compassion and empathy. We do not know other’s struggles, but having love for them is the most important thing that we can do to survive as a community.


Book & Wine Wednesday! Reading Sara Review of The Passenger, by Lisa Lutz

books & wine wednesday IMAGE

The Passenger, by Lisa Lutz


Hardcover: 320 pages

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (March 1, 2016)

Rating: 8/10 – fun and quick book!

RBG Rating

The Passenger is the perfect book for Book & Wine Wednesday because if you are like me, you will turn these pages as fast as you drink a bottle of wine. But I am getting ahead of myself, the wine recommendation will come later. Let’s first talk about The Passenger.

For readers of Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, etc., this one will enthrall you equally. For those who hated Girl on the Train because the characters were so despicable, you will like this one more. For those of you who have no idea what those books are, read on and decide for yourself if you should add this to your list.

The Passenger starts with the protagonist, Tanya, telling us she did not kill her husband. But he is, in fact, dead at the bottom of their staircase. And she did not seem to like him much when he was alive. On top of that, she packs a bag and leaves town when she discovers his body.

I do not want to give too much away, but the story follows her as she changes identities, locations, and her look. As the story unfolds people come into her life – many to help, some to hurt – and the story slowly unravels revealing her backstory and what she did (or did not do) that has altered her life so drastically.

For me, the Passenger uncovered the path of people who live on the run (something I have never done and certainly do not plan on ever doing). It explores a person living without a social security card, dependent on the cash on her, not able to make casual conversation for fear of identification, and not entirely sure where she is going to sleep each night. I will tell you this: it has made me guard my purse in public places even more than before.

The Passenger is a quick book that is creative and left me guessing until the end. It is a page turner but is not scary or nightmare-inducing. Instead, it is simply interesting. I grew to feel for Tanya, though not always agree with her decisions. She was fighting for her life. Who am I to determine what is right or wrong in that situation?

This was my first time reading Lisa Lutz’s work, but I would come back to her again. She expertly describes situations, people, and feelings in a way that I envy. It is one of the most fun books of 2016, and if you read it, I promise that you will not soon forget it.


Wine Recommendation: A hearty Zinfandel will get you through this book. I recommend a big tall glass that you will not have to refill too often while you are turning the pages. I like Zinfandels because of the complexity – and you can find excellent ones for a variety of price points.

For the crowd-pleasing under $20 bottle, I like Ancient Peaks Winery made in Paso Robles.

For those with a little extra cash to spend this month, I’m especially partial to Chase Cellars at Hayne Vineyard. I visited their site in Napa last year and had the opportunity to meet one of their 115-year-old Zin vine, named Bertha. The 2012 CHASE Hayne Vineyard Zin is fantastic, and a $45 bottle tastes like it should be much more. You’ll probably have to buy it online, I have yet to see it in a store – luckily I joined their wine club!

Don’t forget to throw the Zin in the fridge for 15 minutes before serving. It will bring out the flavors and make it all the more drinkable (as if you needed any help drinking it!).

Reading Sara Review: The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood

the heart goes lastBook Length: 322 pages

Publisher: Nan A. Talese (September 29, 2015)

Reading Sara Rating: 7/10 – Entertaining and a good read!

modern romance

Book Blurb:  Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. Job loss has forced them to live in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. They desperately need to turn their situation around—and fast. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers. No one is unemployed, and everyone gets a comfortable, clean house to live in . . . for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents of Consilience must leave their homes and function as inmates in the Positron prison system. Once their month of service in the prison is completed, they can return to their “civilian” homes.
At first, this doesn’t seem like too much of a sacrifice to make in order to have a roof over one’s head and food to eat. But when Charmaine becomes romantically involved with the man who lives in their house during the months when she and Stan are in the prison, a series of troubling events unfolds, putting Stan’s life in danger. With each passing day, Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.


Reading Sara Review: Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors. If you are a woman and have not read The Handmaid’s Tale, you must. It is haunting, real, and will stick with you forever. I had not read any of Atwood’s recent books, so was eager to pick up this one that was released in 2015. As the description mentions, The Heart Goes Last is a post-financial and social crisis book that follows our main characters, Stan and Charmaine through their struggles.

The concept of the Positron Project is fascinating – and certainly too good to be true. The way that Atwood creates these alternate universes that could actually happen are incredible and one of the reasons that I believe she is one of the today’s best visionary authors.

Neither main character is very sympathetic, though with that being said, I think that there are pieces of the way that they each handled the situation they are in that is relatable to all of us: pride, sacrifice, fear, anger, and ultimately forgiveness. Personally, I did not like either of the primary characters but was intrigued by a few of the secondary characters and how they made decisions, kept secrets, and tried to maintain a normalcy and ethical compass in a world where much of their decisions are taken away from them.

There are some crucial gender statements made in this novel, and the reader needs to trust Atwood to turn around the sexism and deal with them (which she does). Morality is the biggest issue – as technology advances, what right do people have to decide someone else’s fate and who they love? I cannot get into too much more without spoilers, but I will warn future readers that there are large topics in this book – it is not for the faint of heart.

I would not recommend this book to everyone. It is similar to Atwood’s other books in exploring the harm that power can cause. But, if you are an Atwood fan, definitely add this to your list. The end drags a bit, and leaves the reader with a bit of a twist at the end, but I would not dissuade anyone from reading it!