Review: “Murder In Room 103” By Harriet Ryan

Woo hoo! Two non-review request reads in a row! 🙂

Considering this book was published in 2006 and covers a murder committed in 2001, why did I pick it up? Several reasons, really.

First and foremost, my study of taekwond-do has led to have a great appreciation for Korean culture. This book, being the story of an American exchange student killed in South Korea, was perfect for feeding the knowledge horse.

Second, I have always loved true crime books. They are very fascinating to me, especially since I’ve long been interested in abnormal psychology (serial killers too, although that’s unrelated to this book).

Finally, it was cheap on AbeBooks. So. Why not? 🙂

OK, on to the review, finally.

Early in the morning following St. Patrick’s Day 2001, Jamie Penich, an exchange student from Derry, Pennsylvania, who was studying in South Korea, was brutally murdered. Based on the evidence, Penich was stomped to death by someone wearing boots. Although she was found naked, no sexual assault was suspected.

In the United States, the discovery of such a scene would have seen a bevy of specialists descend on the isolated and uncompromised crime scene. They would catalog in individual sealed baggies or specimens, every hair, fiber, blood splatter, etc. Photos would be made of the entire scene before anything was so much as touched or moved.

Anyone involved or suspected would have been quarantined, their clothes gathered up and likewise cataloged so they could be analyzed. Statements would have been taken from all of them, and their movements would have been limited until the police were sure someone was or was not a suspect.

Not so for South Korea in 2001. Although they have made great strides since then, their process at the time was lacking. All clothing was thrown into a single bag. Penich’s body was moved in an attempt to identify her based on a tattoo on her back, before her body position had even been photographed. In order to study the crime scene, her body was wrapped in a sheet and moved to another room, basically preventing some spit on Penich’s chest from ever undergoing DNA analysis. Their methods of basing so much on blood type rather than DNA analysis, caused the destruction of several blood samples as the process of typing the blood destroys the sample. Blood type alone, as opposed to DNA evidence, isn’t enough to convincingly identify a perpetrator. They even had policemen tracking blood throughout the scene, contaminating what might have been a perpetrator’s footprints with their own.

With that as the backdrop, the story continues as investigators make their way through American soldiers at a local base, the other exchange students in the group, and other suspects. Eye witnesses are unreliable and inconsistent. The investigation just basically blindly plods along with lack of hard evidence being their biggest shortcoming.

So the investigation falters until Kenzi Snider, a friend of Penich’s for the brief two weeks they were both exchange students in South Korea, is charged with the crime over 18 months later, while she’s a student at Marshall University in West Virginia.

However, charging her with the crime isn’t a slam dunk conviction, as those involved eventually learn. If you’re not familiar with the case, you’ll just have to read the book to see where it goes from there.

One of the things I really liked about this book is Ryan’s delving into the principles’ pasts, presents, and what led them to be who and where they were at the time of the crime. It’s very humanized, very personal. You can feel the pain the Penich’s suffered following the loss of their daughter. You can feel the struggles of the investigative team. You can feel the anguish and uncertainty felt by Snider’s family as they go through the accusations and legal processes.

It also highlights the strong cultural differences between South Korea and the United States. While it’s easy enough to point at the trial process for Snider following her extradition to South Korea and say it’s wrong, Ryan does a good job of explaining why those differences exist. I even learned something new about how prisoners have color-coded tags and jumpsuits so you can tell at a glance if they’ve been convicted or are merely accused and awaiting trial, as well as be able to tell what type of crime (assault, extortion, murder, etc.) the prisoner is accused of.

I really enjoyed the book, without a doubt. Very in-depth and balanced, it doesn’t try to paint the author’s perspective of what she believes really happened.

As a homework assignment for those of you who complete the book, make a note to do some Googling to see what happened legally since the book’s publication. Where this book ends is hardly the end of the story.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)


Review: “124 NICU Days: A Preemie Tale Of Love, Loss, And Healing” By Ryan Rhodes

For those of y’all who follow my blog regularly, I don’t always post reviews of books I received from authors or publishers. While I don’t offer to review anything that I wouldn’t want to purchase or read in the first place, it’s not my sole source of reading material. Occasionally I do get to work through a book that is of interest to me, something I purchased from Amazon the old-fashioned way.

Such is this wonderful memoir, written loosely in journal format. Ryan Rhodes and his wife (does he ever give her name? I only remember her being referred to as “my wife”) have a long struggle in front of them when their twins are taken by C-section at only 23 weeks gestation. Thus begins a long journey in NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), which sees the death of their infant son Finn at only three days old as well as the challenges facing Finn’s surviving womb-mate, Zoey.

Rhodes, who happens to be a freelance writer, handles the story in a very loose, informal, relaxed manner. As I noted, it’s in journal format, so there are times it’s very detailed and other times it’s more sleep deprivation-induced stream of consciousness. But through it all, Rhodes remains honest about himself, his wife, what’s going on with Zoey, and even their struggles to keep life with their toddler Aiden as normal as possible.

Zoey’s 124 days in NICU are, as expected, up and down. Each day is spent wondering what else could possibly go wrong, while celebrating the most minute advances. Rhodes does an outstanding job of giving the details as they occur, when he remembers or is able to write, while putting a humorous spin on much of his observations. At the core, though, is a very honest and heartfelt look at life in NICU from a father’s perspective, which is unfortunately all too uncommon.

As the father of a son (now twenty) who spent a couple weeks in NICU, so much of this book was very familiar. The emotions, the struggles, the setbacks, the celebrations, it all touched an emotional nerve. And because of that, I know it’s true and from the heart. Kudos, Mr. Rhodes.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Do-Ahead Dinners” By James Ramsden

Anova Books was kind enough to supply me, through NetGalley, with this eGalley for the purposes of reading and reviewing it. Although it was provided at no cost to me, I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

This book was absolutely not what I was expecting. And that’s a good thing.

I honestly expected lots of frozen casseroles, lasagnas, crock pot / slow cooker dishes, things like that. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Try the following recipes on for size:

  • Scotch Quail Eggs with Brown Sauce
  • Southern Style Pork Shoulder
  • Neck Of Lamb with Roasted Garlic and Flageolet Beans
  • Shallot Tarts with Taleggio and Pine Nuts
  • Honey Roasted Carrots with Za’Atar
  • Exploding Chocolate Pots
  • Sticky Apple Cake with Drunk Currants

You get the idea. Not your average frozen dinner, that’s for sure.

Admittedly, most of these recipes have both make-ahead and final prep components to them, so they aren’t just ones you can take from freezer to oven to table. But the most labor intensive portion of each recipe is done in advance, and that portion is frozen or refrigerated until you need it.

I really enjoyed this book, and it’s made me look at busy weeknight meals differently. I don’t know how often I’ll serve quail eggs, but I will definitely be trying several of the dishes. One thing I would have liked to have seen more of was pictures of the finished dishes, although there certainly wasn’t a dearth of images in the book. Just personal preference, that’s all.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Review: “God Is Disappointed In You” By Mark Russell & Shannon Wheeler

Via NetGalley, Top Shelf Productions supplied me with a copy of this eGalley for the purposes of reading and reviewing it. While it was provided at no cost to me, I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

I was raised Catholic. There. It’s out in the open. Judge me now or judge me later.

Catholics don’t usually have Vacation Bible School, so I invariably went with friends to whatever VBS they were attending that week. It was a surefire way for my parents to keep my brother and I out of trouble. Well, you can’t blame them for trying.

I remember that during one of them there was a contest to memorize scriptures. I have always had outstanding recall, so this was right up my alley. Add in that the first place prize was a one pound bag of peanut M&Ms, and I had all the motivation I needed. I won that contest easily. Good thing I don’t have a peanut allergy. And that bag of M&Ms was gone within the hour when I got home. My stomach still hurts.

This book had no chocolate and candy shell-covered nuts as a reward at the end, but it was certainly equally as fun. In this hilarious offering, the authors (one the writer, the other the artist) take each book of the Bible (as I type this, “Born Again” by Black Sabbath is playing in the background. Ironic.) and summarize it in succinct and humorous ways. There are gems such as:

Here it is, the entire Jewish religion in a nutshell:

1. Build a just society where the rich and powerful don’t get to treat the rest of us like livestock.

2. Don’t get all too cool for school whenever God tries to tell you something. Be humble. You’re never so holy that you can’t improve a little.

And finally,

3. For gravy’s sake, help each other out once in a while. Don’t you understand? We’re here on Earth to make life better for each other.

Oh, and make no mistake about it, this is not a book for kids. While it definitely pares down all the archaic language and mystery from the scripture, the word choice and topics are very much for adults. No, it’s not raunchy or X-rated, but there are definitely obscenities.

Overall, I thought this book was absolutely hilarious, if not very irreverent. It takes what can be a very cumbersome and daunting text and breaks out each book of the Bible into a few pages of humorous summation.  I laughed out loud all through it. Yes, it’s irreverent, but it’s also accurate in its interpretation. And in that, it’s earned the rating.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Love Him Or Leave Him” By Loni Love

Simon & Schuster was kind enough to provide, through NetGalley, a copy of this eGalley for the purposes of reading and reviewing it. Although it was provided at no cost to me, I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

A relationship and sex advice book for women? Somehow, I might not be the target audience for this book. 🙂 But at the same time, it is always nice to see what advice is being given to the fairer sex.

That said, this book was hilarious. Admittedly, I knew who Loni Love was, but wasn’t really familiar with her career or stand-up routine until reading this book. She’s definitely someone I find very amusing.

The premise of this book is simple: ladies, don’t let yourself be taken advantage of. But what I also like is that Love doesn’t make it appear that a woman should be the center of a relationship, just an equal partner. At one point, she doles out the following advice: “If you want your man, respect your man”. Exactly. And she makes it abundantly clear it’s a two-way street.

But the real catch of this book is the manner Love dishes out her advice. The format is much like an advice column, where Love poses a question from a woman and then replies in her own inimitable style. This is done in a very laid back, comical manner that is straight to the point. She also provides many real-world examples, many of which I presume are fabricated, to make her point.

So if you want some great, no-nonsense advice about life and relationships, this is definitely your book. It’s a rocking, rolling, hilarious, and quick read from one end to the other.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “The Four-To-Two Fitness Formula” by Marc Lorenzo Davis

Century City Publishing was kind enough to provide me with a copy of this eGalley, through NetGalley, for the purposes of reading and reviewing it. Although it was provided at no cost to me, I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

My first thought when I saw the cover to this book: This is going to be a 300-plus page infomercial. And it was.

I agreed to review this book because as a martial arts instructor I have a vested interest in the health and well-being of myself and others. I was curious to see what Davis had to offer compared to what I had previously read.

The author spends the first 80% of the book talking about why he’s right. Yes, he does offer up research to support his claims, covering all the bases you would expect: farm meats are bad, farm fish are bad, carbonated (sugared or diet) drinks are bad, poor heart health is bad, excess free radicals are bad, stress is bad, fast food is bad, meditation and relaxation are good, etc.

He manages to cover all the reasons why things can go wrong with your health, tackling a few urban legends along the way, but mostly sticking with tried and true things most of us already know. So in that, I didn’t find much new. And I’m not sure that someone who wasn’t familiar with the fitness industry like I am would have learned too much either. Sure, they would have research and facts and studies to support them. But it’s all things most people know.

Keeping along with the infomercial feel, Davis made reference enough times to Chapter 18 as being where he would discuss his four-to-two method, I was tempted to skip ahead to that chapter just to get to the point. He also repeatedly, including on the cover of the book, talks about how you can achieve the fitness goals you want without having to exert yourself too much with running, aerobics, etc. Again, this has the feel of an infomercial, making it sound like you can have all this and not have to work hard at it. It sounds and feels like a shortcut.

Now, granted, Davis does make it clear you have to be dedicated to your fitness,  You can’t get into peak physical condition without working for it. But it still felt like he was selling shortcuts.

So, what is his four-to-two method? I’m not telling you. Like it or not, Davis does have a right to make a buck, so I won’t reveal the contents of Chapter 18. But it’s a really simple concept, honestly, and one he will admit isn’t even a new or revolutionary idea. It appears he’s taken a somewhat familiar concept and repackaged it under a different name, then padded it with lots of stats and facts and warnings.

Overall, I wasn’t horribly impressed. Starting with the cover, it feels like he’s marketing to people who want the quick solution, but don’t have the dedication to stick with it, or they wouldn’t be looking for quick solutions in the first place. But hey, a man’s got the right to make a buck.

Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Donny And Ursula Save The World” By Sharon Weil

Through NetGalley, I received a copy of this eGalley from Passing 4 Normal Press, whom I thank for their generosity. Although it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

Ursula. I’ve always loved the name Ursula. Ursula Andress (“Dr. No”, anyone?). Ursula K. Le Guin (outstanding author). OK, there was the evil sea witch in “The Little Mermaid”. But still, I like the name. Apparently, in this story so did Donny, as he practices rolling the name off his tongue early in the book. It’s a cool name.

Well, among other things, Ursula has a problem. She’s never had a Big O (no, not Oscar Robertson or Oliver Miller). I’m talking about le petite mort, The Little Death, the Holy Grail. Yeah. That. And she’s pretty well decided it’s not going to happen.

Ursula starts seeing Donny and eventually they do click more and more as they burrow their way into each other’s lives and hearts, even though neither really expected or wanted it to happen.

But this isn’t just a love story. We have AgriNu, a large producer of GMO seeds, who happens to have the President’s ear. Slowly, they start making the use of anything other than their seeds a crime. So away go all the mom and pop and organic farms. Even having a garden in your back yard becomes illegal as AgriNu stages terrorist attacks and other fabricated events to put fear into the populace and hopefully increase their confidence in and reliance on AgriNu.

Then there are the mushrooms. Ursula has bowls of Kombucha mushrooms. Lots and lots of mushrooms. And they start talking to her.

Add in Donny’s best friend who decides to go off the grid, thereby coming into contact with some survival fanatics who are learning to live completely independently, who later come into play in the climax, pun intended, of this book, and there’s a lot going on.

Eventually, Donny, Ursula, and a whole supporting cast decide it’s time to save what’s left of the organic seeds and take AgriNu down a notch or more. All with the help of mushrooms.

Did I mention the mushrooms?

Certainly, this book is a naked, in many ways, cautionary tale of what can happen when corporate America gets too involved with agriculture, thereby wanting to serve themselves, not the people as a whole. Throw in some belly dancing ladies, a new Homeland Security division dedicated to rounding up those with organic seeds, the aforementioned survival fanatics, lots of hormones and lustiness, and much much more, and this is rollicking roll down the political highway.

Wait. Did I mention the mushrooms?

Overall, I found this an amusing book that obviously is trying to drive a point home while having some fun along the way. The author is kind enough to provide some links at the end of the book in case you need more information on the topic of GMOs and what they mean. I found it funny, but not hilarious, but interesting enough to keep reading at least.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)