Friday, January 27, 2017

Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo

Sworn to Silence is the first novel in Linda Castillo's Kate Burkholder mystery series and after finishing the book I immediately ordered the second book in the series, that's how much I liked it.  But a warning.  The book is graphic with a number of very disturbing scenes.  A serial killer is on the loose murdering, raping and torturing young women and we are not spared the gory details.

I realize I may be turning people off at this point but what sold me on the novel were the two main characters:  Chief of Police Kate Burkholder and Special Agent John Tomasetti who is called in to help Kate and her fellow officers catch this brutal killer. Kate and John have wonderful chemistry together and I'd follow them anywhere.

So, all that said, Sworn to Silence is set in the town of Painters Mill, Ohio where about a third of the population is Amish.  Kate Burkholder has been the Chief of Police in Painters Mill for two years, prior to that she was a homocide detective in Columbus, Ohio.  Kate is originally from Painters Mill.   She was raised in the Amish faith but left as a teenager.  After all these years away Kate does not regret coming back to her hometown.  She gets along well with her officers.  She isn't close with her Amish family though having left the faith when she was a teenager and there is also a dark secret from years ago that she shares with her family which has certainly added to the rift.

Still, things are peaceful in Painters Mill until the dead body of a young woman is discovered.  The killer made carvings on the body, the same carvings that appeared on the bodies of four young women who were killed in Painters Mill sixteen years ago.  Is the same killer back after a sixteen year hiatus? Everyone in the town is on edge and Kate Burkholder is worried too but for a different reason. Sixteen years ago when Kate was fourteen she was raped and might have been murdered like the other young women but she was able to kill her attacker in self defense.  Her father and brother disposed of his body.

But is Daniel Lapp the rapist from years ago back?  Was he alive when Kate's father and brother placed his body down into a pit located in the abandoned grain elevator? Was he able to crawl out and is he now back committing these murders?  The guilt weighs on Kate since no one in her family ever went to the police about any of this and now this secret could be impeding the case.  As another young woman's body is found the Mayor sends for extra help, a Special Agent from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation John Tomasetti.  John like Kate has certainly experienced tragedy in his life and he is barely holding it together.  Still he's a smart relentless detective and like Kate committed to solving this case so that no other women are killed.

Linda Castillo is a talented writer and you learn about the Amish faith and culture in her novels.   For me though, and I say this again, Kate Burkholder and John Tomasetti are the main attraction.  They begin an on again off again romance which will continue throughout the series and I am eager to see how that develops.  So if you have a strong stomach and are a fan of shows like Criminal Minds and the novels of Patricia Cornwall then I think Sworn To Silence might be for you but it is graphic in terms of the violence and so I recommend the novel with an advisory.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

Thanks Alexia and thanks Brian (briansbabblingbooks.com) for recommending Siddartha by Herman Hesse.  I may have read a short story by Hesse when I was in high school but never got around to reading his classic novel Siddartha about a man's search for enlightment and I am happy to have finally done so. This review will contain spoilers.

Siddartha is a beautifully written poetic novel published in 1922 and set in India around the 6th to 4th century BC.  When we meet Siddartha he is a young man, the son of a Brahmin which is a priestly caste in Hinduism. Everyone in Siddartha's village including his parents admire him greatly for his piety, his knowledge.  But Siddartha decides to leave his village because he does not feel his father and the Brahman elders have the answers he seeks.  He notices that after all their years of studying, making offerings and praying they have not found peace and enlightment. They have not reached nirvana.

So accompanied by his best friend Govinda, Siddartha joins the Samanas who practice lives of extreme self denial, fasting and meditation.  Siddartha at first takes very well to this ascetic life but he becomes disillusioned once again because after fasting and meditating  he can't maintain the altered state and he awakens back into the material world with all its pain, suffering and complexities. Siddartha and Govinda leave the Samanas and decide next to follow Gotama, the historic Buddha. Siddartha admires this great man but comes to the realization that the Buddha has achieved enlightment not by learning it from teachers but rather by going on his own journey which cannot be taught.

Govinda though decides to stay with the community of Buddhist monks while Siddartha leaves to continue his search.  Siddartha also makes the decision to have no more teachers and that rather than trying to negate the self in an attempt to reach enlightenment he will try to find out who he is and listen to his own voice for instructions on how to proceed in life. Siddartha also decides he must embrace not only the world of thought and meditation but also the physical world, the world of the senses which he has shunned up to now.

Siddartha armed with this insight moves to the city.  He finds love and wealth.  He lives in a beautiful house, eating rich foods, drinking fine wines, gambling.  Years go by.  He forgets what he learned from the Samanas, the Buddhists and the Brahmans. Siddartha becomes disgusted with himself and leaves the city.  Now, no longer a young man, Siddartha very depressed about how his life has turned out decides to end it all by drowning himself in the river.  But something stops him, the Brahman faith and the holy word "Om" return to him in his hour of need and rather than drown himself, Siddartha goes into a deep sleep by the side of the river with the word "Om" in his thoughts and he awakens no longer depressed but at peace.

Siddartha continues his journey for enlightment for a bit longer. There are still a few more lessons to learn and experiences to be had but it will ultimately be reuniting with an elderly ferryman named Vasudeva who has been ferrying people across the river for most of his life who will teach Siddartha some eternal truths. Siddartha also meets his old friend Govinda who has not had an easy life either possibly because unlike Siddartha who took part in the world and experienced heartbreak, love and all that life has to offer, Govinda stayed in a rather sheltered life with the monks all these years and never got a chance to go on his own journey which is needed to come to a realization of what life is about.

My summary cannot match the experience of reading Siddartha.  Its written in a beautiful and understandable style.  There are many truths to be found in its pages. Siddartha is a book that I feel needs to be read more than once and throughout one's life because as one's life changes what you take away from the book will change as well.  So thanks again to Alexia and Brian for recommending Siddartha which I too highly recommend.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I had been thinking about reading Gone Girl for some time and when my friend Lorraine two months ago recommended the book it was the push I needed.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn was published in 2012 and has been a phenomenal hit with readers and critics alike.   I've heard Gone Girl described as a thriller, a crime novel, a profile of a marriage gone horribly wrong.   It is all these things including a psychological profile of two people that is really well done. It's a difficult novel to review though because I would have to give away a major plot twist that happens halfway through the book.

So here is what I can reveal.  Gone Girl is certainly a story about a marriage and when the novel begins it is Nick and Amy Dunne's fifth wedding anniversary but when Nick comes home he finds Amy missing and the police discover Amy's blood at the scene and begin looking at Nick as the suspect.  The novel alternates chapter by chapter between Nick's present day reflections on their marriage and his fears about the investigation. The alternating chapters are from the diary Amy kept in which she also talks about their life together.

We learn through Nick and Amy's different narritives that their relationship after starting out so well was in trouble these past few years.  Nick blames Amy for their problems.  As he sees it she changed from the beautiful smart cool girl he married to a woman who was unhappy, and unsatisfied. Amy in her diary tells a different story. about being supportive of Nick and making sacrifices for him which he did not appreciate.  Amy also tells us in her diary that she is becoming afraid of Nick.

And that's all I can reveal without spoiling the experience for the reader because halfway through the novel you are hit for a loop.  Can I recommend Gone Girl?  Well on the plus side Gillian Flynn does a great job in creating two intriguing characters in Nick and Amy and this is particularly true with regard to Amy Dunne.  I've sometimes wondered where is the novel in which a female character truly breaks the mold.  Here she is to put it mildly.

But its also a very dark novel and I think that would be okay except for the ending.  I was hoping for a different outcome, an ending that would put things right and make up for some of the darkness.  But many readers felt the ending fit the story and with 43,000 reviews over at Amazon and most of them 4 and 5 stars that's something to consider as well.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

A few years ago I was watching an interview with an author by the name of Wes Moore.  He was an Army Combat Veteran who had served in Afghanistan,, a Rhodes Scholar, he had worked as an assistant to Condoleezza Rice.  He was a father and husband and he had written a memoir: The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore.  I remember filing his book away in my mind and then a few months ago when the book appeared on Bookbub I said, now is my chance.

Wes was 32 when his book The Other Wes Moore was published in 2010 and while that's rather young to write a memoir Wes has an important story to tell.  His inspiration for writing the book came in 2000 when he was finishing his senior year at John's Hopkins University.  He became transfixed by a series of articles in the Baltimore Sun focusing on another young man also named Wes Moore who grew up in circumstances eerily similar to Wes.  Both Wes Moores were around the same age, both African American, both raised by single mothers.  Both grew up poor in nearby Baltimore neighborhoods where the school dropout rate was high and crime was rampant.  Yet here was Wes Moore in 2000 about to begin his Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University reading about another young man with an identical name sentenced to life in prison for taking part in a robbery in which a police officer was killed. Wes was haunted by this story.  As he says in the book "The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine.  The tragedy is that my story could have been his".

Wes decided to visit the other Wes Moore in prison and the seeds of the book began to form in which Wes Moore tells both of their stories.  Each chapter focuses on pivital points in their childhood and teenage years when the two Wes Moores  were presented with choices and depending on which road they took (to stay in school, avoid gangs, avoid drugs, avoid fights) their options with regard to tbeir future began to either expand or contract.   But though there were similarities between both men, there were major differences too and it becomes clear as you read deeper into the book that the author had a much better support system in terms of family and mentors than did the Wes Moore who ended up in prison.

The author says he doesn't have a single answer as to what made the difference in both of their lives and taking personal responsibility plays a role as well. But the problem as the author points out is that young people are going to make mistakes and too often in neighborhoods where there is crme and drugs you are faced with adult decisions before you are ready.  Or as Wes who is in prison says to the author at one point "From everything you told me, both of us did some pretty wrong stuff when we were younger.  And both of us had second chances. But if the situation or the context where you make the decisions don't change, then second chances don't mean too much, huh?"

Currently the author Wes Moore runs a company called BridgeEdu.com which helps kids transition from their senior year at high school to freshman year of college so that students are motivated to complete college.  He's gone on to write other books and is involved in Veterans issues.  Wes Moore's book The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates ends with a list of resources in every state where kids and parents can go to get help.  The Other Wes Moore is an important book which is being assigned in schools so that teachers can discuss it with their students.  So a thumbs up from me.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

As with Great Expectations, which I reviewed a few months ago, Jane Eye is a 19th century coming of age novel in which the lead character looks back on their life and recounts the experiences they've had and the lessons learned.  There are a number of other similarities between these two great classics and differences too but I have to say, I much prefer Jane Eyre, a novel that touches on so many themes and which also presents us with a young woman, Jane Eyre, without friends or family trying to make her way in the world

When you consider that Charlotte Bronte published Jane Eyre in 1846 that is remarkable.  One passage stood out for me in terms of the feminist aspects of the book.  Jane is 18 and a teacher at Lowood Institute the boarding school for poor girls where Jane's aunt had callously shipped her off to when she was 10. Jane has been at Lowood almost half of her life and though the school is much improved and Jane has a steady income she wants something different:

"What do I want?  A new place, in a new house, amongst new faces, under new circumstances.  I want this because it is of no use wanting anything better.  How do people do to get a new place? They apply to friends, I suppose; I have no friends.  There are many others who have no friends, who must look about for themselves and be their own helpers; and what is their resource?  I could not tell: nothing answered me; I then ordered my brain to find a response, and quickly ... I got up and took a turn in the room; undrew the curtain, noted a star or two shivered with cold, and again crept to bed.  A kind fairy, in my absence had surely dropped the sugestion on my pillow; for as I lay down, it came quietly and naturally to my mind. --Those who want situations advertise; you must advertise in the -- shire Herald."

After placing the ad, Jane receives an offer from a Mrs Fairfax who lives at Thornfield Hall and works for Edward Rochester, the master of the estate.  Mrs Fairfax is seeking a governess for young Adele who is a ward of Mr Rochester.  Jane accepts the job to teach Adele and comes to live at Thornfield and so begins the passionate yet rocky romance between Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester.

For me the main attraction in this novel was Jane Eyre who narrates the novel but I was charmed by Mr Rochester too, a brooding, Byronesque hero who says to Jane at one point: "Nature meant me, on the whole, to be a good man, Miss Eyre and you see I am not". But actually Mr Rochester is a good man, Jane would not love or respect anything less. Granted, Mr Rochester is flawed.  Life has dealt him a bad set of cards but he has admirable qualities too and a great deal of courage when called upon. He loves Jane and sees in her his salvation and he is right in this.

Jane Eyre when it was published was a phenomenal success with readers on both sides of the Atlantic.  The literary critic Elaine Showalter writes in her book A Jury of Her Peers that women everywhere were reading Jane Eyre and a kind of "Jane Eyre mania" took hold. A fascination developed as well with Charlotte Bronte, the author of Jane Eyre and later with Emily Bronte who wrote the novel Wuthering Heights and that fascination for the Bronte family lives on to this day.  Having read both novels I can only marvel at how so much genius could exist among two sisters and their sister Anne as well who wrote the Tenant of Wildfell Hall.  I would say for anyone curious about the Brontes or anyone wanting to read a great romantic novel to start with Jane Eyre a reading experience you will not soon forget.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Thoughts on the Election

Normally this is a book blog but we had an election this week and I wanted to share my thoughts.  I voted for Hillary and obviously I am disappointed (and worried) by the outcome. The narrative as to why Trump won is that the white working class who live in OH, PA, MI, WI etc have felt ignored for decades by the Media, Hollywood, Wall Street and how the Democratic Party has forgotten the working man and woman.

I'm not immune to this argument.  Turn on the Sunday News shows each week and the same highly paid journalists and politicians are giving their views about foreign policy or DC gossip.  Ditto on the nightly Cable news shows where the salaries are enormous and where if a person earning $13 an hour were ever to be invited on to discuss their views about the state of the nation, the hosts wouldn't know what to do with them.

So there is anger in most of the country where we are not doing well financially. Millions uninsured.  No retirement funds,  Majority living paycheck to paycheck and magazines like People, Entertainment Weekly, US breathlessly telling us about the Khardashians.  I'm angry too but Trump was not the answer.

He ran the ugliest campaign I have seen in my lifetime dividing groups against each other.  I think part of the problem is that his insults and outrageous statements were so numerous that they began to bleed into each other until it all became a toxic stew that no one could remember.  In his acceptance speech he sounded gracious as if that negates everything that went before because who can remember all of the insults anyway since there were so many?

I also believe when you consider that we have never had a woman President in 240 years and that most men (and many women) could still not bring themselves to vote for a woman that gender played a part in this election.  Hillary is flawed (who isn't) but there has always been since the time she arrived on the scene 25 years ago a hatred for Hillary so extreme that I don't think it can be divorced from her being a woman.  I mean when you consider some of the terribly hateful signs and buttons about Hillary that were on sale at Trump rallies or the things that were said on twitter, sexism definitely played a part in this election.  And maybe that's the thing we don't want to look at.  Easier to talk about people being angry about the loss of jobs then the big role sexism plays in this country.

So these are my thoughts.  I'm worried about foreign policy under Trump.  On a personal note I am also worried about social security and medicare which the vast majority of us whether we voted for Trump or not will be needing.  Wiith a GOP Congress led by Paul Ryan who has been itching to raise the retirement and medicare age to 70 will we have to be working forever before we see our benefits?

He is the President now and can he change?  Can he apologize for the type of campaign he ran and resolve to be a fair and decent President to all Americans? Maybe the magnitude of the job he is about to take on will change him for the better. Let's hope so.

Anyway back to posting my book reviews in about a week.  No more poitics.  I promise.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Hate List by Jennifer Brown

The Hate List by Jennifer Brown is a young adult novel that tackles a disturbing topic, the aftermath of a Columbine type school shooting.  The novel is narrated by Valerie Leftman, a student at Garvin High School where the shooting takes place. When we meet Valerie she is in the hospital recovering from her injuries sustained when she saves the life of a classmate by hurling herself at the school shooter.  Nick Levil, the shooter, and also a student at Garvin High then turns the gun on himself thus ending his killing spree in which six students and a teacher are dead and others wounded.

Valerie is a hero for risking her life to save her fellow classmate, Jessica Campbell and for bringing Nick's killing rampage to an end.  What complicates this story though is that Nick was Valerie's boyfriend.  She had no idea what he was planning on that awful day but many students and teachers don't believe her.  The reason is that the newspapers report that Valerie and Nick kept a hate list, a notebook in which they would write down things and people they hated including the names of the classmates who regularly bullied them and made their school life miserable.  For Valerie the list was just a way to let off steam but for Nick the hate list became something much darker.

And that's really the premise of this powerful novel.  How does Valerie make it through her senior year when she returns to Garvin High?  How does she recover both physically and emotionally?  Do her friends stick by her? Are there classmates who suprisingly reach out to Valerie who prior to the shooting would not have given her the time of day? The novel spends time on Valerie's parents reaction to the shooting and then there is Nick.  Valerie knows she should hate him for what he did but she still remembers the thoughtful boyfriend before the bullying began to change him and the author does a very good job in letting us see Nick before the rage overtook him and why Valerie would care about him.  Valerie blames herself for what happened. What signals did she miss about Nick and how he was changing? Why did she come up with the hate list? Was she secretly hoping that Nick would take action?  These are the questions that haunt Valerie as she tells her story to the readers.

The Hate List by Jennifer Brown was published in 2009 and was given a starred review in Publisher's Weekly.  The book went on to win numerous young adult novel awards but its not a book just for teens.  Everyone will benefit from meeting Valerie who is a bright, strong and complicated young woman or as the author says a character who is a hero, a villain but most of all human and I would say that the author Jennifer Brown has done a masterful job with the Hate List.  A starred review from me as well.