This week while at the Willard Library I picked up a copy of The Murder of Maggie Hume: Cold Case in Battle Creek by Blaine Pardoe and Victoria HesterThis week while at the Willard Library I picked up a copy of The Murder of Maggie Hume: Cold Case in Battle Creek by Blaine Pardoe and Victoria Hester. Like many people I enjoy reading a true crime book sometimes, and this was an excellent one.
Battle Creek, Michigan is not my hometown, but I have lived here five years, and I thought I would learn some interesting history about the city where I now live.
On August 16, 1982 Maggie Hume at age 20 was raped and strangled to death in her apartment in the middle of the night. The tragic death of this daughter of a well-known football coach at Saint Philip High School appalled the city.
An intense investigation took place but was plagued by mistakes and missed opportunities as a detective with minimal homicide experience likely tried his best.
To this day, no one has been charged with the murder of Maggie Hume. Such a tragedy is difficult to ponder because it shows that brutal killers sometimes get away with their crimes.
The authors did an excellent job of treating this subject with respect while presenting the technical details. Extremely well written, the book presents a gripping read with the evidence and numerous interviews. Although the bureaucratic labyrinth of details was overwhelming at times for me as a reader, I still devoured the book because it was so interesting. I knew I wasn't going to get a definitive answer at the end, but I wanted to consume all the evidence myself and come to my own conclusion.
The prime suspect was Maggie's boyfriend. The book piled on the evidence that included some extraordinary events. And when I was convinced he was the killer, the authors introduced another suspect: a man who was convicted of killing another young woman who happened to be staying in the apartment below Maggie's the night of her murder. This was a shocking coincidence, and for a few pages made me think that the boyfriend actually was innocent.
The second suspect even confessed, but the courts threw out his confession because of numerous conflicts with the physical evidence and his ulterior motive of seeking permanent transfer to a prison in Michigan.
The local prosecutor never brought a case against the boyfriend because the evidence was not a slam dunk. With such a shocking high-profile murder there would be too much political fallout for failing to convict.
As I read the book I came to the realization that's it's ridiculous for prosecutors to be political positions. This introduces variables that the prosecutors have to deal with beyond the job of delivering justice.
A long and twisted tale of turf wars, egos, and petty politics is detailed within the book that shows how a murder investigation can go no where despite the erratic and disturbing behavior of the main suspect.
As a local reader I enjoyed reading a true crime story that included places that I've been around town. This really drew me into the story, but this cold case is sufficiently fascinating for someone to enjoy no matter where he or she lives. The authors did a fantastic job of organizing a tremendous amount of material and imbuing it with emotion.
What struck me most about the story was how much I could relate to Maggie. Her story made me think about when I was 20. I lived in an apartment with a roommate. I had a job and spent my time partying with what little money I had. And I had a lame boyfriend who added stupid drama to my life. I felt like I could have been Maggie if not for the luck of the draw.
That her vicious boyfriend got away with the crime and will likely live free all his days are extremely disturbing realitites. Not all killers are brought to justice.
My condolences to the Hume family.
I highly recommend The Murder of Maggie Hume. The authors created a compelling tale that kept me turning the pages....more
In Blades of the Old Empire by Anna Kashina a fantasy world is on the cusp of great change. For centuries the official religion has restricted magic bIn Blades of the Old Empire by Anna Kashina a fantasy world is on the cusp of great change. For centuries the official religion has restricted magic by testing children and killing those with magic powers.
But now the Kaddim Brotherhood has unleashed an ancient evil that will give them the power to dominate all peoples and only Prince Kythar, whose magic was hidden during childhood, can stop them.
Many relationships in this sprawling epic produce a book with interesting contrasts. Kythar or Kyth for short and his friend Ellah are in love and falling in love respectively with diamond warriors of the Majat guild. This guild sells security services to powerful people and diamond Majats are the most lethal.
Kyth is in love with a Kara, a prodigy even among diamond Majats. As a young man, his love toward her is simple, unquestioning, and intense, but these are age appropriate characteristics for his emotions. Kara, although young, almost seems too mature and worldly for Kyth, but she returns his affection.
Through the course of the story the young woman Ellah also falls for a diamond Majat named Mai. He is an enigma, acting both aloof yet charming. He is also a consummate warrior whose masculinity entices Ellah. She represents the plain girl who wants a man seemingly out of her league.
I really enjoyed Ellah's story line because she did not have fantastic fighting skills. She was just a girl off the farm who was now acting on the stage of world events. She offered a pleasing foil to Kara, who is fast, graceful, beautiful, respected, and brilliant.
Beyond the carefully woven tapestry of characters, Kashina presents a fantasy world of rich detail. It possesses a reverence for Nature illustrated in Ayalla, a supernatural female like a forest or Earth goddess. Trees follow her and form her shelter wherever she stops, and a garment of living spiders hangs upon her body.
Blades of the Old Empire is written at a good pace. Shocking action and turbulent emotions abound. I recommend the book to people who like Medieval style fantasy with quests and lots of characters. ...more
Funeral in a Feminine Dress: Depravity Reborn as Virtue by M.J. Burke Sr. is so much more than a memoir of a neglectful childhood in an alcoholic homeFuneral in a Feminine Dress: Depravity Reborn as Virtue by M.J. Burke Sr. is so much more than a memoir of a neglectful childhood in an alcoholic home. Burke’s clear and empathetic writing weaves in a larger message beyond his family that offers profound insights into society.
In brief the memoir tells of Burke’s childhood in 1950s and 1960s Denver. He’s the third of three sons. His parents Bill and Verma were never technically married. Bill always refused to grant Verma this fig leaf of respect after, in his opinion, she trapped him by getting pregnant.
Shacked up, Bill and Verma abuse alcohol while dragging their children from bar to bar or abandoning the young author at home day and night. His childhood was so deplorable that he insists that beatings from nuns at school were a good thing.
Years of misery go by for the author as he explains the sinister abuses put to his mother. As he grows up he participates in the family-wide dehumanization of Verma, who slavishly endures without love, kindness, or appreciation of any kind from anybody.
The author suggests broadly that the vicious abuse of his mother was rooted in the omnipresent social animosity toward the feminine. This socialization created the abhorrent attitude of his father toward his mother. Bill in many other ways was compassionate, but towards Verma he was monstrous.
His father calls his mother a “whore” for getting pregnant.
Often the author recounts how his father admonished him not to be girly. Even hugging his father was wrong.
Verma’s talents are ignored. When the family starts a business, Verma’s idea is overridden by Bill’s determination to have a cleaning business, which convicts them both to toiling with caustic chemicals and gives Verma no chance to excel.
The author makes a point to describe the domestic flare of his mother. Verma, despite poverty and alcoholism, decorated their homes thoughtfully, and Bill would always smash and break the décor.
Another shocking aspect of this memoir was that it showed social dysfunction beyond his family. They lived in poor neighborhoods where alcoholism was widespread. The suffering and lost talent reflected in the alcohol-poisoned environment were staggering to contemplate. But going deeper I understood that other forces were causing social despair that triggers this drinking and its attendant violence. Burke mentions the long hours, low wages, and workplace hazards that his father and many others endured. It’s also a culture where might makes right. Men are supposed to fight for their way. There is very little room for kindness.
For me, his presentation of a society tormented by systemic viciousness was related to hatred of the feminine. He masterfully peppered the memoir with this crucial point without being preachy.
This memoir is an addictive page turner. The writing and the candid glimpse into despairing lives riveted me. Burke’s story unfolds like a slow motion pile up of cars on a foggy freeway and tells his struggle to emerge from the wreckage a human being. ...more
Have you ever been glad that nuclear war was averted? Nevermind, because it wasn't. In the 1950s we detonated nuclear weapons willy nilly and made peoHave you ever been glad that nuclear war was averted? Nevermind, because it wasn't. In the 1950s we detonated nuclear weapons willy nilly and made people hang out in the fallout.
The Atomic Times: My H-Bomb Year at the Pacific Proving Ground by Michael Harris is a gripping memoir. His narrative about his year in Eniwetok drags the reader through an experience that is surreal, malicious, and as dark as a thermonuclear explosion is unbearably bright.
I was immediately attracted to this book because the Cold War and nuclear testing have always fascinated me. As a little girl I used to lay awake at night and worry about nuclear war. The fact is it happened before I was even born. My review of Trinity: The Atomic Bomb Movie explains my thoughts on this era pretty well. In Trinity I noticed the servicemen in the Pacific. There are films of them working, at the beach, and witnessing detonations. I always wondered what their experience was like. How many had died of cancer before their time?
In The Atomic Times, Michael Harris provides the answers to all my questions and more. His horrific account of twelve months in a realm where "censorship is self imposed" locks the reader in the concrete hell of faggot-hunting MPs, insane commanding officers, and mutated fish.
Oh, and the enlisted men didn't get goggles when they had to stand in formation and await the megaton dawn. They got to duck and cover.
Michael Harris is a skilled writer who delivered a read I couldn't put down. I look forward to reading more of his work....more
I both enjoyed this novel and admired the quality of the writing. At the end of every scene I felt the urge to keep reading. The story was revealed inI both enjoyed this novel and admired the quality of the writing. At the end of every scene I felt the urge to keep reading. The story was revealed in an effortless flow. Characters were either easy to empathize with or mysteriously fascinating.
In the beginning the novel introduces Jon Anthony, a doctoral candidate in theology. His dissertation is rejected in a heart wrenching series of scenes that let me share in how bereft the character felt after having his life's work rejected. With student loan bills piling up, he ends up taking a contract position in the U.S. State Department headed by Colby, an old college friend of Anthony's. This is how Anthony ends up in Iraq, working as a cultural and religious advisor.
The setting in the early years of the Iraq War make the stakes high and the landscape dangerous. The character of Matt Kameldorn enters the story in Iraq. He's a U.S. Air Force Major who stalks Al Quaida agents and plotters, gathers intelligence, and sometimes assassinates targets. He reminded me a little of the main character in Apocalypse Now, but Kameldorn was not as troubled. He was good at what he did and worked hard to try to save the lives of the people on his side of the war. Kameldorn is presented with fascinating technical accuracy as he employs various surveillance devices and uses weapons. The street scenes in Baghdad came across as very authentic too, and the danger was palpable.
The way the novel also peered into the minds of terrorist cell leaders and the people they recruit was quite gripping. The evil manipulative nature of these leaders who cared nothing about spreading ruthless bloodshed was darkly interesting.
Later in the novel when Kameldorn and Anthony become acquainted and work together on a State Department mission, I was very impressed with the flowering of the Kameldorn character. He had initially been interesting because he was a lone wolf warrior and good at what he did. But in Anthony's company more of his personality came out. The two men hit it off a bit and develop a mutual respect for each other. The warrior and the philosopher created stimulating foils for each other and I enjoyed the chance to see a bit of humor in Kameldorn instead of just the deadly serious stuff.
The Anvil of the Craftsman is a political thriller. It's not the type of novel I usually read, but the title caught my eye. Yes, the title. I just loved that phrase and discovered that the author writes novels as well as he names them.
For a thoughtful, exciting, and well crafted read, I recommend The Anvil of the Craftsman....more
Agribusiness is destroying the land, feeding us unhealthy food, and price gouging with monopolistic power. This is only the beginning of the list of bAgribusiness is destroying the land, feeding us unhealthy food, and price gouging with monopolistic power. This is only the beginning of the list of bad things that giant globally powerfully agribusiness corporations do to harm people and the planet.
Wenonah Hauter has done a tremendous job of detailing and explaining the decades-long takeover of our government by giant companies like Monsanto that seem to confuse poison with food and then pass laws to make it the only thing available to eat.
Hauter's main point is that people who are aware of the terrifying state of our food system CANNOT change it by simply shopping for organic products. Most organic producers have been bought by giant companies and there's little way to know if the products are actually good for you anymore.
Food safety in the U.S. is a total sham. Factory produced meat is NOT REALLY inspected. Poisoning people is kept in check by dousing food with disinfecting chemicals and zapping it with radiation.
The author calls on people to take political action and make the government begin enforcing anit-trust laws in order to break up the power of the giant companies that control food delivery from Earth to mouth. Sadly with our rigged election system, corporate monetary control of all politicians, and no representation for people I don't see how political action can accomplish anything. I know in theory we the people have power, but have you noticed how it never works out that way anymore? It's not our world, we just live in it and are increasingly being forced to eat genetically modified low nutrition food contaminated with toxins.
Maybe we can't change our government or stop the people who think poisoning and destroying Creation is a good business plan, but no one has to support the lie that they're feeding the world or doing anything positive because they're not. ...more
In this beautifully detailed fantasy, Anna Kashina creates a world where royal heirs are tested by a sword through the heart. Survival indicates worthIn this beautifully detailed fantasy, Anna Kashina creates a world where royal heirs are tested by a sword through the heart. Survival indicates worthiness of inheriting the throne. The ancient First Sword must be used in the testing, but it has been missing for years. Additionally the powerful Church led by Reverend Haghos works to stamp out magical power by testing all newborns and killing those with magical abilities. The tyranny of the Church is checked somewhat by the Keepers, an ancient order of scholars that develops magical powers.
Far from the dangerous halls of the ruling elite, live Alder, Kyth, and Ellah in the Forestlands. Alder and Kyth grew up believing they were brothers and their friend Ellah harbors the secret of never being tested by the Church.
As can be expected the plot is driven by the quest to control the First Sword and find the royal heir who was whisked away from Church execution at birth.
Kyth emerges as a strong character, and his inner conflicts and fears are communicated well. Alder and Ellah fade a bit through the novel and don't get developed too much, which makes them feel mostly like placeholders, but all three of the teenagers come through with very genuine behaviors. They are impulsive and poor at judging anything, but their friendship and devotion to each other are heartwarming.
The real strengths of the novel come through in the detailed settings and the characters and cultures that the three young people experience upon their quest. One example is the mysterious and potentially dangerous Forest Woman. She seems to be some kind of deity formed of the female energy of the forest. "Her skin was fair and her thick long hair was the color of ripe ivy buds, light brown with a soft golden tint." wrote Kashina in her description of the Forest Woman.
Another compelling character emerges when the young people travel with a nomadic people called the Cha'ori. They travel with a hort led by the foreteller Dagmara, who informs Kyth that her people are not tested by the Church and that she and other Cha'ori have magical powers. The existence of people living outside Church authority is very eye-opening for him. Dagmara embodies a new worldview for Kyth. She is in touch with her magic, very old, and well respected by her people.
Kashina creates another intriguing female character in the assassin Kara. This time the power is based on mental discipline and physical skill. She contrasts with the mystical female characters in the story and provides another view of how female abilities can be developed.
Although The First Sword will feel familiar to fantasy readers because of its formulaic structure, it provides an engaging and suspenseful read. The action builds slowly but becomes riveting near the end. The narrative appeals to all the senses. The author's skill had me tasting the food and feeling the clothes. I also greatly appreciated Kashina's inspirations from the natural world. Little details like naming species of plants during the characters' travels vividly developed the environment.
The First Sword was a very carefully plotted story. All the loose ends get tied up at the end, which is always satisfying. Kashina deploys some fun diversions in the story that made me wonder who was working for who and who was the object of the Church's hunt.
I really have nothing bad to say about the novel. It was an intriguing fantasy, vividly told, and full of genuine feelings. The First Sword has young adult appeal and also plenty of nuances to keep adult readers hooked. ...more
This marvelous book caught my eye because of its title, Spinning Straw into Gold. I instantly recognized the reference to Rumpelstiltskin, one of my fThis marvelous book caught my eye because of its title, Spinning Straw into Gold. I instantly recognized the reference to Rumpelstiltskin, one of my favorite fairy tales. I was exceedingly impressed with the thoughtful research and insights of the author Joan Gould that I discovered inside.
Gould illustrates and examines the themes of female transformations and burdens throughout her life as dramatized in fairy tales. I've always loved fairy tales and of course recognized some of the messages about growing up, but I now have a much more profound appreciation and understanding of my own life thanks to Gould.
Her guiding point was that women are ruled by biological transformations that have huge impacts on their lives. The girl matures into a woman. A transformation. The young woman enters a sexual time. Another transformation. The woman bears children. A startling physical transformation. The woman grows old and loses fertility, and transforms into the final stage of life.
Many fairy tales and popular stories address the girl to sexual woman stages because this is the fun and sexy part. But from Gould I learned to think more deeply about the stages of matron and crone. I especially liked her interpretation of the Seal Wife stories. In the Seal Wife, a fisherman catches a seal and brings her on shore. He takes her seal skin and makes her a woman. He hides the seal skin because without it she cannot return to the sea. She is trapped on land with him and becomes his wife and the mother of his children. But one day she finds her seal skin, puts it on, and returns to the sea. The story connects with the general longing of mothers to escape their responsibilities and return to the freedoms lost to marriage and motherhood. Or it can represent the mother who recalls her former self and resumes some of her interests beyond the rigors of diapers and soccer practices.
I also liked Gould's words on the subject of old age. She explained how in earlier days most people did not live long enough to become elderly, so an old woman was considered to have some kind of strange magic keeping her alive. Now that old age is much more common, Gould said that it was a great gift of life for her free of the daily demands of nurturing the next generation as the matron must do.
I highly recommend Spinning Straw into Gold for people who like fairy tales and who really like to explore the deeper realities of life. ...more
I ran across an interesting book at the library last week called The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall.
His researI ran across an interesting book at the library last week called The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall.
His research delves into our inherent love of stories. Our ability to express ourselves with narratives has allowed us to share ideas, relate events, illustrate philosophies, and teach lessons. I think most people agree that things are easier for us to remember when we hear it through a story. We naturally pay greater attention to stories because they engage us both intellectually and emotionally.
In The Storytelling Animal Gottschall presents findings from neuroscience studies. Brain scans are proving to be very illuminating in a number of fields, and Gottschall reported that when our minds experience fiction they light up like the individual is actually experiencing the action and feelings directly instead of indirectly. We empathize with the characters instead of sympathize because we feel what they are going through. This is why when I am immersed in a narrative (either fiction or nonfiction) the world around me drops away and I am transported into the details and feelings of the story. Gottschall described our capacity for experiencing fiction as a computer flight simulator in our brains. We can imagine a situation in great detail, feel what it will be like, and think about what the outcomes may be without actually risking ourselves through direct action. Hearing or reading the stories of other people also lets us experience events and feelings beyond our personal experiences. This expands our knowledge and our ability to cope with new things.
Gottschall wrote "Fiction is a powerful and ancient virtual reality technology that simulates the big dilemmas of human life."
As a fantasy author, I know that my fiction genre is typically described as escapist. This is true, but Gottschall makes the point that escapist fiction does not appear to be whisking us away to happy worlds of foot massages and rainbows. Fiction focuses on problems, sometimes huge horrific dangerous problems like zombies have taken over and want to eat your brains. The author proposes that we seek fiction as a way of exploring big scary problems and thinking and feeling about how we might deal with them.
Gottschall wrote "...if fiction offers escape, it is a bizarre sort of escape. Our various fictional worlds are -- on the whole -- horrorscapes. Fiction may temporarily free us from our troubles, but it does so by ensnaring us in new sets of troubles -- in imaginary worlds of struggle and stress and mortal woe."
I absolutely agree with him. These imaginary worlds of struggle and woe are so engaging for me as a writer and a reader. I want to think about what it would be like if I had to fight for my life. Or what it would feel like to be sold into slavery. Or what dealing with magical creatures might be like, and so on.
I found The Storytelling Animal to be both informative and validating. In chapter after chapter he shows how our entire species is hardwired for telling and enjoying stories. Experiencing things through our imaginations instead of only direct contact is a great human strength. Even when we sleep our dreams continue to generate experiences, and some of them are very intense.
Gottschall made the point that people really can't stand to be without stories. We like to hear them and we like to tell them. Throughout humanity's existence there have been people who were storytellers. They were a little better or at least more inclined to develop narratives for the enjoyment of others. Storytelling is natural to our species. We do it much more elaborately than a honeybee dancing out directions to some good flowers. Reading The Storytelling Animal let me know that I am not weird. Our species needs storytellers to feed the constant craving within all of us to experience feelings and challenges beyond our personal lives. Everyone wants to hear a story so some people have to step up and deliver. ...more
With the publication of the novella Two Moons of Sera author Pavarti K. Tyler has launched a creative new series. Two advanced species live in the worWith the publication of the novella Two Moons of Sera author Pavarti K. Tyler has launched a creative new series. Two advanced species live in the world of Two Moons of Sera. The Sualwet are a water people who live and breathe underwater but are capable of coming onto land. The Erdlanders are the people that live on the land. They are at war with each other, and the story opens with the Sualwet female Nilafay fleeing from her Erdlander captors. She does not escape.
Then the story advances about 16 years and Nilafay is living in an isolated coastal cove with her daughter Serafay, or Sera. Nilafay has finally escaped the Erdlanders but she is rejected by her Sualwet people because Sera is an Erdlander-Sualwet hybrid. The pregnancy was forced upon Nilafay by cruel experiments. Unwilling to abandon her daughter, Nilafay lives in hiding and Sera grows up with only her mother for company.
The unrelenting isolation has begun to weigh on Sera, who longs for new experiences. While Nilafay is away on one of her frequent forays to scavenge supplies, a seemingly wild young male Erdlander enters Sera's refuge. Unbearably curious and needy for company, Sera seeks contact with this strange new arrival. He has apparently been hiding in the wilderness for a long time because he has forgotten how to talk, but he quickly learns again with Sera's help. His name is Torkek and he possesses unexpected powers that suggest he is the product of experiments as well.
The story in Two Moons of Sera has an overall good pace and guided me from scene to scene almost effortlessly. A new and startling event was always popping up to keep me reading. It only got a little slow during the initial scenes between Sera and Torkek because of the need to help him reacquire language.
Throughout the story Sera comes through as a sympathetic and believeable character. Her normal adolescent longings for friends and new experiences are easy to identify with. Sera embodies the recognizable teenage need for companionship along with the realization that she will need an existence beyond the protective zone her mother has created for her.
Tyler's writing is concise yet still filled with feeling and imagery. I felt Sera's webbed toes digging in the sand. I felt how her body slid into the gentle sea waters of her cove. I felt her alarm when she had to flee the coast and enter the foreign inland areas. Tyler has obviously poured a lot of love and imagination into her fantasy world. I anticipate that future installments of the story will further reveal the opposing societies of Sualwet and Erdlander from the point of view of two rejected outsiders. Even in the short space of a novella, these two characters came through strongly. The author has carefully created her characters and revealed gracefully the awkwardness of two young people getting to know each other under difficult circumstances.
Two Moons of Sera leaves me intrigued about how the story will develop. This initial novella that tells the story of Sera's origins and how she met Torkek was fascinating, disturbing, yet a little hopeful because it shows two outcasts finding each other.