Saturday, June 9, 2018

Printer's Row Lit Fest 2018

The video above is a recap of last year's Printer's Row Lit Fest. This weekend it was a little smaller as were the crowds.  I had no problem getting in and out of the booths which are usually so jam packed with people you can't get inside them until others leave.  The Dove candy folks at the front of the fest were not there giving away candy.  I missed that!

Many of the independent book sellers were absent due to sidewalk space being taken up in the past year by outdoor restaurant seating. There is no longer any room for them where they have been usually located so they were eliminated by the event sponsor, the Chicago Tribune, a conservative newspaper. Space could have been made elsewhere but that just did not happen. No comic book publishers were present nor were the usual vintage map, postcard and magazine dealers.

Some of the usual publishers and book sellers who come every year were absent.  I missed seeing their friendly faces. Other regular vendors who would normally have an entire booth for themselves had to share space in a booth with other vendors; sometimes getting only a quarter of the space they are accustomed to getting.

I usually spend alot of time at the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter booth but they did not have one this year.  2 mystery authors rotated space in a booth that was shared with 3 other publishers. Gone were their day long author readings and interviews that I have always enjoyed.  I did not hear any authors giving readings or speeches in other spaces where they traditionally have done so. Since they normally used very loud microphones you could not have missed their presence in the past.

When the Chicago Tribune took over the sponsorship of this book fair 5-10 years ago, they began selling tickets to author events in different locations in the Chicago downtown area. To get these tickets you had to be a Tribune subscriber with an additional subscription to their Printer's Row Sunday newspaper addition.  While they created many new and exciting events, these author affairs were traditionally free, located within the book fair area, and seating was available on a first come, first serve basis. Together with the elimination of independent publishers, authors who published their own novels, publishers of radical political books and publishers of religious books not in the Judeo-Christian tradition, I have a bad feeling about the Tribune silencing voices they do not like.  While most attendees never gave these folks much attention, everyone spoke politely to them, passed some time with them in small talk and left them with a handshake. It was a happy and cordial atmosphere. I don't like the changes.

Nothing was free this year.  Normally an author hawking a book would pass out a bookmark that was an advertisement for one of their books.  This year they were $1. The Poetry Foundation has always given away older volumes of their magazine but not this year.  Publisher catalogs were not free either.

C-SPAN usually covers the Lit Fest but they were absent too.  The Lit Fest was rather disappointing this year. It has always been one of the nation's premier book shows but it is showing signs of faltering.

A Gospel of Hope

Walter Brueggeman's A Gospel of Hope is one of his messages from the past that he believes needs to be resaid again to a divided America.  I have read several of Dr. Brueggeman's books on the Psalms and have always thought of him as a teacher. In A Gospel of Hope he speaks powerfully as a prophet to politically divided Christians in the United States.

In the Preface, Dr. Brueggeman states that both liberal and conservative American Christians are wrong in their belief systems.  He states that they have "lost their way in a frenzy of alienation and anxiety because old familiar modes of faith are not adequate...for the living of these days."  He uses a quotation from Ephesians 3 concerning asking from God all that we can imagine to show how Christians from both political spectrums have failed.  "Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen."  Ephesians 3: 20-21.  Progressives have failed because it is not fashionable for them to imagine that God can do things abundantly. Conservatives have failed because it isn't fashionable for them to imagine for God's goodness beyond a rigid set of rules to obey.  As he states in his book "the human counterpoint to God's effective abundance is to ask or imagine." From this premise he begins to state his message.

Dr. Brueggeman states that baptized people have signed on for the Jesus story of abundance. When we do not trust in guaranteed abundance, we need to supply the deficiencies out of our own resources.  We move from our "sense of scarcity" to an abundance that we can imagine that we ourselves can supply.  However, he believes that in baptism the old story of scarcity is declared false and that we have become the place in the city where abundance is practiced. Thus, politically active conservative and liberal Christians are out of sync with their baptism and all that it means. At this point in time, these Christians as well as the church as a whole have to decide whether they want to belong to the dominant culture or to God. "Faith has nothing to do with being liberal or conservative." When Jesus began his ministry he began an alternative community.  We are at a crossroads today where Christians must decide to either go with the dominant culture or to form an alternative community based on Jesus' teachings and example.

The author continues this theme showing how the sense of scarcity has affected our emotions bringing us anxiety as well as infidelity to God, refusing to provide justice for the orphans, widows and prisoners that Jesus spoke about in his ministry. In today's age, Christians of all political spectrums have been driven to find security in money and power as an antidote to their fears about scarcity.  In doing so they have created hostility and alienation.  As they have moved away from being authentic Christians and began fighting amongst themselves, the world changed and now no longer accepts the Bible message as it once did.

The gospel of hope "requires a community of faith and action that is open to newness that will be given as a gift. " The church must wait for this newness to come from the Holy Spirit but first it must give up its old ideas and choose new ones that are Biblical and not from the dominant culture.  The 2 sides, liberal and conservative, will need to come together as one and wait for the newness to arrive and begin a ministry together.  "The world is waiting for Christians who are not angry or anxious or weary or quarrelsome or cynical or in despair.  The world is waiting for folk who trust enough to move out beyond themselves.  The church exists so that the city can have its own true self.  Jesus-and the church- can show the city through its life and ministry the things that make for peace."  First, we need to make peace among ourselves.

I highly recommend this book.  I was amazed at what Dr. Brueggeman got out of 2 verses from Ephesians and it speaks truthfully about our current situation in the U. S. We are divided.  The author shows how we became divided and also shows a way out.  There is much more in the book concerning our individual infidelities toward God and it is convicting.  Also, he shows that fixing the problem is done by a change in our attitudes and an understanding of what the Bible says and requires of Christians that has been forgotten by us over the years.

A book for our time.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Death on Delos

Death on Delos is the 7th Athenian Mystery by Gary Corby.  I was on a waiting list for 3 months to get it at my public library and finally picked it up this week.

The story opens with a heavily pregnant Diotima, priestess of Artemis, and her husband Nicolaos arriving on the Island of Delos so that Diotima can dedicate the annual offerings from Athens to Delos. There are 2 laws on Delos.  It is illegal to die there and it is illegal to be born there.  Violating these laws results in the entire island and everything on it needing to be resanctified for it is a holy place.

When the couple arrive they are accompanied by many warships.  The Persians are not far away and Athens believes the Delian Treasury is at risk.  Athens wants to temporarily remove the Treasury to Athens for safety.  However, the Delians feel betrayed by this plan and prefer to rely on their faith in their gods Artemis and Apollo to protect them. A Delian crowd gathers near the coast preventing the Athenians from moving forward without a fight. One Delian, Geros, gives a convincing speech to the crowd and gets them aroused against the Athenians and Pericles, their leader.  A day later, Geros is found dead of multiple stab wounds. It will now take weeks, maybe months, to sanctify the island for Diotima to be able to make her sacred offering.

Diotima and Nicolaos are known for their sleuthing skills and are asked by the Delians to determine who killed Geros.  I am always pleased when a murder mystery begins with the murder early in the plot.  Here, the murder took place on page 47 so we have the rest of the book to enjoy  figuring out whodunit.

Another plus is the common English language that the author has the characters speaking.  This is an ancient Greek mystery but aside from the character names, they are speaking English which makes the book a quick read. While the language is English, there is a ton of historical fact woven into the story which makes the book an authentic historical mystery.

Some of the historical facts are that the land on Delos has never been able to grow food.  That is why for centuries Delians relied on gifts to their deities from other Greek islands in order to survive.  Men used to urinate on vegetables in order to make them grow! This strategy did not work though. When a resident was about to die they were put in a boat and sent to another island. Pregnant woman were sent to Mykonos.

I have read all of Corby's Athenian Mysteries and loved them all.  I believe they are getting easier to read.  I remember stumbling over names and words in the first 2 books and don't know if I just got used to the series or if the author made some changes.  Of course, he could be a better writer with 7 books under his belt now.

I highly recommend this series to both mystery and historical fiction fans.

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Widows of Malabar Hill

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey takes place in 1920s India. As the inside cover blurb states it is inspired by a woman who made history as India's first female attorney and is the debut of a new sleuth.

Perveen Mistry is a solicitor in her father's law firm.  She cannot legally appear in court but can prepare contracts and wills and earns a major share of the firm's monies.  When the firm is appointed to execute the will of their client Omar Farid, a wealthy Muslim mill owner with 3 wives, Perveen notices something unusual in the paperwork.  As a female, she is able to speak directly with the wives and sets out for their home on Malabar Hill.  She believes that they are being taken advantage of as all 3 of them have signed over their inheritance to a charity.  Then their guardian is murdered.

The first half of the book is Purveen's story.  She was harassed by men while attending the India government's law school and quit.  Purveen then falls in love with a man named Cyrus and their families allow them to marry even though the parents did not arrange the marriage. The mother-in-law was old-fashioned and forced Purveen into seclusion for 8 days during menstruation. Her husband found love elsewhere during these weeks and brought her a venereal disease. When she confronts him about it Cyrus beats her. A court case allowed a legal separation based on the 1865 Parsi Marriage Act which favored men.  The Act only allowed separation if a man committed adultery but sex with a prostitute was not considered adultery. Perveen did not know who Cyrus was sleeping with. This experience causes Perveen to dig for clues that will unravel the mysteries of the relationships between the widows at Malabar Hill as well as solve the murder.

This book was a page turner.  I read it in one sitting. While the main thrust of the novel began at the halfway point, the author had been alternating back and forth in Perveen's life so much that it did not seem distracting.

Perveen is a compelling female character. For a  woman of her era, she is quite modern in her thinking. Part of this comes from her marriage experience.  Another part comes from her mother.  Her mother, while a homemaker, grumbled over the strictures of the family's Parsi faith early in her own life.  Her mother encouraged her to get an education instead of marrying early.  She told Perveen that a time would come when women would be allowed to practice law fully and that Perveen should be prepared for this. When Perveen's marriage hit hard times over the seclusion issue, it was her mother who convinced her father to provide Cyrus and Perveen money for their own home.  She will be a wonderful sleuth for a series.

The book is more than historical fiction. It is also a murder mystery.  The murder of the wives' guardian occurs at the halfway point and the book then focuses on solving the crime.  The first half seems to be historical fiction and the second half is a mystery. This is a little unusual but the book reads seamlessly.

I enjoyed this novel and highly recommend it!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Baghdad Clock

The Baghdad Clock is the debut novel of Shahad Al Rawi. It was published in Arabic in 2016 and is a bestseller in Iraq, Dubai and the UAE.  It was published on May 8, 2018 in North America. I received an advanced review copy of the manuscript through the Early Reviewer's Program at Librarything.

The story opens in 1991 during the Gulf War when a young Iraqi girl meets a new friend, Nadia, at an air raid shelter. They become inseparable.  As the city begins to fall and economic sanctions hit their neighbors hard, the girls continue to share their lives with after school play time, parties, first boyfriends and their private thoughts. The main character, who is nameless, has the ability to read Nadia's dreams.  This bit of fantasy is a major part of the book.

Following this story was awkward. Either the writing or the translation was off.  The constant going back and forth to the main character's thoughts and plot action was off-putting.  It made me bored. I just wanted to finish the book as soon as possible.  I kept going back a few pages thinking that I missed action but never did.  The problem was that the main character's thoughts had stopped and plot action had begun again. I also kept looking for the main character's name.  I thought that I missed it and it frustrated me.  It's odd that every neighbor had a name, as well as all of Nadia's family members, but not the main character.

I believe this novel could be the poignant coming of age novel that every reviewer I have read says that it is. The plot itself is poignant.  There were too many problems with the writing or with the translation.  The fact that this book is a bestseller in Islamic Middle Eastern countries may indicate it's a translation issue. However, if the focus was not a coming of a age story between 2 young girls but rather what happened to members of a particular neighborhood during a war, this book would have been more successful for me. This focus seems more appropriate given that the main character provides her thoughts about neighbors as they leave Iraq for a better life elsewhere.  One of the characters who leaves, Uncle Shawkat, has a book called The Baghdad Clock:  The Record of a Neighborhood.

Another odd issue with the book is shown on the copyright page.  It states that Shahad Al Rawi has the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.  Huh??  The moral right? Then it says "Every reasonable effort has been made to trace the copyright holders of material reproduced in this book, but if any have been inadvertently overlooked the publishers would be glad to hear from them."  There was no writing within the book's pages attributed to anyone in particular.  The reader has to assume it all was written by Shahad Al Rawi.  Hmm.

I am a lone reviewer who did not like the book.  I cannot recommend it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

White Chrysanthemum

White Chrysanthemum is the debut novel of Irish writer Mary Lynn Bracht. It takes place in Korea in the early 1940s when Japan occupied Korea.  The Japanese soldiers routinely picked up young Korean girls and put them into the prostitution trade.  They were known as comfort girls.

Sixteen year old Hana has become a haenyeon like her mother and dives for fish in the sea to sell for a living.  Her younger sister plays on the beach while they work together. One day in 1943 a Japanese soldier wanders over to the beach on Jeju Island where they live and work. Hana sees him when she momentarily comes up for air and races under the water to reach her sister before the soldier notices her. 

Hana and her sister hide under the rocks but the soldier has noticed someone is there and calls out for them. Hana knows from her mother that she cannot be alone with a Japanese soldier because something bad will happen to her but she is also her sister's protector.  Hana comes out from behind the rock and is taken away.  Her father leaves home for a month to look for her but returns home alone. The family holds a forbidden ceremony to memorialize her death.  The ceremony ends with the dropping of a white chrysanthemum flower over the edge of the coastline of their village.

In the present time 77 year old Emi is overcoming a fear of flying in order to fly from Jeju Island where she has lived her entire life to Seoul where her children live. Emi plans to attend a Wednesday Demonstration as she always does during her annual visits. Her children do not understand why she feels driven to attend these events but support her anyway.

During the Wednesday Demonstration this year Emi finds out that a sculpture will be unveiled to memorialize the women who were captured and/or killed by the Japanese during their occupation of Korea. The organizers of the demonstrations want the Japan government to admit their wrongdoing. On the day of the unveiling 2 women are speaking. Emi moves closer to them and to the sculpture to see if she recognizes anyone. As she gazes upon the sculpture, Emi has a heart attack.

The chapters alternate between 1943 and the present day telling both the story of Hana and the story of Emi. As their stories unfold the reader gets the whole picture of what happened to Hana and her family as a result of her abduction. I was moved to tears by their experience. What both women became as a result of the abduction was gut-wrenching. 

The novel was written with suspense.  Each chapter ending had a surprise or an emotional dagger that kept me reading. In fact, I read this book in one sitting.  It kept me up past midnight! The 2 female characters were quite sympathetic, especially Hana as her story was told in painful detail. As a woman, it is impossible not to understand what she was feeling. With Emi, you knew she was trying to be brave but you did not know why. The writing concerning her emotions was done well.

The topic was interesting for a first time author who is not Korean.  I wonder why she chose this point in World War II history to write about. Regardless, she did justice to the women who were victims of the Japanese government with this story.

Highly recommended!

Monday, May 7, 2018

The First Family

The First Family was written by Daniel Palmer but he used his famous father's name on the front cover too.  Michael Palmer wrote 21 medical mysteries before his death 5 years ago.  The First Family is a medical mystery.

The front cover book summary:
"The White House is not an easy place to grow up, so when the president's son Cam Hilliard, a sixteen-year-old chess champion, experienced fatigue, moodiness, and an uncharacteristic violent outburst, doctors are quick to dismiss his troubles as teen angst.  But Secret Service agent Karen Ray, whose job it is to guard the president's family with her life, is convinced Cam's issues are serious-serious enough for her to summon her physician ex-husband for a second opinion.

Dr. Lee Blackwell's concerns are dismissed by the president's team-until Cam gets sicker.  Lee must make a diagnosis from a puzzling array of symptoms he's never seen before.  His only clue is a patient named Susie Banks, a young musical prodigy who seems to be suffering from the same baffling condition as Cam. Hospitalized after an attempt on her live by a determined killer, Susie faces increased jeopardy as Cam's condition takes on a terrifying new dinension.

Is someone trying to kill the president's son?

As Lee and Karen raced for a cure to Cam's mysterious and deadly disease, they begin to uncover betrayals that breach the highest levels of national security.

Returning to the same Washington, D.C., setting of The First Patient, which former president Bill Clinton said "captured the intense atmosphere of the White House," The First Family is a riveting new medical drama from acclaimed novelist Daniel Palmer, in the tradition of his late father, New York Times bestselling novelist Michael Palmer."

First, let me say that Daniel Palmer has all of the talent his father had. He published several suspense novels before this one and I would categorize The First Family as a medical thriller, not a medical mystery.  He used the thriller formula. Since the medical mystery is my favorite mystery sub-genre, I hope this author continues to write them.  There are not many authors who write them but there are many who write suspense, albeit not at the high level he was writing at.

I read this book in one sitting.  It was that gripping. The characters were sympathetic even though they were the first family and I am sick of reading about current events in today's political climate. That was quite an achievement in itself. The first family was portrayed as any family would be with a teenager. This author used the emotional bonds of the family but the setting of the White House did advance the plot significantly. 

One of the main plot thrusts not mentioned in the blurb is that the 2, really 4, kids affected with the condition all attended a private institution after school that helped them achieve prodigy status in their chosen interest.  The TPI dispensed non-FDA regulated supplements to its students to help them achieve greatness. The CEO of TPI is a strange man and he makes a great villain but he is not the only one, of course.

The First Family is an action packed thriller with medical and legal issues about pushing kids to high performance.  I highly recommend it!