Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Book Review: Sworn to Silence


Author: Linda Castillo
Publisher: Minotaur/St Martins, 2009
354 pages
Genre: Fiction, criminal investigation

Most of the time, it's true that a book is always better than the movie version. In this case, I watched a movie on Netflix called "An Amish Murder.'' Overall, the movie was an enjoyable watch, but just a bit too over-dramatized and melodramatic. It was a Lifetime Channel made-for-TV movie, and that's just their usual fare. I saw in the credits that it was based on a book. The mix of police investigation and Amish/English relations was interesting and different enough to make me want to read the book.

I'm glad I did. 

Sworn to Silence is the first book in a series of crime thrillers by Linda Castillo. There are 8 books in the series so far. The main character, Kate Burkholder, grew up Amish and left the faith after being raped as a teenager. She returns to her Ohio hometown years later, after becoming a police officer, to serve as police chief. 

Burkholder harbors secrets about her past. A series of murders threaten to reveal the truth about the incident that made her leave the Amish way of life. Burkholder has to deal with her past, deal with the strained relationship with her Amish family, and investigate a series of gruesome killings. 

The book is well written, and the story enjoyable. I definitely want to read the rest of the series. The crime genre can become formula with many authors writing books pretty much along the same lines. But, Castillo found a different niche here, setting her crime procedurals in the heart of Amish country, with a main character who is under the bann for leaving the Amish faith. Great character development and a good plot make this an enjoyable read! 

My rating:  7/10
Some gruesome descriptions of murder victims, but not over-done. 
Recommended for 16+ due to violence & sexual situations
A couple steamy sex scenes, but not overly descriptive. 

Can't wait to read the next book!! 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Adulting vs blogging

Alas, my poor blog has been sadly neglected for months while I did vigorous adulting. Not that blogging is not an adult endeavor. It is. The problem has been that the amount of time needed in other important areas of my life left my writing on the back burner. My novel is languishing on my hard-drive and my blog stopped at just a few sporadic posts.

I can say that the last few months have been busy ones. Lots of changes in our lives. My online business is chugging along. It still needs a lot of work, but things are moving in the right direction. My son has returned to public school after several years of homeschooling. He needed time with other children, and the stability of a schedule. It took the entire summer to get him ready for the switch, and then more time to get him into the routine. I am happy to say that he is enjoying 4th grade, making friends, doing his homework and learning life lessons along the way.  While he is in class, I work from home. It's a bit of the best of both worlds....I am working and earning money to help our finances, but am still at home to handle the household and to be here when my son gets home from school in the afternoon. It's working well so far.

I have also been working hard to rein in the chaos. We closed our retail business in 2014 and all of the retail product came home to our house. I literally had floor-to-ceiling stacks of boxes filling my living room and dining room. It took me months to go through everything, finding ways to ingeniously store and package retail product for sale online, to avoid stacks of stuff completely filling our house. I repainted my bedroom just before we closed the shop. So, I installed product shelves along the walls, with my bed in the middle. It makes me feel like I'm sleeping at Walmart sometimes, but it does keep the product from overtaking our whole house.  I'm in the process of sorting through our business records and creating a file system. I am a constant victim of procrastination, and this sudden surge of filing is not merely to contain the chaos of my former filing method (bank statement? Ok. *tosses in box with other business paperwork*), but because I am up against a tax deadline. I swear, as God is my witness, I will never do this again! 2015 is getting filed by April!!  (I say this every year.....and every year I get an extension and file in October). But........this year it is getting done on time! (I actually mean it this year) lol There are still boxes to sort. I didn't realize how much stuff we had in the shop until I had to move it all to my house. It has been a learning experience. I've had to become more organized, scheduled and methodical to get through this. Reform is never easy...and I'm still getting bit in the butt due to procrastination and disorganization. Change is not instant for me.....Every day I move a little further in the right direction. Progress, always progress.

Now that I have made good strides towards improving our lives, I need to add some creative endeavors back into my daily routine. I need that creative outlet or I can get cranky. Too much work and no play makes Juli a real bitch. So each day I am going to set aside some me-time to read, write on the blog or my book, or sew, knit/crochet toys, paint miniatures, do DIY projects.....whatever I want to do. Work has to come first (I refuse to call writing on my novel work because then it becomes a chore and not just a joyful creative outlet), but as a creative mind, I need self-expression in my day as well to stay balanced. Need to find that balance. Less chaos. More balance. I will never be chaos free....such is the nature of my beast. But I can keep it better contained.


Monday, April 6, 2015

Sticks and Stones

My chaotic thoughts are in high gear this morning. I'm taking a break from my Camp NaNoWriMo novel project to write a blog entry about something that happened yesterday. I go where the wind blows me. This time it's a good thing, as the topic is an important one.

Over the past 5 years, I have lost about 200 pounds. I have about 80 to go. I used to be a very large woman. I could barely walk and hid in my house because I was embarrassed about my size. My weight gain was caused by a combination of medical problems and depression. Following 2 surgeries to save my life, I started out walking every day. At first I could only walk down my driveway to the street in front of my house. The pain was almost unbearable. Through the tears and frustration, I kept walking until I grew stronger. Every day was a fight. Soon my walks were to the end of the block, then around the block, then all over town. Now, I can walk miles and miles with no problem. I even run 5k races with aspirations to running the Disney Marathon to empower others battling morbid obesity. Am I fast? No. But,I can easily outwalk and outrun many people half my size. I'm now whittling off the last of my extra weight and work to help others gain the strength they need to lose weight, or just get healthy, themselves. 

Fitness and helping others on their healthy journey is my biggest joy in life. :)

Yesterday my husband and I went for a walk. Our town paved a rail trail with asphalt and it's only a short stroll from our house. It's the perfect safe walking trail now and we use it nearly every day. 

Hubby and I are in the midst of a discussion on Biblical history and the effect of Jewish law on modern society when I noticed a car speeding through downtown. The car was loud and driving erratically. Suddenly, an obviously drunk girl or maybe just a severely common sense impaired one, opened a back passenger door and leaned out of the car. With her body hanging half out of the speeding car, she screamed at the top of her lungs (loud enough to echo off the buildings downtown,

"Hey Bitch! If I was as fat as you, I would be out walking too!''  

She pulled herself back into the car with a bit of a struggle and slammed the door. The car sped off.

Now, obviously, the commentary from this person was supposed to hurt my feelings. But in fact, it had the opposite result for several reasons. 

First off, with the exception of the expletive she chose to use, what she said was true. I am overweight. And I was out walking to help solve the problem. Thank you for noticing. 

But more importantly, her outburst filled me with pity and concern for HER. A young person who chooses Easter Sunday to dangerously hang from a speeding car to hurl potentially damaging curse words and nasty comments at a stranger obviously has a bad life. There has to be something incredibly damaging and unhappy in that young lady's family or home life for her to behave that way. I said a quick prayer for her, and for her family. That sort of negativity is damaging, not only to the person she inflicts her hate on, but even more so, to herself. She will pay vast consequences for harboring hate, anger and just plain meanness in her life.

I was instantly glad that I was the target of her words. Does that sound strange? Let me explain. For me the words had no damaging effect. I don't know that person. Her opinion, and anything she has to say, holds no importance in my life, unless it has some intelligence or wit involved. In this case, it didn't. But, what if she had yelled her comment at a depressed person? What if she had picked a damaged, sad, broken person to victimize? Many who battle morbid obesity are really battling mental issues, feelings of insecurity, fear and extremely low self-esteem. In some cases, the weight gain is even PTSD from abuse or other traumatic life events. That thoughtless girl with her cruel words could have caused a weaker, demoralized person to harm themselves, or at the least, completely derailed their will to better themselves. I know this for a fact. I lived it only a few years ago. I hid in my house and hated myself because of my body size. I was ashamed, embarrassed and broken. At that point in my life, those words echoing off the downtown buildings yesterday would have gutted me. 

At this stage, all the words did was empower me. I'm a strong person, physically and mentally. I guarantee you I could outrun that sad, drunk girl any day at a track. Let's line up at the starting line and run...guess who is going to stop first? Ain't gonna be me. So, hurl your mean words at me all day long. If it protects a weaker, defenseless person that she could actually harm, then bring it on. I will be the one standing at the end. No doubt. 

To purposely hurt others has consequences. To be filled with hate has huge negative effects on a person's life. To harm others intentionally, well it does come back around and sting the person 100% of the time. My life is a prime example of this. I was bullied incessantly through several years of elementary and middle school until I stood up for myself. Once, just out of curiousity, I used social media to look up some of the people who made my young life a daily hell. It was a sad litany of unemployment, divorce, alcoholism, depression, drugs, arrests and even prison time. But it didn't cause me any happiness to see how their lives were all slowly swirling around the drain. I felt sorry for them. Just an ounce of kindness, just one thought for someone else, and they all would have been better prepared for the stress and bad situations that happen in all of our lives at one point or another. Negative behavior has lasting consequences. To me, it seems the worst effects wait dormant inside the bullies themselves, just waiting to grab onto them later in life and ruin almost everything they strive to accomplish. 

To all the people who feel the barbs from nasty people, just because someone can say something about you or to you, it doesn't make their words true. Most of the time they are insecure with themselves, and are attempting to feel better or draw attention away from their own inadequacy. Embrace who you are. Surround yourself with people who enjoy who you are. Walk away from those poison people who don't accept you. And when someone says something hurtful, use it as fuel, rather than letting it drag you down. That horrible behavior will cause them a lot of pain and disappointment in life. It's 100% true...what goes around comes around. Karma is a B. 

Stand tall. Keep walking.  

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink - a Review

"Desires, memories, fears, passions form labyrinths in which we lose and find and then lose ourselves again."

The Reader is a powerful book that delves into the depths of human emotions and morality. But it does so quietly and subtly, sneaking up on the reader with an emotionally powerful ending.

Michael Berg is a 15-year old boy, growing up in post World War II Germany. One day on his way home from school, he meets a woman twice his age. He is immediately infatuated with Hanna, and they begin an affair. One day, she disappears with no explanation. Years later, he sees her again. He is a young law student and Hanna is on trial for Nazi war crimes. As he watches the trial unfold, he comes to understand his past feelings for this woman. He contemplates how his memories of his lover and this woman on trial can be one and the same person. He also comes to realize that her biggest secret has nothing to do with her wartime activities.

Schlink's writing is direct, but understated. He delves into the taboo subject of Hanna's sexual relationship with a schoolboy realistically but without any undue detail. The focus of the story is not on the sex, but on human emotions, their relationship, and its effect on both of their lives.

For me, the third and last section of the book was the most powerful. There is no true understanding of reality for the two main characters until the very end. It is their reaction to this understanding which brings home the ending point of the book with sharp, emotional surprise.

This book is far removed from the genres I normally like to read. I'm glad I decided to read it as a change of pace. It doesn't get bogged down in drama or unnecessary details. It just tells the story in haunting directness, a bare reality. Humans are complex emotional beings. The two main characters were impacted by war, love, lust, passion, loneliness.....and as a reader, I was allowed into their world to see what those inner emotions, fears and passions did to their lives.

In 2008, the book was made into a movie starting Kate Winslet as Hanna. Winslet won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for her performance. I have never seen the movie, but I hope it kept the subtlety of the book intact, focusing on the emotions of the characters and not the phyiscality of their relationship.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Memory Lane - My top 10 favorite children's books

 I had to come up with a top 10 list of children's books for an exchange at, so decided to share it in a blog entry too! I'd love to hear about everyone's favorites....feel free to leave your list in the comments section! 

Counting down......

10. The Trixie Belden Series. I read the entire series as a child.
Trixie was like Nancy Drew. She and her friends solved mysteries. There were 39 books published from 1948-1986.

The books were written by Julie Campbell Tatham and Kathryn Kenny. I loved them because I could imagine my friends and I being just like Trixie and her friends. More information about the series is available at this website. The language is a bit outdated at times (they call jeans "dungarees" for example), but the books are still great reads for preteen and teen girls!

9. The Secret Garden. Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote the book as a serial in 1910. It was first published as a novel in 1911. The story centers around a spoiled but troubled little girl who discovers a hidden, overgrown garden. The garden has a profound effect on Mary Lennox and her friends. It’s a wonderful story! The cover picture I include here is the artwork I remember from my first copy of the paperback. I loved the book because I could just immerse myself in the adventure and imagine myself finding that hidden garden!

8. and 7. Harry Cat’s Pet Puppy. This book by George Selden is one of several sequels to The Cricket In Times Square. That’s why this entry gets two spots! There were seven books in all: The Cricket in Times Square, Tucker’s Countryside, Harry Cat’s Pet Puppy, Chester Cricket’s Pigeon Ride, Chester Cricket’s New Home, Harry Kitten and Tucker Mouse, and The Old Meadow. Harry Cat's Pet Puppy was my favorite book in the series. Garth Williams illustrated the books and I loved his artwork as a
child! I just learned while looking for photos of these old favorites that in 2011 Macmillan published 3 new books based on the characters of this series: Harry to the Rescue, Starring Harry and Tucker’s Beetle Band. These books were so delightful to read! I’m glad to know that they are continuing on and that Harry Cat, Tucker and Chester are still up to their old adventures! I loved these books because the characters were so charming and the stories were just a great innocent romp.

6. The Little House on the Prairie Series. I think every little girl reads this series! The books were published between 1932 and 1943 by Laura Ingalls Wilder. There are 10 books in the series and two unedited books published posthumously. I spent many hours imagining what it was like to live in a log cabin, or to ride in a covered wagon. Garth Williams also illustrated this paperback series published in the 70s. I enjoyed his pictures of Pa fiddling and the dog Jack running behind the wagon.        

5. The Sword of Shannara. I was a voracious reader as a child.
In 5th grade, I read The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks. It was the first epically long book I read…small print, more than 500 pages, etc. The book was massive to me. I carried it to school and no amount of teasing made me stop reading it at every chance. It was a wonderful story and a great follow-up read to my favorite book, which will be listed at the tippy top of this list of favorite children’s books. The book was published in 1977. Brooks published several other Shannara books. This one was my favorite. I read the other 2 books in the Original Shannara Trilogy (The Elfstones of Shannara & The Wishsong of Shannara), but I didn’t enjoy them as much because the main characters from the first book (Shea and Flick) were not the main characters in subsequent books. For me, this book was just magical! It was my 2nd trip into Epic fantasy. My first is included later on in this list. I wanted to be just like Shea and Flick, running from evil with the help of the Druid Alanon. I also remember feeling very grown up because I was reading a book that was at least 3 inches thick. I remember receiving the book from my sister for my birthday. Then when the next two books came out she gave me those as well. I think I didn’t like the next two books for the same reason I didn’t like it when Tom Baker’s 4th Doctor Who morphed into the 5th Doctor Peter Davidson ….. I did not like change when it came to major characters. The second book is about Shea’s grandson Wil Ohmsford and the third was centered around Wil’s children. I wanted more about Shea and Flick! The sequels were good. I just wanted more information about what happened to the characters from the first book.

4. The Wizard of Oz Series. Most people have no idea that L. Frank Baum wrote 14 Oz books, not just the first one, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The books were published from 1900-1920. I love the movie, but the movie left out or changed much of the book. I had the entire set and read them over and over. Wonderful children’s fantasy series! L. Frank Baum (the L stands for Lyman) also wrote several Oz stage plays which were very successful. The last book Glinda of Oz was published after Baum’s death in 1919. An additional 19 Oz books were written by another author, Ruth Plumly Thompson. I have never read any of the Thompson books, but would be interested to try them and see how they compare to Baum’s books. My favorite character in the book series was Jack Pumpkinhead. Jack was made by a little boy to scare a witch. When she saw him, she thought about smashing him, but instead, sprinkled the Powder of Life on him to bring him to life. His joints (wooden pegs) were prone to problems so the little boy made him a Sawhorse to ride on. Just a delightful character!! 

3. Gus Was a Friendly Ghost. There are two young children’s books from my childhood that I bought for my son Joshua when he was little. This is one of those books. I absolutely adored this book when I was 5!! The book was first published in 1962 by Jane Thayer. It was illustrated by Seymour Fleishman. I got my copy from the Weekly Reader Book Club. The illustrations were so colorful and wonderful! I read this book over and over and over again. The story never got old. I always wondered what it
would be like to stay at a cabin for the summer that had a friendly ghost living in it. Gus loved the family that came to stay and was so angry that a mouse kept scaring the Mom. So he made the mouse behave, and they became friends. It is an absolutely joyful story and the illustrations are just awesome with all their 1970’s wild fonts and bright colors.
2. The Laughing Dragon. This is another book that I bought for my son because I loved it as a child. Published in 1970 by Kenneth Mahood, The Laughing Dragon is another book I got from the Weekly Reader Book Club. Hojo the Dragon is a member of the emperor’s court. He gets into trouble because when he laughs he can’t control his flames. The story is funny and heartwarming.  It is one of my most prized possessions. The story is just delightful because the one thing that made Hojo not fit in was also the thing that made him needed the most. 

1.  And my favorite children’s book of all time is…………
The Hobbit. I read this book for the first time in 4th grade. I was absolutely mesmerized by JRR Tolkien's tale of Hobbits, wizards and black riders. I enjoyed the recent movies, but they removed so much and changed many plot points. It
really disappointed me. The story never should have been stretched and edited into 3 movies. The 1970 animated special I enjoyed much more than the movies. This book is my absolutely, hands-down favorite children’s book. It is an epic tale of fantasy, friendship and courage!! My first copy of the book looked just like the photo here. I remember the day I started reading it for the first time. It was a bitterly cold snow day and I was stuck indoors. It was too cold to go out and play so my sister handed me the book and told me to read. Glad she did! I have loved this book ever since! 

I hope you have enjoyed my list of favorites!!  I do have to mention Runner-ups: 

The Chronicles of Narnia. I would actually most likely put this series as a tie with The Hobbit, but I only had 10 slots and had to include a couple young children’s books. So I decided to leave it off the official list.  I had a box set of the paperbacks when I was a child. They were read so often that they fell apart. 

And another classic that I adore:  Winnie The Pooh by A.A. Milne. The original book – NOT Disney! The wit and wonder of Pooh Bear is just fantastic!
What books were your favorites??