Thursday, 23 July 2015

The Soul of Discretion

Finished July 23
The Soul of Discretion by Susan Hill

This is part of the series featuring DCS Simon Serrailler. I love this series and the characters. Simon is with the Lafferton police and the odd man out in his family, where everyone else is a doctor. His sister Cat is also one of his best friends, and she is going through a bad time since the hospice she works at changed to a day unit. She is trying to determine what to do next, and has a couple of options open to her. But as a single parent after the death of her husband, money is a consideration.
Simon has allowed Rachel to move in with him, but he is still holding back in their relationship, and when he gets asked to go undercover to try to get more information on a pedophile ring, he agrees quickly. It is a difficult assignment, exposing him to images and descriptions of crimes that are beyond what he could have imagined. His father, now retired, seems to be having issues as well. Things aren't going well between him and his second wife, Judith, and he is impatient and quick to anger. When he takes an action that is beyond acceptable, events are set in motion that will change his life further.
We see different points of view here: Simon's, Cat's, Rachel's and others, all of them making difficult decisions, struggling with figuring out what the right thing to do is. These are competent men and women, but facing questions that are life-changing.
Simon's new boss Kieron Bright is a new character, and a likeable one. I hope to see more of him in future novels. I also like the new plot involving Cat's son Sam, who is thinking about his future.
This is a great read, but I expected that going in.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Where They Found Her

Finished July 20
Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight, performed by Tavia Gilbert, Lauren Fortgang, Rachel F. Hirsch, and Therese Plummer

The well-to-do town of Ridgedale, New Jersey doesn't see a lot of crime, but one night the body of a baby is found in the woods near the university. Molly Sanderson has been writing for the local paper, but mostly arts and culture and human interest stories. That night she is the only reporter available, and she takes the job with only a small reservation when she is told by her editor that there may have been a body. The fact of it being a baby's body is a shock, and with Molly still not completely recovered emotionally from having her second child born stillborn, it isn't an easy story at all. For her, something about the story seems to connect with her own feelings and she fights to stay on it. Her best friend Stella is supportive, but has her own issues. Her husband, Justin, is also supportive but seems to fear her relapse into depression.
Sandy has had a tough life, raised by her mother Jenna who isn't the best role model. She is trying really hard to study and get her GED, encouraged by a local teacher and mentored by a senior at the local high school, but money is tight, and Sandy has a hard time separating the difficulties in her life from her goals. When her mother goes missing, she doesn't think she can manage without her.
Barbara has always got what she wanted, she is proud of her two children and works hard to control their lives and ensure they take advantage of every opportunity. She even has a tight control on her husband despite him being the local chief of police. But when things start to go wrong, even she can't control everything.
This story is told by Molly, Sandy, and Barbara, with flashbacks from Jenna's high school diary. With the current events having trails leading way back into the past of Ridgedale, this story is about secrets, lies, and the failure of trust. Molly is stronger than she realizes, and finds that this story will change her life in ways she never imagined.
Great story, with lots of surprises.

Cemetery Road

Finished July 19
Cemetery Road by Gar Anthony Haywood

Twenty-six years ago, Handy and his two friends stepped beyond their usual small-time robbery to go after a man that Handy had a personal grudge against. But they weren't the only ones going after him, and their actions led to death despite their non-violent plans. The three men separated, and Handy hasn't seen either man since.
When R.J. Burrow, one of Handy's friends, dies a violent death, he can't help but wonder if it connects back to that crime. He goes back to L.A. from his home in St. Paul for the funeral, and finds that he must find out what is behind R. J.'s death. Is the third man, O'Neal Holden, really the good guy he makes himself out to be? Why did R. J. go visit a man in jail that none of them should want to meet?
Back home in Minnesota, Handy's daughter is digging deeper for questions about her past, and Handy may not be able to hide the truth any more.
The past doesn't stay buried, and Handy is just beginning to understand that running from it is never really a solution.
This mystery has characters with complex back stories, and a plot that isn't straightforward. A good read.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Burned Alive

Finished July 18
Burned Alive: the Survivor of an "Honor Killing" Speaks Out by Souad in collaboration with Marie-Therese Cuny

This memoir was a bit different than I expected. Souad is a pen-name for the woman that was set on fire by her family as she still fears for her safety. Her experience happened more than twenty years before her story was published, but the physical and mental results of it still affect her.
Souad was raised in Palestine, and her father owned land in the village she grew up in. Her life though was still a life like those of past generations. She was not given any schooling, and lived a very restricted life, almost like a slave to her father. Women in her family and in her village were generally not valued, with their only aim in life to become a wife, securing a bride price for her father. Her loneliness and focus on the goal of a husband led her to make a bad choice with a man who lacked the ethics he should have had, and she became pregnant, drawing shame down on her family, who chose to try to get rid of her and her shame in the way accepted in their community. Their punishment was not successful, but brought her to the attention of a foreign aid worker who got permission to bring her abroad and give her the medical treatment that saved her life.
Souad has the husband and family she always wanted, but still is not happy as she has the constant reminder of her physical disfigurement that limits her activities.
This is a sad story, and one that is still happening for women today, decades later.
Souad speaks for the agency that saved her life and this part of the book reads more stilted and judgmental though it is important work that they are doing.

Expect More

Finished July 18
Expect More: Demanding Better Libraries for Today's Complex World by R. David Lankes

This short volume is aimed at the general public, rather than librarians, but it looks at the future of libraries and the things that communities should look to their libraries to provide. Lankes includes all types of libraries here, public libraries, school libraries, academic libraries, corporate libraries, and special libraries. Each has a community they serve and the way that their interact with that community is key to the services they provide.
He states early in the book that what libraries and librarians do is facilitate, and what they facilitate is knowledge creation. There are four ways that they do this: provide access; provide training; provide a safe environment, and build on your motivation to learn. He breaks this down. Providing access isn't just referring to books, databases and other collections of information, but also knowledge, something dynamic and created by the individual and the community. He puts this well by quoting a very graphic metaphor.
Joan Frey Williams, librarian and prominent library consultant, put it best when she said that libraries must move from grocery stores to kitchens. A grocery store is where you go to consume, to buy ingredients for your meals. A kitchen, however, is where you go to combine these ingredients with your own skills and talents to make a meal. Kitchens tend to be social spaces, the place where everyone ends up at a party because it is the place where there is action occurring. Libraries need to be kitchens -- active social places where you mix a rich set of ingredients (information, resources, talents) into an exciting new concoction that can then be shared.
Training gets librarians involved in active learning. They aren't just showing members how to use a resources, but showing them how to see the bigger picture, determining which tools are the right ones to use to solve a given problem, and doing training at the point of need.
Providing a safe environment isn't just about the physical, but also about the intellectual, creating an environment where it is safe to explore all kinds of ideas, offering appropriate privacy and lack of censorship.
Building on motivation to learn is about librarians asking questions of individuals and the community and figuring out what they want and how the library can help them get there. It's about letting them drive the programs and services libraries offer. As he says,
This is more than talking about the community ultimately owning the library by funding it through tax dollars or tuition. this is allowing co-ownership of library services.
What great libraries do is engage in conversation with their communities, "an exchange of ideas where both parties are shaped by the conversation and shape the other conversants". There has to be willingness to learn from all those involved in the conversation. Libraries need to be of the community rather than for the community.
Lankes shows that what kind of library your community has is really about the people that work there, the librarians. Do they engage and evolve with technology? Do they have the skills to impart technology knowledge across all age groups? Can they create and maintain a virtual presence that is engaged with the community? Do the use technology to engage collaboratively with their community? Are they skilled in asset management, not just inventory skills, but preservation and building collections that meet community needs? Are they able to actively reach out to all sectors of their community? Do they understand their community's social mores and cultures? Do they know how to build bridges between the diverse groups in their communities? Do they understand how to make projects and services sustainable? Do they know how to assess impacts of library services on their community? Can they guide their community through a continuous change process? Do they have the skills of transformative social engagement, that is able to help the community organize around its needs in light of larger community agendas? He describes librarians as "the intersection of three things: the mission, the means of facilitation, and the values librarians bring to the community." He talks about intellectual honesty, transparency about being key to trust.
Lankes talks about the differences between bad libraries, good libraries, and great libraries. Bad libraries are collection-driven, good libraries are service-driven, but great libraries are community-driven. He is careful to note that this doesn't mean great libraries don't have collections, only that the collections they do have and what types of resources are in those collections are driven by community need, not by librarian prescriptives. Libraries need to spend more time on connections to their community and less time on book collections. The emphasis needs to be on connections between people, not connections between items. "You build a new library when the old one is too small to accommodate the community, not when it is too small to accommodate the stuff." Librarians need to be learning too, from all members of their community, all ages, all education-levels, all cultures. The mission of the library is to improve society, not maximize use of library services.
My library's mission statement speaks to enriching the community and based on this book, I think we're heading in the right direction.

The Ice Queen

Finished July 17
The Ice Queen by Nele Neuhaus, translated by Steven T. Murray

This book is set primarily in and around Frankfurt, with detectives Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver Bodenstein the main characters. As the book begins, the pair have a case involving an American man, originally from Germany, a Holocaust survivor. The man is elderly, brutally murdered, with a number scrawled at the scene. While powerful forces move in to quickly remove them from the case, they have already gathered clues that make them question the man's real identity.
This is closely followed by the murder of another elderly man, with a similar scene, and the same number scrawled there.
When a third murder occurs, this time of an elderly woman, also with the same number, the detectives start to make links between the victims, links that keep leading back to a powerful local family.
The trail for these murders leads all the way back to World War II, and jealousy.
But there is also another story playing out among a younger generation that is linked to this story. When they also start to be found dead or wounded, the detectives find the two cases hard to separate, and wonder how many murderers there are.
I really like these two detectives, and the glimpses we see into their personal lives. They react to things based on their personal experiences, and make mistakes of judgement at times, but that just makes them easier to relate to.


Finished July 15
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

This is a story of two people Patty and Walter Berglund, and their lives both as a couple and as parents, and as individuals, including before they became a couple. Patty is from the suburbs of New York City, a misfit in her own family, successful as a basketball player, but not meeting the expectations of either of her parents. Walter is from a small town, also a misfit in his family, an achiever in a family on unachievers, a man who cares about people, about nature, and about doing the right thing. They are both naive in their own way.
We see what leads to their meeting each other and becoming a couple, what leads to their marriage and life in Minnesota, and we see how their lives change, and how they grow apart from each other. Patty's attitude towards their rebellious son Joey moves from indulgence and pride to anger and estrangement.
This is a story of love, all kinds of love, romantic and everyday, familial and passionate. This is a story of marriage with all its intricacies. It is a story of family, of the expectations families have of their members. It is a story of people, with strengths and weaknesses unique to them, trying to find their way in the world and connect to each other.