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Nadezhda Seiler’s “A Measure of Guilt”

AMOGHappy New Year, my friends! I hope it will be productive and joyful for everyone.

Today is the second anniversary of the publication of my novel A Measure of Guilt, and since it’s my creation, I treat this date as its birthday. I think it’s only right to start posting on my blog in 2015 with this acknowledgement.

Thus, the New Year’s celebration continues for me. 🙂

Here’s the blurb:

Nineteen-year-old Kate Flanagan has already endured entirely too much in her young life. Two years earlier, her kid sister, Angie, and her best friend, Sandra, were kidnapped from a San Diego amusement park, and Kate’s guilt over the part she played in the tragedy is beyond measure. Believing herself undeserving of a normal life, Kate avoids relationships, feels estranged from her parents, and has no social life. When she begins receiving increasingly chilling anonymous notes on her windshield, she dismisses them as the work of a random stalker.

The fifth note, however, claims that the writer has information about her sister. Hopeful that Angie and Sandra are still alive, distrustful of the police, and frightened by the escalating threat of the notes, Kate nevertheless decides to smoke out the source of the notes. With the help of an amateur private investigator, Kate sets out on a mission to find her sister and best friend— a hunt that leads her straight to her deranged stalker.

In this intriguing mystery tale, a woman anxious to atone for the past mistakes that have cost her nearly everything puts her life on the line in a desperate attempt to right a terrible wrong and catch a determined criminal.

If you read my second novel, Without Thinking Twice, you will be surprised (pleasantly, I hope) to meet again with one of its characters in A Measure of Guilt. And if you read A Measure of Guilt, you may be interested in its sequel that I’m currently working on, which will be released this year.

The novel can be purchased on Abbott Press, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. The e-book version is available for download for most e-readers, including, but not limited, to Kindle, Nook, iPad and Sony.

Joseph Lewis’s “Stolen Lives”

51EhiLH69vL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_[1]Joseph Lewis‘s thriller Stolen Lives explores the subject of human trafficking, particularly sexual exploitation of young boys.

Fourteen-year-old Brett McGovern, ripped from his home two years ago, has been held captive in a hideaway together with eleven other victims his age or younger. Now Stephen Bailey and his friend Michael Erickson are snatched from the street on their way home and brought to the same dreadful lair to share the fate of its inhabitants. Every boy that ends up in this unlawful prison has been carefully “selected” by his predators on the basis of his good looks and athleticism and then watched until the right moment to be abducted. Every boy vanishes without a trace. Every boy is robbed of his virtue, innocence, dignity, and health at the hands of the ruthless perverts subjecting him to unspeakable sexual, physical, and psychological abuse. Every boy is disposable, as soon as he gets ill or when he grows past his “desirable” age; then he receives two bullets in his head, execution style, and is dumped in some faraway location never to be found. None of the boys has any hope of survival.

When George Tokay, a Navajo teen living in Arizona, accidentally witnesses one of the executions and reports it to the authorities, the FBI finally has hope of cracking the case. Agents Pete Kelliher and Summer Storm, who have been trying to track down the predators for the past two years, can finally break into the criminal ring, operating in several states, and rescue the boys.

But now they have to protect George too, who has also become a prey. As the manhunt for the criminals escalates, the FBI agents realize that the perpetrators are two steps ahead of them, which points to a possible mole within their ranks. Who can you trust when everyone is under suspicion? Pete Kelliher has to keep the information privy to only a very close circle. With every passing hour the chances of finding the boys slip away, and the stakes go higher.

Stolen Lives is a fast-paced, adrenaline-laced story that accelerates your heartbeat and keeps your eyes glued to the page from start to finish. One of the most important tasks that every author has to accomplish is to create characters that the reader will care enough about to keep reading. Joseph Lewis has accomplished this task. We care deeply about the abducted boys during their ordeal in captivity and the potential victims. We admire and respect the FBI agents risking their lives in their hunt of the criminals. We want nothing else but for them to find and rescue the boys and then punish their tormentors.

Rape, especially the rape of minors, is a tough subject to write about. Joseph Lewis does it masterfully. He avoids explicit description, yet we get a vivid picture of the horror that the victims go through. That takes talent.

Stolen Lives is fiction, but it reads like true-crime nonfiction, thanks to the author’s extensive research of the subject and his experience as a professional counselor of abused children. The staggering statistics on the number of vanished and murdered children that Lewis skillfully inserts into the narration give the novel a feeling of case study.

Stolen Lives reads as a stand-alone novel, but it is the first book in the trilogy. There is a prequel to it too, also published this year, titled Taking Lives, which introduces the main characters and depicts events transpiring two years earlier.

Strongly recommend.

Sarah Negovetich’s “Rite of Rejection”

51PgU1YZfUL._UY250_[1]Sarah Negovetich’s Rite of Rejection is a YA novel set in an imaginary society ruled by a leader named “Cardinal” with absolute power. The author masterfully depicts a country with a totalitarian regime (reminiscent of Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany) where its citizens are so brainwashed that they follow their leader unconsciously, like sheep. Not because they don’t have a mind of their own, but because they’re so enamored by Cardinal’s personality and his ideas that they wholeheartedly trust his “wisdom” and his supposed “devotion” to the well-being of the nation. (Here’s a classic example of the personality cult for you.) When, in an attempt to cleanse the country of criminals, the government designs a machine capable of sorting out the “good” citizens from the “bad” ones and sending the latter to a penal colony for the rest of their lives, no one has any doubt in the faultlessness of the Machine. Even those “rejects” who have never done anything wrong sincerely believe that they might have a propensity for committing a crime, just like the Machine has “predicted.”

That’s how sixteen-year-old Rebecca Collins feels when she, a good girl, is ripped from her family and home and exiled to the PIT, a place of no return. It happens right before the Acceptance ceremony, the biggest event in her life, when she’s about to be welcomed into the society as an adult. After she goes through the Machine (which is just a routine procedure in her mind), she will attend a celebratory ball, where she will dance with eligible bachelors, and, hopefully, with her future husband. (Yes, in this country, a woman’s role is limited to being a wife and mother.)

But Rebecca’s high expectations are crushed when the Machine rejects her. She’s in the PIT now, living in wretched conditions, among “criminals” like herself and actual hardcore criminals. She is confused and scared. How will she survive? Will she survive? Fortunately, she meets other teens who become her friends and who reveal the truth about the Cardinal’s “just” and indisputable policies.

There’s yet another test for Rebecca to go through, this time in order to prove her worthiness and loyalty to her new friends; there’s a love triangle; there’s an attempt to escape; there’s a vital-for-survival friendship and there’s an unfathomable betrayal… And, of course, there’s nail-biting tension all throughout the novel.

Will Rebecca and her friends free themselves of the abject existence in this hellhole? And if they do, where will they go? They can’t go back to their home after all.

Rite of Rejection is so interesting that I read it in one setting. I was disappointed with it ending on a cliffhanger, but I assumed Sarah Negovetich would write a sequel. I do hope that she will.

Favorite line: “There’s freedom that comes with words that don’t fall into perfect measurements or even stitches.”

Book Review: Joshua Ferris’s “To Rise Again at a Decent Hour”

91q1PSDZ9KL[1]Joshua Ferris’s To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is a literary novel about a man in his late thirties searching for meaning of life and his own place in the world.

Paul O’Rourke, a successful dentist in Manhattan, is a man of contradictions: he’s cynical and self-centered, but he genuinely cares about his patients; he’s an atheist, but he’s drawn to religious people; he’s a huge Red Sox fan, but he gets upset about the team’s major victories; he feels aversion to the Internet, but he is obsessed with his smart phone.

Suffering from insomnia, Paul stares at the ceiling night after night, pondering such issues as his perception of himself and the perception of him by other people, as well as asking such questions as: When you meet a person for the first time, how do you present yourself to them? Do you show them your true self? When you fall in love with someone, how much of yourself do you share with that person? What if you lose your identity to them?

(Don’t we all ask these questions too?)

Paul searches for answers because he’s been unfortunate (and thus, insecure) in love. Growing up poor and fatherless since he was nine, he craves for a warm, loving family. That’s why each time he falls for a girl, he falls in love with her parents too, and he wants their acceptance and love in return. But he tries too hard to be loved—to the point that his efforts backfire.

Well, it’s bad enough that all those questions keep Paul awake at night, but then he finds out that someone has impersonated him online, created his professional website, and begun posting “his” opinions on Twitter and Facebook. That’s when things go from bad to worse. To his horror, those opinions are of a controversial nature, discussing religion, citing from the Bible and other holy texts, thus upsetting his acquaintances and people he cares about. But since “his” posts have gone viral, Paul is powerless to do anything to stop them. Fortunately, he identifies his impersonator, but that person makes Paul ask bigger questions about himself: Who is he, really? What’s his identity? Does he really know himself and his heritage? Etc. (Once again, it resonates with us because identity theft is an actual problem these days, isn’t it?)

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize this yeah, which was my main interest in it, assuming it must be a great literary achievement, but, frankly, I can’t say that it has met my expectations. Yes, it is profound and thought-provoking, and it is funny too, but (and I hate to say this) it’s also tedious, in places. Paul’s narration sounds almost like stream-of-consciousness—painstakingly detailed descriptions of his daily routine, his watching baseball games, his thoughts on religion, his correspondence with his impersonator…on and on it goes, sometimes ad nauseam. I even wanted to quit reading it. What kept me going, though, was Paul’s great sense of humor and his flashbacks (many related to his relationship with his ex-girlfriends and their families) that peppered the novel. His little jokes and anecdotes made me laugh so hard, at times, that I had to put the book down to wipe my tears.

You may or may not like the novel, but one thing I can promise you: after reading this dentist’s account of his patients’ dental problems, resulting from insufficient care, you will start flossing twice as vigorously after each meal and snack. 🙂

Joshua Ferris is a gifted writer and I’ll definitely read his previous two novels.

Brian Winter’s “Long after Midnight at the Nino Bien”

61fT6UbTSFL[1]Argentine tango. It’s rhythmic and pulse-quickening. It’s melancholic, nostalgic, and soulful. It’s exciting and exhilarating. It’s beautiful. And it’s addictive.

So addictive that my daughter became obsessed with it just after a few beginner classes. I was envious. And became obsessed too—with watching tango on YouTube. 🙂

Then I looked for a book on this dance, and I found a treasure.

Brian Winter’s Long after Midnight at the Nino Bien is a memoir describing his obsession with tango during the four years that he spent in Buenos Aires after his graduation from college.

How does he end up in Buenos Aires? Well, unlike his classmates landing sixty-hour jobs at big corporations, Brian wants “to measure himself as a man by putting himself in an extraordinary situation, just for the hell of it.” He wants to move to a place where “things still happened,” things like rallies and riots and revolutions. See, his ambition is to become a journalist—someday. So maybe he’ll find the material worth reporting—someplace. He chooses Argentina for his adventure, and that’s what he gets—an adventure.

Since the economy in Argentina is at its lowest in the year 2000, Brian can’t find employment at an American corporation or at school as an English instructor, so he spends his days wandering around Buenos Aires, exploring. That is, until he meets a man passionate about tango. When Brian gets acquainted with other people, he discovers that all Argentines are passionate about tango. It is their dance! It is the soul of their country! Shouldn’t Brian give it a try, too? After all, when you go to another country, don’t “you look for the soul of that country, for the roots?” Hell, yes!

So Brian, presumably with no talent for dance, picks up tango and falls in love with it. He dances his feet off in a bar called Nino Bien, night after night after night.

Long after Midnight at the Nino Bien is filled with accounts of milongas, as well as descriptions of Brian’s private lessons he took from a beautiful instructor, Mariela.

Brian becomes so obsessed with tango that he buys books galore, researching its origin and evolution.

Which makes this memoir so remarkable. In it, Winter draws parallels between the destiny of tango and political life in Argentina throughout history, pointing out that tango’s popularity or decline depended heavily on the country’s prosperity or turbulence. Still, Argentines have always loved their dance so much that their milongas were impervious to the crisis. Each time tango went nearly extinct, it was resurrected like a phoenix from ashes.

Winter also dwells on the reaction to the dance in other countries—whether it was loved or spurned. The Catholic Church of New York, for instance, called tango “wild and shameless.” In the French port of Marseille, in 1906, where the crew of an Argentine frigate performed their dance, “the tango was immediately denounced as criminal, lascivious, and immoral; in other words, it was an instant sensation.” 🙂

Long after Midnight at the Nino Bien is a fun read, filled with fascinating facts about Argentina, its history, people, and tango. Winter tells his story with self-deprecating humor. His love for tango and the country made me want to go to Argentina. But I can’t dance! Why don’t I learn how? I’ve learned these beautiful terms—cabaceo and barrida and gancho—for starters.

So I signed up for tango classes. 🙂

My favorite lines: “The tango is not an athletic competition. It depends above all on your ability as a man to show the woman what to do, to guide her, to make her feel comfortable, to make her feel like a woman.” 53

“Against all odds, people kept coming back to the tango, a century-old dance that had gone out of style in the 1950s. There was no logical way to explain it. It must have been that damn embrace.” 233

Karin Slaughter’s “Cop Town”

Cop-Town1[1]The drama, nail-biting suspense, and the incredible cast of characters of Karin Slaughter’s Cop Town made me forget all about my plans for the day and kept me glued to the arm-chair until I read the last words of this page-turning thriller.

Cop Town is set in 1970s Atlanta. A serial cop killer, the Shooter, shakes the APD. Four officers were shot, execution style, and now another one is down. In the opening scene, Jimmy Lawson, a former high school football star and now a savvy police officer, carries his partner, gunned down by the Shooter, to the hospital. And the hunt for the criminal escalates.

Karin Slaughter masterfully depicts various worlds of the same city: the slums, the upscale neighborhood, and the police department. The powerful message, voiced by one of the characters, is this: “For every person, Atlanta is a different thing. Yet they all take pride in ownership. They all feel that the city belongs to them, and that their idea of the city is what the city should be. They feel the need to defend it.” 270

Ironically, yes. They all—the poor in the ghettoes, the rich in the upscale neighborhoods, and the cops—have a sense of entitlement to their town and they have attitude.

So what was this cop town like in 1970s?

In 1970s Atlanta, not too many women served on the police force, and those few who did were not treated with respect—either by the general population or by their male colleagues (the subject explored by Slaughter in her novel Criminal). But the female officers in Cop Town are so smart, competent, strong-willed, and determined to succeed in fighting crime that they choose to endure discrimination, misogyny, and blatant sexual harassment rather than quit the job they love. (It beats me, but…there you have it.)

Kate Murphy, born with a silver spoon in her mouth, has had it all: a privileged family, privileged schools, a privileged social circle, a privileged neighborhood—privileged everything. But now at 25, she’s a widow and she wants something different in her life. After trying various occupations, she chooses police work. Well, she’s got a different life, all right. On her very first day on the job, she patrols the streets of the ghetto, chases after prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers, murderers, and gets ridiculed and scorned by her fellow officers. So what can be more different from her previous sheltered life than all that? Will she quit after one day, as her co-workers expect, or will she surprise them by showing up the next day? Kate ponders this dilemma very seriously. And decides to show up. But her second day is worse than the first, and the third one is even worse. Will she have enough guts to stay on the job, or will she withdraw back into her insulated world?

Maggie Lawson, Kate’s partner, comes from a cop family. But that fact doesn’t make her family proud as you might expect. No encouragement or praise of her dedication and competence from them. No, ma’am! They all—her mother, her brother, her uncle—want her to quit. But the blood running in Maggie’s veins is made of “liquid steel,” so she’s not giving up this job, despite the humiliation she has to endure from her male peers and, mostly, from her uncle the brute.

The characters are so well-drawn, so interesting, and so memorable, I hope that Karin Slaughter will not abandon them but let us meet them again in a sequel to Cop Town. In fact, I hope she’s hard at work on it right now. 🙂

Karin Slaughter is a gifted storyteller. I’ve read all of her Will Trent’s series, and I absolutely loved this stand-alone novel.

Highly recommend.

Alan Brennert’s “Moloka’i”

Pix_Molokai_Rev_6.2011[1]We didn’t have the scare of Ebola last year yet, but as if by premonition, someone in my book club suggested that we discuss Alan Brennert’s Moloka’i this year. How timely, because as I was reading Brennert’s novel about people suffering and dying from leprosy, and the overall fright and panic at the possibility of being infected by the terrible disease, I couldn’t help but think about the fear of Ebola that the world is now experiencing.

Moloka’i is a riveting saga of the life of Rachel Kalama, a Honolulu native, from 1891 till her death in 1970. She is the daughter of a sailor who spends several months at a time in far-away countries, from where he brings her exotic dolls as gifts. A precocious child interested in geography, Rachel dreams about visiting those places someday, too. But this is not to be. In 1891, at the age of seven, she contracts leprosy. She is ripped out of her home and shipped to a quarantined colony for leprosy patients on the island of Moloka’i. Thus not only are her dreams crushed, but her very existence is now precarious: Will she be cured and leave this place someday, or will she share the fate of her unfortunate friends who are dying young from the disease?

But there is no cure, because “leprosy at present eludes doctors’ understanding.” Since it is contagious, there’s panic among the population. And stigma against the unlucky ones. But the sick aren’t the only victims. This horrible disease takes its toll on their families, too. Siblings of a sick child are shunned at school and in the neighborhood, parents and relatives lose their jobs and are ostracized.

Parents’ sacrifices! One mother chooses to give up on her sick child in order to save her other children, uprooting them from their home and moving to another town where the stigma won’t ruin their lives. Another mother leaves her children with their grandparents, practically abandoning them for good, so that she could tend to her sick husband in the colony, thus sacrificing herself. A father desperately wishes to be a leper so that he can join his daughter on the island.

Can you judge one or another? Not really. You understand each of them, for each one makes their decision out of love and out of despondency.

Alan Brennert describes in vivid detail the tragedy that has befallen the sick in the settlement—their deplorable living conditions, their meager provisions, their deteriorating health, their shattered lives, and worst of all, their isolation from the outside world. They feel even more disadvantaged than prisoners who are jailed for life, because they can’t have visitors.

If doctors are helpless in understanding the causes of leprosy, then how can the sick comprehend the reason why they’re stricken with it? They wonder if “the sickness comes from the soul, from a person’s past actions and state of mind.” 180 Yet, they cling to life, despite death staring into their faces, and their zest for life, perseverance, faith, and strength are admirable.

Alan Brennert is a very gifted writer. Moloka’i is rich in memorable characters, beautiful description of the scenery, and historical information based on extensive research.

Highly recommend.