Book Reviews

Book Review: Not of This Fold—A Mystery that also takes a Critical Look at the Mormon Church

A Mormon Mystery

Not of This Fold immediately draws the reader in through the engaging personality of Linda Wallheim, a Mormon bishop’s wife and an amateur sleuth. Since this is the fourth installment of Linda Wallheim mysteries, readers know that she figures out who the murderer is at about the same time as the police. In this book, she has a sleuthing partner, Gwen Ferris. Gwen is also married to a Mormon bishop but is having a spiritual crisis due to the Mormon stance on a variety of issues.

                Gwen and her husband are unable to have children, which is a heartbreaking situation for any couple. But it is compounded because, as Linda describes it, the church tells women “We were told so often that raising children was the most important thing we can do with our lives, that mothering was an eternal role, and even when we were resurrected and living in the celestial kingdom, we’d be silently serving our spirit children, . . . ” (p. 18). Gwen has other issues with Mormonism: the church’s attitude toward immigrants from Hispanic countries, the prohibition of same-sex marriages, and the male domination of church leadership. Gwen has quit her high-paying job and plans to enter the police academy to make a difference, but her complaints are leading to marital strife as she contemplates leaving the church.

                Since Linda is a grandmother and Gwen is in her twenties, Linda looks at her as the daughter she never had and guides her while they investigate who killed Gabriela Gonzalez, a Mexican immigrant with three young children. Gwen works in the Spanish ward and had befriended Gabriela, so she wants to see justice done. She and Linda do a lot of traveling and interviewing of potential suspects, which draws the ire of the police, who insist they are interfering with the investigation.  

                I could relate to Linda because she is a real person and not a stereotypical Mormon bishop’s wife with a perfect life. This is her second marriage, one of her five sons left the church and another is gay, and she is also questioning the church’s rulings and practices. The story leads me to believe that Mormon author Mette Ivie Harrison is voicing her own inner conflicts with the church.

                I felt the character Gwen Ferris was too one-dimensional. She kept repeating the same slogans throughout the story: Mormons look down on brown-skinned people, Mormons refuse to give women leadership positions, and the church must change with the times. It becomes obvious she is taking out her own unhappiness and unfulfillment on religion.

                Overall, Not of This Fold is a fast, enjoyable read. It certainly makes the reader think about the Mormon’s traditional positions when society is challenging traditional beliefs. In fact, I think the social issues often put the mystery story itself in the background. I also noted missing words in the text. This I do not blame on the author, but rather it is the proofreader’s responsibility. Other than that, I find this story riveting because it has such a unique twist. But those looking for a mystery that solely concentrates on the whodunnit may not appreciate Harrison’s work.

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Book Review of Walking Prey: Sex Trafficking of America’s Youth

Author Shares Her Child Sex Trafficking Nightmare

After reading so many headlines about child sex trafficking, I decided to read and review Holly Austin Smith’s Walking Prey (2014). The author is an unusually brave sex trafficking survivor who travels across the country relating her experience when she was only 14 years old. Smith cites many statistics, provides reasons for the prevalence of child sex trafficking and gives practical advice on prevention and the rehabilitation of victims.

Smith recounts being an awkward teenager who felt disconnected from her family and alienated from her peers when she ran away with a man named Greg who turned out to be a pimp. She candidly recalls her weeks on the streets of Atlantic City, her rescue, and rehabilitation treatment. The following is a few reasons young girls may be vulnerable to manipulative older men seeking to lure them into prostitution:

  • According to a 2012 Ohio Human Trafficking Commission report, young people involved in sex trafficking in that state experienced neglect (41%), abuse (44%), sex abuse (40%), emotional abuse (37%), and physical abuse (37%).
  • In 2011, an FBI report stated that many gangs use prostitution, including child prostitution, as “a major source of income” by “luring or forcing at-risk, young females into prostitution and controlling them through violence and psychological abuse.” The report estimated that there are 1.4 million gangs in the United States.
  • There are many cases of girls and young women promised well-paying jobs and then smuggled across the Mexico-U.S. border to be trafficked for commercial sex. Smith believes that American teens may also be lured into going to Mexico for this purpose.
  • In our consumer-driven society, children are constantly viewing advertisements sending the message that in order to be popular and accepted, they must obtain certain products. Many cannot afford all these products and those that do purchase them inevitably find they do no fulfill expectations. Compared to the images in the ads, children come up short. They then seek other avenues where they feel desirable and accepted. Pimps are on the look-out for girls who appear lonely and vulnerable and entice them with a lot of attention.

Smith is emphatic that these teenagers should be treated as victims rather than criminals. Pimps lure the ones who suffer from difficult family lives, low self-esteem, and little or no support.  And once these children are rescued, they require a great deal of help so they can enter back into society and live productive and stable lives. The author cites many cases, including her own experience, where survivors are treated like criminals. Some survivors actually end up becoming advocates and help put systems in place to facilitate the rehabilitation process for young survivors.

Surely, society must do better to prevent occurrences of sex trafficking in the first place by providing more support and resources for troubled youth.

Smith concludes that “Too many children and teens across the country, as well as their parents, have never heard about child sex trafficking in the United States, and this must change…Community members in general must be made aware of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children” (pp. 167-168).

I highly recommend Walking Prey to everyone, particularly parents of teenagers. It is an eye-opening experience that they cannot afford to ignore.

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Book Review: Library at the Edge of the World: Moving Forward after Personal Setbacks

My apologies for this late blog. It has been a hectic few weeks. Hope to get back on schedule

 

I recently read the book The Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy. Taking place in a small seaside community in Ireland, Hanna Casey returns to her mother’s home after living in London for years after her divorce from her cheating husband. Before marriage, Hanna had dreamed of studying to be a librarian and eventually working at a major public library in London. But when she met her English husband in her teens, she gave up her dream to support her husband’s burgeoning career as a successful attorney. Upon finding out he had a mistress for years who was a close friend of the family, Hanna took their daughter and returned home to Ireland. Deeply embarrassed, she appears standoffish and churlish to members of her community. Her relationship with her overly critical mother grows increasingly tense and she becomes determined to fix up a run-down cottage that was left to her by a great-aunt. She now runs a tiny library in town and drives out to distant communities with her mobile library van.  It was certainly not the life she had planned or enjoyed with her husband in England. But when the town council plans to close it down, Hanna discovers she has the support and affection of her community. She also discovers she has more strength and confidence than she realizes as she fights the powers-that-be to save her job and continuing her mission to provide books to those in her far-flung community.

Even though Hanna’s original plans do not materialize, she learns to appreciate the richness of her present life and make peace with it.

Quote: “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”

–Joseph Campbell

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Pachinko: A Potential Modern Masterpiece Falls Short

 

 

When I began reading Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, I initially thought this was the best book I have read so far this year. I had planned on writing a stellar book review. A National Book Award finalist, it tells the story of an impoverished sixteen-year-old girl named Sunja in 1930’s Korea. Sunja has a relationship with Hansu, a wealthy, powerful, older businessman who frequents her region. Sunja naively believes Hansu will marry her. Only when she gets pregnant and reveals she is carrying his child does she find out he is a married man who lives in Japan. Hansu, who has three daughters with his wife, wants Sunja to be his wife when he travels to Korea.  Knowing this is not honorable, Sunja rejects his offer for a much easier life and stays with her mother while they struggle to make ends meet. Soon, she meets Isak, a Korean missionary on his way to Japan to help build a church. Isak is willing to marry her and does not even question who fathered her child. He selflessly wants to give the unborn child a name. They move to Japan where Sunja gives birth to a son.

Unlike the first half of the book where the reader encounters characters living lives of quiet nobility, the second half is filled with vengeful and sexually depraved characters who wreak havoc. The writing is polished and author Lee offers beautiful imagery in her descriptions (“The sea was bluer than she had remembered, and the long, thin clouds seemed paler—everything seemed more vibrant with him here.”). But unfortunately, the characters go from Biblical in majesty to wreaking sensationalized tragedies. Lee spends too much time on the challenges of minor characters and transforms a few from kind and friendly to malicious in a single scene. The emphasis becomes Japanese racism of Koreans, depriving them of good careers and citizenship, despite their families having lived in Japan for generations. Lee never clearly explains what pachinko is, but I gather it is a gambling casino, one of the few jobs Koreans can work and make a decent living in Japan. By the end, the beauty of the story and its characters are lost and all the reader is left to contemplate is Japanese bigotry and foreign powers taking control of Korea itself, splitting the nation in half. Koreans in Japan no longer have their homes in Korea and those from the North who return end up starving to death. Thus, most have no choice but to endure the ongoing discrimination in Japan. An unsatisfying read after a remarkable beginning.

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Book Review: Secret Lives of the First Ladies By Cormac O’Brien

 

Reading this book was certainly an entertaining experience.

The following are some tantalizing tidbits I read in the book:

  • Julia Tyler, President Tyler’s second wife, never went anywhere without her twelve “ladies-in-waiting.” The press derided them as “the Vestal Virgins.”
  • Margaret Taylor, wife of Zachary Taylor, actually prayed every night that her husband would not get elected President. She felt his health was not up to the job and she was proven right—he died after barely a year in office.
  • Eliza Johnson, wife of President Andrew Johnson, was so frugal that she even bought cows to graze on the White House lawn in order to provide fresh milk.
  • Lucy Hayes and her husband Rutherford Hayes were not exactly the fun-loving party types. They banned liquor in the White House, forbid card-playing, dancing, and even playing pool. Lucy filled the White House billiard room with plants.
  • Unlike most first ladies, Eleanor Roosevelt had no interest in preparing elaborate meals for guests. In fact, when the king and queen of England came to visit Hyde Park, Eleanor served them hot dogs.

Reading through the book, I learned some shocking facts about Presidents:

  • President James Garfield was an unrepentant womanizer. He even had the gall to introduce his wife Lucretia to some of his mistresses. Talk about a miserable marriage.
  • As a husband, Lyndon Johnson was a dictator. For this I will quote the book: “Lady Bird was directed to shine his shoes, bring him breakfast in bed, keep his cigarette lighter filled, and more. . .He also insisted that she learn about his job, assigning her names, addresses, and other details to memorize. And as if all that weren’t challenging enough, she had to deal with the rumors about her husband’s extramarital affairs.” Poor Lady Bird!

There is much more to read in Secret Lives of the First Ladies. Every chapter gives the reader a fascinating glimpse of each first lady, giving a sense of their personalities and characters.

My one criticism: Author O’Brien is obviously not a Trump fan. His description of First Lady Melania was the only one that was downright unflattering. I didn’t appreciate the mud-slinging and lack of civility of today’s partisan politics in her description.

My two favorite lines:

Mamie Eisenhower once said, “Every woman over fifty should stay in bed until noon.”

When the magazine Parade printed a reader’s question about how much Barbara Bush weighed, it responded in an article that she was between 135 and 145 pounds. After hearing about the magazine’s answer, Barbara, who tended to be on the heavy side and had a good sense of humor, joked in a speech immediately after the article was published, “Just for starters, I was born weighing 135 pounds.”

Tempted to read yet?

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