Friday, January 20, 2012

The Confession by John Grisham

When I was a high school English teacher and would teach the kids how to write a persuasive essay or how to debate, I would always tell them to stay away from issues that were based solely in morality and/or religious beliefs. To me, these issues were not effectively debatable - there would always be good points on both sides, with no clear winner.  Capital punishment, to me, is one of those issues, but Grisham does an interesting job of covering it in his novel, The Confession.

In almost every Grisham novel, there is a lawyer. In this book, that lawyer is Robbie Flak. Then, there has to be a crime. That crime this time is the rape and murder of a high school cheerleader named Nicole Yarber. Then there must be a murderer, and this is where it gets tricky. There is an African American boy named Donte' who has been convicted of the crime after a seemingly coerced confession. There was no other real evidence other than that confession, which Donte' recanted because later he realized that no one was going to figure out the real truth, his last ditch hope after he was mercilessly bullied into signing the confession. Now enter the real killer, a convicted rapist named Travis Boyette (am I wrong or has Grisham used this last name in another novel?)who has had a pang of guilt as he suffers from a brain tumor. He finds a minister to hear him out, and as planned, gets involved in saving Donte' from death by lethal injection.

Is The Confession a twising tale that keeps you reading? Yes. An interesting, fictionalized look at the death penalty? Maybe. Contain wonderfully, deep characters different from any of Grisham's others? Nah.  Does the novel make you think about the virtues or moral pitfalls of the death penality in America today? It certainly did for me. It made me ask myself the question: If even one innocent man could die this way, is it worth it to get rid of all the other terrible criminals that seem beyond "redeption?" And another: "How do we decide which rapist, which murderer, which crime is worthy of such a punishment?" So, to sum it up fo me, it was a very good read but contains a lot of stereotyped characters that are a bit blah in my opinion. Robbie Flak, while superbly likable, was not very realistic to me. The others characters sort followed that same path.

Does the novel give an answer to these time-worn questions? Of course not. Because as I said, the death penality is a moral issue,one comtemplated only in the realms of religion or faith, not politics, in my opinion. And that's the only opinion of mine worth mentioning here.

I can't wait to get to the book club discussion we will have on this book in February. Come join us, or if you're not near Elgin, please make a comment!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

This was our January Valley Book Club selection, and I think everyone in the club would say they thoroughly enjoyed it. It tells of the long-time love and hardships of two people, one Chinese and one Japanese, both during the time right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and in the present day.

Henry Lee was born Chinese in America to a domineering, old-fashioned father and a helpless, traditonal mother. Keiko Okabe was born Japanese in America to parents who spoke only English and cherished their new country. Henry and Keiko become friends, and then more than friends, during their time at an all-white school. When all of the Janpanese are forced to move and live in "relocation camps" and Keiko is one of them, Henry struggles with his love of family, his love of country, and his undying first love of Keiko.

Will circumstances tear them apart or pull them together? This is the question that drives this powerful story home. While the book is a bit on the sticky sweet side for me, it was a quick, enjoyable read that led to some excellent discussion about the war and our nation's prejudices, both in the past and today. Check it out, and let me know what YOU think!

I apologize for being so behind on posting. So, it's been a little while since I read this beautiful historical piece by one of my favorite authors, Alice Hoffman. 

Based on historical events in 70 C.E., The Dovekeepers is the story of four extraordinary women who much fight against their circumstaces to survive after escaping different kinds of persecution only to come together in a place called Masada. This place is a stronghold that evenually comes under seige by the Romans.  Their loves, secrets, and perseverance in the wake of much adversity makes this tale a remarkable work about the strength of women.

If you enjoyed books like my favorites, The Red Tent by Anita Diamont or Pope Joan by Donna Cross, then you will love The Dovekeepers.

Sarah's Key by Tatiana deSosnay

This historical novel has been on book club reading lists all over the country, and I was so excited to have it on our list. The beautiful writing and intertwing historical stories make it easy to see why readers everywhere are talking about this book.

The present day story is about an American journalist in Paris who, through her research, discovers that her own apartment used to be the home of a Jewish family who were involved in the French "round-up" of Jews during WWII. In this particular family were a young girl named Sarah and her even youger brother named Michel.

It is Sarah's heartbreaking and unbelievable story that drives Julia not only to find out the truth and remind the public of past atrocities, but also to find her true self-as a wife and a mother.

For me this book hit home and made me think about many issues in our lives today - from motherhood in middle age to how we often compromise our values and ethics in order to protect a way of life. The tragedy of Sarah's life is a hard thing to read and contemplate when we know that although the story is fiction, the context was absolutely real. I hope hat the old adage is true: that by learning from the past, we can prevent it from happening again.Check this one out for a thought-provoking, enjoyable read.