Modern Lit: The Child Finder, by Rene Denfeld

The Child Finder (Naomi Cottle, #1)
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Naomi Cottle is a civilian investigator specializing in finding children who are missing and presumed by police to have been abducted. Like many PIs in this genre, she is dedicated to her work to the point of obsession, driven by her own personal demons. Naomi’s unique set of experience, insight, and motivation stems from her own childhood, when she made an escape from the clutches of a pedophile. Her current case centers on Madison, a little girl who disappeared 3 years ago into the wilds of Oregon when her family ventured out to find the perfect Christmas tree.
While most mysteries focus on procedural details, The Child Finder is quite different. Readers do follow Naomi’s search, but her reactions and thought processes are the focus. Interestingly, those of Madison and her abductor are also revealed in chapters describing how she tries to adapt to her strange, frightening new life. Her abductor is a trapper, a loner who has learned how to live under the radar, his point of view is also presented.
Though very dark, this is a novel about the resilience of the human spirit and its ability to survive terrible, incomprehensible circumstances. The writing is intelligent, controlled, and frequently luminous. As Naomi begins to recall more of her own horrific past, as the abductor recalls his own fearful childhood, and as Madison finds creative ways to sustain herself through her own fear, it becomes possible for the reader to develop a glimmer of understanding about how and why crimes such as this occur.
Not an easy read, but a worthwhile one.

View all my reviews

Advertisements

Folklore: Fall Equinox/Harvest Home

In 2019, the autumnal equinox occurs September 23, when the sun will cross the equator and head towards its lowest point of the year in December (Northern Hemisphere). On that date, the sun will rise exactly in the east, shine for 12 hours, and set exactly in the west. Everywhere on earth will experience close to 12 hours of light and 12 of darkness. Exact times vary from place to place  due to light refraction and other factors. This is the date on which the sun enters the sign of Libra, the balance, an appropriate symbol of this astronomical event. Because the earth wobbles  a bit on its axis, the date of the equinox varies slightly from year to year.

Fall is the time of harvest, and in Europe, the equinox was a period of celebration known as Harvest Home. Numerous megaliths and tombs, such as Stonehenge, built in prehistoric times, were organized around the solstices and equinoxes. However, much technological knowledge was lost over the eons, and in the middle ages, since most peasants weren’t able to do astronomical calculations, the date of the festival was set to September 25, which the Church named Michaelmas. Various traditions sprang up in different countries. Modern misconceptions aside, there is no evidence that human sacrifice was ever a part of Harvest Home traditions. But there were many mock sacrifices involving effigies of various sorts.

from Eastborne Lammas Festival

Probably the best known of the effigies was a large wicker figure of a man, in England called John Barleycorn. Based on mythologies in which the the god of night conquers the god of day, John Barleycorn represented the spirit of the fields/summer/light, which was believed to reside in the last sheaf cut. When the harvest was done, the wicker figure was burned in symbolic sacrifice amidst great rejoicing. Everyone knew that they had not seen the last of him, because, if all went according to natural plan, he would return in the spring. The traditions of making “corn dollies”, little figures made of wheat or barley, is closely related. The Harvest Queen, or Kern Baby, is made and bundled by the reapers who proclaim, ‘We have the Kern!’ The sheaf is dressed in a white and decorated with colorful ribbons depicting spring, and then hung upon a pole (a phallic fertility symbol). In Scotland, the last sheaf of harvest is called the Maiden, and must be cut by the youngest female in attendance.

Other historic symbols of the season include apples, gourds and melons, and cider, beer, and wine. Sometimes a loaf of bread, shaped as or marked with a wheat sheaf, is baked using the last of the harvested grain.

In the rhythm of the seasons, putting up the harvest led to a time of rest and plenty, before the onset of winter. It was a time for beginning new leases, resolving accounts and paying the annual dues.

Updated 9/26/19

Folklore in My Garden: The Wooly Bear

Growing up in the in Northeast U.S., my neighborhood friends and I always looked forward to fall, mostly because of Halloween and our pillowcases heavy with candy. In the weeks leading up to the holiday, we’d meet up outdoors after school, shuffling through the growing piles of leaves we helped rake up and trying to settle upon what costume we’d adopt this year and how we ere going to make it. If we happened to spot a wooly bear caterpillar, we’d spend and hour or so with the little fella trying to decipher whether the coming winter would be mild or severe, based upon the relative size of its black and rust stripes. We never could agree on which color was the significant predictor, or how a fuzzy, inch long creeping critter might actually know what the season would bring. Today I stumbled upon an article from the venerable Old Farmers Almanac, which made everything clear at last.

In the fall of 1948, Dr. C. H. Curran, curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, made up his mind to figure out scientifically, once and for all, whether the wooly bear legend was fact or fiction. Over the course of eight years, he collected caterpillars from New York’s Bear Mountain, and counted the number of rust-colored segments each one had, compiling the data into records of the average number that occurred each year. He used the data to forecast weather for the coming winter. If the central rusty band comprised a third or more of the caterpillar body , folklore held, and Dr. Curran predicted, that winter would be mild. Conversely, if the black bands at each end predominated, severe weather was due.

What did Dr. Curran discover? Well, his results suggested that there was indeed some merit to the folk belief! Huzzah!

As a scientist, he was careful to emphasize that his samples were too small to prove the caterpillar’s forecasting prowess. But he founded The Original Society of the Friends of the Woolly Bear, which each year visited Bear Mountain to check them out. Thirty years following the society’s final excursion, the park’s nature center took over the annual wooly bear count and predictions, without guaranteeing accuracy.

They can’t be any worse than the forecasters on tv, right?

On a side note, I try to avoid direct contact with such creatures as insects, amphibians, and reptiles, but the wooly bear is the one exception. I have no problem with gently picking them up to hold for a few moments before releasing them to resume their search for the perfect shelter in which to overwinter. can’t wait to spot the first one this fall….

It’s a Mystery: Pieces of Her, by Karin Slaughter

Pieces of Her
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Andrea Cooper has never wondered much about her mom, Laura, a respected speech pathologist living in a cottage by the shore. Like most of us, from time to time she’d question her about her past, in a general sort of way, always pretty sure about the woman Laura was. Then came the day when their mother-daughter birthday lunch was interrupted by gunshots which take down two customers. Understandably terrified, Andrea cowers helplessly behind Laura, and is stunned to witness her mom coolly take charge of the scene by killing the shooter before he can murder anyone else. As the media frenzy and the police investigation ramp up, Laura forces her daughter to go on the run, providing her with a detailed plan, a burner phone, and a handgun. Don’t, she warns Andrea, even think about returning to the state until she calls her with the all clear.

Thus begins a saga in which a hapless, badly frightened, and insecure young woman embarks on a harrowing mission to discover who her mother really is, and, in the painful process, discovers herself. This enthralling tale bounces between two separate narratives, one gradually revealing the shocking details of Laura’s past, and the other chronicling Andrea’s own coming of age in the present. There are countless heart stopping, heart breaking moments for each as they grapple with and dodge the deadly fallout from events that occurred thirty two years ago, shortly before Andrea’s own birth.

In an era in which strong female protagonists are valued in novels, Karin Slaughter comes in with two. While Pieces has a complicated plot, the complexities of their personalities are just as engrossing, as are the positive changes that we witness evolving within them. What fills the novel with topical relevance is that the themes over which the decades-old conflict of the plot was waged are still threatening ordinary citizens in the present day. It’s always heartening when a best selling thriller author    writes cogently about things that really matter, in addition to providing good  entertainment.

View all my reviews

 

 

It’s a Mystery: Bring Me Back, by B.A. Paris

 

D288961E-27CC-438C-859A-E0F64FA346A3.jpeg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For twelve years, Finn has endured widespread suspicions that he murdered his girlfriend Layla, who disappeared without a trace while the were vacationing in France. In the dearth of evidence about how and why that happened, no charges were ever brought, and Finn eventually managed to adapt, sadly moving on with his life, his regrets over her loss never far from his mind. In a twist of fate, he is now engaged to Layla’s sister Ellen, whom he’d met a while back at a memorial service. Finn is contented with this relationship, until one day, Ellen finds a tiny Russian doll on the wall outside their house. What a coincidence, seeing that both Layla and her sister both played with such dolls in childhood. When more figurines keep showing up – through the mail, at the pub, on the sidewalk – Finn becomes hopeful that Layla may still be alive, and perhaps has come back. A series of mysterious emails convince him that she has, and now his happiness is shattered.

Bring Me Back is one of the many psychological thrillers spawned by Gone Girl several years ago. The characters of Finn and Layla take turns narrating both the present and the backstory, and it gradually becomes apparent that each of them carry significant emotional baggage. Although the going is slow, the suspense builds inexorably, leaving Finn and the reader in a delicious quandary regarding the truth about Layla, and that’s why the ending comes as such a gigantic, wtf letdown. Both the resolution and its aftermath stretch credulity way past the breaking point, spoiling beyond repair what had been an intriguing plot. I suspect that a second reading could reveal a few hints regarding what was to come, but I’m not interested in finding out and will leave it at that.

 

It’s a Mystery : The Perfect Wife, by Blake Pierce

The Perfect Wife (Jessie Hunt #1)The perfect  dupe

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

For a criminal profiler in training, Jesse Hunt is amazingly clueless . Less than halfway through this book, it was glaringly obvious that there was something rotten in Westport Beach, but Jesse’s incapable of adding 2 and 2. Her perfect husband is behaving suspiciously and erratically. Her practicum supervisors are breaking all the ironclad rules for her , and the infamous serial killer she’s interviewing knows all about Jesse’s life, past and present. She’s witnessing neighbors running around naked. This plot is so transparent and derivative, the writing so juvenile, the protagonist so gullible and hapless, that I couldn’t bring myself to finish The Perfect Wife.

View all my reviews