My Book Reviews

   Ravenhill by Timothy Hillmer is a powerful and insightful look into violence and how it escalates in a typical high school, which could be any high school in America.

Ravenhill is the story of six people on a December day in 1997, at Ravenhill High School, when a shooting occurs, resulting in several deaths.  The story is told from the viewpoints of the six main characters, Paul the custodian, Mr, Hardin, an English teacher, Kathie, the assistant principal, and Lara, Leonard, and Sam, three students at Ravenhill.

In light of all the school shootings, and the most recent at Virginia Tech, this is a subject that I am interested in: What causes a person to “snap” and commit school shootings?  The author, Timothy Hillmer, has been a teacher himself for over twenty years, and what I learned from reading Ravenhill is that there are not definite answers to what can cause a school shooting.  It is easy to think a student who gets bullied or teased finally has had enough and “snaps,” but that isn’t always the case.

Each character in Ravenhill is very complex.  They have all had life shaping experiences and their defining moments, which cause them to act and react to their situations in life and at school.  One character, Rachel, who is teased and bullied, but doesn’t react in the normal way one would think a person who is teased in a high school would.  Her experiences have not led her in this direction. 

Each character is developed very well showing their strong attributes and their imperfections too.  I felt compassion and empathy for all of them- Hillmer captures a piece of humanity in Ravenhill, through the characters.  There are a lot of emotions, the characters have, which anyone would be able to identify with, and I was surprised to see that I could find pieces of myself in each of the characters.  I could relate to all of them in one way or another and they were all very human, very real and people I have known.  The supporting characters such as other teachers in the school, all have realistic aspects as well, and reading about them, I couldn’t help but be reminded of former teachers I have had. 

I didn’t want the shooting to happen, even though I knew it would, and I changed my mind several times throughout the book, on which person who would be the eventual shooter.  I did have my preconceived ideas on whoa typical high school shooter would be, but I was wrong.  In hindsight, I think Ravenhill captures so well the problem behind school shootings- they are random, and it is hard to pinpoint a “typical shooter.”  What might cause one person to commit an act of violence at this level, doesn’t cause another person to act in this manner, so it is like grasping at straws on when, where, and why a shooting will occur. That is why the same questions are always asked after a school shooting like, “Why?” and “What caused the shooting?” and it seems like we never have these concrete answers.

Ravenhill is more than just a book about a high school shooting- it is a social interpretation on the problems facing schools in America, their students, and what these situations can lead people to do.  Ravenhill shows that there really isn’t anything that can be done to predict or prevent school shootings completely.  However, it does show that when these awful acts of violence occur, there are and will always be good people willing to step in and help, during and after these terrible shootings.  It shows that in spite of the uncertainty and absence of answers on when, where, and why school shootings happens, in the aftermath, there will be commodity, love, hope, support, healing, and a future. 

Perhaps that is the purpose in Ravenhill: school shootings are acts of random and unpredictable violence, and one of the worst crimes in our society.  But in their aftermath, that is not the case- if anything, that is when the best of what humanity has is allowed to shine. 

   The Memory Keeper’s Daughter follows the lives of five people based on a decision that one of them, Dr. David Henry, makes in 1964.

Dr. David Henry, an orthopedic surgeon, has to deliver his twins in his office, during a snowstorm, with only his nurse, Caroline to assist him.  His wife, Norah, is drugged during labor, to cope with the pain, and is aware that she gives birth to a healthy baby boy, Paul, and a baby girl, Phoebe, who her husband sadly informs her has died during birth.  Norah is devastated and even though she loves Paul, she feels the death of Phoebe sharply.

In reality, When David sees Phoebe, he realizes instantly that she has Down syndrome.  Having grown up in poverty with a sick and dying sister, June, he decides in that instant that he wants to shield Norah, Paul, and himself, from having to live with a sick child.  He remembers the pain and grief that his parents and he felt after his sister died at 12, and how none of them were ever the same.  David also remembers how he was always in the shadows of his sick sister, who he loved, but he could never get the attention of his parents fully, who were always focused on June.

He instructs Caroline to take Baby Phoebe to an institution for retarded people, and leave her.  Caroline is in love with David, and follows his instructions, but is distressed.  She knows David is a good person and is perplexed on how he could just put his daughter in a home, and not tell his wife about Phoebe.   

When Caroline arrives at the institution with Phoebe, she sees what kind of place it is, and decides she will not leave the baby there.  She has another conversation with David, and tells him she can’t leave the baby there, hoping that David will realize the mistake he has made, but he only tells her he will live with what she decides. 

During the course of a few days Caroline packs up, and simply leaves with Phoebe to start a new life and raise Phoebe as her own daughter as a single mother, with a disabled child in 1964.

The rest of the story follows David, Norah, Paul, Caroline, and Phoebe through twenty-five years.   The story shows how this decision shapes the lives of a family and how a secret of this magnitude changes the lives of everyone involved forever.

This was the first book I have read by Kim Edwards, and I really enjoyed her writing.  Edwards is an English professor in Kentucky, and her writing is very poetic at times, and she has beautiful passages.  Reading some of her descriptions was like hearing an accomplished musician play their instrument. Edwards strikes exquisite chords with her writing. 

Her characters are all very strong, and very realistic; putting myself in Norah’s place, Edwards wrote how I imagined I would feel if I was in Norah’s situation, dealing with the loss of an infant child, I never got to see or hold.  I could relate to her feelings on seeing her son, Paul, grow up and her amazement on how fast he grew, and where her baby went.  I have those feelings myself, watching my two sons grow up.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter is a beautiful, heartbreaking, and intriguing story.  I loved it, and can’t wait to read more of Kim Edward’s works. 

  Two Little Girls in Blue is one of Mary Higgins Clark’s best books in recent times.  I was quickly drawn into the plot: a young couple’s twin three-year-old-daughters, Kathy, and Kelly, are kidnapped while being cared for by a babysitter.  Later the ransom instructs for a payment of eight million dollars for their safe return.

The story moves quickly between the twins’ parents trying to come up with the money, to the people involved in the kidnapping, to the mastermind behind the kidnapping- The Pied Piper- who is a character working within the framework of the story.  The Pied Piper’s identity is not revealed until the final pages.  

I have to say with some of MHC’s recent books, I have figured out who the villian is, long before the end.  However, I was truly stumped in Two Little Girls in Blue, since she has most of the possible suspects very strong characters with compelling possible motives.  Any one of them could be the Pied Piper.  My guess is most people will have to read to the end, to find out who that is.

Another intriguing angle is the telepathic bond that twins have with each other.  One of the twin girls is returned and by her “twin talk,” and telepathic bond with her sister, it enables her mother and the FBI to track her missing and sick twin sister.  This makes an interesting suspenesful mystery even richer.

I liked Two Little Girls in Blue as classic Mary Higgins Clark-a great suspensful mystery! 

  Good in Bed is a great book!  It is the story of Cannie, who is a “larger” woman, who is on what she thinks is a break from her boyfriend, Bruce, of three years.  She gets the shock of her life, when her best friend, Samantha, calls her and tells her that Bruce is now writing a column for a woman’s magazine (think Cosmo, Glamour), from the male’s point of view, and his first column called, “Loving a Larger Woman,” is about her!

The book is very insightful in how larger women are viewed in our society, and how Cannie eventually learns to accept her size, and to love herself.  I found myself immediately liking Cannie, and became very involved in the story.  While I didn’t like this book as much as In Her Shoes, I enjoy Jennifer Weiner’s writing style, and can’t wait to read more of her books.

I also loved how the ending isn’t what you think- and at the risk of spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t read it, I’ll just say no, Cannie doesn’t magically loose 50 lbs., find Prince Charming, and bloom from an “ugly duckling” into the swan.  She is also smart, funny, and very witty.  The book has a lot of funny scenes, and Cannie ends up saying things to people that you wish you could- after you have thought about it, and come up with a good comeback- three days later. 

If you are looking for a funny, smart, interesting, read that is a little deeper than your typical “chick lit,” you will really enjoy Good in Bed

   Mortgages for Dummies was a fairly quick read- I read most of it while waiting for Ryan during his swim lessons.  I have to admit that I already knew a lot of what was in the book, from just going through the experience of mortgages, but I also learned some things that I didn’t know, like the three things you should ask a mortgage broker, and how to decide between a fixed rate, or an ARM (adjustable rate mortgage).  I like how the authors put all the terms in easy to understand language- not all the mumbo jumbo bankers, or mortgage brokers use. 

If you have bought several homes and have experience with several mortgages, this book is probably too basic, but if it has been a while since you have shopped for a mortgage, you want to review the benefits, and features of various mortgages, or you really don’t know the first thing about mortgages, then this would be a great book to have, and I would highly recommend it. 

Responses

  1. […] Ravenhill, will be submitting a six word memoir soon.   By the way, Tim will be reading from Ravenhill along with Marilyn Krysl, who will read from her novel, Dinner With Osama, at Book Buffs in Denver […]

  2. I love your site! 🙂

    _____________________
    Experiencing a slow PC recently? Fix it now!

  3. Isn’t Mary Higgins Clark dead?

    Thanks for the tips about CFL bulb recycling.

  4. Best of the Web world
    At you a migraine today?
    G’night


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