Book Review: Testimony by Scott Turow

At one time humanity’s attention was turned to an area of the world called Bosnia, Srebrenica, and Kosovo. These words became synonymous with war crimes, mass murder, and genocide. Sadly, it is amazing how easily such crimes are forgotten. Yet, perhaps it is not that human memory is so short, but that if we wait for a mere few years, new atrocities will capture the world’s obsession.

Enter the people that work at the International Criminal Court. They remember the victims of genocide every day. They are the voice for those no longer able to speak for themselves.

The ICC was established 51kwkzlbkkl-_sx326_bo1204203200_to prosecute crimes against humanity.  This is the setting for Scott Turow’s latest legal thriller, Testimony. It takes the reader behind the scenes to understand, and helps us realize, just what justice is up against.

Enter former prosecutor, multi-millionaire law firm partner, mid-life crisis aficionado, Bill Ten Boom. Asked to take over the investigation into a possible massacre of Roma during the Bosnian Civil war he decides it’s the change he had been looking to make. So he moves from Kindle County, a pleasant little suburb of Chicago, to the Netherlands. His search for answers takes him from the Hague, to the battlefields of a forgotten war, to the political machination of the beltway. Along with our antihero, the reader is reminded that human depravity truly knows no bounds.

Yet all is truly not what it seems. Between the hunt for answers, the legal wrangling, the capture of a wanted war criminal, and the churnings of romantic liaisons, we are taken on a journey through the Inferno. There are crosses, double crosses and triple crosses. The complicity of a church is revealed, the cruelty of criminal organizations masquerading as military personnel is fully on display, and a government cover-up of massive proportions ends up leaving no one surprised.

We like to tell ourselves that we would never turn away from finding the truth no matter how horrendous and no matter how damaging to our way of life. But would you really? Would you betray everything you believed in? Would you fight to the end to retain that one little bit of human spark in your soul?

Scott Turow’s latest book asks the reader to enter a world very few know exist, and even fewer leave unscathed. These are stories found only in our own nightmares. It is the story of society unbound. It is the story of when humanity is at our worst, and also when humanity is at our best.

In the end it is all about the truth. But sometimes the truth is too terrible to even contemplate.

 

This book is available May 16.

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On Words: Death, Mourning

This week marks the second year anniversary of my mother’s death. Well actually she died on the 26th of April, but this was the week that we sat vigil over her hospice bed. I was struck by this fact the other day, and the fact that I seem to be at peace with this history. It’s funny really. This time last year, I was an emotional mess. I wasn’t sure whether it was because I was coming off the cancer diagnosis, or I was truly beginning my period of mourning. Probably the truth lies somewhere in the middle and is part and parcel of both of my realities of the time.

They actually say that it is the second year after a death that is the hardest. The first year, you are basically in shock and taking care of everything that needs to be done. Whether you are the executor of the estate, as I was for my mother, or simply an immediate family member trying to make sense of the unexpected, that first year after a death is at times like walking around in a bit of a fog.

It is not until after the fog has lifted, that you can sit down and take stock of what has really happened in your world. In all honesty it may have taken me a little bit longer, because I was side tracked by the cancer treatment. But then again, as I have written, the cancer center sent me for counseling because I simply didn’t seem worried about the diagnosis. There was so much going on in my world, that curable cancer was the least of my worries.

I know you can laugh at that concept, curable cancer. But with stage 1a breast cancer, that is what I call basically  amazingly good luck. Yes, I know, it would have been luckier not to have had cancer, but come on, if you have to have cancer, it doesn’t really get a better diagnosis than the one I had, except maybe if you were at stage 0. And yes there is a stage 0.

In truth, this year was a revelation in so many ways. In fact, these moments came out of the blue for me. I would find myself sad beyond all imagining, without any reason. I would feel overwhelmed and out of sorts simply by getting up in the morning. I felt angry at my mother, and sad that I didn’t have her to talk to. I would argue with her about the littlest thing as if she were standing right beside me. I am not certain why we would argue, because we generally never did when she was alive. I figured I was angry at her for dying and leaving me.

I had another epiphany, one that would make the cancer center happy, too. I suddenly became very aware of my own mortality and very afraid of a cancer recurrence. Not that I am not taking care of myself, seeing my doctors, and getting all the medical check ups that I need to get. But I realized that “heck -I had cancer.” That my body now produces cancer, and that I am vulnerable.

I also realized that my autistic sons are not ready for me to leave them not just yet. Oh they are doing well. Both have internships. The oldest is working on a second masters degree and the younger one is only 2 classes away from receiving his masters degree. But they have a ways to go in the independence side of the street, and that is going to take a lot more work. Work that the hubby cannot do alone. Just as I tell him, that he isn’t going anywhere, because I can’t help the boys on my own either. I will admit it. I get very frightened actually. Frightened because the boys are not ready, and the hubby needs me, and in truth, I am simply not ready to go. Not yet.

So I think the confluence of events have made this a very hard year for me. The fear. The sadness. The aloneness at times. It is interesting how you have to mourn alone. That no matter how many people love you, you need to deal with loss on your own terms and in your own way and in your own time.

I also know that one day, I woke up and I didn’t feel this overarching ache in my heart anymore. Oh the sadness is there. But the pain is gone. I am not certain that sadness can ever go away really. When you remember the ones you loved, you remember the good times for certain. But I think in remembering the good times, you also realize simply what you have lost by your loved ones being gone.

The other day was a yartzheit at the end of Passover. Hubby and I lit our parents’ candles and I recognized the sadness in his eyes. And his parents have been gone for decades. It really isn’t always about length of time. Sometimes, it is simply about missing the other person.

Philosophers say that we need to accept death. That it is a natural part of life. And so it is. If you are born, one day you will die. But in between you fight like hell to make certain that you get every ounce of life out of your time on Earth, and you fight like hell to make certain that your children, and any one else you love gets every ounce of life out of their time on Earth. It is an interesting concept. This desire for life. Where does it come from, and why do we fight to hold on to it so strongly? So strongly in fact, that the idea of suicide is anathema in most societies.

Perhaps that is why we need such rituals around death. Because we consider life so precious. Fighting for life is ingrained within us. It is part and parcel of our DNA, and our genetic structure. And it is not just a human anachronism. The desire for life, is part of the essence of what it means to live on Earth. So to make sense of what we consider the downside of life, we  need a ritual way to say good bye, and we need the right to mourn. We need the right to feel abject sadness in the death of those you love.

I also think it is a selfish thing in so many ways. We miss the person because of what we have lost. We miss the conversations. We miss the laughter. I know I miss the hugs. Sometimes I think what life would have been like if my mother had not died. She was on target to live with us and I think about how that would have been. I think about her going to the local gym and where she would find friends. I think how she would maybe volunteer her time and what she would have done to make herself happy. I also think about how she would have cooked the boys pancakes on demand (she had a special recipe).  Because you know, grandchildren get what they want at any age. I miss …well I simply miss her.

But I see my parents every day on my vanity. I have pictures of them in their youth, when they were first married. When I was a small child. When they were older and at the boys’ bar mitzvahs. I have a picture of my mother helping me at the Queens World Expo, where I was a child model. I have the mezuzahs they had on their door, and their pictures of Jerusalem in my home. I have their Hamsa hanging by my door. And of course, we have their little Maltese, who is not so little, and has an opinion on almost everything apparently. I feel like she is the last living vestige of my parents. But then I look at my boys and see my parents in them too. I definitely see my parents in me when I look in the mirror.

What I have come to understand about death and mourning is that there may be several stages that psychologists like to point out, but I am not certain that we all go through them in the order modern science has dictated. We all deal with loss individually, and in our own way.

I know that I did the right thing by my mother when I chose hospice for her. I know I did the right thing when I told the nurses to give my father that extra injection of morphine to help him breath better, understanding that it would probably cause him to die sooner. I loved my parents very much. And at times in life, it is because of that love for another person that you have to make the hardest decisions in life you will ever be forced to make.

I also think I no longer feel this overwhelming ache when I think of my parents, because I have also finally forgiven myself for having made those decisions, too.

 

Book Review: One Minute Mentoring By Ken Blanchard and Claire Diaz-Ortiz

Have you ever realized that you needed a mentor, but had no idea how to find one? Have you ever been asked to be a mentor, but had no idea how to proceed, or thought you didn’t have the time? Well here is a book, One Minute Mentoring, that will give you a good head start. Written as a holistic empowering approach to mentoring, the authors, Ken Blanchard and Claire Diaz-Ortiz, provide the reader with a simple program of thought provoking, and identifiable issues.

81cn6hxqzklUsing a situationable approach, the authors employs scenarios in which any mentor, or individual, may find themselves. They then give simple questions that will cause you to “pause, reflect and learn,” from the settings. Blanchard and Diaz-Ortiz challenge the reader to ask themselves and then find the answers as to why they think they cannot be a mentor; what exactly is a mentor; and what kind of mentor would they become?

The reader is taught about mission statements. What they are, and how to make them workable and realistic.

You learn how the  relationship is an essential part of a mentor-mentee association. Then you are given tools to help you figure out how to go about strengthening your rapport with others.

You are taught the importance of introspection, and above all communicating the truth. An essential aspect of a mentor-mentee relationship is to be able to engage successfully. Here the authors help you review your own progress, and help you grow and develop so that your interactions will be successful for everyone concerned.

The entire book is geared toward learning the M-E-N-T-O-R model.

M- Mission

E- Engagement

N- Network

T- Trust

O- Opportunity

R- Review and Renewal

Mentoring provides an individual, and any company, with a successful business model, that can actually be used in your day-to-day communications and relationships. It is an interesting program that is geared toward personal and professional success.

This book is available May 2.

Book Review: Fitter Faster by Robert J. Davis with Brad Kolowich, Jr

Spring has sprung and it’s soon swimsuit season. After having eaten your way through winter, you decide it’s time to PANIC. Well, calm down and grab a copy of Fitter Faster by Robert Davis and Brad Kolowich. Here the authors lay out a very doable plan to help 71wb3x4unulyou jump start your fitness regime.

Nothing they suggest you do is cumbersome and they are not judgemental. The authors outline “a smart way to get in shape in just minutes a day.” And no, they do not promise  you that you are going to spend 10 minutes a day exercising, and end up looking like a Victoria Secrets model. But they will help you create a plan for yourself so that you can end up healthy, happy, and be the best that you can be.

The authors discuss eating and how to get the most out of your diet. They don’t starve you, but turn you on to foods that benefit your body. They teach the reader how to eat and when to eat.

They discuss that heart muscle and put to rest some old wives tales. They talk about the biggest curse of our era, and that is sitting all day long. They point out how even the simplest change in the way we live our lives can have a lasting beneficial effect and they tell you why.

You are taught the benefits of good gear. The right gear does make a difference. If for nothing else it prevents injury. Listen, having the right sneakers keeps you from hurting your legs, your feet, and very importantly your knees. They take the reader through the latest fads, and discuss what you should and should not buy.

The authors discuss how to make exercising fun as they outline which type of exercise might just be for you. They go through popular forms of cardio with an eye to making sure that you will stick with the program.They help you be realistic in your approach and your goals.

Then in the end, they outline for you beginner, intermediate, and advanced exercise programs from weight training, to cardio, to strength, to the latest HIIT (high intensity interval training) and plyometrics, beginning with that all important stretch. You choose the level you want to work at, as you follow their seven day chart. Don’t worry on the seventh day you get to rest.

If you are a beginner, even if you are advanced, this book will jump start any program and turn your old bored program into something new again.

 

The book is available May 11.

Book Review: Song of the Lion by Anne Hillerman

Anne Hillerman, continues her father, Tony Hillerman’s legacy, with her latest book Song of the Lion.  The story begins with a bomb exploding during an alumni basketball game song-of-the-lion-35b15dat the local high school in Navajo territory. Bringing together Navajo Tribal Cops, Jim Chee, Bernadette Manuelito and legendary  Joe Leaphorn, the reader is plunged into the political drama associated with change, tradition, and the lure of monied investors.

We are taken on a history lesson of the Navajo. We learn how the past is intertwined with the present and the future. We catch glimpses of Navajo culture. The reader witnesses a world inhabited by those who are trying to balance respect for heritage with a desire to break into the future.

The central issue is the Grand Canyon and the exploitation of Navajo lands. There is the interplay between those with the  desire to abase this natural beauty for their own monetary gain, versus a reverence for Earth, and ancestry. This drama is played out in several days of hearings, complete with protestors, sabotage, and the intervention of the FBI . Meanwhile, Chee is tasked with keeping an eye on the mediator, who is thought to have been the target of the bomber, while Bernie, and Leaphorn, dig deep into the suspects’ pasts, in order to find the answers in the present.

What does the potential killer want?

Is the bomb connected to the proposed tourist resort?

What was the lone bombing victim doing by the car?

What about the mediator, himself? Is his past the reason for the attack? Are the issues more personal and less political than everyone thinks?

History plays a large role in this story. Whether learning about Native-American culture, and politics,  or analyzing the chronicles of the main characters of this novel, we learn that who we are, and where we come from, always plays a part in our present, and especially in our future.

This is a fun read and one that does keep you guessing to the end.

I personally enjoy a book especially when I can learn something new. This book provides the reader with an interesting look at how some indigenous societies in the United States hold on to their ancestry. For those of us completely uneducated in Native-American history, religion, and lore this book is a nice beginning of an education. Moreover, it is also a wonderful travelog of Arizona the Grand Canyon, and the tribal lands out west. We see the beauty of the landscape, and learn to understand the importance of respecting the Earth while holding tight to her beauty.

 

This book is available April 11.

 

On Words: Revamp

I suppose it’s because spring has sprung and I decided to clean out my attic. In that respect it came to me in the middle of the night, the word “revamp.” Actually, I removed boxes of books that I used to create a course on the history of law for middle school students, and have decided to peruse the boxes to see how I could “revamp” the class to create something new in my world. The best part was that in thinking about the dozens of books that I have acquired about ancient warfare, military strategy, and civilizations, I started a conversation with hubby about how our own world actually mirrors ancient Rome. He just let me talk….

To revamp ourselves is an interesting concept. We need to take who we are and effectively recreate ourselves. We try to keep that positive aspects of our lives, while figuring out where we screwed up and how to fix that as we seek a more positive future. Be that future come to fruition in a day, a week, a month or a year.

Now that’s not to say that we also aren’t “refurbishing” ourselves. But when I think of refurbishing I think of that antique your Aunt Edna has left in her attic too long, that turned out to be worth a small fortune. So you spend the money on a restorer to create a wonderful family heirloom. Of course, refurbishing can also be taking that piece of junk you found at the dump and turning it into your linen closet. However, I prefer to not think of myself as junk so much as a modern piece of art that went sideways, and simply needs a little TLC to be the best that I can be.

So that is why I use the word “revamp,” instead of “refurbishing,” when thinking and contemplating what is to be for me. I want to revamp my plan for the next year. To start with I need to clean out my own self-identifying perspectives.

Who am I really?

What do I want to accomplish over the next ten years, and how do I go about starting that now? Create a simple plan to get from point A to point B. The end goal being in 10 years. But don’t plan out the entire decade. Make it simple. Figure out what you have to do today, to accomplish your next goal. Break it down. Simplify it. Don’t overwhelm yourself. You may have a direction where you want to be in 10 years, but remember you need to take each step, each wrung individually until you have perfected that part of the plan. Ok, maybe not so perfect, but at least functionable and doable. Nothing happens over night. It is a long process carefully drawn and carefully executed. Keeping in mind, that nothing in life, ever happens the way you think it is going to happen. Stay flexible.

What are my true interests?

What are my likes and dislikes?

What basic philosophies have guided me, and do I need to do a reality check? Yes you always need to do a reality check. Don’t kid yourself.

Review how I have grown, or stunted my own life? There isn’t a person on Earth who hasn’t felt the effects of both growth and contraction no matter the issue, no matter the time, place, or pocketbook.

What can I do to fix, and if not fix my errors, how do I learn to move on from the shame I feel? Because we all know that feeling of shame for missed opportunities, poor choices, or ineffectual parenting decisions.

Whether you want to call this process mindfulness instead of revamping, is another way to see the future. The important point is to understand who you are and where you want to go with your life. It is essential that each of us have a map for our own future, even if that map is nothing more than wanting a material object like simply desiring to retire on the shore. Note: I dream of waking to the smell of salt air and the sound of seagulls.

I think it is good to sit down and take stock of where your life has gone and what you wish to accomplish. I remember having a list of things I had wanted to accomplish by the time I turned 40. All those things came to pass, and on time too. The funny thing is that since then I have been stuck. I simply cannot figure out the next step. I have been mired in this La Brea Tar Pit like existence where I have put everything on hold, simply because I can not figure out my next move. I used to joke, I haven’t figured out what I want to be when I grew up. Truth is, I know what I am. The problem is fixing what I don’t like.

Oh there has been movement of course. Blogging, volunteering, trying to create an at-home business, and above all supporting and helping my sons to be all that they can be. Of course, in the world of autism, this being World Autism Awareness Day as well, that job doesn’t ever seem to end. It’s not the same kind of parenting support you lend a typical young adult. It’s different. More time consuming, and truthfully more frightening as a parent.

I will admit. I’ve been very frightened about their future lately. I don’t know why. Perhaps, I have finally come to grips with my own mortality due to my cancer last year. I’m fine by the way, the cancer is all gone, and I am being taken care of by some very good doctors. But I have begun to think of “what ifs,” and “not nows,” for them.  And yes, we have some well written documents, which will hopefully protect them.

But then the issue is always the human question. Society, and what that means for them when we are gone. The vagaries of an unknown future. No, this is not part of my need to control everything. I call it my need to try to figure out what can stand in the boys’ way of happiness, and prevent the encroachment of horrible persons into my sons’ worlds.

One of the things that autism-warrior-parents do is to try to contemplate every scenario and how that scenario will be handled. We come up with plan A, B, C and all the way to Z, to try to anticipate anything that can stand in our children’s ways. It is one thing to do this and not be on target while you are still here to pick up the pieces, when your planning fails. And things, both good and bad,  will fail to materialize. But the hard part is to try to figure out what can go awry when you are gone.

It is of course impossible. You cannot contemplate every variable. There will be technologies, breakthroughs, even wars, societal upheavals, and dangers that you cannot account for, nor can you plan for it. If you told someone 20 years ago that we would walk around with pocket computers more powerful than the computers used to send men to the moon, you would be laughed at.

You see, we also do not have to really plan to counteract anything good. Positive social realities do not frighten us while we sleep. You really don’t have to worry, or plan about “good.” No person needs to be protected from “good.”

And yes, you can do just so much. You can plan just so much.

I could say that my first order of revamping is to unburden my soul. To forgive myself that which I cannot control, and that which I can not possibly contemplate. Allow myself the right to not have to think of everything. But then, if I did that, let myself off the hook per se, what kind of parent would I be?

So here I sit trying to think of how to revamp my life, so that I can be more than what I am today. So that I can forgive myself for errors, and my own failings on any particular moment or choice, and how I can be better at everything in the next ten years.

I think my first act will be to empty the boxes and reread my favorite books on ancient warfare. There is something to be said about the wisdom of the ancients. They may have been unknowledgeable compared to us today, but there is something to be said in how they thought, lived and loved. Something pure. Something grand. Something great.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Clash of Spheres by P.F. Chisholm

Based upon real events and real people, the latest by P.F. Chisholm is a wonderful addition to the reading lists of anyone who enjoys historical fiction, political machinations, espionage, and murder mysteries.  Using the actual diaries of Sir Robert Carey, Deputy Warden of the Border between Scotland and England, The Clash of Spheres, enters an interesting arena. The King of Spain, even aclashofspheres_website-350x525after the massive defeat of his armada,  is not done with trying to unseat Elizabeth I of England.

Here we find our intrepid courtier back in Scotland facing an interesting and a disconcerting effort to thwart another conspiracy against  the English Queen. We are also invited into the Court of King James VII, soon to be King James I of England. We get a glimpse of the world of Elizabethan England. It’s laws. It’s beliefs. It’s fears for the future.

Carey, cousin to the Queen through his father, has been one of her most loyal supporters. He has fought for her. He has spied for her. And he has lost at cards to her majesty (for if you know what’s good for you, you loose). This time he enters an arena where he has to deal in international politics, and at the same time keep himself safe from harm. For his last foray into danger has left a sour taste in the border world between Scotland and England, where even his second in command has taken exception to his choices. And unfortunately for Carey, such exceptions are tantamount to a blood feud.

Then there is James. The feeble. The weak-willed. The frightened, unkingly King James. Who is at the center of a conspiracy that could ignite the entire Island and bring England into civil war. We are brought into the world of the Scottish Court and allowed to ponder at it’s opulence, it’s decadence, and it’s political strife.  We meet the Danish Queen, who is caught in a loveless marriage, but knowing that her future resides in her ability to provide Scotland and England with a male heir. We find Lady Elizabeth Widdrington, Carey’s secret love, biding her time, away from her abusive husband, as lady-in-waiting, to the Scottish queen.

Along with Carey, her majesty enlists the help of Andricks. A tooth-puller. A journeyman. A philosopher. A learned man. A spy. He is to help uncover the plot to undermine Elizabeth’s  realm.  He is charged with a philosophical discussion of the position of the planets, especially the Earth vis-a-vis the sun, as a ruse to deliver an important letter to King James. Moreover,  along the way we learn something else about this man and the choices he has to make for his own family’s safety and well-being. Something that is all too real for many in the world of Christian Europe.

The philosophical discussion, and the plot against England and Scotland, come to a head New Year’s Day 1593. Alchemy, duels, scientific arguments, and political reality all mesh together to provide an exciting conclusion.

Filled with the cast of characters that readers have grown to know and love, and many pulled from the annuls of history such as Robert Cecil and Frances Walsingham, this latest foray into the Elizabethan England does not disappoint.