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review 2018-03-03 21:44
Between Sinners and Saints (Audiobook)
Between Sinners and Saints - Marie Sexton

Why did I wait so long to read this?


Well, because I found out there was a Mormon character and I always worry about that being done wrong. And while Levi's family isn't a carbon copy of my own or other Mormon families I know, I can still see this family dynamic existing in real life. It's almost too easy to see it. Even the church presidents spews the "love the sinner but not the sin" nonsense that Levi's family does here. Sadly, the Church isn't contend with just that. The book really gives a fully detailed and nuanced view of the various Binders and how they feel about Levi being gay. It's never questioned that they love Levi, some of them just don't know how to love him unconditionally like the Church also teaches us to do. His family runs the full spectrum of strictly following Church doctrine to believing it's high time the Church get off their high horse and catch up with the times.


Still, I can see how some readers not familiar with Mormonism or Mormons might hate Levi's family, and that's okay too.


Ok, onto the good stuff. Levi starts out a selfish windbag who's only concern is where to stick his dick. Working for a gay night club in Miami gives him plenty of hookups but little else. He doesn't realize how hollow his life is until he meets Jamie. Jamie is a massage therapist who Levi goes to for help with his surfer's hip and Levi, in true douche bag fashion, tries to seduce Jamie. Jamie though has a lot of trauma in his past and he quickly throws Levi out on his keister where Levi belongs. When Levi finally realizes what an asshole he's been, he has a turn around and he and Jamie become friends.


This is a nice slow burn, as Jamie and Levi get to know each other, and Jamie learns that he can in fact trust Levi. Levi in turns learns how to put someone else's needs above his own. It's the start of the change to a better life for both of them.


The romance takes it's time and doesn't rush things, and I didn't feel like Jamie's sexual awakening in the latter half of the book was too easy. It's anything but easy for him, and it's Levi's patience and understanding that goes a long way to helping Jamie become comfortable with his own body and letting himself be vulnerable.


The narrator, John Solo, does a fantastic job with the story and characters. He really brings the story to life, and his voices for the various characters are all well done and feel perfect for each one.

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review 2018-02-28 19:23
Jeffrey Dahmer: The Early Years
My Friend Dahmer - Derf Backderf

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf is a graphic novel which was used as the basis for the documentary film of the same name which came out in 2017. This is the account of Jeffrey "Jeff" Dahmer during his adolescence in Ohio from the point-of-view of his friend, Derf. [A/N: I would say "friend" is pushing it as it was frequently noted throughout the book that while a group of boys dubbed themselves The Dahmer Fan Club and imitated him/quoted him on multiple occasions Jeff was rarely (if ever) asked to hang out with them.] Derf talks about Jeff's home life which was as you'd expect: turbulent and troubling. His parents had an argumentative, unhealthy relationship and his mother in particular monopolized much of the attention in the home making it possible for Jeff's habits to remain under the radar. Jeff was an alcoholic from a very early age and somehow this went  unnoticed by the adults in his life including his teachers. However, Derf says that it was common knowledge among the kids at school that he was often drunk in class and looking back it was most likely a coping mechanism against his darker impulses. Besides his unhappy home life, he was struggling with his sexuality as a gay man and his sexual fantasies which revolved around having total (i.e. sexual) control over male corpses. He managed to keep this urge in check by murdering animals, skinning them, and keeping their bones in a shed behind his house. And yet no one had any idea this was happening. Hindsight is 20/20 and Derf seems to employ this readily when explaining that he and the other boys in the Dahmer Fan Club "knew" something wasn't right with Jeff which is why they often didn't invite him to be a part of their group activities. His parents were too caught up in their imploding marriage and his teachers seemed to have turned a blind eye even when he imitated people having epileptic fits to comic effect in their classrooms. (This bothered me a lot by the way.) 


I found the informative background knowledge on a serial killer that I knew little about quite interesting but the artwork (remember this is a graphic novel) was not my cup of tea. It was the faces which I really didn't like. Perhaps that was artistic license since Dahmer tended to dehumanize his victims. I just know that it brought me out of the narrative more often than not. I'll give it a 7/10 overall because it was almost too unbelievable to be true. If you enjoy true crime and find the evolution of serial killers to be fascinating then you'd be remiss not to check this one out.


The fits. [Source: American Book Center]


What's Up Next: Mine Own Executioner by Nigel Balchin


What I'm Currently Reading: From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2017-12-28 19:37
Not Simple (manga) by Natsume Ono, translation by Joe Yamazaki
not simple - Natsume Ono

I’m not sure how to summarize this story, since so much of it counts as spoilers. I suppose I’ll start at the beginning. A young woman named Irene wants to run away with her boyfriend but is afraid that her dad will find them and literally kill her boyfriend. She then comes up with an idea that immediately qualifies her as a horrible person: pick up a random homeless guy, convince her dad’s goons that he’s her boyfriend, and run off with her boyfriend while the goons beat the homeless guy half to death. It seems like a great (horrible) plan, until she learns that her random homeless guy, Ian, is actually same same guy who convinced a family member of hers not to run off three years ago.

Unfortunately, a misunderstanding results in Ian lying on the ground, dying from a gut wound. Ian’s friend, Jim, tells Irene that he plans to turn Ian’s life into a book that will be coming out in about a year. The rest of the manga is Ian’s life up to this point: growing up with an alcoholic mother and cold and dismissive father, trying to keep his promise to his sister so that he can see her again, and then walking across the US searching for his sister after she disappears.

I read Ono’s Ristorante Paradiso several years ago. I wasn’t a huge fan of it the first time around, but it grew on me after a reread. I’ve always wanted to try another one of her works, and this one-shot seemed like a good place to start. I vaguely remembered it getting some buzz when it first came out.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be almost unrelentingly depressing. Ian was written as being very innocent and pure, no matter what sorts of horrible things happened to him. All he wanted was to be with the one person he loved and who loved him back, his sister. When this turned out to be impossible, he sought out other people who’d been good and kind to him...and the universe stomped on him yet again until finally even he couldn’t take it anymore. The horribleness of it all bled into his friend Jim, if the rumors about his fate after the publication of his book were true.

There’s a massive amount of child abuse in this story:

neglect, emotional abuse, child prostitution, and incest.

(spoiler show)

It sometimes came up in such an offhand manner that I found myself wondering if the things I had thought just happened really had. Ian kept taking absolutely horrific things in stride.

I can’t even say this ended on a bittersweet note. Yes, it stopped at a slightly happier time in Ian’s life, but readers had already been told that that was all going to fall apart in the next 3-5 years. I wanted a do-over, with Jim telling Ian “that stuff that happened to you wasn’t okay, and I know it can’t be undone, but we can try to make some good memories from here on out.” Instead, I feel like the mom and her “you should never have been born” speech won out. And wow, her words still make me angry. She spent years heaping punishment on people she should have been trying to help and protect.

In the end, this manga just pissed me off and left a bad taste in my mouth. Not Simple bent over backwards to hurt its characters - the bit with Ian's sister's boyfriend was both cruel and difficult to believe. I also wasn't a fan of this on an artistic level. Although I know some people love Ono's unusual style, it doesn't work for me. I’m at least glad that I got this via the library and didn’t pay for it.


(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-12-11 22:41
A morally ambiguous thriller and a story of tainted friendships that will appeal to readers of King’s It.
The Chalk Man: A Novel - C.J. Tudor

Thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin UK for offering me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

This story, told in two different time frames by Eddie Adams (known as Eddie Munster as a child, because all the friends had nicknames and somehow the Munsters and the Adams became conflated into one…), has all the elements fans of mysteries and thrillers love. Strange characters, plenty of secrets, red herrings and false clues, lies, many suspects, a slightly odd setting, bizarre murders, strange relationships… A murder involving bizarre circumstances (a chopped-up body with a missing head, strange chalk drawings…) took place in a small and picturesque UK city (it sounds small enough to be a town, but as it has a cathedral, it is a city) in 1986 (although there were other strange things that happened at the time too, coincidental or not), and became known as the Chalk-Man murder. Thirty years later someone starts asking questions and stirring things up. Eddie narrates, in the first-person, the events, including his memories of what happened when he was a teenager and also telling us what is happening now. Those of you who read my blog know I have a thing for unreliable narrators, and, well, Eddie is a pretty good one. He is an English high school teacher and seems fairly reliable and factual in his account, and he does a great job of making us feel the emotions and showing us (rather than telling us) the events; although slowly he starts revealing things about himself that make him less standard and boring, and slightly more intriguing. Eddie does not have all the information (it seems that the friends kept plenty of things from each other as children), and sometimes he is unreliable because of the effect of alcohol, and possibly his mental state (his father suffered early dementia and he is concerned that he might be going down the same path). But there are other things at play, although we don’t fully get to know them until the very end.

The story reminded me of Stephen King’s It, most of all because of the two time-frames and of the story of the children’s friendship, although the horror element is not quite as strong (but there are possible ghosts and other mysterious things at play), and the friends and their friendship is more suspect and less open. In some ways, the depiction of the friend’s relationship, and how it changes over time, is more realistic. Of course, here the story is told from Eddie’s point of view, and we share in his likes and dislikes, that are strongly coloured by the events and his personal opinions. The main characters are realistically portrayed (both from a child’s perspective and later from an adult one), complex, and none of them are totally good, or 100% likeable, but they are sympathetic and not intentionally bad or mean (apart from a couple of secondary characters but then… there is a murderer at work). Morality is ambiguous at best, and people do questionable things for reasons that seem fully justified to them at the time, or act without thinking of the consequences with tragic results. I am not sure I felt personally engaged with any of the characters (perhaps because of Eddie’s own doubts), but I liked the dubious nature of the narration, and the fact that there were so many unknowns, so many gaps, and that we follow the process of discovery up-close, although there are things the main character knows that are only revealed very late in the game (although some he seems to have buried and tried hard to forget). The parents, and secondary characters, even when only briefly mentioned, serve the purpose well, add a layer of complexity to the story and are consistent throughout the narration.

The mystery had me engaged, and the pieces fit all together well, even when some of them are not truly part of the puzzle. I can’t say I guessed what had happened, although I was suspicious of everyone and, let’s say I had good reason to be. I liked the ending, not only the resolution of the mystery but what happens to Eddie. If you read it, you’ll know what I mean.

The writing is fluid, it gives the narrator a credible voice, it gets the reader under the character’s skin, and it creates a great sense of place and an eerie atmosphere that will keep readers on alert. The story deals with serious subjects, including child abuse, bullying (and sexual abuse), dementia, and although it is not the most graphically violent story I have read, it does contain vivid descriptions of bodies and crime scenes, and it definitely not a cozy mystery and not for the squeamish reader.

A great new writer, with a very strong voice and great ability to write psychological thrillers, and one I hope to read many more novels by. 


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text 2017-10-23 16:45
Review: Gosnell: The Untold Story of America’s Most Profilic Serial Killer
Gosnell: The Untold Story of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer - Ann McElhinney,Phelim McAleer

This book is not for everyone. The authors are very honest about what Kermit Gosnell, and what Gosnell did went far beyond abortion. He murdered and decimated. If you are uncomfortable with Ed Gein’s story, do not read this book, for Gosnell was the same type of hoarder.

This book was finely investigated, so I only deduct one star for these reasons:
* the unnecessary, in my opinion, long chapter lecturing the reader on proper journalistic practices. It’s near the end of the book, so by the time it is reached, I as the reader have the full picture of the bizarre news dodge of this story. I don’t need a mini journalism class to drive it home.
* the occasional use of “pro-abortion” in place of “pro-choice” in general (the only person I have run across who is truly pro-abortion is Dr. Gosnell, for pro- implies enthusiasm, gusto); and, in companion with this, the introduction written by a member of the Duck Dynasty family. This case is so vile, it didn’t need to be politicized at all, in any way. Just tell the reader what Gosnell, his wife, and his staff did. You’ll probably change a lot of minds on abortion. I think these leans of bias make the annoyance of the lesson of the unbiased Fourth Estate stronger. To truly make this point, the book should have carried absolutely no agenda—including no biased language (a no-no in basic journalism) and no biased celebrity endorsement.

I can’t say this enough: this is an important case, and, despite its above flaws, an important book. But I am going to type a phrase below that was in the crime scene report about Ed Gein, and please let it be your litmus test for whether or not you should read this book.

That phrase is: cup of noses

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