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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-10-23 22:16
Man, Woman and Child by Erich Segal
Man, Woman, and Child - Erich Segal

Sheila and Bob lead the perfect life, successful in their jobs, 2 daughters, an epitome of a marriage - but Bob has kept a secret for 10 years, a secret that comes back to haunt him when he takes a call from France.

 

Years ago, I read Segal's "Doctors" 3 times, I read Acts of Faith, Love Story, Oliver's Story and Prizes and I remember them all, especially Doctors, very fondly. Maybe that's why this book ultimately disappointed me. First of all, the prose seemed incredibly simple and dispassionate at times.

 

And secondly and more importantly, how can a matter so complex as having a child from an affair a decade ago turn up, be handled properly in just over 200 pages? 50 of which deal with flashbacks to the beginnings of Sheila and Bob's relationship and to his affair? The focus is with the family the boy comes into, but the boy himself who after all just lost practically his whole world, is more a footnote. Where's just one thought about what's best for this child? Instead we read about 2 spoiled girls, Sheila who's tempted to sort of return the affair-favour, and Bob who just feels guilty. But the premise would have deserved much more...

 

That the book still gets an average rating is due to the fact that in the end, I got sucked into the story. But the disappointment remains.

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review 2017-10-19 09:53
Challenger Deep by Neil Shusterman
Challenger Deep - Neal Shusterman

A captivating novel about mental illness that lingers long beyond the last page, Challenger Deep is a heartfelt tour de force by New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman.

Caden Bosch is on a ship that's headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench.
Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behavior.
Caden Bosch is designated the ship's artist in residence to document the journey with images.
Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head.
Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny.
Caden Bosch is torn.

Challenger Deep is a deeply powerful and personal novel from one of today's most admired writers for teens. Laurie Halse Anderson, award-winning author of Speak, calls Challenger Deep "a brilliant journey across the dark sea of the mind; frightening, sensitive, and powerful. Simply extraordinary."

Amazon.com

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel does periodically bring up the topic of suicide. 

 

The outside world sees Caden Bosch as a regular high school student. In his own mind however, Caden sees himself as artist in residence aboard a submarine assigned to explore Challenger Deep, the deepest part of the Marianas Trench, the deepest section of ocean in the world. What most would consider his real life, that of a HS student, to him is more like a secondary dreamworld. Pay attention and you will see subtle, parallel characters and situations between life aboard the ship and Caden's time in school.

 

Forget solar energy -- if you could harness denial, it would power the world for generations.

 

There are others, fellow crew members on the ship, around Caden's age. Most of these teens come from broken or troubled homes. As for the ship's captain -- who has apparently has a preference for speaking like a pirate -- well, there is something dark and mysterious about him. 

 

Regardless of what world he was in, for me there was one constant about Caden: those elements within his personal story which insisted on keeping my heart just a little bit broken for him all the way through the story. When people try to reach out to him, Caden tends to verbally push them away but deep inside he mourns not having a good enough understanding of what's wrong well enough to let others help. He struggles with his parents' questionable behavior, to say the least. In one instance, they get drunk and pressure him to bungee jump. There was a part of the story, about at the halfway point of the book, where Caden's parents make a decision they think will help him and his inner struggles but for me, it felt that a little more explanation was needed, as far as where the dual realities come into play. 

 

Everything feels right in the world... and the sad thing is that I know it's a dream. I know it must soon end, and when it does I will be thrust awake into a place where either I'm broken, or the world is broken.

 

Over time, Caden develops near-crippling anxiety, but tries out for his HS track team in an attempt to stay connected with schoolmates. There are some laughs when it comes to Caden's therapy sessions... well, if you've been in therapy yourself, that is. It's relatable humor: "I tell him that everything sucks, and he apologizes for it, but does nothing to make things less suckful."

 

I also loved Shusterman's use of analogies. One of my favorites was a car one, and its likeness to therapy: "useless check engine light... but only, the people qualified to check under the hood can't get the damn thing open."

 

Caden does struggle with suicidal thoughts at times, but he says the existence of his little sister is a "fail safe" from actually going through with anything. Even so, he still ponders the subject near the end of the novel, so heads up if you are sensitive to that sort of theme / material. I'm happy to report that while much of the plot is heavy in tone, Shusterman does close things on positive, empowering thoughts. He also provides two pages of resources after the novel to help any reader struggling with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, all of the above, etc. 

 

The artwork you'll find in this book was all done by Shusterman's son, Brendan, who suffers from chronic depression himself. Brendan's own story of struggle, along with his artwork, inspired the adventures and trials Caden of Challenger Deep experiences. 

 

 

 

My initial interest in picking this book up was spurred by rave reviews from so many friends and fellow reviewers saying "This is the most accurate depiction of mental illness I have ever read." I've lived with mental illness my entire life. My mother battled depression, my father agorophobia and bipolar disorder. Both my brother and I were diagnosed with chronic depression, anxiety and PTSD in our adulthoods. So I figured I was going into this on pretty firm ground. While on one hand I could see what Shusterman was trying to convey, the novel didn't always represent my own experiences. But at times it hit it spot on. Then, other times I was admittedly kinda bored outta my gourd. But that's the thing about mental illness, there's no one clear-cut way to have it. Everyone's battle is different. So I took that into consideration when weighing my end thoughts on my reading experience. 

 

While I would not put my vote in with the "best ever" crowd, I do vote that it has its merits when it comes to the subject of mental illness. 

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review 2017-10-17 12:04
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (Gilead #1)
Gilead - Marilynne Robinson

Twenty-four years after her first novel, Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America's heart. Writing in the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, Marilynne Robinson's beautiful, spare, and spiritual prose allows "even the faithless reader to feel the possibility of transcendent order" (Slate). In the luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames, Gilead reveals the human condition and the often unbearable beauty of an ordinary life.

Goodreads.com

 

 

 

In the town of Gilead, Iowa, 76 year old Congregationalist minister John Ames senses he is nearing death and is trying to prepare his family for his imminent passing. Author Marilynne Robinson lays out the entire novel in the form of one long letter Ames is writing to his nearly 7 year old son (obviously a son he fathered late in life). This letter is largely full of Ames' musings on his long life, seasoned with long stories,  meaningful anecdotes, lessons learned, etc..."As I write I am aware that my memory has made much of very little."

 

 

 

 

He also tries to impart final lessons to his son on the value in being financially humble yet rich in familial bonds, and the hardships & merits that come from living a life of service.

 

 

"I can't believe we will forget our sorrows altogether. That would mean forgetting that we have lived, humanly speaking. Sorrow seems to me to be a great part of the substance of human life. For example, at this very moment I feel a kind of loving grief for you as you read this, because I do not know you, and because you have grown up fatherless, you poor child, lying on your belly now in the sun with Soapy asleep on the small of your back. You are drawing those terrible pictures that you will bring me to admire, and which I will admire because I have not the heart to say one word that you might remember against me....I'll pray that you grow up a brave man in a brave country. I will pray you find a way to be useful."

 

I was moved at Ames' protective thoughts regarding one Jack Boughton, a man Ames fears may pose a threat to his family after Ames' death. Minster or no, you gotta respect that father gene kicking in:

 

"How should I deal with these fears I have, that Jack Boughton will do you and your mother harm, just because he can, just for the sly, unanswerable meanness of it? You have already asked after him twice this morning. Harm to you is not harm to me in the strict sense, and that is a great part of the problem. He could knock me down the stairs and I would have worked out the theology for forgiving him before I reached the bottom. But if he harmed you in the slightest way, I'm afraid theology would fail me."

 

It may come as no surprise to some but I'll go ahead and let the general reader know that this one turns pretty heavily religious. Our main character is a minister so it naturally comes with the territory, but even with that in mind it still felt like overkill at times. Long, looong bits on preaching, a lot of actual Scripture woven into the novel's text.  Also, Ames swings his thoughts back to the topic of his grandfather SO MUCH, to the point of distraction for me.

 

 

With the narrator coming from a long line of preachers, there's a healthy amount of biblical overtones & parallels. Some of the sermons were totally lost on me, but I did enjoy the theme of creating a life of love and strong family bonds. Ames' description of his relationship with his second wife (the mother of the son he is writing to) has its memorably heartwarming bits. Together a relatively brief time, only 10 years married by the start of the novel (he 67, she in her mid-30s at their wedding) , Ames shares with his son that he takes comfort in leaving the world knowing he was able to provide his wife the stable life she craved, though he hints that she "settled". The way the proposal went down was pretty cute, the deadpan way she just says "You should marry me", his equally straight-faced "You're right, I think I shall", her "Well then, I'll see you tomorrow." and Ames admitting to his son that it was the most exciting thing that had ever happened in his life LOL

 

If you're the kind of reader who heavily relies on plot, you'll likely be disappointed with this one. In that respect, this novel is pretty dull. Its strength mainly lies in the thought-provoking subjects Ames presents in his letter. For that, it may make for a good book club pick. Mostly my take away was the warmth and love Ames tries to imprint upon his son and wife through his final words. 

 

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review 2017-10-16 10:56
The Whispering of the Willows by Tonya Jewel Blessing
The Whispering of the Willows - Tonya Jewel Blessing

A work of historical fiction, The Whispering of the Willows is set in the late 1920s in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. Eighth grader Emerald is about to learn some hard lessons when a deeply disturbed man is thrust into her life by her abusive father and enabling mother. Author Tonya Jewel Blessing tells a story about a young woman's struggles and redemption. The blossoming young woman is accompanied by her friends and her foes on the journey towards hope and healing. Love weaves through gut-wrenching circumstances and dismal poverty. There, Emerald Ashby grows strong despite grievous wrongs committed against her. 

~from back cover

 

 

 

Emerald "Emie" Ashby is a young girl from a dirt poor family, just starting her teen years, coming of age in the small Appalachian town of Big Creek, West Virginia during the 1920s. With her 8th grade year of schooling coming to a close, Emie's father decides "she ain't a boy that can carry his weight", so he decides to arrange to have her married off to a local boy... a decision he makes without so much as a word to Emie herself. 

 

It's the choice of the groom that gets everyone's hackles up. Young Charlie, still working through his teens himself, has already gotten himself a reputation for being short-tempered, mean-spirited, possibly even abusive towards women. Just like his father. Emie's mother, Alma, though used to acquiescing to her husband's wishes, fears that if this marriage goes through, her daughter will be unfairly condemned to a life of endless work and abuse from both husband and father-in-law, leaving her with little more than an utterly broken spirit. When Emie's father, Ahab, continues to insist that the match is a good one, Emie's older brother, Ernest, begins to have suspicions of ulterior motives. Sure enough, some digging on Ernest's part turns up the truth: Emie's marriage to this boy is so important to Ahab because of its ties to a business deal he needs to see succeed. Unfortunately, Ernest's involvement in the family drama leads him to find young Emie one night, propped against the support rail of a bridge, still alive but with her body battered & broken following a sexual assault. 

 

From there the story becomes one of Emie's physical and emotional healing, working through the emotions that come with having one's childhood unexpectedly truncated, and the need to make sure such horror doesn't befall her younger sisters. Emie gets a fresh start under the protective wing of "Auntie Ada", not a biological aunt but one Emie calls a "love aunt", a longtime friend of Alma. It's in Ada's home that Emie experiences the kind of environment every young person should be privy to: one of love, kindness, tolerance and compassion for all.

 

 

"Even in darkness, there was always a measure of light."

 

This is illustrated firsthand when Ada hears of a black man, ironically named Justice, who is falsely accused and arrested for Emie's assault. Everyone in town knows who's likely responsible, but because of the person's position in town, it's hushed up and a fall guy is produced. Well, Ada won't stand for it. Once Justice's release is arranged, she not only takes in him but his entire family to keep them safe from those who'd wish him harm. Not only does Ada offer the family food, shelter and friendship, but she also works her magic to arrange for educational opportunities for Justice's young children. 

 

"Around my table, we are all equal like the good Lord intended." ~ Ada

 

It's through the nurturing environment of Ada's homestead that Emie learns the true meaning of respect, love, and healthy family bonds. Through witnessing Ada tackling social injustices head on, Emie is provided a firm example of what it means to stand by one's word and protect the innocent. 

 

"God listens to all prayers, darlin', even the ones too painful to be sayin' out loud." ~Ada to Emie

 

I couldn't quite put my finger on what was creating the sensation, but there was something to the writing here that made this novel feel much more dense and complex than one might expect for being less than 400 pages. The plot somehow manages to simultaneously be complex yet easily imaginable, scary as that sounds. The characterization of Emie's father alone made much of the text hard to stomach, imagining a father that would repeatedly put his daughter in the path of danger with little more than a shoulder shrug and a hope for solid monetary gain for his decisions. And then there's Alma. The yin and yang of dysfunctional relationships -- if there's an abusive husband, there naturally has to be the doormat wife to say "he has his reasons for being difficult." In this case, Alma reasons away her husband's abuse by saying he wasn't the same man she married when he came back from World War 1, but the horrors he saw make him lash out....it's not really him doing it... etc. Just picturing this couple -- the father easily condoning the sexual assault of a minor so he can make a few extra bucks here and there, and his wife dismissing herself out of responsibility with a curt "mind your father" ... it made for a maddening reading experience! But it's a testament to author Tonya Jewel Blessing's writing that she can make a reader feel SO strongly towards her characters! 

 

One way Blessing lightens the heaviness of some of the darker bits of the plot is by incorporating nods to Appalachian folklore as well as a sweet love story for Emie that quietly, gently unfolds under the whispering of willow trees by the river, teaching her to trust again and believe that a good man won't mind waiting for a great gal (and that these men do exist, if one only has faith!) The folklore that heads every chapter was entertaining, a number of them being not too far off from what many of us would deem "old wives' tales". Some of them are oddly specific, such as to keep evil away, find the left hind foot of a graveyard rabbit.. or flower that bloom out of season are evil. I got a kick out of some of the things that create bad luck, according to these Appalachian beliefs: bathing on your wedding day, watching a person leave until they are out of sight, dreaming of muddy water... just to name a few. 

 

While the subject matter can be tough to stomach at times, Blessing's writing here has a true down-home way about it. Her way of describing the emotions and environments of these characters has a certain flow, a kind of lyricism to it that offers the reader a true sense of mountain life of the 1920s. There were times during the first half of the novel where portions of the writing came off a little too direct for this girl's liking, leaving little room for mystery or opportunities for the reader to have some fun with guessing / inference. However, the suspenseful plot twists (particularly the major tragedy explored in the final chapters) Blessing stashes away on the back end of the story more than made up for this! It's also admirable that Blessing uses a couple of her characters to address the struggle & hardships of interracial relationships within a largely racist community. It's sad to say that though this novel is set in the 1920s, what the reader sees this couple go through won't seem too unfathomable in today's world.

 

* FYI: or those interested in this book as a possible book club pick, a list of discussion questions is included at the back of the book. 

 

FTC Disclaimer: Bookcrash.com & Capture Books kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

________

 

EXTRAS:

 

* This novel is inspired by the stories of author Tonya Blessing's own mother, who grew up in the real Big Creek, WV -- an area used for the setting of the film October Sky. 

 

* Author Tonya Jewel Blessing and her husband are co-directors of Strong Cross Ministries, a non-profit dedicating to offering assistance to churches in impoverished communities around the world carry out humanitarian projects meant to better provide for struggling communities. ALL proceeds of this novel will be funded back into Strong Cross Ministries of South Africa. 

 

 

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review 2017-10-16 01:41
ARC Review: Off The Beaten Path by Cari Z.
Off the Beaten Path - Cari Z.

Ever since I read my first shifter book, I've been hooked. For some reason, Off The Beaten Path escaped my notice at first, but when it kept popping up in friend reviews on Goodreads, I requested a review copy from the publisher.

I was not disappointed.

This is not some fluffy wolf shifter meets human and they live happily ever after shifter book. No, as the title indicates, this shifter universe is off the beaten path, set in an alternate reality where shifters exists, after a government experiment gone terribly wrong, but are controlled by the human government, living in remote areas away from human cities, within confined compounds, with the pack Alphas required to serve as ultimate soldiers whenever the military requires them to utilize their extra strength and abilities to carry out the military's dirty work. 

Additionally, some children are born as shifters to human parents, and when their true nature is revealed, they are removed from their human parents, severing the relationship, and relocated to a shifter compound, where they either can shift back to human or, if they can't, are destroyed. 

Thus, we meet Ward Johannsen whose young daughter Ava shifted into a wolf during a stressful situation and was immediately taken by the feds to the nearest shifter camp. Unwilling to give up his daughter, Ward does everything he can to obtain her location, which just happens to be in the Colorado mountains. And it's winter. 

Ward is rescued, nearly frozen to death, at the perimeter of the pack compound. Once inside, he's faced with the pack's Alpah, Henry Dormer, who only recently returned from his last mission and hopes to have a bit of time to recuperate before he's sent out again.

Both men are really strong-willed and not inclined to give up. Ward is unwilling to let go of Ava, even if the law says he has to, and he does everything in his power to get back to her, even if that means willingly walking into a werewolf compound and standing his ground. Henry too fights every day to ensure the security and well-being of his pack, even if that means that he himself suffers abuse and faces possible death.

See, the government doesn't really care about the werewolves it created, considering them dangerous and thus in need of being kept separated and hidden, but is perfectly willing to use the wolves' Alphas for its Black Ops missions. Henry's CO especially is a sack of shit, vengeful and vile, but Henry knows he has to follow the rules so his pack can get what it needs to survive. 

Relationships between wolves and humans are strongly discouraged, though not forbidden. 

Obviously, Ward's presence in the camp, and his having found the compound, breaks all kinds of security rules, and Henry has to take the blame. Still, Henry realizes that Ward's presence will likely help Ava shift back to human, so he is willing to give it a try. 

The attraction they both feel to each other is neither expected nor necessarily wanted, but Ward's persistence and courage seems to calm Henry in the face of the multiple pressures he's facing not only from his CO but also his pack. 

This isn't some fluffy shifter tale. It's gritty, it's dark, and there are oh so many obstacles Henry and Ward face before they can find even a modicum of happiness. Though, I think the point here is that the happiness you have to fight for so hard is worth more in the end - simply because you have to fight for it. 

At the end of this book, there's hope. Not only for Ward and Henry to have a happy ending, but for the shifters in the compound, and all shifters under the thumb of the feds. In fact, there are forces at work to better the lives of the werewolves and give them a chance to actually live

I do hope that the author has more books planned, and that this will turn into a full-blown series. Because Tennyson and David surely need their own book.

This book is full of tension, passion, and courage in the face of nearly insurmountable odds. A true "edge-of-your-seat" read, this comes highly recommended. 



** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. **

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