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review 2018-09-12 01:11
Great Story and Characters
Dagger's Edge - Lora Leigh

Ivan Resnova wants nothing more than to escape his hard, brutal past. Starting over is not so easy once you’ve been a powerful crime boss but now, instead of being punished for his alleged crimes, Ivan fears that the one woman he can’t forget is in danger of paying the price.

The story before this was Ivan’s daughter and, while I didn’t remember getting much of a description (or age) of him, I remembered the hint of boiling heat between Ivan and Syn. So, starting this one off, my visual of him before the author did a great job of revealing him probably wasn’t the most attractive. However, as with all of Lora Leigh’s stories, she did their story justice. I really enjoyed it and read it pretty quickly. There were plenty of hot scenes to go along with the drama. I highly recommend.

**I voluntarily read and reviewed this book

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review 2018-09-12 00:14
Ghosting by David Poyer
Ghosting: A Novel - David Poyer

Dr. Jack Scales, a prominent neurosurgeon, is at the peak of his career. To celebrate, he decides to make up for lost time and buys a sailing yacht christened Slow Dance, for a family cruise to Bermuda. But the family is strained: Jack’s wife Arlen is secretly considering leaving the marriage; Rick, their bipolar twenty-year-old son, may need to be committed to a group home; Haley, a rebellious teenager, would rather be anywhere but trapped on a boat with her family; and Jack himself is not prepared for the challenge of the open sea. Day by day, the Scales face mounting dangers. A lightning storm nearly destroys the boat, Rick’s unstable condition worsens, and both Arlen and Haley realize that Jack is in over his head. Still, emerging from the storm, they find a fragile unity…until a man adrift on a raft leads them into danger against a terrifying gang of smugglers, who will stop at nothing to gain control of Slow Dance.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel includes scenes of gang rape. Also within this book are intense, emotionally raw scenes with a character who is struggling with schizophrenia and suicidal thoughts. 

 

Neurosurgeon Jack Scales may be riding a high professionally but over the years his personal life with the wife and kids has suffered. Now near the breaking point, with Jack's wife, Arlen, having an affair with a younger man, and his schizophrenic (or at least schizo-affective) son, Ric, hearing voices urging him to commit murder and self-mutilation, Jack thinks a family trip is long overdue. Also along for the journey is daughter Hailey, a dedicated swimmer who generally does what she can to avoid the whole family. Jack plans a family trip to Bermuda on the new sailboat he bought but has yet to actually sail. What could go wrong?  Oooh, just wait, readers. 

 

In the course of this short novel that clocks at just under 300 pages, we the readers witness: a stowaway that nearly dies, a lightning strike that damn near sinks the boat, Hailey walking in on brother Ric trying to shove a kitchen knife down his throat, a gang rape, AND the boat taken hostage by smugglers! Phew! At times it almost felt like some macabre, darkly comedic take on National Lampoon's Family Vacation, minus the scenes where I came to really feel for Ric with his dark episodes and internal struggles. Ric reminded me a bit of the character Andy Hoffstadt (the brother of Hank Azaria's character) on the short-lived tv drama, Huff. 

 

No surprise, there is a healthy dose of medical and boating jargon scattered throughout the story (author David Poyer himself is a sailor with 30+ years experience). But I got a chuckle at one point when Jack insists to his family that any complaining is to be done using correct boating terminology. The sex scenes though... I'm talking about the consensual ones here --- not so sexy. Maybe it's just a matter of personal preference, but having a guy bust out one or more "kiddo" during bed dancing just weirds me out. 

 

The plot, post-smugglers taking over the boat, gets incredibly intense. As noted in the trigger warning at the beginning of this review, this novel does include scenes of gang rape. Though painful to read, their existence within the story plays a powerful role in illustrating just how far a parent will go to protect their child, sacrificing themselves at all costs if it will me the offspring will stay safe. 

 

Recommended for: Fans of Corban Addison's The Tears of Dark Water.

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review 2018-09-05 08:37
Under The Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith - Jon Krakauer

This extraordinary work of investigative journalism takes readers inside America’s isolated Mormon Fundamentalist communities, where some 40,000 people still practice polygamy. Defying both civil authorities and the Mormon establishment in Salt Lake City, the renegade leaders of these Taliban-like theocracies are zealots who answer only to God. At the core of Krakauer’s book are brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a commandment from God to kill a blameless woman and her baby girl. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this appalling double murder, Krakauer constructs a multi-layered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, polygamy, savage violence, and unyielding faith. Along the way he uncovers a shadowy offshoot of America’s fastest growing religion, and raises provocative questions about the nature of religious belief.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Under the Banner of Heaven investigates a true crime story that unfolded during the summer of 1984 within the Mormon Fundamentalist community. Brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty murdered a woman and her baby daughter, later claiming that they were ordered by God to do it. 

 

Krakauer uses this crime case as a basis for writing a behind-the-curtain look at Mormon Fundamentalist culture -- the history, the general belief system, even the "underbelly", if you will, where one will find a growing population of people struggling with various stages of mental illness. Severe depression is on the rise in this community and suicide attempts are no longer uncommon. Also to be found are increased reports of incest, molestation, and sexual assaults. It's believed that this particular problem is because the topic of sex / sex education is so strongly repressed within the community, especially among the female population. Even married couples seem to dance around the topic when it comes to trying to openly talk about it. Krakauer even manages to incorporate the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping case, looking at the creepy, tragic details of the crime and how her abductors (Mormons who turned Fundamentalist) were able to brainwash her into submission (In interviews in recent years, Smart has since come out and implied that her brainwashing was merely an act she put on to captors as a means to stay alive).

 

"We have the greatest and smoothest liars in the world."

~ Brigham Young

 

When Krakauer focuses on the Lafferty murder case, we learn that the Lafferty brothers grew up with a violent disciplinarian father, forced to watch him carry out violent acts on their mother or other children, at one point even beating the family dog to death. The father was also a believer in healing serious illness with fervent prayers rather than modern medicine. Or so Krakauer's research showed... but when Dan Lafferty himself was interviewed, he claimed he had a very happy, loving childhood. But even there, Krakauer later turns up evidence that Lafferty brought violence into his own marriage after reading a book on polygamy that claimed that women were to be looked at as "a subservient ox". It turns out Dan originally intended to take his oldest stepdaughter as his first plural wife, but later decided on a young Romanian immigrant who was working at Robert Redford's horse ranch nearby who claimed she was "open to new experiences". (Not the kind of thing people typically mean when they say that, but okay).

 

Brenda, the murder victim, was the sister-in-law of Ron and Dan, married to their brother Allen. She was also the only one of the Lafferty wives who was college educated. She was known in the community to be book smart with an independent spirit, not afraid to debate theology, and she would also encourage other wives in the community to stick up for themselves. Ron blamed Brenda for his own wife, Dianna, leaving him, taking their kids with her. A God-decreed murder, my foot! 

 

In addition to the true crime investigation, readers also get a look into the general history of Mormonism, all the way back to Joseph Smith & Brigham Young days, some of which might be new or forgotten info to today's readers -- such as the fact that Joseph Smith actually ran for President of the United States in 1844, but obviously lost to James Polk.

 

An earnest, good-natured kid with a low boredom threshold, Joseph Junior had no intention of becoming a debt-plagued farmer like his father, toiling in the dirt year in and year out. His talents called for a much grander arena. Although he received no more than a few years of formal schooling as a boy, by all accounts he possessed a nimble mind and an astonishingly fecund imagination... Gregarious, athletic, and good-looking, he was a regular raconteur whom both men and women found immensely charming. His enthusiasm was infectious. He could sell a muzzle to a dog...

 

In the beginning, Joseph Smith had emphasized the importance of personal revelation for everyone... he instructed Mormons to seek direct "impressions from the Lord," which should guide them in every aspect of their lives. Quickly, however, Joseph saw a major drawback to such a policy: if God spoke directly to all Mormons, who was to say that the truths he revealed to Joseph had greater validity than contradictory truths He might reveal to somebody else? With everyone receiving revelations, the prophet stood to lose control of his followers. Joseph acted fast to resolve this dilemma by announcing in 1830 -- the same year the Mormon Church was incorporated -- that God had belatedly given him another revelation: "No one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant, Joseph Smith, Jr." But the genie was already out of the bottle... People liked talking to God directly, one-on-one, without intermediaries... Thus, even after Joseph told his followers that henceforth they were forbidden to receive divine commandments concerning church doctrine, many of these Saints quietly ignored the edict and continued to heed the voice of God, whether he was talking to them about matters of theology or personal issues.

 

 

 

We also get more examples of Joseph Smith's raging hormones and Emma Smith's long, losing battle with trying to keep her husband monogamous. William Law, Emma's friend as well as one of Joseph's counselors, urged Joseph to cool it down a bit with the ladies, but to no avail. Their friendship was later broken when Joseph kept making passes at William's wife.

 

Neither Emma's tears nor her rage were enough to make Joseph monogamous...neither were the prevailing mores of the day. He kept falling rapturously in love with women not his wife. And because that rapture was so wholly consuming and felt so good, it struck him as impossible that God might possibly frown on such a thing. Joseph wasn't by nature reflective of deliberative. He conducted his life impulsively, acting according to instinct and emotion. The Lord, it seemed to him, must surely have intended man to know the love of more than one woman or He wouldn't have made the prospect so enticing.

 

Between 1840 and 1844 God instructed the prophet to marry some forty women. Most were shocked and revolted when Joseph revealed what the Lord had in mind for them. Several were still prepubescent girls, such as fourteen year old Helen Mar Kimball. Although she acquiesced when the prophet explained that God had commanded her to become his plural wife -- and that she would be permitted twenty-four hours to comply -- Helen later confided to a friend, "I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of our whole family depended on it."

 

Joseph married Helen Mar Kimball in Nauvoo in May 1843, Earlier that same month, young Lucy Walker was also wed to the prophet after being similarly coerced...When the horrified girl balked at his proposal, Joseph explained to Lucy that if she refused she would face eternal damnation. "I have no flattering words to offer," he said. "It is a command of God to you. I will give you until tomorrow to decide this matter. If you reject this message the gate will be closed forever against you."

 

Throughout this period of frenzied coupling, Joseph adamantly denied that he endorsed plural marriage, let alone engaged in the practice himself. "When the facts are proved, truth and innocence will prevail at last," he asserted in a speech given to the people of Nauvoo in May 1844. "What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can find only one. I am the same man, innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers."

 

William decided to try his hand at making his own branch of Mormonism, the Reformed Mormon Church. He even printed pamphlets denouncing Joseph, claiming him a fraud. William's printing press was destroyed by Joseph's brother, Hyrum and an angry mob was rounded up to drive William out of town. Joseph and Hyrum had charges brought against them for their roles in the destruction of William's property. While they sat in jail, a different angry mob burst in and killed them both in a hail of gunfire. Specifically, Joseph himself was shot, sent out a window, shot again and then bayonetted, dying at a mere 38 years of age. 

Sidenote: There's also a discussion in this book about the Mountain Meadow Massacre. John D. Lee was ultimately executed for his role in the murders but just prior to death was quoted as saying that if he was innocent, Brigham Young would be dead in six months. As it turns out, Young was dead five months and six days after Lee's execution, but the cause of death is presumed to be from a probable burst appendix.

 

 

So in a nutshell, I guess Under The Banner Of Heaven is, in a way, a collective look at the history of violence that's gone down over the years within the Mormon Fundamentalist community, though largely kept quiet and swept under the "God's Work" rug. I didn't find the book completely entralling start to finish, there were some dry bits for me, but then again it definitely had plenty of jaw dropping moments in there as well. Recommended if you're at all interested in either true crime cases or reading about the more taboo side of the Mormon faith. 

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review 2018-08-31 11:11
Tease by Amanda Maciel
By Amanda Maciel Tease - Amanda Maciel

Emma Putnam is dead, and it's all Sara Wharton's fault. At least, that's what everyone seems to think. Sara, along with her best friend and three other classmates, has been criminally charged for the bullying and harassment that led to Emma's shocking suicide. Now Sara is the one who's ostracized, already guilty according to her peers, the community, and the media. In the summer before her senior year, in between meetings with lawyers and a court-recommended therapist, Sara is forced to reflect on the events that brought her to this moment—and ultimately consider her own role in an undeniable tragedy.

And she'll have to find a way to move forward, even when it feels like her own life is over.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Teenager Emma Putnam is found dead and now Sara Wharton and three of her friends are being charged with bullying / harrassment, believed to have played a key role in Emma's decision to take her own life. In the time prior to the case going to trial, more and more Sara finds herself being socially ostracize.

 

The reader learns Emma's history: a redhead who struggled to develop friendships with the other girls in her school (set up as Emma was just SO pretty it would send other girls into deep, unchecked jealousy). Emma is labeled a slut / boyfriend stealer. In addition, Sara and her best friend Brielle set up a fake FB account where they can publicly shame Emma. Word of the profile page gets around school and Sara & Brielle find themselves in the principal's office getting a lecture on the school's bullying policy... which only incites them to find even more ways to throw hate Emma's way. 

 

I'd say by now the topic of bullying has been solidly covered in YA fiction, as it should be... but this particular novel doesn't really bring anything new to the table. I found no one to really root for (even Emma, when you get to know her story, had her unlikeable qualities), very few redeeming qualities in any of the characters and no one stepping up to take responsibility for their actions. More like everyone comes forward with their versions of "I don't see how I did anything wrong!" If anything, Sara played victim, at one point even saying, "my family gives me strength to get through this"... girl, what? We're all here BECAUSE of you! She rips one into Carmichael but then follows with "Maybe you could take me out for dinner"... Oh, but then she tries with the half-hearted apology for her actions slipped into the second to last chapter? Nah. Nope. Definitely didn't buy that. 

 

What I will give this book credit for though is the resources page at the very back, three pages of books, websites and organizations you can explore if you are feeling depressed or suicidal, a most important tool for teens in these times. For educators, I would also perhaps recommend a viewing of the films Bully and Mean Creek, gritty stories that depict just how dangerously far bullying can go. 

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review 2018-08-31 09:47
Falling Out of Time by David Grossman
Falling Out of Time (Vintage International) - David Grossman

In Falling Out of Time, David Grossman has created a genre-defying drama––part play, part prose, pure poetry––to tell the story of bereaved parents setting out to reach their lost children. It begins in a small village, in a kitchen, where a man announces to his wife that he is leaving, embarking on a journey in search of their dead son. The man––called simply Walking Man––paces in ever-widening circles around the town. One after another, all manner of townsfolk fall into step with him (the Net-Mender, the Midwife, the Elderly Math Teacher, even the Duke), each enduring his or her own loss. The walkers raise questions of grief and bereavement: Can death be overcome by an intensity of speech or memory? Is it possible, even for a fleeting moment, to call to the dead and free them from their death? Grossman’s answer to such questions is a hymn to these characters, who ultimately find solace and hope in their communal act of breaching death’s hermetic separateness. For the reader, the solace is in their clamorous vitality, and in the gift of Grossman’s storytelling––a realm where loss is not merely an absence but a life force of its own.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Translated from the original Hebrew, Israeli author David Grossman's unique novel explores various aspects of the grieving process through a combination of prose, poetry, even presenting a bit of the story in play format. At its core, it is described as a "fable of parental grief".

 

Our main character, simply named "Walking Man", working through the grief of having recently lost a child, paces around the courtyard area in front of his home in ever-widening concentric circles. This pattern has him gradually moving throughout the village, talking with other townspeople on matters they are struggling with in their own lives. Others in town choose to fall in step with him, so through this, the reader comes to know Net Mender (mute himself, he lost a six year old child); Midwife (married to Town Cobbler, they also lost a child -- a son less than 2 years old); Math Teacher; and The Duke, each working through the stories of their individual losses or struggles. Over the course of the book, we come to see that this process carries on for about five years. Occasionally, a question on the themes of grief or death is posed, something for readers themselves to think on. 

 

There are additional characters with a little extra something interesting to their own stories, such as Town Chronicler and Town Centaur. The chronicler serves as an almost Shakespearean sort of narrator to the rest of the story, but he also has a place as character in the plot (such as it is) himself. Having lost a daughter himself, the chronicler -- as you may have guessed -- chronicles the town's activities -- especially this new fad of walking in circles everyone seems to have taken up -- in his journal, findings to be shared later with The Duke. The Duke has decreed that villagers are to share & explain their various grief stories to the Chronicler as truthfully as possible. Each person in town is asks, how would you describe the grief in your mind?

 

Then there's the Centaur, who is the story's placeholder for representing people that choose to try to heal or cover up emotional hurt through rabid consumerism, sometimes leading to compulsive hoarding. Centaur -- who lost a nearly 12 year old son -- most definitely uses his "collecting" as a coping mechanism, and he also seems the most vocal and cross or is it just brutal honesty? regarding the behaviors of his neighbors. Some could read it as him simply deflecting away from his own problems. As he cries out at one point, "Even the Inquisition's tax accessors didn't torture people like this!" (regarding the Chronicler's line of questioning). Near the end, Centaur actually takes over the narration of the book. 

 

Presented in an allegorical-like style similar to that of John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, the primary theme of this story does reflect on mourning the death of a child. One character's story even looks at losing a child to suicide. However, other emotional trials are explored as well. The way Grossman chooses to bring forth the story draws the reader toward their own quiet ponderings on the various stages of mourning -- you know: mourning, sadness, denial, anger, bartering, acceptance -- as well as the ways a grieving mind will tend to look for signs of faith or hope in nearly anything. 

 

So, yes, undeniably some heavy themes going on in this little book (less than 200 pages total) but the combination of the unique format presentation (which makes it an even quicker reader), the thoughts it provokes, and just the sheer word choice still make this a pleasure to read. I haven't read any of Grossman's other books but some of the lines in this one just stunned me in the stark, simple beauty of the phrasing. Lines like "we unspoke that night", "Why did you become dead? How could you be incautious?" or this image of a married couple trying to come back from nearly breaking apart: "I stood up. I wrapped you in a blanket, you gripped my hand, looked straight into my eyes: the man and woman we had been nodded farewell."

 

 

All universal ideas he incorporates here, but never before have I experienced them presented in quite this way. Just think on that one line:  "Why did you become dead? How could you be incautious?". It sounds odd at first, but when you pause and consider it, does it not just capture that early anger you sometimes feel at having lost someone too early in life... that sense of how DARE they leave me? Again, that choice of wording! Amazing! 

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