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review SPOILER ALERT! 2014-04-27 09:29
Cries Unheard... Until it was too late.
Cries Unheard: Why Children Kill: The Story of Mary Bell - Gitta Sereny

When this book was first released, it created a massive controversy over criminals profiting from their crimes in the nation where this story really happened: Britain.  I can only surmise that those whom so vigorously felt that way didn't even read the book.  Not long ago, I got my hands on a first edition American Version of the book published in 1999 from a thrift store.  


This book is the horrific story of tragedy.  When a child of barely 11 years old strangles two young boys between the ages of 3-4 the mob mentality kicked in.  Everyone rushed to put away the monstrous little girl who could do such vile acts without ever thinking or asking what on earth caused this child to act out in this way?  Instead she became a living incarnate of the "Bad Seed".  A child simply born evil.  


The Book Cries Unheard by Gitta Sereny looks at the entire picture of the phenomenon that is Mary Bell, who is often billed as the world's youngest serial killer.  A misnomer if there ever was one since Mary Bell was released in 1980 and has never re-offended in the slightest way while it is a fact true serial murderers are incapable of stopping (often knowing they under police surveillance...or at least suspicion).  


This was one of the best books I've ever read on the subject of child murder and child murderers.  The author gives us a full biographical account of the child's life into womanhood.  In the case of Mary Bell, to know what happened in her young life to lead her to act out the way she did is essential to understanding why and how she ended up killing two young boys.  Some children have hellish childhoods and are able to cope.  They go on and live reasonably normal lives.  When children murder (in the WAY) Mary Bell did, you can't look at a child who doesn't have the capacity to fully understand what it was they did as you would even a child a few years older.  We all know maturity and understanding grows in leaps and bounds in those years.  


This book was incredible with its indictment on the system.  The system failed Mary Bell and through that failed her victims.  Starting as a baby she suffered unimaginable abuse at the hands of her mother.  Her mother Betty had tried to give her away to strangers but refused to allow her more stable family members adopt her. Betty worked as a prostitute from possibly even before Mary was born.  She specialized in giving her clients unique 'experiences'.  Some of those were her being a dominatrix and forcing her young daughter to have oral sex with her clients.  Also allowing her to get beat during these sessions.  In fact her mother practiced Erotic Asphyxiation on her clients till they passed out in Mary's presence while also subjecting her to the same strangling that would cause her to lose consciousness.  This left Mary with a belief that when you strangle someone to the point of losing consciousness, they will wake up as she had and seen others do countless times!


The end point of this abuse dovetails with what a young girl did, to two boys younger and weaker than herself.  It is completely probable that as she strangled these boys she didn't understand she was killing them.  She had been subjected to the same strangling where she woke back up.  But there is something else that culminated in these murders.  A young girl had been acting out for months begging for attention so someone would take her away from her mother.  No one noticed until they finally realized she killed two young boys.  By that time nobody cared that in the most final and horrific way she was seeking attention to get away!  No one labeled her mother what she was: a sexual abuser who prostituted her own daughter, drugged her in the presence of other people by mixing sedatives with her candy, physically abusive!  Mary was the bad seed with no one realizing she was reacting to the home she had to grow up in.  


None of this absolves of her or excuses her crimes.  The child needed to be put into a mental institution to get help for the trauma she was subjected to rather put into a reformatory school till she was 16 that indeed CHANGED her life, making her a better human being (all that needed to be done was for them to take her mother away and replace a stable set of individuals to teach the maturing girl how to behave in society 11-16).  But throwing a 16 year old with her trauma into a women's prison was vengeance on behalf of a world that couldn't see Mary Bell wasn't BORN evil, nor inherently evil at all!!  In fact she was created.  Prison could have totally regressed her.  Luckily those years in an also unsuitable Reformatory School taught her how to live correctly as a good person.


So you see this story is controversial for many, many reasons.  It cuts open for the world to see what happens when someone like Mary at such a young an age commits the ultimate crime how unprepared we truly are to handle it as a society-- be it Britain or the USA.  Something happened to these children to cause them to act this way and we should be exceptionally thankful that the murderous reaction to unbearably inhuman abuse by children is rare (at least while they are STILL children.)  These factors are common in the childhoods of real serial killers.  But this is why I don't consider Mary a 'serial killer' in the truest sense since true ones are like sharks that can never stop devouring.  Mary needed structure, then she needed help to move on with her life.  If somehow at 11 years old she had some sort of murderous impulse, it wasn't like what we see with male or female serial killers the world over who lose control of those impulses at some point or another.  For Mary, it stopped being an issue once she left the custody of extremely abusive mother.  


The book is debated ethically for many reasons.  One being Mary Bell was paid for participation.  I understand the anger of the victims family's.  At the same time it is hard for me personally to see Mary Bell getting paid for her painful, excruciatingly abusive life that culminated in the murders of two young boys as on the level of a callous murderer looking to profit off what he did.  There is nothing in common in this book with say Ian Brady's arrogant "Gates of Janus" where he in a Ted Bundy arrogance tries to tell the world who he is as such an incredible expert in serial murder.  


Cries Unheard is an astoundingly poignant book that rips open the tragedy that befell everyone involved.  In order to understand it, you had to know... you had to have the details from Mary Bell herself. She opened herself to examination is ways few of us would dare even without her past.  Yet Mary's story is vitally important for understanding what causes children to kill (and if they grow up without intervention...reveals the personal horrors driving them).  Maybe the saddest part of all is in order for Mary to end her abuse, she had to commit soul ripping acts of horror herself to get the attention she had been trying to get for a long time acting out.  In fact she may have aggressively, been reenacting the erotic asphyxiation that she witnessed her mother perform on clients and was performed on her.  


Mary has grown up into a rather normal woman no doubt to being taken away from her mother's influences (as much as possible, her mother used the press to further her daughters image as evil murder for money while in reformatory and prison--she was never above USING her own child.  Especially since no one called her out as the creator, except the author of this book and a book on the case before it).  Mary has now become a grandmother!  She has never done ANYTHING illegal again (she is on a strict parole for life).  


I think before people damn this book they should read it.  I found myself aching for two little boys who paid the price for Mary's mothers sins. And maybe for the failure of society to help them all.


The only part of the book that I didn't particularly care for were the author's 'solutions' to this problem of abuse that results in these acts of murder.  In her view all children should be given over to the government for raising so parents just can't have the opportunity to commit vile acts of abuse.  While it is true no one can really understand what goes on behind their neighbor's closed doors...  The answer is not allowing the state to have control.  The fact of the matter is most of the time family's love their offspring and make mistakes.  You open up the can of worms that an UNLOVING institutional government agency can do better than the majority of parents is not only naive, it's stupid.  We have to believe in the sanctity of family.  The issue is reporting.  In the book the author often sites that lots of people KNEW Mary Bell wasn't being treated well even if they didn't know the full extent.  An abusive mother who is a prostitute, I think it's perfectly fine to report that situation to the authorities.  Especially when the woman's family closes ranks behind her trying to hide her shortcomings and even abuses.  Regardless of how totally niave and unrealistic the author's conclusions are on how to handle children with troubled backgrounds the book is amazing.  And more amazing because in the end the young girl, at the center of it all made a recovery into the integration back into society.  It will just never cease to hurt ones heart what had to happen for someone to take notice of the tragedy brewing until it was spilling over in the streets of her neighborhood.

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review 2014-01-04 00:00
Heating Up the Holidays 3-Story Bundle
Heating Up the Holidays 3-Story Bundle - Lisa Renee Jones,Serena Bell,Mary Ann Rivers As the title says, three story bundle.

First story: PLAY WITH ME by Lisa Renee Jones. Two stars.

Been there, read that, got the t-shirt years ago. Plucky down-on-her-luck heroine (PDOHLH) magically manages to land a job with hot hunky billionaire businessman (HHBB) despite having no relevant experience. PDOHLH insta-solves mega crisis that is crippling HHBB's corporate empire. PDOHLH and HHBB then have inappropriate sex (or at least, inappropriate according to every HR training seminar I've attended). It's HAWT but hey, he's her boss and sleeping with one's secretary is rather, well, frowned upon by society. HHBB gives PDOHLH a posh new job better suited to her abilities, but she insists on staying on as his assistant because...reasons, I guess. Like it's easier to boink in the boss's office without being interrupted by the secretary when you're the secretary. PDOHLH still manages to do the job she turned down, however, so don't you worry. Because that's how PDOHLH rolls.

At least the author was smart enough to gloss over the thinly manufactured black moment, courtesy of PDOHLH being inexplicably and utterly stupid, as the thinly manufactured opportunity for drama that is was.

As for holidays, I think they mentioned Thanksgiving? And made a vague reference to still being together at Christmas. But calling this a holiday themed story is a loooooooooooooooooooooooong stretch.

Thank the Kindle for the next story, which made up for all the deficiencies in PLAY WITH ME and then some.

SNOWFALL by Mary Ann Rivers. Five stars and extra heaping helping of silver, glittery star-shaped Christmas decorations. Maybe even the Star of Bethlehem for good measure.

This was unlike any other romance novella I've read before. OK, maybe it bore a slight resemblace to THE STORY GUY, also by Ms. Rivers, in that it shared the previous novella's gorgeous, lush language and wholly real, wholly dimensional characters. And made me cry. Ahem.

I'm not going to ruin SNOWFALL by writing a description. Just go and read it. Yes, you can see the big reveal a mile away, but even though I thought I knew where Ms. Rivers was going, she still managed to keep me guessing and wondering how the characters would resolve their relationship(s). Really, really, evocative, wonderful writing that is at once thoughtful, insightful, sad, funny, optimistic yet tinged by jaded realism - I loved it.

As for the holidays, the story is set during the Christmas season, with all its contradictory joys and sorrows. The holiday informs and permeates the story but the day itself is rather incidental. Really nicely done, Ms. Rivers. Bravissima.

AFTER MIDNIGHT by Serena Bell. Four-ish stars. Really more like three and three quarters. But let's round up.

Nora and Miles meet at a New Year's Eve party and share a mind-blowing, senses-awakening, one true love kinda kiss. But they are separated before they can even exchange names. A few months later, thanks to the magic of social media, they hook up again. But Miles has A Big Dark Secret (thankfully, quickly confessed) and Nora has Trust Issues Due to Her Asshole Ex. Despite the explosive sex, they part.

And then it's New Year's Eve again and guess what...

A perfectly fine story that breaks zero new ground and is paper thin when it comes to plot. But Ms. Bell's voice saves this from being the same old, same old. Her characters are engaging, the dialogue witty, and the descriptions fresh and fun to read. A nice way to while away an hour or so reading, even if it has the staying power of cotton candy.

The holiday is obviously New Year's Eve, and the story would have to find another way for the characters to swap spit and discover the love of their life without the New Year's Eve kiss at midnight tradition, so, yeah, it's pretty important. Also, Ms. Bell perfectly describes the ambivalence of the newly single on New Year's Eve, and how everyone scrambles to position themselves for the best kissing partner possible as the clock counts down.

So to sum up: Skip PLAY WITH ME, read AFTER MIDNIGHT if you need to kill some time, and turn off the phone, put the closed sign on the door, and savor SNOWFALL.

Four stars for collection as a whole.
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review 2013-11-27 00:00
Quick & Dirty
Heating Up the Holidays 3-Story Bundle - Lisa Renee Jones,Serena Bell,Mary Ann Rivers

I'm very ambivalent towards anthologies.  I'm giving this a C-.


1st story - All lust, little emotion.


2nd story - Wordy as hell. Came across as disconnected.


3rd story- Haven't finished - but somewhat boring.

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review 2013-11-22 19:00
Heating Up the Holidays - Play with Me by Lisa Renee Jones / Snowfall by Mary Ann Rivers / After Midnight by Serena Bell
Heating Up the Holidays 3-Story Bundle - Lisa Renee Jones,Serena Bell,Mary Ann Rivers


Play with Me by Lisa Renee Jones

5 Stars


This short novella tells the story of Kali - leaving her home in Texas to begin a new life in Vegas. In Vegas she meets Damion her new (too good looking) boss. Both Kali and Damion has a past that as Kali phrases - got them bruised but not broken - but nevertheless they keep their past from each other. Both of them don't easily trust other people. The passion between the two of them was making it VERY hard for them to work with each other but the both of them are determined to keep each other. Little by little they realize that together is the right call :) 


This novella was very sweet. I really liked it! Damion is a little too bossy for my liking but in a way because he is how he is Kali "gives in" - I guess without a very guiding hand she wouldn't have even considered the possibility. Damion is more open and sure of himself. He knows what he wants and he will get it. I should say that though Kali is less sure of herself about him - she is totally different about being Damion secretary. She is very motivated and initiative. The "mystery" of the story ended quite abruptly. I guess for a short novella there was no use going deeper into it. It's about their relationship and how it builds up not a thriller ;)


I'm looking forward to reading more by Mary Ann Rivers! It's nice that these bundles gives you the opportunity to get to know authors you might have somehow "missed". The next one by Serena Bell was one I was looking forward after reading her short novella "Ticket Home" from the "Strangers on a Train" bundle which I also loved.


After Midnight by Serena Bell

5 Stars


A good one! :) a story about trust or mis-trust. Both Nora and Miles find themselves quite miserable on New Years's Eve. Nora just ended a long relationship after discovering her ex has cheated on her repeatedly and Miles is accused of something he didn't do but as it seems his girlfriend didn't believe him or believe in him enough to stay. They meet at the party - two total strangers enjoy 15 minutes together then disappear from each other's life. Both Nora and Miles try searching for the other but to no avail. I loved that they used the Social medias - Facebook/Twitter - to try and find each other. It felt so "modern" :D something most of us would do being in the same situation. As you can guess they find each other, but wanting each other, being attracted to each other isn't enough. Not when Miles life is falling apart, when he can't expect anyone to be with him (because of what he is facing) and Nora has her trust issues she wished she wouldn't have had but she does. 


The story ended sweetly for them. Like in the first novella in this bundle - I felt that Miles legal situation ended a little too quickly but it wasn't the main thing in the story and since it's a short novella maybe there wasn't any time and place to put more details about it. 

I think the idea of trusting oneself and how it is expressed in the story is beautiful. 


Snowfall by Mary Ann Rivers

1 Star


This novella tells the story of Jenny a microbiologist who lives alone and far away from her most important person in her world - her mother - so she could do the thing she loves most - work microbiology magic in the lab. She truly finds herself to be alone in the dark when her vision start to deteriorate and it turns out she has a disease that might turn her blind in the future (but no one can tell her how much worse her eyesight would be and how long will it take for her to get to that point). She starts doing only the safe things - going to work returning home and that's about it - which also mean she connect with others as less as possible. Her only connections are her mother, her "modern pen-pal" C (they interact through his blog where he posts very special kind of photos) and her occupational therapist - Evan - who suppose to help her deal with the difficulties her deteriorating eyesight brings. In spite of her objection to the therapy (which demands of her to DEAL with her difficulties which she find too damn hard!) Evan starts to "grow on her" just when C decides to finally set a date for their first meeting.  


I feel like the first thing I should do is apologize. The writer, I'm sure, put a lot of effort to this novella and my opinion of it is very negative.. The truth is in the beginning it "didn't work for me" and then, as I continued reading I just got mad. I told myself I would finish this novella to get a sense of closure. But actually it just made my impression of the novella worse. I just hated it. 


This is the second novella I've read by Mary Ann Rivers. Sadly, it seems that though I find the idea of the story very interesting and different I don't feel drawn to her writing. When I read the first novella ("The Story Guy") I didn't know how to explain my "problems" with the writing, or what I felt didn't work for me. I wrote that the main character's narrative sounded like "she thinks like she speaks". Sounds strange - I know. In my eyes she describes the world around her with a very rational way, but there is no real emotion to any of the things she describes, it's though she is incapable of feeling and expressing REAL emotion. It is very apparent in her interaction with Evan and C. The whole interaction seems utterly juvenile while they are suppose to be I'll guess close to the age of 30. I wouldn't give their behavior more than 20 and even that's a lot. Another issue with how she describes things around her - it's all written in those very long and complicated sentences I just don't get. It just goes on and on and I don't get the point. You have a situation where she cries. It's not the crying it's the situation itself how she is bent down in her chair and there is nothing there. Her excitement when she interacts with C is just isn't there. You don't have those moments when you burst out laughing or even snigger uncontrollably or you hold your stomach or your throat because you are about to cry.


Another thing I wrote in my review of the previous book ("The Story Guy") is that the main character is just not interesting enough. There we had a "boring librarian". Here we have a "boring microbiologist". She describe the things she find interesting in the lab and I just "get" why she's all alone in the world, why no connections to other people in her life are meaningful (even if she says differently I don't buy it). The way we connect to other people is we have something meaningful that happens there between us. Her doing the holidays with her mother or her mother buying her socks is just not enough. It's an un-personal gesture like everything else that happens. 


I really wanted to love this one but I guess these thing happen - we just don't have the chemistry.. I won't be reading more by this author but by any means don't let my personal judgement discourage you from reading this bundle, especially because the other two are great. 

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review 2013-10-28 00:00
Heating Up the Holidays 3-Story Bundle
Heating Up the Holidays 3-Story Bundle - Lisa Renee Jones,Serena Bell,Mary Ann Rivers [ARC received through NetGalley for fair & honest review.] Five stars for Heating Up the Holidays, a collection by Lisa Renee Jones, Mary Ann Rivers, & Serena Bell.

When I received Heating Up the Holidays, a collection of three novels by Lisa Renee Jones, Mary Ann Rivers, Serena Bell, I think I was expecting some hot holiday romances. Well I received those, plus a lot more. For me, these stories weren't really holiday-themed, but themed about the deeper meaning of love - which I guess is the true message of the holidays, right?

Very rarely do I find myself having to stop reading a book as it's so difficult for me to process the emotions that have been raised by the story, but Mary Ann Rivers' beautiful and haunting Snowfall achieved that. The story is beautifully written, but it's hard to convey the depth of feeling that left me in tears at the end. I will be on the lookout for more of Ms. Rivers' titles because she is one talented and amazing author.

I love reading Lisa Renee Jones' books as they're usually hot, have fabulous characters, and the story rocks. Well, Play with Me has all those qualities and again, was a tear jerker. I loved to love this and it was the perfect story to put at the front of this collection as once you read it, you knew this wasn't your traditional holiday collection, but something a little more.

The collection concludes with Serena Bell's After Midnight and, may I say, that this collection makes women scientists and science teachers amazingly sexy. Look out Larry Summers as Hot for the Holidays should inspire more women to enter the science field. Meeting at a New Years Eve party our hero and heroine kiss at midnight and then like Cinderella, Miles disappears. Eventually thanks to some social media intervention, they find one another again, but all is not smooth sailing. Again, the emotions that Bell conveys are powerful and beautiful.

I highly, highly recommend this book, not just for the holidays, but for permanent placement on your bookshelf. I know I'll be pulling it out again to re-read when I truly desire some powerful emotional support - as that is what those stories provided for me. Five stars atop the tree for this hot, sexy, and moving collection by three absolutely talented authors.

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