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review 2018-02-21 23:56
Be Prepared!
Say This, Not That To Your Teenage Daugh... Say This, Not That To Your Teenage Daughter: The Pocket Guide to Everyday Conversations - Ilana Kukoff,Jessica Yuppa Huddy

This is a good resource for parents to use to tread the dangerous waters of dealing with teenage daughters.  Very easy to read.  There is a lot of good information in here.  Even if you do not agree with all of it, it gives you a basis to start thinking about how you will respond when these situations come up (and they will).  Be prepared!

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review 2018-02-18 15:19
Thought-provoking, Challenging, Uncomfortably Good
These fragile things - Jane Davis

Having recently enjoyed ‘A Funeral for an Owl’ by indie author Jane Davis (see review dated 2 Jan 2018), I dived further into her back catalogue and found this book (first published in 2012) and I’m delighted to report that the author’s accessible writing style again made for a really enjoyable read.

 

In particular, Davis does have a wonderful knack for developing interesting teenage characters and in this offering the central protagonist (Judy Jones) is recovering from a deliberately mundane, yet life-changing incident, in which a wall collapses on her. In fact her survival is positively miraculous. Still, the wall is a very effective metaphor for other constructs around self-image, relationships, indeed life and the book explores how susceptible to collapse these things can also be when buffeted by external, or self-made pressures. The stress-test that the human experience places on individuals, families and communities can be profound and the mechanisms created to defend one’s well-being can be elaborate, or at times blindingly simple. Though not meant to be a commentary on faith, Davis does at least invite the question whether spiritual faith and/or faith in each other aids the character’s ability to cope and navigate the unexpected, or whether the key is our shared humanity and the capacity for random acts of kindness.

 

For those readers with children, especially teenagers, there are interesting moments for reflection at the shifting nature of the parental relationship, but also a potentially visceral empathy with Judy’s parents and the impact of the kind of news for which we all live in a state of dread. But, if subsequently the child then purports to experience visions, how does one react to that?

 

At its core the book focuses on the experience of loss – of health, identity, belonging, an anticipated future - and the attendant bereavement. The interlacing of aspects of the characters’ individual and collective journeys is cleverly handled by the author, though for me the slightly bizarre departure from the rails of Elaine Jones (Judy’s Mum) was an unnecessary distraction. Yet, all-in-all a fascinating and thoughtful novel, which does emphasize the potential corrosion of loneliness, however it may be imposed.

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review 2018-01-19 14:34
Words fail me
A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess

Alright, there is a lot going on in this little piece of poison dripping, mind-fuck of a story, and I don't know that I'm up to the task.

 

First of all, because it's the immediate, I call bullshit on that end (I'm talking of the 21th chapter that was cut-out of the USA version; if you've not read it, this paragraph will make little sense). I read the author's introduction and explanation, and I more or less agree that our empathy and sympathy tends to grow as we mature (and we are more or less savages as kids and teens), but having read the book, I don't believe this level of inner cruelty and utter disregard for other people, or the length it was self-indulged and brought out onto the world can be called "a folly of youth" and hand-waived like that. I do not believe that level of monstrosity is something that can be redeemed, worked out, grow bored out of, and the person just go on to be some well adjusted adult.

 

I also do not know what is to be done with such a person to be honest, even if my knee-jerk reaction if I was the victim would be to kill them. Brain-washing into effectively loosing their free will does not seem to be the answer though.

 

Next: There is a very strong undercurrent of the battle of the generations going on here. The way money is treated, those articles in the diary, and the mention of day hour and night ours, and whom the street belongs to, and even, who has the power in the first part vs. the second, and what it consist on.

 

Actually, the three parts are distillate poison on abuse of power: young hooligans for first, then the police and other punishing/correctional institutions for second, politicians in the third. Everyone screws everyone over, and in the end I hated the lot, little Alex, and his little followers, and the police, and the jailers, and the priests, and the doctors, and the politicians, and the social fighters, and even his victims.

 

Shit, I wouldn't recommend this one, even if I found it oddly compelling *shudder*. It is interesting, and effective, but a vicious way to provoke thought, maybe unnecessarily.

 

Done. Onto "I am Pusheen the Cat", ice-cream and a helping of crack fics for the soul.

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review 2018-01-02 01:06
A Funeral for an Owl - Jane Davis

Using a novel to highlight invisible social issues, such as runaway teenagers, taking flight as a consequence of factors such as domestic violence, gang culture and parental rejection is a tricky business. For example, who knew “one in ten run away from home before they reach the age of sixteen, a massive 100,000 every year”? It’s a fairly damning statistic, which says much about British society and an apparent incapacity to protect vulnerable young people. Moreover, “two thirds of children who run away are not reported to the police.” Still, against this rather bleak backdrop, Jane Davis has constructed a subtle plot, which does far more than merely generate pathos. Indeed, JD has also sought to establish that this is not a problem solely besetting some poverty-stricken underclass, but rather an issue that crosses mundane social boundaries and ‘runaways’ might therefore be seen as victims of an extreme degree of family separation.


‘A Funeral for an Owl’ centres on history teacher, Jim Stevens, who works at an inner city high school, but originates from the nearby council estate and though the vagaries of social mobility have enabled Jim to move literally to the other side of the railway tracks, he has not strayed far from his roots. When a violent incident at school sees Jim hospitalised, colleague (‘Ayisha’) is drawn into the clandestine support he has been providing to one of his pupils (‘Shamayal’) and Ayisha’s own integrity, in the face of strict policies and procedures, is challenged.


Ayisha has benefitted from a stable family upbringing and though struggling with the expectations of a distant and demanding mother, she has little insight into the profound hardships experienced by some of her disadvantaged pupils, away from school. And so, while Jim languishes in a hospital bed, the story alternates between examining Jim’s past experience, which culminated in his being stabbed and the very pressing present, which finds Ayisha discovering that doing the ‘right thing’ can take courage and a sense of bewildering isolation.


In spite of his inner city upbringing, ten year-old Jim is into birdwatching and this egregious pastime enables the boy to connect with the troubled Aimee White. Two years his senior, Aimee is destined to attend the all-girls school designated by her wealthy parents, but for the intervening six weeks of the summer holidays, the pair fashion a poignant relationship, which bridges their respective worlds. Almost spookily prescient, Aimee observes that “Indian tribes believe owls carry the souls of living people and that, if an owl is killed, the person whose soul they’re carrying will also die.”


Later, the geekiness of Jim’s birdwatching also captures Shamayal’s imagination and there is symmetry too, in Jim’s burgeoning relationship with Ayisha.


However, what stood out most for me in this book was the crafted writing, in which JD changes gear so smoothly that the journey was simply a pleasure and over all too quickly. The plot was deceptively simple and yet the characterization of the protagonists was insightful and interesting (I especially enjoyed ‘Bins’ the estate eccentric, who is curiously invisible) and made the story eminently plausible and readable. Clearly the book is not targeted solely at young adults and as with a lot of good fiction, the food-for-thought it provides is rightly taxing. As a social worker myself, it would be easy to criticize the rather neat conclusion, which perhaps sanitizes the ‘messiness’ that attends typical family life, but that would be churlish and miss the point. The adage that ‘it takes a whole village to raise a child’ is at the heart of this book and we all need to do our bit…

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review 2017-11-15 20:29
The Masked Truth - Kelley Armstrong

I was rather impressed by this book. The writing style is pretty good, and the opening prologue is one of the more impactful ones I've seen in a YA novel. Riley is babysitting for these two parents, when suddenly burglars invade the house and kill them. She ends up going to therapy because she's having anxiety over the incident, and the story goes on from there.

 

There's a lot of deaths in this book.

 

The main part of the story involves a hostage situation. Riley is at a therapy sleepover with several other teenagers, and three kidnappers storm the place, armed with guns. At first it seems like it's just a hostage situation and everything will be okay - Riley happens to be the daughter of a (deceased) cop, and feels she knows how all of this works - but not everything goes to plan, and soon we have a lot of dead kids all over the place.

 

In all the confusion, she manages to escape from the kidnappers with one of the other guys in the therapy group - Max, who turns out to suffer from schizophrenia. The doors and windows are all locked, and their kidnappers now seem intent on killing them all. Before long, everyone starts dropping like flies.

 

That's the first part of the book. The SECOND part, strangely enough, is when Riley and Max escape the building and manage to call 911...and the cops suspect Max for being responsible for the deaths of 7 kids and both adult therapists. A bit odd, in my opinion. I would have thought that the author would focus on other aspects, rather than the reasons why Max was framed for mass-murder.

 

Riley is a strong character in her own right. She was alright. Max, too, is a rather interesting person, and the chapters are indispersed with his personal thoughts. He's constantly second-guessing himself, is struggling with his own mental health (he has to cope without his meds for a few hours, which is pretty bad for him), and has this internal voice in his head which seems to be constantly arguing with him. I don't know much about schizophrenia myself, but I thought it was presented rather well. 

 

It did get a bit annoying after a while, though. I just wanted to see how the plot was going to turn out, and instead the author gave me another huge chapter about Max's thoughts on what had already happened.

 

Also, don't ask me why, but he had this really dumb British stereotype surrounding him. He was saying stuff like "Tally ho!" and "Jolly good" as if he was some posh old-fashioned royal out of the middle of the London in the 80s. Yes, he's British, and half the time Max was joking about his mannerisms, but seriously now?

 

I mean, come on. I'm British. No one talks like that anymore. Even the goddamn Queen doesn't talk like that, least of all teenagers! Does the author really not know how to write an English character without resorting to really awkward stereotypes?

 

I wouldn't call it racist or anything - British stereotypes aren't really that insulting (I can't tell you how often someone tries to ask if I drink English tea, and ironically I've never drunk tea). But it looks a bit embarrassing.

 

Here's my other gripe about the book. Loads of teenagers die in the first half of the book, mainly because the gunmen have shot them in some evil or sadistic fashion. It's all very scary and edgy.

 

Or at least it would be, if I actually knew any of these characters for more than a chapter beforehand. Seriously. I was barely introduced to them. The first person dies just a few chapters in, not long after the prologue where a similar thing happened. It was just really jarring and I found it hard to care at times.

 

At one point, one of the other girls gets close to Riley and tells her how brave she is and that she's a hero for keeping everyone together...a character who had said almost nothing up to this point. I was rolling my eyes so hard at her, and, sure enough, she gets shot less than a chapter later.

 

I get what the author is trying to go for here, but could you at least give us a chance to know some of these characters beforehand?? They know each other's names. This is a therapy sleepover, for crying out loud! I wanted to know their backgrounds about their therapy! It was done really well in other books, but here...we just didn't know anything about them! At least, not until the last minute, once it was too late. I had trouble remembering the names of the therapists.

 

Instead, these mentally ill kids are just treated like fodder to be killed off by the gunmen. I guess the author was in a hurry to kill them all off, so she didn't bother to give us much background about them. Oh, and there's a gay kid too. He got sent to therapy by his homophobic dad, and he dies too.

 

Once I got to the end of the book, however, there were quite a few interesting plot twists. Namely about how this wasn't a hostage situation at all, and a lot of things were planned at the start. I expected that all this would tie back to the couple who were murdered in the prologue, and naturally it did. A few nice surprises were in store, and then a few more people die before we really get to know them, and...

 

...oh yeah, and the forced romance. Riley and Max have known each other a day. One. Day. Even Riley herself acknowledges this. I just skimmed over the kisses.

 

Overall, this turned to be very enjoyable, especially towards the end. I probably wouldn't read it again, though. All those plot twists lose their effect after the first time. It was good to see some coverage of mental illness, but the way that loads of characters simply get killed before we've got the chance to know them was a significant flaw in the reading. If you're going to kill seven teenagers, at least make us care about them first.

 

 

 

 

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