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review 2017-12-04 05:11
The Fall by James Preller
The Fall - James Preller

The summer before school starts, Sam's friend and classmate Morgan Mallen kills herself. Morgan had been bullied. Maybe she kissed the wrong boy. Or said the wrong thing. What about that selfie that made the rounds? Morgan was this, and Morgan was that. But who really knows what happened? As Sam explores the events leading up to the tragedy in journal format, he must face a difficult and life-changing question: Why did he keep his friendship with Morgan a secret? And could he have done something-anything-to prevent her final actions? From James Preller, the author of Bystander, another unflinching book about bullying and its fallout.




* Read for the 2017 Anti-Bully Readathon week: November 13th-19th


>> TRIGGER WARNING: Topic of suicide addressed in this story. One character commits suicide while others contemplate going through with it.


Morgan Mallen is something of a social pariah in her high school. Athena Luikin, your stereotypical popular HS girl (perfect body, lips, face, flawless skin... and, no surprise, blonde), has a secret game with her clique. Every so often, without warning, someone within the clique gets a laminated "tag" card slipped into their locker. If you get the card you know it's your turn to go online and anonymously post mean, troll-ish comments on Morgan's social media. There's an understanding within the group that either you do it or risk being the group's next target.



One member within the group is Sam Proctor. While he agrees to play the game and post comments, his turn up at bat happens to come at right about the same time as life puts him and Morgan together in real life in a situation that forces them to truly get to know one another. And whaddya know, Sam discovers he kinda likes the girl! Awkwardly, Sam tries to play both sides of the HS social scene, still participating in online bullying with his friends, while also having conversations with Morgan about how despicable internet trolls are. 


Members within the clique get competitive about how creative they can get with their online insults. To them, it's just a game of one-upmanship. That is, until the day Morgan decides to throw herself off the town's water tower. Having just barely developed a friendship with Morgan, Sam is understandably shaken. A social worker contracted with the high school suggests to Sam to journal his thoughts and emotions through the grieving process, which is the format (journal style, that is) that the entire novel is presented to the reader.



Don't get the idea this journal will be some kind of complete document where you learn "her story" or even "my story". There are holes in this leaky ship. We could all drown together. 



Written sometimes in standard diary entries, sometimes in verse form, Sam shares some pretty honest, revealing observations about not only getting to know Morgan but also the topic of bullying and poser behavior in high school in general. When he thinks back on the first few times he saw Morgan, his initial memory was that she wasn't super pretty and maybe even a little on the heavy side, but the more he remembers the more he realizes his eyes were always drawn to her, how he was always intrigued by her in various ways... and what a waste it was that he wasn't a better friend to someone so special. When he compares a girl like Morgan to the likes of popular girl Athena, he comes away with the realization, "maybe everyone gives 'pretty' too much credit."



...And that was it. The last time we talked. It's amazing how little we ever said, as if we didn't know the same language. She was a bird up in a tree, singing a mournful song. And I was just a dog, barking at the clouds. 


Sam also notes how sickened he is by what he sees as fake grief going around the school. Crowds of people who either never gave Morgan the time of day or made her life hell with bullying, yet now that she's gone everyone is falling all over each other in puddles of tears like a family member just got murdered. I also enjoyed the chapter "Slogans on Shirts" which shines a spotlight on the hypocrisy that can sometimes be found behind these school campaigns -- the very people that cheer the loudest at anti-bullying campaigns / rallies can sometimes be the same people who are the worst problems!


Not only is Preller's writing style itself incredibly engaging, but he addresses this theme in an honest, unvarnished way. No after-school high gloss on this story, but also not unnecessarily vulgar. He manages to do it just right. The students all had an appreciable realness to them and Sam asks himself plenty of the right questions for emotional growth. 


I'm all for checking out more of Preller's work in the future!





* Book includes supplemental materials at the back of the book which include author interview, a list of discussion questions, and prompts for writing exercises. 

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review 2017-11-22 22:01
Review: The Roanoke Girls
The Roanoke Girls: A Novel - Amy Engel

I received a copy from Netgalley.


I snagged a copy of this one when it was a read it now for the first 100 members. It promised some of my favourite tropes in novels – rich family, idyllic setting, dark twisty secrets.  This book has one of those annoying boats in the title tag line saying the most dark twisty shocking plot! However, this one did deliver on the dark twist.


My biggest issue with this (side from the really nauseating disturbingness of the plot twists) is that it was predictable. I’d guessed the Roanoke family secrets almost immediately. Anyone who’s ever seen Law and Order: Special Victims Unit could probably guess what’s going on here. I also guessed correctly who the killer was.


That being said, there was something utterly compelling about the story telling. I really liked Lane, the main character. Told in a then and now format, what happened when Lane was a teenager and went to live with the Roanokes after her mother committed suicide. Her grandparents and her cousin the same age as her Allegra. And the now chapters of what happens when Lane goes back as an adult after Allegra disappears.


Lane was by no mean a good, nice person. Not as a teen, nor as an adult. She was a flat out bitch, she was blunt and cold and didn’t even bother to hide the fact that sometimes it was easier to be cruel than to be kind. Despite her personality flaws, she made a very interesting character, and I kind of loved her. While her cousin Allegra was your typical spoilt rich girl. She could manipulate people easily, and wrap boys around her finger. She could convince you to do anything, regardless of consequences. She had a certain charisma about herself, despite the fact Allegra could be stroppy selfish and childish. She tells Lane about the sordid history of the Roanoke girls before them. All the girls in their family line - including both their mothers  - all got pregnant young and either ran away or committed suicide.


The Roanoke household is a big mansion and a farm run by its patriarch Yates Roanoke Lane and Allegra’s grandfather. He has an old world charm about him. Firm when needed without being overbearing, yet very witty, charming and always with a kind word and encouragement, while grandma is your typical blue blood grandma. Beautiful but cold and kind of passive.


In the summer in their teens Lane learns about farm life and meets Allegra’s current boyfriend Tommy, and his best friend Cooper. Tommy is your average small town good boy from a nice family while Cooper is the good looking dude with the shady family and bad history, he and Lane hit it off immediately and begin a relationship, more hooking up when they can than anything else.  


When Lane comes back to town as an adult she reconnects with Tommy, now married and a police office and Cooper, now a mechanic. The Roanoke house is still the same as it was when Lane ran away in her teens. With one exception. Allegra is gone. Lane searches for answers to what happened to her. Flipping back and forth between what happened that summer when she arrived and her investigation on return.


Also flittered into the novel is chapters on various Roanoke women and what happened to them either when they ran or when they died.


The writing is top notch, even though none of the characters are particularly likeable. The story telling makes you want to know what’s going on, what happened back in that summer, why did Lane run away, what did she learn about the Roanoke secrets. And when she comes back what happened to Allegra. Did she finally leave – was she murdered? What happened? It’s twisty and very disturbing in parts. The answers to the Roanoke secrets are actually in the text if you look between the lines. And it is sick. It’s stomach wrenching and utterly utterly wrong in very way possible.


It’s a pretty fucked up book but it’s excellently written.


Thank you to Netgalley and Hodder and Stoughton for the review copy.

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review 2017-11-12 16:27
My First Agatha Christie's Read
Murder on the Orient Express (Hercule Poirot, #10) - Agatha Christie

 I have a confession to make - this is actually my first Agatha Christie's book. I have never read any of her books and even though I have heard of her, I never once touched her books. So what compels me to read Murder on the Orient Express? Hype perhaps of the upcoming movie? A few months back my favorite bookstore was promoting her works? I can't be sure of which but in the end, I picked it up last August and finally read it this month. It took me a while but eventually, I finished it.


While I never realize this is part of a Hercule Poirot series, it had a setting and a premise that is intriguing. A man dies one night on a train and M. Poirot were entrusted to investigate to find out who is the real murderer. Divided into three parts, the flow of the story for me is well-thought of. There was the introduction of characters, then the depth of the investigation of getting to know each character that were in the train and the deduction through guessing came to the conclusion that is so impossible, it feels real in the end. Every thing else falls into place.


Was I impress? Not really. It started off as a simple murder-mystery where everyone can be a suspect and through interrogation and investigation on the train, a detective (as the greatest of all) make a guess deductions through human emotions and body language to be able to discover truth and lies. I don't know that on this day and age it would work but since it was first published in 1934, its acceptable. Still, I love how its written and there are words I never thought of I can learn from. It's a good book but not really that great to a point that makes it the greatest detective book ever written, even though I heard so much about it. I would recommend to anyone to read this first if anyone wants to read Agatha Christie's stories but I am unsure whether I would continue to read any Hercule Poirot's crime-solving series in the near future.

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review 2017-11-07 00:55
Mystery in the Channel (British Library Crime Classics) - Freeman Wills Crofts

Two bigwigs from a company rumored about to go bankrupt and leave thousands of shareholders in financial ruin turn up dead, on a yacht. In the English channel. Inspector French of Scotland Yard gets called in to sort out the details, and hopefully make an arrest of person or persons who, really, may have rid the world of a couple of skunks. Still, murder is murder--and although it is hard to fathom in the midst of mounting evidence of corporate skullduggery leading to craven "grab what's left and sail-ass outta here" attitude gone wrong, maybe just some ticked-off barber who didn't get tipped enough and is good with a rowboat is the culprit.


No, there's no killer barber--but one is never quite safe, in a masterfully done whodunit, to assume motive. As Inspector French follows all the trails around ports of call along the Channel, and beyond--in England and France--it all seems to relate to a missing million and a half pounds that were stealthily siphoned from a dying Securities firm that would see creditors after eight million pounds soon to be labeled as Funds Not Available/Come Calling All You Want, It's All Gone.


Distances and travel times come into the mix, but not in any kind of confusing way. After five books' worth of this amazing author in one year, I would say that whatever scientific nuts and bolts Crofts brings to a book, it's always clear and fair, and part of reader embarrassment later on when it comes to failing to see the obvious, just as much as missing a character contradicting himself and getting away with it, or failing to detect what those notches left in the carpet really mean, etc. etc. Well, this reader's embarrassment. You may do better. When it comes to Crofts, I'm good at vaguely floating around some kind of half-brained, half-baked, half-assed solution, and not spotting anything that gets it locked down. I'm very good at tremulously intuiting a strong suspect and being right often enough to feel like I have Spidey Sense, or am figuring out clues on a subliminal level.


But to really be able to say I've solved a Mystery would mean I'm not hitting my head and thinking "Ugh, how did I not see that?! I, I, I, I....I....I...I...I-yiye-yiye, yiye-Yiiiyyyyyyyyyyye!". It would mean that the detective does not lay out a scenario containing twenty points, and ten clues buttressing those points, that comes as total, and fully fleshed-out frickin' News To Me. The solution here--the devil hidden behind details--was, uh, news to me. 


As seems to be usual with this author, lots of little revelations crop up along the way that fill in holes, but often make the overall picture even more bizarre, or sometimes even completely destroy French's main theory. The trick for the reader can often be to see how something revealed very far into the book should be used to cast a different light on something supposedly established, and rock-solid, earlier in the book. Many writers use this sort of tactic, but Freeman Wills Crofts plays that game very well.


I may never look to Crofts for moody flashbacks, hard deep looks at the psychology of a scarred and complex criminal, or a detective who actually has a life. But, if these books of his are really supposed to be part of the "humdrum" whodunit tradition, then this take on "humdrum" has beautiful precision humming, and the occasional bout of loud and shocking drumming. I would put a bow on all this by saying this particular entry has a great, suspenseful, danger-ridden final confrontation that rivals any great scene in a Die Hard movie (one of the ones where he has hair, of course). I cheered the solution to "death of hero seems kinda unavoidable at this point".


When the second book I read by Crofts was merely enh/above-average, I wondered if that would be the norm. But I foraged on through French's territory, and I'm glad. It would seem Clever and Entertaining are the norm, not Average. 

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review 2017-10-28 03:57
Death of a Busybody (British Library Crime Classics) - George Bellairs

Okay, it's true that I am giving this a very high rating, considering that I had big chunks of the solution to the central Mystery solved well before all was revealed. I mean, for me to top out at a whopping 4 stars in the face of beating the main detective to the punch, is a pretty big deal. But I can't bump this exhilarating read down to that demon-dullest of all ratings, the painfully-vanilla 3.5.


First of all, I did say "big chunks". I figured out "big chunks". But he got me with a few surprises, as regards some of the glue that holds the big bits together; in fact, I would say one thing I didn't figure out wasn't glue--it was more like the chunk that got away. Let's just say that overall the Mystery content is a bit transparent and not likely to make your favorite Agatha Christie title seem amateurish and uninspired...but George Bellairs obliterates demerit points at will with: (a) lots of funny stuff; this is a laugh-out-loud Crime novel, (b) a hoard of entertaining characters all deciding that most interaction with each other should qualify as hypocritical or just ridiculous, (c) a truly amazing Chapter XI--amazing, because of the change in mood, but it's like seeing the dark, tragic and bloody side of what was making me laugh up until then; Bellairs saying, in a few scenes "this is what happens when people who behave like this are suddenly very unfunny", and yes...


...(d) the whodunit chunks and whodunit glue that was just enough to keep me from saying " I figured out the whole shebang. Well, I didn't. I didn't figure out ALL of his fairly transparent Mystery...so there.


Anyway, this was indeed the "death of a busybody", as advertised. And yah, she was a pain, and the whole village felt persecuted by her nosiness, her arrogant meddling and judgements, and her quiet attempts at spiritual extortion. There was inevitably a bludgeoning and a cesspool waiting for her, in a village full of teeth-gritters and look-the-other-wayers. But...a bit of text from early on in the novel stuck with me the whole way through: Husbands, raising their hands or voices against their wives, paused at the thought of her. Scolding wives pitched their nagging at a lower key, lest Miss Tither should be in the offing. The lecherous, adulterous, drunken and blasphemous elements of the population held her in greater fear than the parson and looked carefully over their shoulders lest she be in their tracks.


The above passage in italics is from page 8 of my edition of Bellairs' wonderful and bizarrely challenging novel. In fact, I've stopped short with the quote; more examples of the doomed Miss Tither's snooping, looming, eavesdropping, and busybodying are given, and like what I did quote above, it's a matter of people holding off on unseemly behavior because the Tither tiger has prowled into range. Well, if you read that text, this murdered busybody stopped at least one husband from abusing his wife. Plus, others at least thought twice for a little while about their crap behavior. I'm left wondering who Bellairs wants me to scrutinize more closely, with a bit of disgust: the snoop or the two-faced snoopees who change spots when someone is watching?


I want a better whodunit from this author next time, and there will be a next time. Even if he doesn't manage that--well, it won't be me in a forgiving mood by the end of the ride--if this book is any indication--it will once again be me thoroughly charmed, challenged, and entertained anyway.

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