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review 2018-01-10 22:31
Where Peacocks Cry by Maureen E. Wakefield
Where Peacocks Cry - Maureen E. Wakefield

To Jancey, seventeen and brought up in the isolated surroundings of the Fisherman's Rest, the storm which brought Dion Challen to the modest inn to seek shelter was a handmaiden of Fate, a messenger of Romance and a purveyor of dreams come true. So she eagerly accepted the marriage he offered, not realizing that Dion found in her less an ideal bride than the reincarnation of a beloved sister now dead.

~ from inside dust jacket

 

 

 

Jancey Grant is seventeen and working at her family's B & B, The Fisherman's Inn. One night, a violent storm drives Dion Challen and his cousin, Mark, to the door of The Fisherman's Inn, seeking shelter while on a road trip. While they hoped to be back on the road the next day, Mother Nature had other plans. With the roads blocked from the nearby river flooding, Dion and Mark hunker down and wait things out. It is during this waiting period that Dion and Jancey have a surprise whirlwind romance that leads up to Dion proposing marriage. Jancey, naive Jancey, assumes it couldn't anything but honest, passionate love that spurs Dion to do this, but the reader is let in on his creepier inspiration. It turns out Jancey strongly resembles Dion's deceased sister! 

 

Prior to the wedding, cousin Mark does try to dissuade the two from going through with it, as he knows Dion's motives are superficial and weird and Mark, though he doesn't know her all that well at this point, feels compelled to protect young Jancey. But his pleas fall on deaf ears all around and Jancey officially becomes the new mistress of Challen's End, the ancestral estate of Dion's family. 

 

While everything is bathed in a rosy newlywed glow for the first few weeks, it's not long before Dion's peccadilloes   -- lying, manipulating, drinking too much, "chasing skirts" -- start to rear up and make periodic appearances. At first, Jancey has all the excuses in the world to dismiss her husband's behavior but after awhile even she reaches her limit and turns to Mark (in friendship) for support. When they first met at the inn, Jancey, consumed with attraction to Dion, convinced herself that she mostly disliked Mark. After a year's time, she can't imagine what gave her that idea, as she realizes she actually feels more at ease around him than Dion! Jancey, now over a year wed, is floored at the realization that she swore undying love and fidelity to a man that had actually only managed to provide her with a few moments of peace and contentment! So where does she go from here? What does she do for the rest of her life in the pursuit of happiness?

 

I first discovered this book years ago at one of those Friends of the Library sales where you buy up discards for super cheap. Intrigued by the premise (and sold on the 10 cent price tag at the sale), I decided to give it a shot. I read it and for some reason, all these years I've had this memory of absolutely loving it so it's stayed on my shelves. Well, here recently I decided to pick it up again to see if it still held up in my mind and for the life of me I can't remember what about this story I was so in love with. 

 

Don't get me wrong. It's definitely not terrible, it's just SUPER safe. What I mean is that there is something here plot-wise that wants to scream REBECCA by Daphne Du Maurier so badly ... and there's the slightest flavoring of that, but it just never quite gets there. Jancey is cringingly naive, and Dion ... bland as a rice cake, really, not sure what Jancey got so caught up in, other than maybe it was a result of being semi-isolated at the inn and little to no exposure to hot guys near her age means dang near anything starts to look promising after awhile? Mark is the obviously more attractive choice right from the get-go but for reasons not all that well illustrated, Jancey is just not feelin' him. 

 

It seemed like Wakefield tried to get a creepy vibe in with Dion making multiple references to Jancey's uncanny resemblance to his sister (maybe ol' Maureen had a little Poe on the brain, because for a minute there it seemed like she might go with a dash of House of Usher) ... but not much more is ever really done with that and the focus from then on stays on Dion being a weasel of a guy. The upside is Jancey does find her girl-power backbone in this whole process. 

 

That's why I say it's a cutesy, safe, almost-mystery. It was originally published in the 1970s and it definitely has the feel in the writing style. Fun for a re-visit but now ... nope, no longer on my keeper shelf. 

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review 2017-12-17 07:57
Ask The Passengers by A.S. King
Ask the Passengers - A.S. King

Astrid Jones desperately wants to confide in someone, but her mother's pushiness and her father's lack of interest tell her they're the last people she can trust. Instead, Astrid spends hours lying on the backyard picnic table watching airplanes fly overhead. She doesn't know the passengers inside, but they're the only people who won't judge her when she asks them her most personal questions...like what it means that she's falling in love with a girl. As her secret relationship becomes more intense and her friends demand answers, Astrid has nowhere left to turn. She can't share the truth with anyone except the people she imagines flying over her at thirty thousand feet, and they don't even know she's there. But little does Astrid know just how much even the tiniest connection will affect these strangers' lives--and her own--for the better.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Teenager Astrid Jones is in quite an emotional pickle right at this moment in her life. The family had to be all uprooted and relocated to small town New England because Astrid's mother is struggling with some sort of intense depression that affects her ability to work in a traditional workplace setting -- social anxiety? depression? agorophobia? a specific trauma that broke her? To be honest, the mother's situation is not explained in very much depth so I'm not entirely sure, but it's definitely put a strain on the family as a whole.

 

Then there's stoner dad constantly getting baked when nobody's looking but then acting like that's totally not what he's doing... only Astrid's mother seems to accept the act. 

 

Astrid herself is struggling in the normal "who am I and what are all these emotions all of a sudden?" teenage sense but between these two parents who can she turn to? She's muddling through a period of confused sexuality as she navigates her first relationship with a female co-worker but a solid, non-judgmental support system seems to be quite the unicorn in small-town, gossip-y UNITY (seriously, that's the name of the town here, of all things! lol), Pennsylvania. 

 

As a way to cope and to channel her inner pain and confusion into something good, she develops a two part system. Her days are spent studying philosophy (even creating a sort of imaginary friend out of Socrates, naming him "Frank" and imagining him next to her during her toughest moments), then spends evenings laying in the backyard waiting for planes to fly over her house. Once she spots one, she sends loving thoughts or questions up to the passengers, not expecting a response of course... but every so often she swears she can feel something bounce back. It's then that the story cuts to a passenger on one of these flights. The perspective switches from Astrid's first person voice to that of the passenger and we see the thin filament of thought that links them to Astrid.

 

When joining these stories, King uses just the lightest touch of magical realism. Their stories, whether it's through their inner thoughts or conversations with others, hint at the possibility that maybe Astrid's kind thoughts and questions are, in fact, somehow subconsciously reaching them and affecting their lives in the most subtle of ways, influencing their personal narratives. 

 

It seems impossible these days to be a Booktuber and not hear the name A.S. King come up at least once in awhile and I feel like this one got especially hyped when it first came out. Finally trying out King's work for myself, I did end up enjoying this story but at the same time was a little underwhelmed. The plot itself had a slow start for me but it did pick up as I progressed, but the writing was a little on the bland side. Or maybe it was the plot that was not edgy enough but something about this book felt like there was an opportunity to really take these themes somewhere big but in the end we just stay in the safe zone. 

 

That said, I did enjoy the characters (I just wasn't gut-wrenchingly invested in them) and I applaud King for the themes that were addressed here -- the concept of turning pain into thoughts of love for others, the ridiculousness of homophobia and the damage it causes when people have to keep the truth of their soul locked up to feel safe in this world, the pain of experiencing friends who will throw you under the bus, as the saying goes, to keep their own secrets safe from seeing the light of day. I even liked how the interludes of the passenger stories illustrate the idea that we're all maybe just a little more connected to each other than we realize. All super important topics to incorporate into a novel, I just wish they would've been delved into even more. 

 

* For those who wish to use this book as a book club pick, a reading discussion guide is included in the back of the book. 

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review 2017-12-04 11:51
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County - Tiffany Baker

 The Little Giant of Aberdeen County is the story of Truly - a girl grown massive due to a pituitary problem. Reviled and brought up in poverty, Truly finds her calling and a future that none expected.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

>> POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel discusses the themes of rape and assisted suicide.

 

Living in a small town in New England (begining in the 1950s), Truly Plaice has been treated like a freak show attraction all her life. Due to a faulty pituitary gland, Truly has spent her life battling gigantism.

 

"Well," Bob Morgan said, "you may be ugly as sin and heavy as an ox, but I guess your mama loved you truly." Wide-eyed, I suckled my fist and took in the doctor's words with a look of gravity, as if i knew that for the next three decades, it would be the only direct reference I would have to the word 'love'.

 

The townspeople continue to throw around the rumor that her size is what killed Truly's mother just moments after Truly's birth, never mind that it was medically confirmed that her mother had been fighting breast cancer prior to giving birth.

 

To make matters even more difficult on Truly, her sister, Serena Jane, is the epitome of physical perfection right from childhood -- perfect curls, stunning face, lovely manners -- and grows up to be the town's beloved beauty queen. After the death of their father, the sisters are split up and taken in by different families in town. While Serena Jane is set up in a cushy home in town with access to all the finer things of life, Truly is forced to scrimp and eek out a meager existence on the farm of failing horse rancher August Dyerson (Dyerson says of his horses, "They're winners in their own way, the math's just a little different, that's all"). All across town and in school, Serena Jane is fawned over while Truly's 1st day of school left her with the memory of her TEACHER calling her a giant in front of the class ... and the environment not really improving from then on. 

 

For Amelia, (Truly's mostly mute best friend), words were something to use sparingly. They were like bleach or vinegar. A tiny amount could clean up almost anything, but dump out more than that, and you could have one ungodly mess on your hands. 

 

Once Serena Jane is of age, she also becomes the object of desire for Robert Morgan IV, Truly's childhood bully but now grown and serving as the town doctor. He's not really all that much nicer to Truly but tolerates her as a way to get close to Serena Jane. By the time these three characters have reached adulthood, Truly has developed quite a thick skin against tormentors so she's relatively nonplussed by Robert's still somewhat salty nature. She's just trying to live her life the best she knows how.

 

I didn't know how to explain Robert Morgan's temper to Marcus. It wasn't the blustery, volatile kind that blew itself up like a thunderstorm, but more sinister and steady, the north wind trailing its ribbons of frost and ice. Once provoked, his rage might linger for days, chilling everything around him, dropping temperatures until it hurt to breathe. I'd seen him go after the patients who were late with payments, and he wasn't kidding. The north wind always meant business. 

 

 

After a few years, Serena Jane starts to feel stifled in her life and decides to bail on everything, just disappearing one day. She basically leaves it all on Truly to clean up the mess. But sisterly love drives Truly to drop everything and do just what her sister asks... a decision that causes Truly to unfairly end up in a similarly trapped existence to the one her sister fled from. Though it's not referenced directly, we even see evidence of Truly showing evidence of struggling with depression and binge eating disorder. 

 

One thing that helps though is Truly developing an interest in medicinal herbalogy after discovering the long lost work of Tabitha Dyerson (a witch that lived in town centuries before and an ancestor of Truly's adopted guardian, August Dyerson. Tabitha was married to the current Dr Morgan's ancestor, Robert Morgan I -- talk about a small town!). Truly's studies lead her to become a sort of secret witch doctor in town, a person people seek out in the dark when they have an issue they don't want Dr. Morgan knowing about. It also draws her into some morally questionable territory, dipping her metaphorical toe in the murky rights and wrongs of performing assisted suicides. Her work with these plants will challenge friendships and dangerously tread the line between legal & just ... and not. 

 

For the most part, Truly's heart is in the right place, I'd say. Though the incident with the neighbor's cat had me ready to give up on her... but I hung in there to see where this all went. But the cat though... why, Truly? 

 

I ended up giving this novel a higher rating simply for entertainment value. I never found myself bored with the story, and for me that's a rare feat in reading these days. As far as the actual writing though... I really do enjoy Baker's style but structurally the plot had some serious potholes throughout that bothered me. Such as:

 

* I'm not sure what to think about the relationship between Marcus and Truly... sometimes it was sweet, sometimes it felt underdeveloped, other times I was asking why it was even there?! And Marcus going to Vietnam and filling his letters home with words like "The fellows here" and talking about his "torch" (flashlight)... but these characters were from NEW England, not the Queen's England.. so why was he writing in the style of a WW1 British soldier?

 

* While incorporating the story of the witch Tabitha and Truly taking up Tabitha's medicinal work, I don't feel like this element of the plot was explored enough. It's hardly mentioned at all until the last 100 pages or so of the novel. 

 

* What is the real story with Bobbie? Is he gay? Trans? Pre trans? Gender fluid? What is his story? Again, not all that well developed and feels (to me) like it was mostly just roughly stuck in there to pander to LGBTQ+ market ... if you're gonna have it in there, do it right, otherwise it's more of a disservice than anything! 

 

* There are moments that annoyed me where Truly was describing things done or said by other characters that she wouldn't have been actually present for, she's spouting off these thoughts or dialogue as fact when in reality Truly would be across town / down the street / etc. from where it was occurring, so she wouldn't be privy to the knowledge she was presenting the reader. 

 

Faults aside, I found this to be a truly (ha! see what I did there :-P) fun story with some really cool plot elements and the potential to be even more than what we actually got here. As I said though, I did really enjoy Baker's writing style and would be interested to check out her future offerings. 

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review 2017-12-04 08:16
Split by Swati Avasthi
Split - Swati Avasthi

Sixteen-Year-Old Jace Witherspoon arrives at the doorstep of his estranged brother Christian with a re-landscaped face (courtesy of his father’s fist), $3.84, and a secret. He tries to move on, going for new friends, a new school, and a new job, but all his changes can’t make him forget what he left behind—his mother, who is still trapped with his dad, and his ex-girlfriend, who is keeping his secret.

At least so far.

Worst of all, Jace realizes that if he really wants to move forward, he may first have to do what scares him most: He may have to go back. Award-winning novelist Swati Avasthi has created a riveting and remarkably nuanced portrait of what happens after. After you’ve said enough, after you’ve run, after you’ve made the split—how do you begin to live again?

Amazon.com

 

 

 

>> TRIGGER WARNING: This book describes graphic scenes of domestic violence.

 

 

After taking years of physical and emotional abuse from his father, teenager Jace decides to drive from Chicago, IL to Albuquerque, NM to meet up with his estranged older brother, Christian, whom he hasn't seen in years. Jace had hoped his mother would come along, but she urges him to go on ahead, simply pressing a paper with Christian's address into Jace's palm and promising to meet up with him in New Mexico for the Thanksgiving holiday.... the thing is, Christian doesn't know Jace is on his way. Jace arrives at Christian's door with a busted face (courtesy of their father), less than $5 to his name and no idea what to say. Christian takes Jace in, figuring questions would get worked out as they went along, and the bulk of the story from there focuses on Jace pretty much rebuilding his life in New Mexico -- starting school again, getting a job, and waiting to see if his mother will actually find the courage to finally leave her abusive husband. 

 

WHEW, this one gets into some tough topics! I found myself tearing up multiple times! Jace's experience with reuniting with Christian after so many years illustrates the challenges of being the younger child with a much older sibling, something I know quite well with my own older sibling. Jace points out to Christian: "Friends get years, but I get 20 minutes."

 

Another bit I related to was Jace's struggle was coming to terms with the reality that you physically resemble someone you come to strongly dislike ( as in, you physically resembling the parent you constantly butt heads with or the one with questionable life choices / moral compass). Along those lines, this story also points out the reality that abuse can go down in ANY kind of home. For example, Jace's father is a respected judge within the community but at home he's beating the stuffing out of his wife & kids.

 

Similarly, Jace has his own experience with losing his temper with a girlfriend. This part of the story was a tough spot for me. Up til this portion of Jace's story, I was liking the kid. But I have insanely low.... non-existent, really... tolerance for a guy smacking around a woman for any reason.. the exception being if SHE is physically threatening the guy's life, then by all means he has the right to defend himself as a human. But in Jace's case, it was just a flare up of jealousy and his actions end up scaring the bejeebus out of his girlfriend. While my opinion of him certainly dropped in that moment, he does show redemptive behavior later on in the story. I was really impressed when he comes forward and tells the girl that he's so disappointed in himself he WANTS her to press charges against him, he deserves it. Can you imagine the world if the assaulters across the world suddenly, collectively manned-up like that?! Cue Louis Armstrong! 

 

Jace's experiences teach him to develop what he calls "Fightology" -- lessons to tell himself to get through the worst times. For example, Fightology #8: If you relax your body when a hit is coming, it will hurt less (what's weird is that something about that almost seems logical AND counter-intuitive at the same time) or Fightology #9: Sometimes even the rules won't protect you. It gives the story an extra layer of sadness that he's had to develop such rules to survive his life but over time he finds ways to step away from the hardness and embrace the zen, changing his system to "Calmology": #1 Run every day. #2 Speak up if you have something to say #3 Fix what you can, accept what you can't (a nod to Serenity Prayer), etc. 

 

Like I said, it's a tough story to stomach. Definitely wouldn't recommend it for readers younger than the "older teen" crowd. That said, it brings important truths to light, not only about surviving abuse, but also regarding difficult nuances within sibling and parental relationships.

____________

 

EXTRAS:

 

>>  In her acknowledgements section, author Swati Avasthi mentions that this novel (less than 300 pages) took her three years to write. 

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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.

Amazon.com

 

 

* 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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