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review 2018-03-20 20:39
Unsettling, entrancing tale of escaping the traps we're born to
Along the Indigo - Elsie Chapman

Disclaimer: Reviewing pre-publication proof via NetGalley


I loved this. Vivid, strong character writing and a fully fleshed-out sense of place from the first page made this an engaging story, and the dark fantasy/paranormal elements, while light, tinted the story with a deliciously creepy atmosphere.


Marsden is saving up to skip town with her 8-year-old little sister before one or both of them get roped into joining Nina's girls like their mom. Their dad died (or killed himself) when she was her sister's age, and their mom started working the not-so-secret nightshift in the boarding house they live in/brothel.


Being pressured toward sex work isn't the only source of Marsden's misery. She's half Chinese in a white, rural American town. Her mother's job - and her likely future - are an open secret, and the predatory, bullying behaviour of her peers and neighbours has her self-isolating to survive. And she can't hear the voices of the dead - despite regularly visiting the covert behind the boardinghouse to strip the bodies of the dead for cash. It's the last remaining piece of family property, a sort of suicide forest, tainted by the murder spree of a mad ancestor.


So there's a lot going on here. The visible minority/POC/mixed ancestry thing is handled well and comes up in Mars & her sister's experience, as well as another boy in town's story. The absent/abusive parent thing is troubling but very well handled, as is the dysfunctional community. And the suicides. There's heaps upon heaps of messed up in this book, but the author doesn't bury you in it. It's an engaging read, atmospheric and challenging without feeling hopeless. It reminds me of Brenna Yovanoff's books, and Kendare Blake's Anna Dressed In Blood just a touch. I think it's set in eastern Oregon or Washington maybe, or one of the prairie/desert states further east of there, but it has more in common with Southern Gothic paranormals. Creepy, foreign and familiar at the same time, unsettling and entrancing. Will circle back to this author's earlier works and follow her future books with great interest. Highly recommended read.

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review 2015-12-25 13:55
Family, Lies, Race and Life in the South
Shattered Lies - Francis X. Clooney, S.J.

I’m reviewing this book as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team and was offered a free ARC copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

The novel, as promised by the description, deals with important themes: family relationships, adultery, betrayal, secrets, lies, race, loss and grief, illness… The story shows us how two families, the Thayers and the Johnsons, who’ve always lived close to each other in the family ranch of the Thayers, a white Southern family, while the Johnsons (African-American) worked for them in a variety of capacities and lived within the grounds, are much more closely linked than they appear at first sight. Kate Thayer, the youngest of the family, finds a diary written by her mother that opens up a Pandora’s Box of secrets and lies, including suicide, child abandonment, and questions about her own identity.

Emotions run high for all the protagonists and also the less important characters, and as the story is narrated in third-person limited point of view it allows the reader to see things from inside the heads (and the hearts) of different characters. This does not make it confusing but instead it gives readers an opportunity to better understand some of the characters, which at first are difficult to like or empathise with (like Katherine, Kate’s grandmother).

The novel is full of emotionally tense moments, and many secrets are revealed very early on. That results in much of the story delving into the changing emotions of the characters (from anger, to guilt, to fear, and back again), with the rhythm of the story speeding up and slowing down at times rather than providing a totally smooth ride.

Despite punctual references to current times (several mentions of Obama, the years when different events took place, and comments about how things have changed over generations), the story seemed to live in a time of its own and in its own environment, creating a somewhat claustrophobic sensation. The only interferences by the outside world take place in the train (where there is a nasty experience with some white youth, and a nice encounter, which to Kate exemplifies the fact that people can fight against prejudice at a personal level, no matter what pressures they are subjected to by their environment), and later in the hospital, although even that serves mostly as a background for the family’s battles and eventual peace. This is mostly a personal story, although it reflects wider themes.

The North and the South are depicted as fairly different worlds, nowadays still, and the codes of behaviour and the topics brought to my mind Faulkner’s novels (although the style and the treatment of the material is completely different). It seemed difficult to believe that in the late 1980s nobody would have spotted that Olivia, Kate’s mother, was pregnant with twins (even if she didn’t want an ultrasound), and that the doctor wouldn’t  think of calling for help when he realised the delivery was not going well (especially as this is a family of means). But perhaps the details are not as important as the experiences in this melodrama that ultimately provides a positive message of hope and forgiveness.

This is an emotionally tense read, with some slower and somewhat iterative self-reflective moments, and some faster ones, exploring issues of identity, prejudice and family that will make you think about your own priorities and preconceived ideas. Ah, and 10% of the royalties go to the Polycystic Kidney Foundation, a very good cause (and relevant to the story).

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review 2015-03-18 05:24
Review of: "I Choose Hope" by Nikki Abramson
I Choose Hope (B&W) - Nikki Min Yeong Abramson

“I Choose Hope” by Nikki Abramson is an eye-opener to say the least.  This is a story of struggle, a story of frustration, a story of questions without answers, and yet also a story of encouragement, a story of the stabilizing power of faith in Jesus Christ, and a story of overcoming.


A harsh critic of the book might point out all the correctly spelled misplaced words appearing here and there throughout the book.  They might point out how she repeats the exact same thought within mere sentences of each occasional occurrence, or how it appears at times as if this book has given her a platform to vent.  However, by the time you reach the end of the book, you discover not only who is writing it, but perhaps be forgiven for overlooking any literary shortcomings out of desire to extend the same kind of mercy and grace that she longs to show to others.


In some of her venting moments of this book, the reader is given a rare glimpse inside the mind and heart of an adoptee.  Knowing friends who have adopted not one, but two children themselves, I could see some of their efforts in raising their children in Nikki’s descriptions of how her parents raised her.  If you are an adoptee yourself, or raising children adopted from another country and culture, you too may see yourself in these pages and perhaps as an adoptee, finding yourself both relieved and amazed that someone else has finally given voice to what you dared not share with anyone in the past.


As the reader will quickly find out, adoption would turn out to be the least of her concerns, as various rare but almost debilitating medical conditions found her one by one.  The mere fact she is alive to write this book, has been reason enough for the friends and mentors in her life to insist she tell her story!  In fact, as she prepares to share her story, she is now dealing with ALL of her various medical conditions at the same time.  You’ll understand why this is so amazing when you read this book for yourself.


Some of her more common issues I actually deal with myself on a regular basis.  Things like allergy-based asthma, which it sounds like her doctors have misdiagnosed too, just like doctors did for me years ago, the treatment is not the same as regular asthma, similar, but not the same.  In fact I had to swear off my asthma meds when I discovered that the second puffer was a corticosteroid, which suppresses the adrenal system!  As one recovering from and still dealing with adrenal fatigue (which Nikki describes but doesn’t name during her descriptions of her latest malady), the last thing I wanted to do was continue to damage my adrenal system.  I’ve found a natural antihistamine that helps the sinuses and upper respiratory system, but nothing yet to replace the lung medication.  Spring and Fall are now my two worst times of the year as a result.

Needless to say, I have the unfortunate ability to identify with some of her health struggles.


The real encouragement in the book for me, is hearing how growing up in Church gave her a solid foundation; hearing how prayer groups, prayer partners, and Bible College staff and students spoke into her life and encouraged her.


We don’t always understand why God allows various things to happen in our lives, but when we realize that perhaps, those things are happening to us not to deliberately cause us unending torture, but to be there for others along the way, our ability to manage what God has allowed grows in leaps and bounds!  Nikki has found this to be true in her own life, as her choice of hope gave her the kind of bubbly personality that lifted the spirits of everyone she came in contact with.


It is my prayer that God will give Nikki many more fruitful years.  I pray that God will miraculously touch her various maladies and that each of them will disappear from her life one by one.  I pray that those who come into contact with her will not merely see an overcomer, but see Who has helped her to become such an overcomer, that they will see Christ in her and come to know the One who has given her such strength and stamina in spite of all she faces.


What are you going through right now?  Have you swallowed the bitter pill of self-pity and fist-shaking at God, or have you caught a glimpse of the life-changing power touching others through your current situation?  May I encourage you, as Nikki will in her book, to choose hope, choose Christ, and choose the path of uplifting others regardless of what is going on in your own life, mind, heart and maybe even your physical body.  Nikki joins the ranks of such authors as Joni Eareckson Tada, Nick Vujicic and others who have been dealt hard cards in the game of life, and yet gone on to encourage millions in ways they never would have if God had allowed them to be healthy and whole.  Remember, your situation may not be for your benefit, but the benefit of someone else.  I encourage you to go get yourself a copy of Nikki’s book, “I Choose Hope” from Amazon.com.  You won’t regret it!

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review 2015-02-23 02:24
A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee
A Spy in the House - Y.S. Lee

I don't think I'd have read this if it hadn't been for my local public library's very limited Overdrive e-book holdings. I decided I wanted to read a mystery, and this was one of the few mysteries immediately available for checkout that looked interesting to me.

On to the story. At the age of 12, Mary was saved from being hung as a thief and was given the chance to become a student at Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. When Mary is 17, she is given another opportunity: if she wishes, she may become a spy for the Agency, an organization connected to the school. Mary's skills as a thief allow her to have a shorter training period than normal, and, only one month later, she begins her first assignment. Her job is to listen in on conversations in the Thorold household and hopefully acquire information about Mr. Thorold's smuggling activities. To make her work easier, Mary takes a job as the new paid companion of Angelica Thorold, Mr. Thorold's daughter.

Mary is a pretty terrible novice spy. She becomes bored with her work after only a few days. Her impatience prompts her to take greater risks, which result in her activities being discovered by James Easton. Luckily for her, James is doing some spying of his own and can't turn her in without drawing attention to himself. George, James's brother, is in love with Angelica, and James is concerned that Mr. Thorold may be involved in something that could become trouble for his family if George ends up marrying Angelica. He wants to find proof of his suspicions before it's too late, so he proposes that he and Mary work together as a team.

This book started out fairly rough, with pages and pages of expository dialogue. Felicity and Anne, two of the Agency's senior members, had Mary recite the details of her early life and family for no real reason other than getting readers up to speed. They then helpfully told readers that Mary was “brave, tenacious, and decisive” (16), as well as shy of strangers and men in particular, in possession of a bad temper, and not fond of being corrected. Oh, and also that there was something “exotic” (14) about her appearance – they and others kept pointing out Mary's dark eyes and hair, as though all English people were blond and blue-eyed.

The action picked up a little after that, although the writing was never what I would call “subtle.” Based on her actual behavior, as opposed to what Felicity and Anne had said about her, I'd say that Mary was impatient and too much of a risk-taker, but at least good at thinking on her feet. She made a lot of mistakes, starting with her decision to disobey orders and begin investigating on her own. I expected her bosses to gently chastise her for putting herself in danger and then praise her for having the courage to take the initiative and do some extra investigating on her own. I was pleasantly surprised when Mary's bosses rightfully chastised her not just once, but several times. She was never exactly punished, but it was made clear that her behavior hadn't been appreciated and had made things harder on the primary agent (who Mary knew existed, but never got to meet).

At certain points, Mary was investigating so many suspicious characters that I had trouble remembering what it was she was originally supposed to be doing. There was Mr. Thorold and his supposed smuggling operation, Mrs. Thorold and her possible affair, and the secret meetings between Angelica and Michael, Mr. Thorold's secretary. In addition, things were further complicated by a slight romantic subplot involving James Easton, because of course. At least James agreed with me that Mary was a reckless novice who had a high likelihood of getting herself killed.

All in all, A Spy in the House was a “meh” read for me. If I continue reading this series, I hope that Mary becomes a less frustrating heroine who learns from her mistakes.


(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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url 2013-10-28 17:43
About Me: Introductions

Where are my manners? How rude I’ve been, I haven’t even introduced myself!



The rules of etiquette must be satisfied.


So let’s see…


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