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review 2015-07-19 16:53
Review: Emmy and Oliver by Robin Benway
Emmy & Oliver - Robin Benway

Emmy and Oliver is a boy/girl next door love story with a twist.  Emmy has lived next door to Oliver her entire life and they have been best friends since they were born.  They did everything together and even share the same birthday.  When the kids are seven years old, their lives are irrevocably shattered when Oliver's father kidnaps him during a custody dispute.  For the next ten years, Emmy wonders what happened to her friend and has to endure the repercussions of the kidnapping while Oliver embarks on an adventurous life with his father under the presumption that he was abandoned by his mother.  Their lives are once again in upheaval when Oliver is discovered in New York and is re-untied with a family and community that has changed dramatically during his absence.


I have a bit of a problem with social issues books like this one.  I really wanted to like it and take the story seriously.  I acknowledge it had a few moments of cuteness, but there were too many things that grated on my nerves and the novel never fell into the realm of believability.  The overall tone of the story is incredibly juvenile - more on that later.


The part of the story that worked the most is Oliver's reactions to his family and old friends.  He's beyond angry and doesn't trust anyone, including Emmy.  He barely remembers his life before the kidnapping and very few things are familiar and provide comfort.  He misses his dad and cannot move beyond the anger he feels towards his mother even though he now knows she never abandoned him.  Emmy and Oliver do not immediately pick up where their friendship left off and their initial interactions together are awkward. Oliver's characterization is probably the most enjoyable aspect of the story and it tugs at your heart at how much he is hurting.


Although the story has some dramatic momentum, it lacks execution.  There were stylistic and editing issues that may very well come down to personal preference, but I kept cringing at certain word choices in the book.  There is a great deal of character "flinching" and every other page has someone uttering the words "I'm sorry."  Many character facts are told to the reader over and over again, one example being that Caro has five siblings and is annoyed that she has to share a room with her messy sister Heather.  A book with better editing would catch repetitive words and phrases and force the author to re-write a scene to show us that a character is feeling remorse, guilt or anger without literally having to tell us the feeling word they are experiencing.


One of my biggest pet-peeves about YA novels is the recurring cliche that parents are EVIL selfish assholes.  All of these teenage characters know right from wrong more than their adult counterparts and all of their problems stem from the unreasonable actions of their parents.  Emmy is a seventeen year old girl whose parents are illogically overprotective and will not permit her to apply for colleges away from home, enforce a 9:00 p.m. curfew and expect her to refrain from dating until she is eighteen.  She has no choice but to constantly lie to her parents because they imprison her in their home and do not allow her to be herself.  Caro and Drew's parents are noticeably absent and have no idea who their children are (or where they are, for that matter).  Then there's Oliver's parents, who use their child as a weapon to hurt each other.


Teenage rebellion is part of the process of growing up and forming opinions about life that may not always match up with those of your family.  These dynamics should definitely be explored in coming of age stories, but the adults in this book are one-dimensional exaggerated caricatures of the worst kinds of parents. The notion that these kids are more enlightened and logical than their parents is downright ludicrous and the majority of the conflict is unrealistically resolved when the adults accept the "right" point of view of their kids.  Ridiculous.




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review 2013-10-04 20:41
Seacliff, a Regular Boy Within. by Susan Tarr

Book cover for Seacliff, a regular boy within

 Purchase links: Ocean books, Wheelers 

Genres: Biography, historical fiction, family 
Format: Paperback, 330 pages 
Publishing date: March 22nd 2013 by Oceanbooks 
ISBN 9781272159 
Edition language: English 

Malcolm lost everything in life when his mom died and his dad abandoned him at the train station. As trauma after trauma manifested in this young boy's life, his brain closed off the section when his memories became too much to handle. As a result he became more quiet and eventually stop speaking altogether. He had to endure terrible odds to survive, but had the presence of mind to know what was actually happening with- and around him. He was admitted to the Seacliff Asylum, which later would be named Seacliff Mental Hospital. It was also known as the Loony Bin or Booby Hatch, where 
"Malcolm gleaned that mad people shouldn’t speak. It only caused trouble and more work. They should sit and be quiet. Quietly mad. They lived in a world full of silent people in The Building – that’s what the hospital was called.

He suffered and witnessed the aftermath of experimental treatments, including the embarrassing concept of Eugenics, on people and at one point decided to take control of his own destiny by hiding his medicines in his pocket seams and not drinking it in the hope of improving his memory, which were constantly destroyed by The Treatment. With all The Treatments they had to endure through the years, and all the medicines fed to them to calm them all down, the 'inmates' lost their mind altogether. A little voice in him encouraged him to fight back his own silent way.

Seacliff Lunatic Asylum 

The book is not only a commemoration of the historical building, Seacliff Lunatic Asylum in New Zealand, but also a detailed description of the lives and characters who graced it with their presence as either the 'rejects' of society, or the staff who worked there for many years. The characters are so endearing, I almost felt like going to them and say "I am so sorry society treated you this way". 

The story winds through the historical facts with ease and a gripping tale is introduced to the reader. The tale is very well written. 

This book reminds me of the movie "One flew over the Cuckoo's nest" , which also had me laughing and crying. Eventually Malcolm's spirit would triumph and in his case it became a celebration, after confirmation, of hope which never died:

"Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." --(Movie quote from: The Shawshank Redemption (1994) - Andy Defresne (Tim Robbins)

What an amazing story!

The author, Susan Tarr

Susan Tarr has been writing for 25 years. The author started writing when she lived in Kenya, far away from home, writing letters to her mom about her daily life and adventurous experiences in this African mileu. She decided to turn it into a book.

The stories in "SEACLIFF: A Regular Boy Within" have been blended from recollections of what probably did happen during the book's setting. She worked in Mental Health, Govenrnment Printing, Education Board and Social Welfare before sailing to Kenya, where she raised her family. While she always has a book or two on the go, she is also busy proofreading for others. Her favorite genres for writing are historical fiction and romantic comedies.

She draws her characters and inspiration from personal experience and other peoples’ anecdotal stories. Her characters take on a life of their own, becoming larger than life. Various stories in this historical fictional taleSeacliff , have been blended from recollections of what probably did happen during the book’s setting. To protect those people still living, changes were made where necessary, but the the dates, places, and names are otherwise correct.


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/726104940
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2013-10-01 02:30
Lacey's House by Joanne Graham
Lacey's House - Joanne Graham

Lacey's House by Joanne Graham

After reading this book I sat for a while, totally speechless and dumbfounded. It took several minutes, a lot of 'several minutes' actually, to come back to my own life and its immediate demands. Believe me, I almost did it kicking and screaming! 

For a debut novel, this is surely one of the best I have ever read! There is so much I want to, and can, say, but somehow my thoughts just drifted off in a multicolored hot air balloon over the Winscombe skies. There was simply none left for me to write a suitable review with.

Two women, young Rachel Moore and 84-year old Tracey Eleanor Carmichael, ended up living side by side in Apple Lane, Winscombe where Rachel moved into Dove cottage next to Tracey. The address was not only words to suit a chocolate-box address. Lacey's House would open up a journey for both to finally rise above: electric shock treatments; a lobotomy; a cruel life in an orphanage; an unknown mother who valued her alcohol addiction above everything else; a monstrous doctor; an ignorant vicious community; a village outlay in the form of a question mark; a woman talking to the dead at their graves, planting roses there because it was a hated flower for that particular deceased, since in real life her words was forced inside her head for safety reasons; a cat named Peachy. And then there was Charlie...

"That's the funny thing about small village life, reputations often last longer than the person themselves." But perceptions can be forced to change. When "Albert was dead lying on the floor of his house with his blood serving as a cushion for his head", the increasingly embellished tale of a witch, which was told to children in the dark of night, suddenly took a turn that would change lives forever.

Without the truth, fiction is not possible. "This story... this story is different, tantalizing, compelling" Lacey herself said that, which saves me from using the publishing-industry's neologism to sing the praise of this 2012 Luke Bitmead Bursary Award-winning book. Although there's no love lost for sentimentality in the book, the same compassionate message is present as evident in my speechless state of wonder afterwards!

This tale proves a theory: Anything, from an unwanted -ism to an un-addressed emotion, forced underground, takes root and flourish. People sadly and often deny it. And if it is nourished well, deeply loved, it can push up beautiful flowers to face the sun. But to become beautiful, it needs strong roots underground, in the often dark, in the uncompromising toughness of the earth. It is the only way that the perfect flowers can rise above the surface and charm the world. Even well-nourished weeds have beautiful flowers.

This book addresses the wealth and strength of the human spirit in unimaginable ways. The elements used in the book, two vastly opposite life stories, with one common denominator namely the absence of love as children, are not unknown to the world at all, but the combination used in this narrative, makes it stand out way above the average novel in this genre. 

The conclusion is surprising and original. 

In the end it confronts us all, who we are and how we ended up as human beings and what became of us in the aftermath of those choices. It is not how and where we were planted,but how we utilized the nourishment bestowed on us to paint the picture we would ultimately call our chocolate-box address. What a difference attitude can make!

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/690972246
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