Tag Archives: Bullying

SOMETIMES I LIE

Where to begin. Perhaps with the truth. Some people are going to love the sneaky slow twisty evil of this psychological novel set in England.

Others will prefer more structure; books that open with an evil event in the first chapter followed by the introduction of the “Sherlock Holmes” character with a nose for clues and the slyness of Columbo. A satisfying conclusion with justice served.

Pure and simple. Sometimes I Lie is a masterful head fake. To describe the book too intimately would ruin it for the next reader. In this case, my local bookclub.

NOW, BEFORE, and THEN. The story weaves its way through three time periods causing whiplash. The atmosphere of the whole book is heavy, dark, and claustrophobic. There is the feeling that everything is seen through heavy gauze – you ask yourself -do you really understand what is going on?

NOW we meet the paralyzed Amber and crawl inside her head. She awakens to discover that she can not move, speak or open her eyes. She is fully present but unable to communicate. At first she is unable to figure out what happened to her. As she listens to conversations around her she begins to put together the edges of a bizarre jigsaw puzzle – does this jigsaw picture forming in her head resemble reality? I’m not going to tell. There are some pretty heady and disquieting moments. But remember- she says, “Sometimes I Lie“.

BEFORE is presented in the form of a child’s detailed diary of her disturbed childhood. The complex friendship of two young girls from two sides of the track. One bullied and the other – her protector.

THEN happens when Amber awakens. Sorry no more clues but things really pick up speed in the book. You find yourself duped, if not questioning everything you ever knew about little girl friendships.  And what an ending!

I wasn’t sure that I really liked the book. It made me feel queasy at times. I surely didn’t like the characters.  That delicious feeling from a well crafted psycho thriller. But I find myself rethinking what does love really mean? Who or what was at play in the events that unfolded throughout the book?

Recommended if you like complex characters and an evil dimension not unlike some of Stephen King’s work.

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THE CHALK MAN

CROWN PUBLISHING | 2018
288 pages
FICTION : PSYCHOLOGICAL SUSPENSE/COMING-OF-AGE
ARC FROM PUBLISHER AND NEGALLEY

★★★★☆

When you get old and start falling apart, there are changes in your reading habits. When you are young, you have the stamina to stay up all night and read a good book then go to work. I am now at the age where I don’t have to do that! Instead, I spend the lost hours sitting in a doctor’s waiting room reading.  I’ve been saving The Chalk Man for just this kind of moment; and I wasn’t disappointed in my decision when the opportunity showed itself this week.

PROLOGUE 

The girl’s head rested on a small pile of orange-and-brown leaves. Her almond eyes stared up at the canopy of sycamore, beech and oak, but they didn’t see. . . A short distance away, a pale hand stretched out from its own small shroud of leaves, as if searching for help, or reassurance that it as not alone. . .

The Chalk Man will disappoint readers that are looking for a hair-raising blood curdling serial murder read.  The story reminded me more of  Stand By Me or Lord of the Flies. There are mysterious deaths that seem linked, and a myriad number of unexplained and aberrant events between the children, town bullies and adults with serious personality defects. Twists, squirms, and turns more than sordid and graphic murder scenes.

The story is told by Edward “Eddie Munster” as an adult in 2016 and flashes back and forth to 1986. Hence, the lives of the town’s residents and Eddie’s friends are slanted by his view and opinions. We learn more about Eddie simply because he shares more about himself than he does the others. Through him, we experience the hormonal throes of early adolescence and budding sexuality, observe his proclivity for shoplifting and collecting souvenirs and oddball items, and sense the anguish of a child/man slightly out of tune with world.

The relevance of the  title, Chalk Man begins with Mr. Halloran, an albino teacher who attends “Fat Gav’s” birthday party and gifts him with a box of chalk sticks. Learning that Mr. Halloran used chalk messages to secretly communicate with others, the children devise their own secret code – until one day – someone outside their group discovers their code.

I am reluctant to discuss the story in deeper detail; it will spoil the read. But I will toss in a few thoughts and prose that have stayed with me.

If you see something, say something. If you know something and keep it to yourself, you will be haunted by the outcome of your cowardice. Every action has a consequence; for good or for bad. No one is who they seem. No one is perfect. Everyone has character flaws. Life is not fair.

Eddie’s father, dying early of Alzheimer’s, left him with an important thought and I will share it with you. You will need to take this tidbit of wisdom with you into the read:

Never assume, my dad once told me. To assume makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me”.

Recommended reading for those that like a murder mystery without stomach churning violence. There’s just enough tough stuff to wince but keep going.

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Beartown

BEARTOWN

by Fredrik Backman

Atria Books|2017
Hardcover: 432 pages
ISBN: 978-1501160769
Genre: Fiction

ARC ebook from Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

★★★★

Where are our better Angels at such times/ As these? sweet Virgin, breathe awhile!——

William D’avenant, The Unfortunate Lovers
(licensed April 1638, printed 1643)

Late of evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead and pulled the trigger. This is the story of how we got there…………

Fredrik Backman, in hockey terms, hit me with a “check to the head”. His previous books feature curmudgeonly old men and quirky women that leave you warm and fuzzy inside. This newest book spins 180° toward the dark side. A small dying town, whose residents are obsessed with ice hockey, pin their hopes of economic revival on the backs of a junior hockey team as they head into a championship game. A town that has lost so much over the years needs a win – no matter the cost.

I ran into a group of friends the other day all excited to tell me that they had just finished Backman’s book, The Man Call Ove and wanted to know if he had any new books. As I looked into their eager faces, I told them about Beartown and I watched their faces deflate. Their reaction, I realized, was my initial reaction when I finished the book…disappointment. But I have had a change of heart.

I expected the author to give me another “bear-hug” book. A warm fuzzy hometown story resembling the 1950’s sitcom with “life is beautiful all of the time” Ozzie and Harriet Nelson nuclear families. Instead, Backman shows us that behind the painted-on-smiles and nothing-to-see here attitudes lies complex characters with flaws and less than lovable qualities. Not everyone ends each day with kiss goodnight and a promise of a bright tomorrow.

Tiny Beartown, isolated physically from the world-at large by dense forests and mountain terrain, resembles a tiny village inside a snow-globe. As long as no one shakes things up, the town turns a blind-eye to anything “unpleasant”; things look peaceful from the outside. When something “unpleasant” does happen, they feel it best to act like it didn’t happen. Don’t make waves. Look away!

You never want to get away from home as much as you do when you’re fifteen…It’s like her mom usually say when…her patience [has worn thin]. You can’t live in this town, Maya, you can only survive it.

As the all important hockey championship match draws near, the atmospheric pressure climbs for the town’s residents. It is now that the author has chosen to rock the town to its roots. Over-involved sports parents with their entitled children, down-on-their-luck townsfolk and greedy power-hungry men have chosen to live life vicariously through the talented young hockey team. The fate of Beartown is placed on the backs of children.

If tensions were high enough, the hockey team’s star player, son of a wealthy and powerful businessman, hosts a raucous party when his parents are out of town. The callous young man targets the daughter of the general manager of the local hockey club and makes a bet with his friends that he can get her to have sex with him. He invites her to the party and she goes, knowing that her parents would not approve, but never suspecting the danger. New to the party scene, the girl becomes drunk and charmed into going upstairs with the boy. Alone… he rapes her.

From that moment the future of everyone in Beartown changes. Some find their better angels and others succumb to their baser natures. New friendships are forged, old friendships are tested and other relationships are severed. Loyalty and love are tested. Marriages flounder, tempers flare, mobs form and unexpected heroes shine. The snow globe has been cracked and the residents of Beartown must look introspectively and make decisions to stay and heal the open wounds or to turn their backs on Beartown.

Recommended as a thought provoking book club selection.

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Finding Hope

finding hope cover

 

Finding Hope
by Colleen Nelson

★★★☆☆

Sand running through My Fingers.
Fluid.
I lost you in the cracks. I keep digging.
But you are too
Far
Gone.

Dundurn Press, 2016
ARC e-Reader (978-1-45973-247-6)
Paperback: 232 pages (978-1-45973-245-2)
Genre: Young Adult/ Fiction / Drug Abuse / Bullying/ Sexual Abuse

Finding Hope tackles some heady subjects that would have been almost unimaginable when this dusty old librarian was an adolescent.  That is not to say that drug abuse, sex abuse, violence and bullying are new to the adolescent scene. it was just not discussed and in my oblivious youth not on my radar.  As sex abuse has soiled our faith in those that care for our children’s minds and souls we sometimes overlook the deep reach of each vile act.  As is the case far too often in the real world, society and families fail their children by failing to recognize the trauma developing, failing to seek justice and mental health care when identified.

This story begins with the older brother, Eric, at age 17, a star hockey player and model student.  Popular and one of the “in-crowd”; expected to have a bright promising future.  His younger sister Hope does not have the limelight at school and feels left behind in her brother’s shadow at home.  She is bullied and an outsider.  Eric and Hope despite their differences of age and social development share a very close relationship probably born more out of a sense of isolation and lonesomeness at home.

Without explanation Eric begins to fall apart. The bottom drops out when his personality changes, he withdraws from academics and sports, and develops an insatiable meth addiction. His step-father is deeply affected by  his collpase and bans him from the home in an act of tough love.  Eric’s mother is unable to completely turn her back on her son but supports the father’s decision in order to maintain “family harmony”.  Keeping to the objective of YA fiction, the story is narrated in Hope’s and Eric’s voices.  Adult dialogue is more directive,angry and accusatory than engaging, interested and supportive.  The parents, more concerned about themselves, are not responsive to their children and their issues; highly deficient parenting skills.

Hope is trapped between parents and Eric.  She doesn’t condone his addiction and behavior.  She feels that there is still hope for Eric and his future.  She sacrifices her own babysitting money to give Eric money and supplies thus hoping to keep to continued contact with her brother.  It might have deepened Hope’s character more if there had been more dialogue within the home at this point in the story.  The step-father’s role in the story is handled by just not including him in the dialogue.  I would like to see him developed a little more.

Her mother recognizes that Hope is in an unhealthy environment at home and enrolls her in a private school. Hope is not wild about going to a boarding school as it would make it impossible to help Eric but it would give her a chance to have a fresh start socially and get her out of the pressure cooker home.

As the story spirals on, Hope and Eric struggle to find themselves amid a toxic world without any sense of security or sense of direction. We eventually learn the background on Eric’s decline and we watch Hope agonize and suffer terribly at the hands of a trio of classmates before reaching deep inside to identity her own strength and moral compass.

One particular passage with Eric touched me deeply.

“What are you doing?” Like a keening animal, she’d asked that question too many times.  When I came home hyped on meth, when I raged in my room for no reason that she understood…when I stole her bank card.

I never answered her  Not with the truth anyway…”What are you doing, Mom?” I should have fired back. Letting me go off with a hockey coach we barely knew, letting him drive me and stay in hotels with me…” Hot anger pulsed through me.

One of the strongest features of the story is Hope’s poignant poetry. I found Hope’s poetry very emotional and revealing. I read that the author reduced the story through numerous edits; perhaps just a little more attention should have been spent on developing each child’s life before Eric’s collapse.  Additionally I felt the failure of the school and community network was not explored adequately.

The concluding chapters are moving, dramatic and riveting. And the ending is satisfying yet acknowledges healing a fractured life leaves scars and cracks that can be forgiven but not easily forgotten.

I would not hesitate to suggest or recommend to interested in young adults.  I don’t think it is a story that expands the genre to include adult interest.

An advance reader copy was provided free of charge by Dundurn Press via Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

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I Let You Go

I Let you go cover

First Berkley | May 2016
ARC e-Reader provided
Hardcover: 384 pages
ISBN: 978-1101987490
Genre:British Crime Fiction/Psychological Thriller
★★★½

It happens in a heartbeat…
the car comes from nowhere…the squeal of wet brakes,
the thud…and the spin of his body
befoBright Red Splatter clip artre it slams onto the road…

…the car backs up the street [its] engine whining in admonishment.

Debut Authors tickle my fancy.   I just love discovering new budding authors and Clare Mackintosh did not disappoint me in crafting her first work of fiction.

Drawing on years of experience as a British crime inspector and the emotional loss of her own child, Mackintosh has fashioned a psychological thriller that will appeal to any lover of crime fiction.  First published in England in 2014, I Let You Go will make its hardcover debut in the US in May 2016.

Five year old Jacob, nearly effervescent describing his learning to write his name, races home from school tethered firmly in his mother’s grip.  As they near the house, his mother points across the street at the porch light she has left on for them.

 She releases his hand for a split-second to swipe a rain soaked hair lock out of her eye and Jacob lurches forward challenging her…“I’ll race you, Mummy…”

Detective Inspector Ray Stevens and members of his crime investigation team take on the task of finding the hit-and-run driver. A nearly impossible task with heavy rain in the area, blinding headlights highlighting the horror on the pavement, and no other eyewitnesses.

Jenna Gray, suffocating with grief, decides to packs a holdall (gym bag for us ‘Mericans) and leave.  “Can I do this?  Is it possible to simply walk away from one life and start another?  I have to try; it is my only chance of getting through this in one piece.”

Jenna aimlessly travels further and further from Bristol until she sequesters herself in an isolated small cottage in the teensy seaside town of Penfach (Wales).

As the investigation proceeds we meet the Inspector’s family and his team in greater detail. We learn the hardships and pressures that affect everyone during a long and arduous criminal investigation. The interoffice relationship between the DI and his trainee felt contrived and unnecessary. The dialogue would have been better spent, in my humble opinion, exploring his relationship in deeper depth with his wife and children.

I am leaving out some pretty heady plotlines and additional characters as I consider them spoilers. The author tackles some powerful topics that I would love to have seen her explore in greater depth. You’ll know it when you find them! I wouldn’t want to ruin your read!

Mackintosh has done a great job for her first mystery entrée.  It isn’t a masterpiece but very entertaining.  Great airplane or beach read.

She is writing her second book and I for one am standing in line with my hand raised for a chance to review it!

Thank you Netgalley and Berkley Publishing Group for the advanced reader copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

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