Bites

Published: March 28, 2017
Publisher: Treehouse Publishing Group
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Rose Madsen will do anything to keep from being married off to one of the men in her Fundamentalist Mormon (FLDS) community, even endure the continued beatings and abuse of her mother. But when her mentally handicapped baby sister is forced to strangle the bird she loves at the behest of the Prophet, Rose frees the bird and runs away.

Adan Reyes will do anything to escape the abusive foster care system in Phoenix, even leaving his good friends and successful high school athletic career behind him. Ill-prepared for surviving the desert, Adan hits the road only to suffer heat stroke. Found by a local handyman, he catches a glimpse of a mysterious girl–Rose–running through town, and follows her into the mountains where they are both tracked and discovered by the men of the FLDS community.

With their fates now intertwined, can Rose and Adan escape the systems locking them into lives of abuse? Will Rose be forced to marry the Prophet, a man her father’s age, and be one of dozens of wives, perpetually pregnant, with no hope for an education? Will Adan be returned to the foster home where bullying and cruelty are common? Is everyone they meet determined to keep them right where they belong or are some adults worthy of their trust? (goodreads.com)

Montgomery writes a compelling, gripping story about a girl trying to escape a cult and the passive observers around her who are finally forced into action. I couldn’t stop reading and practically swallowed the book whole. Montgomery doesn’t use a lot of flowery, overwritten language to tell her story and sticks to short, succinct passages of time and chapters that make the book feel effortless to read.

It was horrifying to read about the FLDS community up in Colorado City and even more horrifying to know that, while this story was fictionalized, such a cult does occupy the area at the Arizona/Utah border. And yes. These guys are a cult. And just like the first amendment doesn’t protect all free speech, it shouldn’t protect all aspects of religion, especially the abusive, pedophilloic aspects of it. It’s one thing when adults are consenting to this kind of idiocy. It’s quite another when girls as young as 13 for forced into purely procreative marriages with men old enough to be their grandfather while the boys are effectively ejected from their world because they’re useless. When the story went into the POV of the “Prophet” it was grotesque. The man was basically a pedophile and made all the woman under his rule dress in a manner that made them look like children so he could, quite literally, get off. Gross.

Rose’s story was heartbreaking and I couldn’t help but root for her as she slowly broken the chains that bound her. Adan, while a great character whom I liked, felt like a weird insert into this world that didn’t quite fit into this grander puzzle. He fit close enough, but not cleanly so even within the confines of the story he felt like an outsider placed there in order to move the story forward. Didn’t stop me from plowing through the story, but he’s the one slightly off element for me.

THE SCENT OF RAIN asked a lot of valid questions, especially centering around Chase and Trak as they came to terms with what they were seeing. They’ve basically spent their lives being silent approvers of what’s been going on and claiming they didn’t know how far it’d gotten. But when something’s happening right under your nose, how ignorant can you be about it? And these two characters really struggled with that toward the end of the story, including a woman within the cult, Beth, who left and came back and had a hard time swallowing what was going on. A definite (probably unintentional) parallel to what’s happening in our society today. At what point is it too much? How far down the slippery slope can one slide before they’re about to crash into a raging river?

The end was a bit anticlimactic for me. I wish there was more comeuppance for the Prophet than what we received but I guess that’s reality, right? Cut off one head of the hydra and three more grow back. Changing the minds of the indoctrinated is a difficult, nearly impossible, thing.

What really hit me were Montgomery’s notes at the end about how she went up to Colorado City to do research and how eerie everything around her was, especially about the children and how they treated outsiders. It makes my skin crawl.

Montgomery’s THE SCENT OF RAIN is an excellent addition to all of the information out there about the FLDS cults that exists and what’s going on. It’s frustrating to know that is it so difficult to take children out of these environments because of the unwillingness of the adults to testify against the men running their lives. And the inbreeding that’s happening and the children suffering in such awful ways as a result of that inbreeding. It’s horrifying. I don’t think people truly understand that this isn’t about freedom of religion but about the absolute control of a few over many, often to satiate latent sexual desires. It’s gross and these cults shouldn’t be allowed to exist, at least not when children are involved. If adults want to be idiots and do that to themselves, fine. But when children can’t make those decisions on their own they shouldn’t be forced into it.

The only real complaint I have is that the digital copy I received was a bit sloppy. This isn’t a self-published book but it is published with a small indie and it would have benefited from a line edit and formatting checks before being released. I ended up with some missing words in sentences, page numbers in the middle of the text, and scene shifts with no demarcation, to name a few. But I was so engrossed with the story that I was hardly bothered by these things.

4

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Pub Date: August 1, 2017
Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Katie Wallace has never given much thought to 9/11. She was only a year old when terrorists struck American soil. But now her dad has landed in a mental institution after claiming to know what really happened. He insists the attacks were part of a government conspiracy. And he claims that Katie is living proof: the lone survivor of a massive cover-up.

Hoping to free her dad, Katie sets out to investigate his bizarre claims. Soon she’s drawn into the strange and secretive world of 9/11 conspiracy theorists known as the “Truthers”.

Wading through a dangerous web of fact and fiction, questions and distortion, Katie no longer knows what to believe. But she does know that she’s being followed — and that someone is determined to stop her search for the truth.

A novel for teens, exploring 9/11 & our conspiracy culture… (goodreads.com)

My interest was piqued with TRUTHERS, however, when I started reading I was very afraid of where the book was going to go. I have huge problems with people capitalizing on 9/11 in the form of entertainment, like fictionalized books or movies. Same goes for other big tragedies, like the BP rig explosion and that movie with Mark Wahlberg. Gross. No. You’re making money on the backs of dead people with survivors still alive to tell you exactly what happened. No.

So I was afraid because 9/11 is very close to me. I don’t like to call myself a survivor because I wasn’t downtown when it happened. I was in my dorm at 55th between 2nd and 3rd, having been dropped off eight days prior for my freshman year of college. I don’t feel like I actually survived anything being that far uptown, yet it’s such a monumental moment in my life that I’m still to this day grossly affected by it. I didn’t witness the planes crashing into the buildings or see the towers collapsing, but I can tell you how yellow the air was the next day when the wind shifted and what thousands of burning bodies and cement and steel and asbestos and office equipment smells like. How long it stuck to our hair and our clothes, how news anchors advised people to stay indoors. I can tell you it took between 7 and 8 hours to get a hold of my parents that day because cell services were jammed, pay phones were for emergency only, and no one had long distance on their dorm phones. So my parents had no idea whether I was alive or dead. I can tell you what a silent New York City feels like, what hordes of people walking across the Queensboro looked like because the island was locked down. What’s it like to walk in streets that were previously flat but were now rippled and bulging because of the underground force created by the falling towers. I can tell you what it’s like to have a fundraiser variety show for one of our friends whose dad, who didn’t work in the towers but were nearby, ran in to help people and never came out. They buried an empty coffin that November and in March his body was finally extracted from the wreckage, intact.

I know our government’s down some really shitty things, but I can’t accept that they would allow something like this to happen let alone actually orchestrated it. So I had a hard time going into this book, and I had a hard time writing what I did above, and I was afraid of what Girard was going to do. My 18-year-old self was very directly affected by 9/11 and my 34-year-old-self now is very protective of that piece of me. But I gave it a chance.

And once things started working out and cracks started to form, I stopped reading the book as if I were anticipating a hit. I waited until the very end to see how he would tie everything together just so I didn’t jump the gun and was like WHEW. TRUTHERS ended in a very satisfying place. Not one where I anticipated it ending, but a respectful place.

The basic premise is Katie’s dad has been not well for a long time and at his last breakdown before being hospitalized he drops a bomb: that we was involved in a secret conspiracy to orchestrate 9/11 and Katie is really the daughter of a woman off of Flight 93 who handed her over to him to save before the woman was carted off and murdered by the government. This is at the front of the book, and it’s a very insulting conspiracy which was why I was so apprehensive going into it. I was really hoping the book would ultimately be a comment on mental illness, which is kind of ends up being. It just takes a while for that point to develop.

So here’s the thing: conspiracies are not mathematically viable. Effectively the more people who know a secret the less amount of time that secret is going to stay a secret. That article effectively proves that based on prior real conspiracies that did come to light. The thing about covert operations is that very few people know about them. Exceedingly few. That’s to mitigate leaks. There is stuff that’s buried very deeply within the government that not even Julian Assange can get his hands on. The shit the government really doesn’t want people to know, they hide it well. Everything else . . . well, the government at large is terrible at keeping secrets, if you couldn’t already tell.

One of Katie’s contacts, a guy with the handle Benevolus522, states that people who know too much and who are deemed a threat by the government get eliminated. That’s not untrue. However the government actually needs to think you’re a threat with the information you know. Ben here’s been working on his truther crap for more than a decade and he considers himself hunkered down under hacker protection from the government and in hiding. 1) Hubris to think his tech skills are better than the government’s when it comes to spycraft. Ha. 2) By that same logic if he was actually on to anything he’d already be dead. Since he’s not, by that logic, he knows jack shit. But, you know. Truthers aren’t logical so that concept flies right out the window.

Max is a leveling factor throughout the story, poking holes in Katie’s logic the entire time and he really grounds it all out. He waters down every truther concept, picks it up and turns it around so it can be seen from the other side of the coin. He’s really the voice of reason as Katie devolves into this whole mess.

As for Katie herself, she gets points for the research she does and the time spent. The crux of this whole thing, as outlined by one of the cases she found, it to prove that the truther conspiracies are believable by people of sound judgment and mind, not just by “crazies.” And this is brought up very early on in the story so if you hang on to this notion, keep it in the back of your mind, it’ll help you carry through everything, from the cut-aways to the “men in black” talking about spying on her to the questionable scare tactic moments that arise. She’s also a vaguely inconsistent character, but that’s just one mention that really stood out: considering 9/11 ancient history, however, she quotes the movie Se7en, which is even older than that event. Literally before her time. But whatever. Small hiccup, ultimately.

There are a lot of hidden pieces in TRUTHERS that if I start talking about them they’ll just be outright spoilers. So I’ll just end it with this: it’s a book that ultimately keeps its distance. 9/11 is THE BIG THING in the book, but that’s not how it ends. Girard is respectful and ends up making various comments about the mentality around conspiracies, PTSD, mental illness, and persistence toward truth. It started off rough and ended quite well. I would recommend giving it a chance.

He puts a note at the end, before the bibliography, just commenting on the sites and books he referenced when researching the book and how it’s not an endorsement, just a research list. InfoWars is on there and it made me twitch. Ugh. Talk about conspiratorial drivel. I’m sorry he had to go there, but I think it shows the lengths to which he went in order to understand the mentality of that side of thinking and even that isn’t presented in a mocking way in the book, but just as another way of thinking without being disrespectful to those directly affected by 9/11.

So if you’re looking at the blurb and you’re skeptical in a way that I was, give TRUTHERS a chance. You might be surprised.

4.5

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

23281665Published: July 7, 2015
Publisher: Razorbill
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

We’re all gonna die down here. . . .

Julie lies dead and disemboweled in a dank, black subway tunnel, red-eyed rats nibbling at her fingers. Her friends think she’s just off with some guy—no one could hear her getting torn apart over the sound of pulsing music.

In a tunnel nearby, Casey regrets coming to Survive the Night, the all-night underground rave in the New York City subway. Her best friend Shana talked her into it, even though Casey just got out of rehab. Alone and lost in the dark, creepy tunnels, Casey doesn’t think Survive the Night could get any worse . . .

. . . until she comes across Julie’s body, and the party turns deadly.

Desperate for help, Casey and her friends find themselves running through the putrid subway system, searching for a way out. But every manhole is sealed shut, and every noise echoes eerily in the dark, reminding them they’re not alone.

They’re being hunted. (goodreads.com)

I found SURVIVE THE NIGHT rather long-winded for such a short story. There was a lot of built up to get them to the underground rave, and then a significant amount of time down there just kind of screwing around. By the time anything interesting started happening we’re at least two thirds of the way through the book and it’s hard for me to keep my interest going.

A lot of time was spent going over Casey’s addiction and rehab and her getting back together with her ex-boyfriend and reconciling with her best friend who did rather un-best friend-like things and really the focus of the story was more about finding out about oneself and who your friends really are than escaping any kind of Cthulhu-like monster dropped into the subway tunnels by Hurricane Sandy. I was less than impressed by it.

Shana as a character definitely hit home, though. Not because I hung out with anyone like that but I definitely traveled in some of the circles those types of people rode in and it was like getting smacked in the face. People like that were always considered wild and fun and they always had crappy reputations, but said reputations didn’t necessarily hold them back at all and you were a bore if you didn’t always want to do what they did. Except it turns out that person is really a loser sinking on the Titanic and wants to bring as many people down with them as they can. For all the crappy things Shana did to Casey, irrespective of Casey’s own consent or not (no, no one held a gun to Casey’s head, but Shana took advantage at every opportunity because she knew she had a rube she could manipulate on her hands), their Lifetime moment at the end of the book kind of irked me.

I guess that’s what people look for? Forgiveness? Maybe it’s just my sociopathy but I would drop people like that. I wouldn’t hold a grudge, but no amount of hugging it out will repair what was done so it’s really better for people to go their separate ways sometimes. Technically that happened at the end of SURVIVE THE NIGHT. Technically.

With the majority of the book being angsting and only a small portion of it being terror and horror and a giant tentacle monster killing everyone, I was disappointed. It fell far short from scary and weighed too heavily on issues to get it through. Even when they were trying to find their way out of the tunnels they weren’t actually being chased. They were just walking through the dark with their cell phones on. Meh. The blurb is ultimately misleading on this one.

The build-up to scary was non-existent. This was more a book about people working out their issues with a hint of tentacle monster as opposed to OMG HORROR with a dash of issues. I would have preferred the latter.

2

Published: March 25, 2016
Publisher: Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

When Keziah de Forest’s grandmother, Oma, is diagnosed with dementia, the seventeen-year-old makes the decision to leave her family and move to New Winchester to care for Oma. However, the decision comes with burdens Keziah never expected. Each day becomes a greater weight and loving the woman she once cherished becomes a chore.

Resentful of her hardships in New Winchester and the family secrets buried in the attic, Keziah finds herself drawn to Oma’s ramblings about the Goat Children, a mythical warrior class who ride winged horses and locate people in need, while attempting to destroy evil in the world. Oma sees the Goat Children everywhere, and as Keziah reads the stories her grandmother wrote about them, she begins to question if they really exist. (goodreads.com)

Let’s start with the title: it just rubs me the wrong way. It’s relevant to the story, but it’s just downright unappealing to the eye and to the ear. Linking it back to the story, I don’t know why they’re actually called goat children. Goats are not at all involved. So really off-putting title.

And the cover: c’mon, CHBB. I’ve seen some of your covers. They’re downright gorgeous. Is there a reason this one got the nondescript stock image with the bevel/emboss/drop shadow title on the front made in Microsoft Paint? It’s just awful. No, I shouldn’t say that. I’ve seen AWFUL. This is just lazy and a total disservice to CHBB, Jordan, and the book. I’ve created better covers for Wattpad using an iPad app. There is no reason for something like this, especially when other authors with the same publisher have come out with higher quality, and higher concept, covers.

As for the story, I think it could have had the potential to be a really powerful story but it’s precipitated by a major contrivance that I just couldn’t get over. Keziah volunteers to go live with her grandmother who’s slipping into the wastelands of dementia and of the four adults involved in her life, two of which live only minutes away from said grandmother, all four were like “Yeah, this is a good idea. I don’t see why a seventeen-year-old can’t take care of a sick relative while we all go along with our lives.” DCF takes minors out of homes for things like this.

So as she gets more resentful of her situation I can’t help but be like THIS WOULD NEVER ACTUALLY HAPPEN. I just cannot believe that not one adult in this situation wouldn’t be a voice of reason here. Instead her feet are held to the fire with little to no help. The relatives who are closest treat her like a burden and get all huffy when she asks for help and her parents live too far away and basically write her off. When something does go wrong they’re like, ‘Keziah, what is wrong with you? You can’t have a life! You have to watch your grandmother!’ Meanwhile I’m sitting there going WTF NO. It is such an unbelievable situation that I ultimately felt nothing for the story.

The concept of the goat children isn’t really developed. It comes in at the end but for the majority of the book it’s this mythical thing that probably isn’t real but an instance or two show that it could potentially be real. And I have no idea why they’re called goat children. Like I said before they have nothing to do with goats. They ride pegasii and fight unseen things. It just felt like an idea that wasn’t fully mature. Or it’s a mature idea thrown onto a story that ended up watering it down.

Keziah was a brat. She volunteered for this and then held it against everyone, mostly the people in her class. She’s also rather socially inept, very steadfast in her beliefs and she didn’t even want to be around people who didn’t have the same views as her. She went to dinner with a group of girls from school and basically didn’t want to hang around them because they were eating meat and just wanted to know why she didn’t. She thought less of them because they drank and she just really had her nose in the air about everyone around her. She bemoaned people for not accepting her for who she was but in the same breath refused to accept other people if they weren’t like her. It did not make her a likable character at all. She had her issues thrown back in her face at the end by a classmate in a similar situation and I really liked that. As a character she needed that perspective. It didn’t make me like her any more, though.

THE GOAT CHILDREN just felt like a really unpolished book. The catalyst is poorly conceived and it really taints the rest of the story for me. Keziah as a character is unlikable, and at times inconsistent, and the family around her are negligent to a criminal degree. There are other issues thrown on top of the overarching ‘taking care of a sick family member’ that I felt were really tacked on and didn’t add anything other than unnecessary drama to the story. I’ve read a fair amount of Jordan’s work and this is definitely not her best showing. Coupled with the wince-worthy title and despicable cover this product just does not appear to be publishing-ready. The story itself is not fatally flawed and like I said before, it has the potential to be really powerful and I felt that at the end. But I think it’s still pretty far away from being at its greatest potential.

2

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

29102966Published: April 19, 2016
Publisher: St Martin’s Griffin
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

It’s 1989 and Rae Earl is a fat, boy-mad 17-year-old girl, living in Stamford, Lincolnshire with her mum and their deaf white cat in a council house with a mint green bathroom and a refrigerator Rae can’t keep away from. She’s also just been released from a psychiatric ward. My Mad Fat Diary is the hilarious, harrowing and touching real-life diary Rae kept during that fateful year and the basis of the hit British television series of the same name now coming to HULU. Surrounded by people like her constantly dieting mum, her beautiful frenemy Bethany, her mates from the private school up the road (called “Haddock”, “Battered Sausage” and “Fig”) and the handsome, unattainable boys Rae pines after (who sometimes end up with Bethany…), My Mad Fat Diary is the story of an overweight young woman just hoping to be loved at a time when slim pop singers ruled the charts. Rae’s chronicle of her world will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever been a confused, lonely teenager clashing with her parents, sometimes overeating, hating her body, always taking herself VERY seriously, never knowing how positively brilliant she is and keeping a diary to record it all. My Mad Fat Diary – 365 days with one of the wisest and funniest girls in England. (goodreads.com)

When St Martin’s pitched me MY MAD FAT DIARY I was sort of on the line about it. It’s not something that’s in my normal wheelhouse but if it’s pithy and funny and quirky, I can usually appreciate it. So I accepted and now . . . I’m not too sure how to review it. I definitely didn’t like it like I thought I would and now I’m kind of stuck. It’s a real diary written by a seventeen-year-old. What am I going to comment on? The writing? The realism? The authenticity? I don’t even know.

It reads like a diary written by a seventeen-year-old. I do think Rae was more astute and quick-witted than your average teenager but I didn’t read anything earth-shattering. I wasn’t rolling on the ground laughing. I may have chuckled a time or two and smiled a little but that’s about it. She absolutely had her irrational teenage moments and she also had some pretty insightful moments as well. Her mother is less a mother and more a domineering roommate but she does have her solid mom moments.

I thought the most intriguing part of this book was Rae interactions with Bethany. I’ve been in Rae’s shoes and been around people kind of like Bethany so I could definitely relate to that level of insecurity in a person and having them really project it onto you. But I found myself liking these interactions the most. They ended up being telling of both people involved, I think.

I didn’t like the end. At all. Throughout the diary Rae waffled between wanting to lose weight so boys would like her and wanting to find a boy who liked her for who she was. I personally thought she trended more toward the latter more often than not. So when the ending came and the boy she was mega-crushing on basically says if you weren’t fat we’d totally be together, and she gets all swoony, I’m like WTF? This type of thing irritated her to no end throughout the book but have the same words come out of the mouth of the boy she’s mooning over and somehow he has a point? I really didn’t like that.

So . . . I didn’t connect with it like I wanted to. For the most part it was an engaging-enough read but ultimately not for me.

3

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.