Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Feral Youth by Polly Courtney

Feral Youth.  Polly Courtney. Troubador Publishing Ltd. August 2013. 312 pp.  ISBN#: 9781783060580.

Alesha is the classic “feral youth,” and this is her heartbreaking story.  Illiterate, unwanted by her parents, kicked out of every school she attempted to attend, and feeling totally unloved except for her best friend, J.J. who only shows love and care to his elderly grandmother, “Nan.”

Alesha truly believes she has no options.  There’s a whole body of language that’s the Jamaican patois lingo of the gangs in the south end of London and the author supplies a glossary of meaning to those who haven’t a clue what life is like for these youths.  Most will never survive their young adult years; the others will wind up in jail. Their world is one of “survival of the fittest, but Alesha wonders in other words what exactly she’s fit for?
This young, 15 year-old girl, earns her money by stealing clothes, delivering dope, cowering in fear to the leaders of gangs who are also at war with each other.  Several times Alesha is the victim of violence, especially when she fails to pay up after one of her drug deliveries goes bad or when she fails to acknowledge that she is owned in reality by those bigger in the criminal hierarchy of the Peckham Crew.  Her closeness to J.J. and earning “p’s” (money) is her whole world and that world is about to undergo a violent transformation.

Early on in the story Alesha meets a middle-aged woman and piano teacher, Miss Merfield, who tries to show Alesha she does have options.  Depending on one’s point of view, one might feel deeply for Alesha’s attempts to change her life’s direction or one might perhaps feel quite irritated with her caustic responses in multiple scenes. For her lack of self-respect yields consequences in which she consciously or unconsciously sabotages her own chances for beginning a different lifestyle with reputable employment and education.  Others outside of her gang world certainly haven’t an ounce of sympathy for gang members like Alesha and a sense of empathy is as close as another planet.  For few of us can even imagine this poignant, tragic lifestyle endured on a daily basis!

One doesn’t enjoy this story but must acknowledge that it’s a necessary one that needs to be told.  For this astute author deeply believes that the public needs to acquire awareness of just how imprisoned these feral youths are in their own insecurities, fears, and the veneer of toughness.  One realizes how Alesha’s nasty attitude evolves from rejection to deep-seated anger that breaks out after any innocent or flagrant trigger appears.   One senses how sharing her story turns into a gross betrayal beyond words toward the end of the novel and another event will practically shatter her forever. No, it’s not far-fetched; it’s so very real, shocking!

This novel was based on the actual 2011 Blackberry London riots.  Polly Courtney, kudos to you for taking on such a huge task of delineating the world of the disenfranchised, of those with no hope and no future.  Whether they succeed or fail, the Miss Merfields of this world deserve even more acclaim for attempting to bring hope to youth who have no basis of believing in anything beyond their criminal and hard-hearted environment!  Words are inadequate to convey the impact of this story that deserves world-wide attention – for it isn’t only England’s problem – it’s ours, wherever we live! Highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Heaven Sent by Jessica Damien

Heaven Sent. Jessica Damien. Tirgearr Publishing. April 2014. 402 kb.  ASIN: B00JRFGGZW.

Ben was enjoying a happy normal life with a beloved wife when an innocent sore throat turned into a death sentence.  Now Ben’s at the Pearly Gates of Heaven and is wondering what it will all be like.  Little does he know that he’s about to become an angel – an angel in training that is, as it seems admission is not as easy as a “guilty” or “innocent” announcement.  Well, Ben may have been successful in his human life but is a bit of a bumbler on the divine side.  Specifically, on his first assignment to assist a depressed human, Dorian, he causes the man’s death – forty-two years before it was supposed to happen.  Lordy, Lordy!

Now Ben and Dorian are a team and their job is to help others stuck in a rut, whether that be a woman who swoons over romance in novels and films but just can’t pursue some real romance for her own fulfillment or the guy who just can’t stop cheating on his wife, believing she knows nothing about his playboy status.  After meeting other angels – some in training and some obviously earning full “guardian” status – we meet a male and female angel who’re hot, hot, hot for each other whether together or apart. So far, it’s light and almost fun, right?  Hang onto your seat!

First the trainees must endure more training – basically, figuring out what powers they actually have and don’t have.  Can they imitate living beings?  Can they prevent certain actions from happening or can they only influence those who do the actual acting?  Does Michael, the head honcho of Angels, have supreme power or is he actually under someone else, like the handsome Donovan.  Are their double agents in the heavenly realm?

The plot ramps up substantially when a world-wide crisis arises! Seems a group of enemy angels has appeared and is planning to destroy the world, beginning in Ireland.  Is this really a plan to decimate the world or are these “dark” angels just wanting to have a super-fight with the heavenly angels.  It seems that the angels in training actually have skills that could help end this divine v. demonic battle.  The beautiful Alexa will actually be the one who is pivotal in forcing the guardian angels to act but what she will endure in the process will not be pretty at all!  The time of training called “observation” will indeed train the newly arrived divine residents to curb reactions and refine actions to productive movements that make change happen, with little damage elsewhere.  The tension of the plot in the latter part of this novel is quite a transition from its earlier pages but well worth the wait!

Jessica Damien has written a thriller, lightly romantic novel that has something for everyone, whether sacred or profane!  Very nicely done, Ms. Damien!

What Has Become of You: A Novel by Jan Elizabeth Watson

What Has Become of You.  Jan Elizabeth Watson. Penguin Group (USA). May 2014. 352 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780525954378.

Vera Lunday has an avid interest in solving murder mysteries.  As a teenager, a classmate Heidi Duplessis was murdered and her alleged murderer died in prison before he could be convicted.  Quite some time previous to this devastating act, Vera started keeping a journal in which she wrote about her research into serial killers.  All of this interest and writing led to Vera being tormented by those who wondered if she had something to do with the murder of Heidi.  Vera isn’t playacting at being a sleuth; her interest and skills are sharp but not honed well enough to actually solve anything with solid evidence!

Things are looking upward when Vera is hired as a substitute teacher in an all girls’ prep school.  Her students are initially respectful although highly unmotivated.  Indeed, their focus is on the death of the Dean’s niece, a very young girl recently found murdered.  They want to talk about it and they don’t want to deal with it at all, ordinary responses to a shock that most imagine certainly would never happen in their small world. 

So Vera begins a series of discussions with her students about Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.  The characters of her students are revealed slowly but surely in these discussions.  One student, Jensen Willard, oddly sets herself apart from the other girls and yet has a remarkable understanding and sensitivity about the character Holden Caulfield in the novel, a connection that seems to resonate with her own experience.  She’s spunky at times, as critical as Holden is, and searingly cruel in her comments in her journal which only Vera reads.  Another student disagrees with even having these discussions and it is she who will suffer most in a way shocking both to her fellow students and the reader. 

Jen’s journal responses begin to undergo a transformation in which she hints often of suffering and death.  Vera, however, alerts no one and even might be said to have saved Jen but for what?  The police, however, wonder about what they regard as a prurient interest in murder crimes and are closely monitoring Vera’s behavior.

At several points Vera’s communications with Jensen reveal parallel thoughts and feelings, a questionable exchange in which establishing a bond seems to Vera to be more important than notifying professionals about a very troubled and perhaps a criminal student, a reality that in other states by law mandates that a teacher notify school authorities about a dangerous situation with a student.  Vera’s revelations about her own troubled teenage thoughts and words may or may not make a difference to Jen, but to Vera it is worth the risk. Yet the reader will wonder what Jen said that would heal or intensify Jen’s destructive thoughts and desires.

What Has Become of You is a psychological suspense thriller that will keep the reader rapidly turning pages.  It’s plot is carefully structured and defies all reader predictions at many points including the anticlimactic ending.  Very nicely done, Jan Elizabeth Watson and definitely recommended!

Monday Monday: A Novel by Elizabeth Crook

Monday Monday: A Novel.  Elizabeth Crook. Farrar Straus and Giroux. April 2014. 352 pp.  ISBN#: 9780374228828.

Monday, Monday was a famous song by the Mammas and the Pappas I 1966. That’s the song Shelly hears over and over and over again from the day in August of that year when she was shot by the sniper Charles Whitman.  Sixteen other people died and double that were wounded.  A fellow student, Wyatt, holds her body tight to keep her from being shot again.  This was the first of many more shootings to happen in America after that fateful day.  But few bother to consider the multiple ramifications that haunt the surviving victims for years and years! This is their story, a haunting account of the inner wounds and consequences of acts after that day! 

Shelly carries the physical wounds of an arm full of metal and a breast partially torn away.  Jack, another student, carries an even sadder wound.  Shelly and Wyatt are drawn to each other as only survivors are but Wyatt is married; Shelly has their child but gives up Carlotta to Jack and his wife.  Shelly, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on one’s point of view, is allowed to see Carlotta who has no idea the occasional visitor is her biological mother.  Shelly is determined to move on in life and let go of her mental and emotional scars, but the best laid plans are oh so frequently skewed because the past will not disappear from her heart and mind! 

Shelly marries Dan, a once upon a time student, who saw things no one should see during that massacre. He’s a good man, even forgiving Shelly for the secrets she has kept from him.  They have a daughter who becomes friendly with Carlotta, neither knowing their deeper connection.  Much more occurs but the reader must and will be flipping the pages to find out what happens next, what one must remember to safeguard all.  Suffice to say we have a love story, and many scenes of discovery and healing.

“Monday, Monday you gave me no warning of what was to be,
Oh Monday, Monday how could you leave and not take me…
But whenever Monday comes, but whenever Monday comes
You can find me cryin’ all of the time.” Written and sung by The Mammas and the Papas. 

Sometimes you’ll cry from sorrow, sometimes from joy; but one thing is sure, you’ll never forget this story. When all the politicians and pundits are done debating and sermonizing on the issue of gun control, each should stop and read this novel before going back to their limited and idealistic debates. Frankly, honestly and creatively crafted, Elizabeth Crook has given readers a book that this reviewer highly recommends!

The Island of Doves by Kelly O'Connor McNees

The Island of Doves.  Kelly O’Connor McNees. Penguin Group (USA). April 2014. 384 pp.  ISBN#: 9780425264584.

Susannah Frazer has no one but Edward, her husband. He’s a strict man, refusing to allow her friends or acquaintances.  The only comfort she finds is working in her greenhouse, a warm, fragrant place where she can bury her hands in pots of rich earth and assist in allowing numerous flowers and plants to grow in beauty and fragrance beyond one’s imagination.  Nurturing plants is salvation for Susannah against her physically abusive husband,  that is until one night when he goes too far.

Susannah’s escape is accomplished through the help of  the Catholic nuns that the rest of the people in this town near Buffalo despise.  However, it seems the town’s people know everything about Susannah and her husband.  A plan is devised to save Susannah and get her away from Edward before he kills her.  The plan proceeds smoothly with one glitch that hopefully will not come back to haunt Susannah.

Magdalie is a fur trapper living on Mackinac Island.  She holds secrets close to her vest about her two sisters.  She was fortunate enough to have one great love in her late husband and her delight is her son, Jean-Henry, though she never expresses that love and devotion out of fear of losing him and being unable to survive such a loss.  Magdalie is part French and part Odawa and she gets it about being an outsider, so much so that she has tried to save two other women, and now Susannah, from continuing in abusive relationships.  A smidgen of history here rears its head, about the other outsiders, other Native American Indians, whom white settlers cheated out of both land and family.

Susannah finds a sanctuary in Magdalie’s immense home built with the love of her son.  There Jean-Paul may find romance but not where the reader wrongfully assumes it will be captured.  Susannah finds comfort until the time when she meets a most unexpected challenge, a healing experience with a touch of nightmarish reality that must be experienced for Susannah to truly mature into a fear-less person who knows with certainty, “I am.”

Challenges appear with tense moments and a gift appears in the form of a baby to unite two other characters.  The Island of Doves is about a “caged bird” that needs to be freed, even if that release might wind up in death or totally awesome freedom of a new life!  This is a finely plotted novel with numerous surprises, challenges, and an aura of mystery as well.  The characters within these pages have a graceful appreciation of nature and human beings that carries and buffers the weights that troubles and just plain life throw far too often.  Nicely done indeed!