And We Stay Book Review

  1. Spoilers ahead!
  2. . I really didn’t like the book. Click away if either will irritate you.

And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard didn’t work for me. I took it out of the library four or five times before I was able to power through. All the things I loved about the other novels I’ve read recently: complex characters, pacing and plot, use of time or flashbacks, and magical realism didn’t come together in And We Stay.

9780385740586The most interesting and relatable part of the story, Emily Beam and Paul’s relationship, was told through flashbacks. The book started out with Emily attending boarding school in Amherst, Mass. Through flashbacks the readers learned that her boyfriend Paul Wagoner brought a stolen gun into the library of their high school where he threatened Emily and then killed himself. As the story progressed, readers learned that Emily was pregnant and planning to have an abortion, which she ultimately does. Paul’s disintegrating relationship with Emily was one of the reasons he ended up with a gun in the library.

At the boarding school, Emily wrote poems to soothe her soul and deal with the trauma she went through. Inspired by Emily Dickinson, Emily Beam’s poems were interspersed throughout the book. One of the main reasons the book fell apart for me had to do with all the added poetry. Emily Beam wrote numerous poems during her time at boarding school printed on the pages of the book, but they did not resonate with me. They seemed superfluous and superficial. I skipped over many of them to get on with the story. If the author limited the number of poems, the verse would have been fine, but the poems happened often.

For example

PALL

Oh, yes, she could feel it/even though the bullet/had never stabbed her skin./ The bright white heat/ burned at her core/ where two lives/ beat, and if he’d aimed/ there and pulled the trigger,/red would have crested/ like a broken dam/ over her hands/ as her last word rushed/ up to her throat– Paul– / a sound that took no time and also lifetimes” (Hubbard 39).

It could my personal writing or reading style, but both the inclusion of the poems and the poems as written failed to engage me as a reader.

Emily also developed a quirky connection to Emily Dickinson, and the author supplied hints that the dead poet has returned to help modern Emily cope. Due to Emily Beam’s fascination with the dead poet, readers learned a lot about Dickinson’s history. While as an English teacher, I love knowing about poets, as a reader I wasn’t interested because it broke the flow of the narrative.

Finally, the connection to Emily Dickinson was supposed to be further demonstrated through magical realism, but the magic, lights turning on and snow falling, didn’t make a significant impact Emily or her poetry.  This was an area that could have been significantly improved and the magic intensified so that readers would be able to connect how Dickinson was helping Beam get through the turmoil she dealt with.

In addition, the characterization of modern-day Emily was weak and lifeless. I understand that the author wanted to portray her as depressed, but she came across as one dimensional during much of the book. I actually preferred Paul’s character better in the flashbacks because he realistic and emotional.  Her friends at the boarding school were also rather poorly drawn. The readers never really knew any of them in depth so they became stereotypical. Her offbeat roommate. K.T., filled the role while other characters came in as the artist, the jock, the rebel, etc.

Finally, the pacing was glacier slow. Nothing happened at the boarding school for most of the book other than Emily drinking coffee, writing poems, going to class, and trying not to make friends. Over all, I would not recommend the book as it was very forgettable.

I wanted to end with a positive note. The writing itself was beautiful. Jenny Hubbard is obviously a talented author who crafted beautiful prose and descriptions. “During Trigonometry with soft-spoken, square haired Mrs. Frame, Emily imagines all the identities she could invent” (Hubbard 49).  I loved the way that I could visualize that clear, initial impression of each character. I only wish that initial impression could have deepened as the book progressed.

 

 

Hubbard, J. (201$). And We Stay. Random House: New York, NY.

Everybody Sees the Ants Review

I recently finished Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King and enjoyed it. Beware spoilers ahead…

It begins with Lucky Linderman, an ordinary high school student, except that he was being bullied. Badly bullied. Growing up, he rarely felt like he fit in, but did okay, skating under the radar, until he developed a questionnaire about suicide for a class project. Then it wasn’t only teachers who took notice, but the bullies as well. Lucky became the target of Nader McMillan. The abuse finally went too far at the town pool during the summer when McMillian crushes Lucky’s face into the asphalt.

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McMillan was not Lucky’s only problem. His mom was a squid. She swam obsessively to deal with her problems, but once out of the pool pretended everything was fine. His dad was a turtle, retreating from problems, rather than dealing with them. One of those problems had appeared in Lucky’s dreams. Lucky’s father was severely impacted by the fact that his dad, Lucky’s grandfather, never made it back from the Vietnam War. Every night throughout the novel, Lucky’s grandfather showed up in his dreams as he slept.

Lucky attempted to save his grandfather each night, and these escape attempts helped him cope. In his dangerous, wartime dreamscape, Lucky was strong and heroic. I constantly questioned, was it only a dream because Lucky woke up with more than memories. Items such as cigarettes and chewing gum were at his bedside when he awoke.

The protagonist had another secret as well. Ants. The insects helped him cope with life and provided advice. They were his cheering squad, his conscious, and the inner voice that allowed him to successfully navigate the harsh realities around him.

After Lucky’s last run-in with Nader at the pool, his mom rushed him away to her brother’s house and the rest of his summer was spent in Tempe, Arizona. There, Lucky bonded with his Uncle Dave, until he learned his uncle was not the stellar man he pretended to be, cheating on Aunt Jodi who turned to pills to cope. He also met an older, wiser teen, who he crushed over. She faced problems of her own, but her situation finally allowed Lucky put his life into perspective.

What I loved about the book was the reality and complexity of the characters, family dynamics, and the plot, which is why I spent so much time outlining it above. Often, I parents are made out to be cliché in books about teens, but all the characters were realistic and believable in Everybody Sees the Ants. I especially liked how Lucky’s mom was portrayed. As a reader (and mom), I could see how much she cared for her son even if she didn’t know what to do about the bullying. While all the characters displayed shortcomings, which only made them more realistic, the relationships came across as truthful and loving. At the end, there was hope for a better future.

It was interesting to view the world through Lucky’s eyes, giving the reader a truthful teen perspective. He disliked his overbearing, pill-popping aunt until he realizes she was coping with a cheating husband that everyone in town seems to know about. Once Lucky realizes his aunt’s life is as complicated as his own, he shows empathy for her situation and develops a connection with her.

The pacing was exceptional, and I enjoyed how the author took Lucky away from the bullying for a while so he could examine life and find himself. Ants was an intense story, but it could have been much darker. Removing Lucky from the bullying gave the reader much needed levity because even though the reader is removed from the day to day bullying, they learn about how truly heinous the situation had become for Lucky. When he shares the “real story” to his new friends it was emotional. I guessed the twist early on, but still felt the impact of it, when the truth was told.

The use of magical realism remained excellent throughout the story. It could be hard for a reader to suspend disbelief if the magical realism doesn’t ring true enough, but I had no problem believing the magical realism of Lucky’s dreams and loved how at the end, Lucky brought his grandfather’s wedding ring to his dad. Magical moment. Tears. Throughout the novel, the author also used the dreams as a way to help Lucky escape from reality. In the dreams, he was both physically fit and mentally strong. By the end of the story, Lucky realizes he brought those same qualities to his day to day life.

My critique of the story centered around the fact that it read a little dated. Even though it was written in 2014, there were no cell phones. This left me confused. In addition, the ants, a figment of Lucky’s imagination, also left me a little chagrined. While I was able to embrace the dreams as magical realism, the ants were a little harder to accept. At points, I wondered what their role was in the novel.  These were minor faults in a stellar read.

Five ants!!!! Over all, a great read and one I would highly recommend to students.

Black Friday is For Books

Black Friday is for book shopping too!

CON BoxsetTwelve Months of Awkward Moments and Carnival of Nightmare available on B&N and Amazon @ https://amzn.to/2BZef2Q

 

Giveaway for Amazon GC and e-books starts Monday.

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Check out the book tour:

November 26th
Within The Pages Of A Book
Abooktropolis
It’s a Book Life
Cindy’s Love of Books

November 27th
Birdie’s Bibliotheca
Moohnshine’s Corner 
The Phantom Paragrapher 
Amy’s MM Romance Reviews 
Booky thoughts and me

November 28th
A British Bookworm’s Blog
1-800 Books
Heartbeats Between Words
Hauntedbybooks
Book Briefs

November 29th
The Crafty Engineer’s Bookshelf
Set a Spell Book Blog
Rockin’ Book Reviews
Books We Love
The Spacejamber Reviews

November 30th
Melanie the Homebody
BOOK JUNKIE REVIEWS
Book Reviews by Steph
Coffee Books and Cakes
bookish bibliophile

December 1st
Desired Reads Bookblog
Bookstanista
Fiona Reads and FoodSpots
Dauntless Books and Penguins

Enter the giveaway at:

https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/d04251232751/

The Many Ways to See Me!

Check out one of my favorite places in CT on Better Connecticut. They did a story on The Storyteller’s Cottage, and I show up after 4 1/2 minutes. The Storyteller’s Cottage on Better Connecticut

TMOAM-Cover.jpgI”ll be talking one-one-one to writers at The Storyteller’s Cottage on Dec. 2. Get all the information at https://www.storytellerscottage.com/writing-workshops.  Have a question about the writing process, ask away! You can also find all my books for sale at The Storyteller’s Cottage.

Is it time to start shopping. Did someone you know enjoy Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine? How about Turtles All the Way Down? Get them a copy of Twelve Months of Awkward Moments. New 5-star review on Goodreads and Amazon states:

“If you are looking for an emotional read, then this book is for you. It really digs deep and touches on a subject that many people struggle with everyday. Mental Illness. Dani has several people in her family that suffer from mental illness and Dani herself struggles with anxiety and social awkwardness.

“She is always second guessing her decisions and conversations. She has to be perfect at her studies and she is extremely hard on herself. In this book you get to see Dani grow and learn to cope with her disabilities and fall in love. It is a tough road for her, but she is a strong girl.

“This book was a steady read. Not really a thriller, but does have some suspense and a bit of danger in it. This book will reach down into your soul. You can’t help but feel for the Dani and love her. There were times when I felt she was blind to some things going on in her life, but she figures it out.

“Overall this is a very good read. One that feels real, with real life problems. An emotional roller coaster, with wonderful characters. If you love books that deal with depression and different levels of mental illness, then this book may be up your ally. It is well written and enjoyable.

*ARC provided by Lisa Acerbo & Xpresso Book Tours”

Get your copy at Amazon

The Turn to Technology

This summer I’ve been writing a lot about technology. It plays a role in Twelve Months of Awkward Moments arriving August 30 and the short story I’ve just completed called “Redemption Lake”. Writing about it in a fictional sense also has me pondering the effects of social media and technology in the classroom.

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Every day I enter the classroom to witness students playing the latest game on their device or texting a friend or family member.  Even when I say “put you phone away,” I see the occasional student glancing secretively toward his or her lap, trying to hide the fact that a cell phone is there and a message is being sent or received.  According to the Pew Research Group1, as of January 2014: 90% of adults in the United States have a cell phone. There is little doubt that technology, especially cell phones, has changed our lives.

I work on the computer every day, whether marketing my books, writing, or teaching online college classes, and I use my cell phone to send messages and stay up to date with email.  Like my students, I also can’t resist the pull of popular Candy Crush and Words with Friends (I feel old because these games have come and gone in their popularity).  My cell phone at my bedside in case of an emergency call from a family member or so I can check Submittable to see if I have any acceptances or rejections.

I read “The Pedestrian” and “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury with my high school students and every time, I began to think about the consequences of technology in our lives. I hope both my new book, Twelve Months of Awkward Moments, and my short story “Redemption Lake” (if it is ever published) will open discussion on how technology has changed society, especially teens.

social mediaDoubtless, cell phones have many benefits in and out of the classroom.  Knowing that my daughter can reach me at any time makes me feel secure.  I can get GPS and directions when driving using MapQuest and Google.  My students look up information, record homework, read books, and even type essays on their phones.

News also comes quickly these days as well, but not always accurately. I live in a town that borders Sandy Hook, Connecticut and remember the day of the school shooting in December of 2012.  In class with students, phones suddenly began to buzz as they started to receive news about the tragedy.  At first it was reported that there were two shooters.  The number of student and teachers involved changed minute to minute.  Many of the students with friends in the nearby community were distraught and panicked.

Getting the news quickly is often advantageous, but when it is not accurate, like in the case of Sandy Hook, it can create a panic. And raise anxiety. It is important to consider how the same cell phone that might create an adverse situation, can also rectify it. Cell phones made it easy for students to connect with parents, helping the school in a time of possible crisis.  But this abundance of bad news and stressful information can also create the feelings of anxiety and stress in the younger generation.

Is there a clear answer whether technology in and out of the classroom is helpful or harmful?  The same Pew Research Fact Sheet1 stated that “67% of cell owners find themselves checking their phone for messages, alerts, or calls — even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating.”  Schools have an electronic use policy, which can range from no phones in any class to appropriate usage being decided by the teacher.  Most of the times, teaching cell phone etiquette and responsible use is enough to hold class without disruption, there are other consequences to technology to consider.

Using a phone or computer as a buffer can isolate individuals. How many chances of holding face-to-face conversations are replaced with text messages, Snapchats, and Instagram.  Individuals can miss the opportunity to engage in society, meet new people, and partake in life experiences. In the end, society will have to find the balance, but in a world that often prefers instantaneous gratification and excess, is that possible?

Do you think there is a connection between more technology use and the rise in student anxiety?

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  1. (http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/mobile-technology-fact-sheet/)