Book Review: A Curse So Dark and Lonely

In this retelling of The Beaty & the Beast, tough-but-vulnerable Harper and arrogant-but-defeated Rhen must join forces to save the kingdom—and perhaps fall in love.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kremmerer

I almost didn’t read this because I was looking for a different book, but I’m glad I did.

Book Description

Harper is determined to help her brother earn money to pay off their mother’s cancer debts, but Jake always underestimates her because of her Cerebral Palsy. She’s relegated to lookout duty, but when she spots someone being kidnapped, she can’t help intervening. She doesn’t realize this kidnapper is heading to another world until he accidentally takes her instead.

Thrust into a fairytale land full of magic and suffering, Harper meets Prince Rhen and learns of his curse. Upon the season’s end, he transforms into a terrifying monster and attacks his own people. After his rampage, time resets, and he must relive his eighteenth year again—until a woman falls in love with him.

Apparently, that woman is supposed to be Harper.

She doubts she could fall for someone so arrogant, but when a neighboring kingdom sends an army over the mountains, Rhen and Harper have bigger things to worry about than breaking a curse.

Characters

Though the book falls into the young adult category, readers of any age can relate to Harper’s desire to prove herself. She is simultaneously tough and vulnerable, determined and doubt-riddled, assured and confused. In other words, she’s human.

Having Cerebral Palsy causes Harper to walk with a limp, but I love that this book isn’t about Harper’s disability. CP is a part of her, but it doesn’t define her character, and rather than focus on Harper fighting discrimination as so many books featuring characters with disabilities do, Kremmerer focuses the story on everything Harper can do, and how she wins the respect of everyone who meets her.

The other characters are similarly well rounded, including the leading man, Rhen. Kremmerer depicts her characters not as “good guys” and “bad guys,” but as deeply flawed humans doing the best they can. Each character harbors regrets about past decisions and agonizes over future ones. Readers may not agree with those decisions, but we can understand them.

Plot

The plot follows a fun twist on the Beauty & the Beast. Rather than focusing on the love story, the invading army gives Rhen and Harper a common goal. Kremmerer does an excellent job escalating both the personal and societal stakes over the course of the plot, forcing the characters to make impossible decisions.

Writing Style

Kremmerer’s prose is just the right mix of description and action. It reads smoothly, with few stylistic obstacles to prevent readers from immersing themselves in the world. She lingers over romantic scenes while driving up the pace during climactic ones, excellent pacing.

Miscellaneous

I wish this were a standalone novel instead of a series. The author needed to leave some loose ends to draw readers forward, but I don’t like where the tale is headed. I’d rather pretend those loose ends were tied up and enjoy the happily ever after in my head.

That said, I feel obligated to admit that I have already downloaded the sequel from the library’s e-book database.

Conclusion

In this refreshing and beautiful retelling of The Beaty & the Beast, tough-but-vulnerable Harper and arrogant-but-defeated Rhen must join forces to save the kingdom—and perhaps fall in love. With deeply human characters and a thrilling plot full of political intrigue and high stakes, A Curse So Dark and Lonely is sure to please even fair-weather fans of fairy tales. I loved this book so much I read it in a weekend. Highly recommend.


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Book Review: The Running Dream

I was searching for a different book when I stumbled upon this one, and I’m glad I did.

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

I was searching for a different book when I stumbled upon this one, and I’m glad I did.

Book Description

Jessica awakens from a morphine-induced haze to pain in her leg, or what used to be her leg. After surviving an accident that killed one of her teammates, doctors had to amputate her leg below the knee to save her life. She’s alive, but she may never again do what makes her feel most alive: run.

As Jessica adapts to life as an amputee, she clings to the dream that she may walk—and even run—again, but an insurance conflict hampers the family finances. While her track teammates try to make her impossible dream a reality, a new friend, Rosa, helps her with another impossibility—catching up in math.

Rosa’s life with Cerebral Palsy gives Jessica a new perspective on her disability, on feeling simultaneously in the spotlight and invisible. As Jessica continues her rehab, she decides crossing the finish line is no longer enough. This time, she wants to take Rosa with her.

Characters

The first-person narration allows readers to experience Jessica’s ups and downs as she recovers. Her initial dejection is understandable, and her insecurities are relatable. The strength and determination she eventually finds propel the story.

While Jessica is three-dimensional and relatable, the remaining cast members are underdeveloped. The story hinges on her relationship with Rosa, but other than learning she is good at math, we learn little about her.

Rosa wants to be seen as more than her disability, but we never learn about her hopes and dreams for the future. Unlike Jessica, we don’t experience her ups and downs. She is never discouraged. She never has a bad day or throws a tantrum or makes a mistake. Instead, she serves as a constant source of support and inspiration, more like a shining light seen from a distance than a real person.

In the author’s defense, all the characters are slimly developed, but Rosa is especially disappointing, because Rosa supposedly changes Jessica’s outlook on life. I would have liked their friendship to have been more developed.

Plot

The author sacrificed character development in favor of sticking to a concise, quick-paced plot. I read the entire book in an afternoon, and while I found the storyline moving, I didn’t connect with the characters enough for it to matter.

The plot follows Jessica’s initial adjustment to becoming an amputee, her recovery and adaptation to using a prosthetic, and her inspiration from Rosa. In the beginning, even mundane tasks are huge barriers, but after her initial recovery, things flow smoothly. Too smoothly for my tastes. Her track teammates and classmates are super supportive, and she doesn’t encounter much resistance from any of her teachers either. Everyone is eager to help, which I suppose makes sense, but it gives the cast a kumbaya feel.

Writing Style

In keeping with the tight plot and fast pacing, the author writes in short but effective sentences. Seems fitting for a novel about a track star.

Conclusion

I love that this book emphasizes the power of friendship rather than focusing on disability. Yes, Jessica completes an incredible journey, but the real power of the story is how her friends, teammates, and townsfolk inspire and support one another. I wish the characters had been more developed so that I could truly enjoy their victories, but overall, I loved the book.

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Dreams of Significant Girls

This book made so many recommendation lists that I added it to my Christmas list. I love the concept of three very different girls supporting each other as they come of age, but…

Book Review: Dreams of Significant Girls by Cristina García

This book made so many recommendation lists that I added it to my Christmas list, but reading it proved less than satisfying.

Description

1970s. In a prestigious summer camp in Switzerland, three girls from different backgrounds must come together as roommates to navigate first loves and heartbreaks. Eager Vivien, who loves to cook, hails from the United States and treasures her Cuban heritage. Shirin, the prickly “Iranian princess,” prefers mathematics textbooks and horses to people. Ingrid, the rebellious Canadian artist, will do anything but the expected. Together, they find their differences don’t matter if they support each other.

Characters

The characters are the shining strength of the book. Each is distinct enough that dialogue tags are unnecessary for knowing who is speaking. They behave in the emotionally driven way of teenagers, consistent with their individual personalities. I enjoyed getting to know them, which made everything else a disappointment.

The friendship between the girls was rushed. On one page, they’re enemies, and by the next chapter, best friends? The book claims to focus on friendship, but little support made it onto the page. In fact, there were several serious trials that the girls kept secret from one another. If anything, the friends complicated each others’ troubles rather than alleviate them.

Plot

The plot reads like a bundle of periodicals, with few threads carrying through the entire narrative. Most of the unfortunate episodes end negatively and are never processed or resolved. I don’t mind reading about bad decisions and tragedy, but these girls failed to learn anything from their mistakes, or the mistakes of the surrounding adults.

The publishers could re-title this book Fourteen-Year-Old Girls Discover Sex because most of the story revolved around sex. The girls experienced everything from digital rape (explicitly described) to masturbation to a full sexual relationship with a much older adult man.

Sex is common in young adult literature (though I question Simon & Schuster’s Age 14 and up rating), but the sex in this book served no real purpose to the overall story.

The girls stumble blindly into their relationships, which I suppose is typical for teens, but they don’t gain any insights from their exploits. Shirin’s experience, which triggers her mental breakdown, goes unaddressed for the rest of the book. I don’t consider myself prudish, but the relationship with an older man receives a much too positive a portrayal for even my tastes. The book supposedly focuses on friendship, but aside from a kissing lesson from Ingrid (during which she has the others practice on her), the girls navigate the joys and perils of their relationships alone.

The author included some family drama, but most of it takes place outside the girls’ control and participation. Divorce and remarriage, dark family secrets, religious tradition faced with modern culture—the author had more than enough, perhaps too much, material to work into a telling story. Instead, that drama is communicated via the occasional lunch date with a visiting relative. The girls practically don’t take part in their own families’ lives. They show little interest in doing so, preoccupied as they are with sex.  

I finished this random collection of sexual exploits and family drama and thought, “What was the point?” The author injected no meaning or growth into the narrative, which left me feeling like I’d paid for an expensive dinner and received a plate of cold potatoes.

Writing Style

The author does a fantastic job creating a distinct voice for each character. Her prose is clean and pretty. However, most of the story is summarized in diary-style entries rather than dramatized, making it hard for readers to experience the story vicariously.

Miscellaneous

* Spoilers Begin *

Shirin’s subplot was so mishandled that I feel the need to spoil it. After she is raped at the ball and has a mental breakdown, she requests her new best friends meet her back at boarding school. Vivien and Ingrid don’t consider her a friend yet and wonder why the heck she invited them, but even after they do become close, Shirin never mentions her rape. I understand why she would keep silent, but even when she moves on to a consensual relationship, she doesn’t process her trauma. It magically resolves, which strikes me as unrealistic, even for someone who suppresses the memory.

Her friends, even without knowing the root of her issues, could have helped her work through them. Instead, Ingrid gives her a kissing lesson, her new boyfriend manually stimulates her such that she has an orgasm riding her horse, and everything is hunky-dory.

Later, after her consensual relationship leaves her pregnant, Shirin takes an herbal abortifacient and experiences serious hemorrhaging. She confesses to Vivien that her periods are now black and sickly and coming twice as often. The subplot ends there. Shirin is having serious health complications, but the reader is left to assume they magically resolve along with her trauma. Only the fact that Shirin later has a daughter reveals that she recovered. Furthermore, Shirin never tells Ingrid of her experience, which seems a grave oversight in a book about the power of friendship.

* Spoilers End *

Conclusion

I wanted to like this book. I love the concept of three very different girls supporting each other as they come of age. The author does a fantastic job crafting interesting characters and giving them unique voices, but Dreams of Significant Girls felt more like Sexual Exploits of Confused Girls. Neither inspiring nor impactful, the story derives no meaning from the girls’ experiences, and much of the significant family drama occurs without their participation.

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Book Review: A Daydream a Day

I had the privilege of receiving an advanced reader copy of this book of young adult poetry, and I am more than happy to share it with my readers.

I had the privilege of receiving an advanced reader copy of this book of young adult poetry, and I am more than happy to share it with my readers.

A Daydream a Day by Ivan Tu

This collection of short poems is grouped into five parts based on the themes they address:

  1. Lost, where will you go?
  2. Face your demons
  3. Change your mind
  4. Almost there
  5. Found a direction!

As you can see, reading through this book is like going on a journey of personal development and discovery. The poems touch on relevant themes that modern teens (and adults) can relate to without being preachy or overbearing. They come across like an honest conversation between friends.

An illustration accompanied each poem. At first, I thought the images would distract from the writing, but I think rather than “a picture is worth a thousand words,” the poet proved that only a handful of words can elicit an entire scene. Each image fit the tone of the poems, and they added to the overall appeal of the book. I recommend reading the poems before looking at the illustrations.

The book as a whole is short enough to read in an afternoon, but each individual poem is powerful enough that you could read one a day and feel satisfied.

It’s been a while since I’ve read through a poetry collection, and this book reminded me how much I enjoy poems. This was a great read. Highly recommend.


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I Must Betray You

In this stunning novel, Ruta Sepetys shines a light on an oft-overlooked period of history.

Book Review: I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know I’m a huge Ruta Sepetys fan. I knew my library would purchase this book, but I still had to sit on my hands to keep from buying it on release day. As soon as my library had it available, I snapped it up.

Description

Romania, 1989. Seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu keeps his dreams and thoughts hidden in a secret notebook he hides beneath the floorboards in his family’s tiny, State-owned apartment. In Nicolae Ceaușescu’s tyrannical communist dictatorship, Romanians aren’t free to dream, and such a notebook is a death sentence, if discovered.

Amidst the growing isolation and fear, the secret police offer Cristian two choices: become an informer and gain much-needed medicine for his sick grandfather, or face the consequences of his crime—possessing foreign currency. Cristian carves out a third option: use his position to undermine the most evil dictator in Eastern Europe.

Cristian risks everything to expose his country’s torment to the world, but he’s not the only informer in Romania. He’s not even the only informer in his own family.

Characters

Cristian describes himself as sarcastic and sharp, but in the totalitarian environment he lives in, that sarcasm rarely leaves his mouth. It hides on the pages of his notebook and in the depths of his thoughts. I wouldn’t label it sarcasm so much as poignant truths. His distaste for the government’s strictures creates tension with his need to protect his family—and the pretty girl in a neighboring building.

The other characters encompass a wide variety of reactions to tyranny—rebels, cowards, black market entrepreneurs, and the defeated, who live with no spark left in their eyes.

Plot

The plot moves at a heart-racing pace, following Cristian as he simultaneously informs on the American diplomat’s son while trying to communicate with the diplomat himself. The more he uncovers the truth, however, the more danger he is in. When revolution finally hits, Cristian learns the true cost of freedom.

Writing Style

 After reading a lot of sub-par free fantasy, this gem was a refreshing change. Ruta Sepetys is a master of mood and metaphor. The characters’ fear and tension come across in every word, and her prose is the perfect balance between efficient and artistic.

Conclusion

In this stunning novel, Ruta Sepetys shines a light on an oft-overlooked period of history. It’s easy to look at the tyrannies of the past and dismiss them as far-off tragedies, but these events happened relatively recently—a poignant reminder that evil has no expiration date. With varied and deeply human characters and a plot packed with intrigue, I Must Betray You is a must-read.


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Book Review: Out of the Easy

A plucky bookworm struggling to overcome her mother’s legacy finds herself tangled with prostitutes, murderers, and the snobby elites whose approval she desperately craves. A great escape from the daily humdrum. I checked this out from the library before the hubby and I went on a big road trip, and I finished it in three days.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

If you’ve followed me for a while, you know I love just about everything Ruta Sepetys writes. I checked this out from the library before the hubby and I went on a big road trip, and I finished it in three days.

Cover Description

“It’s 1950s, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan to get into an elite college, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in a police investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodly, the brusque madam on Conti Street.”

Characters

Josie is a kindhearted and sharp-witted bookworm willing to do whatever it takes to make more of herself than her callous mother believes she can. She is so relatable as a character, it feels like her string of bad luck could happen to anyone. Her foibles make her human—daydreaming about her imaginary respectable father, predicting which books customers will buy, trying to get herself out of trouble without harming the only people she considers family. Josie is sweet, but she had the grit to get through the challenges life throws at her, and she’s not afraid to pull out her pistol when needed. The other characters are as quirky as one can imagine in a tale set in a city that is itself a character.

Plot

The plot is a steady cascade of minor mistakes and bad luck that make you ache for poor Josie. In my head, I kept thinking, “Don’t do that!” but I understood why she made the choices she did. The intrigue builds at a solid pace, and Josie gets herself increasingly tangled in it. The story itself is very approachable. It depicts a brothel without being grossly erotic, a murder without being gory, a romance without being schmaltzy, and a class war without being stereotypical. The ending ties the loose ends without feeling forced. A great read from start to finish.

Writing Style

Ruta Sepetys writes with the perfect balance of beauty and clarity. Her prose is precise, and her descriptions delve deep into the narrator’s mindset. Characters leap off the page until you can pick which actors would play them in the movie.

Conclusion

Filled with intrigue and set in remarkable 1950s New Orleans, Out of Easy is a quick read with just the right pacing and dynamic characters that tear through the pages. A plucky bookworm struggling to overcome her mother’s legacy finds herself tangled with prostitutes, murderers, and the snobby elites whose approval she desperately craves. A great escape from the daily humdrum. I highly recommend.


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Book Review: January Black

Many thanks to my book club for selecting this one. A great read!

January Black by Wendy Russo

Bookclub is a fantastic source of new books, ones I might not otherwise pick up on my own. January Black was never on my radar, but it was a delightful read.

Cover Description

“Sixteen-year-old genius Matty Ducayn is the son of The Hill’s commandant. As such, he’s expected to conform to a strict, unspoken code of conduct. Small acts of defiance over years—such as walking on the grass—have earned him a reputation for being unruly. When sarcastic test answers finally get Matty expelled from school, King Hadrian offers him a diploma if he can answer a deceptively simple question, and then dismisses the only answer.

To prove his worth to society, Matty wrestles with the king’s word games, the kingdom’s historical record, and laws that don’t make sense. He meets Iris Locke, a street smart gardener, along the way. After enchanting him at a glance, Iris helps his research, keeps him out of trouble, and finally breaks his heart.

Alone again, Matty finds himself on collision course with a deadly law, one he will have to break to answer the king’s question. Was Hadrian challenging him, or teaching him a lesson? Without Iris, it won’t matter, because Matty won’t stand down for anyone else.”

Characters

I’m a sucker for smart guys (I married one, after all), so Matty is a winner protagonist for me. He writes programs to predict people’s locations, analyzes pictures in terms of their geometric components, and recites the digits of pi to keep himself from getting too distracted by pretty girls. His rebellious nature takes him far from the stereotypical four-eyed weakling puffing on his inhaler that most intelligent teen characters end up being. Rather than feeling forced, his smarts are a natural part of his character which weave through the narrative. His character reads as a guy who is smart, not “the smart guy.”

The leading lady, Iris, has a past that plays to the intrigue of the plot. For much of the story, I suspected she was a double agent because she was just too perfect. I dislike romantic subplots where the primary love interest has so few flaws, but Iris’s past and the trouble they get into help. The chemistry between them is natural enough to pass.

Plot

The story takes place in the future, which is interesting, but the chief strength is the plot. King Hadrian’s puzzle and the political intrigue it involves kept me turning pages. I predicted most of the twists, including the ending, but that didn’t spoil it. I enjoyed watching everything unfold, and the author did an excellent job tying up all the loose ends.

Writing Style

This isn’t a book you read for its flowing prose and sparkling metaphors like say, Where the Crawdad’s Sing. The prose was simple, and the author explicitly named each character’s emotions, which I found patronizing. She wrote in multiple perspectives, which if you’ve read my own book, The Lies She Wore, you know I usually enjoy. However, this book didn’t need any perspective but Matty’s. The author could have maintained the dramatic tension and tied up the loose ends with only one perspective. I am also not a fan of flash-forwards, which is how the book begins. Matty’s expulsion was dramatic enough to begin the story. Russo didn’t need to jump to the climax to grab my attention.

Miscellaneous

I have mixed feelings about the cover. For me, the most interesting part of the book was the political intrigue, not the romance, but I will agree it is an upgrade from the original cover.

Conclusion

This book was perfect for those times my brain sought entertainment, but no stress. It had enough drama to keep me turning pages, but was light and romantic enough to classify as a feel-good book. Many thanks to my book club for selecting it!


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January Black

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Book Review: Salt to the Sea

After I turned the last page, I was so upset there wasn’t any more that I made my husband hold me for a solid half-hour.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

After reading Fountains of Silence, I had to read another by Ruta Sepetys. This one did not disappoint. After I turned the last page, I was so upset that I made my husband hold me for a solid half-hour. Though I have a stack of books waiting to be read, I wanted more of this one.

Back Cover Description

“Winter 1945. Four refugees. Four secrets.

Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies, war.

As thousands desperately flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.

But not all promises can be kept.”

Characters

A lot of characters act in the pages of this book, but with creativity and skill, Sepetys brings them all to life. Each minor character has a quirk that allows the reader to keep track, and each of the perspective character’s voices is distinct enough that the narrator is clear even if you don’t read the chapter headings.

The main characters are all moving toward the same goal—the Wilhelm Gustloff—but each of them flees a different past. They carry their guilt, fear, in grief in different ways, and their backstories come to light throughout the book. Much like The Things They Carried, you can tell a lot about each character based upon what they took with them, and what they risked to keep it. Eva, for example, risks her place upon the boat by waiting for her mother’s silver.

I liked the author’s inclusion of the delusional German sailor. Constantly teased and never taken seriously, he wasn’t a “villain” per se, but his sick mind served as a reminder that evil is a machine with gears both large and small.

Plot

The innocent refugees are trapped between two evils—the invading Russians behind them, and the Nazis in front of them. They each take their chances with Germany. The tension is high throughout the story; I couldn’t help rooting for each of them as they ran from the horrors of their pasts straight into the jaws of the future.

The story depicts a tragedy that was six times deadlier than the Titanic, yet remains obscure. I love reading about WWII because there are so many aspects of the global conflict. Not only did this story move me emotionally, it educated me. I had never heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff, but now, as I often do after reading, I wonder why there isn’t a blockbuster movie about it.

Writing Style

Sepetys uses multiple perspectives for this tale—the right call for a story like this. Because of the shifting perspectives, the chapters are short. In theory, that should make the book easy to put down. I knew I was in trouble about two-thirds in. I spared a token glance at the clock, but I knew I would stay up to finish it. No regrets. Sepetys writing is beautiful and powerful.

Other

I love the cover with the shoes. The “shoe poet” is one of my favorite characters, and the different shoes on the cover highlight the different backgrounds of each character.

Conclusion

You really should have stopped reading a while ago and bought the book, but if you’re not convinced yet, let me add that this book joins only four others with the rank of Binge Read. An incredible read from an incredible author.


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Author Q & A: B.A. Bellec

I had the privilege of connecting with author B.A. Bellec last month after reading his book Someone’s Story. He graciously agreed to answer a few questions for my readers.

What motivated you to write Someone’s Story? What made you decide to take a deeper dive into an often misunderstood mental health condition, especially with regard to the twist at the end (no spoilers please)?

Someone’s Story started as a journal for personal therapy. I was frustrated with a few things in my life and career. Writing was a way for me to process that better. The twist you are referring to was inspired by two people. My friend had an incident that resulted in him spending some time in care. I also had an aunt diagnosed with the condition from my book.

What prompted the decision to leave the protagonist named Someone?

The backstory behind this is that it started as a journal. After a few months, I started to make it fiction. I didn’t bother to name the character. In my head, it was always me. I just started referring to the character as Someone and kept writing. It stuck, and when I shared it with early readers I was considering changing it at that time. Most of my early feedback was that the story was unique in the way I don’t describe the main character or even name him. It makes it feel like you are in the story more. As I closed in on submitting my final copy I thought about changing it again, but so glad I trusted in those early readers and kept it. Proud of this unique feature to my little piece of art.

I am fascinated by the dual personalities of Erica-the shaman and the student. Can you talk a little bit about developing her character, as well as your decision to include psychedelics in the story?

Duality is something I saw lots of in the business world. People would come into the office and be all buttoned up and reserved. Then you get them outside the regular 4 walls and this wild animal would come out. The other way I saw it come out was when a person would say something in private and then in the meeting, they act differently and dance around the issue. People are afraid. Afraid to be themselves. They put on this mask every single day to get through because that is what they were trained to do coming up in school.

Erica was a later addition. I actually had Ashley as The Shaman in my first draft but decided there was enough material to break this part out of the Ashley character and create an entirely new person around the concept of duality and psychedelics. In the original version, these parts were muted. Once I broke the character out, I turned the dial up to 11 and wrote the tree chapter that ended up inspiring the cover, which I made with my girlfriend! https://babellec.com/2020/08/21/bonus-blog-5-the-story-behind-the-someones-story-cover-2/

The main reason I included drug use was that psychedelic drugs are known to often have negative impacts on certain issues around mental health. I also am curious about the ritualistic side of the usage. I think the problem we as a society face today is that we have lost that connection. I think back thousands of years where these drugs were used in ceremonies and you had to earn the right. There was often a physical, emotional, and spiritual journey you had to take before you could participate. Now just about anyone can get access and because of this, we have lost a bit of that connection. Anyone curious about the roots of drug use in modern culture, pick up this book: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B0818QJHKF

What would you say is the theme of the book? What are you hoping readers take away from it?

Overcoming obstacles. In fact, I would argue we have some common ground here. Having finished your book, Out of Ashes (edit: this book has since been republished as The Lies She Wore), I believe we both are fighting with this theme in the back of our minds as we write!

Anything can be an obstacle. A mental health diagnosis. A learning disorder. Poor family life. A breakup. A job. Picking up a new skill. My book is about trying to break through the walls and limits you put on yourself.

The main obstacle for me as a writer was to get over my fear that my spelling and grammar were not good enough. I feel like I am a storyteller, but I don’t write in perfect English. For the longest time that held me back. I was afraid to share this because I thought there would be too many errors. Eventually, I found Grammarly, and that improved my work lots. Then I brought on a pair of editors to help clean up my work more. I also make unique style choices because I didn’t learn writing in a system that told me how I had to do certain things. The other thing I am still struggling with, even on my second book, is past vs present tense. I frequently accidentally shift my tone. This is because I haven’t found my full potential yet. I hope that as I write more this will happen less and less. This is also where I lean on my editors lots.

I heard your next book will be more sci-fi. Why the change in genres?

I never set out to write Someone’s Story. It just popped out. I think Pulse was the story I always wanted to tell. I started thinking about it back when I was in film school years ago. Pulse is big though and Someone’s Story was me learning how to do this on a small scale. Now I have way more tools in my toolkit and I am attacking that film school idea with everything I got.

A few people have asked if I am worried about losing fans from my first book.  Yes, of course, I am. My writing style is still geared towards a young adult audience. I am trying to keep a few younger characters in my writing to keep those fans engaged. I think my prose is easy to read, my formatting is unique, and I like to think I am a genre-bender. Pulse is coming together extremely well, and I can’t wait to put the finishing touches on it over the next few months. There won’t ever be a sequel or prequel to Someone’s Story. It’s a one and done. My next book though, it’s a world builder, and I hope to write a few books in that universe I have crafted. Just check out this creature and song for a tease:

https://babellec.com/2020/07/26/someones-story-book-tour-day-7-new-music-and-pulse-book-tease/

Thanks for taking the time to feature me and if anyone is interested in any of my work, come follow me on your favourite platform from the links below!

https://babellec.com/links/


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Book Review: Someone’s Story

This thought provoking young adult novel is a poignant portrayal of mental health and the power of friendship.

Someone’s Story by B.A. Bellec

I encountered this book through an author networking site and decided to give it a read.

Description

Someone’s Story is the tale of a teenager who refers to himself as Someone. A new school gives him a clean slate, but also triggers his anxiety. The story follows him as he makes friends, makes mistakes, and makes peace with his own troubled mind.

Character

Someone is a well-rounded character, flawed but growing. His struggles are personal, yet universal, and his journey of perseverance and acceptance is deeply moving. His group of “weirdos” are a fantastic representation of the power of friendship to overcome adversity.

I have mixed feelings about the protagonist referring to himself as Someone, implying that this could happen to anyone. I can see this approach being successful in two different ways. In one sense, the protagonist’s anxiety causes him to avoid attention. His previous struggles with social skills cause him to fear being “that guy.” He wants to be “normal,” but his weirdo friends teach him that nobody is normal.

In an opposite sense, the self-designation of Someone alludes to his goal to “be somebody.” He doesn’t want to disappoint his father, doesn’t want to waste his life. To that end, he pursues challenging goals, starting with running.

Unfortunately, I feel like the author was reaching for both these concepts and caught neither. Neither is sufficiently emphasized to stand out as a central message. Furthermore, the character isn’t generic enough to be just “someone.” For one, he is male. To make it truly generic, the author could have edited out the mild romantic parts. As another point, it isn’t just anybody who becomes a passionate advocate for blonde roast coffee and 90s movies. Lastly, I don’t buy that the friends who got close enough to him to share their deep dark secrets wouldn’t have learned his name. At the very least, a teacher calling attendance would have revealed it. The author could have kept the name a secret from the reader, but implied the other characters knew it. Instead, the protagonist introduces himself to his new friends as Someone, and no one probes the reasoning behind that choice even after getting to know him.

I’m glad the character wasn’t a generic someone. I found my eyes skipping over the dialogue tags to spare my mind from thinking of him that way. I cannot relate to an abstract, generic homo sapien, but I can relate to the narrator’s crusade against the dark roast, even though I myself do not drink caffeine. These details make him human, which makes him relatable. A real name would have helped.

That said, the choice of Someone made me think enough to write five paragraphs. Perhaps that’s the point. This book is nothing if not thought provoking. My head was spinning for hours after finishing it.

Plot

I made the mistake of reading reviews before picking up this book. A few of them mentioned the book started off slow. I’m not sure whether I would have come to that conclusion without the priming, but I will say the first third of the story is fairly low drama. Having been raised reading The Lord of the Rings, I don’t mind a slow read, so this wasn’t an issue for me.

The plot follows Someone as he makes the most of his fresh start at a new school. His mental health challenges him, but as he gets closer to his friends, he realizes he isn’t the only “weirdo.” He gets into trouble, makes mistakes, and learns from them like any teenager, though the challenges he faces at the end are well “above the call of duty.” There are some odd scenes involving drugs, but they fit with the overall tone.

Writing Style

I typically abhor the stream-of-consciousness style of narration, but Bellec uses it to spectacular effect. Rather than spewing whatever random observations come to mind, the protagonist’s thoughts are sharp and relevant, just enough to really get into his perspective. The tone in the beginning of the novel is engaging, almost haunting. I quickly found myself tuned to the rhythm of the words.

Books like this are often written from the author’s own experience, which can lead to a lack of continuity as the author fixates on “how it really happened” and lectures the reader on the lessons learned. Not so with Someone’s Story. The story has a compelling structure, and Bellec does a wonderful job weaving the life lessons into the narrative such that the reader learns them alongside the protagonist. Someone makes many profound observations about life, but at no point does the prose read like a self-help book.

Theme

For me, the big winner of this novel is its theme. In a world where everyone has 800 Facebook friends but no one to pick them up at the airport, the value of genuine friendship can never be overstated. The protagonist’s goal is to make friends, but he takes it a step further than he ever has by getting to know them beyond a surface level. This enormous risk causes both him and his friends a great deal of pain, but it also teaches him about acceptance, forgiveness, perseverance, and perspective. In the end, these friendships help him overcome his mental health challenges.

Conclusion

This artfully written novel tears down our social media-dominated definition of friendship in favor of a deeper connection by which “weirdos” can band together to overcome adversity. A flawed group of teens, struggling to play with the cards the world dealt them, learn to accept themselves and to support each other as they journey through life’s most awkward phase. The plot progresses slowly through the first third of the book, but the writing style and tone are engaging from page one. While I would have preferred a named character, the protagonist’s self-designation as “Someone” is thought provoking. His struggles with mental health serve as a poignant demonstration of strength growing from vulnerability. Overall, this insightful story is a shining example of perseverance and the power of friendship.


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