AN ESCAPE FROM TYRANNY: AN EXCERPT

Today’s excerpt is from Chapter One of Web of Tyranny, my fifth published novel which chronicles the tale of an abused child whose primary goal in life is to escape the tyranny of her childhood home and find freedom and fulfillment.

In this excerpt, our MC Margaret (Meg) tries to identify and label the strange new feelings overwhelming her…and put them in some sort of context.

***

Later in her life, Margaret would remember the summer of 1956 as that time when she’d still had illusions about what life could be.

Even with the backbreaking, seemingly endless chores, there was still that camaraderie amongst the workers. Even Lucy helped keep things light, chattering away about her plans for the evening. Margaret listened and pretended she had Lucy’s life with Lucy’s parents. Uncle Joe and Aunt Noreen laughed a lot. They even had a television set and when Margaret had the good fortune to visit at their house, hanging out with Lucy’s younger sister Nanette, the whole family sat around on the couch eating their dinner on TV trays and laughing along with the I Love Lucy show. Sometimes Margaret thought that Aunt Noreen, who was Father’s sister, must have grown up in a different family. They were total opposites. Father was all stern and uptight, while Aunt Noreen laughed and joked and seemed to enjoy being with her kids. Just like Father’s other sister Molly, who had all those stories to tell. Even Uncle Victor and Aunt Janice seemed so different from Father.

Margaret couldn’t figure any of it out back then. Later she would come to believe that it all had something to do with Father being the eldest child in his family. The one who had to drop out of school to work the farm. The one who had to give up his own fun and lightheartedness to help bring in the crops.

But in her tenth year of life, Margaret Elaine Graham only knew that the father who had once loved her had turned on her. And her life had somehow shaped itself into Before and After. First there had been love and acceptance. Then there was coldness and disapproval. And fleeting moments of secret fun and freedom meted out in small portions, to be grasped and cherished. As rare and unexpected as a stash of jewels. And just as precious.

***

 

REVIEW: PRETTY BABY, BY MARY KUBICA

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Heidi and Chris Wood have a marriage that seems to work for them. Longevity, a twelve-year-old daughter Zoe, and a lovely condo near Chicago.

Yes, Chris travels too much, in his career as an investment banker, but for the most part, this works for Heidi, too, as she has her own career teaching literacy classes. She loves helping the underprivileged, and even before we see what happens next, we are ready. Ready for her to do the unthinkable.

So one day, when Heidi spots a young woman with a baby near the train station, looking cold…and possibly homeless, she is drawn to them. She begins seeing them over and over until the night that she decides to do something about it.

What Heidi does next seems completely out of the box, and seemingly without a second thought, she takes the plunge anyway. Does she realize that she could be threatening everything she has and all the people she knows? What dark moments in Heidi’s past have contributed to the empty space inside that is suddenly filled by the presence of Willow and baby Ruby, in her life and in her home?

Narrated alternately by Heidi, by Chris, and then by Willow, Pretty Baby is a mesmerizing tale that takes the reader to the dark side.

Especially in Willow’s narrative, when we learn much more about her past, what events informed her life, and what contributed to the train wreck her life has become. But is she a reliable narrator? Or could she be fictionalizing events for her own purposes?

The characters were completely believable, and I found myself connecting more to Heidi than I would have imagined I could. Chris was someone whose behavior annoyed me, even as I could understand how he would resent the intrusion of Willow and the baby. But his attraction to his colleague Cassidy, who traveled with him and other co-workers, made him seem like the kind of man who reacts when his needs are not immediately met.

Even though I rooted for Heidi, I also found her behavior frightening. What would she risk to help a stranger? Even when I knew about what had happened to her in the past, it was hard for me to conceive of some of her actions. And then, as more of the story unfolds, we see her descend into a morass from which she might never escape.

Zoe, the twelve-year-old, was an annoying pre-teen, and her behavior was so stereotypical, with the scowls, the eye rolls, and the belligerence, that I pretty much dismissed her. Who can relate to someone so cardboard-like?

Despite the frustrations I felt with the characters, I could not put this book down. Completely engaging, and even though I put the pieces together before the end, I couldn’t wait to see what would happen. 5 stars.

***An e-arc of this book was provided by the publishers via NetGalley.

A CHILD’S TORTURED JOURNEY — A REVIEW

On June 3, 2005, in Corvallis, Oregon, three-year-old Karly Sheehan died after being abused and tortured.

In A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder, the author, an investigative journalist, details the events leading up to this death, including the numerous failures of the system along the way.

Karly’s parents, David and Sarah Sheehan, were divorced, and although David, an Irish immigrant, was the primary caretaker, the two alternated care. Sarah’s relationship with Shawn Wesley Field was the turning point in Karly’s life, but the ability of Sarah to deflect, to charm her way out of uncomfortable situations, and her apparent narcissism, were factors that did not end up in criminal charges against her in the end. Shawn Field was held on numerous counts and found guilty. He is serving a lengthy sentence.

Because the author had known and even cared for Sarah for a period of time during her teens, she felt a vested interest in the events and spent a great deal of time compiling facts of the case when writing this memoir.

Because of her relationship with Sarah, she knew the young woman’s flaws and did not buy into the “victim” stance afforded Sarah during the trial.

It was only after the trial that the author even learned of Karly’s death, as she had not been living in Corvallis at the time. The fact that Sarah did not reach out to her, or the very strange manner in which she reported the death to the author when she happened to run into her one day, set off red flags. Why had Sarah not protected her daughter? How did she so readily turn a blind eye to what was happening to her daughter?

Other questions certainly arose during her investigation and had arisen during the trial: why had the system failed to take certain steps to ensure the child’s safety? And how had Karly’s case fallen through the cracks?

April is Child Abuse Protection month, and it behooves us all to be more aware of the most vulnerable members of society.

In this quote, the author provides some statistics:

“Every five hours, a child in the U. S. dies from abuse or neglect, according to a 2011 investigation by the BBC journalist Natalia Antelava. The U.S. has the highest child abuse record in the industrialized world. America’s child abuse death rate is triple Canada’s and eleven times that of Italy…”

As a retired social worker and child protective services professional, I have encountered many alarming cases over the years. One would think I might become desensitized to the abuse, but, in fact, the opposite is true. Throughout Zacharias’s story, I found myself tearing up over and over at the alarming facts of the case. In telling Karly’s story, the author flashed between the past and present to weave in details of David’s story, as well as Sarah’s, showing the reader the very real characters and how their lives and choices impacted the victimized child. I found the reference to the protectiveness of mockingbirds an example of how far we, as humans, have yet to go to reach that level of safekeeping. Five stars.

***

I was provided a review copy by the publisher, which, in no way, has impacted my review of this book.

ETIOLOGY OF “AN ACCIDENTAL LIFE”

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Find this book HERE:

In my novel “An Accidental Life,” I focused on a local phenomenon in the Central Valley of California – methamphetamine abuse.  In the early nineties, I was working in child welfare services for the County of Fresno, and a proliferation of substance abuse cases (related to methamphetamine or “crank” abuse) became a regular aspect in the life of the social worker.

Years later, when I decided to pen a novel that featured these issues, I chose to zero in on characters that were composites of those I met during this time in my professional career.  I also added my own personal take to the story by creating characters from my personal history.

As a result, we have a bird’s eye view, as it were, into the life of social workers and their clients.

To spice things up a bit, I added a subplot that featured a stalker/murderer, a nod to another aspect of Central Valley life – homicides.  We have had our share of unsolved mysteries in this Valley city, but in my novel, I chose to reach a solution to the stalker/homicide that focuses on one of my characters.

Finally, because I do not believe in “happily ever after,” I did make one concession to this familiar theme:  I chose what I call a “hopeful ending.”  The characters are left with the faith that the “journey” in life is really what it’s all about.  Finding themselves on the path of self-discovery, with its complexities and obstacles, allows the characters to persist – to believe.

In the end, that’s really all we have.