Wednesday, October 17, 2018

For Want of a Penny - a YA survival tale set in Victorian England

Synopsis:
For Want of a Penny is the first part of a two book Victorian saga –The Nightingale Chronicles is set in 1840s Colchester and the east end of London. A family tragedy means Sarah is forced to go into service at Grey Friars House as an under nursery-maid. Meanwhile her younger brother Alfie, to avoid being taken into the workhouse, runs away to London to seek his fortune. 
Although the situation wasn’t of her making Sarah thrives, but just as she is becoming established in the household her past returns to shatter her happy life and she is dismissed without references. 
Alfie arrives in London but is tricked and sold to work as a slave on a coal barge. However, eventually he prospers and begins to make himself a better life.


My thoughts:

I didn’t realize that Fenella Miller had so many mainstream romance novels. The first book of hers that ended up in my hands “For Want of a Penny”, an early Victorian, working class coming of age story. Personally, I enjoy reading about the Oliver Twist crowd. Following a freak accident that claims the life of their younger half-brother – and incurs the wrath of their aloof stepfather – Sarah and Alfie, two working class teenagers, are left to fend for themselves. Their sickly mother is in no position to defend them as she embraces what psychologists call “learned helplessness” and chooses the path of least resistance – in her case, following her alcoholic husband to another city to “start a new life”. With help from a local minister, Sarah is able to secure a sought after position as a nursemaid in a wealthy household. It takes her a while to establish herself in a predominantly female team, where an ally can turn into a rival. Alfie discovers that his street smarts are not sufficient. After being tricked into slavery and spending several months in horrible conditions, he breaks free and finds himself on the streets. His freedom is short-lived. Almost immediately, he finds himself a member of a boy gang, where his literacy gives him special status. Remember, this was a time before social media. People grieved and lamented in private. They did not air their sorrow to the world. The characters process their emotional suffering in silence, sustained by their will to survive. Despite all the disturbing social issues addressed in the novel, “For Want of a Penny” does not have a dark and heavy vibe. I’d recommend it for young adults interested in learning more about how their peers lived 170 years ago.

Friday, October 5, 2018

A Date for Hannah - a coy stab at body positivity

Hello commies and YA junkies!

Today's honorable defendant is Callie Henry (aka Kate Regnery), a prolific bestselling author of romance. I do not normally read any kind of romance, sweet or spicy, but on occasion it's helpful to pick up something outside of your comfort zone. It's one of those "know thy enemy" things. I have very mixed feelings about the whole body positive movement, so A Date for Hannah caught my eye. As someone who has struggled with body image and body dysmorphic disorder, I must say that the title character is a little too coy and sweet. She's one giant vanilla marshmallow. Not enough pepper. 

Synopsis
High-schooler, Hannah, has always been self-conscious about her weight, so when hottie swimmer, Liam, pays her extra attention at her sister's wedding, she has a hard time trusting his interest. Throughout the evening, Liam's charm wins her over, until they're falling hard for each other. But the next day, Hannah learns something that may ruin it all.

My thoughts
It is what it is. An unrealistic sugar-vanilla heart-warmer. I realize this author is trying to churn out a book a week and has to resort to assembling stock expressions without getting into psychological nuances. It is not meant to be stimulating or mind-opening. It's supposed to give every chubby girl (as long as she has a cute face and a docile personality) hope that a hot guy will fall for "what is on the inside". I do not know how much time the author spent conversing with overweight women struggling with body image and sexual confidence, but I recommend that a little educational expedition to make her writing more raw and realistic - if that is indeed her goal. Maybe I shouldn't assume that she wants to present a realistic picture of a larger woman's sexuality. She is in the business of producing feel-good non-offensive fiction for teens that will not ruffle any feathers or raise too many questions. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

"Childhood's Day" by John Rosenman - resurrecting your younger self

Hello commies and sci-fi lovers!

I have read and reviewed several short sci-fi reads by John B. Rosenman. I find his short stories thought-provoking and satisfying, like Twilight Zone episodes. I'd like to share with you Childhood's Day, one of Rosenman's most disturbing and stimulating stories. He takes the popular topic of human cloning and presents it with an original twist. 

Synopsis:
Suppose you could have yourself reborn at the age of seven so your younger replica could you help you cope with crippling guilt for the death of your father -- would you do it? And would it be fair to the boy you once were, especially since he will live only one day?

My thoughts:
"Childhood's Day" left me craving more. I am not saying that this piece is incomplete as it is. But I would love to see it developed into a full length novel. There are so many "teasers" and "what ifs" built into this sci-fi piece. It raises so many philosophical, psychological and bio-ethical questions, that the author could easily grow them into a 60-90K manuscript. The issue of human cloning has been a classic staple in the genre of science fiction. In Rosenman's short story "Childhood's Day" it is used as a therapy tool. Imagine resurrecting your younger self for a day to help you deal with repressed trauma. It is a popular question: "What would you tell your younger self?" But what would your younger self tell you? More importantly, would you be ready to hear the truth? Would it help you heal your wounds or open new ones?