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by Donna Huber For the A to Z Challenge, I discussed different book genres/categories. Each day, I gave a few details about the genre/catego...

September 8, 2019

3 Gritty Stories of Survival

by Susan Roberts

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

Songbirds and Stray Dogs by Meagan Lucas

Songbirds and Stray Dogs
August 2019; Main Street Rag Press
978-1599487526; print (214 pages)
women's fiction
"The divide between the haves and the have-nots was so broad both sides couldn't see the other.  Just up the road, some millionaire from  Atlanta or Charlotte had their third house, decked out with authentic mountain furniture and artwork, that the moneyed called rustic  and folksy but  the locals called a heritage." (p75)

This beautifully written novel is full of characters who will are so real that you feel like they are people you know in your everyday life. You'll laugh and cry with them and keep hoping for a happy life for them. The book is written so beautifully that it's difficult to believe that this is a debut novel for Megan Lucas. I am anxious to read her future books.

The year is 1982 and the location is Beaufort, NC. Jolene is a few years past high school. She has been raised by her spinster church-going aunt since she was 5 when her addicted mother left her on her aunt's porch. She doesn't have any friends but she has a secret that is going to upend her life. When her aunt finds out that she's pregnant, she throws her out of the house without money and with no place to go. A dangerous journey takes her to the mountains of NC, where she finds people willing to help her. She meets Chuck who is trying to turn his life around and is struggling to raise his teenage nephew who was abandoned by his sister. Both Jolene and Chuck are lost souls living at the edge of society who are trying to make better lives for themselves. Will these two lost people be able to help each other have a better life?

I got pulled into this book on the first page. Jolene was so needy that I just wanted to hug her and steer her away from her bad decisions. I felt a strong connection with her throughout the book and was rooting for her to find some happiness in her life. Chuck was trying so hard to be a good parent to his nephew and make their lives better but they were met with problems from every direction. This is a powerful novel about family - not only family by blood but family with people who want to help you succeed and love you no matter what.

This is a powerful and well-written novel with characters that I won't soon forget. It will definitely be in my top 10 book list for 2019.

Buy Songbirds and Stray Dogs at Amazon

Shrug by Lisa Braver Moss

August 2019; She Writes Press
978-1631526381; ebook, print (272 pages)
young adult, coming of age
"I call it my shrug but it's not a regular shrug.  It doesn't mean I don't care about stuff, or that I don't want to talk.  It doesn't mean 'I don't know' - though if my story was made into a famous book, some English major would probably write about how not knowing is a big deal in the main character's life.  But meanings aren't the point.  The point is, sometimes, for no particular reason, my right shoulder just jumps up.  This quirk of mine does not exactly help in the coolness department." (p1)

It's difficult to be a teenager in the best of circumstances and for Martha, growing up in a totally dysfunctional family during the tumultuous changes of the 1960s, it was impossible for her to feel good about herself as she entered her teenage years. She developed a shrug of her shoulders, an uncontrollable tic that made life even worse but that she couldn't stop doing. This novel is the story of how Martha navigated her teenage years until it was time for her to go to college.

Martha lived with her parents, older sister and younger brother in Berkeley, California. Her father owned a record store near the campus and her mother stayed at home. When her father got angry, he took his anger out with his fists - hitting not only her mother but also the three children. He always felt bad afterwards but the damage was already done. Her mother was self-centered and cared only about herself and her pain. In one instance early in the book, she refused to write a note for Martha after she missed a day of school for sickness. She said it was Martha's own fault that she was sick and she could take the consequences. The ongoing pain in the household made the three kids rely heavily on each other plus Martha had a best friend who helped her through some of her rough times. As is the case in many situations like this, even though Martha feared and hated her parents she also longed for their approval. This intense story is about how Martha navigated her teenage years - will she be able to go to college or will she end up pregnant, on drugs or running away from home? Will she finally be able to have an independent life without her parents?

I grew up in a very supportive and loving family and the things that happened in this book were totally beyond my comprehension which made the book even more interesting to me. I have always wondered why some people who grow up in situations like this end up succeeding in life while others let their rough childhood drag them down throughout their lives. This was a well written and interesting book based in part by the author's own childhood.

Buy Shrug at Amazon

From an Interview with Lisa Braver Moss:

Shrug is partially based on your own experience growing up with an unstable home life in Berkeley, California, during the 1960s.  How did you make a decision about what to fictionalize?  Why didn't you opt to write a memoir and what value do you think fiction storytelling adds to this narrative?
I felt liberated once I realized I was writing a novel.  I think in writing my own story as a memoir, I would have felt more constrained or distracted by what actually took place and the researching of those details may well have derailed me from the difficult task of writing a complete, satisfying read.  I would've felt more daunted and more vulnerable.

Some authors share their personal stories with traumatic experiences, including childhood domestic violence, through the written word and find that the process is liberating in a way.  Was this your experience?  How did you manage potentially triggering content?
There were certain parts that were very painful to write, such as the scenes of the father's violence and those of the mother's cruelty and maddening self-centeredness.  I think I was able to manage this because I was so focused on precision in my writing.  There were times when I was crying while writing, but in general, my drive to 'get it right' overrode the pain of the content.

The Wolf Wants In by Laura McHugh 

The Wolf Wants In
August 2019; Spiegel & Grau; 978-0399590283
audio, ebook, print (272 pages)
young adult, thriller
"His family had spent generations building their small-town empire, fortifying it with good deeds and hard work, yet it was the same for everyone when the wolf was at the door wanting in.  You had to hope that you were ready, that what you had built was sufficient to withstand the threat.  That was the lesson his father had taught him:  be strong, be good, be prepared.  But a big brick house was worthless if the wolf was already inside...threatening to bring the walls down on top of them. "(p 233)

This novel takes place in a rural area in Kansas. Like many rural areas in this country, there is poverty, drugs, and drug overdoses which continue to increase. It's a dark book due to the setting and the combination of people who want to make their lives better and others who are satisfied with the status quo. It's not a light and easy book but an honest portrayal of people who are dealing with the current opioid crisis.

Shane is dead and the police see no reason to investigate. They are overwhelmed with drug deaths and decided that there was no reason to investigate a death from natural causes. His sisters, Sadie and Becca don't believe that Shane had a heart attack as his wife claimed and don't believe that drugs were involved in his death. Sadie is asking a lot of questions - and each answer brings more confusion and more questions. Shane's wife is not answering any questions and seems to be in a big hurry to give away all of Shane's belongings to her family and friends which seems very suspicious to his sisters.

Henley is an 18-year-old girl who has a dream of escaping small-town life. Her mother is an addict and she is often left on her own. She wants to leave her old life and her criminal family behind and find a better life far away. She has just started a relationship with one of the rich boys in town and it may keep her from fulfilling her dreams.

Sadie and Henley don't know each other but their lives become intertwined as the mystery surrounding Shane's death gets closer to being solved. They both have secrets in their lives that may keep them from learning the real truth.

This story is told in alternating chapters by Sadie and Henley. Pay close attention to the dates because each character's story is told from a slightly time period. Most of Henley's story is before Shane died and Sadie's is after Shane is dead. As the two stories merge, the real truth comes to light.
My only complaint about this book is that there seem to be too many secondary characters and it was difficult to remember who was who.  I would have been happy if Henley had fewer cousins and other relatives.  Overall, it was an interesting book and was ripped from the headlines story about issues in impoverished areas and their escalating drug issues.

Buy The Wolf Wants In at Amazon

Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina when she isn't traveling. She and her husband enjoy traveling, gardening and spending time with their family and friends. She reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction, and thrillers. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with Susan on FacebookGoodreads, or Twitter.

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