Review: The Last Suttee

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Madhu Bazaz Wangu. CreateSpace IPP, $15, 356p. ISBN 9781974362462.

After years of research and teaching of Hindu and Buddhist art history and culture, author Madhu Bazaz Wangu presents her second novel, The Last Suttee. Through the story of Kumud, a woman director of a girl’s orphanage in India, Wangu tells a story of how just one single, driven female can change an entire community’s perspective on an established way of life.

Wangu draws her tale from the ancient Indian custom of sati, a practice which historically lead a widow to throw herself onto her husband’s funeral pyre in order to remain a “chaste woman,” literally, a “good wife,” even in her husband’s death. Wangu uses inspiration from the popular case of Roop Kanwar, an eighteen-year old girl whose decision of sati led to official legislation against sati. While fighting personal struggles within herself, Kumud proves to be a heroine by effectively preventing a young girl’s own sati.

The Last Suttee reads to show Wangu’s obviously extensive research into not only the custom of sati, but also the everyday customs and ancient folklore surrounding the Indian culture. The novel opens with an issue of dowry, and continues with insight into popular female overlook and condemnation. Wangu has the gift of setting, and expertly keeps her stage well-described and easily imaginable for the reader.

A powerful and relevant tale of liberation from a devotional but debilitating custom, The Last Suttee is an excellent representation of how the Hindu female population has found strength to grow against a binding and deathly tradition.


From the author: Why I Wrote The Last Suttee

On the morning of September 5, 1987, I was going through the Hillman Library card catalogue at the University of Pittsburgh when a friend stopped by. She told me something I would never forget. She said that an eighteen-year-old Indian woman, named Roop Kanwar, had immolated herself on the pyre of her dead husband. I was dumbfounded. Suttee in the twentieth century? It couldn’t be. But The New York Times confirmed the news. The ritual, known as suttee, was witnessed by the townspeople and thousands more came to see it from nearby villages and towns. When the news was leaked the following day, the town was swarmed for days by Indian and international journalists. I was stunned and speechless, my legs laden with lead. At that frozen moment, the seed for this book was planted.

The kernel stayed dormant, but the incident continued to sear like a wound at the back of my mind. The distress was raw, but I was not yet emotionally ready to write about what had happened and how it had affected me. In the ensuing years, I trawled libraries, bookstores, and the Internet, learning about the history of suttee and the cultural and religious traditions in which it is rooted. I studied records of the shrines dedicated to women who had committed suttee. I read the history and mythology of the namesake goddess, spelled Sati. Critically and carefully I analyzed the photographs of Sati temples and studied the engravings, drawings, and paintings of the goddess Sati and the suttee ritual that had been made by British, European, and Indian artists and travelers.

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Suttee is a centuries-old Hindu ritual. This ancient belief still persists in some remote corners in India. The belief is if a widow cremates herself with her dead husband, the couple will live in heaven as they did on earth. Furthermore, such a sacrifice guarantees a place in heaven for seven generations for both sides of the family.The ritual is rooted in the myths of two goddesses: Sati, Shiva’s wife, and Sita, Rama’s wife. Here are summaries of the myths:

Goddess Sati is the daughter of the high priest Daksha. Shiva, the world renouncer, is so awed by her yogic skills and asceticism that he grants her a boon. Sati asks to marry him. He agrees. Daksha dislikes Shiva. He finds Shiva unconventional and unkempt. Despite her father’s opposition Sati marries Shiva and they live in his mountain abode in Himalayas. 

Daksha plans a great sacrifice. He invites all the important divine beings, except Shiva. Sati feels disgraced by the way in which her father has treated her husband. On the day of the great sacrifice, she throws herself in the fire pit meant for the sacrifice. And burns herself to death. When Shiva discovers what has happened to his wife, he is outraged. He pulls out Sati’s half-burnt body, holds it on his shoulders, and in anguish and lamentations whirls around the world. 

Goddess Sita is an ideal Hindu wife. Her husband, Rama, is the center of her life. His welfare, reputation, and wishes are most important to her. One day, the demon king Ravana abducts her and takes her to his golden palace. He lies to her that he has killed Rama. Sita is horrified. She moans and tells him that it must have been her fault that her husband was killed. She warns Ravana she could burn him to ashes with the fire of her chastity, but she won’t because she did not have her husband’s permission. 

In the end, Rama defeats Ravana and brings Sita home. There he severely tests her loyalty because she has spent days under the control of another man. Sita is shocked at such an accusation. She protests her innocence. She says she has remained wholly devoted and completely faithful to him. Rama persists. 

Grieved by his false accusation, Sita asks for a funeral pyre to prove her innocence. A pyre is built, and Sita stands atop it with hands folded. Agni, the god of fire, refuses to harm her because she is innocent and pure. She returns to Rama unscathed. Yet he banishes her to a forest. 

Sati and Sita are faithful and chaste wives, and they are devoted to their husbands. The lives of these goddesses are defined by their husbands. Although their dedication and chastity are exemplary, they pay a heavy price for being wives. In both myths, fire plays an important role. Whereas Sati voluntarily kills herself, Sita is saved by Agni. Their god/husbands are alive when the women jump into the sacrificial pit or on the funeral pyre. But ordinary women’s lives are no myths. When a woman is forced into being a suttee, neither her husband nor the god of fire will save her.

The suttee ritual was outlawed by British Raj in 1829. The ritual was described as “heinous rite” when cases surfaced about widows being tied to their husband’s pyre even after being intoxicated with bhang or opium. Many reports of widows escaping and being rescued by strangers were also recorded. Still, more than a century later, scattered instances of the custom have been reported, such as Savitri Soni’s in 1973 and Charan Shah’s in 1999.

The most notorious and controversial case, however, was of Roop Kanwar. Indian people either publicly defended Roop’s action or declared that she had been murdered. Following the outcry that followed Roop Kanwar’s suttee, the government of India enacted the Rajasthan Sati Prevention Ordinance on October 1, 1987. The law makes it not only illegal to commit suttee but also illegal to glorify the ritual or coerce a woman to commit suttee. Glorification includes erecting a shrine to honor the dead woman or converting the place where immolation took place into a pilgrimage site. Derivation of any income from such activities is also banned. The law makes no distinction between a passive observer and an active promoter. Everyone is held equally guilty.

The seed for writing a book inspired by Roop Kanwar’s suttee finally sprouted in November 2009, when I wrote its first draft as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a nonprofit internet organization that supports writers in an effort to complete the initial draft of a novel in one month.

It would take me seven more years to finalize the draft.

The story continued to incubate. I developed the characters, sketched the settings, wrote the narrative and dialogue. But to birth a healthy novel and bring it to life, I had to experience the environment in which Roop Kanwar was born, lived, and died. I needed to converse with the people who allowed it to happen. I wanted to know the antagonist and protagonist’s viewpoints.

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I visited India for a month in 2013 for that purpose. I went to the small towns of Deorala, where Roop Kanwar committed suttee, and Jhunjhunu, home of an imposing marble temple dedicated to faithful women who sacrifice their young lives immediately after their husbands’ deaths. The visit stirred feelings of remorse and wonder. Why did people celebrate sacrificial death? How does blind faith hide behind the stunning structure? Domestic and temple architecture, middle and high schools, ancient mansions with bedroom walls made of mirror-mosaics (some now converted to five-star hotels) were breathtakingly beautiful. The local flora and fauna were intriguing, and men and women’s attire colorful. I fell in love with the place. But I wasn’t there as a tourist. I was there to fulfill a quest, to do something about an event that jolted the core of my being.

Meeting with the people of Deorala opened my mind to the fact that a community’s worldview can be so different from my own. Yet my sorrow and awe about Roop Kanwar and my feelings about other widows like her were not alleviated by talking to Roop’s father-in-law, her brother-in-law and his wife, or their neighbors. Nor did I blame them after visiting her neglected and unkempt suttee site. However, the visit helped me better understand the point of view of the town residents. A magnificent temple dedicated to the goddess Sati, which locals honor and regard highly, further clarified their worldview.

My interview with Roop Kanwar’s father-in-law took place in the verandah outside the room where Roop lived with her husband. This was the room where she dressed herself in bridal attire and decked herself in jewelry before following her husband’s dead body to the cremation site. The room has been turned into a shrine, and Roop has become an ishtadevi, a manifestation of Narayani Satimata, a local goddess higher in the pantheon of the thousands of village goddesses of India.

When I asked to go to where Roop performed suttee, her father-in-law declined to walk along, but he did ask other men to take me there. I treaded the path that evidently Roop Kanwar, most probably intoxicated with bhang, walked with the help of two women. They followed her husband’s litter, which four male relatives carried. I was told a lamenting crowd of men, women, and children followed the dead body and Roop as they headed toward her husband’s funeral pyre.

Facing the desolate ground where the ritual had taken place twenty-six years earlier, I shed tears of pain for an eighteen-year-old who didn’t know better, and who no one came to rescue.

The characters in this novel are fictional, but the setting is historic. Writing it does not feel like redemption, for I still ache for the women of the world who are engulfed in outmoded traditions, who are uneducated and dependent. Women with so much potential to offer their families, their communities, and, most importantly, to themselves.

Undoubtedly, the world over, women have made tremendous progress. Yet, the path to elevating women’s social status has many roadblocks, and the process is slow. I sincerely hope The Last Suttee not only helps remove a block or two but also adds substance to the process of change.


About Madhu Bazaz Wangu

Madhu Bazaz Wangu is an author, artist, world-traveler, and the founder of the Mindful Writers Group. She was a professor of arts and religions of India before becoming a full-time writer. She has a doctorate in the Phenomenology of Religions from the University of Pittsburgh, and a post-doctoral fellowship from the Harvard University. Over twenty-five years, Wangu has taught at the University of Pittsburgh and Chatham College in Pennsylvania, Wellesley and Wheaton Colleges in Massachusetts, and Rhode Island College.

In 1997, Dr. Wangu voyaged around the world with students and faculty members from various American universities for the Semester-at-Sea program. She loved the experience so much, that each year she has been revisiting places of historical significance in different countries, observing the cultures, meeting the people, and enjoying their cuisine.

In 2010, Dr. Wangu founded the Mindful Writers Group, and in 2015, she started a second group. Dr. Wangu encourages writers of all levels and genres to delve deeper in their work by body-mind-heart meditation. Her album, Meditations for Mindful Writers, was released in 2011. Dr. Wangu also guides writers in meditation and writing marathons. Twice each year, Mindful Writers Groups gather for writing retreats where groups practice sitting and walking meditations surrounded by nature in-between long writing sessions.

Madhu B. Wangu has published four books and numerous essays on Hindu and Buddhist goddesses and Indian religions. She has held five one-person art exhibitions in India and the US. Her collection, Chance Meetings: Stories About Cross-Cultural Collisions and Compassion, was published in 2015, and her debut novel, The Immigrant Wife: Her Spiritual Journey, was published in 2016. Currently, Dr. Wangu is writing a guidebook for mindful writing.

Follow Madhu Bazaz Wangu!
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Now available!
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“A stunning story of one woman’s struggle to stop the ritual of suttee. The novel weaves centuries old traditions with the stark march toward twenty-first century. It progresses with surprising plot twists, a ticking clock, and stubborn and powerful antagonist who challenges the protagonist, Kumud, to stand up to the orthodox and close-minded community”  – Bestselling author, Kathleen Shoop

Read an excerpt HERE

 

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Review: The Smallest Thing

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Lisa Manterfield. Steel Rose Press, $16, 288p. ISBN 9780998696928

“Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, it gave her material for stories.” Thus says author Lisa Manterfield, who presents her second curious novel, The Smallest Thing. Set in the Derbyshire Dales village of Eyam, The Smallest Thing is inspired by the historical plague that overtook Eyam in the 1600s and led to quarantine of the village. In The Smallest Thing, Manterfield’s protagonist, Emmott Syddall, finds herself in a similar quarantine which keeps her from fulfilling her desire to move to London, and ultimately leads her to grow while questioning what she really wants to do with her life.

Manterfield has described herself as loving “fish-out-of-water stories of ordinary people in extraordinary situations, especially if those situations delve into the unexplained.” At closer to eighteen than seventeen years old, self-centered Emmott is quite decided on leaving her small-town life in Eyam and strained relationship with her father. Wanting to be with her boyfriend, Ro, and having found a job and apartment in London, Emmott plans to move within a matter of days from the novel’s opening. A sudden outbreak of an unknown illness traps Emmott in the middle of a mysterious sickness, complete with a village-wide quarantine, HAZMAT suits, and situation briefs. Though she searches for a way outside the town’s boundaries, Emmott is unable to find an escape past the quarantine, and when Ro abandons their plans to move, Emmott is left with crushed dreams and nothing to do but ride out the outbreak.

In The Smallest Thing, Manterfield explores not only the historical effects of quarantine, but also the personal effects of being held in close proximity with the same people for long periods of time. As a teenager, Emmott has not yet learned to think of how her actions affect the people around her. When she is forced by the quarantine to zero in on her relationships with her father, best friend, neighbors, and even Ro, Emmott learns things about the people closest to her that she didn’t know before. She also gets a rude awakening of what it is to be alone – the very state of being that she was running toward by planning to move to London.

“I can’t count the number of times I’ve wished I could be alone. I couldn’t wait to get away from the village and out from under the watch of my parents, to be free to be myself and do my own thing, without other people and their opinions getting in the way. I wished so hard for that, and now I’ve got it. Now I am completely alone.”

– Chapter 28, Page 236

Well-written with a delicious dose of descriptive setting and metaphor, The Smallest Thing is a lesson in growing to recognize more than just a personal struggle when disaster strikes the people closest to you.

 

Guest Post & Review: The Frenchman

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Lise McClendon. Thalia Press, $15, 294p. ISBN 9781548691257.

In this 5th installment of the Bennett Sisters Mysteries (beginning with Blackbird Fly), attorney Merle Bennett goes to France for an extended stay to drink in the essence of la France Profonde and write her own novel.

But the countryside is not as tranquil as she’d hoped it would be. A missing Frenchman, a sinister one, an elderly one, a thieving one, and a vandalizing one, all conspire to turn Merle’s sojourn of reflection into a nightmare of worry. Where is Pascal, her French boyfriend? Who is the man with the terrible scar? Why is someone spray-painting her little stone house in the Dordogne? And will her novel about the French Revolution (snippets of which are included) give her a soupon of delight or a frisson of danger?


From the Author: What my characters have shown me as they’ve grown

As I launch the fifth installment in the Bennett Sisters Mystery series it occurs to me that one of the joys of writing a long series is the chance to really dig deep into the personalities of the characters. Although I originally conceived of the series as linked stand-alones about each of the five sisters, the first book, Blackbird Fly, centered on the middle sister, Merle. When I eventually continued the series, I continued Merle’s journey of self-discovery after the sudden death of her husband. It just made sense that one summer sojourn in France wouldn’t cure all her problems, lovely as France might be.Frenchman - Lise McClendon

So Merle has a Frenchman. Initially, like Merle, I didn’t see how a long-distance relationship with a man who lived across an ocean would work. How could she work in New York City and Pascal work all over France’s wine country and they continue a romance? Because, although I didn’t write the series as a romance, women have love affairs— have you noticed? And they like to read about them. Merle’s affair with Pascal might have just been a fling, a curative, that first summer. But as the series goes along it’s obvious that Pascal thinks of it as something more. Although Merle isn’t sure what he thinks— he’s a Frenchman and you know how they are— her feelings mature, especially in this fifth book.

Their relationship is an underpinning in the novels to intrigue, sisterhood, and the joys and trials of mid-life. The sisters range in age from 40 to 55, or so, and I try to find aspects of women’s lives that are interesting and challenging. Life can be hard but reading about how other women make choices and navigate the pitfalls is helpful and revealing to me, and I hope to readers.

As a writer you never know how readers will react to your characters. Will they think them weak and stupid for their choices? (Yes, I’ve had that review.) Or will they identify with them, cheer for them, hope for them? That’s what I live for, that identification from the reader. I am not an Everywoman myself. I am opinionated and cranky and sometimes not that nice. Also, funny, a good friend, a loving parent— I hope. We all have so many aspects. I see some of myself in each of the five Bennett Sisters. I am a middle sister myself though, that’s why Merle appeals to me.

I recently had a review of Blackbird Fly that made all the writing worthwhile. (I love that readers are still discovering the series.) A reader said “The main character, Merle Bennett, could have been me, though I’m not a lawyer, have never inherited a house in France, and never had her problems. The writing puts you in the book.”

Right there, that’s why I write.

Then, if you love France like I do, the reviewer says that for her, at least, I got something right: “I’ve spent enough time in France to know that Albert, Mme Suchet, and the others in the village who snubbed, helped, or sabotaged Merle are just so … French. The story unfolds just as it should along with Merle’s self-discovery and personal regrets.”

And so Merle’s journey continues in The Frenchman. Who is the Frenchman, you ask? There is of course Pascal, Merle’s Frenchman. But there are many more in this book, policemen and old villagers, young punks and charming neighbors. And in Merle’s novel, chapters of which are included in the novel, there are Frenchmen from the Revolutionary period: farmers and rebels, nobles and royals, villagers and strangers. I had such fun writing Merle’s novel— which will be fleshed out and published separately as well— about a goat-herder who flees the terror in Paris for a farm in the Dordogne. Merle calls it ‘Odette and the Great Fear,’ and it will be available soon as an e-book.

Thanks for the chance to discuss the Bennett Sisters Mysteries. I hope you enjoy reading them!


Review: The Frenchman

Lise McClendon’s The Frenchman is McClendon’s fifth novel in her Bennett Sisters Mysteries series. It is a frame story variation in that Merle, the protagonist, tells a story of her own throughout the mystery.

As McClendon’s story opens, Merle seems to be a bit lost within herself. She’s taking an extended leave from her work as a lawyer in New York in order to go to France and get started on her novel. Merle’s son, Tristan, is growing up and heading off to college this year, and her French boyfriend, Pascal, works a job that frequently keeps them apart for long periods of time and with little communication. Upon arrival in France, Merle finds herself with tangible insecurities as well – her house has been vandalized, and she has need for a vehicle but no knowledge of how to buy.

Meanwhile, Merle begins to write her novel, Odette and the Great Fear, and McClendon includes Merle’s chapters as stand-alone chapters within The Frenchman. Writing acts as Merle’s escape: “It was so comforting to live in another world where the mundane was an afterthought, where pain was just a word, where one had control of all events, and the author was a god.” (Kindle Locations 1356-1357). This comfort is better understood later, when McClendon’s mystery comes to light as Pascal disappears.

The Frenchman is as much a mystery novel as it is an exploration into the personal life of an author. McClendon’s character, Merle, strives to build her own character, Odette, in a seemingly reflected manner of McClendon’s own efforts to dive into Merle’s character. McClendon grants access into how a casual observation can play itself into a piece of detail, and skillfully reveals thought and emotion of her characters to her readers. Merle and Odette’s characters are tied together in a pleasant analogy.

The Frenchman is a delightful stroll through a grove of mystery, with a woven path through a light French countenance that makes for a formidable leisure read.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lise McClendon is the author of fifteen novels of mystery, suspense, and general mayhem plus short stories. Her bestselling Bennett Sisters mystery series began with Blackbird Fly. She also writes thrillers as Rory Tate, the latest of which is Plan X. Her short story is included in this fall’s noir anthology, The Obama Inheritance. Lise lives in Montana.
Visit her website | Subscribe to her mailing list | Follow her on Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Buy the book: on Amazon

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Review: Merle

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Angela Wren. CreateSpace IPP, $10, 208p.  ISBN 9781546811985.

Also a theatre director in Yorkshire and a self-proclaimed Francophile, author Angela Wren presents her second Jacques Forêt mystery, Merle. Like her first Jacques Forêt novel, Messandrierre, Wren sets Merle in a small, French town that soon discovers that murder visits not only Paris.

Formerly a Parisian policeman, Jacques Forêt is now a private investigator who has been commissioned by Vaux Consulting to investigate the possibility of corporate corruption among executives. As Jacques spends time with the employees of Vaux Consulting, he finds that there is more being hidden within Vaux Consulting’s walls than originally suspected. Jacques is quite confident in his investigative skills, however, and isn’t afraid to ask awkward questions to find out what he needs to know; Jacques seemingly begins to upset the wrong person, and receives notes threatening himself and his lover, Beth, who has just decided to move to Merle with Jacques. Before any resolution arrives, corruption spirals into murder, and the lives of people near to Jacques are put into danger.

Wren demonstrates her skill as theater director by fragmenting her plot and rearranging the pieces in a way that opens her novel with an apéritif showing a glimpse of the denouement. Wren keeps Jacques and Beth dimensional with subplots exploring how how serious Jacques and Beth’s relationship is, and how Beth’s hobbies will thrive in Merle. Wren’s astute attention to detail of French culture, architecture, and geography keeps her writing relevant and pleasant.

Packed with continuing complications to intensify the final unraveling, Merle is a thrilling read about authority, corruption, and the power of secrets to deprave a genial French town.

Review: Emma in the Night

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Wendy Walker. St. Martin’s Press, $27, 320p. ISBN 9781250141439

Into the night suddenly disappear two teenage sisters, Emma and Cass, leaving an empty car on the beach and a single pair of shoes in the surf. Three years later, Cass alone returns to her parents’ home with a story of captivity on an unidentified seven-acre island, and a driving urgency to find her sister who has since given birth. In Emma in the Night, author Wendy Walker carefully weaves a psychological thriller that is even more carefully unwound in a way that reveals only bare hints of resolution until all is immediately exposed.

As the narration switches between Cass’s first-person recounting and a third-person limited overlook of FBI Forensic Psychologist, Dr. Abby Winter, details of Cass and Emma’s home lives before their disappearance come into light. Their mother is revealed to be a pathological narcissist who has spent years competing with her daughters for attention, power, and validation, as her girls have grown in beauty. As the oldest daughter who has realized the threat that she is to her mother, Emma has the stronger love-hate relationship with their mother, and Cass takes refuge in Emma’s shadow as a “bird on the battlefield” with an unrealized, yet growing desire to see her mother defeated.

Cass’s experience growing up with a narcissistic mother is reflected in Dr. Winter’s character, whose mother was also a narcissist. Having investigated Emma and Cass’s disappearances since the beginning, Dr. Winter brings a contrasted, systematic aspect to the novel’s premise of psychosis, while remaining approachable to the reader by her own emotional investment in the case. As Dr. Winter learns of Cass’s childhood, she remembers her own, and is ultimately able to discover Emma’s whereabouts by understanding the dynamic in Cass’s household.

Throughout the novel, Cass is repeatedly put into situations requiring either swift decisions or well-thought-out planning, nothing in-between; Cass is forced to quickly become an adult, and learns that survival in her environment requires rigid observation, manipulation, and sacrifice. Wendy Walker presents the argument that people will believe what they want to believe, and paired with Walker’s working knowledge of the causes and effects of narcissism, Emma in the Night allows its audience to keep guessing at what the truth behind the girls’ disappearance and captivity might be.

Review: The Tower

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Nicole Campbell. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, $13.50, 346p. ISBN 9781545411278.

Her fifth novel in just over two years, Nicole Campbell presents The Tower, a young adult story of life, love, death, and loss. Setting her tale in Elizabethtown, Illinois, and distinguishing it with a foundation in witchery, Campbell tells the otherwise familiar story of three teenagers who have grown up together and are now learning how to navigate through the realities of life.

Rowyn, Reed, and Rosalyn are as close as three friends can be. Having been raised as members of the same “Circle,” their families’ beliefs in witchery knit them close as the characteristic that sets them apart from the other kids at school. Outside of their beliefs, though, Rowyn, Reed, and Rosalyn are every-day teenagers that struggle with coming of age, relationships, what to do after high school, and even the effects of sudden tragedy.

While the staple themes of a young adult novel are well carried throughout the novel, the significance of some of the witchery signified in the story isn’t directly communicated. For example, the Tower card is drawn periodically during readings,  but without an understanding of tarot cards and their meanings, the connotation is lost to the reader. It is not until the last page of the book that some connection is made between events in the story and drawings of the Tower card:

“The Tower card hadn’t lied. Everything crumbled and fell, and it took pieces of me with it.” Excerpt From: Nicole Campbell. “The Tower.” iBooks.

Campbell writes well while switching between points of view of each of the teenagers. She is attentive to differing reactions that each character might have to the same event, and is able to understand and communicate emotional struggle. The Tower is an approachable story, remaining realistic in its “paranormal” basis, welcoming any reader of general young adult fiction.

Cover Reveal: Mick & Michelle

Mick & Michelle
Nina Rossing
Published by: Harmony Ink Press
Publication date: October 31st 2017
Genres: Contemporary, LGBTQ+, Young Adult

Fifteen-year-old Mick Mullins has a great life: his parents are sweet, his sister is tolerable, and his friendships are solid. But as summer descends on Queens, he prepares to turn his carefree existence upside down by disclosing a secret he has kept long enough. It’s time to work up the courage to reveal that he is not a boy, but a girl—and that her name is Michelle. Having always been the perfect, good boy, Michelle is terrified that the complicated truth will disappoint, hurt, or push away the people closest to her. She can’t continue hiding for much longer, though, because her body is turning into that of a man’s, and she is desperate to stop the development—desperate enough to consider self-medicating with hormones.

Most of all, Michelle fears that Grandpa, who is in a nursing home after a near fatal stroke, won’t survive the shock if he finds out that his favorite grandchild, and the only boy, is a girl. If she kills her beloved Grandpa by leaving Mick behind, she isn’t sure embracing her real identity will be worth the loss.

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Author Bio:

Nina Rossing lives in Norway, where the winters are long and the summers short. Despite the brilliant nature surrounding her, she spends more time in front of her computer, or with a book in her hands, than in the great outdoors (though you may find her out on her mountain bike if the weather is good). She works as a high school teacher, which in her opinion is probably the best job in the world.

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Review: The Pain Eater

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Beth Goobie. Second Story Press, $13, 244p. ISBN 9781772600209.

Drawing from a childhood of trauma and a self-proclaimed “fragmented” psyche, Canadian poet and author Beth Goobie presents The Pain Eater, a relevant story of a teenage girl who is swallowed by the emotional effects of sexual assault and finds a way to confront her fears.

After being attacked by four masked classmates on her way home from a school production during the last school year, fourteen-year-old Maddy Malone finds herself with a deep-kept secret and a hollowed, introverted personality. In an attempt to bury her shame and fear, Maddy retreats into herself and begins digging her fingernails into the backs of her hands and burning her inner thighs with cigarette butts. Maddy is determined to keep her secret, and pushes away her friends, parents, and sister who have noticed the change in Maddy.

With the arrival of the new school year, Maddy takes her resolution to hide into the hallways with the hope that she can remain invisible. As days pass, Maddy is able to identify three of her attackers, and finds that she shares an English class with two of them. The class begins to write a story about a teenage girl named Farang who “eats” the pain of her fellow villagers, and as each student presents his chapter, Farang’s struggle becomes more and more like Maddy’s until Maddy’s secret is on the brink of coming out.

Beth Goobie utilizes a frame story variation throughout The Pain Eater that uses Maddy’s class story of Farang to explore Maddy’s feelings more openly. The emotional similarities written between Maddy and Farang are made suspiciously obvious. While Farang is unallowed to voice her desires, Maddy is unwilling to talk about her secret. When Farang is finally free from having to endure the pain of her community, Maddy is finally willing to confront her attackers and accept support from the people who care about her. Goobie advances the connections between Maddy’s and Farang’s emotions until Maddy finds the courage to stand again, addressing a tender topic with a strong approach to show that sometimes, a person may find healing in their own way and in their own time.

Cover Reveal: Lost Girl

TITLE: Lost Girl
AUTHOR: Chanda Hahn
GENRE: Young Adult Fantasy
RELEASE DATE: December 13, 2016

Wendy doesn’t remember anything about Neverland—or the experiments done on her there as a child. Seven years later, all she wants is a normal life, but shape-shifting shadows plague her dreams and turn her life into a waking nightmare. When the shadows attack at a football game and a boy disappears right in front of her, she realizes these wraith-like shadows are real. They’re not just haunting—they’re hunting.

A mysterious boy named Peter, his foul-mouthed sidekick, and a band of misfit boys intervene before Wendy faces a similar fate. But can they trust Wendy enough to take her to Neverwood Academy and reveal all of their hidden secrets when she’s hiding a secret of her own, or will the dreaded Red Skulls find her and drag her back to Neverland?

Coming December 13th!

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Chanda Hahn is a New York Times & USA Today Bestselling author of the Unfortunate Fairy Tale Series. She uses her experience as a children’s pastor, children’s librarian and bookseller to write compelling and popular fiction for teens. She was born in Seattle, WA, grew up in Nebraska and currently resides in Portland, Oregon with her husband and their twin children.

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OTHER BOOKS BY CHANDA HAHN…
An Unfortunate Fairy Tale Series
               
The Iron Butterfly Series
      
Underland

Guest Post and Excerpt: Saving Phoebe Murrow

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Herta Feely. Upper Hand Press, $17, 410p. ISBN 9780996439565

It’s here! Saving Phoebe Murrow is now riding many shelves and I’m more than excited to welcome the author, Herta Feely, to Shelf Rider!

Here are some words from the lady of the hour and an excerpt from the book. Saving Phoebe Murrow (Upper Hand Press, September 2, 2016) is available in paperback and e-book formats via all online and select brick-and-mortar book retailers. Get your copy today on Amazon!

From Herta Feely:

In writing Saving Phoebe Murrow I hadn’t intended to focus on the “mean girl” phenomena, but in the process of writing this fictional story about cyber-bullying, mean girls emerged and their behavior became another key element. I don’t want to say too much about these characters in the novel, both young and old, because of its spoiler potential…but rather I’d like to invite you to take a moment to reflect on this issue.

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After the novel was accepted for publication, women often asked me what it was about. Quite often this unleashed stories of their own daughters’ traumatic experiences of being bullied, cyber-bullied, and excluded from girl cliques. Likewise, I was surprised by the number of people who reviewed my novel and made comments like:

“Wow, I do not miss high school!” (Kim Gay)

“Bullying …in high school … was notes and rumors and just mean girls you could kind of avoid…nowadays cyber-bullying is WOW…I have no words.” (Stephanie Showmaker)

“Having been a target of mean girls long ago I know what Phoebe went through all too well, but thank goodness social media didn’t exist!” (Mary Ann)

“Saving Phoebe Murrow is a book that took me back a few years to being a teenager at school surrounded by bitchy, cruel girls who were always ready to knock you down with their comments.” (@SophieRTB, Book Blogger)

Though I had been bullied a bit in grade school for being German (during a time rife with WWII films), that the problem is so pervasive caught me by surprise. (Please note lots of statistics on this problem, which extends to boys as well.)

All this has made me wonder what can be done about the problem? For young girls to have good role models among the adult women surrounding them is, of course, critical. I would like to think that most mothers of girls provide this? But perhaps this isn’t the case? So who can substitute? It seemed that in the stories I was told the mothers of some of the bullies refused to acknowledge their daughters’ destructive behavior. How can we break down these barriers and also the cyclical nature of this problem being passed along from one generation to the next?

One answer is to discuss the problem more openly, and to rely on resources like http://www.meganmeierfoundation.org, dedicated to providing parents, students and teachers with anti-cyber- bullying tools. Your thoughts and ideas are welcome!

 

From Saving Phoebe Murrow:

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” Phoebe said.

Though her figure looked more slender than her pudgy eighth-grade self last year, she knew she wasn’t the fairest of them all, but was she even in the game? Making faces at herself, she dashed on pink lip gloss, then grabbed her lime green monogrammed book bag and ran out the door, yelling good-bye to her mother.

“But you didn’t even have breakfast! Don’t you want me to give you a ride on your first day of high school?” Her mother’s shout reached her as she crossed the recently mown lawn of her family’s three-story home that stood in the shadow of the National Cathedral.

“I’m good,” she yelled back. She walked several blocks to the bus stop on Wisconsin Avenue and found a spot on the bench to await the bus’s arrival.

Today was no day to have breakfast, not on her first day as a freshman at Georgetown Academy. Ever since last year she’d vowed to lose weight and leave the ugly duckling years of middle school behind. She could still hear the hideous insults Skyla VanDorn had thrown at her after grabbing her thermal lunch bag last spring and dumping its contents onto the cafeteria table for everyone to see! Two sandwiches slathered with peanut butter and jelly, a container of yogurt, a banana, an apple, a Snickers bar and two Oreos. The girls around her had pointed at the pile of food and laughed. “Gee, Phoebe, eat much!”

Her visiting great aunt Marta had packed the lunch, and even Phoebe was appalled. What had she been thinking? But Phoebe knew. Growing up in Hungary after the war, great aunt Marta had often gone to bed suffering hunger pains. And then Skyla captured the attention of a few boys wandering by with their trays, and they’d joined in the hazing. Even Noah, who she had a crush on, hadn’t defended her. Though he did avert his eyes.

Phoebe had wanted to die. Instead, her face had flushed red, even brighter than her hair, and tears sprang to her eyes. She rushed from the table and headed to the girls’ bathroom. In the last stall, she sank to a crouch on the floor and sobbed. She was sick

of being humiliated, sick of being the brunt of jokes and teasing; Skyla had picked on her so often she’d lost count.

That’s when she found a paper clip in her pocket, and without thinking, untwisted it until one end jutted out like a tiny dagger.

She’d taken the weapon and run the sharp metal across the inside of her thigh, pushing it hard until droplets of blood surfaced. Then she’d stabbed herself. She’d done it again and again. What had surprised her the most was the sensation of relief that had flooded her body. The way the ragged cuts absorbed her sadness. She’d let out a deep breath of air, then torn off some toilet paper and dabbed at the blood, watching the scarlet color spread onto the tissue. That was the first time she’d resorted to what Dr. Sharma called self-injury.

 

 

Connect with Herta Feely! Find her on:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/hertafeely

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/savingphoebemurrow/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7755671.Herta_Feely

Website: http://www.hertafeely.com/