Something Like… a Book Review

I started reading Jay Bell’s Something Like Summer on June 11 and I finished it that same day, which for me is quite remarkable. I had searched through the gay fiction category because I had questions in my mind as I was writing my next novel where a young teenage boy begins to question his sexuality. Certain things were happening in my character’s life and I wasn’t sure, given his age, if these things would seem shocking or within reason. So I wanted to find a book that portrayed the coming of age of a gay teen – written as literary fiction and not erotica –  about what experiences are normal for boys just coming to realize they are gay and at what age certain acts begin to take place.

Something Like Summer had many good reviews and seemed to fit everything I was looking for. So, I bought it. As soon as I started reading, I was immediately sucked into the story of Benjamin Bentley. He is such a well-developed character that I’m not convinced he isn’t real. He is witty, passionate, quick to act in ways that seem brave but are actually rooted in lack of restraint, self-aware, and determined to be happy one way or another.

Benjamin has been openly gay since he was 14 at a time when this was a rarity (mid 1990s). The book begins in the summer before Ben’s Junior year in high school. He encounters a new guy in his neighborhood who takes daily runs through the park. Ben makes a point of secretly watching (stalking) him. But when school begins, it becomes evident that Tim Wyman is not gay and he is quickly becoming friends with the people who bully Ben. Most boys would give up, but Ben is tenacious and willing to take risks which might pay off in the long run (or might get him into a world of hurt).

The only problem is that Tim Wyman isn’t as willing to take risks, perhaps because his family isn’t nearly as loving as Ben’s. Tim has been raised very differently, the consequences of which neither boy at age 16 can fully appreciate. They each push the other to change in ways that would make it easier on themselves, not the other. The result is disastrous but completely understandable given their circumstances.

As a reader, I wanted things to work out for the two of them. I wanted it to be obvious and easy because that’s what we all want when it comes to love. But nothing about this story was obvious or easy. But it still kept me reading, not necessarily because of the love story, but because I wanted to know what would happen to Ben.

The Something Like… series is written more like a collection of biographies than a collection of love stories. Yes, romance happens, sex happens, break ups and patch ups happen. But Jay Bell writes about the lives of very distinct, realistic characters, which span a decade or more. Each book in the series is about a character which has already been introduced in the other books.

In Something Like Summer, I wasn’t sure if I really liked Tim Wyman or if I believed him. Early on in the book, Tim mentions leaving Kansas after a girl falsely accuses him of raping her. As a woman, I tend to doubt men who make this claim and see them as potential rapists. I wanted something to come out in the story to reassure me that Tim wasn’t capable of doing such a thing. But, Tim is revealed in Something Like Summer to have moments of aggression. I just never was sure, even by the ending.

So, after finishing Something Like Summer, I picked up Something Like Winter which is the story of Tim Wyman’s life as he comes to terms with his sexuality. Something Like Winter begins in Kansas and directly addresses the rape accusation, which is revealed to be a completely false  accusation by a very manipulative girl. I was relieved because that meant I could trust Tim a little more. But generally speaking, I don’t like it when authors portray rape accusations as lies because in the real world already places so much doubt on legitimate claims of rape. But, my activism aside, I realize that this *can* actually happen in real life and perhaps is more likely to happen to someone like Tim with the kinds of people who find their way into his circles. Tim has a big problem when it comes to figuring out who deserves his friendship and attention and who does not.

Both books were very good, but there was a lot of overlap. Most of Tim’s story I already knew from reading Something Like Summer. But what I didn’t know about was Tim’s character. In Something Like Winter, I came to deeply understand Tim and how his experiences caused him to act the way he did. I enjoyed seeing Ben through Tim’s eyes, and I found out what Tim had been up to in the “missing years” of Something Like Summer.

Now I will probably read Something Like Autumn, which is the story of Jace. I already know how Jace’s story will end, but I do not know how it began.

Jay Bell writes in a very fast-paced, candid, and affectionate way about growing up gay and finding love. I enjoy his stories while I read them and cannot stop thinking about the characters when I’m done.

If this sounds like something you’d enjoy, you can get Something Like Summer for free right now. Maybe Jay Bell has it permanently set as free, I don’t know, but it’s worth so much more than that.

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Free Book Coupons and Contests

I have a few giveaways to tell you about.

First is the one that expires tomorrow, June 6th.

You can buy Winter Seedlings at Smashwords for free with this discount code: XS38Q

Click the image to go to Smashwords and get this free e-book:winterseedlings

I also have two giveaways going at Goodreads. I’m giving away one paperback copy of Winter Suns (the sequel to Winter Seedlings which can be read as a stand alone book), and 3 paperback copies of my new novella Silencer.

Click here to go to Goodreads and enter to win Winter Suns.

Click here to go to Goodreads and enter to win Silencer.

I am hoping to generate some reviews and would appreciate feedback. But, don’t feel obligated. Enjoy! 🙂

Book Reviews: Abuse in Fiction

I promised I’d weed through the gigillion books at Amazon and find a few gems of self-published work. I’m a slow and meticulous reader, so in no way will this blog turn into a book review site. But, I do hope to highlight some books worth mentioning as I find them.

My book series, Winter Seedlings, deals with the effects of childhood sexual abuse. So, for the first chunk of reviews, I decided to read books touching on similar themes.

I’ll start with The Goldfish Diaries by Winona Teague.

goldfishdiariesThe Goldfish Diaries is an unusual book in that it deals with the very heavy subject of domestic violence in a way that is accessible to teens. Combined with the fact that the narrator is a goldfish, perhaps you’ll assume this book is too childish for adults to enjoy. But, you would be mistaken. The goldfish is like a fly on the wall, seeing everything that happens in the house and trying to make sense of it. As explained by this description of this book on Amazon: “Through the eyes of their long-forgotten goldfish we come to know the Havens family. Tom: the boy with the broken heart. Millicent: the little girl with the broken teacup. Mrs. Havens: the woman with the broken bones. And Mr. Havens: the man who gave them to her. ”
The Havens family goes through so much, but Tom is the one being pulled in all directions. I empathized with every character Winona Teague created, maybe not so much with Mr. Havens, but I understood why he thought the way he did. Though self-published, The Goldfish Diaries is very well written, believable, unforgettable.

The next book on the list is It’s Not Always About Freud by Adele Scott.

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Adele Scott has a Masters degree in psychology and trained as a child psychotherapist. She lives in Auckland, New Zealand. This is her first novel, self-published, and impressive. It is not, however, about a cat.
The story centers around the life of a therapist as well as a situation with one of her clients. I’ll post the Amazon description here:

Thirty-seven year-old psychotherapist Laura Flight works in a mental health clinic and appears to be better at solving other people’s problems rather than her own. She drinks too much, is not woman enough to dump feckless ex-partner, Brad, and is finding it harder to drown out the sound of her ticking biological clock.
Then an attractive new client, with connections to the clinic’s manager, walks into her therapy room. The unfolding events reach a crisis, which unexpectedly jeopardizes Laura’s position in the clinic and inevitably forces her to take charge of her life.
Laura learns the biggest battle she has to face, is the battle with herself.

There is no mention of abuse in the description; and though it is not the central theme of the book, it does happen. Because the author, Adele Scott, is a therapist in real life, this book is full of clinical-speak. I actually enjoyed that and appreciated that she didn’t dumb it down for those of us not in the field. A plus for me was that by the end of the book, I had learned some things about psychotherapy and Auckland.
I hope Adele Scott will write more books. But in the meantime, if this sounds like something you would enjoy, here is the link to It’s Not Always About Freud.

This list is in order from most tame to most graphic. So I am going to put my Winter Seedlings books right here. Most of you have already heard my plugs for them. I’ll just quickly say that they both deal with childhood sexual abuse, mostly the aftermath and recovery. They are both intensely emotional stories focusing more on the psychological effects than the assaults themselves. Both have diverse LGBTQ characters. Each is a complete story within itself, no cliffhanger at the end, just solid unforgettable endings.

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And last on the list, yet first in terms of emotional impact is Crush by Laura Susan Johnson.

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This book is not a light read. Be warned: you will not just cry, you will sob. Laura Susan Johnson does not shy away from describing atrocious acts of abuse, nor does she shy away from the details of the physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual effects of that abuse. She is a nurse in real life, and in many regards, the author has seen a lot and is not squeamish. I would almost categorize Crush as horror, but I don’t think the author wrote any of this to sensationalize abuse. She is not trying to glorify the pain. The book is intense and there’s no way to read it and not feel changed by it.

The Amazon description is: “Raw, graphic, candid portrait of two young gay men whose love affair is deeply affected by the scars they sustained from childhood sexual abuse. Tammy and Jamie are soul mates, but their love is thwarted for years by bad timing, fear of ridicule, and the damage that lingers long after childhood.”

Again, here is a link to Crush by Laura Susan Johnson.

I hope this is helpful to those wanting to support indie-authors. I’ll continue to post recommendations as I find gems worth mentioning. I am currently reading a few sci-fi novels. I’ll get back to you on those, possibly in March.

(Follow my blog for updates!)

Winter Seedlings: Jute Confronts Her Mother

I’m sharing an excerpt from Winter Seedlings. This is a small part of Chapter 3 when Jute confronts her mother for abandoning her for four days. Winter Seedlings focuses on the effects of childhood sexual abuse and the difficulty of overcoming them. It’s a journey fumbling toward self-love with a broad range of diverse characters.

In this scene, Jute has been up in the woods behind her house collecting kindling. It is the first week of January and bitter cold. On the way back to the house, she sees her mother getting out of a GMC Jimmy driven by a man Jute doesn’t recognize.

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          As long as it takes me to walk to her, she never stops smiling. She is like that when people are around. Even when she shouldn’t be. She makes it hard to stay mad at her.

“Jute, this is Jerry.”

She turns to him and smiles, then looks back at me grinning. She lowers her voice seductively, “We’ve been sleeping around.”

“Momma!” I glare at her. She is trying to be funny but it makes me mad.

“What?” She says, batting her lashes at me and still grinning. “I’m finally free of that asshole. I can do whatever I want.”

She shrugs and walks past me like she’s Marilyn Monroe walking into someone else’s run down shack.

“Momma, I don’t care what you do or who you do it with. Just keep the details to yourself. Okay?”

I follow her up the porch steps and drop the kindling in the cardboard box by the door. Instead of going inside, I head back to the wood pile and pick up two small logs, leaving the largest for tonight. When I enter the house, Momma is in her bedroom talking to me through the door as if I have been there the whole time.
Ignoring her, I open the wood stove door. The heat is heavenly warmth on my face. I grab the poker and jab at the ashes and burned pieces of wood before throwing on the logs. I hear the snapping and cracking and try to focus on that instead of how angry I am at Momma for being gone so long. I can’t keep the door open any longer or the room will fill with smoke. I reluctantly shut it and hear Momma saying, “Jute, are you out there?”

I stand up and take my hat off. Jerry is standing by the couch, rocking on his heels and toes with his back to me. His hands are in his pockets and he’s looking at a picture of Jesus. It’s the only picture in the room, left here by the previous residents. This must be an awkward moment for Jerry. I don’t plan to make it any easier.
Before he has time to gawk at my shaved head, I walk through the kitchen to Momma’s room. She is sitting on her bed in her underwear. Her back is to me, bent slightly forward as she puts one leg into her black pants. Her olive skin stretches over her bony spine. Everything about her is not enough. Even the blanket on her bed looks threadbare. It wouldn’t even keep a dog warm.

A sigh escapes me. “Momma? Momma, what are you doing? We’ve been here a couple of weeks. You can’t run off with the first guy asking if you have change for a dollar.”

She doesn’t turn around. She looks drained. Her voice lacks all the entertainment qualities it had when Jerry could hear her, “If you had been listening to me a minute ago, you would know he isn’t just any guy. I don’t know what I would do without him. I have been a prisoner for too long, married to that crazy man. So, don’t tell me now that I should still think about that psycho before I make my decisions. I’ve snagged a nice man this time. He bought us those groceries, you know.”

My words come out quiet and empty, “That was nice of Jerry.”

Memories of the last week flash through my mind: The day I scraped the mold off the bread and ate it with mustard. I missed the bus Thursday. Missing school meant missing a free lunch. The next day Allie had to pick me up after school so I could make up the Chemistry test. Allie has always made up for Momma’s negligence, but Allie graduated early and is moving to Ohio tomorrow. I don’t say any of this aloud. Momma doesn’t care. If she knew how I felt, she would just use it to hurt me. She didn’t even want me here.

I pick up the hair brush and start to brush through the tangles in Momma’s hair. I gather it in my hand, turn it in a twist, and pin it. She stares at herself in the mirror. I’ve always loved to play with Momma’s hair. It is bittersweet to do it now. She picks up a small mirror and moves it so she can see the back of her head. She kisses the air and snort laughs.

“Oh, my heavens, who is that wretched old woman?” She giggles before pushing up her nose with her thumb and crossing her eyes.

“Momma, you are beautiful. Shut up.” I smile at her reflection, failing again to stay mad at her.

She winks at me.

I tell her, “Now, put on a shirt. And not that red and gold shirt with the clocks all over it. I hate that damn thing.”

I leave the room and find Jerry standing at the fridge with the door open. He’s pulling a container of cottage cheese out of a grocery bag and putting it in with the other items. There’s sliced cheese, bologna, a bag of apples, and a can of peaches. I see bread on the kitchen counter. I pick up the bread box from the kitchen table and carry it to the counter. We can’t leave bread out or mice will get in it.

“Got a mouse trap?” I don’t look to see if he smiles. It was a bad attempt at humor. I sigh.

Finally, after closing the bread box, I look over at him. He’s staring at me, mostly my stubbly hair.

“Is Jute your real name?”

“It wasn’t. But, it is now.” I don’t offer details. I don’t tell him that Momma named me Judy after herself. I don’t understand why she did that. The name Judy is bad enough without it implying that I am also my mother’s replica. I’m nothing like her. When I started kindergarten, I insisted everyone call me Jute. It stuck. We changed it legally when Momma married Earl and he officially adopted us.

“What do you think Judy is doing in there?” I see his eyes land on my tiny scar, then shift around my face trying to find a soft place to land. He gives up and looks away. My face might be full and round, but it isn’t a place to find comfort.

“She has trouble making up her mind,” I say as though I’m not being mean. “I’ll check on her.”

Opening the bedroom door, I see her shoving her folded up blanket into the top of her closet. She’s wearing the clock shirt. There is a suitcase open on the bed, full of her clothes. Her dresser is cleared except for a bottle of baby lotion.

She turns to me and forces a weak smile. She walks toward me as if she is on a t.v. screen. She is just walking toward the camera.

*****

Books by Julie Roberts Towe

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Winter Seedlings Book Series

The final novel in the Winter Seedlings book series has been released. Winter Suns debuted as #60 on Amazon in the category of Women’s Fiction: Christian. It is not a Christian book, but has a lot of Christian keywords in the text and description because the Main Character was abused by a man who used the Bible to justify his actions. His beliefs would have placed him in a Christian cult more than anything similar to how Christianity is normally practiced. But thanks to Amazon, and those who purchased the book on pre-order, I am technically a bestseller. I do not, however, feel accomplished. That will not happen until I start to get some feedback and hear what people think of it.

Winter Suns is a story of the next generation after Winter Seedlings, with the common theme of childhood sexual abuse. There are certainly many characters dealing with it in many different ways. Book one ends on a sort of bittersweet note. So, I wanted to make sure Winter Suns came through with a little more hope at the end. I think if it’s ever made into a movie, The Beatle’s “Here Comes the Sun” should play as the credits roll.

Winter Suns Cover Reveal

The release of Winter Suns, the sequel to Winter Seedlings, will happen very soon, I promise. (I have been making this promise for a month, I know.)

While you wait, let me throw out a few sneak peeks and hints:

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Allie

December 25, 1990

I know I’m running because I feel my legs moving. A dim light before me grows larger as I near it. I don’t know what I am running away from, but I hear my heart pounding loudly. The sound of my heart seems to be coming from the tunnel itself. I can hear nothing else. How long have I been running?

The light from the tunnel grows brighter and other sounds emerge. Cries of a screaming baby. The echo bounces off the walls, multiplies. I can’t hear my heart anymore. I can only hear the sound of crying. As I move into brighter light, all sound begins to fade. The light becomes so bright that I can’t see. Then I hear nothing at all.

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The Girl

December 25, 2006

It was with thoughts of eventually sleeping under a large dense pine that I felt my foot step too low. It landed down an embankment, pulling all of me with it. I slid, clinging to my hat, trying to dig in my heels where there was nothing in which to dig. I then fell briefly through the air before landing face down on hard flat rock. I hadn’t fallen far, but I was disoriented. I slowly started to push myself up from the rock when bright light filled the space around me. Blinded for a moment, I thought that it was God. But I registered the sound of a motor just before the sound of squealing tires. I realized I was in the middle of a road.

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John

December 23, 2006

I would have liked to have a normal life, just for a while if not forever. Many times I wished for my parents to actually live together, not just on the same farm but actually in the same house like when I was six. But when they bought this place, everyone decided that I needed to stay mostly with Mom because my Dad Tracy was out of town a lot on tour with his band and Dawson worked at night. So, I didn’t get to stay in the all-guy house with the swimming pool, mini theater, and ten bedrooms. I stayed mostly with mom in the all-girl Victorian house with the endless supply of crying. Secretly, there were times I thought the house was kind of awesome because it was a hundred years old with lots of hidden nooks. It would have been much better if it had been a home for just our family and not the 24/7 abuse shelter Mom had turned it into.

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Jute

“…… life can take many twists and turns and still come out okay in the end. I guess what I’m telling you is that life isn’t planned out ahead of time. Tomorrow isn’t set in stone. There is no fate waiting on you to be ready for things. Life just dances about, whirling, twisting, jutting, and throwing its arms around. Sometimes it even falls on its face. But none of it is planned or synchronized between us all like a movie on a screen. That means you’ll have to step up and try to take a little control over what moves your life makes. You can’t just sit back and watch it dance. I believe in the power of our choices. I don’t believe in fate.”

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Winter Suns

Cover designed by the talented and magical Anna Wand.wintersunsfinal

Winter Seedlings / Winter Suns

Without giving away too much of what happens in Winter Seedlings (though a few spoilers are unavoidable), here is the description of the sequel and final book in the series:

Winter Suns

A nameless teenage girl in Eastern Kentucky has been isolated since birth. She experiences her abuse as unquestionably the will of God. She follows the house rules in hopes of banishing her demons and finding redemption. But when she breaks a rule to search for the Bible in order to teach herself to read it, she discovers something more powerful than her faith. A letter written sixteen years ago by a woman named Allie reveals both disturbing and electrifying secrets. The girl feels called to action. She perceives it is the will of God that she find a way to get the letter to Jute, even if none of the maps in the Bible show the way to Nashville, Tennessee.

Meanwhile, in Nashville, Jute has finally decided to clear out the attic to make room for Dawson’s daughter. It has been over a decade since Jute even looked at Allie’s things. She asks her son, John, to take everything to the barn. To him, it’s just a lot of junk. Jute never told him about Allie because it was too painful to tell. But, when John discovers an old photograph tucked inside one of the notebooks, he is instantly drawn into solving the mystery of what happened to the girl. What he discovers is even more devastating than the secrets his mother is hiding. He wants to forget he ever found the photograph, but he can’t.

Winter Suns contains a wide array of characters usually under-represented in fiction. Every letter in LGBTQ is represented here as well as one (or more….?) characters on the autism spectrum. Don’t think this is a sensationalizing story written to be shockingly different. It’s very ordinary and yet unforgettable. I hope to have it published by the first week of January 2015, if all the stars align.