Cover Love: The Fall by Bethany Griffin

cover love 

click the cover to learn more

I adored this one from the first.  Though the title text is a little bland for the feeling of it (maybe it'd have been better in dark sepia, or slightly translucent?), the rest of the cover SCREAMS old-timey-horror-photo.  I could picture this somewhere in the middle of those creepy old Halloween photos going around Buzzfeed.  Deeply horrifying is right.  The tilt, the grittiness, the vague horizon and uncertain background...it all sets an atmosphere that chills.  I can only hope that the book (a House of Usher revamp) is just as eerie. 

x . x . x

with every book cover comes a music cover 

Speaking of eerie, let me introduce you to one of my favorite covers: Hurt, originally by the Nine Inch Nails, covered by Johnny Cash.  (NO, not the other way around.)  It was one of his last recordings before his death and you can feel the chillingness in every rasp of his breath.  It's a cover just as good as the original, with quiet power instead of the industrial rasp of Trent Reznor. 


Guest Post: The True Definition of Success, by Lichgates author S.M. Boyce

guest post 

The true definition of success

Question for you.

How do you define success?

I know, I know, we just met and that’s a heavy question to drop on a stranger. But really stop for a moment and think about it.

There are so many external influences when it comes to success: society (be rich! be beautiful!), family (get a great job! be happy! marry that doctor!), and even friends (go drinking with me tonight! date that sexy guitarist!)

With all of those rampant (and sometimes conflicting) expectations, it can seriously bog down the most important success meter of all: yours.

That said, riddle me this: at what point in your life will you be (or did you become) a success?

If it helps, I’ll go first. This has been a long road for me with lots of self-doubt and second guessing. I used to think success meant “following the plan” and checking off a list: degree, job, house, marriage, kid. You get the idea. Comfortable life. Good job. Lots of money.

But as I started down the path, my list stopped making sense. I did some things out of order, and skipped other things altogether.

It was more like: degree, debt, soul-sucking job, perfect husband, more debt, parents basement.

That’s right. Married woman with a fulltime day job in her parents’ basement. I felt like a failure.

That is until I took a serious look at life and what I wanted out of it. I wanted happiness. I wanted creativity. Control. Joy. Love.

So I reflected on the aspects of life I already had that I cherished. Perfect husband: check. Creative outlet (my writing): check.

I wasn’t miserable. I’d lucked into some aspects of my life that made me start to realize what success could mean… something totally different than what I originally thought.

Happiness. Incredible wealth. Charity. Pure joy and love for every minute of the day.

So I buckled down. I wrote like hell at all hours of the day and night. I wrote in the mornings. I slept in my car during lunch. I did whatever it took to publish my books. I marketed and researched and studied. And though it’s been one helluva ride, I’ve loved it.

Now I’m a fulltime writer. Check.

Success is ever-changing. It evolves with you. It’s not an end-goal, but it is important to savor the victories along the way.

If you look closely at where you are and what you want, I think you’ll find you already are a success in more ways than one.

So tell me… what does success mean for you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

About Boyce

S. M. Boyce is a lifelong writer with a knack for finding adventure and magic.
If you would like to receive an email alert when Boyce's next book is released, sign up here. (Your email address will never be shared, and you can unsubscribe at any time.)
Word-of-mouth is crucial for any author to succeed. If you enjoyed this novel, please consider leaving a review at Amazon, even if it's only a line or two. Your review will make all the difference and is hugely appreciated.

Some Fun Freebies

From betrayal to seduction, romance to murder—the Grimoire Saga has it all. This series is the perfect summer escape into a land of magic, talking books, discovery, fun, and adventure.

I enjoy being a goldmine of activity. I love it when there’s LOADS going on, so here’s a list of some fun stuff going on right now in Boyce-land:

A Signed Paperback Giveaway! Love the way paperbacks bend in your hand when you read them? You can enter the Goodreads Giveaway to get a signed paperback copy of Lichgates. Enter that by going here.

Instant winner! Had enough awesome yet? Too bad, because here’s another freebie. You can get the eBook copy of Lichgates (Grimoire Saga #1) absolutely free. I recommend you get the box set for the best price on all the books, but I wanted you to know about this anyway. Enjoy!

Get your copy of LichgatesAmazon (US) | Amazon (UK) | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Add to Goodreads

Explore the Bundle of Souls Tour. I’m actually on tour right now! Until June 30, I’m on a caravan of blogs traveling the net to celebrate the Bundle of Souls tour. Take a look at the super-fun bloggers who have teamed up to bring the magic of the Grimoire Saga to life. See the full calendar here.

My Latest Novel

I’m actually on tour right now! Until June 30, I’m on a caravan of blogs traveling the net to celebrate the Bundle of Souls tour. We’re showcasing the release of my Grimoire Saga Box Set, which features the first three books of the Grimoire Saga AND a discount code for 25% off the preorder of Illusion, the fourth and final book of the series.

Hell yeah! If you want to go ahead and preorder Illusion (Grimoire Saga #4), you can order here and get your copy before the rest of the world.

The Book Description

This collection contains the first three novels in the Grimoire Saga, as well as a special preorder discount for the series finale, Illusion.

Experience the haunting world of Ourea from the beginning as Kara Magari uncovers a secret door in the middle of the forest—a portal that transports her to Ourea, the hidden world full of terrifying things. This epic series challenges traditional notions of good and evil, pits monsters against each other, unravels the secrets of magic, and showcases the power buried within us all.

From betrayal to seduction, romance to murder—the Grimoire Saga has it all.

This set includes:
       Lichgates: Grimoire Saga #1
       Treason: Grimoire Saga #2
       Heritage: Grimoire Saga #3

Also included:
An exclusive preorder discount code for the final book, Illusion: Grimoire Saga #4. Illusion releases November 3, 2014. Sign up here for release notifications for Boyce’s work.

Available at these retailers:

Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Kobo


Guest Post: Confessions of a Vampire Wedding Planner, a short story by Thomas Winship

guest post 
              short story

Today we have a very special guest post by Thomas Winship, author of the Vaempires series.  Enjoy his hysterical short piece about the woes of planning a vampire wedding.  

Confessions of A Vampire Wedding Planner

Hello everyone. I’m so excited to be today’s guest blogger at Sarcasm & Lemons! I’m Thomas Winship, author of Vaempires: The Evolutionary War, an ongoing vampire series that explores the question: what if vampires evolved?

To date, the series has three books: Revolution, Zombie Rising, and White Christmas. However, I’m not here to talk about my books today. Instead, I want to introduce you to Rhonda, vampire wedding planner extraordinaire and author of the DIY bestsellers, Help Me, Rhonda, and The Best Laid Plans.

[Rhonda] Hello everyone. I’m Rhonda. No last name. I gave it up for Lent one year and never picked it up again. Haha!

Okay, with the icebreaker behind us, what say we move along?

As Tom said, I’m a wedding planner. But I’m not just a wedding planner; I am The Vampire Wedding Planner. Like me on Facebook.

But seriously, as most of you know, a wedding planner is a professional who assists with the design, planning, and management of a client's wedding (thank you Wikipedia). It’s not a profession a person typically aspires to; it’s a profession a person turns to—the type of person who is never satisfied and knows he/she will continually seek that “perfect” wedding, but doesn’t have the nerve to seek it on his/her own behalf, because of the stigma associated with being married multiple times.*

As such, I’ve planned more weddings than I care to count—each one an example of individual beauty and artistry that rivals the wonders of the world by melding the essence of the subject couple with the genius of yours truly. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today. Instead, I want to change gears and share something that I’ve never shared with anyone before, in any form or forum: the things I detest most about my job.

That’s right—Rhonda, The Vampire Wedding Planner, is about to dish the dirt on those undead dopes and divas!

Rhonda’s Ten Pet Peeves:

10. Incorporating blood into the wedding. Blood is not a color scheme. Nor is it a state of mind. For that matter, it’s also not a theme. Blood is not the “be-all” or the “end-all.” Not even close. And while it may be thicker than water, nine out of ten vampires still prefer water for bathing, mixing with a nice scotch, or cooking their favorite pasta. And, in my experience, nothing whips a wedding crowd into a frenzy quicker than the unexpected sight of blood; not cheap hors d’oeuvres or a cash bar or even a rampaging bridezilla. Nothing. 

9. Vampire children who order Bloody Marys. It isn’t witty. It isn’t original. It isn’t adorable or cute or understandable. It’s only in their nature if they haven’t been raised with proper limits. Serving alcohol to minors also happens to be against the law in most civilized societies and, besides, have you ever witnessed a group of drunken, out-of-control vampire children? It’s Hunger Games meets Lord of the Flies, with a script by Michael Bay and a soundtrack by Marilyn Manson. 

8. Destination weddings. They are a bad idea, plain and simple. Too many variables; too many things to go wrong … and I’m not talking about the “don’t drink the water” variety. The Caribbean has too much sun. The Mediterranean has too much anti-vampire history. And everywhere, absolutely everywhere, the potential for innocent casualties (aka collateral damage) is just too great for my peace of mind.

7. Couples who think their story is unique. Believe it or not, I don’t care who turned whom or how compelling you think your story of “finding true love after centuries of solitude“ is. IMHO, two vampires with more than a few years difference in their ages have exactly one thing in common: physical attraction (commonly referred to as the lust-monkey). Strip away the beautiful veneer and all that’s left is the fact that you’re hot for each other. Congratulations for being as shallow as the humans you consider yourselves superior to.

And here’s a news flash to vampire couples everywhere: yours is not the greatest romance of all time. Not even close. Let’s see … a tormented guy who mistreats a woman he later falls in love with … a young woman who’s ready to give up everything and everyone she’s ever known for a guy she barely knows … a guy so in love with a woman that he sneaks into her room to watch her sleep … a woman who must choose between two men who promise to protect her while continually exposing her to danger … these are the collected descriptions of every Lifetime movie ever made.

Heck, there’s a good chance that the thing you call love is outlawed somewhere.

I’m just sayin’ …

6. Wedding guests. Not all of them, of course. Most wedding guests are quite pleasant, but there are some—typically those who are horny or lonely or drunken or some combination thereof—who get under my skin. If I had a dollar for every person who’s placed a sloppy kiss on my cheek only to slide down to my neck, or offered to show me how big his/her claws are, or attempted to trick me into inviting him/her to my room for a nightcap (yup, that rumor is true—they can’t come in unless invited), I’d be a blue blood.
Luckily—contrary to popular belief—vampires do not get stronger as they get older. They get stranger, certainly, but not stronger; which is fortuitous since the overwhelming number of inappropriate advances are made by centuries-old relics who are more dangerous to themselves than they are to a lil’ ol’ human gal like me.

5. Custom wedding vows. Yuck! What is it about getting married that endows so many people with delusions of grandeur? And what makes people think that being in love (or something like it) suddenly transforms them into writers?

I’ve seen people who can’t read my brochures suddenly decide that they’re going to write their own vows. You can imagine how that turns out.  

And even for those who can write, I say leave it to the experts. You’re not growing your own flowers are making your own dress … so why screw up your vows?

Trust me. You’ll screw them up plenty over time. Don’t give it a head start at the altar.
I’ve heard enough bad vows to fill a library. In fact, it may be the subject of my next book. For now, here’s a treasure from a few days ago:

Bride: Each day was empty. Meaningless. I never lived until the day you bit me.
Groom: You may not be able to get blood from a stone, but I’ll always be your rock.

Yes … they were that bad. I kid you not.

Don’t let that be you.

4. Parents’ dances. Yes, they are a custom in many cultures. Yes, they can be very sweet and emotionally moving. Who doesn’t like to see dad cry or mom beam with pleasure?

No one.

Conversely, no one wants to see dad die or mom scream in anguish … which is why I always ask a client to please eschew the parents’ dances if any of the following are true: a) you or your spouse has “mommy” issues; b) you or your spouse has “daddy” issues; c) you can’t agree whether to dance with biological parents or the vampires who turned you; or d) any of the biological parents are still human.
Of course, I also throw in e) any of the potential dance partners look younger than the newlyweds. It’s not necessarily dangerous, but it’s just unnatural.

It’s also why I don’t plan weddings in California.

3. Maid of Honor/Best Man speeches. These things are dangerous enough in the human world, where an already-drunken best man accidentally reveals that he and the groom were once “very, very close” or the maid of honor recounts the wild college weekend that ended with the bride married to a charming hotel valet … but just imagine how interesting things get when the individuals in question have a shared history that’s centuries’ long.

Forget “who slept with who” …  it’s a straight-up cornucopia of dysfunction, with plenty of “who turned who” and “who drained who” mixed in with a bunch of “who watched who get staked and did nothing” and “who left the lid up on whose coffin.” Then there’s a bunch of “I always got stuck with the non-virgin blood” and “WTF were you doing there?” thrown in for good measure.

Think The Jerry Springer Show on crack and you might come close.

2. Certain bonuses, tips, or gratuities. It pleases me tremendously to know that I gave you a perfect wedding; the one you always dreamed of. It’s also my job, so I’m satisfied both personally and professionally. If you want to show your appreciation with more than words, it’s usually my turn to be grateful.

Cash is preferred. Checks made out to “cash” are a close second. Odd marketable securities and/or precious stones will not be refused, although I don’t have the right connections to ensure I’m not getting ripped off when I cash them in. A villa in France, an exotic car, a sports franchise … there are myriad ways to reward me.  

However, I can’t stress enough how much I’m not interested in becoming a vampire. I don’t want to “join the winning team.” I don’t want to live forever. And I certainly don’t want to stick around for the sake of performing the same service for “the children of your children’s children.”

1. Sparkly vampires. I could go on all day about this one. I won’t, of course, but I want to go on record as saying that I could. What I want to know is: when will the madness end? It’s been years, and I still have far too many couples asking me to make them sparkle.

I’ll admit that it was kinda cute at first—cheesy, but cute. But it quickly became droll. Then it evolved into boring, before power-shifting from passé to infuriating to where it currently sits: mind-numbingly maddening.
And still it continues. I want to scream, “Are we planning a wedding or a costume party?” But I hold my tongue.

For pete’s sake (Pete, of course, is my husband, who is wayyyy beyond sick of listening to me complain about this), people, I’ve never seen a sparkly vampire. They aren’t real. They are a figment of someone’s overactive imagination, I suppose, or perhaps an underactive one … but the fact is that they don’t exist. Period.

I have seen vampires with oily skin that glistened in sunlight. I’ve seen vampires that glowed by the light of the silvery moon. I’ve even seen vampires—typically well into the festivities, when it’s easier to confuse the kitchen and restroom doors— with sparkly things inserted in places never intended by nature … but I have never seen a vampire that sparkled naturally.

So, there you have it; the top ten things that drive me crazy. Still, if you’re a potential client—and who isn’t?—don’t be frightened. None of the above will stop me from giving you the kick-a$$ wedding of a lifetime (or two)!

And for those wondering how I can ever feel safe when vampires constantly surround me, remember that I have sole control over the one thing that all vampires fear:

My bill for services rendered.


*Author’s Note: I apologize to any wedding planners offended by Rhonda’s statement. While I’m certain she believes this is the truth, and I strongly support her right to speak freely, please keep in mind that her statements represent her opinion only.

I’d like to thank all of you for stopping in and offer a very special “thank you” to CJ for inviting me to Sarcasm & Lemons. I hope you enjoyed my guest blog. I’d love to hear what you think of it and/or answer any questions you may have. Post comments or questions below and I’ll be sure to respond.  
Feel free to stop by my website and reach out. I’d love to hear from you if you check out Vaempires.
Below are links where you can find me.
Take care,
Thomas Winship
Website | Facebook | Twitter


Review: Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens


title:  Faking Normal

author:  Courtney C. Stevens

pages: 208

format: Hardcover

isbn/asin: 978-0062245380 

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 4/5 [in the genre] or 7.5/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  People who enjoyed The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, or similar books.  Teenagers and parents.  

will i read this author again?:  Definitely. 
will i continue the series?:  N/A 

My Ratings Explained

Alexi Littrell hasn't told anyone what happened to her over the summer. Ashamed and embarrassed, she hides in her closet and compulsively scratches the back of her neck, trying to make the outside hurt more than the inside does.

When Bodee Lennox, the quiet and awkward boy next door, comes to live with the Littrells, Alexi discovers an unlikely friend in "the Kool-Aid Kid," who has secrets of his own. As they lean on each other for support, Alexi gives him the strength to deal with his past, and Bodee helps her find the courage to finally face the truth.

A searing, poignant book, Faking Normal is the extraordinary debut novel from an exciting new author-Courtney C. Stevens.

take home message
A refreshingly different, raw take on the price of silence and the complex issues surrounding sexual assault and rape.  Compelling, beautifully written, and psychologically real.  

For more about the issues in this book, check out my post about rape and consent in Faking Normal.

the basics
Prepare for rambling.  Despite being a somewhat predictable book, it's also a very enjoyable one--and there were enough surprises to keep me by my toes.  It's difficult to say that a book about rape is "enjoyable" in the strictest sense, but what is enjoyable is the journey of Alexi to her voice and her slow relationship with Bodee.  I found myself racing through it, compelled less by the mystery of Alexi's attacker than her recovery story.  She's silenced, coping through counting, scratching her neck, other traumatic OCD symptoms I found very well drawn.  Bodee as Kool-aid-kid is a little gimmicky, but also refreshingly respectful and level headed.  He's the poster boy for enthusiastic consent in a book that's all about broken boundaries.  His relationship with Alexi feels sweet and genuine.  Though some of the familial and friend relationships could be better explored, so much emotion was packed into Alexi's quiet introspection.  Though with its own moments of melodrama and clumsy plotting, Faking Normal is a fantastic discussion of the struggles of survivorship and the blurred boundaries and hostile contexts contributing to modern sexual violence.  Bound up in a package that's accessible for teens and, I think, still thought-provoking for adults. 

plot . 4/5
Overall, it's compelling.  You're given the mystery of Alexi's haunting past summer.  A rape she couldn't say no to.  A secret no one knows.  Everything turned topsy turvy when a schoolmate's mother is murdered by his abusive father and Alexi's loving mother decides to take him in.  It's one of those situations that could be contrived, except it just feels okay here.  I buy Alexi's mother as the kind of person to take in the lost puppy.  Then we follow Alexi and Bodee through months of school, awkward flirting, almosts, sweet and heartfelt conversations.  I also loved that so much room focused on Alexi's strained relationships with her friends (and I loved that she classified herself as the "second best friend").  This is very character driven, with so much of the action happening in inward epiphanies and moments of growth.  There's also the mystery (Who was the attacker?  What happened that night?).  Some people found it gimmicky, like being strung along.  I didn't really mind, because for me, the focus was less on "who" than on what Alexi was experiencing in the aftermath.  The only bit I disliked was the lack of foreshadowing.  Alexi's reactions around the culprit aren't fully realistic.  And while others have hated the ending, I found it realistic, though unsatisfying.  Given the context, I can see why Alexi chose what she did.  

Some bits are less well-executed.  Some of the reasoning behind Alexi's failure to say "no" to her rapist is a little too neatly packaged and not all that sensical.  There's a weird epiphany moment (a moment I found very contrived) in which Alexi recalls a childhood event that, to her, explains the whole issue with her voice.  I found it very un-nuanced.  I think there were so many larger issues that could have led her to freezing in that attack that would have been more interesting.  Making it neat just felt cheap.  Also, while I loved the tension between Alexi and her sister, I wanted more.  Why were they like this?  What compels her sister to react, as she does, during the final reveal?  There are some family dynamics missing.  I also found it a little strangely how quickly Bodee sees through Alexi's mask and how big a deal she makes of it.  It's too quick.  Then there's the Captain Lyric bit: Alexi and her mysterious loverboy who shares songs with her on their desk.  It's very Disney Channel and ends how you'd expect, but I liked the rest enough to kind of wave it away as over-cuteness.  

concept . 5/5
Many books deal with the aftermath of a rape victim's decision to speak out.  Like Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Faking Normal deals with the decision not to speak.  Only Alexi's story is not just a derivative of Anderson's classic.  In this case, no one knows what happened to Alexi but her.  She's not a pariah.  She sees her attacker every day.  She's a wounded girl who feels that speaking up would ruin her family, so instead she's put on a face.  The realism of her post-traumatic symptoms was also spot-on.  You don't see many good depictions of post-traumatic OCD in fiction.  I actually can't think of one.  Alexi's hiding in her closet, her counting, her neck-scratching is a new and very realistic look at some lesser known reactions to trauma.  There are also some great points raised about a girl's feeling of ownership over her own body and complexities in modern-day consent and sexual convention.  You just have to look a little deeper into what's happening.  

characters . 4/5
I thought Alexi was a great character.  She's totally believable to me.  She feels absolutely real, like Stevens did her homework--and perhaps was drawing on her personal experience.  She's vulnerable in some ways, hiding in her own skin, battling to keep her environment normal even though the silence is shredding her from inside.  She's also funny and kind.  And she's not perfect.  Many reviewers have pointed out how she slut-shames her friend Maggie, and she does.  It's not admirable, but it's a realistic flaw--and so interesting, given her own history.  Then there's Bodee, antithesis of Alexi's abusers: sweet, respectful, insightful, more mature than his age, and just a little snarky.  Though, he's a bit too perfect a healing force, doing so much for Alexi while neglecting his own trauma.  I wanted more of his story.  But it is Alexi's story, and though Bodee saves her a little too much, she begins to grow stronger through the story, turning the tables on him and fighting against his dangerous coping mechanisms just as he fights hers.  The best part is how sweet and innocent their relationship is.  Sleeping together with shoes on.  Asking, quite politely, for a kiss.  And Bodee gains major points by standing up for himself when he needs to.  

Alexi's friends are pretty well drawn.  Heather is mouthy and owns her sexuality.  Liz is quiet, sweet, and hyper-dedicated to the Christian ideals around sex without being judgey.  Alexi's relationship with them is interesting in that she's the "second best friend".  Or feels that way.  But it's clear as the book goes on that despite some callous actions on Heather's part and some silence by Liz, both girls see a change in Alexi and are waiting for her to be ready.  It's a friendship that felt very accurately sixteen.  Some of the boys are flatter.  Collie doesn't get much air time despite allegedly being Alexi's former bestie and Hayden is pretty generic.  Craig becomes clearer as time goes on, but I'd have liked a little more.  Same with Alexi's sister.  Like I said, she's a great character, vindictive and blunt with a little soft spot, but she needed more backstory to back it up.  The Christian-ness of the main characters is also pretty cool.  I'm not religious myself, but it's nice to see Christians portrayed as normal people instead of bible thumpers.  Alexi herself is religious and her struggles with questions of God after her trauma are a compelling addition.  

style . 4/5
Stevens' style is pretty gorgeous.  She reminds me a bit of Chbosky, in a weird way.  There's a mix between naivete and maturity in Alexi's narrative.  Some of the lines are truly incisive and beautiful.  But Stevens is pretty good at not getting too flowery or old.  Some of the best lines are still strewn with teenage slang and sound age-appropriate, while still being profound.  That said, she goes a little overboard with some of the metaphors.  Enough for a few cringes.  But it's very solid writing, lovely even, and it kept me reading even when the plot hit snags.  

mechanics . 4/5
Not much to complain about here.  Like I said, there were some weird plot holes.  Captain Lyric felt pretty gimmicky.  I wasn't crazy about some of the foreshadowing.  But the writing couldn't be cleaner.  

Note: I purchased this copy.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

Discussion: Rape and consent in Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens

special topics
               faking normal

I had this section as a special topic at the end of my review, but it took on such a life of its own that I feel it deserves its own post--both to spare review readers from potential spoilerage and to give this important topic the attention it deserves.  This discussion is about rape and sexual assault in Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens.  

Warning: Spoilers ahead. 

So, against my better judgment, I read a few reviews after I finished the book.  I won't call anyone out here, 1 because it's tacky and 2 because I truly believe that the people writing the statements I object to are misinformed, not malicious.  But I'll paraphrase some of the quotes I encountered:  

"She probably could have gotten help if she'd just cried out.  If that were me, I would have fought back or yelled or something, not just stood there."  
"I'm not sure it was really rape.  She didn't actually say no."  
"She was crying while he was doing it, but his eyes were closed and he was crying too." 
"Can we even call him a rapist?  She even said she couldn't say no.  If he hadn't been stopped she probably would have called it that." 
"So it was statuatory rape which is a crime but it's not the same as date rape, which is what it sounds like in the rest of the story." 
"If she had just said no, he would have stopped and it wouldn't have happened." 
"The rapist took so much time and care before he did it, even using a condom.  She had plenty of time to feel unsafe and get away."  
"She's just making excuses because she didn't say no."  
"How could she not have told someone what happened?  Just because she doesn't want to ruin his life?  I would have told."  
"I can't believe she was cutting herself.  That's so stupid and doesn't make things better."  

First, I'd like to direct you to my post on victim blaming.  I think it's especially relevant here.  In short, there's a lot of venom being spit at Alexi for not doing something or saying something.  And it comes from a lot of misunderstandings.  For one, people think traumatic situations are all about fight or flight.  In fact, one super common response in the face of danger is for people to freeze.  Ever heard of "deer in the headlights?"  It's an evolutionary response to danger and it means that some women who are attacked feel frozen, powerless, unable to speak or move or run or fight.  And then they get blamed for it later.  So would you actually fight back?  You have no idea until you're in that situation.  Second, many women don't tell when they're abused.  Think about it.  It was her sister's boyfriend.  A beloved school coach.  Alexi was afraid of hurting her sister.  She was also afraid of what would be said about her.  In case you haven't read the news lately, rape victims who speak out are often treated with threats, ridicule, and accusations--not sympathy.  

Next, I think a lot of nuance in this book was lost for some people.  Perhaps it was error on the author's part; perhaps some profound cultural context.  Either way, there's been a lot of discussion over whether Alexi was raped or not.  When you find out the name of her attacker, it's abundantly clear that a massive abuse of power occurred, whatever Alexi said or did.  It was her sister's boyfriend.  An adult.  A coach at her school.  A man with power over her, a fifteen-year-old girl.  Rape.  I just think all the people squabbling over the nature of Alexi's abuse (was it rape? was it not?) are missing the point.  Power differential is crucial.  No one would balk at calling it rape if it Alexi had been 12, but for some reason, we think 15 is so much older.  Teenagers may have better understanding of the world, but they're still kids.  They're still lower power than adults.  They're still trained to follow rules and do what they're told.  And no one is too old to be taken advantage of.  

The waters become especially muddy with Alexi's relationship with Hayden, football player and dance date.  Those who are willing to accept that, "Okay, what Craig did to her was rape" were firmly disgusted with Alexi over this incident.  Basically, Alexi and Hayden leave the dance.  Hayden begins to kiss and touch Alexi.  Just like when she was raped, she finds herself voiceless, powerless to say no, dissociated.  And that scene has lead to a lot of people blasting her for not saying no, not fighting back--even one review going so far as to imply that Alexi would have "cried rape" had she allowed Hayden to go farther.  The "girl who cried wolf" scenario you hear in every media angle.    

Let's be straight.  Perhaps it would not have fit the legal definition of rape if Hayden had been uninterrupted and Alexi had allowed him to "go all the way," not saying no or indicating her displeasure.  But there is more power in the gray here.  1, drunken Hayden pushing Alexi under a car is a far cry from clear and enthusiastic consent.  If you're unfamiliar with the term, it's a hugely empowering movement for men and women; yes means yes!  For Alexi, here, it's consent by the absence of dissent.  Her no is muffled under a kiss.  She's too frozen to say more.  Forget the legal definitions for a moment and consider that this boy finds it culturally normative to kiss and grope a girl without assuring himself that she's into it too.  And that's considered okay.  And some readers consider it Alexi's fault for not standing up for herself.  Whatever the legal definition, this scene is hugely important and speaks to a broader societal problem in which humans do not give other humans the dignity of a choice.  And unless they're stopped, they'll take what they can get.  

Number 2, even more important is the profound lack of ownership Alexi feels over her own body.  She admits that she would have let Hayden go all the way.  Because she can't find the power in herself to say no.  Because her previous abuse made her feel violated.  It's actually a common, unfortunate coping mechanism for victims of rape and abuse to "allow" others to use them physically, rather than fighting back.  The rape destroys their feeling of control.  It teaches them that others can use their body; it's not theirs.  And many rape survivors carry that burden with them.  I think this issue is one of the most compelling and important points, for me, in Faking Normal.  Perhaps Stevens could have emphasized it more, but I think many readers could do more to understand Alexi's perspective, rather than lambasting her with the same tired "should haves" in every news story.  

I hope in this long, rambling post I've made the point I wanted to.  That is:  people are critical of Alexi's story, but for all the wrong reasons.  They blame her for not saying no when they could be admonishing her attacker.  They accuse her with "Whys" ("Why didn't she stop Hayden?") instead of really wondering and trying to understand why.  Why does she feel powerless?  Why does she feel broken?  So if you have read this book, or if you plan to, I have a challenge for you.  Really think about Alexi's story.  Because her emotional struggles and her trauma are much more insidious and important than the fuzzy legal definition of "rape."  


Why might Alexi have decided not to disclose her abuse? 
Why do you think Alexi felt like she would inevitably "allow" the abuse to happen again?  
Can a situation be considered abusive even if there's not a clear "no" stated? 
How does Alexi's story parallel with other real or fictional accounts of rape survivors?  
How is not saying "no" different from saying "yes"?  
Other thoughts?  


Review: The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu


title:  The Truth About Alice

author:  Jennifer Mathieu

pages: 208

format: Hardcover

isbn/asin: B00GVSABUO

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 3/5 [in the genre] or 5/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  People who enjoyed The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher.  Fans of contemporary fiction that deals with sexuality and bullying.  Teenagers. 

will i read this author again?:  I think so.  
will i continue the series?:  N/A

My Ratings Explained

Everyone has a lot to say about Alice Franklin, and it’s stopped mattering whether it’s true. The rumors started at a party when Alice supposedly had sex with two guys in one night. When school starts everyone almost forgets about Alice until one of those guys, super-popular Brandon, dies in a car wreck that was allegedly all Alice’s fault. Now the only friend she has is a boy who may be the only other person who knows the truth, but is too afraid to admit it. Told from the perspectives of popular girl Elaine, football star Josh, former outcast Kelsie, and shy genius Kurt, we see how everyone has a motive to bring – and keep – Alice down.

take home message
An important story about the power of rumor to devastate, and the ability of simple human connection to heal.  A little shaky at the edges, but a fine contemporary debut.  

the basics
This is a short book, but this will not be a short review.  I enjoyed this book.  I want to say that out front because I do have a few criticisms to lob at it.  But before I bring out the pruning shears, I want to congratulate Mathieu for making this book realistic.  I can't give away too much without spoiling.  Suffice to say, she doesn't give her characters a fairy tale ending.  Just desserts are not necessarily received.  Victims are not necessarily vindicated.  Instead, we have hope through struggle and empowerment through friendship.  Mathieu's characters also sound like teenagers.  You can believe these people, selfish as they are.  There comes a hitch.  There's some sacrifice of style for sound; a little too much simplicity for me.  It's also a little predictable.  If you think it happened, it happened.  

My biggest criticism, however, is a nudge.  As you can imagine, not all the rumors about Alice are truth.  But I wished some of them had been.  Why can the girl be innocent only if she didn't do some sexual thing or another?  Why is it shameful to have sex?  Would the rumors and slurs be any less undeserved and cruel if Alice had actually done what they said?  It's a missed opportunity to explore these important questions.  However, it's also a very important picture of modern bullying and the stories we think we know.  Other books have done it better, but Mathieu does it well, and shows promise for the future. 

plot . 3/5
Mathieu takes a clever look at the rumor mill by turning the reader into a voyeur.  The story is set up as a retrospective, with four different characters recounting the events of the past year from their own views.  From the start, you know that two big things happened: Alice slept with two guys at Elaine's party and Brandon died in a car crash, which was also her fault.  You also know that Alice is the school outcast.  The plot starts there and then time moves forward, so that by the time you get around to a character again, they've had new experiences and made new realizations.  

And like I said, it's predictable.  Each of the characters has a story and you can probably guess it from the beginning.  It's all your standard small town drama.  I felt a little disappointed that I could so easily know what to expect.  I think other people won't be so bothered, but maybe I've just read too many similar stories.  I also thought the action dragged a little slow at times.  Probably because I hated a lot of the characters (as I think was intended), so I wasn't too invested in their ramblings.  But the deliberately unsatisfying ending was a clever touch, and you do get a small slice of happiness and hope to tide you over.  It's not the cleverest, but it's sweet.  I just wondered at Alice's reactions, sometimes.  Perhaps she's remarkably resilient, but given the level of abuse she endures, she's still pretty peppy at the end.  I just expected more vulnerability.  

concept . 5/5
This is not a revenge story.  That makes it more real to me than some other books about bullying.  It's a clever set-up.  You learn about Alice through everyone but Alice, which means you can fall sway to their prejudices and fall into their traps.  You can also judge them for their own crimes, because you're the omniscient overlord.  Watching the characters grow and learn is exciting, but watching them fail to learn is also important (if not infuriating).  Everyone involved is a part of the system.  Everyone justifies their cruelty.  Except for perhaps our obligatory love interest, adorable geek Kurt.  These failures of empathy are the most important part of the story.  No matter what they know, what new information they get, they don't repent.  Not all the way.  Mathieu doesn't take the easy way out and I admire her for that.  

characters . 3/5
These are not likable people.  In some ways they are, but they're also selfish, infuriating, and cruel.  And they're constantly justifying themselves to you.  It's a great literary technique, because not all characters should be likable.  It just made me want to claw them more than a few times.  I would have liked just a little more depth.  They feel a bit type-y.  There's Elaine, the queen bee, vindictive and shallow, with weight issues brought on by an over-dieting mom.  There's Kelsie, former best friend and status-grabber with a nerdy past and insecurity issues.  Then we have Josh, probably the blandest of them all.  He's your token football player and best friend of the deceased Brandon, who is dead and thus not a POV but manages to be increasingly loathsome in a believable way.  Josh himself has a complex relationship with Brandon that's underexplored.  The most likable is obviously Kurt, loner and nerd with a huge vocabulary and a major crush on Alice.  I think I found him the most real.  He admits his own selfishness and cowardice.  He's also a little bit adorable.  Last of all is Alice, known secondhand until the final chapter.  She's refreshingly ordinary.  Sexually adventurous but not desperate, mostly okay with herself, affected but not angsty.  

style . 3/5
Mathieu has a good grasp of the teenage voice.  Even in the difficult slangy bits, her characters talk like teenagers.  I could imagine myself back in high school, rolling my eyes at the macho banter or having one of the same conversations with my own friends.  It's a tough line between writing real and writing well, however.  It's not bad at all.  It's just pretty good.  Nothing that really grabbed me, which is probably why I felt lukewarm about this book overall.  I gravitate towards tight, unique prose.  I just didn't feel captivated.  

mechanics . 4/5
The pacing becomes a little slow in the midst of teenage ramblings, but for the most part, Mathieu does a good job of juggling her perspectives while still keeping the action going.  I never felt lost with respect to whom I was reading or where in the timeline I was.  

Note: I purchased this copy.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.