He Called Her “Hat” by Myron McDonald

He Called Her ‘Hat’…is the transcription of a memoir by Myron McDonald that he wrote about his childhood, but most importantly, his grandmother.  It begins with a foreward by the editor, Dorothy May Mercer, who explains that she left most of the manuscript as she found it because she did not want to destroy Myron’s voice.  This memoir is a first-hand account of life in a different era as well as a character description of one of the strongest women in Myron’s life.

Each chapter of the book describes a different aspect or different event in Myron’s life…all related to his grandmother.  He describes life on the farm during the harvest, the first appearance of the Model T, and even some social aspects of his grandmother’s time, the early 1900s.  His portrait of Hattie is one of deference, love, and humor.  He describes her as a woman whose second husband is twenty years her junior, and yet she has the vitality to not only keep pace with him, but surpass him a time or two.  Throughout Myron’s tale, the reader learns that his grandmother is full of strength and dedication; she is a woman who was brought up to take care of herself and those around her.

The stories that Myron relate are varied. Some are humorous tales, some are descriptions of hardships, and some are downright emotional.  Although it is a short novel, by the end, the reader is so familiar with Hattie that Myron’s last chapter provokes a strong reaction.

He Called Her ‘Hat’…is not a traditional novel.  It reads as a memoir, but the stories do not seem to be in any sort of chronological order.  It is not a narrative per se, but a character study of Myron’s grandmother and an account of her life as it intertwined with his.  As a result, the novel is choppy and sometimes hard to follow because the reader wonders what pertinent details he may have missed between years.  Also, some of the vocabulary is old-fashioned, which can be difficult to understand, but ultimately adds to the feel of the piece.  Overall, the reader will enjoy this manuscript as it is a first-hand historical account with a vivacious, strong female lead.

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Trigger by Susan Vaught

Trigger by Susan Vaught is a story narrated by Jersey Hatch, a high school senior who has suffered a brain injury and cannot remember the last year or so of his life.  His story begins as he is being released from Carter Brain Injury Center after nearly a year of therapy and rehabilitation. The subsequent tale is a jumble of words, thoughts, emotions, and relationships as Jersey tries to re-establish his identity and continue living his life.

Because Jersey is the one narrating the story, the reader only knows what Jersey knows as he figures it out.  In the first couple of chapters, the reader learns the details of Jersey’s situation.  As Jersey returns home from Carter with his parents, he shares numerous details about his new life.  The reader learns that he must keep a memory book with him so that he can write down ideas that he does not want to forget, that he doesn’t remember the year before his injury and almost a complete year after.  As a result of his brain injury, he has lost motor function in his left leg and arm as well as his eyesight on the right side.  In addition to the physical effects, he also seems to have no filter in his brain and he cannot help but say words that pop into his head – over and over again.  This repetition sometimes makes his conversations hard to follow.

The reader begins to feel sorry for Jersey because of all these hardships; however, as the car approaches his home, the reader learns a shocking fact: Jersey Hatch took his father’s gun and shot himself in the head.  The big mystery – he has no idea why.

Inside the house, the reader learns even more about the situation. Before, Jersey was on the football team, the golf team, an in ROTC. He had a best friend, wanted to be a lawyer, and got straight A’s.  Now, his best friend Todd hates him, his old friends are ignoring him, and his parents are acting strange.  The only two people who seem to accept the new Jersey are Leza, Todd’s younger sister, and Mama Rush, Todd’s grandmother.  As the novel continues, these two seem to be his only functional support.

Vaught has written an extremely poignant novel.  Throughout the entire novel, the reader is inside the head of a young man who decided to take his own life and is now attempting to rebuild it.  It is a novel that attempts to address the question of why anyone would decide to commit suicide and if there are any reasons that would bring closure for surviving loved ones? It is also a novel about moving forward after tragedy – how does one rebuild relationships, trust, and self after something so horrific?  There are times the reader will want to comfort Jersey and there are times when she will want to shake him and ask “why did you put your family and friends through this? Did you mean to be so selfish?”  This entire novel is intense: the emotions are intense, the ideas are intense, and the descriptions are extremely vivid.

Trigger

Susan Vaught

Copyright 2011

Grim by Joseph Spencer

Grim by Joseph Spencer definitely lives up to its name: the tale Spencer tells paints a grim picture of murder, suffering, and moral corruption in the town of Prairieville.  It begins with Heath Grim awakening naked and covered in blood, performing a bizarre ritual while staring into a mirror at his reflection with demonic eyes. Immediately, the reader knows that the tone of this story will be bleak and terrifying.  This terror continues as the scene shifts to Detective Adam White as he investigates a crime scene at Marino State Hospital; the murders are so gruesome that they cause White to vomit…and he has been on the job for over ten years.

Over the next few chapters, the reader gathers the back-story for the main cast of characters.  In the town of Prairieville, the Marino crime family used to run the show with The Reaper doing their dirty work. Now, the Black family is in charge, The Reaper is supposedly dead, and the mayor is in Cyrus Black’s pocket.  In addition to the seedy deals of Cyrus Black, two years ago gruesome murders started happening again in the same place that The Reaper did his work.

This story raises numerous questions for the reader: who is Heath Grim? Is The Reaper really dead? Are the gruesome murders and Cyrus Black connected or are they two separate evils?  In order to answer these questions and more, the reader must continue down the path of terror and suspense to find the truth.

Ultimately, the murders are solved in a period of less than two weeks; the short time frame of the novel adding to the overall suspense. Readers will be amazed at the amount of detail that Spencer uses as he weaves a tale about numerous characters that all have elaborate back-stories.  By the end of the novel, the reader questions what he thought he knew as new details are brought to light about past events.  Up until the very end, the mystery is maintained as to how all of the murders are related.  Grim is for readers who enjoy elaborate stories full of terror and suspense; the mystery is not just about who is committing the murders, but also about the human condition overall – what causes people to develop a taste for blood? Is anyone immune or does every person have their breaking point?

Grim

Joseph Spencer

Copyright 2012

Embracing You, Embracing Me by Michelle Bellon

Embracing You, Embracing Me is a coming-of-age story that begins when Roshell is a teenager and follows her into adulthood.  The book begins with a prologue by Roshell that outlines her life at sixteen: she lives in a small town trailer park and has an intense desire to make something of herself, unlike her family in the past.  In the beginning chapters, the reader meets the core cast of characters: Roshell who is outgoing and honest, her two closest friends Amber and Sabrina, and Gabriel – the new guy at school and Roshell’s crush.  The reader also learns that Roshell’s dad cheated on her mother when she was pregnant and left before Roshell was born; therefore, Roshell trusts men about as far as she can throw them.

After much exposition about Roshell’s childhood and friends, the reader learns that Roshell has been invited to the Junior/Senior Prom by Tim who is a good friend.  At the Prom, Tim and his buddies get kicked out for drinking.  This leads to Gabriel offering her a ride home and then asking her to dance; they have an instant connection.  Roshell spends the next few weeks pining over Gabriel from afar, too afraid to initiate anything.  When Sabrina asks Roshell to sneak out to a friend’s party, the two girls have a great time until the unthinkable happens: Roshell is raped and refuses to tell anyone. Sabrina has no idea what to do, so she silently vows to be there for Roshell in whatever capacity she is needed.

Bellon writes an amazing tale that is heartbreaking and real.  At its core, it is a tale about a woman trying to survive her life as she is dealt blow after tragic blow.  Roshell has some terrible events happen to her and in order to move past them she must learn to accept her own faults and bad decisions; she must reconcile her past in order to have a future.  Readers will devour this book in one sitting because the characters are so relatable and there is a compulsion to find out what happens to Roshell and if she ever escapes from her own insecurities and fears.  Embracing You, Embracing Me is a story about past mistakes and future hopes, a story about moving on; it asks the question: “how does one accept happiness after a lifetime of sorrow?”  Although this is a story about a girl, the message is one with which all readers can identify.

Embracing You, Embracing Me

Michelle Bellon

Copyright 2012

Junior by Ray Donley

Junior is a novel written with an extremely clever concept: it is formatted as the journal of one man and yet contains meticulous details about a future society – almost a historical textbook of how the world could turn out if certain events fell into place.  Donley begins the book with a foreword supposedly penned by a professor at the University of Texas; the foreword tells the reader that millions of people have read and studied this book which gives it a sense of importance and, since this work is actually fictional, creates an atmosphere of humor.  Donley has also added footnotes to the “journal” which allude to other scholarly works about Junior and facts about the world in general.  The entire format of the novel is written as a sort of satire that pokes fun at what society deems as important and what is covered in the media.

According to the journal, Joshua Jennings, Jr. is wanted worldwide for mass murder; he is charged with blowing up the President, Vice President, and his father on a reservation in New Mexico.  Junior is on the run from law enforcement because he knows that he did not kill his father and he wants to find out who did.  Not long into his run from the law, it becomes clear that Junior’s father Senior is orchestrating events even beyond the grave; he sends mysterious emails and makes sure Junior meets up with the right people – he even insinuates that he knew about the explosion ahead of time or actually caused it to happen.

Throughout the course of the “journal,” the reader learns not only about Senior’s accomplishments, but also about society in general.  For example, in this future world, marijuana has been legalized, the Jews are living in North Dakota, and Oprah Winfrey is the Secretary of State.  As Junior steps into his role as Man on the Run, he angers religious groups and politicians alike and readers gain insight into the human condition as a result.

Although this novel is cleverly formatted and addresses important societal issues, the plot itself can become rather tedious for some readers.  In the beginning, the reader is interested about this possible society and all its members. He also wishes to solve the mystery of who caused the explosion.  However, the middle of the book is almost a blur of names and historical events with a dash of humor thrown in every couple of pages.  If the reader can overcome this monotony and continue to the end, almost every person and event ties together in a satisfying conclusion; this monotony also makes literary sense, as it mimics the monotony that Junior must be feeling being in seclusion for years.

When all is said and done, Junior is a witty commentary on society and what we deem important; the reader travels a world in which fast food restaurants and celebrities own everything and religious tensions dictate such things as wars and television programs.  It is interesting to see which of humanity’s faults cause major global issues and which faults have birthed something new.  Junior will definitely exercise readers’ brains!

Junior

Ray Donley

Copyright 2012