Book Review: Saving Ben by Ashley Farley

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Title: Saving Ben
Author: Ashley Farley
Publication date: January 31st 2013
Genre: New Adult Contemporary Mystery

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Saving BenSaving Ben
Ashley Farley
CreateSpace, January 2013
ISBN 978-
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Life is sweet for Katherine Langley. A freshman at the University of Virginia, she is free from the drama of her parents’ dysfunctional marriage and ready to focus on studying to become a nurse. Her brother, Ben, belongs to the hottest fraternity on campus, and her new roommate, Emma, is beautiful and charming, a party girl whose answer for a hangover is happy hour. She is also a psychopath. When Katherine’s obsessive-compulsive overprotective brother succumbs to Emma’s charms and falls dangerously off-track, Katherine must save Ben from himself. Lives are threatened and someone disappears on New Year’s Day. The only evidence left: a single set of footprints in the snow.

From the university campus to a cozy cottage on Carter’s Creek, Virginia, Saving Ben is a haunting tale of love and loyalty, anger management, substance abuse, and betrayal.

First, I saw in this book’s description that the story is set in Virginia. Then, I noticed that the author lives in Richmond, my town, so it was a no brainer—I had to read Saving Ben. After all, if my bookstore was still open, I’d be stocking this book and having Ashley Farley come by for a book signing event. Since I can’t do that, reading and reviewing it was my next best option and I admit to being a little bit biased from the beginning.

One of the real pleasures for me was recognizing locations, always a fun perk. Having spent a lot of time in my youth at the University of Virginia (known simply as “Virginia” to us natives), I enjoyed the time the characters spent there but also in Richmond and Carter’s Creek. The characters themselves were interesting and had depth so that I felt I had a pretty good handle on them and their individual behaviors. Kitty appealed to me a lot, especially her willingness to stand up for herself, and so did Ben in the early part of the tale. I always had empathy for Ben until an incident between him and Kitty but, even then, I felt badly about what he had allowed himself to become. Their circle of friends seemed to be likeable kids that most college students would like to hang out with.

Emma is probably the most well-drawn personality and certainly is frightening in her obsessions and her completely narcissistic attitude. For me, she was the cause of more than a little anxiety wondering what she would do next and who would suffer because of her actions. She is Ms. Farley’s strongest creation.

There were some shortcomings for me. First, I felt the mystery was kind of lightweight and the resolution was predictable along about two thirds or less of the way in. I think just as strong a story could have been done without the distraction of this mystery. Second, the rural cops are made out to be incompetent in the extreme, letting the kids rummage through Emma’s car and not taking charge of her belongings until well after they know she’s dead. I can’t help thinking that’s pretty disrespectful of our Northern Neck police and I’ve never heard or read any factual statements that would make me believe this portrayal of bad police work is accurate.

My next issue was that I thought Kitty is way too intelligent to put herself in such an obvious position of danger when she figures out who is responsible for what happened. When you get right down to it, this is a good example of the femjep—female in jeopardy—most mystery readers have begun to tire of. Also, Ben’s fraternity is initially referred to as KO but later the full name is given as Lambda Delta. I could be wrong about this and I apologize if I am but I think KO stands for Kappa Omicron.

Finally, the author makes drinking a nearly constant thing with no one, not even any of the adults, raising an eyebrow over all the underage use. I’m not idealistic enough to believe there’s not a lot of drinking among high school and college students (I do live in the real world) but it truly is excessive here. Virginia is a tough school and these students would not last with all this partying. I know Ms. Farley has been active in promoting alcohol and drug awareness so I understand her zeal but the point can be made with a little more reality.

Regardless of any failings, Saving Ben ultimately is about the strong bond that can exist between siblings and the harm that can be done to that bond by drugs and alcohol abuse. In that, Ms. Farley has done a fine job and I’ll look forward to reading more by this author.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2013.

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About the Author

Ashley FarleyI wrote a novel, SAVING BEN, in honor of my brother, the boy I worshipped, the man I could not save. It’s not a memoir, but a story about the special bond between siblings.

I’m a wife and mother of two teenagers. I have lived in Richmond, Virginia, for seventeen years, a city I love for its history and traditions. Personal experience with my brother inspired me to become involved with the leadership symposium in my son’s school where I’ve helped bring in speakers to raise parents’ awareness of the alcohol and drug problems children face. When I’m not steering volunteer committees or working on my next novel, I can be found swimming laps or playing tennis.

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Book Review: The Dead and Buried by Kim Harrington

The Dead and BuriedThe Dead and Buried
Kim Harrington
Point/Scholastic, January 2013
ISBN 9780545333023
Hardcover

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It begins with an entry from the diary of Kayla Sloane.  She appears to have a remarkably high opinion of herself, coupled with an incredibly low opinion of everyone else.  She is the ultimate Mean Girl.   It is easy to despise her…..even after learning that she is also the Dead Girl.  Of course her death is shrouded in mystery.  Was it an accident?  Was she killed?  If she was killed, who did it?  These questions envelop Woodbridge High like a thick, smothering fog.  Chasms among the student body are created.

While Kayla’s diary entries appear throughout the book to provide insight and clues, we really get the story from Jade’s point of view.  So enters the New Girl.  Jade believes her dream has come true as she prepares to start her senior year in a suburban high school, instead of her tiny hometown school.  Jade has the confidence to stick to her beliefs, she is honest, thoughtful, willing to give anyone a chance, and she is loyal and strong.

There are two traits in particular that I feel make Jade a stand-out character.  She is completely smitten with her adorable little brother.  She is fiercely protective of him, and will do anything to keep him safe, even if it means making a deal with Kayla’s ghost.  Her “hobby” of collecting gemstones adds that ‘something different’ that I long for in such outstanding novels.  Jade knows what each crystal represents and what powers it is thought to possess.

Ms. Harrington was spot on with the personalities of the supporting characters.  We have the Jock and his Little Sis, the (Sorta) Mean Girl, the Robot Girl, and the Sullen Boy. If someone did kill Kayla, surely it had to be one of these people.  Everyone had a motive.  Everyone had opportunity.  Jade must sort this out quickly. Kayla’s spirit is angrier and more threatening each day.

This captivating story unfolds at a fast-pace.  I hated having to put the book down.  When I wasn’t reading, I was thinking about when I could squeeze in another chapter.  Not only would I highly recommend this book to my fellow readers, I would also suggest it for any teacher and/or parent hoping to get kids to enjoy reading.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2012.

Book Review: Speechless by Hannah Harrington

SpeechlessSpeechless
Hannah Harrington
Harlequin Teen, August 2012
ISBN 978-0-373-21052-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Everyone knows that Chelsea Knot can’t keep a secret

Until now. Because the last secret she shared turned her into a social outcast—and nearly got someone killed.

Now Chelsea has taken a vow of silence—to learn to keep her mouth shut, and to stop hurting anyone else. And if she thinks keeping secrets is hard, not speaking up when she’s ignored, ridiculed and even attacked is worse.

But there’s strength in silence, and in the new friends who are, shockingly, coming her way—people she never noticed before; a boy she might even fall for. If only her new friends can forgive what she’s done. If only she can forgive herself.

Back in the old days, when I was a teenager, bullying was a rare thing in the public schools I attended. That’s not to say cruelty to others didn’t exist but it took a much quieter form, that of dismissal. There were three distinct social groups. The top rung was the popular kids, the “pretty ones”, the jocks and their friends, and they simply ignored the existence of everyone beneath them. The lowest group was a collection of hoods (black leather, no weapons, maybe a little marijuana), nerds (although I don’t think that specific term existed then), economically deprived, shop classers, those bound for blue-collar jobs after graduation. Everybody else fell into the middle stratum, generally those who were college-bound and sociable, on an economic level with the top group but not accepted into the inner circles. Essentially, all three groups cohabited nicely during classes but not in the halls or outside the school grounds. Even with such distinct lines drawn, though, the three groups didn’t actively try to make life miserable for each other. We managed to get along because people “knew their places”.

Today’s world is much different for teens and middle-graders and bullying is visible and frequently vicious, whether it’s physical, verbal or emotional. Physical appearance is a common cause and I can’t help thinking that our love affair with TV, movies and celebrities has fed that particular worm.  Sexual orientation is another major platform and I believe that has become more of a bullying issue as society has changed and LGBT kids are less likely to hide than they used to be. If there were LGBT kids in my schools, I never knew it, and I had known many of my fellow students since first grade. That lack of knowledge is not a good thing, just different from today’s atmosphere.

Author Hannah Harrington has taken an all-too-common problem and expanded it. In Speechless, the victim is not just the gay teen who is exposed and subsequently attacked, it’s also the girl from the highest echelons who not only outed Noah but then turned in the jocks who beat him to the police. Her betrayal of her circle is what they find unforgiveable, not the hate crime itself. Chelsea starts out as a shallow girl whose interests lie in shopping, gossip, partying, and being BFF to the top girl in school but, for some reason, a spark of real decency exists in her. Her vow of silence is at first rather quixotic, an escape from reality, but could it become the means of her salvation?

Chelsea is a complex character, much like a teen in real life, and it’s a pleasure to follow her search for redemption, her journey to maturity. Along the way, the reader meets some people it would be a delight to know and they’re well-rounded with problems of their own while being very appealing individuals, Asha and Sam in particular. Even some of the bullies have the occasional mitigating aspect which surely is the case outside the realm of novels. Ms. Harrington presents a storyline and all its side issues that grips the reader from the very beginning and her characters bring it to life. I wish that any teen in a position of power over others would read Speechless and perhaps gain a little insight into how that power can be misused.

One last note—kudos to the publisher for such a great cover. Think about it. Speechlessness can lead to invisibility, can’t it?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2012.