“Unspoken” by Rebecca Chianese

Genre: Women’s FictionUnspoken
Publisher: Eifrig Publishing
Pub. Date: April 25, 2021

Sexual abuse is a challenging subject to write about in fiction. “Unspoken” is an empowering story about breaking the silence of the assault on girls and women without making it too hard for the reader to digest. I never felt that I needed to skim paragraphs even while reading the darker moments.  Still, the author makes sure that the reader sees the unhealthy results of when victims do not tell of the abuse and/or represses their memories.  Chianese manages this feat by also giving the reader a plotline that is not only about sexual abuse.  The story is also about the strength of female friendship and just how powerful ordinary women can be. The reader meets four women who develop an unlikely friendship. Their friendship is improbable because they are all very different from one another. At the beginning of the story, motherhood and their book club are the only connections that they have to each other.

The women’s differences are written in a witty manner that lets me see each character clearly in my head.  One is a mother whose house is always in a chaotic state.  She refers to her mudroom as her kid’s ‘fight club.’ What mom cannot relate to that? This woman is a bit quirky and is involved with pagan witchcraft.  However, her practice will make the reader chuckle more than make us wonder about her religious sanity. She prays to a goddess that is both Greek and Jewish, as she is, to give her the grace and patience to get through another book club night without too much eye-rolling.

Then another woman is a perfectionist.  Her home is pristine, color coordinated and expensively furnished. Everything inside her home, as well as herself, is designed for guests to oh and ah over.  Of course, on the night she hosts the book club food and drink are selected to coordinate with the book the ladies will be discussing.  Yet, she too is an endearing character.  Don’t we all try to impress others on our social media posts?  Don’t we all want our lives to present just a bit nicer than it is?

Another book club friend once worked as a school librarian. She made serious rules for the club that scared away possible members. Another lighthearted moment for the reader. But, have no fear for boring discussions, wine is also one of the rules. Lastly, there is a divorced woman who is co-parenting with her ex and his new wife. By chance, the new wife happens to be her lawyer. I thought that was too much to be believed.  Women’s fiction is not a favorite genre of mine. I find that it can get too close to chick-lit for my taste. And, the ending is almost always wrapped up in a bow. But, this is how the author masterly sets her stage to incorporate abuse and female friendship dynamics into the storyline.  Yes, the dialogue between the different personalities creates amusing banter and works as a buffer in between reading the novel’s more difficult sections. Still, the women are inspirationally fierce when all four bond together to understand why one of their daughters has been acting out. They are blind-sighted to learn the reason and then they fight like hell for her.

The author nails all the confusing emotions that sexually abused children experience.  Such as, how a thirteen-year-old girl may believe she enjoys the sex with an adult male. Think “Lolita”. Or how a girl can be mentally traumatized by witnessing a friend’s dark secret and keeping it to herself. In a way, “Unspoken” is also a coming-of-age story that does a good job in showing us how trauma causes toxic dissociation, and all the turmoil that comes with it. Her story also shows us the steps to take that can lead to healing from the assault/s. It takes a talented author to write on such an uncomfortable subject that can still make the reader laugh in between tears of shock, rage, and pain.

Unfortunately, unlike in this novel parents are not always receptive to believing their children.  Some mothers live in a world of denial thereby preventing them from intervening to protect their child or children. On the back cover of the book, there is the websitewww.hopesdoorny.org for an agency that advocates for survivors of sexual assault. Shouldn’t all of us do something to end violence against girls and women? Even in this #MeToo era, we still need a reminder that it is all our jobs to keep our children safe.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the author at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“Whisper Network” by Chandler Baker

Genre:  Women’s Fiction/Legal Thriller Whisper Network
Publisher:  Flatiron Books
Publication Date:  July 2, 2019

I like to read one summer thriller each year.  This one caught my eye since the book’s blurb reads like “Big Little Lies” in the #MeToo movement.   I thoroughly enjoyed “Lies,” so I figured I’d give “Whisper Network” a try.  A glimpse at the back cover is enough to drive home the many similarities between the two books.  Once again, three very rich longtime female friends befriend a younger woman and she becomes part of their inner circle.  This time the women are not stay-at-home moms but high powered attorneys.  This is where #MeToo comes into the story.  Rather than a sexually abusive husband as the bad guy, there is a sexually abusive boss.  All four women are afraid they will lose their jobs if they complain.   Like the husband from “Lies,” the boss dies under mysterious circumstances. Once more, the women are suspects.  And so, the legal thriller begins.  As long as you go in aware of the strong resemblance between the novels you will enjoy “Network” as I did.

One character in this novel has such well-described physical and personality traits as another from “Lies” that I could see Reese Witherspoon’s face as she portrayed the role in the “Lies” TV series.  In the author’s notes, she explains that when she was a young summer associate at a law firm she experienced male harassment by the much older and well-established lawyers who worked at the firm.   In Baker’s actual life, it was the older women in the firm with more skill in handling such instances who came to her rescue.  She said the Witherspoon-like character was actually a real-life person from that summer.  I felt a bit more respect for the author.   She wasn’t just copycatting a character from “Lies.”

The only issue I had with the book is that the author seems to be beating the reader over the head with the novel’s message of how women must stand together against badly behaving men.   At times, it feels like she is giving us females a sermon on the unfair treatment of women in the working world.  Unlike an author such as Joyce Carol Oats—who frequently writes about sexually abused women—the violence in “Network” reads as sensationalized rather than nuanced, which can carry a harder punch.   But, then again, not all authors have almost 60, usually award-winning novels under their belt.   Although Baker pours her heart out with her feminist cry (I could almost hear Helen Reddy singing “I am woman, hear me roar”) this is still basically a beach read with a moral.  I grant you a very entertaining beach read that preferably should be read while sitting on a pool or lawn chair with a glass of chilled wine in your hand.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“Where the Sweet Bird Sings” by Ella Joy Olsen

Pub. Date:  August 29, 2017       birds

Publisher:  Kensington Books

Why do I always fall into the same trap?  This is a novel about a young married couple who live in Salt Lake City (the location alone should be a spoiler) who lose a child through a rare genetic disease.  The parents did not know that they were carriers.  So my maternal instincts seem to go through my fingers and before I know it, I click “yes” agreeing to read and review.  Well, there are many heartbreaking stories of child loss out there, and in fairness, this one had its moments.  I think the author’s problem was trying to combine past and present mysteries into the plot.  Yet, reflecting, I probably would have been okay with that.  I guess my problem was that I felt that the writing was preaching forgiveness to the point of nausea.   But, that is me, and I bet I have blog buddies that I admire who will eat this one up.

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