The Lily Cafe is thrilled to participate in the book blog tour for Horseshoes and Hand Grenades by S. M. Stevens. A fictional novel exploring the lives of two female victims of sexual harassment and abuse, this is a heartbreakingly beautiful novel.
Title: Horseshoes and Hand Grenades
Author: S. M. Stevens
Publisher: Touchpoint Press
Publication date: September 26, 2019
Genre: Women’s fiction
Summary: (I usually write my own summaries, but, in this case, I think it’s best to use the book’s description.)
Fragile but practical Shelby Stewart and ambitious, confident Astrid Ericcson just want to start their PR careers in 1980s Boston and maybe find a nice guy to hang out with. But long-buried memories of incest at the hands of her local hero stepfather keep interrupting Shelby’s plans, affecting her health one way after another. And when will she actually date someone her friends think is good enough for her?
Astrid thinks she wrote the book on How to Get Ahead by Flirting but is forced to re-visit her career advancement strategy when her boss Brad takes the innuendos to a whole new, scary level, threatening her job and her safety.
Suddenly, instead of taking charge of their lives, both women find themselves spinning out of control.
In this fast-paced story for the #metoo generation, the women reach new highs and lows in life, work and romance, while struggling to make sense of the abusive relationships that haunt them. – from Amazon
First of all, thank you so much to the author, S. M. Stevens, for inviting me to be part of the blog tour for Horseshoes and Hand Grenades. I follow her on Instagram and had been eyeing her novel for a couple of months, so I was thrilled to take part in promoting it. I feel I must also mention that I have never in my life been harassed, sexually or otherwise, so I cannot comment on the value this novel might have for victims, but I can say that it is eye opening and gave me insight into the minds and lives of those who have been harassed and abused, so I absolutely believe this is one novel that should be read by victims and non-victims alike, especially in this day and age.
The Characters: Complex and Reeling From Their Pasts and Presents
This is primarily the story of Shelby and Astrid, two public relations professionals who meet when they start at the same company and find themselves sharing a small cubicle. I loved the contentious relationship they had right off the bat, as well as the switching of the narrative between them. It was fun to watch them become friends. Though they seemed to be polar opposites, there ended up being more to unite them than divide them, so I loved the sisterhood they found together and with Shelby’s friend Tina. Both women were strong and fragile, complex characters whose histories impacted their presents.
Astrid was a beautifully consistent character. She made sense both as a character and as a person. I could absolutely believe she might be walking around somewhere in the world right now. I loved how coolly professional she could be and how she could let loose and have fun. Shelby, though I enjoyed her character, felt a little off, a little all over the place. I understand that she was deeply traumatized, so maybe because I’ve never gone through that kind of trauma I can’t really understand her, but it did feel like her jerk behavior towards Astrid was more a device than her being her. But I did love how the two women slowly evolved from cold coworkers to close friends. Their friendship was a beautiful thing, and I absolutely loved how they unfolded to each other in order to form that close bond. I did wish for more from and about Tina, but this novel really is a focus on victims of harassment and abuse.
My favorite part of the characters was that they were dealing with different kinds of harassment and opened a window for others to see into the lives of the victims. No road is the same, just as no form of harassment or abuse is the same. These characters beautifully portrayed the differences and highlighted how everyone is an individual experiencing life in different ways.
The Setting: 1980s Massachusetts, but Could be Anywhere
This novel is set around Massachusetts, but felt like it could be anywhere. Martha’s Vineyard was a featured location, but, while named, it felt like it could have been any beach location, or any party location. It was specific without being confining and felt purposefully vague so I could see how these stories could play out just about anywhere. I really enjoyed the counterpoint of the very specific characters and the more ambiguous setting. Astrid and Shelby could be any woman walking around anywhere, and it would be near impossible to spot them.
The one thing that bothered me was that the story was set in the 1980s. I liked that it didn’t feel like the present day, but I also wish it had been set in the present as attitudes about women and gender roles were a bit different than they were in the past. I would assume, though, that the experience transcends time. It was just a little strange reading this novel, thinking it could be something happening right now, and then reading something that reminded me the story took place in the 1980s. It made it feel a little distant as about 30 years have passed.
The Plot: Felt Like It Unfolded Naturally
Described as fast paced in the description, I felt it was actually a bit slow, especially in the middle. Of course, I understand trauma is complex and can be difficult to accurately portray and describe as the effects linger for years and recovery is even longer, so I felt a little misled. Still, the story was engaging and really focused on the lives of victims, showing how individuals can be and are impacted in every area of life for years and years.
Another thing that had me feeling a little mixed up was the repetition of partying and the string of boyfriends Shelby, and Astrid to a lesser degree, had. I often felt like I’d read it before and started to jumble the minor characters so I couldn’t quite figure out who they were or how Shelby and Astrid met them. At the same time, it does serve to highlight the effects of sexual harassment and abuse. As much as I wish it had been edited down in order to make it fast paced, I still appreciate how necessary it was.
What was fast paced, though, was the last third of the novel. The story moved quickly and I found I didn’t want it to stop or end. The story was nicely brought together, the threads tied up. But it was still messy, and I found myself hoping for the best for each character.
Overall: A Fairly Intense Read, But Worth It
Overall, I think this was a fairly intense novel. As someone who has never been a victim of sexual harassment or abuse, it really opened my eyes to what victims must endure for the rest of their lives. This book made me hurt for them, made me want to step in and protect them, and made me root for them and every victim more than ever before. I was disappointed it wasn’t set in the present day, but the ramifications of harassment and abuse will remain the same no matter the time, and it helps to highlight the long history women have of being at the mercy of others’ hands.
How many cups of tea will you need?
4 cups will do perfectly
About S. M. Stevens
S.M. Stevens began writing fiction during back-to-back health crises. First, she broke her pelvis in three places in a horseback riding fall, and used the recuperation period to write Shannon’s Odyssey, a middle-grade novel for animal-lovers. Soon after, Stevens was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. During her five months of treatment and subsequent recovery spell, she wrote Bit Players, Has-Been Actors and Other Posers for musical theatre-loving teens. Two additional Bit Players novels followed. Horseshoes and Hand Grenades is her first adult book. After watching reactions to the #MeToo movement, she decided it was time for a novel that takes people into the minds of victims so they can understand why many women don’t speak up about their harassment or assault, and why some do. When not writing, she provides marketing and public relations services to solar energy companies. She is from Gorham, Maine, and now lives in Clinton, Mass., and Washington, N.H. She has also lived in Italy and in the U.K., where she was Group Public Affairs Director for National Grid.
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Thank you so much to the author, S. M. Stevens, for not just a free e-copy, but the opportunity to participate in this blog tour. I highly recommend this book for every woman out there. All opinions expressed are my own.
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