Book Corner

Book Review: Games We Played (ARC)

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When actress Rachel Goldberg shares her personal views on a local radio show, she becomes a target for online harassment. Things go too far when someone paints a swastika on her front door, not only terrifying her but also dredging up some painful childhood memories. Rachel escapes to her hometown of Carlsbad. To avoid upsetting her parents, she tells them she’s there to visit her Orthodox Jewish grandmother, even though that’s the last thing she wants to do. But trouble may have followed her.

Stephen Drescher is home from Iraq, but his dishonorable discharge contaminates his transition back to civilian life. His old skinhead friends, the ones who urged him to enlist so he could learn to make better bombs, have disappeared, and he can’t even afford to adopt a dog. Thinking to reconnect with his childhood friend, he googles Rachel’s name and is stunned to see the comments on her Facebook page. He summons the courage to contact her.

Rachel and Stephen, who have vastly different feelings about the games they played and what might come of their reunion, must come to terms with their pasts before they can work toward their futures.




Wow. There is so much to unpack here, I’m not really sure where to begin.

I initially gave this book three stars, then changed it to four stars. Here’s why: The subject matter is disturbing and the character is gay.

There, I said it. It bothered me. This is not something I usually pick up and read, nor have any desire to read, but I wanted to challenge myself. I based my rating on my personal beliefs and views and that’s not fair to the story, nor the author, so I changed it to four stars because the writing was well done, the story, though uncomfortable, was handled carefully and it’s a subject that should be talked about and analyzed, not swept under the rug.

Again. It’s about being fair, not about my personal beliefs concerning how the character lives her life nor the subject matter.

Rachel is an up-and-coming actress and though not famous, she is well-known enough in the area to be doing fairly well for herself. In an attempt to promote herself, her girlfriend makes a Facebook page and a Twitter account to promote her. Rachel’s best friend (whose name escapes me right now), writes a lot of the plays she stars in and they are controversial, her latest being about abortion. When Rachel participates in a radio interview she dares to offer her real opinions on the matter which stirs up the crazies and she effectively puts a target on her back. When these haters learn that she’s Jewish, that brings in the Antisemitism people and before long, they find out where she lives and puts that information on Facebook, maybe even Twitter.

They “doxy” her. Meaning, they publicize her personal information thereby making it easy for the haters to find her and terrorize her. This part bothered me because she could have reported the incident to Facebook and/or Twitter and they would have removed the post and most likely penalized the user as that goes against the terms of service. So Rachel’s argument of not deleting her accounts, only the posts, because she didn’t want them to win was a bit lame, in my opinion. Not reporting them only encouraged the haters to become more bold and obnoxious. And I got very impatient with Rachel for not deleting her accounts and instead, choosing to keep them and then torture herself by continuing to read the comments which only served to push her further down into her dark hole of self doubt and insecurities. You can’t have it both ways, either delete your accounts if it bothers you that much and/or, report the jerks and delete/block commenters. I realize haters multiple like weeds, but if you choose to put yourself online, you have to expect there will be people who don’t like you – it’s inevitable. So make a decision, don’t choose to continue to torture yourself and then feel sorry for yourself – I can’t stand characters that choose to wallow in a cesspool of their own making.

Number one rule if you have an online presences, don’t feed the trolls.

I actually couldn’t stand Rachel. Not because she was a Jew, and not because she was gay but because she was a whiner. Everything was about her, about the way she felt, about everything going wrong in her life. She is stuck in a relationship with Liz, who is married to a man and has two children that require a lot of her time. Rachel is stuck because she knows that Liz is stringing her along but she can’t cut her loose. Liz’s confusion is not Rachel’s problem. Cut. Her. Loose. The fact that Rachel wasn’t strong enough to accept the fact that Liz was using her and continued to use her, really grated on me. I know it easier said than done to tell someone to cut someone out of his/her life but if that person brings more grief than joy, then it’s best for everyone in the relationship to make the tough decision and get out.

And I lost a bit of respect for Rachel as well because she was, in essence, doing the same thing to Jo. Jo is a cop who drops everything to support Rachel when the threats against Rachel escalate. And Rachel takes advantage of that using Jo whenever she can because she can’t rely on Liz to be there for her.

So, Rachel’s clingy, insecure personality really turned me off.

As far as the Antisemitism aspect of the story, that was the most uncomfortable aspect of the story for me. I didn’t really care that Rachel was gay, though the way she handled her relationships really frustrated me, but the Antisemitism attacks was another story.

She has a complicated relationship with her faith, or lack thereof. That dissatisfaction stems largely from her grandmother who was a devout Jew and was militant in ensuring that Rachel grew up practicing Judaism. She was also made to be ashamed of her heritage because the boy who lived next to her continually called her “Jew girl” and they played games where he was a Nazi and she was his prisoner. The games they played soon turned sexual in nature and that further served to shake Rachel’s belief in her religion, and her sexuality.

I thought one of the more interesting aspects of the story was that the author made Stephen part of the story so the reader had a chance to see why Stephen believed he was a Nazi – because his grandfather was a racist bigot and going along with that belief gave him an excuse to get closer to his grandfather, who was the only person in his life who really cared or paid attention to him. Stephen really didn’t know, nor understand what being a Nazi was, he just wanted a place where he belonged and since his grandfather was the only person who paid attention to him, immersing himself in that belief was what he needed to do.

This is also evident later in life when Stephen goes looking for his Antisemitism friends after being discharged from the military – because again, he needed to find someplace where he felt like he belonged. Where he was a part of something.

I really appreciated the author putting Stephen into the story because it serves to demonstrate that people that belong to hate groups are people too and there is usually a series of unfortunate events that molds them into thinking, and living, that way. I’m not excusing these people, but I think it’s important that we remember that these haters are people who have likely been misdirected and that there is a misguided reason for them being the way they are. They are human, too.

I ended up feeling sorry for Stephen as he tries very hard to be something he’s really not but because he’s never been taught to believe anything else, he sticks to what he knows. He’s just looking for someone to love him.

Gladys’ story was an interesting element. Gladys’ family was captured by the Nazis and killed, at least, it’s presumed they are killed as Gladys never sees them again. But she ends up confessing her past to Stephen because Stephen reminds her of a Nazi soldier that her sister got quite close to. This was a way for Gladys to confess her past and perhaps make sense of it. This closeness confuse Stephen even more as she’s a Jew and he’s been taught to hate Jews but she’s also one of the few people in his young life to pay attention to him so he has a sort of love/hate relationship with Gladys.

Honestly, I ended up liking Stephen more than Rachel as I felt like Stephen’s character grew and evolved where Rachel just continued to feel sorry for herself. Rachel did end up growing a spine at the end and getting rid of Liz, but then she jumped right into another relationship with Jo. So, she learned something about herself but I didn’t get the feeling her character actually grew into something better.

The author does a nice job of handling a difficult and sensitive subject. She was successful in playing fair to all parties and in showing the reader that life choices and our upbringing are often the reason we believe what we believe and the choices we make in life. I think it’s a good reminder to all of us that we need to not judge so quickly, because everyone has a story to tell and often that story is what molds us in the people we become.