Categories
Blog Tour Book launch Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog #Blogblast The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E. Smith (@JenESmith) (@QuercusBooks) #GretaJames An adult coming-of-age story full of warmth, heart, and music set in beautiful Alaska

Hi all:

I bring you a book that was a very pleasant surprise for me, and I’m happy I was given the opportunity to participate in the blog blast on the day of its publication.

The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E. Smith

An indie musician reeling from tragedy reconnects with her father on a week-long cruise in this tale of grief, fame, and love from bestselling author Jennifer E. Smith.

Just after the sudden death of her mother – her most devoted fan – and weeks before the launch of her high-stakes second album, Greta James falls apart on stage. The footage quickly goes viral and she stops playing. Greta’s career is suddenly in jeopardy – the kind of jeopardy her father, Conrad, has always warned her about.

Months later, Greta – still heartbroken and very much adrift – reluctantly agrees to accompany Conrad on the Alaskan cruise her parents had booked to celebrate their fortieth anniversary. It could be their last chance to heal old wounds in the wake of shared loss. But the trip will also prove to be a voyage of discovery for them both, and for Ben Wilder, a charming historian who is struggling with a major upheaval in his own life.

In this unlikeliest of places – at sea and far from the packed venues where she usually plays – Greta must finally confront the heartbreak she’s suffered, the family hurts that run deep, and how to find her voice again.

https://www.amazon.com/Unsinkable-Greta-James-Novel-ebook/dp/B096D6BCTF/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unsinkable-Greta-James-Jennifer-Smith/dp/1529416434/ (The Kindle version was not available when I checked, but I am sure it is only a matter of time)

https://www.amazon.es/Unsinkable-Greta-James-English-ebook/dp/B097G36DJQ/

Author Jennifer E. Smith

About the author:

Jennifer E. Smith is the author of nine books for young adults, including The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between, both of which have recently been adapted for film. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and her work has been translated into thirty-three languages. She currently lives in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter at @JenEsmith or visit her at

https://www.jenniferesmith.com/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jennifer-E.-Smith/e/B001JS1GEQ

 NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR

‘This book is a very special one for me. It’s my tenth novel, but my first one for adults, so it feels like a debut in many ways, and I’ve never been prouder of anything I’ve written. I may not be a rock star, and we may not be in a packed music venue with all its energy and immediacy, but I think what happens between writers and readers is something even more profound, something quieter and more personal. So whether this is the first you’ve heard of me, or you’ve grown up along with my books, I’m endlessly grateful to you for choosing to spend time with Greta. It means the world’ – Jennifer Smith

My review:

My thanks to Quercus and NetGalley for the ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review, and for the opportunity to participate in the blog blast on the day of its release.

Jennifer E. Smith is an author well-known for her YA novels, but this is the first book I read by her, and although I can’t comment on how it compares to her previous work, I loved this one.

The book’s description is very accurate and gives a good idea of what to expect, at least in general terms. It is an adult coming-of-age story, a category that keeps popping up on my reading list recently, and that, so far, has been full of pleasant surprises. Here we have several adult coming-of-age stories, in fact. Apart from the story of Greta, the unsinkable musician of the title (as she proves to be by the end), who has to learn to see things from other people’s perspective, to accept her loss and heartbreak, and to discover that even our dreams are not perfect; we also discover the story of her father, Conrad, who has to face the same loss and make peace with a daughter who challenges his way of life and his dreams; and Ben, a man who is living a dream he never truly believed in and has to pay a hefty price for it. The novel explores family relationships (the stories families tell about themselves, the roles the different members adopt, and how those change), loss (of a close relative, of a relationship, of a dream, of the capacity to create…) and the guilty feelings that often accompany it, different choices and lifestyles (family versus career, dreams versus security), fame and the lack of privacy that comes with it, the role of parents in encouraging their children’s dreams and giving them wings (or not), different concepts of love, the beauty of nature and music and the healing powers of both…

Greta, the central character, is a strong woman, even if we meet her at a low point, a moment when she is going through a deep crisis. She has not only lost her mother and had a public meltdown during a concert, but she is also trying to recover from the breakup from her relationship with her boyfriend and producer, the most stable romantic relationship she’d ever had. Although the story is told in the third person and in the present tense (it felt a bit odd, to begin with, but I quickly forgot about it, and considering most of it takes place in a week and in almost real-time, it feels quite apt) from Greta’s point of view, through her memories and her conversations we get to learn a lot of what happened to get her where she is now, no matter how hard she tries not to think about it. It is very strange, considering that I have hardly anything in common with the character but I really liked her and connected with her from the start, and I often found myself nodding at her comments and reflections, and feeling that many of her words could very well apply to me. The protagonist is far from perfect; she can be obstinate and often refuses to consider things from anybody else’s perspective, but she is hurting so badly and is trying so hard to keep going and to make amends, that it is impossible not to feel for her and cheer her on. The same is true for the rest of the characters. The two couples who have been her parents’ friends forever and travel with them are very different but also very likeable. Pritee, a young girl Greta meets at the beginning of the cruise, is wonderful (and we can easily imagine young Greta when we see this girl’s enthusiasm and zest for life); Ben, the love interest, is a genuinely nice guy, with his own problems but always happy to try and be there for Greta as well; her brother, Asher, is the complete opposite of her and nonetheless a thoroughly decent man, who deeply cares for his family; even her ex-boyfriend sounds quite caring (if far from perfect). And Conrad, her Dad… Well, this man and his interactions with his daughter are the heart of the novel and are both, heartbreaking and heart-warming. There are so many things unsaid between them, and so much hurt, but… 

Let me not forget Alaska. Most reviewers comment on the beautiful depiction of Alaska and say they felt like dropping everything to go there. I have wanted to visit it for quite a while, and now I am more determined than ever. Both Alaska and the ship (it’s not a boat, and those who read the book will know why I say that) play important parts in the novel, providing the perfect setting, full of awe-inducing and unforgettable experiences; a sanctuary where the protagonists can have the necessary breathing space and break free from their everyday lives for long enough to confront some hard truths and start anew.

Smith’s writing flows easily, and she excels at describing experiences, feelings, sensations, in a lyrical and compelling manner. There are very sad and moving moments (tissues are recommended), funny interludes, and tender and joyful scenes that will make readers smile. The book is full of eminently quotable gems, but as I have only read an ARC copy, I am aware there might be some changes in the final edition. I decided that I would only share a few of the fragments I had highlighted, as a taster. 

Here, Greta is talking about her mother to one of her mother’s friends:

“Also, she made the worst coffee. Like, seriously bad. And she had no street smarts. She’d come to New York and act like she was in a musical, like the whole world is singing along with her. And… she left me. She left all of us, but it feels like she left me most of all, and I know that’s completely self-centered, but it’s how I feel. I hate that she’s gone. I really, really hate it.”

That moment, that phone call, that missed opportunity: all of it is as elemental to their lives as this glacier is to the beach, huge and imposing and receding so slowly, so gradually, that you might be forgiven for assuming it would be here forever.

 Greta and her Dad are talking about Ben and his family responsibilities:

“Everyone has baggage,” he says. “Even you. Just because yours is a different shape and size doesn’t mean it’s not heavy too.” 

“Maybe the point isn’t always to make things last,” he says. “Maybe it’s just to make them count.” (Another one of Conrad’s wise comments). 

I felt the ending was perfect. It has a touch of whimsy and openness that appealed to me because rather than leaving things unresolved (some readers would have preferred more clarity, but I didn’t mind at all), it ends on a hopeful note, full of possibilities. You know that whatever might come next, Greta will be OK and will remain unsinkable.

In summary, this is a novel I would recommend to anybody who enjoys stories with a strong female protagonist, especially one going through a difficult and challenging period in her life, full of interesting characters and real-life emotions. This is a novel about relationships and growing up, and it will not suit those looking for a complex plot full of adventures or intrigue. Although there is a love story of sorts, this is not the most important part of the novel, and people looking for a big romance might be disappointed, but anybody who appreciates stories about family relationships and about how they change, anybody who has experienced the loss of a parent, and particularly those who are fans of indie music and love an Alaskan setting, will enjoy this novel. Book clubs will find plenty to talk and think about in this novel as well (and the fact that one of the characters is a writer and a fan of a classic American author will add to the attraction), and although it is not squeaky-clean, there is no violence or graphic sex, and readers are left with a warm feeling. I don’t know if Smith will carry on writing for adults (although I think older YA and NA would probably enjoy this book as well), but I hope she does, although I wouldn’t mind reading her YA novels either. And I am sure those who try this one will keep on reading her as well.

Thanks to Quercus (Milly Reid in particular), to NetGalley, and of course the author, for such a lovely book, thanks to all of you for following me and reading my reviews, and remember to like, share, comment (if you feel it is worth it), but especially, keep smiling and stay safe. And keep reading!

 

Categories
Blog Tour Book launch Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE SOUND OF VIOLET by Allen Wolf (@theallenwolf ) An atypical romance (plus) with a fabulous ending #Virtualblogtour #romantic

Hi all, as you can see, I’m participating in a Virtual Blog Tour today. This one is a bit special, as you’ll soon realise:

The Sound of Violet by Allen Wolf

The Sound of Violet by Allen Wolf

Desperate to find a soulmate, Shawn goes on one awkward date after another until he encounters the alluring Violet. He starts dating her, but his autism keeps him from realizing that she’s actually a prostitute. Shawn thinks he’s found a potential wife while Violet thinks she’s found her ticket to a brand new life. This hilarious and dramatic award-winning story has been adapted into a major motion picture.

 PRAISE FOR THE SOUND OF VIOLET:

“Wolf, an award-winning filmmaker, has adapted this first novel from his own original screenplay, and its cinematic potential clearly shows. The high-concept narrative is entertaining, well-paced, and highly visual … It’s a charming, humorous, and hopeful tale. A quirky, touching love story that offers insights into autism, religion, and personal tragedy.” – Kirkus Reviews

“A wonderfully well-written, funny, romantic love story. Unique and inspirational. The Sound of Violet is not your average romance. Rarely do I find myself so captivated by a book that I cannot put it down for nearly two hours. Pick up this book and get lost in the beauty of their relationship. My only complaint would be that the story had an ending, as all stories do, and I did so want to keep reading on. Most highly recommended. The Sound of Violet is simply remarkable.” – Readers’ Favorite

“By turning conventions of contemporary romance on its stilettos and swapping out the typical sassy, fashion-obsessed female protagonist for an autistic male who reads jokes from index cards, Wolf puts a fresh spin on the genre. Adapted from his award-winning screenplay, The Sound of Violet shows signs of its origins with snappy dialogue and humorous, well-staged scenes … A sweet and entertaining romantic comedy, The Sound of Violet touches on autism and the power of faith. It will appeal to any reader who enjoys a blend of quirky characters, humor, and drama.” – Blue Ink Review

“Heartfelt, out-of-the-ordinary romance … This warm, witty story does not shy away from serious themes like exploitation, redemption, and true love. The Sound of Violet explores heavy issues with a light touch. It’s easy to see this being adapted into an enjoyable movie …” – Foreword Reviews

https://www.amazon.com/Sound-Violet-Hooked-Allen-Wolf/dp/1952844134/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1952844134/

https://www.amazon.es/dp/1952844134/

Author, game creator, podcaster, and filmmaker Allen Wolf 

About the author:

Allen Wolf has won multiple awards as a novelist, filmmaker, and board game creator. His debut novel Hooked won a Book of the Year Award from Foreword Reviews, Gold Medal from the Readers’ Favorite Book Awards, Silver Medal from the Benjamin Franklin Book Awards, Bronze Medal from the IP Awards, and was a finalist for the USA Book Awards. Kirkus Reviews wrote, “The high-concept narrative is entertaining, well-paced, and highly visual.”

Allen wrote, directed, and produced the movie version of Hooked that is expected to debut in theaters in 2019.

As a filmmaker, Allen wrote, directed, and produced In My Sleep which was released worldwide, won multiple film festivals, and is available on Amazon and iTunes. Hollywood Reporter raved, “In My Sleep never rests, a credit to the tight, psychologically astute pacing of filmmaker Wolf.”

Wolf created five board games that won 38 awards – You’re Pulling My Leg!, Slap Wacky, JabberJot, You’re Pulling My Leg! Junior, and Pet Detectives. They have brought smiles to hundreds of thousands of people around the world through his company, Morning Star Games.

He graduated from New York University’s film school. He married his Persian princess and they have two kids together. He enjoys traveling around the world and hearing other people’s life stories. Allen also cherishes spending time with his family, chocolate, and visiting Disneyland.

https://www.amazon.com/Allen-Wolf/e/B00OWGVWPA/

You can also access more information about the author (including a sample of the first chapter of this novel), here: www.allenwolf.com/author 

All those who purchase the novel will get a sneak preview of the trailer for the upcoming movie. They only need to email a screenshot of their order or their order number to info@thesoundofviolet.com. Oh, I have watched the trailer, and I’m looking forward to watching the movie already!

 My review:

 Thanks to NetGalley and to the publisher for providing me an ARC copy of the novel and for asking me to take part in the Virtual Blog Tour of its launch.

I had never read any of the author’s books, but it is evident from his biography that he is a multi-talented individual with an ample career in filmmaking, screenwriting, podcasting, and also creating games. I hope to be able to catch up on some of his other skills soon because reading about his work has piqued my curiosity.

 The description of the book offers enough information for future readers to be able to get a good sense of what to expect. If I had to add to this, I would say that it made me think of Pretty Woman. That is if we transform the male protagonist —a very charming and classy millionaire (or billionaire)— into a not quite so wealthy, but equally charming (more, in my opinion) young man, who loves weddings, dreams of a happy marriage, and whose autism might not be evident at first, but it affects his social interactions and his everyday life in not-always-subtle ways. And although the female character is a young prostitute as well, there is more realism and more darkness behind her circumstances. So, although there is certainly plenty of comedy and amusing scenes and episodes, there is also a darker reality explored by this novel.

 This is eminently a work of fiction and an entertaining and ‘alternative’ romantic story, but there are some themes the novel delves into which deserve a special mention. I have talked about the protagonist’s high-functioning autism, and although I don’t think people familiar with Asperger’s and autism will discover anything new here, there is a lightness of touch in the way we learn about some of Shawn’s experiences (like his synaesthesia, that makes him literally ‘hear’ colours, or his almost painful sensitivity to touch and any intense stimuli of his senses) which will suit people who worry about information dumps or over-the-top descriptions, while bringing to life what it must be like, not only to be Shawn, but also to meet him or live with him. We meet his grandmother and his brother, both great characters (I love Ruth the most, but Colin is a nice guy as well), and learn about his parents’ role (or lack of it). Through Violet, the author explores issues like human trafficking and also child abuse and trauma, and although this is not a tough and harsh documentary look at any of those subjects, it helps anchor it more firmly in reality and makes it a far less idealised and rosy story than many in the genre. People looking for a totally clean, non-traumatic, and violence-free read should look elsewhere, but most readers happy with the description are unlikely to feel offended by its content, with the provisos mentioned before. The book also discusses the world of dating apps, second chances, bereavement, religious belief, prejudice… and family relationships feature prominently in its plot.

I have mentioned a few of the characters of the book, and the novel has plenty of others, some of who we don’t get to know that well (like Anton, the pimp, a pretty devious guy as you can imagine; Jake, Shawn’s boss, who hides depths not evident at first; and also some of Shawn and Violet’s coworkers), but those who play an important role in the story are usually given enough space to leave a mark in the reader. And the protagonists are both very memorable in their distinct ways. Not that they are perfect, by any means. As Colin reminds Shawn sometimes, he has a tendency to think about his own needs, first of all, forgetting what those around him might experience or feel. And Violet at first wants to use Shawn but soon becomes charmed by him, and her relationship with him helps her find the strength she needs to fight her low self-esteem, her trauma, and her circumstances.

The novel’s style is easy to read, it flows well, and it does feel very similar to watching a movie (yes, there is a movie and it looks good, despite the change of setting, as the film is set in Seattle rather than New York), because it is a page-turner written in a scene or episodic format, where the action moves quickly from one situation to the next, following a chronological order. It is written in the third person, but readers have access to the thoughts and feelings of, mostly, the main protagonists, though occasionally and briefly we get to see things from one of the other character’s points of view, and that helps to offer its reader a wider and more rounded perspective.

As for the ending, it suits perfectly his unusual romantic comedy plus (if I had to fit it into a category, or perhaps ‘romantic dramedy’ as the author says later on) genre, and I think most people will be happy with the way events unfold, although some parts of it felt a bit rushed and required more suspension of disbelief than the rest of the novel. But the ending proper is lovely, for sure. And it seems that the author is planning to write more about the characters in the next novel, so don’t worry if you’ve become fond of the characters and wish for more. It’s likely to come.

So, would I recommend this novel? Yes, to anybody who is looking for a romantic comedy that goes a little beyond the usual and has a hard edge. Readers should be aware that some of the topics discussed are darker than is expected in the standard examples of the genre, but it is perfect for those who don’t mind a touch of realism and grit and are looking for a dynamic and heart-warming book, full of lovable characters, and an atypical romance with a fabulous ending. 

I include a Q&A session about this novel in the author’s own words, in case you want to know more.

 Q&A with Author Allen Wolf

 How did you come up with the story for The Sound of Violet?

 A friend and I were laughing about the challenges of navigating the dating world in Los Angeles years ago. Even though I was married, those days were still vivid in my mind. Those conversations inspired me to write The Sound of Violet about two dating-challenged people from entirely different walks of life and the opposite from each other in significant ways. The woman is paid to be with men and has a skewed view of love. The man is autistic and struggles with forming relationships as well as physical touch. And he has his own idealistic view of relationships. I thought bringing those two together would make a fascinating and dynamic story and could teach us something about love.

I can relate to Shawn’s dating journey because it reflects some of my journey when I was a single man in Los Angeles. Even though I’m not on the autism spectrum, I struggled with many of my main character’s issues, such as meaningfully connecting with women, being naïve in relationships, and struggling with building intimacy. The woman he falls in love with works as a prostitute, which he doesn’t realize. I thought that would be a compelling contrast with Shawn, who has a faith background and saved himself for marriage. He resists touching because it’s too intense for him, while she’s forced to touch others. I thought that would make a compelling story.

 Can you tell us about the book?

 The Sound of Violet is about a man who believes he found his perfect soulmate, but his autism keeps him from realizing she’s actually a prostitute. The novel allows readers to experience a love story between two people who are unlikely to fall in love. The main character is autistic, and I mainly wrote the novel from his perspective. He’s very trusting, so when he meets Violet, he believes she’s an actress when she’s actually a prostitute. I wanted the reader to experience the rollercoaster of the relationship mainly through his eyes with glimpses into Violet’s world. 

 You wear many different hats beyond being an author. How do you balance being an author, a filmmaker, a game creator, and a podcaster?

 I start most days around 4:00 a.m. and sometimes even earlier. In those early morning hours, I’m able to work on my creative projects without interruption. I try to work on a project consistently and chip away at it day after day. Then, one day it’s finished, and I’m able to move on to something else. Starting any new project feels like standing at the base of an enormous mountain, and it can feel overwhelming to think of what’s ahead. But if I can move forward with one small step after another, eventually, I discover I’ve made it to the summit. It takes a lot of perseverance, but it’s worth it when I see my creative work come to life and hear how what I’m doing is having a positive impact on people’s lives.

Where do you find inspiration?

 Since I’ve started hosting the Navigating Hollywood podcast, I’ve been inspired by my guests, who have overcome tremendous odds to succeed in the world of film and television. I’m also creatively inspired by my family, friendships, and adventures I’ve taken around Los Angeles and the globe. I love watching my kids create entire worlds using boxes and construction paper. Their limitless imaginations spur me on. I always feel creatively recharged when I visit museums, experience a great movie, enjoy a game night with friends, or visit Disneyland, where I’ve visited over 500 times. Everything in Disneyland is based on a story, and I’ve spent many hours at the park to work on novels, screenplays, or other creative ideas.

Can you tell us about your upcoming movie, The Sound of Violet, based on your novel? 

 The Sound of Violet is a romantic dramedy about a man who believes he found his perfect soulmate, but his autism keeps him from realizing she’s actually a prostitute, so the storyline is the same as the novel. My hope is for the movie to bring awareness to human trafficking while helping people to see autism through a new lens. I wrote, directed, and produced the film. We had a fantastic team of actors and people who worked behind the scenes to make it happen. 

While the novel is set in New York City, I changed the movie’s location to Seattle so readers will have a whole new experience in watching the film. We were able to film in some fantastic places, which will showcase areas of Seattle that you don’t usually see in movies based there. I made some changes to the characters. Natasha, who is Russian in the novel, is named Nadia in the film. She’s from India and doesn’t talk. I combined the characters of Flynn and Shawn’s boss Jake so that Jake is more of a central figure. 

 It’s a very different experience to experience the movie compared to reading the novel. In the book, I’m able to explore the inner lives and thoughts of the characters with words, while in the movie, you’re able to experience the story visually, which brings a whole new dimension to the story. Our composer, Conrad Pope, created a lush score that also helps bring the story to life.

 What was the process like bringing The Sound of Violet to life from the novel to the screen?

 It was a monumental effort to bring The Sound of Violet to life on the screen. I first relocated the story from New York City to Seattle, which I knew would be a friendlier city to make the film. I changed locations for scenes in the novel to be more visual for the movie. I wanted to explore Seattle’s beautiful landscapes for the film, so I featured scenes in Gas Works Park, the shipping yards, alongside the enormous bridges and different spots around the city that you usually don’t see featured in Hollywood movies.

 I wanted to cast unknown actors in the lead roles so the audience wouldn’t have any preconceived notions of who they are during the film. This movie is the debut for our two lead actors, and they pulled off stunning performances. I also had to find ways to tell the story in a tighter timeframe, so I condensed some scenes and took out others. I wanted the experience of watching the movie to be different from the book, so while the story beats are identical, the movie’s journey takes you on various twists and turns than the novel. When I write a novel, I’m able to concentrate on the inner lives of the character. But in creating a movie, I have to communicate all of that through the actors’ performances. There were several moments on the set when it struck me that the characters I had written for the page were walking and talking in front of me. That was surreal! I was so thankful to be surrounded by such a talented team of actors and the crew who worked tirelessly. Composer Conrad Pope created the soundtrack for the movie, which we also recorded in Seattle with a 54 piece orchestra. I appreciate how he draws out the emotional beats of the story through his musical craftsmanship. I’m very much looking forward to the film premiering in theaters and hearing what the experience is like for our readers.

 What was it like seeing the characters from your novel come to life in the movie?

 It was surreal to see the characters and story from the novel come to life for the film. It struck me that characters I had written about in solitude had become living and breathing human beings. Now, when I read the book, I picture the faces of those actors.

 How can we see a trailer of The Sound of Violet?

Anyone who purchases the novel will get a sneak preview of the trailer. Readers send their receipt or transaction number to info@thesoundofviolet.com, and they’ll be one of the first people to see the trailer.

What are your current creative influences?

 The works of C.S. Lewis inspire me, and I have read his books numerous times. I recently finished reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to my kids for the first time. I’m always impressed by how C.S. Lewis can weave together a powerful story with a deeper meaning. JRR Tolkien also inspires me for the same reasons. I’m also a huge fan of Liane Moriarty and love how she captures the inner lives of her characters in her novels.

 What did you learn when writing this story?

 When I first started writing the story of The Sound of Violet, Violet’s character was an “empowered hooker” that you typically see portrayed in Hollywood movies. But then, as I researched prostitution, I realized that the vast majority of these women are being trafficked. Or, they were sexually abused, and they’re reliving that trauma as prostitutes. I then consulted with several organizations that work with trafficked people, which opened my eyes tremendously. I took a whole new direction in creating Violet’s character, and I think it reflects the reality of someone caught up in prostitution today. I also learned a lot about autism while researching Shawn’s character. I have a relative who is autistic and consulted with several others to accurately portray Shawn’s character. There isn’t one standard description of an autistic person, so I crafted a character I thought was best for this story. While I was prepping the story, I talked to two different mothers whose autistic sons had unknowingly started relationships with prostitutes, which brought some realism to the story I had created.

 What does the title mean?

 The title The Sound of Violet has a double meaning. The main character Shawn has a condition called synesthesia which allows him to hear sounds in colors. So if he’s staring at the color violet, he will hear a sound. The main character’s name is also Violet, and she comments to him that he should be with someone whose colors sound right to him.

 What do you think happened to the characters after the book ended?

 I’m working on a sequel to answer that question.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and above all, stay safe and keep smiling!

 

Categories
Blog Tour Book launch book promo Book review

#BlogBlast #Bookreview The Disappearance of #StephanieMailer: A gripping new thriller with a killer twist by Joël Dicker Many stories, many genres in one great read @QuercusBooks @MacLehosePress

Hi all:

I couldn’t resist and had to read this book and participate in this blog blast:

The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer by Joël Dicker

The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer: A gripping new thriller with a killer twist by Joël Dicker  (Author), Howard Curtis (Translator)

A twisting new thriller from the author of The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair

In the summer of 1994, the quiet seaside town of Orphea reels from the discovery of four murders.

Two young police officers, Jesse Rosenberg and Derek Scott crack the case and identify the killer.

Then, twenty years later and just as he is on the point of taking early retirement, Rosenberg is approached by Stephanie Mailer, a journalist who believes he made a mistake back in 1994 and that the real murderer is still out there, perhaps ready to strike again. But before she can give any more details, Stephanie Mailer mysteriously disappears, and Rosenberg and Scott are forced to confront the possibility that her suspicions might have been proved true.

What happened to Stephanie Mailer?

What did she know?

And what really happened in Orphea all those years ago?

TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH BY HOWARD CURTIS

https://www.amazon.com/Disappearance-Stephanie-Mailer-Jo%C3%ABl-Dicker-ebook/dp/B07WFJJ2L5/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Disappearance-Stephanie-Mailer-Jo%C3%ABl-Dicker-ebook/dp/B07WFJJ2L5/

https://www.amazon.es/Disappearance-Stephanie-Mailer-Jo%C3%ABl-Dicker-ebook/dp/B07WFJJ2L5/

Author Joel Dïcker

About the author:

JOËL DICKER was born in Geneva in 1985, where he studied Law. The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair was nominated for the Prix Goncourt and won the Grand Prix du Roman de l’Académie Française and the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens. It has sold more than 3.6 million copies in 42 countries.

HOWARD CURTIS is an award-winning translator of Italian and French, including books by Fabio Geda, Gianrico Carofiglio, Jean-Claude Izzo and Giorgio Scerbanenco.

Remember The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair?

  • A huge bestseller in Europe on publication
  • Joel Dicker was just 28 when this, his second book, came out. He became so famous in his native Switzerland; his picture was plastered all over public transport in his hometown Geneva
  • 250,000 copies were sold in the UK alone
  • Sky Witness series starring Patrick Dempsey aired in Autumn 2018

PRAISE FOR THE TRUTH ABOUT THE HARRY QUEBERT AFFAIR

‘Maybe, just possibly, the book of the year’ – Simon Mayo

‘An expertly realised, addictive Russian doll of a whodunnit’ – Daily Mail

‘A top-class literary thriller that smoothly outclasses its rivals’ – The Times

‘Should delight any reader who has felt bereft since finishing Gone Girl or Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy’ – Metro

‘Unimpeachably terrific’ – New York Times

‘The cleverest, creepiest book you’ll read this year’ – Daily Telegraph

My review:

I thank the publisher, Quercus Books, and NetGalley for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

I read and reviewed The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair (you can check my review here) almost a couple of years back (during my summer holidays. Remember those?), and I was enthralled by it, to the point where I got a couple of other books by the same author, which I intended to read. Being aware that his books are normally quite long and you need to keep your wits about you when you’re reading them, I’d been postponing that moment (I don’t need to tell you that things have been weird recently, and I think a lot of us have found it difficult to concentrate), but when I saw this book was available, and I was invited to participate in the blog tour, it was all the motivation I needed to plunge into it. I also realised why the name of the book was so familiar to me. I’ve seen it published in its Spanish translation and doing quite well, but I hadn’t realised it hadn’t been released in English yet.

Sorry for the long detour, but I think it’s a reflection of the impact the book has had on me, as it has a way of going off on tangents, or so they seem at the time. I wonder what would happen if somebody else wrote a book like this, and it reached the hands of a standard editor, who would follow the usual advice of removing anything that did not serve to move the plot forward, avoid unnecessary detours, streamline the story… This is a long book, with twists and turns galore, cul-de-sacs plot-wise, and of course, secrets, red herrings, clues, and revelations spread merrily around. I can imagine the author being advised to get rid of characters, or to, perhaps, leave out some of the side-stories and plotlines, maybe write separate novelettes or bonus chapters for followers which would include the background story of some of those characters. But this is a Joël Dicker novel, and he has proven more than once that he can get away with murder. Quite literally.

I am not sure I can talk about the plot in detail without revealing any spoilers, and I want to avoid that at all costs. Without going into the story, I can tell you that what struck me the most, thinking about it, is that although this book includes many standard plot devices and even clichés (you have the detective about to leave the police force, trying to solve a last case just before he hands back his badge; you have a female police detective trying to fit into a small town’s police force whose members are less than accepting of women among their ranks; you have a corrupt politician; a middle-aged man in a powerful position cheating on his wife with his young secretary; an ambitious reporter going after a story at all costs; the spoilt daughter of a rich man who’s mixing with the wrong company and getting herself into trouble…) they all fit in together and create a whole that is not in itself a challenge of any of the tropes, but something other.

I thought I could share this video to give you more of an idea…

In some ways, the story brought to my mind the term of pastiche as used by Fredrick Jameson when talking about postmodern writing. It is not a parody of other genres, it’s a celebration. The author knows and loves a multitude of genres, and rather than poke fun at them, he uses them to create a narrative that is many things in one. Let me count… the genres (or subgenres): 1) the mystery. Overall, there is a mystery hanging over the whole novel and pulling all its strings and characters together, like a centrifugal force, towards Orphea, the small town where most of the events and actions converge, and a character in its own right. The title hints at the mystery, and the disappearance of Stephanie Mailer, a journalist, is what sets the whole story in motion. I’ve mentioned red herrings, twists and turns, clues… We even have secret messages and codes, and we are likely to recognise the typical elements of a cozy mystery, with the setting in a small lovely town in the Hamptons, a friendly bookshop, a charming theatre festival…; 2) the police procedural. I’ve talked about a detective who’s about to leave the force, Jessie. He is challenged by Stephanie Mailer to reconsider the first case he solved, the beginning of his successful career, and that turns his world inside out. He manages to convince his partner at the time, Derek, to join him in the investigation (he took a desk job after the case, for reasons that become clear much later), and they get the assistance of the most recent recruit into the small-town police force, a female officer, Anna, who is having trouble fitting into the close-knit and somewhat misogynistic department. They review the old case, investigate the new clues, and keep digging into evidence, old and new; 3) the noir novel/thriller. A local gangster who uses underhand methods to gain influence over men and turn them into his slaves (underage girls and torture are featured as well), has a night club with an alluring singer, a brutal henchman by his side, and who manages to rub too many people the wrong way plays a part; 4) the second-chance/reinventing yourself story. Anna, the policewoman, has reinvented herself more than once. She studied Law and started working for her father’s company but soon realised this was not for her and trained to enter the police. She quickly became a detective, got married to a lawyer working for her father, and became a negotiator. Her husband wasn’t terribly keen on the idea, things went terribly wrong, and she decided to leave it all behind. Unfortunately, what she finds in Orphea, the charming town, isn’t exactly what she bargained for; 4) the coming of age story. Dakota, the daughter of a rich man, the CEO of an important TV channel, keeps getting into trouble, mixes with the wrong companies, and seems unable to keep her life in order. But there is a reason behind her behaviour; 5) small-town American and its dark underbelly. The lovely town of Orphea might seem idyllic, but it hides all kinds of corrupt practices, characters who are not as squeaky clean as they seem to be, and there is a dark secret (well, a few) about to burst open; 6) dark comedy/farce. We have a talentless ex-chief of police who desperately wants to become a successful dramatist, and he’d do anything to get his play (he’s been working on it for twenty years, so you can forgive him for that) onto the stage. We also have an important literary critic who’d love nothing better than to become an actor, and he will subject himself to any humiliation willingly to be given that chance. He’s joined by another chief-of-police who also wants to shine on stage (Oh, and how they do…). And the play… But those are not the only comedic elements in the story. Jessie’s back story, and his maternal grandparents, also seem strait from a less-than-gentle comedy (expletives and all; and I must confess there is a blonde wig somewhere that made me think of ET), and some of the most extreme behaviours of some of the characters seem taken right out of the Looney Tunes (the original Warner Bros series); 7) romance/romantic novels. We have quite a few stories that have romance at its heart, some set in the past and not standard HEA fare (Jessie and Natasha’s love story, with something of the Greek tragedy about it), Derek and his wife, the critic and his lover (I’m keeping my mouth firmly shut about this), the town mayor and his wife, the local newspaper editor and his wife, and… (sorry, no spoilers); 8) the story I mentioned of a middle-aged man who falls madly in love/lust with his young secretary, featuring adultery, manipulation, extortion and… I’m sure I’m forgetting some, but this wasn’t meant to be an all-inclusive list.

If all that sounds like chaos, well, you have a point, but, quoting Shakespeare, I’d say “there is a method to his madness”.

As you can guess, talking about all the characters would take forever, and I won’t try. I’ll only say that although many are not particularly likeable, at least, to begin with, we get to see many of them under a different light by the end of the novel (not always for the better, but most of them come out of it as quite human and relatable). The same goes for the themes, and you’ve got a good idea about those already from my comments about the genres. Guilt, lost opportunities, the consequences of keeping secrets from those we love and from everybody, and the cost of trying to find out the truth when there are powerful incentives at play to keep it buried, come up often in the novel, and there are multiple references not only to other genres, but also to classic plots and works of literature (the name of the town and the reference to Orpheus could easily apply to Jessie and the mourning of his lost love, but this is just one of many).

The novel is narrated by a variety of characters, and we hear the first-person narratives of quite a few of them (not all, but many). The way it works is: somebody is telling us what is happening (Jessie, for example) in 2014, the time when the contemporary story is set, and he finds a clue or he talks to somebody, and then, as if in a flashback, we are transported to 1994, and, usually in the third person, we get to see/experience that scene. There are multiple references to the actual time and to the person whose perspective we are reading, but these are interrupted by the trips to the past, or by somebody’s memories (like those of Dakota, at some point). That results in readers getting both, a personal perspective of the story, from several points of view, and also a narration of past events, seemingly from an omniscient point of view. It didn’t always run completely smoothly (I’m fully aware I was reading an early ARC copy, so some of the issues might have to do with that, and they were very minor), but I felt it was a satisfying alternative to the long stretches of “telling” so typical in classical mysteries. I’ve only read another novel by this author, but from the comments I’ve read, I understand that he’s also used a similar narrative style in several of his novels (and I definitely intend to read more of them in the future), so it might have become his trademark, although it’s too early in his career to come to conclusions.

There are plenty of memorable quotes here as well, but not quite as many as in Harry Quebert. This is a long book, and readers need to be on their guard and pay close attention to all they read, but as I’ve said, temporal changes are signposted, there is a list of characters at the back, and the writing isn’t precious or overly complicated. There are plenty of detours, and the writing meanders rather than rushing at breakneck speed towards the finish line, but I enjoyed getting side-tracked and following the character’s stories. After reading many stories that strictly follow the rules, I enjoy those who go their own way and take risks, although I know many people won’t share my feelings.

Did I guess the mystery? Well, which one? I did guess quite a few of the important twists and picked up on many of the clues, although no, I didn’t guess the final reveal, and I think that most people won’t until very close to the end, because of the way the story is constructed. But I must confess to being more taken by some of the side-stories at times and not being that concerned about the actual name by the end. It reminded me of a scene in Amadeus when Mozart describes to the emperor a particular scene in one of his operas, where he keeps adding more and more voices singing all in unison. A tour de force. Yes, as the ending neared I kept wondering how many more turns the plot would take before the actual final curtain. In case you’re worried, the main mystery is solved. (What does that mean? Well, you go ahead and read the book if you want to know). And yes, there is a coda of sorts, and I liked what we’re told happens to the characters later on.  I’m not sure it’s the ideal ending, but I enjoyed it. If I have to choose from the two books I’ve read by Dicker, I prefer The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair, but that was one of my favourite books in recent years, so this is no mean feat either.

So, would I recommend it? Of course. With some provisos. Be sure you have plenty of time to read it. As I’ve said, it’s complicated, and it brings many stories together, so if you only have time to pick it up a few minutes at a time over days and days, you might get quite confused, or you might have to keep going back. It’s important to set aside sufficient time to read it so that you can keep the details (or at least the main details) fresh and straight in your mind. Also, if you prefer slim, streamlined, and bare narratives, or straightforward mysteries with no flights of fancy or backstories, this is not for you. If you’re happy to be taken for a ride, enjoy long books, and like to mix and match genres and challenge conventions, you’ll definitely have a good time. I would also recommend it to writers thinking of writing mysteries or crime novels, as it is impossible to read this book and not ponder and keep thinking about how it has been written.

I’ll leave you with a quote from The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair, which I feel applies here: A good book, Marcus, is a book you are sorry to have finished.

Thanks to the author, translator, and publishers for this book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to spread the word if you are intrigued by what you’ve read. Let me know what you think, and remember to keep safe!

 

 

Categories
Blog Tour Book launch Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog #DREAMLAND by Nancy Bilyeau (@EndeavourQuill)(@Tudorscribe)A wild ride for lovers of historical fiction, amusement parks, and great female protagonists #Blogtour

Hi all!

Here I am participating in a blog tour for a book by an author that has featured before on my blog and who’s become a favourite of mine.

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeu

DREAMLAND by Nancy Bilyeau

‘Achingly believable’ – Publishers Weekly

‘This fast-paced, engrossing novel from Bilyeau… gives readers an up-close and personal view of New York’s Gilded Age’ – Library Journal

‘Beautifully written and impeccably researched, Dreamland is a rollicking ride.’ – Fiona Davis, bestselling author of The Chelsea Girls

‘A marvelous book!’ – Ellen Marie Wiseman, bestselling author of What she Left Behind and The Life she was Given

‘Bilyeau is at the height of her talents in the immersive and gripping Dreamland‘ – Heather Webb, USA Today bestselling author

‘Bilyeau’s thrilling novel plunges deep into Dreamland’s maze of pleasure and menace’ – Marlowe Benn, bestselling author of Relative Fortunes

‘Nancy Bilyeau’s passion for history infuses her books’ – Alison Weir

The year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground.

The invitation to Coney Island is unwelcome. Despite hailing from one of America’s richest families, Peggy would much rather spend the summer working at the Moonrise Bookstore than keeping up appearances with New York City socialites and her snobbish, controlling family.

But soon it transpires that the hedonism of Coney Island affords Peggy the freedom she has been yearning for, and it’s not long before she finds herself in love with a troubled pier-side artist of humble means, whom the Batternberg patriarchs would surely disapprove of.

Disapprove they may, but hidden behind their pomposity lurks a web of deceit, betrayal, and deadly secrets. And as bodies begin to mount up amidst the sweltering clamor of Coney Island, it seems the powerful Batternbergs can get away with anything… even murder.

Extravagant, intoxicating, and thumping with suspense, bestselling Nancy Bilyeau’s magnificent Dreamland is a story of corruption, class, and dangerous obsession.

What readers are saying about Dreamland…

If you enjoyed Downton Abbey and want something from that time, set in the US, but with a delicious murder mystery thrown in, you will love this book.” Goodreads reviewer, 5 *s

“I loved everything about this book and I will definitely look for more to read by Bilyeau! I enjoyed the pacing and character development so much and completely got wrapped up in the story.” NetGalley reviewer, 5 *s

“This suspenseful tale has every element of success: murder, deceit, love, corruption, perseverance, obsession, and redemption. A book that will keep you up at night rushing to the end but that will leave you wanting more once you’re finished.” Goodreads reviewer, 5 *s

http://geni.us/Kvfg9z

Here in Goodreads.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/47812578-dreamland

Author Nancy Bilyeau. Credit Joshua Kessler

About the author:

Nancy Bilyeau is the author of the historical thrillers “The Blue” and “Dreamland” and the Tudor mystery series “The Crown,” “The Chalice,” and “The Tapestry.” She is a magazine editor who has lived in the United States and Canada.

In “The Blue,” Nancy drew on her own heritage as a Huguenot. She is a direct descendant of Pierre Billiou, a French Huguenot who immigrated to what was then New Amsterdam (later New York City) in 1661. Nancy’s ancestor, Isaac, was born on the boat crossing the Atlantic, the St. Jean de Baptiste. Pierre’s stone house still stands and is the third oldest house in New York State.

Nancy, who studied History at the University of Michigan, has worked on the staffs of “InStyle,” “Good Housekeeping,” and “Rolling Stone.” She is currently the deputy editor of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at the Research Foundation of CUNY and a regular contributor to “Town & Country” and “Mystery Scene Magazine.”

Nancy’s mind is always in past centuries but she currently lives with her husband and two children in New York City.

https://www.amazon.com/Nancy-Bilyeau/e/B005XPJYDG/

You can read about the story behind this book and what inspired the author to write it in this blog post:

http://nancybilyeau.blogspot.com/2019/08/the-journey-to-writing-my-novel.html

My review:

I thank the publisher, Endeavour Quill, for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for the launch of this book and for providing me an ARC copy of it, which I freely chose to review. This has in no way influenced my opinion.

I recently read and reviewed Bilyeau’s novel The Blue (you can check my review here) and loved it so much that I did not hesitate when I got an invitation to read her new novel and join the blog tour. Like the previous one, this book also successfully combines history with intrigue, adventures, mystery, a fantastic cast of characters, and a heroine who is trying to find her own way amid a society in turmoil due to changes in the status-quo and to international historical events.

As the description explains, the novel is set in New York and Coney Island in the summer of 1911. Peggy Batternberg, the protagonist (the author explains that she was inspired by the historical figure of Peggy Guggenheim when she created her main character), belongs to the upper class, although as she observes, her family is only a couple of generations away from very humble origins as immigrants, and they would not have figured among the very select of society a few years earlier. They are also Jewish (not very religious), and although their money protects them from the worst of prejudice and antisemitism, that does not mean it does not exist, as the novel exposes time and again. She is trying to lead her own life as a modern woman, but her family’s power and influence, and society’s double standards of morality for men and women make it difficult for her to break completely free, and she ends up having to leave her job at a bookstore and spend the summer holiday at a posh hotel near Coney Island. Of course, although the hotel is very close to the three amusement parks, including the Dreamland of the title, the clientele of both are separated by the chasm of money and social class.

Peggy is a fascinating character. She is very young, determined, and contradictory at times. She is strong but naïve, passionate and rushed, headstrong and totally unrealistic. She tries to be practical and become independent from her family, but she acknowledges that much of what she does is only possible because she has the support of her family, and she does not have to rely solely on her salary, like her colleagues at work. She lost her father when she was young, and she is aware of the kind of hypocritical behaviour the males of her family engage in, but no matter how she struggles against it, she is still trapped by the morality of the period. Following some fairly traumatic experiences with men of her own class (and the male sense of entitlement —especially of men of a certain class— runs through the novel as a theme, and unfortunately recent events only prove that things haven’t changed as much as we might like to think), it is unsurprising that she feels attracted to an artist, a futurist painter, a foreigner, and somebody who is genuinely interested in her as a person, and not as a rich heiress. I am not a fan of love at first sight (or insta-love) stories, but considering what we know of the character and of her circumstances, it is easy to understand the attraction, and let’s say that I was quite reconciled to it by the end of the story. The character is forced to question herself and her motives more than once throughout the novel, and she does grow and develop as a result.

The story is told, almost in its entirety, in the first person, from Peggy’s point of view, but there are many other characters that create a rich tapestry of both, the wealthy upper-class society of the era (there are some real historical characters that make brief guest appearances as well), and also the working class, the underclass, and the artists working at the fair. The author paints a clear picture of the Batternberg family, its power structure, the differences between male and female roles within the dynasty, and it makes for a sobering and absorbing read, especially because over the course of the story, Peggy discovers things are even worse than she thought, and the web of deceit, secrets, and false appearances is woven thick. The fact that this people of loose morals look down upon hardworking individuals without a second thought is highlighted by the murders that take place in close proximity to the hotel, and how nobody (other than Peggy) seems to care about the victims or their relatives, only about preventing anything from disturbing the elegant guests. By contrast, some of the lower-class characters, that have the most to lose if things go wrong, go out of their way to help, even at a serious personal cost.

I must admit to being quite taken by some of the secondary characters that appear in the story, and in many cases, I’d love to know more about them (the whole of Lilliput scene is amazing; Madame Kschessinska is very intriguing; the police detective; Stefan, of course; and what to say about Ben, Peggy’s cousin, a real puzzle), but I agree with many of the reviewers and Lydia, Peggy’s sister, is a favourite of mine as well. She knows her own mind, she is supportive of her sister, and she grows in strength and maturity through the story. With her like with most things and characters in the story, appearances can be deceptive.

The historical background is well achieved, and I loved the descriptions of Coney Island, the seaside hotels, the fast trains, the clothes, the incubators, the art, the buildings… It felt as if I was peering into that era, and even experiencing the heat, tasting the food, and joining in the rides. The descriptions don’t overwhelm the story but help create a realistic setting and increase our understanding of what the period and the place were like. This is a work of fiction, and although some characters and events are recreated, the novel does not claim to historical accuracy (in fact, Dreamland was no longer functioning in the summer of 1911), but I have no doubt that it will encourage readers to learn more about the period and about Coney Island.

As for the mystery side of things… There are red-herrings; there is misdirection, and several suspects, as it pertains to the genre. There is a fair amount of action, surprises, scares, and Peggy’s turn as an amateur detective is fraught with risk. Although she is neither experienced nor particularly skilled as an investigator, she makes up for it with her determination, persistence, and a good nose for choosing her collaborators. This part of the story is the one that requires a greater suspension of disbelief, but the novel is not intended to be a police procedural, and the intrigue fits well into the overall story arc and will keep readers turning the pages at a good speed.

I have already talked about the issue of gender and gender politics that is explored in the novel. Although things were moving and women were fighting for the vote, it was not easy, and if it was hard for privileged women to have a say on how their lives should be run, for working-class women it could get positively dangerous, when not lethal. The author also explores the issue of migration, the suspicion towards foreigners (despite the melting-pot mythos of the United States society), the prejudice of society and authorities towards newcomers, and this is also linked to international politics (and, of course, we readers know that the situation was about to get much worse and it would result in World War I). These subjects are well integrated into the fabric of the novel, elevating it beyond the typical historical adventure romp, and they make comparisons to current historical events unavoidable.

The writing style is compelling, with beautiful descriptions combined with a great skill in making us feel and experience the events first-hand, and a good pace, alternating between action and more contemplative scenes, without ever stalling the flow.

I’ve read some reviews that complain about the ending being somewhat rushed and sudden. It speaks to the skill of the author the fact that we don’t want the story to end, and although there are elements of it that I think could have been further developed, overall I enjoyed the ending, especially because it isn’t a conventional one.

In sum, I enjoyed the wild ride that is Dreamland. I wish I could have visited the real one, but lacking that opportunity, this is a close and satisfying second best. I congratulate the author for this great novel, and I look forward to the next.

Thanks to the publishers, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to share if you know anybody who might be interested. Oh, and in case you want to follow the blog tour…

Keep reading and smiling!

 

 

Categories
Blog Tour Book launch Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog #FULL LIGHT OF THE SUN by Clare Clark (@claresclark) (@ViragoBooks) A beautiful novel about history, art, and truth.

Dear all:

Although I almost missed the chance to read this novel and participate in the blog tour, I’m pleased I managed. I loved it.

In the Full Light of the Sun by Clare Clark A beautiful story about art, history, and what is truly important.

In the Full Light of the Sun follows the fortunes of three Berliners caught up in a devastating scandal of 1930s’ Germany. It tells the story of Emmeline, a wayward, young art student; Julius, an anxious, middle-aged art expert; and a mysterious art dealer named Rachmann who are at the heart of Weimar Berlin at its hedonistic, politically turbulent apogee and are whipped up into excitement over the surprising discovery of thirty-two previously unknown paintings by Vincent van Gogh.

Based on a true story, unfolding through the subsequent rise of Hitler and the Nazis, this gripping tale is about beauty and justice, and the truth that may be found when our most treasured beliefs are revealed as illusions.

Brilliant on authenticity, vanity, and self-delusion, it is a novel for our times.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Full-Light-Sun-Clare-Clark-ebook/dp/B07H8FFMK7/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Full-Light-Sun-Clare-Clark-ebook/dp/B07H8FFMK7/

Author Clare Clark
Author Clare Clark

About the author:

CLARE CLARK read History at Trinity College, Cambridge, and is the author of The Great Stink, a Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and The Nature of Monsters. She lives in London, and regularly reviews books for the Guardian and other newspapers, and has taught Creative Writing.

https://www.amazon.com/Clare-Clark/e/B001IR1LPC?

https://www.clareclark.net/

In the Full Light of the Sun by Clare Clark
In the Full Light of the Sun by Clare Clark

 

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Virago for providing me an ARC copy of this novel and allowing me to participate in the blog tour for its launch. I freely chose to review it, and I’m very happy I did.

I am sure you will have noticed the beautiful cover and it might give you a hint of what the book is about. Yes, the book is about Vincent Van Gogh; well, about his art and his paintings, and the controversy that followed the sale in Germany in the 1920s of some of his paintings, which later were identified as fakes (well, perhaps, although the controversy about some of Van Gogh’s paintings, even some of the best-known ones, has carried on until the present). But that is not all.

The story is divided into three parts, all set in Berlin, each one narrated from one character’s points of view, and covering different historical periods, although all of them in the interwar era and told in chronological order. The more I thought about it, the more I felt that the author had chosen the characters as symbols and stand-ins for each particular part of that period of the history of Germany they represented. By setting the story in the 1920s and 30s, in the post-WWI Germany, we get immersed in a rapidly changing society, and one whose political developments and social unrest share more than a passing similarity with some of the things we are experiencing internationally nowadays.

The first part, set in Berlin in 1923, is told in the third-person from the point of view of Julius Köhler-Schultz. He is an art expert, collector, has written a book about Van-Gogh, and is going through a difficult divorce. But he is much more obsessed with art and preoccupied about his artworks than he is about his family. This is a time of extreme inflation, where German money is so devaluated that it is worth nothing, and the comments about it reminded me of a photograph of the period I had seen not long ago where children were playing in the streets with piles of banknotes, using them to build walls, as if they were Lego bricks. As the novel says:

“The prices were meaningless —a single match for nine hundred million marks — and they changed six times a day; no one ever had enough. At the cinema near Böhm’s office, the sign in the window of the ticket booth read: Admission –two lumps of coal.”

This section of the book establishes the story, and introduces many of the main players, not only Julius, but also Matthias, a young man Julius takes under his wing, who wants to learn about art and ends up opening his own gallery; and Emmeline, a young girl who refuses to be just a proper young lady and wants to become an artist. Julius is an intelligent man, very sharp and good at analysing what is going on around him, but blind to his emotions and those of others, and he is more of an observer than an active player. His most endearing characteristic is his love and devotion for art and artists, but he is not the most sympathetic and engaging of characters. He is self-centred and egotistical, although he becomes more humanised and humane as the story moves on.

The second part of the novel is set in Berlin in 1927, and it is told, again in the third-person, from Emmeline Eberhardt’s point of view. Although we had met her in the first part, she has now grown up and seems to be a stand-in for the Weimar Republic, for the freedom of the era, where everything seemed possible, where Berlin was full of excitement, night clubs, parties, Russian émigrés, new art movements, social change, and everything went. She is a bit lost. She wants to be an artist, but does not have confidence in herself; she manages to get a job as an illustrator in a new magazine but gets quickly bored drawing always the same; she loves women, but sometimes looks for men to fill a gap. She can’t settle and wants to do everything and live to the limit as if she knew something was around the corner, and she might not have a chance otherwise. Although she gets involved, somehow, in the mess of the fake paintings (we won’t know exactly how until much later on), this part of the story felt much more personal and immediate, at least for me. She is in turmoil, especially due to her friendship with a neighbour, Dora, who becomes obsessed with the story of the fake Van Goghs, but there are also lovely moments when Emmeline reflects on what she sees, and she truly has the eye of an artist, and she also shares very insightful observations. I loved Dora’s grandmother as well. She cannot move, but she has a zest for life and plenty of stories.

“When Dora was very little her governess put a pile of books on her chair so she could reach the table but Dora refused to sit on them,’ Oma said. ‘Remember, Dodo? You thought you would squash all the people who lived inside.’”

The third part is set in Berlin in 1933 and is written in the first person, from the point of view of Frank Berszacki. He is a Jewish lawyer living in Berlin and experiences first-hand the rise to power of the Nazis. He becomes the lawyer of Emmeline’s husband, Anton, and that seems to be his link to the story, but later we discover that he was the lawyer for Matthias Rachman, the man who, supposedly, sold the fake Van Goghs, the friend of Julius. As most people who are familiar with any of the books or movies of the period know, at first most people did not believe things would get as bad as they did in Germany with Hitler’s rise to power. But things keep getting worse and worse.

“I want to know how it is possible that this is happening. It cannot go on, we have all been saying it for months, someone will stop it, and yet no one stops it and it goes on. It gets worse. April 1 and who exactly are the fools?”

His licence to practice is revoked, and although it is returned to him because he had fought for Germany in the previous war; he struggles to find any clients, and the German ones can simply choose not to settle their bills. He and his wife have experienced a terrible loss and life is already strained before the world around them becomes increasingly mad and threatening. When his brother decides to leave the country and asks him to house his daughter, Mina, for a short while, while he gets everything ready, the girl manages to shake their comfortable but numb existence and has a profound impact in their lives.

Although I loved the story from the beginning, I became more and more involved with the characters as it progressed, and I felt particularly close to the characters in part 3, partly because of the first-person narration, partly because of the evident grieving and sense of loss they were already experiencing, and partly because of their care for each other and the way the married couple kept trying to protect each other from the worst of the situation. I agree that not all the characters are sympathetic and easy to connect with, but the beauty of the writing more than makes up for that, as does the fascinating story, which as the author explains in her note at the end, although fictionalised, is based on real events.  I also loved the snippets from Van Gogh’s letters, so inspiring, and the well-described atmosphere of the Berlin of the period, which gets more and more oppressive as it goes along. I found the ending satisfying and hopeful, and I think most readers will feel the same way about it.

This is not a novel for everybody. It is literary fiction, and although it has elements of historical fiction, and also of the thriller, its rhythm is contemplative, its language is descriptive and precious, and it is not a book where every single word moves the plot forward. This is not a quick-paced page-turner. Readers who love books that move fast and are heavy on plot, rather than characters and atmosphere, might find it slow and decide nothing much happens in it. There is plenty that happens though, and I could not help but feel that the book also sounds a note of caution and warning, because it is impossible to read about some of the events, the politics, and the reactions of the populations and not make comparisons with current times. As I sometimes do, although I have shared some quotes from it already, I’d advise possible readers to check a sample of the book before making a decision about it. This is not a book for everybody. If you enjoy reading as a sensual experience, appreciate the texture and lyricism of words, and love books about art that manage to capture the feeling of it, I cannot recommend it enough. It is beautiful. This is the first book by this author I’ve read, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Thanks to the publishers, to NetGalley and to the author, thanks to all of you for writing, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and always keep smiling!

Categories
Blog Tour Book review Book reviews

#Blogtour #HouseofGlass HOUSE OF GLASS by Susan Fletcher (@sfletcherauthor) (@ViragoBooks) A beautiful, contemplative, and touching novel about what it means to be whole

 

House of Glass by Susan Fletcher A beautiful, contemplative, and touching novel about what it means to be whole

June 1914 and a young woman – Clara Waterfield – is summoned to a large stone house in Gloucestershire. Her task: to fill a greenhouse with exotic plants from Kew Gardens, to create a private paradise for the owner of Shadowbrook. Yet, on arrival, Clara hears rumours: something is wrong with this quiet, wisteria-covered house. Its gardens are filled with foxgloves, hydrangea, and roses; it has lily-ponds, a croquet lawn – and the marvellous new glasshouse awaits her. But the house itself feels unloved. Its rooms are shuttered, or empty. The owner is mostly absent; the housekeeper seems afraid. And soon, Clara understands her fear: for something – or someone – is walking through the house at night. In the height of summer, she finds herself drawn deeper into Shadowbrook’s dark interior – and into the secrets that violently haunt this house. Nothing is quite what it seems.

Reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier, this is a wonderful, atmospheric Gothic page-turner.

A deeply absorbing, unputdownable ghost story that’s also a love story; for readers who love Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger; Frances Hodges Burnett’s The Secret Garden; Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace; Jane Harris’s The Observations.

Author Susan Fletcher
Author Susan Fletcher

Susan Fletcher took her inspiration from the gardens and grounds of Hidcote House, spending time in their archives and library, at different times of the year. One of the country’s great gardens, Hidcote is an Arts and Crafts masterpiece in the north Cotswolds, a stone’s throw from Stratford-upon-Avon. Created by the horticulturist, Major Lawrence Johnston. The garden is divided into a series of ‘outdoor rooms’, each with its own character. The formality of the ‘rooms’ fades away as you move through the garden away from the house.

https://www.amazon.com/House-Glass-Susan-Fletcher-ebook/dp/B078WDM9SF/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/House-Glass-Susan-Fletcher-ebook/dp/B078WDM9SF/

About the author:

Susan Fletcher was born in 1979 in Birmingham. She is the author of the bestselling ‘Eve Green’ winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award, ‘Oystercatchers’ and ‘Witch Light’.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Susan-Fletcher/e/B001ITYXNW/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Virago Books for providing me an ARC copy of this book. I was later contacted by Kimberley Nyamhondera suggesting I take part in the blog tour for the launch of the book, and as I knew the author I immediately agreed.

I had read and reviewed another one of Susan Fletcher’s books (Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew, you can read my review here) a couple of years ago and loved it. When I checked my review, to remind myself what I had thought about it in more detail, I realised I could use almost word by word the same title for my review, although the subject of the novel is quite different. “A beautiful, contemplative, and touching novel.” Yes, this definitely applies to House of Glass as well. This time the story is set in the UK right before the breaking of the First World War, and in fact, there are rumours spreading about its likelihood already when the novel starts. It is a fascinating time, and the life of the protagonist, Clara Waterfield, is deeply affected by the historical period she has to live in, from her birth in very late Victorian times, to what would be a very changed world after the Great War, with the social upheaval, the rapid spread of industrialization, the changing role of women, and the all-too-brief peace.

Clara, who tells the story in the first person, is a great creation, who becomes dearer and dearer to us as we read the book. This is not a novel about a protagonist who is fully-formed, recognisable and unchanging, and runs across the pages from one action scene to the next hardly pausing to take a breather. Clara reflects upon her past (although she is very young, she has suffered greatly, but not lived much), her condition (she suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, brittle bones, and that meant that she was kept indoors and not exposed to the risks and dangers of the outside world, the London streets in her case throughout her childhood), her family, and life experiences or her lack of them. No matter what she looks like, her short stature, her difficulty walking, her limitations in physical activity, this is a determined woman, make no mistake. She has learned most of what she knows through books (non-fiction mostly, although she enjoyed the Indian tales her mother used to read her), she has experienced not only pain, but other kinds of loses, and there are secrets and mysteries surrounding her, but despite all that, she is all practical and logical when we meet her. Her lack of exposure to the real world makes her a fascinating narrator, one who looks at everything with the eyes of a new-born or an alien suddenly landed in our society, who might have theoretical knowledge but knows nothing of how things truly work, while her personality, determined and stubborn, and her enquiring nature make her perfect to probe into the mystery at the heart of Shadowbrook.

Readers might not find Clara particularly warm and engaging to begin with (despite the sympathy they might feel for her suffering, something she would hate), as she dispenses with the niceties of the period, is headstrong and can be seen as rude and unsympathetic. At some point, I wondered if there might have been more to her peculiar personality than the way she was brought up (she can be obsessive with the things she likes, as proven by her continuous visits to Kew Gardens once she discovers them, and her lack of understanding of social mores and her difficulty in reading people’s motivations and feelings seemed extreme), but she quickly adapts to the new environment, she thrives on change and challenges, she shows a great, if somewhat twisted, sense of humour at times, and she evolves and grows into her own self during the novel, so please, readers, stick with the book even if you don’t connect with her straightaway or find her weird and annoying at times.  It will be worth your while.

Her point of view might be peculiar, but Clara is a great observer of people and of the natural world. She loves her work and she is careful and meticulous, feeling an affinity for the exotic plants of the glass house, that, like her until recently, also have to live enclosed in an artificial environment for their own safety. That is partly what enhances their beauty and their rarity in our eyes. By contrast, Clara knows that she is seen as weird, lacking, less-able, and hates it. She is a deep thinker and reflects upon what she sees, other people’s behaviours, she imagines what others might be talking about, and dreams of her dead mother and soon also of the mystery behind the strange happenings at the house.

The novel has been described as gothic, and that is a very apt description, even though it is not always dark and claustrophobic. There are plenty of scenes that take place in the garden, in the fields, and in the open air, but we do have the required strange happenings, creaks and noises, scratches on doors, objects and flowers behaving in unpredictable fashion, previous owners of the house with a troublesome and tragic past, a mysterious current owner who hides something, violence, murder, and plenty of rumours. We have a priest who is conflicted by something, a loyal gardener who knows more than he says, a neighbouring farmer who has plenty of skeletons in his closet, and a housekeeper who can’t sleep and is terrified. But there is much more to the novel than the usual tropes we have come to expect and love in the genre. There is social commentary; there are issues of diversity and physical disability, discussions about religious belief and spirituality, and also about mental health, women’s rights, and the destructive nature of rumours and gossip, and some others that I won’t go into to avoid spoilers.

I don’t want to give anything away, and although the story moves at a steady and contemplative pace, this in no way makes it less gripping. If anything, the beauty of the language and the slow build up work in its favour, giving us a chance to get fully immersed in the mood and the atmosphere of the place.

I marked a lot of passages, and I don’t think any of them make it full justice, but I’ve decided to share some, nonetheless:

She’d also said that there was no human perfection; that if the flaw could not be seen physically, then the person carried it inside them, which made it far worse, and I’d believed this part, at least.

For my mother had never spoken well of the Church. Patrick had said nothing at all of it. And my own understanding had been that imperfect bodies were forms of godly punishment; that imperfect meant I was worth less somehow. I’d disliked this notion intensely. Also, I was not a spare rib.

I could not taste fruit from studying a sketch of it, cut in half. What use was only reading of acts and not doing them? Knowing the route of the Ganges was not the same as standing in it.

 

The ending… We find the solution to the mystery, (which I enjoyed, and at the time I wondered why the book did not finish at that point) but the novel does not end there, and we get to hear what happened in the aftermath of the story. And yes, although at first, I wasn’t sure that part was necessary, by the end of the book proper I was crying and felt as if I was leaving a close friend in Clara, one that I was convinced would go on to lead a happy life.

Another fantastic novel by Susan Fletcher, one I recommend to fans of gothic novels, of Daphne du  Maurier’s Rebecca and her other novels, of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, and of inspiringly gorgeous writing. I do not recommend it to readers who prefer an action-laden plot with little space for thought or reflexion, although why not check a sample of the book and see for yourselves? I must catch up on the rest of the author’s novels and I hope there will be many more to come.

Thanks to NetGalley, to Virago, and to the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it, please give it a like, share, comment, clik, review, and remember to keep smiling and reading!

Categories
Blog Tour Book launch Book review Book reviews

Bloomin’ Book Launch – Party Bus & Atonement TN Book Fair!(@teagangeneviene) #TuesdayBookBlog #Bookreview

Hi all:

You know I’m a bit fan of Teagan Geneviene’s books and her blog, so, of course, I could not resist the invitation to take part in her Blog-Party Bus. But, me being me, I’ve included a review of Atonement in Bloom as well. Here comes the bus!!!

Atonement Blog Party Bus Loaded

All aboard! Beep-beep, yeah! The party bus is here. (Click here for theme music Magic Bus!) Our first stop is in Connecticut to pick up Dan Antion, who has a handy guided tour of Atonement, TN. Dan agreed to be a relief bus driver too, since bus-driver-Lilith the calico, sometimes has to take a break to give Deme or Honeybell a head bath.

Where “atonement” begins

It’s best if you read the first book first. So, for the launch of “Bloom,” Atonement, Tennessee is on sale for 99¢ (e-book). Click Atonement book covers for purchase links.

Residents of my fictional town might be of any race and from any ancestry. So author and translator Olga Núñez Miret translated the debut novel to Spanish! For that language I changed the title to Expiación y Magia!

Cover Expiación y Magia ― Una Fantasía Urbana
Atonement, Tennessee in Spanish

Speaking of the otherworldly pigs, I should mention the order of the Atonement stories. Your first visit to the town is Atonement, Tennessee. It’s an urban fantasy — set in our present-day, real world but with magical elements. Aside from the heroine and her neighbor-friends (or as Diana Peach likes to call them, the gall palls (Diana’s review here), you’ll meet the grumpy sheriff, Robin Warden.

Includes the prequel

The first “snort” in The Glowing Pigs, Snort Stories of Atonement, Tennessee is about a very young Deputy Robin. (Review by Dr. Phuong Callaway here.) That particular story is tied to the novel I’m launching today, Atonement in Bloom.

Long awaited sequel to Atonement, Tennessee

Here’s the blurb!

The quaint town was stranger than Ralda Lawton could have imagined. The local population included supernatural beings of the fae variety. Although only she and a few others knew about that.

In a past life, Ralda ― Esmeralda had been involved in something with those supernaturals and it had carried into her present life. In Atonement, Tennessee, that almost got her killed. Now she has new problems, and new supes to complicate matters.

Atonement in Bloom continues the misadventures of Ralda, her friends, and neighbors in the small (but far from peaceful) town of Atonement, Tennessee. Her old house and cemetery are still there, along with Lilith the cat, quirky townsfolk, and assorted supernaturals.

Now Lilith the calico sniffs out a strange beast.

Fae foolery backfires. A friend is abducted.

On a cold December day, Atonement, Tennessee comes into bloom.

The Unfolding Of An Orange Rose Bud

Here comes my review of Atonement in Bloom!

I was offered an ARC copy of this novel, that I had been after for some time, and I enthusiastically decided to review it as soon as I was able to.

I have followed Teagan Geneviene’s blog for a few years and have long been amazed by her creativity and her power to weave stories from the most unlikely jumble of elements, always rising to the challenges set by her readers, and writing by the seat of her pants. I am inclined to think there is some kind of magic at work, and I am not surprised by the genre she has chosen for her novels.

I have read and reviewed several of her books (you can check my most recent review of one of her serials here) and have long been a fan of her first-novel, Atonement, Tennessee (you can check my review, here). I had been waiting for the next instalment of the series for some time and had eagerly read any stories and snippets the author has shared in her blog about the Atonement universe. And I jumped at the opportunity to read an ARC copy of this novel, the second one in the series.

The author has tried to make this book stand alone, to ensure that anybody who started reading the series at this point would be given enough background to follow the events and enjoy the narrative, without slowing down those of us familiar with the story. Having read the first novel a while back and having reread it recently, I am probably not the best person to comment, but, in my opinion, she succeeds, although I would recommend anybody considering the purchase of this novel to go ahead and get the whole series, as they will be able to more fully appreciate the plot twists and the character development that take place in the series. And there are some companion stories available that you will enjoy as well.

The story is told from two different points of view, as was the case with the first novel. We have Lilith, Esmeralda’s (Ralda for short) calico cat, whose narrative is told in the third-person, and whose personality (her likes and dislikes, her strong opinions, and, indeed, her all-appropriate curiosity) shines through even more than in the first novel. She is witness to a number of events that allow the reader to be slightly ahead of Ralda at some points, but also increase the suspense and the expectations. She is not a human narrator and her understanding of events is often puzzling for us, so her clues are a bit like cryptic crossword prompts, familiar and alien at the same time. She gets involved in some hair-raising adventures of her own, and the end of the novel hints at many interesting things to come for our favourite feline narrator.

Ralda is the other narrator, and she tells the story in the first person. Those of us who have read the first novel know that she is a Southerner at heart, although she has spent many not-very-happy years in Washington DC. Atonement, Tennessee proves to be anything but the quiet and charming little town she imagines at first, secrets and supernatural events abound, and most of them centre on her house and her family line. She is a woman of strong intuition, but there is more to the events unfolding around her than a sixth sense. If the first novel saw her teetering between real-world difficulties (the move, the state of her house, the problems of her new-found friends), and some strange and decidedly supernatural events, in this second novel she at first suspects, and later comes to realise, that in Atonement, Tennessee, there is no clear separation between the “normal” and the “supernatural”. One of the things that make her a very compelling character, apart from her lack of ego and her self-deprecating sense of humour, is her open spirit and her ability to experience the wonder of the world around her. By her own confession, she has suffered the nasty side of things and people, and she at times appears overcautious and paranoid, but she is unable to say no to anybody needing help, and no matter how hard she resists, she finds it difficult to believe the worst of anybody. She might hesitate, but she will get in harm’s way if any of those close to her are in danger (and that includes Lilith, of course).

As for the plot… After taking stock of what happened in the first novel, things start getting interesting very soon. Some of the characters we thought we knew are revealed not to have been how they looked like at first (some for the better, some for the worse), and we have quite a few new characters turn up, some supernatural without a doubt (including my beloved glowing pigs), and others… well, I’ll leave you to see what you think. But there are unrequited loves, magical objects (one of my favourite things, both in fantasy and in the horror genre), some very Shakespearian turns of events, kidnappings, natural (or supernatural) wonders, and a fantastic battle scene (and I won’t reveal anything else).

Although the storyline is complete in itself and the events that unfold during the book get a resolution (and a more than satisfying one, I might add), there are mysteries still to be solved, some new ones hinted at, and I can’t wait to read the next book. If you love fantasy, supernatural events, folklore, myths and legends, Shakespeare, and appreciate a wild-tale full of imagination, you’ll be delighted by this book. I know I was.

And now, back to the party and to Teagan!

I don’t know why the party bus is stopping. Oh! It’s a delivery of flowers in honor of the book launch from Kirt Tisdale of The Wall Gallery! Wow… beautiful blue roses. Thank you, Kirt. The blue rose of the impossible is an important element of Atonement in Bloom.

We’re back on the road, and Dyanna at Ravenhawk’s Magazine has plenty of music for our road-trip. Lilith, slow down. I see Melissa from Today You Will Write at that bus stop up ahead.

Hang on to your seat-belt. Lilith just took a sharp curve and we are magically in Kentucky. Deme wanted to check out Teri Polen’s October horror and suspense book fest, Bad Moon Rising! You’ll find 31 authors and their books there!

Welcome to Atonement, TN! Everybody in town is taking part in the fun. Annie’s Antiques is hosting an exhibit of Art by Rob Goldstein.

My Blue Heaven

What’s that on the next table? It looks like an Aladin’s lamp. And a puff of colorful smoke! Oh, it’s the Lamp Magician. Welcome, Magician. I’m glad you could join the party bus!

My stomach is growling. Thank goodness Carol Taylor and Gerlinde de Broekert have catered the book fair. There are delicious foods at every booth! However, Deme and Honeybell love to read, so they ran straight to the Atonement, TN Book Fair. They’re in hog heaven with so many great books!

Heartfelt thanks to everyone for supporting this Bloomin’ Party Bus. Click the author names for more info.

(If anyone wants to share a link to a review of your book, or anything about yourself, please leave a comment with the link.)

D. Wallace Peach

Image result for legacy of souls d wallace peach

Chris Graham (for Agnes Mae Graham)

My Vibrating Vertabrae cover

Olga Núñez Miret For this book see here.

Angelic Business 1. Pink Matters Now available as an audio book too

D.L. Finn

Image result for dl finn the button

Jan Sikes

Image result for jan sikes flowers in stone

Mary J McCoy-Dressel

Mary J McCoy-Dressel, western romance author, Book Three Canyon Junction: Hearts in Love Series, Blog Post Cover Reveal

Sally Cronin

Jacquie Biggar has a sheriff too…

jacquiebiggar_thesheriffmeetshismatch_800px

Valentina Cirasola will help you tour Atonement, TN in style.

The Road To Top Of The World: Short Stories In The Land Of Puglia

Barb Taub will keep you laughing the entire way.

Resa will help you find the right thing to wear. She’s a costume designer. She would have enjoyed helping Ralda, Bethany, and Lacey search through the antique clothes in Sunhold’s closets (scene in “Bloom”).

Staci Troilo

Tortured Soul

Mae Clair

Book cover for End of Day, mystery/suspense novel by Mae Clair shows old dilapidated church with bell tower and a cemetery in the background overgrown with weeds

John W. Howell

Annette Rochelle Aben

Image result for booku Annette Rochelle Aben

Robbie Cheadle

Image result for robbie cheadle while the bombs fell

Chuck Jackson

Image result for chuck jackson what did i do

Vashti Quiroz-Vega

Teri Polen

Image result for teri polen sarah

Categories
Blog Tour Book launch Book review Book reviews

#Blogtour RATIONAL CREATURES Ed. by Christina Boyd (@xtnaboyd) It was hard to be a woman in the Regency period and Austen knew it all too well! A must read for Austen lovers.

Hi all:

I am pleased to bring you a book by an editor (and writer) I have come to admire and trust. She has put me in touch with many great authors a well, so you read on at your peril… Ah, and don’t miss the GIVEAWAY

Rational Creatures. Edited by Christina Boyd
Rational Creatures. Edited by Christina Boyd

Rational Creatures: Stirrings of Feminism in the Hearts of Jane Austen’s Fine Ladies (The Quill Collective Book 3) by Christina Boyd (Editor ),  Joana Starnes, Elizabeth Adams, Nicole Clarkston, Karen M. Cox, J. Marie Croft, Amy D’Orazio, Jenetta James, Jessie Lewis, KaraLynne Mackrory, Lona Manning, Christina Morland, Beau North, Sophia Rose, Anngela Schroeder, Brooke West, Caitlin Williams. Foreword by Devoney Looser

“But I hate to hear you talking so, like a fine gentleman, and as if women were all fine ladies, instead of rational creatures. We none of us expect to be in smooth water all our days.” —Persuasion

Jane Austen: True romantic or rational creature? Her novels transport us back to the Regency, a time when well-mannered gentlemen and finely-bred ladies fell in love as they danced at balls and rode in carriages. Yet her heroines, such as Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Elliot, and Elinor Dashwood, were no swooning, fainthearted damsels in distress. Austen’s novels have become timeless classics because of their biting wit, honest social commentary, and because she wrote of strong women who were ahead of their day. True to their principles and beliefs, they fought through hypocrisy and broke social boundaries to find their happily-ever-after.

In the third romance anthology of The Quill Collective series, sixteen celebrated Austenesque authors write the untold histories of Austen’s brave adventuresses, her shy maidens, her talkative spinsters, and her naughty matrons. Peek around the curtain and discover what made Lady Susan so wicked, Mary Crawford so capricious, and Hettie Bates so in need of Emma Woodhouse’s pity.

Rational Creatures is a collection of humorous, poignant, and engaging short stories set in Georgian England that complement and pay homage to Austen’s great works and great ladies who were, perhaps, the first feminists in an era that was not quite ready for feminism.

“Make women rational creatures, and free citizens, and they will become good wives; —that is, if men do not neglect the duties of husbands and fathers.” —Mary Wollstonecraft

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Rational-Creatures-Stirrings-Feminism-Collective-ebook/dp/B07JFJ1HSZ/
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rational-Creatures-Stirrings-Feminism-Collective-ebook/dp/B07JFJ1HSZ/

My review:

I thank Christina Boyd for sending me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review and for offering me to the opportunity to join the blog tour for its launch.

I have read and reviewed one of the Austen based collections Christina Boyd has edited in the past (Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues, check that review here), and when she told me what she was working on, I did not hesitate. I have met many talented writers through her collection and the books she has edited and have to warn any readers that you are likely to end up with a long list of authors added to your favourites if you keep on reading.

I am sure no Austen reader would think that, but some people not so well versed in her work sometimes think that her novels are only about silly girls of the Regency period, normally of good families, flirting and forever plotting to marry a rich and attractive man, with nothing of interest in their heads other than attending parties and fashionable balls, and not a hint of independent thought or opinion. Nothing further from the truth. The title of the collection highlights the status of Jane Austen’s female characters. There are nice women, some cruel ones, vain, prejudiced, stubborn, naïve, impulsive, but they are not the playthings of men. They work hard to prove they are “rational creatures” and they try, within the options open to them at the time, to take charge of their lives and their own destinies.

In the foreword, Devoney Looser writes:

In its pages, the best of today’s Austen-inspired authors use their significant creative powers to explore new angles of love and loss, captivity and emancipation. These stories reimagine both, beloved female characters, like Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet, and loathed ones, such as Persuasion’s Penelope Clay. The results are comical, disturbing, and moving.

I could not have said it better. While when I reviewed Dangerous to Know I said anybody could enjoy the stories but connoisseurs of Austen would likely delight in them, in this case, I think this is a book for Austen fans, and those particularly interested in feminism and in the early supporters of the education of women. Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is mentioned in the foreword and also makes its appearance in some of the stories, and it clearly informs the readings the authors make of the characters and the novels they pay homage to. As a matter of fact, the book could also have been called A Vindication of Austen’s Women.

While some of the contributions are short stories in their own right, although centred on one of Austen’s female characters, some are vignettes closely linked to one of her novels, showing the background to some events in the story, or exploring the reasons for the decisions taken by some of the female characters that might have surprised us when we have read the novels, particularly so, perhaps, due to our modern sensibilities. Each story is introduced by a quotation from the novel in question that helps us get into the right frame of mind.

The catalogue of stories and characters is long and inclusive. We have: “Self-Composed” (by Christina Morland) about Elinor Dashwood, “Every Past Affliction” (by Nicole Clarkston) about Marianne Dashwood, “Happiness in Marriage” (by Amy D’Orazio) about Elizabeth Bennet (one of the most famous and well-known heroines in the Austen canon and I think most readers will easily identify with the character and her plight), “Charlotte’s Comfort” (by Joana Starnes) about Charlotte Lucas (I will confess I’d always wondered about Charlotte’s decision to marry the horrendous Mr. Collins. I enjoyed this version of events and it makes perfect sense), “Knightley Discourses” (by Anngela Schroeder) about Emma Woodhouse (it was a pleasure to catch up with Emma again, a happily married Emma, here), “The Simple Things” (by J. Marie Croft) about Hetty Bates (perhaps because I’ve never been married, I am always drawn towards characters who remain single, and I found this episode particularly touching), “In Good Hands” (by Caitlin Williams) about Harriet Smith (it was good to see Harriet get her own voice and not only be Emma’s plaything), “The Meaning of Wife” (by Brooke West) about Fanny Price (I liked this rendering of Fanny Price as she gets enlightened thanks to Wollstonecraft’s Vindication), “What Strange Creatures” (by Jenetta James) about Mary Crawford (which introduces a touch of mystery), “An Unnatural Beginning” (by Elizabeth Adams) about Anne Elliot (another one I found particularly touching), “Where the Sky Touches the Sea” (by Karalynne Mackrory) about Sophia Croft (this is not a character I was very familiar with but I loved her relationship with her husband, her self-sufficiency, and the realistic depiction of grief), “The Art of Pleasing” (by Lona Manning) about Penelope Clay (as a lover of books about cons and conmen, I could not help but enjoy this fun story full of twists and fantastically deceitful characters), “Louisa by the Sea” (by Beau North) about Louisa Musgrove, “The Strength of Their Attachment” (by Sophia Rose) about Catherine Morland, “A Nominal Mistress” (by Karen M. Cox) about Eleanor Tilney (a fun story with its sad moments, and a good example of the type of situations women could find themselves in at the time), and “The Edification of Lady Susan” (by Jessie Lewis) about Lady Susan Vernon (an epistolary story that I thoroughly enjoyed, and another one recommended to people who love deceit and con games).

The writing styles vary between the stories, but there are no actualisations or reinventions. The stories are all set within the Regency period, and the authors observe the mores and customs of the period, seamlessly weaving their vignettes and stories that would be perfectly at eas within the pages of the Austen novels they are inspired by. The characters might push the boundaries of gender and social classes but never by behaving in anachronistic ways, and if anything, reading this book will make us more aware of what life was like for women of different ages and different social situations in that historical period. What we get are close insights into the thoughts and feelings of these women, many of whom were only talked about but never given their own voices in the original novels. It is amazing how well the selection works, as sometimes we can read about the same characters from different perspectives (the protagonist in one of the stories might be a secondary character in another one, and the heroine in one of the stories might be a villain in the next), but they all fit together and help create a multifaceted portrait of these women and of what it meant to be a woman of a certain class in the Regency period.

I have said before that I feel this collection will suit better readers who are familiar with Austen’s universe, but, to be fair, I have enjoyed both, the stories centred on novels I knew quite well, and those based on characters I was not very familiar with, so I would not discourage people who enjoy Regency period novels and have read some Austen, but are not experts, from reading this book. By the time I finished the book, I admired, even more, the genius of Austen and had decided to become better acquainted with all of her novels. Oh, and of course, determined also to keep sharing the collections and books by this talented group of writers.

In summary, I recommend this book to anybody who loves Austen and has always felt curious about her female characters, protagonists and supporting players alike, and wished to have a private conversation with them, or at least be privy to the thoughts they kept under wraps. If you want to know who these women are and to see what it must have been like to try to be a woman and a rational creature with your own ideas in such historical era, I recommend this collection. As a bonus, you’ll discover a selection of great authors, and you’ll feel compelled to go back and read all of Austen’s novels. You’ve got nothing to lose other than a bit (or a lot) of sleep!

(In case you are curious, you can check my reviews for a couple of Karen M. Cox’s novels I Could Write a Book (here) and Son of a Preacher Man (here), and Jenetta James’s The Elizabeth Paper (here) and Lovers’ Knot (here). And I have a few more on my list to read!

Rational Creatures Super Giveaway

Super Giveaway

Giveaway Time!

The giveaway to accompany the blog tour is fantastic! Comment on the blog posts to enter, and at the end of the tour, a name will be randomly picked from all the comments on all the blog tour posts. This person will win all 21 prizes!

Thanks to Christina for keeping me on the loop and to all the great authors taking part, thanks to all of you for reading and please, remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep reading and smiling!

Categories
Blog Tour Book launch Book review Book reviews

#Tuesdaybookblog #Blogtour and review THE CHRISTMAS WISHING TREE. An Eternity Springs Novel by Emily March (@EmilyMarchBooks) An enchanted town, the power of believing, a mystery, and the perfect romance

Christmas Wishing Tree Blogtour Banner
Christmas Wishing Tree Blogtour

Hi all:

Yes, I know it’s not Christmas yet, but when I got offered the opportunity to read this book in the summer, I quite fancied it (it was really hot) and the blog tour sounded very appealing as well. If any US readers of the blog fancy a copy, let me know your e-mail address and I’ll make sure you’re entered into the giveaway of a copy of the book. 

The Christmas Wishing Tree. An Eternity Springs Novel by Emily March 

Summary:
Sometimes life’s most magical journeys bring you back to where it all began…From USA Today bestselling author Emily March comes The Christmas Wishing Tree, an enchanting account of the magic and miracle of Christmas.

A man who loves adventure and the open sea, Devin Murphy returns for a short Christmas trip to his small hometown of Eternity Springs. Immersed in the joy and magic of the holiday season all around him, he doesn’t hesitate to play along when a young boy phones Santa to ask for a very special wish. Devin never guesses that a wrong number has the potential to make everything in his life so right.

Jenna Stockton adopted Reilly when he needed a mother and she intends to keep him safe. A small town across the country called Eternity Springs seems like a good place to hide from their past without any complications —until sexy Santa himself discovers her secrets. When Devin proposes a daring plan to face down the danger together and defeat it once and for all, she is tempted. Maybe Devin really is capable of making wishes come true? Perhaps in a Christmas wish they’ll both find the miracle they’ve been looking for all along…

A delightful Christmas novel in the New York Times bestselling Eternity Springs series.

Buy Links:

Macmillan

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Books-a-Million

Indie Bound

Powells

Author Emily March
Author Emily March

Author Bio:

Emily March is the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and USA Today bestselling author of over thirty novels, including the critically acclaimed Eternity Springs series. Publishers Weekly calls March a “master of delightful banter,” and her heartwarming, emotionally charged stories have been named to Best of the Year lists by Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Romance Writers of America. A graduate of Texas A&M University, Emily is an avid fan of Aggie sports and her recipe for jalapeño relish has made her a tailgating legend.

Social Links:

Emily March Website

Twitter: @EmilyMarchBooks

Facebook: Emily March

Pinterest: Emily March

My review:

I am thankful to St Martin’s Press for offering me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review and for the opportunity to participate in the blog tour of its launch.

Although I am not a big fan of Christmas, I do enjoy some Christmas stories, movies, and songs (especially out of season, when one isn’t surrounded by it). The offer to read and review this novel reached me in the middle of a pretty hot summer and it felt like the perfect way to combat the heat. It worked, for sure, and although I had never read any of the other novels in the Eternity Springs series, I quickly became enamoured of the place and its inhabitants. I can reassure you, though, that the story goes beyond the Christmas theme, and there are wonderful scenes that take place in other seasons (the Fall, the Fourth of July…) and other locations apart from Colorado (Nashville, Florida, Australia, and the Caribbean).  But I have to agree that the overall theme of the novel, and the spirit that suffuses it, is that of Christmas.

The novel, written in the third person, shares the alternating points of view (and locations) of a part-time resident of Eternity Springs, Devon Murphy (the son of Cam and Sarah Murphy, and brother to Michael, long-term residents of the town), and Jenna Stockton, a doctor specialising in Obstetrics and Gynaecology whom we meet in Nashville. While Devon seems to be a free-spirited man who loves the sea, boats, fishing, and women, but avoids commitment like the plague, Jenna is a model of responsibility. She is a single mom to Reilly, whom he adopted after looking after his mother, a young woman down on her luck who died when the boy was a toddler. She works hard and would do anything to ensure the safety and happiness of her son. But he has a Christmas wish that is out of her hands. Somehow, luck, magic, or the power of believing puts Reilly and Devon in contact, and in a roundabout way, the destinies of the three of them intersect in the wonderful town of Eternity Springs. Both main characters have secrets (as readers of the genre will probably expect): Devon has a traumatic past in the relationships department and has a lot in common with Reilly, and Jenna’s life is haunted by a stalker who seems intent on upping-the-ante and putting her and her son’s lives at risk.

I liked the characters and their relationship, that follows the well-known formula of will-they/won’t-they so successful in the romance genre (they both have very valid reasons for their hesitation, although if you get easily impatient, I must warn you that the book is quite long and the story develops over close to two years), and I liked many of the secondary characters as well (despite not having read other novels in the series, I got a fairly good sense of who they were, and I did not feel I could not fully enjoy the story because of lack of background information. And I wouldn’t mind getting to know more about many of them), particularly Celeste, her resort, and the wonderful idea of the Wishing Christmas Tree that gives the book its title. She has a touch of the magical and is the fairy godmother of the town and all the characters (and I’d love to meet her).

What I most enjoyed of the book was the town of Eternity Springs. I have read a number of novels that take place in charming towns (islands or other locations) where outsiders come and are quickly adopted by the community, becoming, in many cases for the first time, part of a big family. I always enjoy the fact that the town becomes a protagonist in its own right and when the novels works well, you feel as if you had spent time in a real place and look forward to future visits to the magical location. Eternity Springs is one of those towns, and to add to its attraction, it is located within a marvellous natural setting, and the writer does a good job of introducing us to parks, lakes, mountains, taking us on sledge rides, fishing, camping, and exploring the wonderful facilities and the traditions of the place. Although it has more than a touch of the fairy tale (everybody seems to be well-off, everybody is fairly happy, apart from the main protagonists, temporarily, and even the bad things that happen are pretty mild) and it can be a bit sugary at times, I think it would take a very cold heart to read the novel without falling for the magic of the town and its inhabitant. (And perhaps shed a tear or two. Good tears, though).

If I had to point out some things that readers might have issue with, one would be the mystery element. Jenna’s background story and her circumstances bear heavily upon her actions and how cautious she is when it comes to meeting new people and possible romances. Although the mystery element ramps up the tension and adds to the interest of the story, on occasions it seemed to be more of an afterthought and an opportunity to show Devon and his friends (all male) as a team capable of investigating and keeping everybody safe (and yes, some elements of the rescue fantasy and the knight in shining armour were clearly at work there). Although Jenna herself complains at times about being treated like a weak woman in need of protection —despite being a competent professional who had managed well by herself until that moment— this novel keeps to conventional and traditional gender roles rather than challenging them. I know that such plots and story-lines are typical of many romantic (wish-fulfilment) novels but might not suit all readers, especially those who prefer women in charge of their own destinies. As a reader of thrillers and mystery novels, I did not feel the mystery would have satisfied fans of the genre, as we are not given enough information to solve it (we get some details of the case but others are brushed over quickly and the resolution, when it arrives, is somewhat anticlimactic), and it takes a backseat to the romantic part of the story. Having read other books that mix both genres, and this being a romance with some mystery thrown in, rather than the other way round, I did not think its intended readers would be too disappointed.

There are many other subplots I have not mentioned, including dogs, pregnancies, health scares, fishing, older motherhood, baking, National Parks, love of nature, adoption, social media, stalking, counselling, vocation, tropical storms, family, traditions, Santa Claus, magic, traumatic relationships… There are wonderfully vivid and memorable scenes, the style of writing is easy and fluid, and the descriptions bring to life both the locations and the characters (without going overboard with the physical descriptions of the protagonists and love interests, although yes, don’t worry, they are attractive), and there are some sad moments, some funny ones, and many emotional and heart-warming scenes as well. There is plenty of sexual attraction and tension between Devon and Jenna, but there is no graphic sex and although there are some thrilling scenes, the doors stay firmly closed behind the protagonists when it comes to that side of things.

I know readers of romantic novels expect a happy ending. Well, you won’t be disappointed here. What’s more, I know some readers can get really upset if they feel there are elements in the story that are not fully solved and hate it when they feel that writers are using hooks and unresolved issues to keep them buying books in a series (not everybody feels the same, though). As I have said before, this novel can be read independently from the rest of the series, and all the plots and subplots of the story, even the secondary ones, are solved satisfactorily. So don’t hesitate to pick up this novel just because it’s part of a series. You will feel sad it has ended but it won’t keep you awake at night trying to guess what happened next. I kept imagining this novel as either a movie, or better even, a TV series, and would be surprised if some production company didn’t snatch it up. Done well it would be irresistible.

In sum, this is a novel that takes place in a magical location, in gorgeous settings, with a Christmas theme and a hopeful message, a romance that includes elements of mystery/thriller, with likeable characters that will make you feel home. I, for one, won’t hesitate to visit Eternity Springs again in the future.

Thanks to St Martin’s Press and to the author for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading and please, if you have a minute, remember to like, share, comment, click, keep reading, review and smiling. And if you live in the USA and fancy a copy of the book, leave me your e-mail in the comments and I’ll make sure you are entered into the giveaway. Good luck!

 Oh, and I wanted to let you know my blog is featured on the Top 100 Book Blogs UK/Book Review Websites UK, here. Visit if you can, as it is a very comprehensive list and you will recognise a few faces. 😉

Categories
Blog Tour Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview and Blog tour THE INCENDIARIES by R. O. Kwon (@rokwon) For lovers of poetic prose, complex narration and unique voices #TheIncendiaries #NetGalley

Banner The Incendiaries Blog Tour 7th September

Hi all:

I was very happy to be invited to participate in the blog tour of this book because it gave me the opportunity to read the first book by an author who is being acclaimed by public and critics alike.

Book review and book blog The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon
The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon

The Incendiaries: A Novel by R. O. Kwon

“Religion, politics, and love collide in this slim but powerful novel reminiscent of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, with menace and mystery lurking in every corner.” —People Magazine

“The most buzzed-about debut of the summer, as it should be…unusual and enticing … The Incendiaries arrives at precisely the right moment.” —The Washington Post

“Radiant…A dark, absorbing story of how first love can be as intoxicating and dangerous as religious fundamentalism.” —New York Times Book Review

A powerful, darkly glittering novel of violence, love, faith, and loss, as a young woman at an elite American university, is drawn into a cult’s acts of terrorism.

Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall meet in their first month at prestigious Edwards University. Phoebe is a glamorous girl who doesn’t tell anyone she blames herself for her mother’s recent death. Will is a misfit scholarship boy who transfers to Edwards from Bible college, waiting tables to get by. What he knows for sure is that he loves Phoebe.

Grieving and guilt-ridden, Phoebe is drawn into a secretive cult founded by a charismatic former student with an enigmatic past. When the group commits a violent act in the name of faith, Will finds himself struggling to confront a new version of the fanaticism he’s worked so hard to escape. Haunting and intense, The Incendiaries is a fractured love story that explores what can befall those who lose what they love most.

https://www.amazon.com/Incendiaries-Novel-R-Kwon-ebook/dp/B077CSDFGP/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Incendiaries-Novel-R-Kwon-ebook/dp/B077CSDFGP/

Editorial Reviews

“Kwon is a writer of many talents, and The Incendiaries is a debut of dark, startling beauty.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Disarmingly propulsive.” —Vogue

“A singular version of the campus novel … a story about spiritual uncertainty and about the fierce and undisciplined desire of [Kwon’s] young characters to find something luminous to light their way through their lives.” —NPR’s “Fresh Air”

“If you only read one book this summer, make it this complex and searing debut novel.” —Southern Living

“[With] a fairy-tale quality reminiscent of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History … [The Incendiaries is] the rare depiction of belief that doesn’t kill the thing it aspires to by trying too hard. It makes a space, and then steps away to let the mystery in.” —The New Yorker

“A juicy look at campus mores…Kwon delivers a poignant and powerful look into the millennial mindset.” —NPR Books

“One of those slim novels that contain multitudes, R.O. Kwon’s debut novel shows how unreliable we are as narrators when we’re trying to invent — and reinvent — ourselves.” —Vulture

“If you haven’t had a chance to pick up one of the buzziest novels of summer, take Emma Roberts’ — and my — word for it: you can’t miss The Incendiaries.” —Bustle

“In R.O. Kwon’s terrific new novel The Incendiaries, a cultist looks for meaning in tragedy. Kwon’s debut is a shiningly ambitious look at how human beings try to fill the holes in their lives.” —Vox

“Kwon’s lush imaginative project … [is to expose] the reactionary impulses that run through American life…[creating] an impression of the mysterious social forces and private agonies that might drive a person to extremes.” —The New Republic

“The main attraction and reward of this book is Kwon’s prose. Spiky, restless and nervously perceptive, it exhales spiritual unease.” —Wall Street Journal

“Kwon’s multi-faceted narrative portrays America’s dark, radical strain, exploring the lure of fundamentalism, our ability to be manipulated, and what can happen when we’re willing to do anything for a cause.” —Atlantic.com

“Deeply engrossing.”—PBS Books

“Remarkable…Every page blooms with sensuous language…These are characters in quiet crisis, burning, above all, to know themselves, and Kwon leads them, confidently, to an enthralling end.”—Paris Review

“A God-haunted, willful, strange book written with a kind of savage elegance. I’ve said it before, but now I’ll shout it from the rooftops: R. O. Kwon is the real deal.”
Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies and Florida

“Every explosive requires a fuse. That’s R. O. Kwon’s novel, a straight, slow-burning fuse. To read her novel is to follow an inexorable flame coming closer and closer to the object it will detonate—the characters, the crime, the story, and, ultimately, the reader.”
Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer and The Refugees

The Incendiaries probes the seductive and dangerous places to which we drift when loss unmoors us. In dazzlingly acrobatic prose, R. O. Kwon explores the lines between faith and fanaticism, passion and violence, the rational and the unknowable.”
Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You

“Absolutely electric, something new in the firmament. Everyone should read this book.”
Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You

“A swift, sensual novel about the unraveling of a collegiate relationship and its aftermath. Kwon writes gracefully about the spiritual insecurities of millennials.”
Karan Mahajan, author of The Association of Small Bombs

“A classic love triangle between two tormented college students and God. The Incendiaries brings us, page by page, from quiet reckonings with shame and intimacy to a violent, grand tragedy. In a conflagration of lyrical prose, R. O. Kwon skillfully evokes the inherent extremism of young love.”
Tony Tulathimutte, author of Private Citizens

“An impressive, assured debut about the hope for personal and political revolution and all the unexpected ways it flickers out. Kwon has vital things to say about the fraught times we live in.”
Jenny Offill, author of Dept. of Speculation

“A profound, intricate exploration of how grief and lost faith and the vulnerable storm of youth can drive people to irrevocable extremes, told with a taut intensity that kept me up all night. R.O. Kwon is a thrilling writer, and her splendid debut is unsettled, irresistible company.”
Laura van den Berg, author of The Isle of Youth and Find Me

Author R. O. Kwon
Author R. O. Kwon

About the author:

O. Kwon is the author of the novel The Incendiaries (July 2018) and is a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow. Her writing is published in The Guardian, Vice, BuzzFeed, Time, Noon, Electric Literature, Playboy, and elsewhere. She has received awards from Yaddo, MacDowell, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Omi International, the Steinbeck Center, and the Norman Mailer Writers’ Colony. Born in South Korea, she has lived most of her life in the United States. She can be found at http://ro-kwon.com.

https://www.amazon.com/R.-O.-Kwon/e/B07B2HG6D1/

 

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Grace Vincent, on behalf of Virago, Little Brown Book Group UK, for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review. Thanks also for the opportunity to take part in the blog tour for the launch of the novel, the first book published by R.O. Kwon, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

This novel describes the attempts by one of its protagonists, Will Kendall, of making sense and understanding the events that have led to his girlfriend’s, Phoebe Lin, participation in a horrific event. As often happens in novels with a narrator (or several), no matter what the story is about, the book often ends up becoming a search for understanding and meaning, not only of the events that form the plot but also of the actual narrator. Why is s/he telling that particular story? And why is s/he telling that story in that particular way? This novel is no different, although the manner the story is told can, at times, work as a smokescreen, and we don’t know exactly who is telling what, and how accurate he or she might be.

On the surface, the novel is divided into chapters, each one headed by one of three characters, John Leal (this one written in the third person and always quite brief), Phoebe (written in the first person), and Will, also written in the first person. At first, it’s possible to imagine that Phoebe’s chapters have been written by her, but later, we notice intrusions of another narrator, a narrator trying to imagine what she might have said, or to transcribe what she had said, or what she was possibly thinking or feeling at certain times. As we read this book, that is quite short notwithstanding the seriousness of the subjects it deals in, we come to realise that the whole novel is narrated by Will, who, after the fact, is trying to make sense of what happened, by collecting information and remembering things, and also by imagining what might have gone on when he was not present. He acknowledges he might be a pretty unreliable narrator, and that is true, for a variety of reasons, some of which he might be more aware than others.

The novel is about faith, about finding it, losing it, and using it as a way to atone and to find meaning, but also as a way to manipulate others. It is about love, that can be another aspect of faith, and they seem to go hand in hand in Will’s case. He discovered his Christian faith in high school, in part as a refuge from his terrible family life, and lost it when it did not live up to his expectations (God did not give him a sign when he asked for one). He moved out of Bible School and into Edwards, and there he met Phoebe, a girl fighting her own demons, a very private person who did not share her thoughts or guilt with anybody. Will falls in love with her and transfers his faith and obsession onto her. But she is also unknowable, at least to the degree he wishes her to be open and understandable for him, and she becomes involved in something that gives meaning to her life, but he cannot truly become a part of. He abandoned his faith, but he seems less likely and able to do so with his belief in her.

The novel is also about identity. The three main characters, and many others that appear in the book do not seem to fully fit in anywhere, and try different behaviours and identities for size. Will invents a wealthy family who’ve lost it all, to fit into the new college better; Phoebe hides details of her past and her wealth, and is Korean but knows hardly anything about it and John Leal… Well, it’s difficult to know, as we only get Will’s point of view of him, but he might, or might not, have totally invented a truly traumatic past to convince the members of what becomes his cult, to follow him.

The language used varies, depending on what we are reading. The dialogue reflects the different characters and voices, whilst the narrator uses sometimes very beautiful and poetic language that would fit in with the character (somebody who had been proselytizing, who was used to reading the Bible, and who tried to be the best scholar not to be found out). Also, he tends to use that language when remembering what his girlfriend had told him or imagining what John Leal might have said as if he remembered her as more beautiful, more eloquent, and more transcendent than anybody else. This is a book of characters (or of a character and his imaginings and the personas he creates for others he has known) and not a page-turner driven by plot. The story is fascinating and horrifying but we know from early on (if not the details, we have an inkling of the kind of thing that will happen) where we are going, and it’s not so much the where, but the how, that is important. The book describes well —through the different characters— student life, the nature of friendships in college, and some other serious subjects are hinted at but not explored in detail (a girl makes an accusation of rape, and she is not the only victim of such crime, there is prejudice, mental illness, drug use, abortion…).

I read some reviews that felt the description or the blurb were misleading, as it leads them to expect a thriller, and the book is anything but. I am not sure if there must have been an earlier version of the blurb, but just in case, no, this book is not a thriller. It’s a very subjective book where we come to realise we have spent most of the time inside of the head of one single character. Nonetheless, it offers fascinating insights into faith, the nature of obsession, and what can drive people to follow a cult and to become strangers to themselves and to those they love.

The ending is left open (if we accept the narrator’s point of view, although there is an option of closure if we don’t) and I was impressed by one of the longest acknowledgements I’ve ever read. It hints not only of a grateful writer attentive to detail but also of a book which has undergone a long process and many transformations before getting into our hands.

A couple of examples of the poetic language in the book:

Punch-stained red cups split underfoot, opening into plastic petals. Palms open, she levitated both hands.

The nephilim at hand, radiant galaxies pirouetting at God’s command. Faith lifted mountains. Miracles. Healings.

Not a light or easy read, but a book for those eager to find a new voice and to explore issues of faith, love, identity. Oh, and for those who love an unreliable narrator. A first book of what promises to be a long and fascinating literary career.

Thanks so much to NetGalley, to Grace Vincent and the publisher, and to the author, for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for writing, and if you’ve found it interesting, feel free to share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling!

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