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#Bookreview ORPHANS OF THE CARNIVAL by Carol Birch (@CarolBirch) The sad story of an incredible historical figure and an exploited woman

Hi all:

As you know on Friday I bring you new books and/or guest authors. Today I bring you a book by a well-known writer although I hadn’t read any of her books yet. I’ve read and reviewed this extraordinary book, but it got me thinking, so this is a bit more than ‘just’ a book review. It’s one of those topics one can’t stop thinking about.

But first, let me tell you about the novel (sort of).

Orphans of the Carnival by Carol Birch
Orphans of the Carnival by Carol Birch

Orphans of the Carnival by Carol Birch. 

Canongate Books Literary FictionHistory

Description

The dazzling new novel, evoking the strange and thrilling world of the Victorian carnival, from the Man Booker-shortlisted author of Jamrach’s Menagerie
A life in the spotlight will keep anyone hidden
Julia Pastrana is the singing and dancing marvel from Mexico, heralded on tours across nineteenth-century Europe as much for her talent as for her rather unusual appearance. Yet few can see past the thick hair that covers her: she is both the fascinating toast of a Governor’s ball and the shunned, revolting, unnatural beast, to be hidden from children and pregnant women.
But what is her wonderful and terrible link to Rose, collector of lost treasures in an attic room in modern-day south London? In this haunting tale of identity, love and independence, these two lives will connect in unforgettable ways.

Advance Praise

Orphans of the Carnival is a rich and wonderful book. Carol Birch can see a world in a grain of sand – and then furnish it for you, vividly and unforgettably.’ M.R. CAREY, author of The Girl With All the Gifts

‘In this dazzling novel Carol Birch paints an extraordinary portrait of an extraordinary woman. Orphans of the Carnival encourages us to wonder what is revealed by the way a society treats those people who are unusual, who look different or who have their own unique view of the world.’ CATHERINE CHANTER, author of The Well

Praise for Jamrach’s Menagerie:
‘An imaginative tour-de-force encompassing the sights and smells of 19th-century London and the wild sea . . . Gripping, superbly written and a delight – The Times
Riveting. Birch is masterful at evoking period and place . . . A teeming exhibition of the beautiful and the bizarre – Sunday Times
One of the best stories I’ve ever read . . . A completely original book – A. S. Byatt

Here my review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Canongate book for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Although I’ve never been to a circus I’ve always been interested in stories, books, films and artworks about the circus. And I’ve never forgotten the movie Freaks (1932) directed by Tod Browning, that is as beautiful and touching as it is horrifying (not because of the ‘freaks’ of the story, but because of the way they were exhibited and exploited) , since I first saw it many years back. Human beings have always been fascinated by the unknown and by those who are similar but different to us (not only from a different country and race, but sometimes truly different, something that Freud tried to explain when he defined the ‘uncanny’ as something that is familiar and strange at once  and can cause attraction and repulsion at the same time.

This is the first novel by Carol Birch that I read, and although I was interested in her literary career, what made me pick it up was the subject matter. The author writes about Julia Pastrana, a woman born in Mexico in 1834 with two severe genetic malformations that resulted in her body being covered in hair and in her having a protruding mouth and lips with two rows of teeth. There circulated strange stories about her origin (still available nowadays), and she was spotted in a Mexican house by somebody in showbiz and ended up in the circus and carnival circuits, first in the US and then throughout most of Europe. The novel tells her re-imagined story, although, as the writer explains at the end, she used the basic known facts of her life as scaffolding that allowed her to fill in the gaps and create a fictionalised account of her short but intense life.

Julia’s story is interspersed in the novel with some chapters about Rose, a woman of our time (or thereabouts) who lives in a small apartment in London and who is could be defined as a hoarder. But more than a hoarder, she seems to feel an affinity for the objects she finds, no matter how broken and tatty, as if their stories called to her and she feels she has to rescue them and give them a home. When she finds a strange and half-destroyed doll at the beginning of the novel we don’t know yet what the link with Julia is. We don’t find that out until the very end (or close enough, although I missed one of the clues, so intent I was on following Julia’s story at that point) and it’s sad but somehow it offers a sense of closure. The mention of the island of the Dolls that also exist in reality adds another layer of strangeness and creepiness (or enchantment, it depends on one’s point of view) to the story.

The book is written in the third person from the various main characters’ points of view. The historical account is mostly from Julia’s point of view (and giving her a voice, after so many years of being the object of the gaze is a great decision), although later when she meets Lent the points of view alternate between the two and I feel that the author makes a good job of trying to get into the mind of her husband, a man difficult to empathise with or understand, especially from a modern point of view (although I’m sure people at the time wouldn’t have been comfortable with his behaviour either, at least the most enlightened ones). Rose’s chapters, although far less numerous, are told from her point of view and later from Adams’s, a neighbour, friend and lover. The novel is beautifully written; it does not only manage to create a sense of place and of the historical period, but it also succeeds at building up a psychologically consistent portrayal of both Julia and her husband. I felt there was far less detail about the contemporary parts of the story and although I did appreciate the eventual confluence of plots (so to speak, but I’ll avoid giving away any spoilers), I’m not sure that the two parts fit perfectly well, enhance each other rather than distract from one another, or that we get to know or understand the contemporary characters other than superficially. To be fair to the author, I can’t imagine many fictional stories that could compete with Julia’s real life (and afterlife).

This is a book where those who are deemed less than human run rings around the self-professed echelons of society, and I’m sure I’ll keep thinking about this story that touches on colonialism, misogyny, exploitation, issues of race, disability, diversity… Yes, I felt compelled to check the story of Julia Pastrana and other than some discrepancy about the date of her marriage, the novel is accurate regarding the facts, proving the adage that reality is stranger than fiction. And history for sure.

This is a book that will interest people who enjoy Victoriana and historical fiction of the era, and anybody who likes to read a well-written novel with great characters. It is a sad story (and I cried more than once) but it deserves to be told and read. Perhaps we don’t have carnivals or shows of the style described in the book any longer, but we shouldn’t be complacent because we are not as enlightened as we might like to think. A fascinating novel about a fascinating human being and the society of her time.

Links:

e-book:

https://www.amazon.com/Orphans-Carnival-Carol-Birch-ebook/dp/B01CGI005S/

Hardback:

https://www.amazon.com/Orphans-Carnival-Novel-Carol-Birch/dp/038554152X/

Paperback:

https://www.amazon.com/Orphans-of-the-Carnival/dp/1782119299/

Audiobook:

https://www.amazon.com/Orphans-of-the-Carnival/dp/B01IRX8WM4/

As I said at the beginning, the story of Julia Pastrana fascinated me and I found quite a few articles talking about her, some in more detail than others. If you’re not familiar with the kind of images and pamphlets around these shows you might be surprised at the objectification and descriptions, but see what you think.

Links about Julia Pastrana:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julia_Pastrana

https://www.buzzfeed.com/timstelloh/behold-the-heartbreaking-hair-raising-tale-of-julia-pastrana?

http://pictorial.jezebel.com/the-life-and-death-of-julia-pastrana-bearded-woman-on-1695330616

http://www.thehumanmarvels.com/julia-pastrana-the-nondescript/

http://www.sideshowworld.com/110-Mummy/Julia/Pastrana.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/12/arts/design/julia-pastrana-who-died-in-1860-to-be-buried-in-mexico.html

It made me think about how museums sometimes contained (I hope no longer do) actual embalmed human beings of faraway lands that were considered educational displays. This is a particularly strange example (and yes, although I don’t think I ever saw him, I visited Banyoles quite a few times).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negro_of_Banyoles

A link to the Isla de las muñecas (Island of the Dolls) in Mexico, that’s also mentioned in the novel:

http://www.isladelasmunecas.com/

And as I mentioned Freaks in the review, I thought I’d leave you a trailer, in case you’ve never watched it.

Thanks so much to NetGalley, the publishers and the author for the novel, and for bringing to my attention Julia Pastrana (I’m pleased she’s finally back home), thanks to all of you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it, like, share, comment, and CLICK!

 

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Book reviews

#Bookreview A BOY MADE OF BLOCKS #MadeOfBlocks by Keith Stuart (@keefstuart) A unique adventure and a very personal and emotional one. I loved it

Hi all:

Today I bring you a pretty special book. I was approached by the press officer about this book a while back and because of the subject matter, the writer and the approach I had to say yes. And I’m very pleased I did. Here is my review. (Ah, and the books is officially released today, 6th of September 2016).

A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart
A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart

A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart

A novel inspired by the author’s experiences with his autistic son, Zac 

A wonderful life-affirming debut that will make you, laugh, cry and smile 

The rights sensation at the Frankfurt Book Fair, twenty territories (and counting) sold  

A BOY MADE OF BLOCKS by Keith Stuart 

Published on 1st September 2016 | Hardback and eBook price £12.99 

MEET THIRTY SOMETHING DAD, ALEX… He loves his wife Jody but has forgotten how to show it. He loves his son but doesn’t understand him. Something has to change. And it needs to start with him.

MEET EIGHT-YEAR-OLD SAM… Beautiful, surprising, autistic. To him, the world is a puzzle he can’t solve on his own.

But when Sam starts to play Minecraft, it opens up a place where Alex and Sam begin to re-discover both themselves, and each other… can one fragmented family put themselves back together, one piece at a time? 

A Boy Made of Blocks an astonishingly authentic story of love, family, and autism. Fans of About a Boy, Us and The Rosie Project will love this heart-warming, heart-breaking & wonderfully funny debut from an exceptionally talented new writer.

A few comments about the novel:

The Unmumsy Mum, ‘Heartwarming, funny and special. I devoured this cracking book’

Jenny Colgan, ‘Very funny, incredibly poignant and full of insight. Awesome’

Cath Burke, Publisher, Sphere Fiction ‘I simply adore this book. Since I read the very first initial chapters I have been talking about A Boy Made of Blocks to everyone I know and now that the finished novel is ready, I’m so excited for others to share the joy of Keith’s funny, emotional, heart-warming, inspiring and uplifting novel. A truly special read from a remarkably talented writer.’

Jack Smyth, Cover Designer A Boy Made of Blocks has stayed with me in one way or another, six months after I read the earliest draft. Some books fall into the wayside of memory, but the really good ones make a lasting impression.’

My review:

Thanks to Net Galley and to Little, Brown Book Group UK and Sphere for providing me with a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

This is a unique book. Yes, I know all books are unique in one way or another, but this book is unique because it deals with something that is always going to be unique to the person experiencing it. If being a father doesn’t come with an instruction manual, being the father of a child within the autism spectre not only comes with no instructions, but it also shakes and spins around the world of those involved. Keith Stuart, the author, draws from his personal experience of fatherhood (his son Zac was diagnosed with autism when he was seven years old) to write a fictionalised account of learning to know your child in his or her own terms.

Alex, the protagonist, is a man in crisis. His relationship with his wife is so problematic that at the beginning of the book she’s sent him out of the house on a trial separation. He spends most of the book at a friend’s, Dan, with whom he shares childhood experiences and a trauma that has marked him more than he is willing or able to acknowledge.  Alex is a good man trying to do the right thing, but unable to explore his own difficulties, or to acknowledge how his inability to let go makes it impossible for him to help himself and others.

He is confronted once and again with the need to be different, to try to listen and learn. And he discovers an ally in a computer game, Minecraft. The author, who reviews computer games for several publications, has talked about his  experience of sharing the game with his own son and how that allowed his boy to show his creativity and to share a safe space with others. Although I’ve never played Minecraft, the descriptions of how the game works and the effect it had on both, Sam (the boy in the story) and his father is well rendered and easy to follow. The game and its effect over Alex also allows for some truly beautiful and insightful moments. Witnessing Sam’s sheer joy at understanding the rules of the world around him and being able to use them to create a new order and to have meaningful relationships with others is a great moment that the reader shares with Alex. He makes mistakes, he can be jealous, possessive, and cowardly at times, but he eventually does what is best and dares to push himself. As he states towards the end, his son guides him and shows him the way. If at the beginning Alex sees Sam as a problem he doesn’t know how to deal with and can’t see a future for him, by the end everything has changed. He discovers that Sam understands more than he ever realised and also that he is his own person. And a pretty impressive one at that.

The novel, written in the first person, makes us see and share the world from Alex’s point of view, and although we might not always agree with what he does, he is a fully-fledged human being, with his weaknesses and his strengths. We get to care for him, as we care for all the rest of the characters, who are also complex, confused and glorious human beings.  There are the small family dramas, the highs and lows of everyday life taken to extremes, and they all rang true to me.

I have no children and my experience with children and adults within the autistic spectrum is mostly professional (I have worked as a psychiatrist and have some experience in an Asperger’s service) but I would happily recommend this book to anybody with an interest in the subject, whether they like or not to play computer games, or to anybody who enjoys novels based on characters and their experiences (rather than action and adventure), and who are happy to be exposed to extremes of emotions (yes, I did cry, sometimes happily, others not so much). It is a beautiful and heart-wrenching book at times that ends up on a hopeful note.  I loved it.

Links:

e-book: https://www.amazon.com/Boy-Made-Blocks-Keith-Stuart-ebook/dp/B010QDG9RI/

Hardback:https://www.amazon.com/A-Boy-Made-of-Blocks/dp/0751563277/

Some information about the author:

Author Keith Stuart
Author Keith Stuart

KEITH STUART is games editor at the Guardian. He started out as writer and features editor on the highly influential magazine Edge before going freelance in 2000 to cover games culture for publications such as The Official PlayStation Magazine, PC Gamer and T3, as well as investigating digital and interactive art for Frieze. He also writes about music, film and media for the Guardian and is a regular on the Tech Weekly podcast. He is married with two sons.

He lives in Somerset. 

For further information please check:

 

www.boymadeofblocks.com | @keefstuart | #MadeofBlocks

Thanks to the author (and the press officer) for this novel based on real life, thanks to all for reading, and if you’ve found it interesting: like, share, comment, and CLICK!

 

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Book reviews

#BookReview THE SECRET DIARY OF HENDRIK GROEN, 83 ¼ Years Old by Hendrik Groen (25th August) We might all be dying but there’s no need to get gloomy about it #TuesdayBookBlog

Hi all:

I’m going on my travels again and I’ve managed to accumulate a lot of reading material, blog tours postings, and reviews I should share for the month of September (when if I’m to judge by the amount of request for reviews I’ve got, there will be an avalanche of new books, brace yourselves!) so if you see a lot of book reviews, don’t worry. I’ll will be there, reading, editing (yes, I’m getting there with lots of help and I hope my book will be out before Christmas… Some early ARCs have gone to readers already. Bless them. )

So here comes one of my reviews. I really loved this book but I was waiting to share it until it was published. It’s been available in other countries and other languages for quite a while but well, here it is…

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 1/4 Years Old by Hendrik Groen (? well, we don't know)
The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 1/4 Years Old by Hendrik Groen (? well, we don’t know)

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old by Hendrik Groen. We might all be dying but there’s no need to get gloomy about it

Description

** THE INTERNATIONAL PHENOMENON ** ‘

‘Another year and I still don’t like old people. Me? I am 83 years old.’

Hendrik Groen may be old, but he is far from dead and isn’t planning to be buried any time soon. Granted, his daily strolls are getting shorter because his legs are no longer willing and he had to visit his doctor more than he’d like. Technically speaking he is … elderly. But surely there is more to life at his age than weak tea and potted geraniums?

Hendrik sets out to write an exposé: a year in the life of his care home in Amsterdam, revealing all its ups and downs – not least his new endeavour the anarchic Old-But-Not Dead Club. And when Eefje moves in – the woman Hendrik has always longed for – he polishes his shoes (and his teeth), grooms what’s left of his hair and attempts to make something of the life he has left, with hilarious, tender and devastating consequences.

The indomitable Hendrik Groen – Holland’s unlikeliest hero – has become a cultural phenomenon in his native Netherlands and now he and his famously anonymous creator are conquering the globe. A major Dutch bestseller, The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen will not only delight older readers with its wit and relevance, but will charm and inspire those who have years to go before their own expiry date.

Advance Praise

Praise for The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old 

‘Hendrik Groen’s account of daily life in a care home for the elderly pulled me in with its self-deprecating humour, finely drawn characters and frank accounting of the trials of old age. Behind Hendrik’s light touch and grumpy-old-man persona is a story with a great deal of heart, and some important themes. Hendrik effortlessly incorporates the politics of aged care, from funding to euthanasia, into his personal story and offers his own acerbic insights. Anyone who has a friend or relative in a nursing home or retirement village, or who hopes to grow old with dignity themselves, will find much to reflect on’.  Graeme Simsion, international bestselling author of The Rosie Project

‘There are many laughs in this book but it’s so much more than just a comedy. It’s a story about how friendship, selflessness and dignity lie at the heart of the human experience. When I’m an old man, I want to be Hendrik Groen’. John Boyne, author of international bestseller The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

‘Funny, tragic and sometimes heart rending’. Het Parool

‘Hendrik Groen is a heart-warming hero’. Trouw

‘With pungent phrasing Groen takes down life in a retirement home. Both charming and hilarious’ ****Leeuwarder Courant

‘Hendrik Groen is king. My mother (78) suffers from dementia. Doesn’t read a newspaper or magazine anymore, only old photo albums can grab her attention for longer than 5 minutes. Hendrik Groen made her laugh out loud’. Ray Kluun, author of Love Life

‘The tears came streaming down my face. From laughing so hard. I couldn’t stop grinning for three days’. Ouderenjournaal

‘Never a dull moment with my new BFF Hendrik Groen’. Read Shop, Hedel

‘It reminded me of a combination between The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Wonderful! Shame it’s finished already’. Arjen Broers, Bookshop Bruna

‘Heart-warming, funny and poignant. It’s about all aspects of life. EVERYBODY should read this’. Bookshop Stevens

My review:

Thanks to Net Galley and to Penguin UK-Michael Joseph for providing me with a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

The description of this book drew me in from the beginning as the protagonist and supposed diarist of the book is correct when he talks about the increased interest in old age pensioners and how they appear to be the subject of everything, from movies to laws. Whatever our age, as another one of the characters tells Hendrik, if you don’t know somebody with dementia (let’s change that to senior citizen) you’re sorely out of fashion. I didn’t realise at the time that the book had been a great success in the Netherlands and in many other countries (including Spain, where I was at the time). I’m not sure why it took so long to be published in an English version but I’m glad it finally did.

I have enjoyed the resurgence of movies with older protagonists, not only because of the original perspective given to the stories, but also because they provide a great chance to see (in most cases together) many of the actors and actresses one has learned to love over the years but who no longer fit into the usual bestselling production. This novel isn’t either the typical bestselling book. It’s not an action book or a thriller (as Hendrik says on a number of occasions, a traffic congestion in the residential home where he lives might be caused by too many people trying to use the lift at the same time with their walking aids, and going for a walk once a day is seen as a big adventure), it isn’t a hot romance (yes, there is romance but gentle and understated), a chick-lit book (the protagonist is a Dutch man who is 83 at the beginning of the book), or a paranormal or science-fiction offering. These are the secret writings of a man (although the true author has not been revealed and the book is classed as humour and fiction) in a residential home who, at the beginning of the year 2013, decides to start writing a diary, because having a goal, however small, helps keep depression and sad thoughts at bay. Despite what I said, there are adventures. He and some friends (some old, some recent, including a love interest) get together in an attempt at fighting apathy and enforced old-age and create the Old-But-Not-Dead club, and they set off on their adventures. There is also intrigue and spy missions (trying to get hold of a copy of the infamous regulations that seem to impede any fun or flexibility within the walls of the institution), there are sad moments (illnesses, both physical and mental, and death), political and social commentaries (of Dutch politics and international affairs, always sharp and mocking), and there are flashy vehicles (there are debates about the best mobility scooters and some driving mishaps).

Added to the varied and unforgettable plot elements are the characters. The book is narrated in the first-person by Henrik Groen. We only get tiny snippets of his previous life (sad events and circumstances that move us but he doesn’t dwell upon) but he has a penchant for observing and commenting on the everyday with a fresh, mocking and humorous eye, not devoid of tenderness. He might be getting on but the really old people are those around him. His loyalty to his friends (not withstanding his objective appraisals of their qualities and defects), his lack of self-pity and his self-deprecating attitude, always trying to see the funny side of things (and trying to remain optimistic), his generosity and willingness to help others no matter what his heart and mind say, and his willingness to fight for what is right and to never hide from unpleasant, embarrassing or difficult subjects (i.e. euthanasia) make him unique and endear him to the reader. He’s a hero and the cast of friends, bit players, enemies  and even the dog and the poor fishes (sorry, you must read the book to know what I mean) create a microcosm that we can’t help but care for.

The book is an easy read, and it adopts British English colloquialisms and sayings that would fit in perfectly with somebody of Hendrik’s age (if he was from the UK).

I loved the book. I laughed, cried, and it made me think: about living every day to the maximum, about having goals, about the future, about relatives and also, about myself. I hope if I get to that age there’ll be a Hendrik wherever I end up. (Or I’ll be like Hendrik). A fabulous read.

Links:

e-book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Secret-Diary-Hendrik-Groen-Years-ebook/dp/B01DOSVSNW/

https://www.amazon.com/Secret-Diary-Hendrik-Groen-Years-ebook/dp/B01DOSVSNW/

Hardcover: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Secret-Diary-Hendrik-Groen-Years/dp/0718183002/

https://www.amazon.com/Secret-Diary-Hendrik-Groen-Years/dp/0718183002/

Audible: https://www.amazon.com/Secret-Diary-Hendrik-Groen-Years/dp/B01KKMXBIA/

I’m sure you’ll see it everywhere, if I’m to judge by its distribution in Spain, but I thought I’d recommend it early anyway.

Thanks again to NetGalley and to Penguin UK-Michael Joseph for the early copy, thanks to you all for reading, and you know what to do, like, share, comment, and of course, if you want a great read, CLICK!

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Book reviews

#RBRT The Dead City (A Post-Apocalyptic Thriller. The Dead Lands #2) by Dylan J. Morgan (@dylanjmorgan) Second helpings can be as good if not better than the first. And you won’t forget the baddie #TuesdayBookBlogs And, anybody for an ARC of Escaping Psychiatry 2. The Case of the Swapped Bodies?

Hi all:

Yes, it’s August and #AugustReviews month. I got this book as an ARC but I hope it will be available soon and I’ll add the links when it does. It’s another book I got through Rosie’s Books Review Team and it’s the third book I’ve read by this author, and I’m sure it won’t be the last one. Oh, and if you read until the end I’m offering my own ARC.

The Dead City by Dylan J. Morgan (The Dead Lands 2)
The Dead City by Dylan J. Morgan (The Dead Lands 2)

The Dead City (A Post-Apocalyptic Thriller. The Dead Lands #2) by Dylan J. Morgan

I’m writing this review on behalf of Rosie’s Books Review Team and thank Rosie and the author for providing me with an ARC copy of the novel in exchange for an unbiased review.

I read the first novel in this post-apocalyptic series The Dead Lands not too long ago (read my review here) in preparation for the next novel. I enjoyed the first one (although I don’t read much in that genre, I had read another one of the author’s novels, and it had come very highly recommended) and was eager to see what would happen next.

The story picks up where the other one left of, or near enough. A much larger military expedition, this time headed by Colonel Paden, is sent to Hemera, officially to rescue the survivors of the first mission, but in reality to recover the treasure and wealth of the city that Paden has been assured is still there. Anybody who’s read the first novel knows that all the members of the mission are in for a surprise. Although they’ve been told there are some hostile life forms in the planet (that’s more than the first mission knew), nothing has prepared them for the mutated ever hungry creatures they meet.

The style of the story is very similar to the first one. It’s also written in the third person, with each chapter or part of the narration told from a different point of view. I did mention in my previous review that it made for a fairly democratic experience, and a pretty uncomfortable one at times, and that’s again the case. We are in the shoes (or the consciousness) of soldiers, male and female, of all ranks, of those in charge and those following orders, of male and female mutants… It does not necessarily help create empathy for the characters, but many of them are not likeable (and some are utterly disgusting, and I’m not talking necessarily about the mutants that after all have no choice in the matter) nor do they need to be. Like in the first one (personally I thought perhaps more in this one than in the first novel) there are characters who are easier to root for, like Ryan and his sister Jayde, Marshal, Darrell, Laila, Boone… Murdoch and Paden are the official baddies, although nobody can compete with Paden. He’s gross and horrible and… Yes, so bad he’s good. The behaviour of most of the characters is more loyal and morally sound than in the first one, perhaps because these are military men and women among the best, rather than a problematic team handpicked to die and not be missed like in the first novel. There are moments of extreme loyalty and self-sacrificing behaviour that keeps it emotionally satisfying in parts (despite the body count).

Although there is not much in the way of back story (like happened in the previous one) we get snippets of personal history, for example the history of Ryan and his sister, and we learn the reasons for Murdoch’s hatred towards Ryan (and even get several versions of the story). Overall, the book is mostly about the now and the action and mission the soldiers get landed in. Despite traumatic memories, the soldiers have to remain focused on the task at hand if they want to survive and because we experience the story from the points of view of the different characters we, readers, also get into the action mode, fearing where the next attack might come from, if we’ll make it out of the sewers in time, and if there’s any future at all out of that rat hole.

The novel questions issues of loyalty and morality, and highlights the fact that following orders is not a valid excuse when it leads to extinction and it’s led by greed (Marshal and his hesitation about following Paden’s orders reminded me of Starbuck wondering if he should follow Ahab’s. Ultimately, and I’m not going to spoil the novel for anybody, Marshal’s call is the right one, duty or not. And after all Ahab has his humanities, whilst Paden…). Rampant materialism, self-interest, egocentrism and narcissism are weighted against team loyalty, discipline and team spirit.

There is no humour as such in the novel, although sometimes the contrast between the situation and the point of view of the character the reader inhabits can create moments of utter disbelief and even some unintendedly funny ones (Paden can be annoying, disgusting but also quite witty at times). And I couldn’t help but chuckle thanks to a lovely twist involving a particularly grand mutant (that in fact is the mirror image of the colonel).

There are also interesting observations about the mutants, who are perhaps not the wild slaughtering and devouring machines they appear at first sight that might hint at future changes to come.

The novel has plenty of violence (like in a video game), with fights, shootings, descriptions of weaponry and gore, destruction, nasty smells, biological functions run amok, and injuries described in painful detail. This is not for the fainthearted or those who are looking for a nicely wrapped up and happy ending. Although the ending is perhaps less dark than in the first novel, at least so it seems initially, it has a twist in its tale and it leaves many questions open, including the future of Erebus.

Who do I recommend it to? To lovers of the post-apocalyptic genre who are keen on action, and do not mind descriptions of battles, destruction and explicit violence. Also to those who like to experience stories that go beyond the comfortable following of an unambiguous hero. And I especially recommend it to those with a good stomach who love to hate their baddies. Paden is epic.

Thanks to Rosie and to Dylan J. Morgan, thanks to all of you for reading, and check the previous post too! And of course, like, share, comment and CLICK! Ah, and I got my book Escaping Psychiatry 2. The Case of the Swapped Bodies back from the editor and I’d be happy to send ARC copies if anybody is interested (I hope it will be published some time in September, but it depends on how long the edits of the Spanish version take). If you want to read a bit more about it, check here.

Escaping Psychiatry 2. The Case of the Swapped Bodies
Escaping Psychiatry 2. The Case of the Swapped Bodies
Categories
Book review Book reviews New books

#BookReview and new book The Other Side of Philip K. Dick: A Tale of Two Friends by Maer Wilson (@MaerWilson) , Tim Powers (Foreword). A portray of a time, a man and a dear friend. (And some free books)

Hi all:

Today I bring you a new book (the author belongs to one of the groups of authors I joined early on in my career and where I learned the little I know, ASMSG, Authors Social Media Support Group) by Maer Wilson. Although I’ve known her for a while, I hadn’t managed to read any of her books, but when she offered an ARC of her newest and I read what it was about, I couldn’t resist. And don’t worry, the book was published earlier this week (on the 9th of August) so you won’t have to wait. Ah, and read until the end, as another author of the book reminded me that in the ASMSG website readers can access free books by the authors in the group, and some of mine are there too!

Maer Wilson was very kind and sent an excerpt and extra material, so you can get a better sense of what her book is like.

The Other Side of Philip K. Dick by Maer Wilson
The Other Side of Philip K. Dick by Maer Wilson

The Other Side of Philip K. Dick: A Tale of Two Friends by Maer Wilson  (Author), Tim Powers (Foreword)

“As a literary figure, Philip K. Dick is popularly perceived as a crazed, drug-addled mystic with a sinister Third Eye. Nothing could be further from the truth – the Phil I knew was a warm, humane, very funny man. Maer Wilson understands these truths far better than I, and The Other Side of Philip K. Dick casts a welcome shaft of daylight upon the real PKD, as opposed to the dark, distorted caricature Dick has become.” Paul M. Sammon, Author of Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner

PKDteaser1

What is the truth behind the legend of Science Fiction great, Philip K. Dick?

 

In spring, 1972, Phil Dick moved to Fullerton, CA, where he met Theatre student Mary (Maer) Wilson. Amid marriage proposals, marathon talk-fests and a love for music and films, they forged a strong friendship that would last the rest of his life.

 

Wilson’s quirky, yet unflinchingly honest, memoir reveals a funny, compassionate and generous man. She captures an inside view of one of our literary greats – a brilliant writer who gave the world some of its most revered Science Fiction.

 

“I found this book engrossing and authentic – a truthful and serious account of the last part of Phil Dick’s life by someone who was a fundamental part of it and who has the skill to write about it. There is evident love and friendship in this book, but also honesty. This was the Phil Dick I knew.” James P. Blaylock, World Fantasy Award-Winning Author

 

You can pre-order ebook versions now.
The paperback will be available on August 9, 2016

 

Amazon Kindle – https://goo.gl/nQ12tW

Amazon Paperback – https://goo.gl/Nvx1H0

Barnes & Noble Paperback – http://goo.gl/GzEVxz

Barnes & Noble Nook – http://goo.gl/o92tkr
iTunes – https://goo.gl/LDArxc
Kobo – https://goo.gl/uax6Fm

Goodreads – https://goo.gl/WFdQZy

Smashwords – https://goo.gl/zbBGE9

 

 

Maer Wilson Author Pic

 

Maer Wilson’s Bio

After a successful career being other people, and later teaching others the many tricks of that trade, Maer Wilson has decided to be herself for a while. Turns out she’s a writer.

Maer first met Philip K. Dick in 1972 when he moved into the apartment across the hall from her in Fullerton, California. They remained close friends until his death in 1982. Maer was always an avid reader, but it was Phil who introduced her to science fiction, and she fell in love with the genre, later expanding into most aspects of Spec Fic.

When she’s not writing, Maer plays online video games, teaches college and reads. Maer is a partner in Ellysian Press, a small publishing house. She lives in the high desert of Southern Nevada with her two poodles.

Named 2015 Fantasy Author of the Year by AuthorClassifieds.com, Maer’s books include the recent Apocalypta Z. Her Modern Magics series includes the novels Relics, Portals, and Magics, as well as novelettes and stories set in that universe. Maer recently contributed to, compiled and published the charity anthology, The Dark Dozen. She is currently working on a science fiction novel, Truthsayer.

You can find all Maer’s books and novelettes at Amazon and other online retailers. For more info, you can visit Maer’s website at http://maerwilson.com/.

A few links so you can check other books by the author:

 

Maer’s Website:  http://maerwilson.com/

The Other Side of Philip K. Dick Website:  http://goo.gl/C4fWp8

Maer on Amazon:  http://goo.gl/a2BiU2

Maer on Barnes & Noble: http://goo.gl/YGe8ug

Maer on Facebook:  https://goo.gl/KRgX2k

Maer on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/MaerWilson

Maer at Goodreads:  https://goo.gl/oFvUuZ

Maer at Pinterest:  http://goo.gl/BLweoV

PKDteaser2

Excerpt

“But first let’s set the scene.

It’s April, 1972 in Fullerton, California around 7:00 PM. The sun has set and the night is cool, balanced between full spring and hints of summer. Can you feel the slight breeze?

The street is Quartz Lane. Some of the many apartment buildings in the area line the short road. We’re going to go to the first complex on the right, just past the church. There’s a small courtyard and the residents all have their curtains drawn. Most are translucent and clearly show the light from the apartments. But there. That first apartment on our right? The one upstairs. Yes, that one with the light shining through a gap in the curtains.

And the one across from it. The light isn’t as bright, but we need to note that one, too.

We can almost hear the giggles of two girls as we make our way up the stairs and fade through their door. Shhh… We’ll be as quiet as the ghosts from the future that we are.

The scene is set. The actors and orchestra are in their places as the curtain rises.

The stage lights come up.

The conductor taps his baton on the music stand.

 

The music begins.

 

 

Chapter 1 – At First

“It happened back when I was still immortal.”

 

Praise for The Other Side of Philip K. Dick

“I found this book engrossing and authentic – a truthful and serious account of the last part of Phil Dick’s life by someone who was a fundamental part of it and who has the skill to write about it. There is evident love and friendship in this book, but also honesty. This was the Phil Dick I knew.” James P. Blaylock, World Fantasy Award-winning Author

 

“As a literary figure, Philip K. Dick is popularly perceived as a crazed, drug-addled mystic with a sinister Third Eye. Nothing could be further from the truth – the Phil I knew was a warm, humane, very funny man. Maer Wilson understands these truths far better than I, and The Other Side of Philip K. Dick casts a welcome shaft of daylight upon the real PKD, as opposed to the dark, distorted caricature Dick has become.” Paul M. Sammon, Author of Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner

 

“The strongest piece of writing I’ve read in years. Wilson’s pacing is perfection. The Other Side of Philip K. Dick is filled with laughter and the kind of love only true friends can share. Even if, for some reason, you’ve never heard of Philip K. Dick, you will fall in love with him and Wilson. The ending had me crying, like “end of the Notebook” crying. Utter perfection.” M. Joseph Murphy, Author of the Activation series

 

“There are many tales of epic friendships, but there is one huge difference here: The Other Side of Philip K. Dick is real. Wilson’s prose gives us an inside view into two minds, a genius and a young girl. Through her eyes I am left with one thought — this is a man I wish I had known.” –Danielle DeVor, author of the Marker Chronicles.

 

“Frank and revealing. One part faithful memoir, one part a wonderful evocation of Phil’s final 10 years. Writing with crisp clarity, Maer’s humorous anecdotes wonderfully evoke both the times and the man. Her conversational prose sparkles with truth and winning story-telling. Best of all, this warm tribute replaces the oft-told myths about Phil with unique insights into his caring, compassionate and generous nature.” Daniel Gilbertson, Friend of PKD

 

“As a fan of Dick’s fiction, I was engrossed by these amusing, insightful, and poignant reminiscences of the last ten years of his life. Wilson evokes a human portrait of a warm, funny, unassuming man who was a good friend to a young student. This memoir is well-written and heart-felt. It illustrates not only the private world of a great writer but what it was like to be young in the seventies in California.” Carol Holland March, Author of The Dreamwalkers of Larreta

PKDteaser3

 

My review:

I received an ARC copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

I thought I’d get a couple of things out of the way before I gave my opinion of the book. This is the first book by Maer Wilson that I’ve read. I’m aware she writes fiction but haven’t read any of her novels yet. The second thing is that I’ve read some of Philip K. Dick’s novels, but I’m not a connoisseur of his work and I have but a passing acquaintance with his life. Like a lot of people I’m more familiar with some of the film adaptations of his science-fiction novels than I am with the original books (but I must say one doesn’t forget easily reading one of his books and notwithstanding my undying love for Blade Runner, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is imprinted in my brain).

This book is not a biography of Philip K. Dick, or a memoir of Mary (Maer) Wilson, although it does have elements of both. The author sets up the scene and explains clearly what she intends to do at the opening of the book. This is the story of her friendship with the writer that spanned the last ten years of his life. She does not justify his behaviour, she does not provide a critical analysis of his work, and she does not go on a research digging expedition trying to discover who the true Philip K. Dick was. After many years of reading works about the man she got to know quite closely, and not recognising the versions of her friend those books created, she decided to share the man she knew. She acknowledges that he might have been different when he was younger and that perhaps he presented differently with different people. (In fact she has an interesting theory about the matter that makes perfect sense to me, but although not a true spoiler, I’ll leave you to read it yourselves).

Mary Wilson met Philip K. Dick when she was a young theatre student, and although she goes to great pains to try and remember and record the things as they happened at the time (and as her young-self experienced them), the older (and of course wiser) Maer Wilson can’t help but sometimes despair of her younger counterpart. As all young people, and especially somebody preparing from a young age for an acting career, the young Mary thinks she is immortal and the centre of the universe. She accepts friendships as they come and does not question either motives or reasons. She does not inquire why an older man (when they meet she doesn’t even know he’s a writer) is living with a young student or why he would want to make friends with people who are twenty five years his juniors. The way she writes about the young Mary reminded me of Herman Melville’s Redburn, where the older writer can’t help but reflect on the naïveté and inexperience of his younger self. (Not that she is all that naïve as she acknowledges that the writer had a crush on her and she handled it remarkably well, but she’s neither humble nor always wise).

The author does not aim to discover where Philip K. Dick was coming from or what happened during the periods when they lost contact, for example when he got married and his wife wasn’t keen on his younger friends, or when Mary was living with a boyfriend and so busy with her theatrical performances that she couldn’t always make time for a social life. She does not try to make up for gaps or recreate things that she was not witness too. She does include photographs of events relevant to the narration, drawings, etc., and has obtained some of the correspondence a common friend had kept, but in its majority, the book is made up of anecdotes, conversations and events that the writer remembers in plenty of detail, as would be expected of somebody talking about a close and dear friend. I also got the sense, from the book and the foreword, that Dick had remained a topic of conversation for his group of friends and some of the episodes mentioned have been reminisced upon more than once.

As it has been noted often (and is also mentioned in the foreword of the book), anybody who attempts to tell somebody else’s story, ends up telling his or her own, and the author gives us a wonderful insight into ten years of her life, from her years as a student, performing and putting on plays, to having her own theatre company, and working herself to exhaustion. It is a vivid portrayal of a type of life, a place and a period, that will make readers wish they were there, going to watch A Clockwork Orange with Philip K. Dick, or meeting Ridley Scott to talk about Blade Runner. It isn’t a glamorous story or a celebrity autobiography (thankfully!), and it has ups and downs, moments of enlightenment and regrets, happy moments and doubts and what ifs, but that’s what real life is like.  The author writes as if she was telling her memories of Dick to a close friend, or perhaps as if she was retelling herself the episodes she recalls, trying to puzzle together and order her thoughts, to grab hold of her experience and not let go. It is an intimate and reflective style of writing that makes the reader feel close to both actors and events.

I personally enjoyed getting to know both the author of the book and a bit more about Philip K. Dick, the friend of his friends. This is not a book for somebody looking to acquire facts and figures about Dick, or a comprehensive biography, warts and all. It isn’t a book that talks in detail about his writing (although there are references to his comments at the time and the stories he shared), and it isn’t a gossip column trying to settle grudges (and sadly this is not the first non-fiction book I read where the people really close to somebody are pushed aside by the individual’s official family when s/he is no longer able to do anything to prevent it). This book will be of interest to people who want to find a new dimension, a more personal one, to Dick the man rather than the myth. And also to readers who want to experience the era of the 1970s (and early 80s) in California as it would have been for a very talented and artistic group of friends. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall at some of those meetings. That’s not possible but at least I have this book.

Thanks to Maer Wilson for giving me the opportunity of reading and reviewing her new book, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it, like, share, comment, and CLICK!

Ah, and another author from the group, Carolynne Raymond (from Lady Maverick Publishing) has written a great post for readers so they can access some books by this talented group, and all for FREE! Check it here! (And yes, one of mine is available there).

Categories
Book reviews Rosie's Book Review Team

#RBRT TRUST ME I LIE by Louise Marley (@LouiseMarley) Mysteries, fairy tales, false identities and an unlikely couple. #TuesdayBookBlog

Hi all:

As you know August is #AugustReviews month and I decided to set an example by bringing you a review of a book I’ve just read. I’ve read it as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team and I’m thankful to her and all the members of the team for the great books are recommendations. And without further ado…

Trust Me I Lie by Louise Marley
Trust Me I Lie by Louise Marley

Book Title: Trust Me I Lie

Author: Louise Marley

Pages: 350 pages

Genres: Murder Mystery, Suspense, Romance, Humour

Publication Date: 20th June 2016

 

Trust Me I Lie

 

When Milla Graham arrives in the picture-perfect village of Buckley she tells everyone she’s investigating the murder of her mother, who died eighteen years ago. But there’s already one Milla Graham buried in the churchyard and another about to be found dead in the derelict family mansion.

 

Obviously she’s lying.

 

Detective Inspector Ben Taylor has no life outside the police force. Even his own colleagues think he’s a boring stick-in-the-mud. But now he’s met Milla and his safe, comfortable life has been turned upside down. She’s crashed his car, emptied his wallet and is about to get him fired.

 

He knows she’s a liar because she cheerfully told him so.

 

Unless she’s lying about that too …

And now that you’re utterly intrigued, my review:

Mysteries, fairy tales, false identities and an unlikely couple.

I am writing this review as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team. Thanks to the author for providing me a free copy of the novel in exchange for an unbiased review and to Rosie for the opportunity.

I try to read in a variety of genres (it’s good to keep the brain on its toes, so to speak, and since I joined Rosie’s team I’ve been tempted by the varied offerings of titles I might not have come across otherwise). But whilst for some genres I have to prepare myself and be in the mood, mysteries and thrillers I am able to read in most circumstances.

I liked the title of the novel (I don’t like liars, but an honest liar… well, I prefer that to people who swear blindly they’re telling the truth when it’s obvious they are not) and when I read it was set in the UK and it involved a family whose business was to publish books (and pretty fancy fairy tales editions at that) I knew I had to try it. And it does deliver in spades.

The story is told in the third person from the two main characters’ points of view, Milla Graham (although if she’s really Camilla Graham or her cousin, or somebody else entirely is a big part of the puzzle), a reporter who writes features about musicians and musical events, and Ben Taylor, a detective, divorced, father of a young daughter, and a man always on a mission to rescue somebody (especially damsels in distress, even if they don’t want to be rescued). There are other fragments, in italics, also in the third person, that narrate the event at the heart of the mystery (the night when the Graham’s old house burned down and three children and their mother died), that took place eighteen years before the rest of the novel. The point of view these other fragments are narrated from is not clear as we read them (other than it is somebody who witnessed what happened) but by the end of the novel we have a clear picture of what really happened (although we will have been tripped and wronged in our assumptions many times along the way).

Both main characters are likeable in different ways. Ben is handsome, honest and a good guy, who, as many female characters tell him, seems to suffer from rescue fantasies. He lives in a chocolate box cottage and he meets the other protagonist in a traumatic manner (he runs her over) in the first chapter. His car ends up in a ditch and as he has no other option he invites the stranger, a young woman, to his house. She disappears with some of his money early next morning but she does not disappear from his life. At first sight Ben appears to be a type of character we’re very familiar with (a handsome detective somewhat disillusioned by his job and with his family life in tatters) but his immediate attraction and sympathy for Milla makes him do out of character things that surprise others around him as much as himself. And we get to discover some surprising things about him too.

Milla is, without discussion, quite unique. She lives hand to mouth, has adopted the identity of the dead daughter of a very rich family (it made me think of the stories about Anastasia, the Romanov tsarina who was supposedly still alive), and it’s difficult to know what her real motivations are. Does she really believe she’s Camilla Graham? Is it all part of a hoax to get money? Is she trying to help Patrick Graham, the man who was sent to prison for the murder of his wife (and the real Camilla’s mother)? Is she the cousin of the family now trying to create confusion? Or is she a fantasist who does not know what the truth is any longer? She is determined, resourceful and will stop at nothing to reach her goal. Whatever that might be. And she is open about her lies (and does surprise herself when she doesn’t lie).

The novel features charming English towns, an old mansion that has become a gothic castle in ruins, murders staged to imitate the illustrations of famous fairy tales (with designer clothing and four poster beds also thrown in), a murderer dressed and made-up like the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland, mysterious bracelets, and a world of fairy tales that turns very dark.

The main characters are fascinating and likeable and you can’t help but root for them, no matter how outrageous their behaviours. If you stopped to think about it, some of their actions definitely stretch one’s belief, but the pace is so dynamic and the story so intriguing and surprising, that you keep trying to guess what will happen next and enjoy the ride. The writing is descriptive and vivid and one feels a part of the story, or at least a very close witness of the events. Although the crimes described are horrendous, there is no gross attention to the details of the violence, no CSI-style descriptions, and although not a cozy novel, it’s not a hard-edged thriller either. Ah, and there is romance but no explicit sex scenes (or implicit even).

I had a great time reading the novel, enjoyed the satisfying ending and my only disappointment is that being a big fairy tale fan I would have loved to get my hands on the wonderful illustrated volumes of fairy tales described in the novel but unfortunately it won’t be possible. I recommend it to readers of mysteries that prefer an involved story rather than a hard-edged scientific investigation in dark, urban and grittily realistic settings. If you love quirky characters, do not hesitate and give it a try. And I’ll be keeping an eye on Louise Marley’s work for sure.

Links

AmazonUK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Trust-Me-Lie-Louise-Marley-ebook/dp/B01HDYDJZ8

Amazon USA: https://www.amazon.com/Trust-Me-Lie-Louise-Marley-ebook/dp/B01HDYDJZ8

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30715819-trust-me-i-lie

The author shared a bit of information about herself too.

Author Louise Marley
Author Louise Marley

Louise Marley

Louise Marley writes murder mysteries and romantic comedies. She lives in Wales, surrounded by fields of sheep, and has a beautiful view of Snowdon from her window.

Her first published novel was Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, which was a finalist in Poolbeg’s ‘Write a Bestseller’ competition. She has also written articles for the Irish press and short stories for UK women’s magazines such as Take a Break and My Weekly.

Her latest novel is Trust Me I Lie.

You can connect with her in

Social Media:

Website: http://www.louisemarley.co.uk/

Blog: http://www.louisemarleywrites.blogspot.co.uk/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LouiseMarley @LouiseMarley

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LouiseMarleyAuthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/LouiseMarley

Thanks to Louise for her great novel that I thoroughly enjoyed, thanks to Rosie for creating such a great group, and thanks to you all for reading, and remember to like, share, comment and CLICK! And this month, don’t forget to REVIEW!

Categories
Book reviews

#Bookreview THE LAST ROAD HOME by Danny Johnson (@dittybopper) Fate, love, race, violence, war and how some themes remain always relevant. And a #BookFair

Hi all:

Usually on Fridays I bring you new books and authors, and today is no different. But, before I talk about that book, I’ve realised that with all my changes in schedule I haven’t mentioned a very big book event that’s coming up (in just over a week!) that if you love books and are anywhere near Manchester, UK, on the 13th of August should join in. I’ll be there (OK, don’t let that put you off. There will be plenty of other writers too :)).

I'll be there! Why not come and join me?
I’ll be there! Why not come and join me?

Here there’s a video with some information about it:

50 or so fellow authors, hosted by Scarlett Enterprises, will be there on Saturday 13th August at the Red Rose Steam Society Ltd. Mining Museum in Astley Green, Manchester, M29 7JB

There will be models (from many of your favourite romance novels) in attendance (ladies, ladies, please…), music, great food, cakes, an ice-cream van, a BBQ and an evening event that will start around 7pm.

If you want to see the event’s page and  find out even more information, here it is.

Fellow author Christoph Fischer (who’s been my guest in a few occasions) will be there too, and he’s written a few posts about it (he’s been much more on the ball with it than me).

Here I leave you links to a couple of them:

Birthday post: Meet me in Manchester August 13th #‎MAEG2016‬

Manchester Calling #‎MAEG2016‬ – A chance to meet the authors August 13th

And now, as promised, the review. Today I bring you a new book that was published just this month. I mentioned a few weeks back that I was reading a book by an Southern US author and this is it.

The Last Road Home by Danny Johnson
The Last Road Home by Danny Johnson

The Last Road Home by Danny Johnson

“This novel is sure to join the rich canon of Southern literature.” –Anna Jean Mayhew, author of The Dry Grass of August

From Pushcart Prize nominee Danny Johnson comes a powerful, lyrical debut novel that explores race relations, first love, and coming-of-age in North Carolina in the 1950s and ’60s.

At eight years old, Raeford “Junebug” Hurley has known more than his share of hard lessons. After the sudden death of his parents, he goes to live with his grandparents on a farm surrounded by tobacco fields and lonesome woods. There he meets Fancy Stroud and her twin brother, Lightning, the children of black sharecroppers on a neighboring farm. As years pass, the friendship between Junebug and bright, compassionate Fancy takes on a deeper intensity. Junebug, aware of all the ways in which he and Fancy are more alike than different, habitually bucks against the casual bigotry that surrounds them–dangerous in a community ruled by the Klan.

On the brink of adulthood, Junebug is drawn into a moneymaking scheme that goes awry–and leaves him with a dark secret he must keep from those he loves. And as Fancy, tired of saying yes’um and living scared, tries to find her place in the world, Junebug embarks on a journey that will take him through loss and war toward a hard-won understanding.

At once tender and unflinching, The Last Road Home delves deep into the gritty, violent realities of the South’s turbulent past, yet evokes the universal hunger for belonging.

Advance praise for The Last Road Home

“In this intense and well?written debut novel, Danny Johnson probes deep into the cauldron of racial relations in the 1960’s South. The Last Road Home  introduces an exciting new voice in Southern Literature.” –Ron Rash, author of Above the Waterfall

“In The Last Road Home, Danny Johnson evokes a South that in many ways may be gone, thank the Lord. Yet Johnson’s compelling and heartfelt rendering of Junebug and Fancy couldn’t be more charged and alive. The long dramatic arc of their deep and ever evolving relationship traces a time and a place giving way to change in violent fits and starts. Yet this is no sociological treatise. It’s a flesh and blood story about two people, who risk just about everything time and time again, for nothing more and nothing less than to love each other.” –Tommy Hays, author of In The Family Way

The Last Road Home took me straight into the heart of a wounded boy who becomes a complicated man. By the end of this stunning novel, I felt I’d come to understand humans better than I had before, how we come to be the way we are: tender and full of fury. I don’t recall having such a reaction to a novel.  Author Danny Johnson shrinks from nothing. I say: read it!” –Peggy Payne, author of Cobalt Blue

“Johnson’s moving novel beautifully portrays the ways in which his young characters struggle to overcome the history that has so fully shaped their lives.” –John Gregory Brown, author of Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery

My review:

Thanks to Net Galley and to Kensington for offering me a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

When I read the description of the novel I was interested in discovering a new Southern writer and seeing how Danny Johnson fitted in with a literary tradition filled with pathos and a heavy historical burden. Unfortunately, the news filled up with incidents of racial violence in the USA as I was reading it and it made the content of the book topical and urgent, even if the story goes back to the times of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War.

The story is told in the first person by Junebug, a young white boy that at the opening of the novel is only eight years old and has just lost his parents in a car accident (his father made moonshine liquor and they were driving with the car full of alcohol at the time of the incident). The boy goes to live at his grandparents’ tobacco farm and becomes friendly with twin African-American siblings, Fancy and Lightning. This is South Carolina and although the friendship flourishes whilst they are kids, it is clear that whites and African-Americans know their places and there might be heartache to come. From very early on fate seems to be against Junebug that after losing his parents, and in short succession loses his grandfather and later his grandmother, being left looking after the tobacco farm alone aged only fifteen. By that point Lightning has left seeking adventure, his relationship with Fancy has moved on and things get more and more complicated.

The novel deals with many of the typical themes to be expected from a Southern novel: race relations (and interracial relationships), the weight of family and small town morals, historical memory (there’s only a passing mention of the Civil War, but the Ku-Klux-Klan plays an important part in the plot and later we hear also about the Civil Rights Movement). The novel is also a coming of age story, as we follow the main characters from a very early age, and see them change, in body and character, and discover new urges and feelings as they grow. (A word of warning: there is some sexual content, although not the most explicit I’ve read or even close.) As they live in a farm, there is a fair amount of detail of traditional farming tasks, from growing up tobacco, to churning butter or killing a chicken or a pig, which I enjoyed and I didn’t find overly long or distracting from the main plot.

Junebug’s life is marked by violence, and it reflects the violence that is part of the history and the atmosphere of the land. He gets fixated on his dog’s death (his father shots the injured dog at the beginning of the story) and his fate, apart from losing loved ones, seems to put him on the way of circumstances that lead to his use of violence (but I don’t want to give too much of the story away). After a serious warning from the KKK, he ends up in Vietnam, as a way of finding refuge (for strange that it might seem) from his loneliness. There he discovers he has a natural talent as a sniper but finally things come to a head when he realises he’s not as hard and as strong as he had always thought and one can’t hide from the consequences of one’s own actions and violence forever.

I did enjoy the style of the novel, its many memorable lines, the many themes that give one pause (that also include PTSD after Junebug’s war experience, although possibly even before that) and the details of everyday life offered by the narration. I spent over half the novel trying to accurately place it in time (we are given clues, like the price of things and the fact that Junebug’s mother’s grandfather fought in the Civil War) but Junebug mentions it is 1963 quite late in the story (although admittedly it would have seemed irrelevant to a child in his position). His style of language changes suddenly when he gets to Vietnam, as once more he has to adapt to new extreme conditions, and he seems to get into the role of the marine easily and with gusto.

I found the plot and the experiences of the main characters interesting, although perhaps too much is fitted into a single book and it does not allow for a deep exploration of the many different strands. Junebug is not very articulate when it comes to his feelings, although some of his reflections can be quite sharp. He not only tries to hide his feelings from others but also from himself (it’s not easy to trust somebody when all your loved ones die and you wonder if there’ something wrong with you), and even an experienced therapist has difficulties getting to the root of things, but that fits in with his experiences and his personality. Junebug has flashes of insight, like when he wonders how Fancy must feel, knowing that she’s considered a second-hand citizen only because of the colour of her skin. He does not notice a big social difference between him and Fancy and her folks, but he is young, naïve, inexperienced, and it takes him a while to realise that due to the fact that he is white and has a farm he belongs in a completely different universe in the eyes of his neighbours and a big part of the society. Personally, I would have liked to follow Fancy’s story in more detail, but that is not the focus of the book. Thankfully, the ending is not typical, although it might leave some wondering (considering the character’s age one can’t help but wonder if that’s the end).

In summary, a well-written novel that fits in within the Southern writing tradition, although not ground-breaking. I’ll follow the author’s career with interest.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Last-Road-Home-Danny-Johnson-ebook/dp/B017G7HE44/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Last-Road-Home-Danny-Johnson-ebook/dp/B017G7HE44/

Thanks to Net Galley, to the author and to Kensington for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and feel free to share, like, comment and CLICK! Oh, and if you’re near Manchester on the 13th, come and join us!

Categories
book promo Book reviews

August 2016 is Write An Amazon Review Month! By @TerryTyler4 #AugustReviews #TuesdayBookBlog

As you know I am part of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team and Terry Tyler has had a fabulous idea. Here is the post!

Libro

On Monday 25th July, book blogger Rosie Amber wrote this post encouraging readers and writers alike to post a short review on Amazon for any book they’ve read and enjoyed ~ following this up, Terry Tyler is starting this initiative along with other writer-bloggers including Rosie, Cathy from Between The Lines, Barb Taub, Shelley Wilson and Alison Williams.

 

The idea is that, from August 1st, everyone who reads this uses their Amazon account to post just one review on one book that they’ve read (but feel free to carry on if you get in the swing!).  You don’t even have to have read it recently, it can be any book you’ve read, any time.  The book does not have to have been purchased from Amazon, though if it is you get the ‘Verified Purchase’ tag on it; however, if you download all your books via Kindle Unlimited, as many do these days, they don’t show the VP tag, anyway.

 

Remember, this isn’t the Times Literary Supplement, it’s Amazon, where ordinary people go to choose their next £1.99 Kindle book.  No one expects you to write a thousand word, in-depth critique; I don’t know about you, but I’m more likely to read one short paragraph or a couple of lines saying what an average reader thought of a book, than a long-winded essay about the pros and cons of the various literary techniques used.  Yes, those are welcome too (!), but no more so than a few words saying “I loved this book, I was up reading it until 3am”, or “I loved Jim and Vivien and the dialogue was so realistic”, or whatever!

 

Why should you write a review?

They help book buyers make decisions.  Don’t you read the reviews on Trip Advisor before deciding on a hotel, or any site from which you might buy an item for practical use?  Book reviews are no different.

If the book is by a self-published author, or published by an independent press, the writers have to do all their promotion and marketing themselves ~ reviews from the reading public is their one free helping hand.

The amount of reviews on Amazon helps a book’s visibility (allegedly).  If you love a writer’s work and want others to do so, too, this is the best possible way of making this happen.

It’s your good deed for the day, and will only take five minutes!

 

Off we go, then!  A few more pointers:

If you need any help with writing your review, do click on Rosie’s post, above.

A review can be as short as one word.  The shortest one I have is just two 🙂

You don’t have to put your name to the review, as your Amazon ‘handle’ can be anything you like.

No writer expects all their reviews to be 5* and say the book is the best thing ever written; there is a star rating guide on Rosie’s post.

Would you like to tell the Twittersphere about your review?  If so, tweet the link to it with the hashtag #AugustReviews ~ and thank you!  I will do one blog post a week featuring these links: The #AugustReviews Hall of Fame (thank you, Barb!).

And just in case you’d like some examples of things you could say in reviews, this post about #AugustReviews has plenty of suggestions. Come and check it!

If you have a blog and would like to spread the word about #AugustReviews, please feel free to copy and paste this blog post, provide the link to it, re-blog it, or whatever ~ many thanks, and I hope you will join in to make this idea a success 🙂

Thanks for reading and please, share, like, comment, CLICK and REVIEW! Ah, and remember, share your Amazon review (as we want to make sure people know you don’t need to be a blogger or share your reviews in a blog to write a review!)

 

 

Categories
Book reviews New books

#Bookreviews THE ART OF EXILE. A VAGABOND LIFE by John Freely (@ibtauris) An Extraordinary Life Dedicated to Knowledge, Travel and Writing

Hi all:

As you know on Fridays I share new books and writers (today more than usual, but it’s a busy month). John Freely is not a new writer, far from it, but this is the first book I read by him and I expect now that I’ve discovered him, it won’t be the last one. In case you want to check a bit about him, you can check in Wikipedia or all his books (so far) in Amazon.

The Art of Exile. A Vagabond Life by Dr John Freely
The Art of Exile. A Vagabond Life by Dr John Freely

The Art of Exile. A Vagabond Life. By John Freely

As you set out for Ithaka Hope your road is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery… ‘ Constantine P. Cavafy. By the time he was six, John Freely had crossed the Atlantic four times. His childhood was spent on the mean streets of 1930s Brooklyn, where he scavenged for junk to sell and borrowed money for books; his first love being Homer’s Odyssey. He was 15 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and 17 when he enlisted in the US Navy and embarked on the first great adventure of his life: joining a clandestine unit that helped the Kuomintang fight the Japanese. He served for two years, 96 days in combat and a total of 344 days overseas, which sparked a lifelong passion for travel. Returning home after the war, Freely fell in love with a beautiful girl who sang the blues. His own Penelope. Together they signed a blood pact to spend their life travelling the world. This unforgettable memoir takes the reader from the streets of New York to the corridors of provincial campus life; from World War II in the Pacific to the shores of the Bosphorus and from Ancient Troy to the isles of Dionysus and Ariadne. It is the story of a remarkable odyssey that has spanned nine decades, several continents and one great love. And still the odyssey continues, “as I ponder the meaning of an Ithaka and of exile as an art that takes a lifetime to master.”

Description

John Freely is a renowned travel writer and, as the first to popularise the history of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire for a general audience, he is one of our last great globe-trotting storytellers. After returning home from WW2 aged just 19, he fell in love with a beautiful girl who sang the blues. His own Penelope. Together they signed a blood pact to spend their life travelling the world.

This unforgettable memoir takes the reader from the streets of New York to the corridors of provincial campus life; from World War II in the Pacific to the shores of the Bosphorus and from Ancient Troy to the isles of Dionysus and Ariadne. It is the story of a remarkable odyssey that has spanned nine decades, several continents and one great love.

Advance Praise

“Imagine Zorba the Greek as a wandering Irishman from Brooklyn and you have the beginnings of John Freely. His odyssey has been a wild ride across continents, a microcosm of modern history. Freely is a born storyteller and an expert on everything from mysticism to physics to the back streets of Athens, Istanbul and Venice. The only danger of reading this book is envy for such a dazzling life.” – Stephen Kinzer

“John Freely provides a wonderful portrait of Istanbul and Athens in their bohemian heyday” – Philip Mansel
My review

Thanks to Net Galley and to I.B.Tauris for offering me a copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

I wish (like many of us) I was more of a traveller, but when I received an e-mail about this book, a memoir of sorts of John Freely, I was interested for many reasons. Although I hadn’t read his books, I’m always interested in books about writers (professional deformation, I guess). He’s written extensively about travelling, and as I said before I have a long list of places I’d love to visit, among them many Dr Freely has written about (and I’m always happy to be inspired and encouraged to take up more travel). And the title of the book, ‘the art of exile’ appealed to me because I’ve lived away from my own country for many years and I always feel an affinity for those in similar circumstances, even when their lives and mine couldn’t be more different.

John Freely has written many travel books, although as I understand from his own and others’ descriptions, they are not your standard travel book, but rather investigations and reflections about culture, architecture, literature, music, and he has researched extensively the topics of Istanbul, Greece, Physics, classical history, literature… He is a true polymath, a born lecturer and teacher, and knowledge pours out of every page.

Freely structures the book as an autobiography, and I found the story of his upbringing very touching, as it reflected that of many emigrants from Ireland (but not exclusively) who sailed away searching for a better life elsewhere. History has a way of changing settings and actors but it does indeed repeat itself, as we can see in the continued story of both emigrants and refugees that carries on to the present.

The author doesn’t dwell too much on the difficult circumstances of his childhood and family, lack of money, working as a child and living hand-to-mouth. That was how things were at the time and he was expected to live with it and did the best he could. He went to war when he was only 17 after dropping out of high school, and that was the beginning of a life of travelling. Even in those circumstances he loved books and reading (he had studied with fascination a book about the wonders of the world his grandfather had brought back to Ireland from the Crimean War as a young boy) and he educated himself by reading a catalogue of recommended lectures a military priest gave him whilst traveling to China. Mr Freely is a connector and communicator who made (and I’m sure still makes) friends everywhere he went and was lucky to get and take good advice. He decided to follow some such advice and took advantage of the GI bill; he studied Physics and he did well, as he reflects upon, with surprise, a few times throughout his life. His love for knowledge and his thirst for travelling combined into a lifelong journey and he found a more than willing partner in his wife, Toots.

Although he does not talk in detail about such things as feelings, it’s not difficult to read between the lines and sometimes he says more when he doesn’t elaborate on topics that when he does (his muted comments about his son’s difficulties are an example). His vignettes of early married life and his love for his wife come through loud and clear.

Once the couple move to Istanbul and Dr Freely starts his international teaching career the book becomes a catalogue of trips, not in detail but mostly as itineraries, interspersed with references to his career moves and to his published books. There are brief moments of lyrical descriptions that hint at wonders to be had in the full books, and he ponders upon those moments when they were the only western travellers in some of the locations and they could feel history at its fullest. He quotes the classics and is happy to share the experiences and moments he lived with his friends and collaborators, always giving credit where credit is due. He talks with warmth and affection of the institutions he’s worked in and is always grateful and happy to mention others’ achievements. I could not follow all the itineraries in detail and didn’t always know who everybody was, although it didn’t seem that important. I’m convinced the book would be a great read for those familiar with his work or interested in it that would be able to provide the background and fit all the pieces of the puzzle in, but it would also work well as an introduction to the topic of his books and his life.

There are moments that will feel familiar, easy to connect with and will touch everybody, like his visits to Ireland, back to the old family home, the autobiographical details of life in Ireland and old New York when he was a young man, and the latter part of the book, when his wife becomes ill and dies and he has to carry on the journey alone (not a spoiler as it’s not that kind of story).

I thought I’d share some of his comments towards the end of the book, which I must admit had me in tears (as by then I’d become another exile and vagabond with them). He is talking here about writing this book:

When the book on Homer was finished I began working in earnest on the story of our own odyssey, The Art of Exile, particularly after I looked at a photograph of Toots taken on her 80th birthday, when the sight of her wearing a Byzantine tiara reminded me once again that she was in fact my queen, though I’d had no kingdom to offer her, just a lifelong journey.

Now I have become my own Homer, composing the story of a life perpetually on the move, always an exile…

I’m not sure this is a book for everybody, as it’s full of brief descriptions, names, quotes, dates, and travels, although some parts of it would be enjoyed by most people. Personally, I’d love to go for a walk through Istanbul, Naxos, or anywhere with Dr Freely as a guide, telling me all he knows about the many places he’s visited, and with classical references thrown in too. As I don’t think that’s likely to happen, this book provides a good substitute, and has encouraged me to look into his other books.

And here, I share Dr Feely’s quote of the Odyssey that is perfect for the book.

As you set out for Ithaka

Hope your road is a long one,

full of adventure, full of discovery…

May there be many summer mornings,

when, with what pleasure, what joy,

you enter harbours you’re seeing for the

first time… But don’t hurry the journey,

at all,

Better if it lasts for many years.

So you’re old when you reach the island

… Ithaka gave you the marvellous

journey.

Without her you wouldn’t have set out.

Link:

The book is currently available in hardback copy here (I’m sure it will be published in other formats soon):

https://www.amazon.com/Art-Exile-Vagabond-Life/dp/1784534986/

I read an e-version of the book so I cannot comment on the possible differences between the versions, although being familiar with I. B. Tauris and their work I’m sure it won’t disappoint.

Thanks to I.B. Tauris and John Freely for sharing this journey with us, thanks to you all for reading and please, like, share, comment and CLICK!

Categories
Book reviews New books

2 Brand new books and #bookreviews. WEAR AND TEAR by Tracy Tynan (@tynanthreads) and UNDERGROUND AIRLINES by Ben H. Winters (@BenHWinters) Very different but they’ll make you think.

Hi all:

As you know I’ve been sharing new books and reviews recently. These two have just been published this week (the first one only available in hard cover at first) and I thought they might appeal to very different readers, but I enjoyed them  both (in very different ways).

First:

Wear and Tear by Tracy Tynan
Wear and Tear by Tracy Tynan

Wear and Tear: The Threads of My Life Hardcover by Tracy Tynan   A life in clothes, lived with a big heart and plenty of talent.

Description:

A candid, entertaining memoir told through clothes.

Tracy Peacock Tynan grew up in London in the 1950’s and 60s, privy to her parents’ glamorous parties and famous friends—Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, and Orson Welles. Cecil Beaton and Katharine Hepburn were her godparents. Tracy was named after Katherine Hepburn’s character, Tracy Lord, in the classic film, The Philadelphia Story. These stylish showbiz people were role models for Tracy, who became a clotheshorse at a young age.

Tracy’s father, Kenneth Tynan, was a powerful theater critic and writer for the Evening Standard, The Observer, and The New Yorker. Her mother was Elaine Dundy, a successful novelist and biographer, whose works have recently been revived by The New York Review of Books. Both of Tracy’s parents, particularly her father, were known as much for what they wore as what they wrote.

In the Tynans’ social circles, style was essential, and Tracy had firm ideas about her own clothing for as long as she can remember. Shopping was an art passed down through the family; though shopping trips with her mother were so traumatic that Tracy started shopping on her own when she was fourteen.

When Tracy started writing about her life she found that clothing was the focus of many of her stories. She recalls her father’s dandy attire and her mother’s Pucci dresses, as well as her parents’ rancorous marriage and divorce, her father’s prodigious talents and celebrity lifestyle, and her mother’s lifelong struggle with addiction. She tackles issues big and small using clothes as an entrée—relationships, marriage, children, stepchildren, blended families, her parent’s decline and deaths, and her work as a costume designer are all recounted with humor, with insight, and with the special joy that can only come from finding the perfect outfit.

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Tracy Tynan uses the universal medium of clothing to tell the highly specific story of her Bohemian British upbringing, and she does so with wit, candor and yes– style. For anyone obsessed with the intellectual gossip of yesteryear- or just obsessed with the language of fashion- this book will be a cozy bedfellow.” (Lena Dunham)

“Tracy Tynan’s memoir is a wolf in sheep’s clothing…Rich in humor and observation, its stylish tone belies the often harrowing nature of her formative years, and details with bravery and precision exactly who she was and what she wore.” (Anjelica Huston – Author of A Story Lately Told and Watch Me)

Tracy Peacock Tynan grew up in a tornado of glamorous, stylish eccentricity. So jealous!!!” (Simon Doonan -Author of The Asylum: True Tales of Madness from a Life in Fashion)

“Tracy Tynan takes on the paradox of style with unique flair in Wear and Tear, by hanging her book on the clothes she wore at key moments in her life. But the life of the exceptionally stylish, charming and resilient Ms. Tynan is like no other — a brilliant, famous father, a titan of culture addicted to S+M, an equally brilliant but alcoholic mother who’s become a cult writer, the promises and delusions of a life among the famous, a career as the go-to movie costume designer.

Wear and Tear is poignant, surprising, and an enchanting inner view of what it is to come into oneself among the sacred monsters of the 20th century.” (Joan Juliet Buck)

“A page-turning memoir that affords an astonishing glimpse into rarified lives in the now-extinct Anglo-American literary jet set. Tracy Tynan inherited both her parents’ sartorial flair, and their skill with words.” (Matt Tyrnauer – Director, Valentino: The Last Emperor)

Wear and Tear is a riveting account of life growing up as the only child of two famous and famously complicated personalities: theater critic Kenneth Tynan and writer, Elaine Dundy. Tracy Tynan recalls her fascinating and difficult childhood during the Swinging Sixties in London and New York, and the legendary actors and artists who frequented her parent’s life. She chronicles her growth as an artist, taking on myriad roles as lover, costume designer, step-mother, mother, and wife, with honesty and insights that make for can’t- put- down reading. Her independence and original style weave through the pages of her book just as they have always done in her life.” (Wendy Goodman – Design Editor, New York Magazine)

“In this wonderfully observed, elegiac, and least judgmental of memoirs, esteemed costume designer Tracy Tynan describes a society and personalities defined by style, and the ever shifting self-perception that characterizes out sized lives–and talent. Moving effortlessly between the world where post war American and British literature and cinema, theatre and politics, converge, Tynan details a now vanished golden age with wit, honesty, and that rarest of qualities—empathy.” (Hilton Als)

Wear and Tear is the first book that reveals style as a successful survival strategy. Tracy’s familial chaos required much dancing backwards in heels and looking good in the part. Written with compassion, she pulls no punches, her observations are not casual chic. A fascinating read about a creative clan. (Deborah Landis -Author of Filmcraft and Hollywood Costume)

“The daughter of celebrities reflects on fame, parenthood, and style. Costume designer Tynan makes her literary debut in a candid and entertaining memoir featuring her alcoholic, combative parents, theater critic Kenneth Tynan and novelist Elaine Dundy, and their assorted glamorous friends. Her vivid descriptions reflect her love of clothes, designers, fabrics, and, not least, shopping. Star-studded, gossipy, and engaging.” (Kirkus)

About the Author

Tracy Tynan is a costume designer and writer living in Los Angeles. Her credits include the movies The Big EasyBlind DateGreat Balls of Fire, and Tuesdays with Morrie.

My review

Thanks to Net Galley and to Scribner for offering me a free copy of this memoir in exchange for an unbiased review.

I knew who Kenneth Tynan was before I read this book. Although well before my time, I do love theatre, I’ve lived many years in the UK and I’d heard of his reviews, his wit, and remembered having seen pictures of him, but didn’t know much about his life. I didn’t know anything about his first wife, American writer Elaine Dundy, or his daughter Tracy, and I must admit that I’m not a big clothes buff. Having said all that, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The clothes (or outfits) give name to the chapters and form the backbone of the book, assisting the author in organising her memories. I guess we all have things we remember, music, movies, books, and they help bring to our mind momentous happenings in our lives. Why not clothes, especially when they were so meaningful to her and the people she cared about?

Tracy Tynan’s life isn’t ordinary, whatever our definition of an ordinary life might be. Both her parents were popular, talented, brilliant and social butterflies. Their parties and events read like the who is who, first of London and then of the LA of the era. But they weren’t particularly gifted as parents. They seemed wrapped up on their own relationship, the people they knew, and their careers. Their daughter was often an afterthought, and even when they tried to connect with her they weren’t very skilled at it. But the author is generous to a fault and makes an effort to be fair and not to dwell or overdramatise matters. She tries hard to understand and does not moan or complain, despite having lived through pretty harrowing experiences due to her parents’ rocky relationship and to their difficult behaviour. She is sympathetic towards other’s plights and never self-apologising, something extremely refreshing.

The book is full of anecdotes but despite the many famous people the writer has met through her life this is not a scandalous book trying to exploit her connections and throw dirt at others. She always has a good word to say, even about people or actors she had a hard time with, and I got the distinct impression that she subscribes to the idea that if you don’t have anything good to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all. It’s a book full of passion for clothes, for life, for her friends and family. It’s a touching and warm book although it avoids sentimentality, cheap thrills and pulling at heartstrings.

This first-person account is a beautifully written book (she seems to have inherited the writing talent from both her parents), a page turner, understated, and we get to feel as if we were reading the memoirs of a friend. The chapter about her daughter, who was born premature, reminded me of my goddaughter, who was born in similar circumstances, and it resonated especially with me.  Her reflections about getting older, her experience of losing loved ones, and her more recent activity volunteering with homeless organisations and those looking after women victims of domestic violence made me realise I had more in common with this woman than I could have ever guessed when I started reading.

If anybody is worried about reading these memoirs because they aren’t familiar with the people involved or are not interested in clothes, don’t let that stop you. The book can be enjoyed by readers who know the era and many of the famous actors, writers, directors, clothes designers… who formed the social circle of Tracy Tynan’s family, but also by all those who have an interest and a passion that has accompanied them throughout their lives, who’ve survived complicated family lives, who love their friends and their families, and who don’t fear reinventing themselves once over again.

I’m not sure if the paper copies will have pictures. The Kindle review copy I was sent didn’t, but that did not diminish my enjoyment.

Links:

In hardcover: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501123688/

 https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1501123688/

And:

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters  Some nightmares look and feel too close to reality for comfort. 

Description:

‘The most timely of alternate history novels. Ben Winters has created a spellbinding world that forces the reader to look around—and to look within. This is a thriller not to be missed and one that will not be easily forgotten.’ Hugh Howey

It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it. Except for one thing: slavery still exists.

Victor has escaped his life as a slave, but his freedom came at a high price. Striking a bargain with the government, he has to live his life working as a bounty hunter. And he is the best they’ve ever trained.

A mystery to himself, Victor tries to suppress his memories of his own childhood and convinces himself that he is just a good man doing bad work, unwilling to give up the freedom he is desperate to preserve. But in tracking his latest target, he can sense that that something isn’t quite right.

For this fugitive is a runaway holding something extraordinary. Something that could change the state of the country forever.

And in his pursuit, Victor discovers secrets at the core of his country’s arrangement with the system that imprisoned him, secrets that will be preserved at any cost.
‘It is a rare thing when a writer has a fresh new provocative idea – and then executes it beautifully. This is what Ben H. Winters has done in his novel Underground Airlines. Imagine an America in which slavery still exists. Now imagine a dramatic telling of the story.’ James Patterson.

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Am I allowed to curse? Because holy heck, I want to. This book is shocking, bold, sad, human and wise. Put an expletive in front of each of those adjectives. It’s not post-apocalyptic fiction, but if you like that sort of thing, you’ll like this too. If you liked Station Eleven (an overused but appropriate comp!), World War Z, or Brief History of the Dead, then this is a book you should read.”―Rebecca Fitting, Greenlight Bookstore

Underground Airlines is the rare book that actually fulfills the promise of being unlike anything you’ve ever read. The alt-world premise of a present day US where the Civil War never happened and slavery still exists in four states, is so perfect for the current dialogue about race that’s going on right now. It’s not that common to be reading a gripping page turner of a mystery and be thinking about voices like Ta-Nehisi Coates at the same time. It’s one of those books you only want to stop reading so that you can go out and start talking to people about it. I can’t wait until this book is out in the world so I can engage with other readers about it.”―Robert Sindelar, Third Place Books

“Ben Winters’ Underground Airlines is an ingenious speculative thriller wrapped around the core of our nation’s ouroboros history of institutional racism. While that may sound bizarre to some, Winters pulls it off with ease, crafting a novel that is both fantastic and scarily believable at the same time.”―Ian Kern, Mysterious Bookshop

“Ben H. Winters has crafted a timely, necessary, and gripping page-turner. The plausibility of Underground Airlines‘ central conceit is terrifying, made more so by the author’s deft blend of alternate history and modern mundanity, but the loose, often jaunty narration of its flawed protagonist, Victor, prevents its descent into hopeless, maudlin territory. Victor’s desperate pursuit of freedom or redemption, whatever the cost, propels the novel toward its inexorable and satisfying conclusion.”―Jake Cumsky-Whitlock, Kramerbooks

Underground Airlines is a work of astonishing originality and ambition. Like the best art, it forces us to question our own assumptions. Is the machine of modern civilization really that far removed from the alternate reality that Winters presents here? We’re all implicated in this unsettling and visionary novel. Ben Winters is one brave writer.”―Patrick Millikin, The Poisoned Pen Bookstore

“I could not put Underground Airlines down. A brutal, hard-boiled detective mystery about what might have happened if Lincoln had been killed before ending slavery, it is thought provoking and vivid. It will live with you for a very long time.”―Rene Kirkpatrick, Eagle Harbor Book Co.

About the Author

Ben H. Winters is the author of, most recently, World of Trouble, the concluding book in the Last Policeman trilogy. The second book, Countdown City, was an NPR Best Book of 2013 and the winner of the Philip K. Dick Award for Distinguished Science Fiction. The Last Policeman was the recipient of the 2012 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America; it was also named one of the Best Books of 2012 by Amazon.com and Slate.

My review

Thanks to Net Galley and to Cornerstone Digital for providing me a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

When I read the premise of this novel, a United States where the Civil War hadn’t taken place and slavery was alive and well in modern times, I was intrigued. As part of my American Literature course I did read historical and literary texts related to the Civil War and later to the Civil Rights Movement, and I found the thought of what modern-day America might have looked like if things have gone differently both fascinating and horrifying.

The book is classed under alternative history, a subgenre that allows authors to imagine scenarios that might make readers shiver, or just reflect on how far (or otherwise) civilisation has come.

The world in Underground Airlines is on the one side very similar to the world we know (at least the bits we’re shown), and even the historical figures of importance are mentioned, although in some cases with a slightly alternative fate or role (like Lincoln’s earlier demise, and Michael Jackson’s different set of problems). Despite the genre, the book is not very heavy on history and does not hammer readers with deep analysis (there are subtle references to themes like the Mockingbird syndrome) and considering the nature of the subject it even manages to avoid heavy pulling at emotional heartstrings.

The story is told in the first person by Victor or… well, whomever he is. The main character is an African-American free man, but not really. He escaped from a slaughter house where he had been born and was supposed to spend all his life. They found his hiding place and forcefully recruited him to become an official agent who would find escapees and return them back to one of the 4 states where slavery is still legal, thanks to the 18th Amendment to the constitution. At first, Víctor made me think of Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man, whereby seemingly different characters tell different stories, although perhaps they are all one and the same master of disguise. But then I thought (and saw a comment that also made that reference) about the film Blade Runner, at least if we think about the first version of the film with Deckard’s narration. Victor is somebody who tries hard not to remember anything about his past (although memories, or more accurately flashbacks, intrude every so often) or to feel anything. He has become so adept at adopting other identities that when at some point Martha —a young mother he meets early in the novel and ends up embroiled in the whole intrigue — wants to know his real name, he’s no longer sure. He also reminded me of Deckard with regards to the doubt in many people’s minds as to his real identity. Is he a human being or a replicant? Victor insist (to himself) that he does what he has to do, that he does not care about the ongoing slavery and his own safety is his only concern, that he does not believe anybody can do anything or any of his acts can change matters, but…

What seemed to be a pretty streamlined occupation for Victor starts to get complicated when he is assigned a case where he soon realises something is not what it seems. The file is not complete, the phrasing is off, and the people he meets along the way seem to be hiding something, although he doesn’t quite realise how much. Agents and double agents, twists and turns, betrayals, and a visit to the Deep South are on the cards for the man whose only goal is to not make ripples and keep to the plan.

The book is written in a style that seems to fit in with the fictional character, although for me, somehow, the picture was as fractured as the man itself. Although I have a weakness for unreliable narrators, and Victor is indeed one of them, I had difficulty connecting with him, perhaps because he was himself disconnected and avoided looking at his emotions, and I am not sure he ever became a fully-fledged character for me.

The idea behind the story is good although I wondered if people really keen on historical fiction would find there is enough detail or would like to know more than the brief tasters and snippets that are hinted at throughout the novel. Personally, the novel made me reflect on the nature of world politics and economy, as in what is considered the developed world we seem to be happy to wear or consume products manufactured in near-slavery conditions with little concern for where they come from or only paying lip service to such issues. The specific reflections on race and racism will perhaps be more shocking to readers not very familiar with the topic or who have not read novels or classic texts by authors and figures who’ve written more extensively on it.

I liked the ending, although I wasn’t a hundred per cent sure how well it fitted in with the rest (but I won’t comment in detail to avoid spoilers). The issue at the heart of the investigation that costs many people dearly was to my mind less surprising than it was built up to be (the big whatsit kind of scenario) although in truth I’m not sure what I was expecting.

In sum this is a novel that paints a scary but somewhat familiar alternative version of history in the US (an uncanny version if one wants) and makes us think about issues of race, loyalty, identity, family and global economy. It can be a good introduction to the genre of alternative fiction and has enough intrigue for readers in search of a good story.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B019CGXX5G/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B019CGXX5G/

Thanks so much to Net Galley and to the publishing companies and to Tracy Tynan and Ben H. Winters of their books, thanks to you all for reading, and please, share, like, comment and CLICK!

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