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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog LAKE OF ECHOES: A NOVEL OF 1960s FRANCE by Liza Perrat (@LizaPerrat) Recent history and a gripping and compelling story in a fabulous setting

Hi all:

I bring you a novel by one of my favourite authors, another one I discovered thanks to Rosie’s Book Review Team. And this is another great book.

Lake of Echoes by Liza Perrat

Lake of Echoes: A Novel of 1960s France by Liza Perrat

A vanished daughter. A failing marriage. A mother’s life in ruins.
1969. As France seethes in the wake of social unrest, eight-year-old Juliette is caught up in the turmoil of her parents’ fragmenting marriage.
Unable to bear another argument, she flees her home.
Neighbours joining the search for Juliette are stunned that such a harrowing thing could happen in their tranquil lakeside village.
But this is nothing compared to her mother, Lea’s torment, imagining what has befallen her daughter.
Léa, though, must remain strong to run her auberge and as the seasons pass with no news from the gendarmes, she is forced to accept she may never know her daughter’s fate.
Despite the villagers’ scepticism, Léa’s only hope remains with a clairvoyant who believes Juliette is alive.
But will mother and daughter ever be reunited?
Steeped in centuries-old tradition, against an enchanting French countryside backdrop, Lake of Echoes will delight your senses and captivate your heart.
Emotionally gripping historical women’s fiction for Kelly Rimmer and Kristin Hannah fans.
A testament to female resilience, depth and strength, this is a universal story set in a changing world.” JJ Marsh, author of The Beatrice Stubbs Series.

 mybook.to/LakeofEchoesEbook

Author Liza Perrat

About the author:

Liza grew up in Wollongong, Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife for fifteen years.

When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her husband and three children for twenty years. She works part-time as a French-English medical translator, and as a novelist.

Several of her short stories have won awards, notably the Writers Bureau annual competition of 2004 and her stories have been published widely in anthologies and small press magazines. Her articles on French culture and tradition have been published in international magazines such as France Magazine and France Today.

Spirit of Lost Angels is the first in the historical “The Bone Angel” series set against a backdrop of rural France during the French Revolution. The second in the series, Wolfsangel, set during the WWII German Occupation of France, was published in October, 2013. The third in the series, Blood Rose Angel, set during the 14th century Black Plague years was published in November, 2015.

The Silent Kookaburra, a domestic noir, psychological suspense novel set in 1970s Australia, was published in November, 2016. The second in this Australian family drama series, The Swooping Magpie, was published in October, 2018. The third in this series, The Lost Blackbird, was published in August, 2020.

Friends & Other Strangers is a collection of award-winning short stories from Downunder.

Liza is available for virtual book club visits (via Skype) upon request.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Liza-Perrat/e/B008385OF2/

My review:

I had access to a very early ARC of this novel by Liza Perrat, the first in a new series, which I freely chose to review.

I came across Perrat’s novels through Rosie’s Book Review Team and have been an admirer and follower since. She writes historical fiction set in a variety of eras (from the Middle Ages to WWII, mostly in France) and also fiction set in the second half of the XX century, often in her native Australia. She combines complex and compelling characters (female characters usually take centre stage), with plots that grab the readers’ attention and don’t let go. That combined with a very vivid style of writing, the epitome of showing rather than telling (one can really see, smell, hear, and even taste what is happening to the characters and share in their experiences) mean that reading her novels is a truly immersive experience.

And this one is not an exception, but rather an excellent example of the best qualities of her writing.

Imagine a woman who’s already lost a child, having to live through the kidnapping of her now only daughter. Léa, who had poured her energies into her new project (an auberge by a beautiful lake) in an attempt at regaining some peace and thirst for life, is devastated, and her relationship with her husband, already strained, ends up breaking. To make matters worse, three other girls are also kidnapped and efforts to find them fail. Life becomes increasingly difficult, and the only hope Léa has comes from her two neighbours and friends, Clotilde and Bev, as Clotilde reads the cards and insists that the girls are all alive and well. Of course, nobody else believes them, time passes, and some sort of life develops, but Léa and her family keep waiting. And… Of course, I’m not going to tell you what happens, but the story deals with grief, loss, family relationships, also life in a small (French) village, prejudices and rumours, and how life has changed since the late 1960s (so close and yet so far).

I have mentioned Léa, who tells her story in the first person, with some fragments (in italics) when she remembers the past in a vivid and immersive manner that makes us identify with her, and suffer her same pain. Louise, Léa’s mother-in-law, is a strong character, one who is always proper and maintains the façade, no matter how difficult things get or what she might be feeling inside. We don’t see the story from her perspective, but we share in some of the other characters’ stories, although those are told in the third person. This is the case for Juliette, who is a delightful girl, intelligent, but she behaves like a normal eight-year-old and does not fully understand what is happening. Her interaction with the other girls and with the kidnapper and the people helping him (some more willingly than others) is tough to read but it feels believable within the parameters of the story.

We also get to share in the thoughts of the kidnapper (although we only know him by the identity he adopts and not his real one), his sister, Alice (a favourite of mine, despite her circumstances), and his wife, and there are other characters featured as well, all in the third person, with the occasional flashback. This maintains the mystery while allowing readers more insight into aspects of the story the authorities and the mother know nothing about.

It is difficult to talk about the baddy without revealing too much, but let me tell you he is a great creation, and being in his head at times is a scary and horrifying experience.

The setting is truly wonderful. Despite the horrific aspects of the story, it is impossible not to love the lake, the villages around it, the wonderful traditions, the festivals, the cooking… I am looking forward to reading more stories set in the area, and I know the author is already working on the second one.

The writing, as I’ve mentioned, is beautiful and also heart-wrenching at times. We experience the emotions of the characters, and also the wonders of nature, the change of seasons, and even the pets and animals have their own personalities and help readers feel at home there. Readers need not worry about the different points of view causing confusion, as there are no sudden changes in narrative voice, each chapter is told from a single perspective, clearly indicated, and the story is told, in chronological order, apart from a few chapters, with the dates also featuring at the head of each new chapter.

The whole of the story has something of the fairy tale, with Gothic-like houses, dangerous rivers, sometimes magical and sometimes scary woods, strange people living in the forest, and some characters that will remind us of some beloved characters. But the narrative works on many levels, and I was totally invested in the mystery as well. There are plenty of clues, red herrings, and hints dropped throughout the story, and many possible suspects. There is also a gendarme, Major Rocamadour, who grows on us as the story progresses, and we discover he is not all business. He does have a pretty tough nut to crack, though, but, without revealing too much, I can say that I enjoyed the ending, and the story ends up on a hopeful note.

I recommend this wonderfully written story to anybody who loves imagination, great characters, a strong plot, and who love a setting full of charm but also some underlying darkness and menace. Anybody who has read and enjoyed Liza Perrat’s previous novels is in for a treat, and those who haven’t met her yet… Well, what are you waiting for?

Thanks to the author for keeping me up-to-date with her work, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and always keep smiling!

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog HARLEM SHUFFLE by Colson Whitehead (@LittleBrownUK) Fabulous writing about 1960s Harlem (and much more)

Hi all:

I bring you a review by an author who has become very well known in recent years and has won two Pulitzer Prizes, although I had only read one of his novels before. But I am sure I’ll keep reading his books.

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

FROM THE AUTHOR OF THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD (Now a major Amazon Prime TV show)

‘Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked…’

To his customers and neighbors on 125th street, Carney is an upstanding salesman of reasonably-priced furniture, making a life for himself and his family. He and his wife Elizabeth are expecting their second child, and if her parents on Striver’s Row don’t approve of him or their cramped apartment across from the subway tracks, it’s still home.

Few people know he descends from a line of uptown hoods and crooks, and that his façade of normalcy has more than a few cracks in it. Cracks that are getting bigger and bigger all the time.

See, cash is tight, especially with all those instalment plan sofas, so if his cousin Freddie occasionally drops off the odd ring or necklace at the furniture store, Ray doesn’t see the need to ask where it comes from. He knows a discreet jeweller downtown who also doesn’t ask questions.

Then Freddie falls in with a crew who plan to rob the Hotel Theresa – the ‘Waldorf of Harlem’ – and volunteers Ray’s services as the fence. The heist doesn’t go as planned; they rarely do, after all. Now Ray has to cater to a new clientele, one made up of shady cops on the take, vicious minions of the local crime lord, and numerous other Harlem lowlifes.

Thus begins the internal tussle between Ray the striver and Ray the crook. As Ray navigates this double life, he starts to see the truth about who actually pulls the strings in Harlem. Can Ray avoid getting killed, save his cousin, and grab his share of the big score, all while maintaining his reputation as the go-to source for all your quality home furniture needs?

Harlem Shuffle is driven by an ingeniously intricate plot that plays out in a beautifully recreated Harlem of the early 1960s. It’s a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to Harlem. 

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08VNSGJK7/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08VNSGJK7/

https://www.amazon.es/dp/B08VNSGJK7/

Author Colson Whitehead

About the author:

Colson Whitehead is the author eight novels and two works on non-fiction, including The Underground Railroad, which received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Carnegie Medal, the Heartland Prize, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Hurston-Wright Award, and was longlisted for the Booker Prize. The novel is being adapted by Barry Jenkins into a TV series for Amazon. Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys received the Pulitzer Prize, The Kirkus Prize, and the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction.

A recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a MacArthur Fellowship, he lives in New York City.

https://www.amazon.com/Colson-Whitehead/e/B001IZ1GHW/

 Here you can read an interview he gave in Goodreads about this novel:

https://www.goodreads.com/interviews/show/1553.Colson_Whitehead/

 My review:

I thank NetGalley and Little, Brown Book Group UK for providing me an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I read and reviewed Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys (a Pulitzer Prize winner), loved it, and when I heard he had a new book coming out, I had to check it out. Well, it is different, that is true, but I loved it as well.

Most of what any prospective reader might want to know about this novel is well summarised in the last paragraph of the description:

Harlem Shuffle is driven by an ingeniously intricate plot that plays out in a beautifully recreated Harlem of the early 1960s. It’s a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to Harlem.

 

Perhaps ‘a hilarious morality play’ is a bit of an exaggeration (the hilarious part, although it depends on one’s sense of humour: I agree there is plenty of humour in the novel, but most of it is on the twisted and dark side of the spectrum), but the rest, pretty accurate.

I am not known for my brief reviews, but I’ll try to offer an overview of the most important aspects, in my opinion, and then add a few comments.

Whitehead writes beautifully and has a great skill in making readers feel as if they were walking the streets of Harlem in the 1960s, boiling with racial tension, social upheaval, corruption at all levels, but beauty and hope as well. He also brings to life a complex and engaging cast of characters who are interconnected in different ways. Family plays an important part in the story, not only the family tradition (the sins of the fathers, in this case), but also the relationship between Carney and his cousin, Freddie, who has a knack for getting into trouble. The overall novel is divided up into three crime-related episodes or novellas, several years apart, which illustrate the changes in the characters’ lives, in the society of the time, and also in New York and Harlem. In some ways, the two cousins seem to have taken two completely opposite paths: while Carney’s life is on the up, getting more successful with his business (and his ever-so-slightly crooked activities) as we progressed through the novel, Freddie’s lifestyle is deteriorating, and he is falling down a slippery slope. Or at least that’s how things appear to be on the surface, to those who aren’t in the know. The ending is fitting, and although some readers felt disappointed because they expected something different; based on its own merits, this is an excellent book. As one of the reviewers put it, this is perhaps not a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, but one can’t blame the author for wanting to write a different kind of book and succeeding.

I’ve said I wanted to add a few comments, and here they come.

The novel is written in the third person, mostly from Carney’s point of view, but also from some of the other characters, and that works well, as we get access to other perspectives and see Carney from outside, as others see him. There is a fair amount of telling in the story, because a lot of things happen to some of the characters who are not centre stage, and it is not unusual for the story to take detours and provide us with some background information that might appear surplus to the story at the time (but it rarely is). This is not a mystery, though, so it does not follow the standard format of the novels in that genre, and it is much more focused on other issues, like the location, the dynamics of the neighbourhood, the local politics, the social unrest, the race riots, the local politics, the corruption… It brought to my mind a fabulous scene from the movie Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens) —which I fervently recommend to anybody interested in heist movies or good movies in general— where an experienced con-man is teaching his apprentice the lay of the land. They are talking about tricksters, con-men, and crime, and the more experienced con-man tells the other that crime and tricksters are all around; one only needs to know where to look, and the camera picks up an incredible variety of crimes taking place around them. It is mind-boggling. And, indeed, although the action of the novel takes place in Harlem in the early 1960s, the events and the underlying politics could easily be transplanted to many present day locations. (It definitely made me think of fairly recent incidents in the city where I live).

I have mentioned the reviews. Apart from the issue of unmet expectations (and reading some other reviews it is quite evident that the author has been writing for quite a while and loves to try different genres, so this novel seems to fit in his overall oeuvre), some readers did not feel they cared much for the central character. Carney is neither totally sympathetic, nor the opposite. He protests too much at times, and although he has a strong sense of family, tries to protect his cousin (which costs him at times, but it is not all bad either), and loves his wife and children; he is no model citizen either. He does not fight the system as much as adapt to it and always makes sure he is in the best position to take advantage of any opportunities that present themselves. He is not a conventional hero, for sure, and there are secondary characters which readers like much more than him (Pepper, a totally uncharacteristic criminal type, is a favourite, and yes, I like him as well), but if we read the novel as a morality play, as suggested, then this is not surprising but totally understandable. Other points many reviewers make are the meandering nature of the stories, how often we get sidetracked, and also the fact that there is a fair amount of telling. That is true, but I didn’t mind at all. I was happy to follow the characters and the stories wherever they took me, but if readers are expecting a standard mystery or crime novel, where every little detail propels the story forwards and the prose is bare and streamlined, this is not their book.

If I had to find fault, or complain, I would say that I would have liked to hear more from and about the female characters in the story. Carney’s wife sounds interesting, and her job at a travel agency catering for African-American travellers made me think of Green Book, but we never see things from her perspective, and the same is true of Freddie’s mother, who brought him up almost single-handedly and also played a big part in Carney’s life, despite holding a job as a nurse at the same time. There are other women in the story, but none take centre stage, or only fleetingly.

Whitehead writes beautifully, and his words flow with ease and flair, no matter if he’s describing a place, immersing us in the internal thoughts of a character, sharing a bit of witty dialogue, or providing us an insight into the historical and social reality of a place and an era. I highlighted much of the book, and I must admit that his first lines are joining my list of favourites, and this book’s opening proves it again.

‘Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked…’

 As usual, I recommend people thinking of buying the book to check a sample first, if they aren’t sure it would be a good fit, but I couldn’t resist sharing some bits of it. Please, remember that I read an ARC copy, so there might be some changes to the final version of the novel.

 “Newspapers talking about ‘looting,’” Buford continued. “Should ask the Indians about looting. This whole country’s founded on taking other people’s shit.”

 These days he didn’t know where everybody’d gone. Jail, the graveyard, sure, but besides that. There were no pension plans for retired safecrackers, for heisters and hustlers.

 Pepper faced the man, with the resignation of a man discovering his toilet is still busted after the plumber had left.

 So, if you are looking for a novel by one of the most interesting novelists around, one who isn’t afraid to challenge and/or disappoint expectations, love unusual takes on recent historical fiction, enjoy books that don’t stick to a genre, want to learn more about Harlem in the 1960s, and love fantastic writing, this is for you. It is neither The Underground Railroad nor The Nickel Boys, but it is well worth a read.

Thanks to the author, the publisher, and especially to all of you for reading, commenting, hopefully liking, and sharing it with anybody who might be interested. And please, stay safe and keep smiling. ♥

 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE BOY AND THE LAKE by Adam Pelzman. A strong contender among my favourite reads of the year #RBRT

Hi all:

Another great discovery thanks to Rosie’s Book Review Team. I loved the cover as soon as I saw it, and the content more than matches it. Oh, this book made me think of fellow blogger and non-fiction author extraordinaire, D.G. Kaye (Debby for her friends), and her non-fiction writing.

The Boy and the Lake by Adam Pelzman

The Boy and the Lake by Adam Pelzman

The Boy and the Lake is a poignant and haunting coming-of-age story … a multifaceted, evocative and masterfully told tale.”
—Lynda Cohen Loigman, USA Today bestselling author of The Two-Family House and The Wartime Sisters

“Pelzman excels at creating an intensely atmospheric setting and revealing how it shapes his characters’ identities and worldviews … The narrative is full of rich, descriptive language … a well-developed vintage setting and classic but thought-provoking coming-of-age theme.” —Kirkus Reviews

Set against the backdrop of the Newark riots in 1967, a teenage Benjamin Baum leaves the city to spend the summer at an idyllic lake in northern New Jersey. While fishing from his grandparents’ dock, the dead body of a beloved neighbor floats to the water’s surface—a loss that shakes this Jewish community and reveals cracks in what appeared to be a perfect middle-class existence. Haunted by the sight of the woman’s corpse, Ben stubbornly searches for clues to her death, infuriating friends and family who view his unwelcome investigation as a threat to the comfortable lives they’ve built. As Ben’s suspicions mount, he’s forced to confront the terrifying possibility that his close-knit community is not what it seems to be—that, beneath a façade of prosperity and contentment, darker forces may be at work.

In The Boy and the Lake, Adam Pelzman has crafted a riveting coming-of-age story and a mystery rich in historical detail, exploring an insular world where the desperate quest for the American dream threatens to destroy both a family and a way of life.

https://www.amazon.com/Adam-Pelzman-ebook/dp/B08FRNB8X2/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Adam-Pelzman-ebook/dp/B08FRNB8X2/

https://www.amazon.es/Adam-Pelzman-ebook/dp/B08FRNB8X2/

Author Adam Pelzman

About the author:

Adam Pelzman was born in Seattle, raised in northern New Jersey, and has spent most of his life in New York City. He studied Russian literature at the University of Pennsylvania and went to law school at UCLA. His first novel, Troika, was published by Penguin (Amy Einhorn Books). He is also the author of The Papaya King, which Kirkus Reviews described as “entrancing,” “deeply memorable” and “devilishly smart social commentary.” The Boy and the Lake, set in New Jersey during the late 1960s, is his third novel.

https://www.amazon.com/Adam-Pelzman/e/B00J4DFTD2/

My review:

I received an ARC copy of this novel and I freely reviewing it as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, check here if you want to get your book reviewed).

For those of you who are in a hurry and prefer not to get too much background information about a book before reading it, I’ll tell you that this is a fantastic novel, one that brought me pleasant memories of the many great novels I read as part of my degree in American (USA) Literature, especially those written in the second half of the 20th century. I had never read any novels by Adam Pelzman before, but after reading this one I’m eager to catch up.

The description of the book included above provides enough details about the plot, and I won’t elaborate too much on it. There is a mystery (or at least that’s what Ben, the young protagonist believes) at the centre of the story, and when he insists on trying to find out the truth, despite his suspicions being dismissed initially by everybody, he sets into action a chain of events that ends up unravelling what at first sight seemed to be an idyllic upper-middle-class Jewish community. Despite efforts to maintain an outward appearance of order and harmony, there are signs of problems bubbling under the surface from early on. Not only the body of the woman Ben finds, but also the relationships in his family (his mother’s mood changes; his younger sister’s death prior to the novel’s action; his uncle’s desperate comedic efforts; his grandfather’s possibly not-so-clean business ethics) and there are also issues with others in the community (the father of his friend, Missy, and his difficulty keeping any jobs; the husband of the dead woman’s eagerness to replace her and his strange behaviour…), coupled with a general agitation and unhappiness with the global situation (the race riots in Newark are important to the plot of the story, and there are mentions of the many traumatic events the USA had experienced in the 1960s, from the deaths of JFK and RFK to the ongoing Vietnam War). If the novel can be seen as a coming of age story, with its customary theme of loss of innocence, it also represents the loss of innocence at a more global level, and there is plenty of symbolism in the novel to highlight that, including two toxic leaks onto the lake, with its accompanying death and destruction. Although the novel has a mystery at its heart, and people reading the beginning might think this will be a mystery novel or a thriller of sorts, I would describe it as a coming of age story cum literary fiction, and it reminded me of Philip Roth’s novella Goodbye Columbus (the story refers to it, although not by name). It also made me think of Brick, a 2005 film, not so much for its aesthetics and style (although most of the characters in the movie are high school students there is a definite noir/hard-boiled detective story feel to it) but for the way a seemingly implausible investigation ends up unearthing more than anybody bargained for.

Although Ben and his friend Missy are the main characters, there are quite a few others that play important parts, especially Ben’s parents (Abe and Lillian), his sister, Bernice and Helen, the dead woman, both present only through memories and recollections (more or less), his grandparents, the neighbours…  Also, the lake and its community (more of a character in its own right than a setting), New York, and Newark. Ben tells the story in the first person, and he is a somewhat reluctant hero, always worried about what others might think, always analysing what he has done and feeling guilty for his misdeeds (real or imagined), articulate but anxious and lacking in self-confidence. It is evident from the narration that his older self is telling the story of that year, one that came to signify a big change in his life and in that of others around him as well. He is not a rebel wanting to challenge the status (not exactly a Holden Caulfield), but rather somebody who would like to fit in and to believe that everything is as good as it seems to be. However, a nagging worry keeps him probing at the seemingly perfect surface. I liked Ben, although at times he was a bit of a Hamlet-like character, unable to make a decision, wavering between his own intuition and what other people tell him, taking one step forward and two steps back. I loved Missy, his friend, who is determined, no-nonsense, loves reading, knows what she wants, and works ceaselessly to get it. Ben’s father is a lovely character (or at least that’s how his son sees him), although perhaps his attitude towards his wife is not always helpful. Ben’s mother is one of those difficult women we are used to seeing in novels, series, and films, who appear perfect to outsiders but can turn the life of their closest family into a nightmare. She is a fascinating character, but I’ll let you read the book and make your own mind up about her.

The story is not fast-paced. The language includes beautiful descriptions, and the prose flows well, following the rhythm of the seasons, with moments of calm and contemplation and others of chaos and confusion. It recreates perfectly the nostalgia of the lost summers of our youth, and it is also very apt at showing the moment an insightful youth starts to question the behaviours of the adults around him, their motivations, and their inconsistencies. I know some readers are not fond of first-person narration, but I thought it worked well here, because it provides us with a particular perspective and point of view, one that is at once participant and outside observer (Ben’s family used to spend their summers at the lake but decided to move there permanently due to the riots).

I found the ending appropriate and satisfying, given the circumstances. The mystery is solved sometime before the actual ending of the novel, but the full dénouement doesn’t come until the end, and although not surprising at that point, it is both symbolic and fitting.

As I’ve said before, this is a great book. I’ve read many excellent stories this year, but this one is among the best of them. It is not an easy-to-classify novel, although it fits into a variety of genres, and it is not for people looking for a standard mystery read, where one can easily follow the clues and reach a conclusion. It is not a fast page-turner, and there is plenty of time spent inside the head of our young protagonist rather than moving from action scene to action scene. If you enjoy beautiful writing, psychologically complex characters, and a story full of nostalgia and a somewhat timeless feel, I recommend it. There is a background of violence and some very troubling events that take place during the narration, but these are never explicitly shown or described, and although there are plenty of disturbing moments (suicide, the death of a child, episodes of drunkenness…), in most cases we only witness the consequences of those. Readers who love literary fiction and coming of age stories and especially those interested in US Literature from the later part of the 20th century should try a sample and see how it makes them feel. I strongly recommend it.

Thanks to the author for the book, thanks to Rosie and all the members of the team for their support and encouragement (reviewers, don’t forget to check her blog as well. We are a friendly bunch), and thanks to all of you for reading, liking, commenting, sharing, and remember to keep reviewing and to keep safe. ♥

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview #DOVERONE (A DOVER MYSTERY BOOK 1) by Joyce Porter (@farragobooks) A satirical vintage cozy mystery with an awfully funny (anti) hero #mystery

Hi all:

I bring you something a bit old today but wickedly funny.

Dover One by Joyce Porter
Dover One by Joyce Porter

Dover One (A Dover Mystery Book 1) by Joyce Porter

Detective Chief Inspector Wilfred Dover is the most idle and avaricious hero in all of crime fiction. Why should he even be bothered to solve the case?

For its own very good reasons, Scotland Yard sends Dover off to remote Creedshire to investigate the disappearance of a young housemaid, Juliet Rugg.

Though there’s every cause to assume that she has been murdered – she gave her favours freely and may even have stooped to a bit of blackmail – no body is to be found. Weighing in at sixteen stone, she couldn’t be hard to overlook.

But where is she? And why should Dover, of all people, be called upon to find her? Or, for that matter, even bother to solve the damned case?

Editorial reviews:

“Something quite out of the ordinary.” Daily Telegraph

“Joyce Porter is a joy… Dover is unquestionably the most entertaining detective in fiction.” Guardian

“Plotted with the technique of a virtuoso.” New York Times

“Wonderfully funny.” Spectator

“Dover is wildly, joyously unbelievable; and may he remain so for our comic delight.” Sun

“You will be fascinated by his sheer dazzling incompetence. Porter has a keen eye, a wicked sense of comedy, and a delightfully low mind.” Harper’s

https://www.amazon.com/Dover-One-Mystery-Book-ebook/dp/B07XX255JK/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dover-One-Mystery-Book-ebook/dp/B07XX255JK/

https://www.amazon.es/Dover-One-Mystery-Book-ebook/dp/B07XX255JK/

Author Joyce Porter
Author Joyce Porter

About the author:

Joyce Porter (28 March 1924 – 9 December 1990) was an English crime fiction author. She was born in Marple, Cheshire. In Macclesfield she attended the High School for Girls, then King’s College London. She served in the Women’s Royal Air Force from 1949 to 1963. An intensive course in Russian qualified her for intelligence work for the WRAF. She left the service determined to pursue a full-time career in writing, having written three detective novels already.

Joyce Porter lived the last years of her life in a pretty thatched cottage on Sand Street in Longbridge Deverill, a village in Wiltshire. She is buried in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul.

Porter created the characters of Eddie Brown, Constance Ethel Morrison Burke, and Wilfred Dover.

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

My review:

I thank NetGalley and Farrago for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review. Let me clarify that this novel was first published in 1964 by Cape, and Farrago is now republishing all the books in the series.

In brief, this book is a blast. I hadn’t heard of the Dover series and had never read any of Joyce Porter’s books before (more fool me!), but I’m pleased to have discovered both, the character and the author. While the character is truly dislikeable, the author had a talent for creating solid and engaging mysteries inhabited by a fantastic array of characters, and her observational skills and her comedic timing turn her books into a peculiar creation, somewhere between the satire and the farce.

I’ve been trying to find a way to describe this book. It is clearly a mystery and as I said above, it is a good, solid mystery, with red herrings, twists, turns and enough clues to make most lovers of the genre enjoy the putting together of the puzzle. You even have the mandatory summing up at the end, by Detective Chief Inspector Dover, but like everything else in the book, any similarity with what would happen in a true golden age mystery (yes, Agatha Christie comes to mind) is pure coincidence. You’ll have to read the book to judge by yourselves what you think of the ending, but it made me chuckle. I guess I would call it a vintage cozy mystery (if such a thing exists). It is not a standard modern cozy mystery, because although we do have some of the typical elements of those (a peculiar investigator, a strange crime, and a weird assortment of characters), the investigator here is a professional of law enforcement (to call him something) from Scotland Yard and all (the fact that the Yard are keen on sending him as far away as possible notwithstanding), and rather than being engaging and likeable, he is quite the opposite. In some ways, the novel has element of the police procedural, of the period, of course, and the mystery plays a more important part than it does in some of the modern cozy mysteries, where the main character is usually an amateur and his personality, her relationships, her business/profession, and her adventures can take up much of the novel.

Dover is a great creation. He is terrific and horrible all at the same time. He is lazy. He will go to any extents not to make any effort, either mental or physical. He is completely self-centred and totally uninterested in his job. There is no rule he won’t break in order to make his life easier and get a quick result. He exploits Sergeant MacGregor, making him do all the donkey work, and scrounging his cigarettes; there isn’t an invitation to food or drink he ever turns down; he is prejudiced, short-tempered and blows his top at the drop of a hat; he is pompous and never listens to anybody… As the back matter of the book says: “Detective Chief Inspector Wilfred Dover is arguably the most idle and avaricious hero of any novel, mystery or otherwise. Why should he even be bothered to solve the case?” This is not a novel for those who are looking for a character to root for. Although his sergeant is the total opposite, when it comes to solving crimes, he is methodical but not a great asset, either. The mystery takes place in a small town, mostly around what would nowadays be called a luxury housing state, and we come across a fantastic catalogue of characters and suspects, from the slightly odd to the wildly eccentric, and every shade in between. The local law enforcement sounds pretty normal in comparison, although the police women we meet are something else as well. Sorry, I’d rather not spoil it for readers.

The story is narrated in the third person, and although we mostly follow Dover’s adventures, we are clearly outside observers, rather than seeing things from his point of view. We might be privy to some of his thoughts and those of the other characters, but always as spectators. People who read the novel and feel disgusted by the lack of political correctness and the character’s flaws miss the distance between the narrative’s perspective and the character, in my opinion. We are not meant to like him or agree with his approach, quite the opposite. Of course, the novel is of its time, and that’s another one of the joys of it. I loved the language, the references to popular culture, the snippets of information about clothing, habits, social mores… It occurred to me that people researching the era (writers, designers, scholars…) would have a field day with this book.

I don’t want to go into too many details about the plot, but we have a pretty special victim, a bunch of characters from the ridiculous to the more ridiculous (dope fiends, yapping dogs, leery aristocrats, amateur detectives, defrocked priests (well, sort of), a writer interested in little known tribes…), blackmail, a ransom note, a missing body, adultery… and more. Take your pick.

Although I know comedy and sense of humour are very personal, and many of the references in the book are very British, I found it really funny and witty. The book is eminently quotable, but I had to try to offer you at least a few snippets, so you can get an idea:

I was nearly fifty when I married. Up till then I had always avoided matrimony like the plague, going on the principle that there is no need to throw yourself into the river to get a drink of water.

Dover didn’t approve of foreigners, mainly on the irrefutable grounds that they were un-English, and he was looking forwards to giving Boris Bogolepov, guilty or not, a rough old time just for the sheer hell of it.

It’s no good going round with an open mind like a vacuum cleaner because all you’ll finish up with is…’ Dover paused to work this one out ‘… is fluff!’ he concluded triumphantly.

I recommend this book to people who love cozy mysteries but are looking for something leaning more towards the police procedural side, and who prefer their humour rather sharp and British. Although I’ve read far worse, and there is only limited violence (fairly slapstick), the novel is non-PC (not that it condones the points of view exposed, but…) so it could be offensive to people reading it as a straight narrative. On the plus side, royalties from the book got to the work of the Friends of Friendless Churches (yes, they do exist, and do a great job as well). Go on, try it. You know you want to!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for this novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to spread the word if you’ve enjoyed it or know somebody who might. And always keep reading, reviewing and having fun!

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#Bookreview APOLLO 11: THE MOON LANDING IN REAL TIME by Ian Passingham (@penswordbooks) A joy of a book that will make readers feel as if they had been there

Hi all:

I know we’ve all been reminded of Apollo 11 this year, and I couldn’t pass this opportunity to share this book:

Apollo 11: The Moon Landing in Real Time by Ian Passingham
Apollo 11: The Moon Landing in Real Time by Ian Passingham

Apollo 11: The Moon Landing in Real Time by Ian Passingham

Half a century has passed since arguably the greatest feat of the twentieth century: when Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the Moon. Apollo 11: The Moon Landing In Real Time brings the mission back to life as never before in a thrilling day-by-day account, exploring everything from the historic flight itself to how the $24billion space programme divided a nation. Journey back in time and feel the excitement build in the days before launch and then experience the tension of the dramatic lunar landing and the relief of the crew s safe return to Earth. This engaging account mixes easily understandable explanations of the ground-breaking technology behind Apollo 11 with entertainment, excitement and humour in equal measure. Set against a backdrop of the Cold War, race riots and Vietnam, the mission polarised opinion worldwide. Alongside these issues, read long-forgotten tales including how a Chilean lawyer claimed he was the legal owner of the Moon, thousands of people signed up for proposed commercial Moon flights, Hilton revealed plans for a lunar hotel, flat Earth believers claimed the mission was a hoax and some scientists feared the astronauts would bring back deadly germs from space which would devastate mankind.

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Apollo-11-Hardback/p/16366

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Apollo-11-Moon-Landing-Real/dp/1526748568/

https://www.amazon.com/Apollo-11-Moon-Landing-Real/dp/1526748568/

https://www.amazon.es/Apollo-11-Moon-Landing-Real/dp/1526748568/

Author Ian Passingham
Author Ian Passingham

About the author:

Ian Passingham is a journalist with more than 30 years’ experience in local and national newspapers. Having worked as a news reporter, news editor and sports editor with Essex County Newspapers, he joined the Daily Star in 1994 as a sports sub-editor. In 2003, he moved to The Sun as assistant sports editor and has been a senior SunSport production journalist for the last 12 years. Ian is originally from Romford in Essex and is a lifelong West Ham fan. He has lived in Colchester since 1986 and is married with two grown-up children.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ian-Passingham/e/B019E6P52I/

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review. What a blast!

There are events that become fixed on people’s minds, either because they witnessed them and felt they were momentous, or because the impact of the news when they heard them made them remember forever the moment when they heard about it and what they were doing at the time. Some become part of the collective memory. The first manned mission to land on the Moon is one of those. As I was a very young child (four years old, if you want to know), I don’t remember it, but I do remember my father recounting having gone to a neighbour’s to watch it as we didn’t have a TV at home at the time. And I’ve watched the images, seen pictures, and read articles and watched documentaries about it over the years, but no, I didn’t experience it live at the time. So, on this year of the fiftieth anniversary, I couldn’t resist this book. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The author collects an incredible amount of information from a large variety of sources (there is a bibliography at the end, which includes the sources although not the specific details of each and every one of the articles and news items, as that would have taken more space than the book itself), and manages to select the most informative, wide-ranging, thought-provoking, and entertaining materials, creating a fun and gripping reading experience that, although we know where it’s going, never gets boring. He is also at pains to try to provide a balanced view of the facts, collecting as well the voices of those opposing the project for a variety of reasons (mainly economic, to do with poverty and conditions in the USA, but also some for religious reasons, and others due to the fear of what that might mean for humanity and the likelihood of space’s exploitation for war purposes).

Passingham lets the materials speak for themselves in most instances (and it is a joy to read the opinions of the general public at a time before social media gave everybody the tools to share their voice with the rest of the world), and he does so while creating an easy to read and compelling account of events that evidence his professionalism and his experience as a journalist. Where some authors would feel tempted to butt in and make explicit their points of view, here we are allowed to make our own minds up.

After a first chapter called ‘Race to the Moon: 1957-69’ highlighting the USSR’s successes in what would become known as ‘the space race’ and the USA’s determination to turn things around (spurred on by JFK’s promise, in 1962, to get to the moon before the end of the decade), the book takes on the format of a count-down, from Wednesday, 2nd of July 1969 (launch minus fourteen day) to Splashdown day (24th of July) and a final chapter looking at what has happened since. This format makes us share in the excitement of the team (and the whole world), at the time, and, although we know what took place, we get to feel a part of it.

I have marked many items in the book that gave me pause, and the description also gives a good hint of some of the gems readers can find in the book. If I had to choose some, perhaps the comments by Michael Collins about how he felt about the possibility of having to leave his two fellow astronauts behind if things went wrong with the Moon landing; the advancements on computer sciences and technology brought up by the project (when looking at the data it sounds underwhelming today, but it’s incredible to think they managed to do what they did with the equipment they had) and the same applies to the cameras they took with them and used; the mention of Amy Spear’s role in developing radar systems used for landing and docking the module; worries about what would happen to all the people who had been working on the project once the flight was over, many of whom had come from other states (would the new jobs be maintained?). I loved the enthusiasm and the optimism of people convinced that in ten years there would be hotels in the Moon and humanity would be settling other planets (oh, and they were phoning aviation companies to book their flights already!); the sad comments by US soldiers in Vietnam who contrasted the public support the  Apollo 11 enjoyed with the general opinion about the Vietnam war; I was very sad about the fate of a monkey they sent into orbit (alone! Poor thing!);I was interested in the opposing voices as well, in the fact that Russian women had gone into space but at that point there were no women in the programme (and due to Navy regulations, Nixon’s wife couldn’t even accompany her husband when he went to welcome the astronauts aboard USS Hornet…), and a mention that the astronauts had access to a microwave oven in the Mobile Quarantine Facility (they had been in existence for a while, but they were large and only used in industrial settings at that point), and, oh, so many things.

I enjoyed the book, which also contains many illustrations, all from NASA, and apart from making me feel as if I had been there, it also gave me plenty of food for thought. Many of the things people imagined didn’t come to pass, although it is not clear why (yes, it would have been very expensive, but that didn’t seem to stop them at that point. And why did the USSR pull back as well?), there were many advances due to it, but space exploration has remained controversial, perhaps even more so now than before. I wonder if there will be some positive event that will pull so many people together again in the future, rather than the catastrophes and disasters (natural or man-made) that seem to have become the norm in recent years. I guess only time will tell.

I cannot imagine there will be anybody who won’t find this book enjoyable (OK, people who believe the Earth is flat or conspiracy theorists might not care for it, and experts on the subject might not find anything new in its pages), and I’d recommend it to anybody who either remembers that event and wants to re-experience it, or wasn’t there at the time and wants to learn all about it. A joy of a book.

Thanks to Rosie from Pen & Sword, to the author, and especially to all of you for reading, liking, sharing and commenting. Remember to keep reviewing, reading, and, especially, smiling!

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