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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE INVINCIBLE MISS CUST: A NOVEL Penny Haw (@PennyHaw) A seamless and compelling work of historical fiction telling the story of a fascinating woman #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you another one of the books from Rosie’s Book Review Team. This one helped me discover the story of a woman I had never heard of. And it is a great story.

The Invincible Miss Cust by Penny Haw

The Invincible Miss Cust: A Novel by Penny Haw

Aleen Cust has big dreams. And no one—not her family, society, or the law—will stop her.

Born in Ireland in 1868 to an aristocratic English family, Aleen knows she is destined to work with animals, even if her family is appalled by the idea of a woman pursuing a veterinary career. Going against their wishes but with the encouragement of the guardian assigned to her upon her father’s death, Aleen attends the New Veterinary College in Edinburgh, enrolling as A. I. Custance to spare her family the humiliation they fear. At last, she is on her way to becoming a veterinary surgeon! Little does she know her biggest obstacles lie ahead.

The Invincible Miss Cust is based on the real life of Aleen Isabel Cust, who defied her family and society to become Britain and Ireland’s first woman veterinary surgeon. Through Penny Haw’s meticulous research, riveting storytelling, and elegant prose, Aleen’s story of ambition, determination, family, friendship, and passion comes to life. It is a story that, even today, women will recognize, of battling patriarchy and an unequal society to realize one’s dreams and pave the way for other women in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

https://www.amazon.es/Invincible-Miss-Cust-Novel-English-ebook/dp/B09NQR1NPP/

https://www.amazon.com/Invincible-Miss-Cust-Novel-ebook/dp/B09NQR1NPP/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Invincible-Miss-Cust-Novel-ebook/dp/B09NQR1NPP/

Author Penny Haw 

About the author:

Penny Haw is the author of The Invincible Miss Cust, a work of historical fiction based on the life of Britain and Ireland’s first woman veterinary surgeon; The Wilderness Between Us, winner of the WFWA 2022 Star Award in the general category; and a children’s book called Nicko, The Tale of a Vervet Monkey on an African Farm. Before turning to fiction, she was a journalist and columnist with bylines in many of South Africa’s leading newspapers and magazines. She lives near Cape Town.

https://www.amazon.com/Penny-Haw/e/B0759SRC4W/

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.

This is the first time I come across this author; she is a journalist and has published other works of fiction before, but this is her first book in the historical fiction category. She has chosen a fascinating topic, and her touch when it comes to making use of her research is pretty light. In the author’s note she includes at the end of the book (where she also clarifies what is factual and what is not in this novel about Aleen Cust, the first woman veterinary surgeon in Britain and Ireland) she says that, for her, the best historical fiction is that where a reader cannot tell where the facts end and where the imagination of the author starts, and she manages that in her debut in the genre. The novel contains more factual information than I thought as I was reading it (some of it I found quite surprising, although perhaps not so much the more I thought about it), this being a case where reality is more incredible than fiction.

The story follows the life of the protagonist, from a young age, in Ireland, which she misses terribly when she has to leave due to her father’s death, and we see her grow, be educated with her brothers, become interested in animals (like her paternal grandmother), and decide that she would like to become a veterinary surgeon. Queen Victoria was very old-fashioned in her ideas about gender equality, especially in her old age, and although women had started attending university (in Edinburgh) to become physicians, becoming a vet seemed an even worse idea for a woman, because according to the establishment it was more immoral, less dignified, and less suited to the “weaker” sex. She faces pretty tough opposition, at home with her family and in society at large, and it does take quite a few lucky coincidences, some male support, and an iron determination, to get as far as the university. And even then, the obstacles appear unsurmountable at times.

Women’s rights, Victorian conceptions of morality and the role of women in Victorian society, the situation in Ireland, the role social class plays in one’s future, the importance of reputation and how much that weighs and rules personal decisions (at least at that time), familial bonds (real families and created or chosen families), religion, prejudice, animals and their care, advancements in veterinarian science, friendship, ambition, love… Those are some of the themes we find in this novel. And for those who wonder, there is romance as well, although, as with everything else in Miss Cust’s life, a somewhat unusual one.

Aleen is the protagonist, and she tells us the story in the first person, so we are direct witnesses of what goes through her head, of her frustration, her determination, and her iron will, but also of her hesitation, her attempts at ingratiating and reconciling herself with her family, always trying to make them understand and see things from her perspective. She is trapped between trying not to disappoint her family or inconvenience them (as two of them have a connection to the royal family), and at the same time fulfilling her life’s vocation. Although this makes for a frustrating read at times, and I think most readers will feel the need to shake her and tell her to forget her family at times, it also feels realistic and appropriate to the era. There have always been historical figures who seemed to have been ahead of their time, but this is not a woman who grew in an enlightened or liberal family with progressive ideas, and she is presented as somebody who couldn’t see why women couldn’t study or do the same things as men, but she didn’t necessarily want to totally change the social order, and she mostly tried to avoid calling attention to herself, especially in the early part of her career. Some aspects of her personality are difficult to understand from our perspective, but she is not a woman of our time, and she achieved great goals, although perhaps more quietly than some of her better-known contemporaries.

There are plenty of other characters in the novel, and also, as you can imagine, plenty of animals. Some of the people are portrayed in more detail than others, especially those who had a great impact on Aleen’s life, and I particularly liked her friend Dorothy, who is always supportive (and whose personality is also pretty peculiar). Dorothy’s parents and her brother also play a major part in the story, and, in some ways, behave more as a family toward her than her real family. They encourage her and help her, in contrast with her own family, who never, not even once (apart from her brother Orlando) put her happiness and her wishes first. That is never a consideration for them. Professor William Williams is also a great character and somebody fundamental in getting Aleen to finally become a vet, there is Willie Byrne, the veterinary surgeon, in Ireland, who gives her a chance to practice, and whose role is much more than that (but you’ll have to read about that). Her family, by contrast, I found very difficult to warm to. Their attitude is understandable, perhaps, given the historical time and their position, but not everybody behaved the same way, and, let’s just say they were not my favourite characters. She meets many others who help or hinder her, although none of them manage to stop her. Of course, this is all from her perspective, although the author includes extracts from real documents, articles, letters, etc., and that gives us a pretty accurate picture of what kinds of prejudices and opinions she had to fight.

I have mentioned animals, and animal lovers will enjoy this book (although there are some scary moments as well). The author explains that one of her friends is an Irish retired vet, and his assistance was invaluable in making sure the book was accurate when it came to both, veterinary procedures and science, and also to the descriptions of Ireland. I enjoyed this aspect of the book very much, and I felt the author reflects well the protagonist’s interest, as she spends more time looking and talking about animals and procedures than she does about people.

The book follows the story of Miss Cust in chronological order, although it does not get us to the very end of her life, and there are some small jumps forward, focusing on the most relevant aspects of her story. This is not a book full of descriptions of clothes, accommodation, habits, and customs, and, in that sense, it is perhaps thinner in detail than some other works of historical fiction, but because the story is told in the first person by a character whose interests are not those, it is not surprising. Aleen makes some observations and reflects upon certain aspects of life that will give readers pause and make them wonder what life must have been like in those conditions, but those who prefer a story that doesn’t stray from the main plot and the action and does not go into unnecessary details will feel right at home. This does not mean that the author’s writing is not compelling, and there are some lyrical and beautiful moments, especially when the protagonist is contemplating nature and admiring animals (well, and some men as well). No complex terminology is employed, and people not familiar with veterinary science don’t need to worry about that.

The book also includes, apart from the author’s note, a bibliography for those who might want to dig deeper into the biography of Miss Cust and the people around her (although the author’s summary of the factual information contained in the novel is very informative), a set of questions for book clubs (and this book would be perfect for book clubs, as there is much to discuss), and the acknowledgments. I recommend reading all those as well, especially for those who like to learn how a book came into being, and the process involved.

This is a great read, about an actual historical figure I knew nothing about, a determined woman, whose life is fascinating, with all its contradictions and its complications. Her achievements are inspiring, and anybody interested in women’s history, especially in Britain and Ireland, in the Victorian period, animal lovers, the history of veterinary science, and anybody who likes a well-written book with a strong protagonist whose life is extraordinary will enjoy this novel. Also recommended to book clubs. I look forward to Penny Haw’s future projects.

Thanks to the author, to Rosie and the members of her team for their ongoing support, and, most of all, thanks to you all for reading, sharing, liking, for always being there. Keep smiling!

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog MURDER AT BUCKSKIN JOE. A NOVEL by J.v.L. Bell (@jvlbell) A cozy historical murder that is worth its weight in solid gold #RVRT #historicalfiction #cozymystery

Hi all:

I bring you a novel I truly enjoyed, which combines two fascinating genres, and it works very well, at least in my opinion. See what you think!

Muder at Buckskin Joe. A Novel by J.v.L. Bell

Murder at Buckskin Joe. A Novel by J.v.L. Bell

Territory of Colorado, 1865

Millie knows the raucous mining town of Buckskin Joe is no place for children, but when Dom’s Uncle George shows up needing help, the whole family reluctantly heads to South Park. George has been accused of murdering his mining partner, Wandering Will, and although Millie questions his innocence, she finds there are many suspects who wanted Will dead.

There’s fancy-girl Queeny, Will’s ex-wife, and dancehall-girl Kate, who wanted to be Will’s next wife—until he dumped her. Mountain man Kootenay despised Will enough to have dispatched him and the Odd Fellows have seized George and Will’s mine, claiming the gold inside for themselves.

Millie’s investigation heats up when Dom volunteers to visit the local saloon for some hands-on investigating of Queeny and Kate. Interruptions from hostile Utes, the children’s devilment, and the local schoolmistress chasing after Dom make this Millie’s most difficult investigation—especially when the killer decides she is getting too close.

Murder at Buckskin Joe weaves a cozy murder mystery with fascinating South Park mining history and lovable, unforgettable historic characters.

https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Buckskin-Joe-J-v-L-Bell-ebook/dp/B09G39199C/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09G39199C

https://www.amazon.es/Murder-at-Buckskin-Joe-English-ebook/dp/B09G39199C/

Author J.v.L. Bell

 About the author:

Author J.v.L. Bell is a Colorado native who grew up climbing 14,000 ft. mountains, exploring old ghost towns, and hiking in the deserts of Utah. Whenever possible, she and her family can be found hiking, rafting, or cross-country skiing.


https://www.amazon.com/J-v-L-Bell/e/B01KKX8WZQ/

www.JvLBell.com

 My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.

Cozy mysteries can be a bit hit-and-miss for me, but this one, with the added attraction of the historical gold-mining background setting and the fabulous cast of characters, worked wonderfully for me, and I loved it. Even though this is the third book in a series, it can be read and enjoyed in its own right, as it does provide readers with all the relevant details needed to follow the story, although I confess I wouldn’t mind reading the two previous ones.

The description of the book is quite apt, although it can’t reflect the full catalogue of adventures and characters included in the novel. We have the fabulous background of the gold mining town (already running out of gold at the time of the story), with plentiful but well-integrated historical detail; we have the day-to-day drudgery of living in an outpost of “civilization” (a term I use fairly loosely here); we have the animals (I love Buttercup, the fainting goat, and don’t ask me to explain, but I am also fond of the burros [donkeys in Spanish], and even the bear… No, I’m not explaining that either); we have a sheriff who is a gifted baker (the characters aren’t the only ones drooling over his confectionery); we have secret and newly found relatives all around; we have ill-fated love stories, and others that seemed impossible but work out; we have Dom and Millie’s children, Rachel (oh, she is infuriating but such a fabulously realistic character and I love her to bits), and Hosa (who wouldn’t worry about a Navajo boy who lost his family but only wants to go back and fight against the white men?)… And, of course, we have Dom and Minnie. Minnie is the main character, and although the story is told in the third person, we see everything from her point of view, and it is impossible not to like her. I particularly enjoyed the fact that she is not a modern heroin transplanted to the past. Although she has her own ideas, she also hesitates, tries her hardest to conform to the norms (down to using etiquette books and all), and feels conflicted about her desire to investigate and what she feels is her duty towards her husband and children, and she is not perfect. She is daring and determined, rushed at times, but she can also be frightened and even phobic about certain situations. She doubts her own skills as a mother and questions herself, and that made her a true character rather than a caricature for me. Dom, her husband, is again not perfect. He supports her, is patient with her, and understands her, but he is not beyond making mistakes, trusting people he shouldn’t, and even turning on her when he gets anxious or scared. Yes, they do fight, and yes, they do love each other. It feels like a real marriage, with two people trying their hardest to make everything work in their highly unconventional family.

I have already mentioned some of the things I really liked about this novel. I enjoyed the way the characters are created because even those who don’t play big parts are not simple cut-outs. They all have their personalities, their distinctive features, and they all keep us guessing. I also like the historical note the author includes at the beginning of the novel. I have read historical novels where I spent most of the time wondering how much of what I was reading was based on fact and how much was creative license. Here, the author covers that at the very beginning, before we start reading, and although in her acknowledgments she talks about her sources and her process of creation in more detail, we are in no doubt as to what we are reading.

I also enjoyed that, despite the many things going on throughout the novel, the actual investigation is never too far away from the centre of the action, and although, evidently, this is not a police procedural novel where everything is highly scientific and all the details are accounted for, if we take into account the era and where the action takes place, the murder mystery works well, and I loved the slightly bittersweet ending as well.

The writing is dynamic, flows well, and it combines inner reflection and observation on the part of Millie with plenty of action scenes, which keep us turning the pages. There are many amusing moments, some scary ones as well, and the dialogues bring the characters to life and make them jump out off the page truly realised. We also learn about gold mining and about the era, its social mores and the way daily life was organised. The knowledge and research the author has done and her talent in combining a cozy murder mystery with a historical novel portraying the life in the second half of the XIX century in the Territory of Colorado shines through. It’s a winner.

I don’t really dislike anything about the book; I can only say that I hope there will be further adventures, and we’ll get to know what happened to some of the other characters we’ve met here. I am happy there are previous novels I can catch up on as well.

In summary, this is a fantastic novel. It is funny, it is informative, it is full to the brim with unforgettable characters, it has plenty of adventures, it contains historical information about gold mining that never impedes the flow of the story, and it includes adventures and action scenes to satisfy those who prefer stories that keep moving along at a good pace. And a fairly solid, if cozy, mystery. There are threats, scary moments, and even violence, although not extreme, and I would recommend it to anybody who enjoys a good yarn. It’s solid gold.

Thanks to the author for this novel, thanks to Rosie and all the members of her team for their support, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and always keep smiling and keep safe!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview SURVIVOR SONG by Paul Tremblay (@paulgtremblay)(@TitanBooks) It masterfully blurs the line between dystopia and reality #horror

Hi all:

Today I bring you a new book by an author I was curious about but hadn’t yet read.

Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay

Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay

A riveting novel of suspense and terror from the Bram Stoker award-winning author of The Cabin at the End of the World and A Head Full of Ghosts.

When it happens, it happens quickly.

New England is locked down, a strict curfew the only way to stem the wildfire spread of a rabies-like virus. The hospitals cannot cope with the infected, as the pathogen’s ferociously quick incubation period overwhelms the state. The veneer of civilisation is breaking down as people live in fear of everyone around them. Staying inside is the only way to keep safe.

But paediatrician Ramola Sherman can’t stay safe, when her friend Natalie calls her husband is dead, she’s eight months pregnant, and she’s been bitten. She is thrust into a desperate race to bring Natalie and her unborn child to a hospital, to try and save both their lives.

Their once familiar home has becoming a violent and strange place, twisted in to a barely recognisable landscape. What should have been a simple, joyous journey becomes a brutal trial.

https://www.amazon.com/Survivor-Song-Paul-Tremblay-ebook/dp/B084Q4BH8K/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Survivor-Song-Paul-Tremblay-ebook/dp/B084Q4BH8K/

https://www.amazon.es/Survivor-Song-Paul-Tremblay-ebook/dp/B084Q4BH8K/

Author Paul Tremblay

About the author:

Paul Tremblay is the author of the Bram Stoker Award and Locus Award winning THE CABIN AT THE END OF THE WORLD, winner of the British Fantasy Award DISAPPEARANCE AT DEVIL’S ROCK, and Bram Stoker Award/Massachusetts Book Award winning A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS. A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS is in development with Focus Features. He’s also the author of the novels The Little Sleep, No Sleep till Wonderland, Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye, and Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn’t Fly (co-written with Stephen Graham Jones).

His newest book is the short story collection GROWING THINGS AND OTHER STORIES.

His essays and short fiction have appeared in the Los Angeles Times and numerous “year’s best” anthologies. He is the co-editor of four anthologies including Creatures: Thirty Years of Monster Stories (with John Langan). Paul is on the board of directors for the Shirley Jackson Awards. He lives outside of Boston, Massachusetts, has a master’s degree in Mathematics, and has no uvula. You can find him online at www.paultremblay.net. twitter: @paulgtremblay

He is represented by Stephen Barbara, InkWell Management.

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Titan Books for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

I have read a number of glowing reviews of Tremblay’s novels and being a horror fan, I was eager to read one of his books. When I found this one was available for request and read the description, I requested it although wondering if, in the current situation, I’d dare to read it. Then I read a review of it by one of the reviewers of horror I trust and decided to take the plunge. I’m pleased to report it was the right decision.

The description does justice to the plot. This is one of those novels that seem to start with a big “What If”, and we have a clock ticking to ramp up the tension. The fact that the situation has become familiar and requires far less suspension of disbelief than it might have when it was written adds nuance to the story and also increases the chill factor. Yes, the details are different (there is a virus, but it is a variety of the rabies virus rather than a coronavirus, and therefore the illnesses are very different, thankfully), but the background situation and the consequences of the health emergency are eerily similar (lack of resources, lack of PPE, confusion, hospitals overwhelmed, lack of coordination, fake news, conspiracy theories, nay-sayers, heads of governments ignoring scientific advice…). Rather than going large, the author brings the crisis to a personal level, focusing on the story of two women, one British who emigrated and studied Medicine in the US, Ramola, or Rams, and the other, her best friend, Natalie, Nats, married and in the late stages of pregnancy. They shared an apartment while they were students, and although their lives have changed, they’ve kept in touch. Things go wrong very quickly, and Ramola is soon forced to make decisions that place her professional duty in the balance against her friendship. Would you put your duty to society before your friendship or your love for your family? This is a question many of us have probably wondered about, and many have been forced to face for real in recent times.

The story turns into a nightmarish road trip where almost everything is against the protagonists. There are infected animals (and people) on their way, roadblocks, and rogue patrols wandering the streets, and every time they seem to get a break, a new obstacle or delay makes survival more and more difficult. And, of course, we have the illness itself, which turns humans (and animals) into raging wild beasts.

I have mentioned some of the themes, and although this is a dystopian story that feels like reality at the moment (unfortunately, reality is looking grimmer than this novel’s scenario), and it does have much in common with zombie stories (no matter how insistent Rams is that the infected are not zombies, and, of course, they are not dead but ill, their behaviour is quite similar), it is also a story about friendship and the families we create. We have not only Ramola and Nathalie, who are like sisters, but also other characters (especially a couple of teenage boys, Luis and Josh, who are like brothers, share a dark secret, and whose story is given space as well). There is no lack of social commentary either:  there is a strong indictment of the lack of training, of PPE, and of resources in general that hospitals and health providers have to contend with, and also support for the usefulness (indeed need) of vaccines and vaccination campaigns. (Tremblay explains at the end that his sister works at a small hospital and she gave him a lot of information.  They make a great team). Although none of it is original, it does work well, and the focus on only a few characters makes it very compelling.

The story is written in the present tense (for the most part), in the third person, although the chapters alternate between the points of view of Natalie and Ramola in the three main parts of the novel. There are also a prelude, and interlude, and a postlude, which are told from a seemingly omniscient viewpoint, where the narrator provides a frame and a commentary on the story itself (we are told this is not a fairy tale, it is a song, and we are also given information about the larger scale of things, and even told about the future). My experience with present-tense narration has not always been good, but I felt it worked well here, as it makes readers feel as if the story was taking place right now, and as the main narrative develops over a few hours, it does bring home the relativity of time, how two minutes can feel like two hours or vice versa. The book has some lyrical passages, and it’s particularly strong when reflecting the way our minds can wander even at the most inconvenient moments, and how we all have our own protective mechanisms (telling ourselves stories, taking refuge on events from the past, fairy tales…). The author writes fluidly, and he makes good use of the alternating points of view, and of other devices, like Facebook chat pages, the video diary Natalie is keeping for her child… This also provides variety and a bit of a break from the tension of the story.

I’ve read some reviews where people didn’t like the book because they didn’t like the main characters. It is true that because of the way the story is told if you don’t connect with the two protagonists, I don’t think the story will work. We don’t know everything about the two characters straight away, as much is revealed through the novel, as they think about the past, about shared experiences, and also about the future. For me, the relationship between the two characters felt real. They often knew what the other person was thinking, they cared for each other and it was like reading or witnessing the interaction between two close friends, where not everything needs to be said, and there is a lot of background to the relationship that will not be evident to strangers. Being a doctor, I probably felt closer to Ramola and her difficult situation, but I enjoyed the story and I also got to like Luis and Josh (and some of the minor characters as well).

The ending… Well, if there wasn’t a postlude, the ending would be ambiguous but the postlude makes up for it, and we get a satisfying ending (if not particularly surprising). I confess I’m not a fan of happy endings for horror novels (or films), but this is not standard horror, and despite the warnings about this not being a fairy tale, I do think it reads like a fairy tale for adults (or a scary tale). And perhaps the ending is right for the times we are living. Let’s hope…

So, yes, I recommend this novel to fans of Tremblay, and to readers of horror or dystopian fiction in general. I’d advise readers to check a sample, in case the present tense narration doesn’t work for them, and if you prefer your stories big and your disasters of world proportions, this is not that kind of story. Although the focus is on a couple of characters (mostly), there is plenty of violence, blood, and guts, so I wouldn’t recommend it to those who prefer their thrills to be subtle and understated. Also, if you are concerned about reading this story right in the middle of a pandemic and are very anxious about the news, I’d recommend waiting for a while before reading it, because it does hit very close to home. I look forward to reading more novels by this author.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and the author for the novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep smiling, and above all, keep safe. ♥

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview BEASTS OF EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCE by Ruth Emmie Lang (@ruthemmielang) A great debut novel for those looking for a bit of magic and hope #Iamreading

Hi all:

I will be on my way to Barcelona today, so if I take time to reply to your comments, don’t worry. I wanted to post this today because I hope to catch up on more reading and I didn’t want to have to post too many reviews very close to Christmas (as I know we all have other things to do). And, I had to share this book. Although the novel is not Christmassy per se, its spirit is very appropriate to this time of the year. And I loved it. Well, here it is.

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang
Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

“Exquisite and adventurous” —Bustle, “11 New Fiction Books You Need”

“Told with brains and heart” –Michelle Gable, New York Times bestselling author of A Paris Apartment

“Bristles with charm and curiosity” –Winston Groom, New York Times bestselling author of Forrest Gump

“A wholly original and superbly crafted work of art, Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance is a masterpiece of the imagination.” –Lori Nelson Spielman, New York Times bestselling author of The Life List and Sweet Forgiveness

“Charlotte’s Web for grown-ups who, like Weylyn Grey, have their own stories of being different, feared, brave, and loved.” –Mo Daviau, author of Every Anxious Wave

Finding magic in the ordinary.

In this warm debut novel, Ruth Emmie Lang teaches us about adventure and love in a beautifully written story full of nature and wonder.

Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasn’t like other people. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas day in Oklahoma, he realized just how different he actually was.

That tornado was the first of many strange events that seem to follow Weylyn from town to town, although he doesn’t like to take credit. As amazing as these powers may appear, they tend to manifest themselves at inopportune times and places. From freak storms to trees that appear to grow over night, Weylyn’s unique abilities are a curiosity at best and at worst, a danger to himself and the woman he loves. But Mary doesn’t care. Since Weylyn saved her from an angry wolf on her eleventh birthday, she’s known that a relationship with him isn’t without its risks, but as anyone who’s met Weylyn will tell you, once he wanders into your life, you’ll wish he’d never leave.

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance tells the story of Weylyn Grey’s life from the perspectives of the people who knew him, loved him, and even a few who thought he was just plain weird. Although he doesn’t stay in any of their lives for long, he leaves each of them with a story to tell. Stories about a boy who lives with wolves, great storms that evaporate into thin air, fireflies that make phosphorescent honey, and a house filled with spider webs and the strange man who inhabits it.

There is one story, however, that Weylyn wishes he could change: his own. But first he has to muster enough courage to knock on Mary’s front door.

Links:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beasts-Extraordinary-Circumstance-Ruth-Emmie/dp/1250112044/

https://www.amazon.com/Beasts-Extraordinary-Circumstance-Ruth-Emmie/dp/1250112044/

Author Ruth Emmie Lang
Author Ruth Emmie Lang

About the author:

Ruth Emmie Lang was born in Glasgow, Scotland and has the red hair to prove it. When she was four years old, she immigrated to Ohio where she has lived for the last 27 years. She has since lost her Scottish accent, but still has the hair.

Ruth currently lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband and dreams of someday owning a little house in the woods where she can write more books. Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance is her first novel.

https://www.amazon.com/Ruth-Emmie-Lang/e/B06VW16MRN/

My review

Thanks to NetGalley and to St. Martin’s Press for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This book is a joy. Readers need to be prepared to suspend disbelief more than usual, perhaps, but from the very beginning, you realise you are in for a ride where everything will be extraordinary. Weylyn, the protagonist, is born in circumstances that his doctor never forgets, and he grows up to be more than a bit special.

I will not repeat the description of the book, which summarises quite well the main aspects of the novel. Weylyn’s story is told, mostly, from the point of view of the characters he meets along the way, and who, somehow, are changed by his presence in their lives. The story is set in the present, with interludes where a boy who literally falls on Weylyn (who lives like a hermit in the forest, with a wolf as his only company) keeps pestering him to tell him his story, and then goes back to the past, and the story is told, always in the first person, by a number of characters. As all readers know, narrators have a way of revealing a lot about themselves when they tell somebody else’s story, and this is true here. None of the narrators are unreliable, but they tell us more of their own stories through their memories of Weylyn than they do about Weylyn himself. We get to know him by the effect he has on those around him (children, adults, some of the characters —those he is closest to— her revisits over the years) and he remains a bit of a cipher, perhaps because he does not know himself or can explain himself fully either. We hear from him towards the end of the book, also in the first person, but he is not a character who defines himself by his “powers” (if that is what they are), and he never gives his talents a name, although he allows people to think whatever they like (He even tries to hide his prowess behind a pig, Merlin, insisting that the horned pig is the one who controls the weather). Despite all these points of view, the book is easy to read as each point of view is clearly delineated and their stories and narrative styles are distinct and appropriate to the characters. The writing flows well and there is enough description to spur readers’ imagination without going overboard.

In a world where children and parents have difficulty communicating, where fitting in and appearances are more important than true generosity, where politicians are self-serving and corrupt, where people stay in relationships because they don’t know how to end them, and where the interest of big corporations always trumps the needs of the common man, Weylyn is like the energy and light he manages to harvest, a ray of hope and a breath of fresh air.

Weylyn is a great character, but so are most of the other characters in the book. Some are more memorable than others, but they are all likeable and changed for the better by their interaction with Weylyn.

Although there are magical and fantastic elements in the novel, in my opinion, it fits into the category of magic realism (as the world the characters live in is our world and that is precisely why people are touched and surprised by his skills, his “specialness”). It would also fall under literary fiction, although it is a much easier read than many books classed under that label (and I feel this is a book not exclusively for adults either. There is minimal violence, clean romance, and many young characters, all distinct and likeable in their own ways).

A story for readers who love great characters and like to let their imaginations fly, not always feeling the need to remain anchored to reality. This is one of those books that we feel sorry to reach the end of and are thankful because we know their memory will remain with us. A great debut novel.

Thanks to NetGalley, to the publisher, and to the author, for this extraordinary book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and REVIEW!

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