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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog STOLEN SUMMERS: A heartbreaking tale of betrayal, confinement and dreams of escape by Anne Goodwin (@Annecdotist) A close and personal look at UK society and mental health care in the XX century #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you the prequel (well, sort of) a book I reviewed some time ago, and one many readers have read and loved since.

Stolen Summers by Anne Goodwin

Stolen Summers: A heartbreaking tale of betrayal, confinement and dreams of escape by Anne Goodwin

All she has left is her sanity. Will the asylum take that from her too?

In 1939, Matilda is admitted to Ghyllside hospital, cut off from family and friends. Not quite twenty, and forced to give up her baby for adoption, she feels battered by the cruel regime. Yet she finds a surprising ally in rough-edged Doris, who risks harsh punishments to help her reach out to the brother she left behind.

Twenty-five years later, the rules have relaxed, and the women are free to leave. How will they cope in a world transformed in their absence? Do greater dangers await them outside?

The poignant prequel to Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home is a tragic yet tender story of a woman robbed of her future who summons the strength to survive.

https://www.amazon.com/Stolen-Summers-heartbreaking-betrayal-confinement-ebook/dp/B0BFJH1VL8/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stolen-Summers-heartbreaking-betrayal-confinement-ebook/dp/B0BFJH1VL8/

https://www.amazon.es/Stolen-Summers-heartbreaking-betrayal-confinement-ebook/dp/B0BFJH1VL8/

Universal link: https://books2read.com/StolenSummers

Author Anne Goodwin

About the author:

Anne Goodwin’s drive to understand what makes people tick led to a career in clinical psychology. That same curiosity now powers her fiction.

Anne writes about the darkness that haunts her and is wary of artificial light. She makes stuff up to tell the truth about adversity, creating characters to care about and stories to make you think. She explores identity, mental health and social justice with compassion, humour and hope.

An award-winning short-story writer, she has published three novels and a short story collection with small independent press, Inspired Quill. Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize.

Away from her desk, Anne guides book-loving walkers through the Derbyshire landscape that inspired Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

Subscribers to her newsletter can download a free e-book of award-winning short stories.

Author social media 

Website annegoodwin.weebly.com

Twitter @Annecdotist

Link tree https://linktr.ee/annecdotist

Book blog Annecdotal

Amazon author page viewauthor.at/AnneGoodwin

YouTube Anne Goodwin’s YouTube channel

Facebook Annecdotist

Instagram authorannegoodwin

Newsletter subscribe

TikTok @annegoodwinauthor

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.

I was lucky enough to read Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, the previous book Anne Goodwin wrote about the same character, Matilda, before its publication as well, and I was moved, saddened, touched, and delighted, all in one. A tragic story, made worse because, although fictional, it is not an uncommon one, and it bears witness to the many people who ended up spending their lives in the old psychiatric asylums, sometimes for reasons that had little to do with their mental health.

In this novella, which the author describes as a prequel, but, at least in my opinion, isn’t exactly that, we get to fill in some of the gaps of the previous book. This novella, although written in the third person (apart from some letters Matilda addresses to her brother, Henry, one of the characters who play a major part in the original novel) only has one narrator, Matilda herself, and it alternates two different periods of time: 1939-1940, exploring what happens when Matilda first arrives at Ghyllside Hospital, the trauma it supposes, and readers can start to see how and why her mind starts to unravel; and a particular day in 1964, when one outing with one of her friends and hospital peers, Doris, turns into a nightmare. We also get to see, though briefly, the consequences of that outing, and there is a chapter at the end, set in 1989, which functions as an epilogue, and links it directly with Matilda Windsor.

This novella shares the virtues of the previous book, and it bridges the possible gaps left by the other, as we get to see more of what Matilda experienced and share with her some of the terrible humiliations and spirit-breaking practices she had to suffer. Seeing her robbed of her dignity, ignored (at best) or abused, the subject of dubious psychiatric treatments and moral judgements, and experiencing loss, guilt, and repeated trauma, it is no surprise that her mind sought refuge in a fantasy world that granted her an important and grand role in life.

I loved the way the story puts readers in the shoes of the protagonist, and we get to live what happens through her own eyes: the fear, the trashed hopes, the moments of joy, the many disappointments, the companionship, the grief, the confusion… This is not an easy read, and I caution people who might have experienced or known similar events, as it is heartbreaking at times. The author also manages to include snippets about the historical and social events taking place in the UK during those eras. We hear about WWII and how the recruitment efforts reached even the psychiatric hospitals; we also hear about race relations and discrimination; domestic violence and its terrible consequences (Doris’s story brought tears to my eyes); changes in Mental Health law and in the understanding of mental illness definitions, classifications, and treatments… It is particularly telling to see how isolated and “protected” (in a certain way) the character is from the outside world, and how she can hardly recognise her own town when she goes back 25 years later. It is a sobering thought.

Although the story centres on Matilda, there are a few other characters we meet. Doctors (very few make an appearance, unsurprisingly considering how things were run at the time) and nurses are not identified by name, and seem interchangeable, not individualised, as they might have appeared to Matilda, for very good reasons. Other patients do have a more important part to play, and I adored Doris. She suffered a terrible loss, but she is a survivor, and she helps Matilda keep afloat and keep going. Some of her behaviours reminded me of many patients I have met over the years, but she is pretty unique.

The writing is as beautiful and poignant as in the previous book. Although there are no lengthy descriptions of people or places, the author manages to make us feel the sensations, the touch, notice the smells, and be gripped by fear and embarrassment as Matilda is. The characters’ expressions and turns of phrases are distinctive and reflect the era and the location, and the pass of time and the changes in social mores are brought to the fore by the way the story is narrated.

As I said, I am not sure this novella would work as a prequel, though. Having read the novel first, it is difficult to think how it would feel to read this one without knowing anything about the character beforehand. Part of the story in Matilda Windsor takes place before 1939, although the majority of the story is set many years later, right at the point where we leave Matilda and a new character is introduced in the novella. I can see how this narrative fits in neatly with the rest of the story, and I am sure that people who read it first will glean enough information from it to make an educated guess as to what is likely to have happened, and will be eager to find out the rest by reading the main novel. On the other hand, considering the way Matilda Windsor is constructed and told, I think the impact of reading the full novel and putting the pieces together might be lost if Stolen Summers is read first. Ultimately, both of them are fantastic, so the order in which they are read may well be a moot point.

Another great story by Anne Goodwin, and one I recommend to all who have read Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home. And to those who haven’t yet, but are interested in the topic, enjoy great characters, and a story that touches upon social justice with a focus on mental health, now you can choose, if you want, to read Stolen Summers first, but I am sure you will end up reading both of them. Highly recommended. 

(An aside: As a psychiatrist, I have never seen or even heard, from colleagues or patients, of the use of wet packs, although a bit of research brings plenty of information on them, and it seems that they might still be in use for children or adolescents in the autistic spectrum, or as a hydrotherapy treatment, although applied quite differently to the novella’s description. I have seen ECTs used (and yes, as junior doctors we had to perform those as part of our training) with very good effect on patients suffering from severe depression. There is plenty of evidence of their effectiveness, more than for most other psychiatric treatments, but the indications and circumstances of their use have changed, and they are highly regulated and only used as a last resort these days, at least in my personal experience).

Oh, and for those of you who love authors’ readings, here you have Anne Goodwin reading a fragment from Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=675jdrY79qA&t=8s

Thanks to the author for this opportunity, thanks to Rosie and the whole team for their support, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to stay safe, to keep doing what makes you happy, and to always keep smiling. ♥

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog The Earthling’s Brother by Earik Beann(@EarikB) A heart-warming, fun, and light sci-fi novel, with fabulous characters #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you a new book by an author who has visited my blog before, and I suspect will come back int he future.

The Earthling’s Brother by Earik Beann

The Earthling’s Brother by Earik Beann

Sam never knew his parents. In fact, he’s never met another human—or seen a sunrise, smelled a flower, or eaten a regular meal. All of that is about to change.

It’s night in the desert, but he doesn’t feel the cold. The sky is clear, and the stars twinkle at him. He has never seen the sky from Earth before. Everything looks so strange. So . . . alien. He shakes his head in wonderment and laughs. He can’t stop smiling. This is Earth!

There is a building ahead. Other people will be inside. His heart skips a beat as he takes a step forward, the rocks crunching under his bare feet. He has dreamed of this moment for as long as he can remember.

But that which can be found can just as easily be lost again. It would have been better had Sam’s arrival gone unnoticed. But the artificial life form known only as the Authority is not one to miss such things. Nearly as old as time, and almost as powerful, the Authority was built by an ancient civilization as both an enforcer and a war machine, the destroyer of worlds. It has been watching Sam his entire life. Watching, and waiting, and judging. And now, it has decided that it’s time to act.

https://www.amazon.com/Earthlings-Brother-Earik-Beann-ebook/dp/B083F74XKL/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Earthlings-Brother-Earik-Beann-ebook/dp/B083F74XKL/

https://www.amazon.es/Earthlings-Brother-Earik-Beann-ebook/dp/B083F74XKL/

Author Earik Beann
Author Earik Beann

About the author:

Over the years I’ve been involved in many small businesses, including software development, an online vitamin store, specialty pet products, a commodity pool, and a publishing house. You could say I’ve got a bad case of serial entrepreneurism. But above and beyond all that, my original love has always been writing and telling stories.

As a teenager, I wrote two fantasy novels during summer break. Neither were published–which is probably for the best!–but I loved working on those books, and learned a lot by writing them. Later, I authored six technical books on very esoteric subjects related to financial markets. Those were meant for an extremely niche audience, and would be insanely boring to anyone outside that specific group of people.

In October 2017, I found myself at ground zero in the middle of the Tubbs Fire. A group of nine of us snuck back into our neighborhood in the middle of a mandatory evacuation zone, formed a vigilante fire fighting force, and saved our block (and an apartment complex!) from certain destruction. Working on my memoir of those experiences brought me back to those summers as a teenager spent working on my fantasy novels, and rekindled a deep love for writing that I had somehow forgotten about. Now it’s all I really want to do anymore.

I live in California with my wife, Laura, and our Doberman and two Tennessee barn cats. When not thinking of stories, I enjoy practicing yoga, riding my bike, and playing the Didgeridoo.

https://www.amazon.com/Earik-Beann/e/B001K8RRKW

My review:

I am writing this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you’re looking for reviews, I recommend you check her amazing site here), and I thank her and the author for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I have read two other books by Beann, one a science-fiction novel and the other a non-fiction book, enjoyed both, and loved the cover and the premise of his new book, and I’m pleased to say that I wholeheartedly recommend it as well.

The book reminded me of yesteryear science-fiction movies, but with a touch of self-awareness, humour, and diversity that made it thoroughly modern. It made me think of The Day the Earth Stood Still, Starman (the movie) and, to a certain extent, Terminator, especially the beginning, although here we have a bit of a twist, and more than one being from outer space (but I’ll try not to spoil the story).

The story is not hard science-fiction, and I suspect lovers of detailed scientific explanations and high-tech might find this book too light, but the setting is very compelling, there are plenty of adventures, and lots of fun to be had. And the characters are all winners.

Maria Rodriguez is a great protagonist. She works hard, loves her sick nephew and tries her best to help him get better, looks after everybody, and she is willing to help, no matter what. She gives “Sam” the benefit of the doubt, even if she thinks he is under the influence of some drug or other and a bit weird, and she ends up being pulled into an adventure that we’d all love to find ourselves in. Sam is another great character, like a grown-up child, and allows us to see ourselves from a completely fresh perspective. What would somebody from another world think about us? Mustafa… Well, I won’t tell you anything about Mustafa, other than he’s amazing, and we also have a proper villain (I’m talking about you, Sanders), and some other not very nice characters, although they don’t get off lightly. I particularly liked “Mother”, which is quite a special character but shows a great deal of insight into the workings of the world, despite her limitations, and Pepe… I think all readers will love Pepe.

The story has a bit of everything: there are some quasi-magical elements about it (be careful what you wish for!); we have police persecutions and interrogations; we have references to migration policies and to asylum hearings (this is priceless!); we have alien civilizations intent on destroying the world as we know it; trips to Las Vegas and big winnings at the casinos; a road-trip; flying secret planes; a stand-off between USA and Canadian soldiers, and even a little bit of romance thrown in.

The writing style is smooth, easy-to-read, and there are plenty of action scenes, humour, suspense, and some pretty scary moments as well. Although there is destruction, mayhem, and violence, it is not very extreme or explicit, and most of it is only referred to in passing. All these elements, and the story, that has an all-around feel-good happy ending, make this book perfect for YA readers, in my opinion, and I think older children might enjoy it as well, although I’d recommend parents to check it out beforehand.

In sum, this is a joy of a book. It can be read as a fun and light sci-fi adventure book, although it does deal in topics that are serious, current, and it has a message that humanity would do well to listen to. It suits all ages, and it leaves readers smiling. What else should we ask for? (Oh, and I especially recommend it to any Canadians out there!)

Thanks to Rosie for her fabulous group and to all its members, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

Categories
Book reviews

#Bookreview Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew by Susan Fletcher. A beautiful, contemplative and touching novel that brings Provence and Van Gogh’s paintings to life.

Hi all:

I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading recently, and I was privileged to read this book before even it was officially out for sale. But now that is available, I felt I should tell you about it. I’m using my Friday spot as it is indeed a new book, and I didn’t know the author from before.

Here it is:

Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew by Susan Fletcher
Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew by Susan Fletcher

Let Me Tell You About A Man I Knew by Susan Fletcher

Provence, May 1889. The hospital of Saint-Paul-de Mausole is home to the mentally ill. An old monastery, it sits at the foot of Les Alpilles mountains amongst wheat fields, herbs and olive groves. For years, the fragile have come here and lived quietly, found rest behind the shutters and high, sun-baked walls.

Tales of the new arrival – his savagery, his paintings, his copper-red hair – are quick to find the warden’s wife. From her small white cottage, Jeanne Trabuc watches him – how he sets his easel amongst the trees, the irises and the fields of wheat, and paints in the heat of the day.

Jeanne knows the rules; she knows not to approach the patients at Saint-Paul. But this man – paint-smelling, dirty, troubled and intense – is, she thinks, worth talking to. So ignoring her husband’s wishes, the dangers and despite the word mad, Jeanne climbs over the hospital wall. She will find that the painter will change all their lives.

Let Me Tell You About A Man I Knew is a beautiful novel about the repercussions of longing, of loneliness and of passion for life. But it’s also about love – and how it alters over time.

Links:

Kindle version: http://amzn.to/1TLjIfI

Paperback http://amzn.to/1TLjjKg

Hardcover: http://amzn.to/1TG0VBi

Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew2

Here, my review:

A beautiful, contemplative and touching novel that brings Provence and Van Gogh’s paintings to life.

Thanks to Virago and to Net Galley for providing me with a free copy of this novel in exchange for an unbiased review.

There are historical (and artistic in this case) figures that set imaginations alight. When I read the description of the book I liked the premise. Rather than being a straight biography of Vincent Van Gogh this novel is built around one episode of Van Gogh’s life, his stay at Saint-Paul-de Mausole, an old-monastery converted into a home for the mentally ill. The story, a third person narrative, is not told from the point of view of the painter, but of Jeanne Trabuc, the wife of the warden, Major Charles Trabuc. She’s the mother of three boys and two girls, but her surviving sons (the girls died at birth) are now grown-ups and have left the family home. Her husband is busy most of the day trying to run the hospital that’s slowly decaying, and her life has become routine and tedious. There have been no new patients for years and she is intrigued by the painter since she first hears about him.

The novel isn’t full of action. Jeanne observes the world around her, and from her thoughts we know she’s always been curious and a woman whose life has spread outside of the boundaries of her everyday life thanks to her imagination. The arrival of the painter brings back memories of her childhood and her dreams of exploring and doing things that others might view as inappropriate or daring. She ignores her husband’s rules and the small town’s gossips and conventions in order to get to know this man. In the process, she learns not only about herself, but she also gains a new understanding of her husband and their marriage.

The Van Gogh we meet in this novel is a man consumed by his art, fond of his brother, seriously ill, but hopeful, at that point, that his illness will improve and he’ll be cured. He is eager to record not the important people and the pieces considered of historical or architectonic interest, but the landscape, the flowers, a moth, olive trees, and everyday people. He finds value and beauty in all things. He only offers Jeanne brief snippets of his life before. The odd mention of flat landscapes in Holland, streets in Arles, a woman he loved, and the incident that brought him there. He paints; he suffers several bouts of his illness and eventually leaves to be closer to his brother and his new-born nephew and under the care of a new doctor. He dies shortly after leaving the monastery of a self-inflicted wound.

The descriptions of the landscape, the seasons, the hospital, and the interactions between the characters are beautiful and poetical. You feel the heat, smell the lavender and the paint, caress the stones and the silk of the yellow dress, listen to the cicadas, and above all, understand this woman’s feelings and experience her emotions. Although I’ve never visited Saint-Paul-de Mausole, now a museum, I felt as if I had, and it is clear that the author is very familiar with the place and has lived and breathed the environment she describes.

I loved the lyrical writing, the feeling of being immersed both in the place and inside Jeanne’s brain and even her body. The characters are consistent, believable and complex human beings. My only doubt was how well Jeanne’s subjectivity, as described on the page, fits in with the background provided. She is a woman who left school at a young age and spent most of the time in the company of a servant with limited social graces and of her father. Her only other contact with the outside world was with the clients of her father’s shop and the people she might meet in her lone walks. She has little formal education (Van Gogh tells her off for leaving school at such a young age, as it was her own choice) although knows how to read and write. But the story, as mentioned before, is not written or told by her in the first person and the author is, in a manner similar to Van Gogh, highlighting that poetry, inspiration and beauty can grow and be found anywhere.

Fletcher acknowledges in a note that she did plenty of research on the subject and tried to be accurate with regards to Van Gogh’s illness and his work whilst at the monastery, but although Jeanne Trabuc and her husband existed (as do their portraits by Van Gogh), the rest of details about their lives are part of her creative (and indeed poetic) license.

Although this is not a book for lovers of action and plot, it is not a difficult or slow read. This is a beautiful, contemplative and touching novel, and a pleasure to read and savour.

Virago are organising some events with the author present, so you might want to check their website, just in case she’s coming somewhere near you.

Here is one of these events in Blackheath Library.

Thanks so much to Net Galley and to Virago (and to Susan Fletcher) for this wonderful book, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it, like, share, comment and CLICK!

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