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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog CHOUETTE by Claire Oshetsky (@oshetsky) (@ViragoBooks) Disturbing, dark, difficult to categorise, but beautifully written #bookreview

Hi, all:

I bring you a book that is… well, special doesn’t cover it. I’m not sure it will the kind of book many of you would enjoy, but it raises important questions, and it is so unusual, I had to share it. Oh, and those covers!

Chouette by Claire Oshetsky

Chouette by Claire Oshetsky (@oshetsky

“Claire Oshetsky’s novel is a marvel: its language a joy, its imagination dizzying.” —Rumaan Alam, New York Times bestselling author of Leave the World Behind

An exhilarating, provocative novel of motherhood in extremis

Tiny is pregnant. Her husband is delighted. “You think this baby is going to be like you, but it’s not like you at all,” she warns him. “This baby is an owl-baby.”

When Chouette is born small and broken-winged, Tiny works around the clock to meet her daughter’s needs. Left on her own to care for a child who seems more predatory bird than baby, Tiny vows to raise Chouette to be her authentic self. Even in those times when Chouette’s behaviors grow violent and strange, Tiny’s loving commitment to her daughter is unwavering. When she discovers that her husband is on an obsessive and increasingly dangerous quest to find a “cure” for their daughter, Tiny must decide whether Chouette should be raised to fit in or to be herself—and learn what it truly means to be a mother.

Arresting, darkly funny, and unsettling, Chouette is a brilliant exploration of ambition, sacrifice, perceptions of ability, and the ferocity of motherly love.

 https://www.amazon.com/Chouette-Claire-Oshetsky-ebook/dp/B08WLWF1FH/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Chouette-Claire-Oshetsky-ebook/dp/B08WLWF1FH/

https://www.amazon.es/Chouette-English-Claire-Oshetsky-ebook/dp/B08NPQCJBX/

Author Claire Oshetsky

About the author:

Claire Oshetsky is a novelist whose writing has appeared in Salon, Wired, and the New York Times. She lives with her family in California. Chouette draws on her own experiences of motherhood.

In her own words, in Goodreads:

Shy and nocturnal. Autistic. Demi woman. Avian.

I participate on Goodreads as the fashionably bearded “lark benobi” and you’re most welcome to come on over to my lark benobi page to follow my reviews and talk books with me.

If you have an interest in the music mentioned in Chouettehere is a playlist with most of it. The works by Patricia Taxxon are only available on the indie music site Bandcamp: Tiny hears “Cambria” by Patricia Taxxon when she runs into the gloaming as a child, and she hears “The Stars in My Head” by Patricia Taxxon at the end of her journey.

‘lark benobi’ is going to continue to be the place I hang out on goodreads, but since people are starting to follow me over here too I thought I’d use my ‘Claire Oshetsky’ zone to recommend books that people might like if they liked Chouette. Let’s call them “Bizarro Books.” Happy reading!

 https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20847159.Claire_Oshetsky

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and Virago for providing me an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

What a novel! I must confess I read a comment about this novel, saw the cover, and being crazy about anything owl I had to request it. It seems I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t resist the attraction of the cover, because many reviews mention it as well. Curiously, although the two covers of the novel I’ve seen are quite different (both have owls on the cover, but that’s the only similarity), they are fascinating and beautiful, each in its own way.

The brief description of the book made me think of a French film I saw quite a few years back (2009), called Ricky, directed by François Ozon, about a baby who grows wings and the effect that has on everybody around him, but… This novel is not like that. At all.

It is very difficult to review this novel because I am not sure how to classify it, and although that is often said, in this case, I believe it truly defies classification. Amazon.com lists it under three categories: Humorous literary fiction, contemporary literary fiction, and women’s literary fiction. I have also seen people referring to its style as “magic realism”, a category that seems to have many different definitions and conceptions. Having grown up reading Latin-American writers such as Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende, I think of the genre as one where the story takes place in a world that is realistically rendered, but there are some events or characters that seem impossible, peculiar, or even magical, although that fact (that sometimes might be related to specific beliefs of the community, legends, stories) does not alter or transform totally the nature of the world. It is not a world of fantasy. It isn’t a story where somebody sees, does things, or has special powers that nobody else believes in, either. The whole world accepts what is happening as if it was the norm, and that creates quite a strange effect. (As I said, this is my understanding of magic realism, but not everybody thinks the same). With regards to the other categories suggested… Well, humorous fiction might apply, as there are some scenes that are so over the top and cartoonish, that although they are usually also very dark, they are funny. But there is so much disturbing and weird in the book, that I think most people wouldn’t think of it as a straight humorous read. There’s definitely no light humour here.

Literary fiction seems to fit well. This is not an easy book to read (it is quite short, but it makes one stop and pause often, and it’s difficult not to wonder and ponder at what might be going on), and the writing is precious, using sometimes pretty unusual and even out of place words (gendarme for a book set in California, for example), plenty of references to music (classical, contemporary, music from films, indie music…), and the main protagonists, both Tiny and Chouette, are women (well, or a woman and an owl baby, but a female owl baby), and a lot of the book centres around the notion of motherhood, educating and taking care of a child, a mother’s love, family and family relationships… There is something timeless about the book, and although it is not a piece of historical fiction, other than because references to artificial intelligence and to some of the other suggested therapies bring to mind our era, the story could be set years before or after, and it wouldn’t feel out of place (or rather, it would feel as out of place as it is in the here and now).

There are plenty of strange things happening in this book, but there seem to be two interpretations of what is going on. One, is what Tiny, the mother thinks. The other, what everybody else (or almost everybody else) thinks. Is this, therefore, a case of an extremely unreliable narrator? Some reviewers seem to think so and talk about Tiny suffering from some sort of psychotic break following her pregnancy and the birth of her child. Puerperal psychosis is a well-known diagnosis, as is post-partum depression. Because the story is told by Tiny (we never learn if she has another name) in the second person —as if this were a book she was writing to Chouette, her baby— it is possible that all the events she narrates, which seem to confirm that her baby is an owl baby (more owl than baby) were just in her imagination. (If you want to know what kind of things I’m talking about, I don’t want to go into a lot of detail, because some will probably be disturbing to readers, and I don’t want to spoil the story, but I’ll mention: the child hunting for small animals and feeding on them; attacking people, not only unknown people but also her own relatives and her parents as well; the fact that she never achieves her milestones and doesn’t develop as a “normal” baby; she can’t talk; she doesn’t walk and doesn’t seem to have normal limbs… There are also weird things going on in the house and some events from Tiny’s childhood that seem straight out of a dark and Gothic fairy tale, rather than a realistic novel, which also has a bearing on the story).

The rest of the world thinks that the baby might suffer from a metabolic and/or genetic condition affecting her growth and her development, and her father, who is the main advocate of such view, insists on trying to find a cure. (Of course, if we believe Tiny’s version, Chouette is not really the daughter of Tiny’s husband. But, I won’t reveal anything else). This causes some comedic moments, and some pretty tragic ones as well.

Is the whole novel a metaphor for what pregnancy and bringing up a baby, especially a baby with diverse needs, might be like? Tiny categorizes children (and by extent, people) into either dog-babies (those who are gregarious, love to play, chat, socialize, and achieve all their milestones at the required moments), and owl-babies (wild creatures who follow their own rhythm, don’t conform, and are not terribly sociable). The author’s biography and her comments seem to fit that interpretation, and there are moments in the book that felt quite recognisable to me. I’ve never had a child or been pregnant, so I’m not talking from direct experience, but from what friends who have children have told me, and what I have observed. There is much of the insecurity of not knowing if your approach to bringing up your child is right or not, of the exhaustion of having to be there twenty-four hours a day, or not being able to understand what is wrong and having to second-guess. Of feeling a fierce love and total frustration both at the same time. There are readers who subscribe to that view as well, and even reviewers who have strongly identified with the story. The fact that the author describes herself as “autistic” and “avian” seems to point in that direction too but… I am not sure I have decided what possible interpretation I favour, if I want to decide, or even if I need to.

Whichever interpretation readers give to the story, there is plenty to make people think. One of the themes that particularly grabbed me was the debate between Tiny and her husband as to the education and/or “treatment” for their daughter. Should they try to find a way for her to conform and become more like other children so that she can fit in her family and the society all around, or does she have the right to be herself and it is up to others to accept her and make her feel welcome, no matter how different from the norm she might be? What is “normal” after all, and who gets to decide and set the standards? This is one of the big questions that affect many aspects of our lives, in some hotly debated, highly controversial, and far from resolved, even in this day and age. There is no easy answer, but anything that can make us consider things from a different perspective is welcome.

If you want some facts to help you decide if you’d enjoy reading this novel, the book’s writing is gorgeous. I have mentioned the peculiar usage of words and the richness of the language, and although the images used can sometimes be extremely violent and disturbing, there are others that are breathtakingly beautiful. No matter what one might think of the story, or how puzzled one might feel by what is going on, there are paragraphs that I’d happily frame and hang on my wall.

Some random examples. Please, remember that this comes from an ARC copy, so there might be small changes in the final version.

Here, Tiny is watching her husband, before the baby is born:

I love to watch him shuffle the cards. I love the way he can fit himself into the world so rightly. He’s like a card in the deck that he has just squared up. I’m more like a card that somebody left out in the rain.

An example of humour (oh, and her husband’s family is a caution):

I’m the outlier. I’m known in the family as the tiny, fragile, photogenic little wife. My mother-in-law tends to seat me at the children’s table for family gatherings. I don’t think of it as a slight. It’s more like an oversight. My mother-in-law sees right over me. She is six feet tall and never looks down.

And last, but not least:

The days keep coming. You keep on living. Inside me is a damp and complex geography, a sweaty expanse of mixed feelings, uncertainties, and regret; and all of those feelings spread out from my body like the vast Serengeti, full of dark and danger. The edges blur. The truth is, I have no idea how to be your mother.

It is difficult to talk about the ending because it is left to one’s interpretation and to which version of the story we are going with. For me, it felt hopeful, but that is just my opinion. Oh, for those who love music, the author includes the playlist for the novel, so that is a definite plus.

Another random thought is that the author mentions on her Goodreads page, that she will include recommendations of books she thinks people who’ve enjoyed Chouette might like, and she refers to them as “bizarro books”. I have read reviews of some books that fall under that category, but I haven’t read any (they did remind me too much of some of the things I heard when I worked as a psychiatrist,, but I might try in the future), so this might be something to take into account as well, as that might offer another possible reading of this book.

Who would I recommend this book to? That’s not an easy question to answer. I agree with other readers that this would not be on my list of recommended novels for future mothers or those with very small children. On the other hand, mothers with a dark or alternative sense of humour, and whose children are fairly grown-up, might appreciate it. Readers who are weary of explicit violence, cruelty to animals, and those who prefer a straightforward narrative, should keep away from this book. But those who are happy to explore, are looking for a new voice, don’t mind weird and strange stories, love bizarro books (probably), and appreciate lyrical and gorgeous writing, should give it a go. See what you think. I’m sure it won’t leave you indifferent.

I found this review on Goodreads that provides extra information about the author, and you might find it interesting as well:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/4329916979

Thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for this unique book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and keep smiling and safe!

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

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

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

The Sound of Violet by Allen Wolf

The Sound of Violet by Allen Wolf

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

 PRAISE FOR THE SOUND OF VIOLET:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author, game creator, podcaster, and filmmaker Allen Wolf 

About the author:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 My review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Q&A with Author Allen Wolf

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

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

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

 Can you tell us about the book?

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

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

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

Where do you find inspiration?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your current creative influences?

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

 What did you learn when writing this story?

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

 What does the title mean?

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

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

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

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

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog WILL RISE FROM ASHES by Jean M. Grant (@JeanGrant05). An ambitious road-novel about a woman who finds herself among the chaos #RBRT

Hi all:

Today I bring you one of my reviews for Rosie’s Book Review Team. I think many of you will enjoy this book.

Cover of Will Rise from Ashes by Jean M. Grant
Will Rise from Ashes by Jean M. Grant

Will Rise from Ashes by Jean M. Grant

Living is more than mere survival.

Young widow AJ Sinclair has persevered through much heartache. Has she met her match when the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts, leaving her separated from her youngest son and her brother? Tens of thousands are dead or missing in a swath of massive destruction. She and her nine-year-old autistic son, Will, embark on a risky road trip from Maine to the epicenter to find her family. She can’t lose another loved one.

Along the way, they meet Reid Gregory, who travels his own road to perdition looking for his sister. Drawn together by AJ’s fear of driving and Reid’s military and local expertise, their journey to Colorado is fraught with the chaotic aftermath of the eruption. AJ’s anxiety and faith in humanity are put to the test as she heals her past, accepts her family’s present, and embraces uncertainty as Will and Reid show her a world she had almost forgotten.

https://www.amazon.com/Will-Rise-Ashes-Jean-Grant-ebook/dp/B07PNK7P2Z/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Will-Rise-Ashes-Jean-Grant-ebook/dp/B07PNK7P2Z/

https://www.amazon.es/Will-Rise-Ashes-Jean-Grant-ebook/dp/B07PNK7P2Z/

Author Jean M. Grant
Author Jean M. Grant

About the author:

Jean is a scientist by training with a background in Marine Biology, Microbiology, and Immunology. She currently resides in New England and draws from her interests in history, science, the outdoors, and her family for writing inspiration.

She read some big names early on in the historical romance genre, and was awestruck by Scotland, history, and a bit of the mystical. These stories swept her away and inspired her to pursue a career as an author. Fast-forward a few decades, and now out: two books in her historical romance trilogy with a twist of the paranormal (A Hundred Breaths, A Hundred Kisses), a contemporary women’s fiction (Will Rise from Ashes), and a contemporary romance in the Deerbourne Inn series (Soul of the Storm).

Jean also writes non-fiction articles for family-oriented and travel magazines.
When not writing, she enjoys tending to her flower gardens, tackling the biggest mountains in New England with her husband, and playing with her children, while taking snapshots of the world around her and daydreaming about the next story.

https://www.amazon.com/Jean-M.-Grant/e/B0728KFXP9

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

This is an ambitious novel. The author has tried to combine a complex set of characters with a gripping plot. AJ, the protagonist of the novel, is a woman in crisis, dealing with grief, having to bring-up two young boys on her own (neither of them the ideal well-behaved easy-child that everybody dreams of, but I suspect doesn’t exist in real life. The oldest, Will, in the autistic spectrum, and Finn, whom we hear plenty about but don’t get to know as well first-hand, sounds pretty overactive and his behaviour can be also challenging at times), suffering from anxiety (and perhaps other mental health difficulties), and experiencing an almost totally crippling fear of driving. We hear her side of the story, narrated in the first person. Being a professional writer, she makes for a compelling narrator, and, although not being a mother and not sharing in her extreme circumstances I do not have much in common with her, I felt the author managed to convey well the doubts, anxieties, hesitations, guilt, and the difficulties the character experienced accepting her situation, moving through the stages of grief, and eventually giving herself (and others) a chance. Her son, Will, loves all things volcano, weather, and geology, and the author offers us his perspective of the situation (this time in the third person) that serves two purposes: on the one hand, we get a more objective outsider’s perspective of how things are (because being inside of AJ’s head all the time means her suspiciousness and paranoia are not always easy to separate from how bad things really are), and we also get an understanding of how things look like and feel for a child with high-functioning autism (although there is less emphasis on that aspect than in other books I’ve read, unsurprising if we take into consideration the many other things going on).

We are later introduced to Reid, who is a combination of knight in shining armour, love interest, and also a man haunted by issues from the past (ex-military, talks about PTSD as if he was very knowledgeable about it, and his behaviour is at times mysterious, to say the least). Although AJ is suspicious about him and it takes her a long time to give him a chance, do not worry, the novel also contains romance and an opportunity for redemption. (I don’t want to give any spoilers away, but the description is quite clear in some aspects, and this is not a mystery novel, even if there are some details about the characters that are only revealed late in the story, and eventually help us understand people and events much better).

The plot keeps the story ticking, ensuring that people who might find the self-questioning and doubts AJ has to confront a bit uncomfortable (or worry that they might slow the story) have plenty to keep them turning the pages. A major disaster is the background of the story, which once AJ decides to go searching for her son, becomes the novel equivalent of a road movie. This is not a post-apocalyptic novel, but there is evidence of research and credible details of the likely scenario and consequences of such an event are interspersed through the narrative. Thanks to Will’s interest in volcanos we get first-hand information about that side of things, and as they approach the affected area, we get an almost physical sense of what it would be like to live the aftermath of a super volcano eruption. Apart from nature, the characters have to confront many other problems: technical difficulties, robberies, attempted assaults, road blocks, lack of supplies, poor telephone lines and a break-up in communication, no running water, no access to prescription medication… A woman with a driving-phobia having to drive across half the country is enough of a challenge, but her resolution keeps getting tested, and despite her reluctance to ask for or accept help, no matter how cautious and well-prepared she thought she was, she discovers that she needs a helping hand. Although the situation is harrowing and there is almost no rest or break from it (other than some dreams of the past AJ experiences, that provide us more background information and a better understanding of where she is coming from, her moments writing the diary, and the odd detour), this is not a book that gets into the gore of the destruction in detail, and, if anything, we are so focused on the here-and-now of the story that the global picture (and the many lives lost) is somewhat diluted.

The ending is satisfying and hopeful, in marked contrast to the difficulties and hindrances experienced during the trip, and in many ways the book can be seen as a metaphor for the process the main character must go through. AJ’s whole world has shattered around her, and she has been put to the test. She realises that she is stronger than she needs, that she can ask for help, and that she is ready to —slowly— move on.

As I mentioned, I did not identify with AJ, and I am not a big fan of romance (there is also a mild and not-too-graphic sex scene, but I thought I’d warn people just in case), but the book captures well the mental processes of the main character, who is a credible and complex woman trying to do her best in very difficult circumstances. The challenges of motherhood are also compellingly told (although I have no personal knowledge of the subject), and I am sure many readers will enjoy that aspect as well. If people are looking for other books focusing on the autism side-of-things, I’d recommend a couple of books as well: the well-known The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, from an older boy’s perspective (and if you can catch the play, it’s well-worth watching), and Keith Stuart’s A Boy Made of Blocks where the father of a child with autism is the main character.

A tour-de-force that combines a gripping plot with strong and complex characters, and a hopeful message. Recommended for readers of women’s fiction.

Thanks to Rosie and the member of her team, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and to always keep smiling!

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview WHAT TIM KNOWS, AND OTHER STORIES by Wendy Janes (@wendyproof) Getting to know the characters, one feeling at a time #TuesdayBookBlog And don’t miss the bonus video!

Hi all:

I bring you a review of a book that I’ve had pending for a while (it isn’t the only one), and I kept seeing great reviews for, so its time came. I also had featured it as a new book and I’ll include a link to that post later on, as it is relevant.

Here is the book:

What Tim Knows and Other Stories by Wendy Janes
What Tim Knows and Other Stories by Wendy Janes

What Tim Knows, and other stories  by Wendy Janes  Getting to know the characters, a feeling at a time.

A gallery-owner’s quest for beauty; a dancer in danger; a new mother struggling to cope with her baby; a sculptor’s search for inspiration; a teenager longing to live in the perfect family; a young boy lost and confused by the rules of life that everyone else seems to understand.

Six stand-alone short stories, spanning five decades. Each capturing a significant moment in the life of a different character.

Separate lives linked in subtle ways.

 

Here my review:

I received an ARC copy of this book and I voluntarily decided to write a review.

I had read some of Wendy Janes’s articles about editing and I was aware of her novel ‘What Jennifer Knows’ although I had not read it. So I came to this book feeling quite curious. I had read some of the reviews, both of the novel and of this book and they were all positive, and after reading it, I can say deservedly so.

The author explains that these “stories” are scenes and background information she had written when preparing her novel, but later they did not seem to fit in with it and she did not include them but thought readers might enjoy them in their own right. Not having read the novel, I can confirm they can be read independently, although I got the feeling that perhaps some of them would be enjoyed more fully by readers who were already familiar with the story, as they would offer further insight into well-loved characters.

They stories are not typical of other short-story collections that I’ve read in the past. Although self-contained, they don’t necessarily tell a ground-breaking story, and have no sting in the tail (we might perceive one, but this is up to the reader, rather than because of an imposed twist in the action). It’s easy to work out as we read that there are connections between the characters, as many of them appear repeatedly in the stories, playing different parts (a bit like in the Seven Ages of Man by Shakespeare), but if something is distinctive about them is that they are beautifully observed. Written in the third person but from different points of view, these are clearly different people with different interests and attitudes, men and women, children and adults, and they vary from the very personal to the professional. If I had to pick up some favourites, without a doubt ‘The Never Ending Day’ (I’ve never had a baby but as a psychiatrist I’ve worked with mothers who became very depressed following the birth of their child and I recognise the themes and the description of her feelings), ‘The Perfect Family’ (where Blythe reminded me of myself, as an only child who always thought that to have a bigger family must be fun) and ‘What Tim Knows’ that is a very successful peep at how an autistic boy sees the world. With regard to ‘The Never Ending Day’, I was aware from exchanging correspondence with the author, that this was a particularly personal piece for her. Check here the post about the book I published where the author explains, for a bit more information.

I hope to read more of the author’s work and I can recommend these stories if you want to make your own mind up about how you might feel about reading her longer fiction.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/What-Tim-Knows-other-stories-ebook/dp/B01IKYOJLS/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/What-Tim-Knows-other-stories-ebook/dp/B01IKYOJLS/

I couldn’t help add some bonus content (I hope the author doesn’t mind). I came across this video about the magic of books and thought it was perfect for a Tuesday. 

Thanks to the author for her book, thanks to all of you for reading, and don’t forget to like, share, comment and CLICK, and check the link to the original post for more information. 

Categories
Book reviews

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

Hi all:

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

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

A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart

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

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

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

A BOY MADE OF BLOCKS by Keith Stuart 

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

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

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

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

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

A few comments about the novel:

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

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

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

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

My review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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

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

Some information about the author:

Author Keith Stuart
Author Keith Stuart

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

He lives in Somerset. 

For further information please check:

 

www.boymadeofblocks.com | @keefstuart | #MadeofBlocks

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

 

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