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Book reviews

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

Hi all:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here I leave you links to a couple of them:

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

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

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

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

The Last Road Home by Danny Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

Advance praise for The Last Road Home

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

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

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

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

My review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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

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

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

Categories
book promo

#Bookfair at Llandeilo. Bad photos and some (non-serious) tips. Oh, and I’m on the #radio!

Hi all:

I know I’ve been talking about my first book fair in LLandeilo for a while. As usual, on checking my pictures of the day I’ve discovered they’re rubbish, but hey, I’ll share a few so you can see (or guess) how it was.

The good news is that the fair will carry on. There is one booked for Christmas time and there will be another one next April. Check Christoph Fischer’s post about it for more information, here. Oh!, and check his other posts about it as you’re there. We’ve even made the papers!

I discovered my banner was the smallest one. Oh well, not good at blowing my own trumpet. Thanks to my friend Lourdes for the design!
I discovered my banner was the smallest one. Oh well, not good at blowing my own trumpet. Thanks to my friend Lourdes for the design!

My own reflections about the fair (not sure this is advice or tips, but…)

  1. You might want to take reinforcements with you. It’s always handy to have somebody man (or woman, of course) the fort for you (there are so many people to talk to and books to check! And at LLandeilo there were interesting workshops and talks but I couldn’t go to any of them). Fellow writers kept an eye on the stall, but it’s not the same…
  2. Take supplies of drinks and whatever else you might need. There was catering on site, but I’m not a tea, herbal tea or coffee drinker, and there was no cola to be had there… No caffeine for me! (Of course, if you’ve followed the advice on number one, you can either go and leave the troops covering the stall or send them out for victuals).
  3. I took sweets that seemed to attract people, especially children. Yes, I’d recommend it. I wouldn’t say it helped with the sales, but it got some smiles. Ah, and at the end I shared them with the writers (and the staff working at the hall) when we were putting things away, and after a long day they were very welcome.
  4. Take comfortable shoes. You’ll be standing up most of the time. (The author next to me who was pregnant worried me no end, although she was very enthusiastic).
  5. Pace yourself. I worried that I might have lost my voice before the end of the day (yes, I talk too much). It was a close call (sorry, no luck!)
  6. Put your glasses on when you’re taking pictures!
  7. It’s difficult to find time to network with everything else going on, but it was great to meet the rest of the writers there, Hugh Roberts whom I knew from  blogging and hopefully will meet again at the Blogger’s Bash. I did collect information from everybody (I hope!) as I’m planning on featuring writers and books in my radio show.
  8. Of course have change and chat to people. In my case, as I publish in different genres, I never knew well what to open with (pitching 5 different books is not easy). But I tried.
  9. I took some extra stuff to give away (cupcakes book, notebooks…) I didn’t have much chance to give anything away, but of course, the Cupcake recipe book that I had bought for £1 got much more attention than my own books. (When I tried the local market once, the Christmas decorations I got for the table had more success than me. Perhaps I should sell something else).

A few more photos:

The cake
The cake

IMG_1107

I was looking forward to catching up with Judith Barrow although we were both very busy!
I was looking forward to catching up with Judith Barrow although we were both very busy!
Christoph Fischer en el escenario anunciando los ganadores del concurso de historias para niños
Christoph Fischer announcing the winners of the children’s story writing competitions

IMG_1103I loved this bannerIMG_1099IMG_1098

 

 

Oh, and I’ve mentioned my Radio programme! Yes, I’ll tell you more about it, but now I have a regular (sort of) programme at Penistone FM, on Thursdays from 1 to 3 pm (UK time). I hope to talk about books and with a bit of luck bring in quotes and information about indie writers (although I don’t have much time to talk). Here is the link to listening online.

I'm on the radio!
I’m on the radio!

Thanks to all for reading, visit Christoph and Hugh’s blogs and don’t forget to like, share, comment, and CLICK!

 

Categories
Book reviews

#Bookreview Three books by women for everybody @SarahMallery1 @KimHeadlee and @sgc58 #TuesdayBookBlog

Hi all:

I anticipate I’m going to have a few incredibly busy reading weeks ahead (I’m helping with the selection process for the Historical Fiction M. M. Bennetts Award) and I’m also going to be busy preparing for my first book fair (check the post by fabulous author Christoph Fischer who explains everything about the Llandeillo Book Fair here and you can also visit the Facebook page of the event) so I’m not sure what my blog is going to be like (as I had promised I’d be recovering some of the old posts from my previous WordPress site that didn’t manage to survive the move, there will be some of that for sure) but I count on your patience and support as usual. I might share a bit more of my WIP (while I try to work out what the cover should look like. Thanks for the suggestions!), share some reviews as far as I can (I don’t want to disrupt the award process, although I’ll let you know the results), keep looking for ideas and feedback on my non-fiction project… We shall see.

But, as I’ve accumulated a few reviews I thought that would make an interesting post. The three authors I bring you today have visited my blog before. They are women of substance, who blog, research, help their fellow authors, and write wonderfully, and although I’m sure you know them all, if you don’t, for their works you’ll know them…

Enough blah, blah. Here they come:

The Dolan Girls by S. R. Mallery
The Dolan Girls by S. R. Mallery

The Dolan Girls by S. R. Mallery.

Description:

Set in Nebraska during the 1800s, whorehouse madams, ladies of the night, a schoolmarm, a Pinkerton detective, a Shakespeare-quoting old coot, brutal outlaws, and a horse-wrangler fill out the cast of characters. Add to the mix are colorful descriptions of an 1856 land rush, Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show, Annie Oakley, bank/train robberies, small town local politics, and of course, romance. Two, in fact!

Body of review:

I was given a free copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve read two of S. R. Mallery’s books before and I’ve always admired her ease in creating stories emotionally real and characters we care for set in historical eras and around historical events that add dimension and depth to the narration.  Most of her stories centre on female protagonists and we experience through them the travails and challenges these women had to face in different times in history, be it because of their class, race, gender, profession or their situation.

Cora and Minnie, the young girls arrived from Ireland with their parents, who plan to get some land in Nebraska but fail, end up alone and living in a brothel after tragedy strikes. Madam Ana treats them like her daughters and the brothel becomes their home and later their business. Cora’s love story is ruined by a terrible event, a baddie with no redeeming qualities (Wes’) rapes her and impregnates her, and she doesn’t trust men again. She focuses her life on the business and her family, and wants to ensure that her daughter will be respected and safe, even against her wishes.

The three Dolan girls, Cora, Minnie and Ellie embody different models of womanhood: Cora worries about society’s views and being respected, and is straight-laced and serious. Minnie is free, unconventional and only worries about doing what’s right and fun, no matter what anybody else might think. Ellie loves education, learning, and is passionate about enlightening the population and not taking no for an answer. Despite their differences, they all have in common their strength, their perseverance, and their determination to live life their own way, no matter what polite society might think.

Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill and Lola Montez make significant appearances and add to the historical interest but their appearance is not an exercise in hero worshiping. The author blends beautifully historical detail, language and décor without dumping information or appearing to quote from a textbook.

The bandits’ train-raid and later arrival at South Benton, Buffalo Bill’s first show, and the Pinkerton detective agency and their work add a good dose of adventure and make it a page turner even for people who wouldn’t consider reading a standard romantic novel.

The male protagonists are heroic but understanding and not overbearing. Their behaviour seemed to me somewhat idealised but well within the conventions of the genre.

The Dolan Girls shows us that winning the West wasn’t only a man’s endeavour, that not all immigrants were the same (Irish not being welcome with open arms), that gender violence is not new, and that women can be strong together.

In sum, a great read and a must for people who love historical romances. Ah, and don’t worry about the ending. You’ll love it!

Links:

Paperback
Kindle

And if you want to check a preview:

Next:

The Challenge by Kim Iverson Headlee
The Challenge by Kim Iverson Headlee

The Challenge (The Dragon’s Dove Chronicles) by Kim Iverson Headlee. The real challenge is to know what you’re fighting for.

Description

The gauntlet is thrown. One must die. Refusal is not an option.

Arthur the high king of Breatein has fallen captive of a longtime enemy, the Saxon warrior-princess, Camilla, who lusts to avenge the death of her betrothed at Gyan’s hands and will stop at nothing, even the black arts, to achieve her goal. Because Gyan and Arthur have grown estranged, she fears that Arthur may side with Camilla and make her his new queen.

Now Gyan must face all her demons – public as well as private.

My review

The Challenge is a part of Kim Headlee’s The Dragon’s Dove Chronicles and although it is the first story of the series I’ve read, that does not impede its enjoyment. It is a short story set in the world of the Arthurian legends and although it mixes fantasy elements (not that there are no fantasy elements in the story we’re all familiar with) it does refer back to older stories and traditions. Considering its length, the story packs an incredible amount of detail, not only of the action and fight itself (with vivid descriptions of weapons and gear), but also of the relationships of the queen, Gyan, with her men, of her feelings about her people and her kingdom, and also of her mental state at the time. She confronts a rival with supernatural strength, but more important than that she also has to fight her doubts about her relationship with the King. And although I’m not going to give you any spoilers, I can tell you that the ending won’t disappoint.

If you fancy a short read, full of action, with a good mix of historical detail and fantasy, and a superb strong female lead, I strongly recommend it.

Links:

Kindle

Audible

And the preview:

At the moment of preparing this post it’s FREE so check it out!

And last by not least…

Tales from the Garden by Sally Cronin
Tales from the Garden by Sally Cronin

Tales from the Garden by Sally Cronin. Enchanting stories in a magical garden

Tales from the Garden reveals the secrets that are hidden beneath hedges and trees. You will discover what really happens at night as you sleep unaware in your bed. Stone statues and those hidden worlds within the earth are about to share their stories. The guardians who have kept the sanctuary safe for over fifty years will allow you to peek behind the scenes of this magical place. They will take you on a journey through time and expand your horizons as they transport you to the land of fairies, butterflies and lost souls who have found a home here.
Fairy Stories for children of all ages from five to ninety-five that will change the way you look at your garden forever.

My review:

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

I follow Sally Cronin’s Smorgasboard blog and know she writes on a variety of themes, from the non-fictional: nutritional and health advice, features and reviews about books and writing, advice on marketing and blogging, and also fictional writing. After reading some of the stories she had shared on-line I had to read this book. And the description is correct. These are fairy stories for children of all ages. The characters are the stone sculptures in the garden and their adventures contain in equal parts warmth, pathos, magic and fantasy. We have animals escaping from hunting dogs, impossible love stories between humans and fairies, orchestras made up of the most varied characters, and a wonderful dedication to the author’s mother and her gardens. You will go through a variety of emotions and always feel better and more positive by the end of each story. The book will leave you smiling and that’s something that cannot be said of many books (or things) these days.

The writing is fluid, perfectly suited to the themes and you get the sense that you’ve been taken into the confidence of the characters and have become an honorary inhabitant of this wonderful garden. The pictures —all from the author and her family’s gardens— that illustrate the book help make the reader feel even more at home.

Recommended to any readers who need a bit of magic and wonder in their lives.

Links:

Kindle

The preview:

Sally, who has a blog everybody should follow, no matter what your interest, also  has her own publishing company and you might want to access this and her other books directly. Just in case, this is the link to her books in her blog.

Thanks to the three authors for their varied and fantastic books, thanks to all of you for reading and don’t forget to like, share, comment, CLICK, and of course, if you read, REVIEW!

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