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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog FLEURINGALA by M.K.B. Graham A delightful coming-of-age story, magical like the best fairy tales #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you another review for one of the wonderful finds from Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Fleuringala by M.K.B. Graham

Fleuringala by M. K. B. Graham

From the author of CAIRNAERIE, a new historical fiction, set in 1939…..
Abandoned by her no-count mother in a rundown shack on the outskirts of Lauderville, Virginia, seven-year-old Ruby Glory is alone. Her only friend and sole companion is her faithful dog, Arly. Then along comes Tack, the teenage son of Lauderville’s prominent and well-heeled Pittman family. Despite a sincere desire to help Ruby, Tack learns quickly that no good deed goes unpunished. His involvement with the child of a woman of ill-repute sends his family and the citizens of Lauderville into a frenzy of rumors and gossip, presenting Tack with a dilemma. Will the uproar spell the end for the mismatched friends—or set in motion opportunities that neither Tack nor Ruby could ever have imagined?
 

https://www.amazon.com/Fleuringala-M-K-B-Graham/dp/B092411YHK/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fleuringala-M-K-B-Graham/dp/B092411YHK/

https://www.amazon.es/Fleuringala-M-K-B-Graham/dp/B092411YHK/

Author M.K.B. Graham

About the author:
M.K.B. Graham writes literary fiction, historical fiction, and feature stories under the label McKeadlit LLC, a freelance company. Partial to the Appalachian Mountains, the author is a lifelong Virginian and part of a family whose roots to the Commonwealth run deep, stretching back to the 1700s. Graham, a graduate of Virginia Tech, has worked as a writer for two Virginia universities and as a former associate editor of Virginia Tech’s signature magazine. The author lives and writes in the beautiful and historic Shenandoah Valley. She is fascinated by old houses, earlier eras, particularly the 1930s and 1940s, and the influence of families on history, much of which informs her writing.

https://www.amazon.com/M.K.B.-Graham/e/B073GKV1B7/

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.

Although M. K. B. Graham had submitted her first novel to Rosie’s team a few years back, I somehow missed it then, but I’m very pleased to have discovered this gem now. What a gorgeous read!

The novel is listed under the categories of ‘historical fiction’ and ‘coming of age fiction’ and they are both appropriate. The story is set in the late 1930s and early 40s, mostly in Virginia, a setting that the author knows well and several generations of her family have grown in. The protagonists (Tack [he is called Albert, like his Dad, but from the beginning, it proved difficult to share the name, and he became known as Tack], and Ruby) live plenty of adventures, many together and some separately, but Lauderville and the rest of the settings they visit play almost as important a part as they do, and the book excels at making readers feel as if they were totally immersed in the experience, walking the streets, smelling the aromas, touching the fabrics, seeing the colours, and talking to the inhabitants of the town, and later, of Suwanalee (North Carolina), Charleston, and Fleuringala (yes, the title comes from a property and its quasi-magical gardens), and although some of those are fictional, it is evident that their creation has been inspired by real small towns and by a period of history that might feel far off, but it not as distant some things haven’t changed as much as we’d like to believe.

This is Tack’s coming of age story, although Rudy does a lot of growing as well (but she is much younger and still a child as we leave her). He graduates from high school, gets his first car, gets his first job (and that causes upset with his father, as he wanted him to carry on with the family business because he is the only boy in a family of girls, and the youngest), and eventually gets to move away from home, live independently, and takes on the responsibility of looking after another human being. I don’t want to summarise the whole novel here and leave readers with no surprises, but the story brought to my mind some of the classics in the genre, like Huckleberry Finn (mentioned in the book as well), To Kill a Mockingbird (although here, poverty, lack of social standing, and behaviours that are not considered ‘socially acceptable or in good taste’ are the cause behind much of the discrimination and suffering that ensues, rather than race, which does not feature in the book), and others like Little Women, a big favourite of mine. Tack is a young man, of course, but his selfless behaviour and the way he cares for others place the focus of the novel in characteristics other than those that tend to be more common in coming of age novels whose central characters are male, which often focus on the quest motif, adventures, and dangers. Yes, Tack experiences plenty of those as well (they come across many obstacles, moments of self-doubt, and terrible trials), but not just out of a thirst for adventure or a desire to become independent and go looking for freedom. Those things also happen but seem to be the unintended consequences of the interest he takes in Ruby and her welfare.

There are elements of the fairy tale as well (Fleuringala and its owner made me think of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Selfish Giant,’ minus the religious symbolism), and as would be the case in a fairy tale, there are characters that play the part of fairy godmothers (several in fact), out and out villains (Ruby’s mother, Gilda, although one has to wonder at how she might have been like, had her circumstances been different; Tack’s older sister; the car man [a true monster]…), there are magical castles/gardens, animal companions and defenders (Arly is a hero), something close to a miracle transformation, happy coincidences aplenty, and yes a HEA ending as well (with a final surprise, although I had my suspicions about that). Some of the characters seem to be larger than life, as if a caricaturist had emphasised their features for laughter or to bring them to our attention, but they all (or most) have their human side. Don’t think that means this is a book that deals in light and fluffy subjects. Far from it. Even though this is not the typical story about the dark side of small America, where behind the veneer of civilization festers an underbelly of crime and corruption, we can still find child abuse and neglect, a horrific scene where Ruby is in terrible danger (well, two, but quite different in nature), plenty of prejudice, gossip (oh, those Mavens), and a good deal of suffering and disappointment. But, fear not, there are moments of comic relief (Maxine is wonderful if a bit over the top and I quite appreciate her friend Ira as well; Albert had his moments, and I loved Francine’s Beauty Parlor and the goings-on there), plenty of smiles and happy events, beautiful descriptions of places, and a gorgeous rendering of the language of the people, turns of phrases, and local sayings and idioms. And, Ruby. The little girl is a light that shines through the whole story, (almost) always optimistic, willing to think the best of people, and to give everybody a second chance. She is a transformative force, and she changes all she meets for the better.

I’ve mentioned the beautiful language and writing. The story is written in the third person, from an omniscient point of view, which, although I know some readers don’t appreciate, I felt that in this case, it worked well to bring us closer to all the characters and to make us appreciate what moves them and what they are really like. It also foreshadows what is to come, giving us hints and insights, and preparing us in advance for both good and bad news. Most of the story follows chronologically the events from the moment Tack sees Ruby for the first time, although there are some chapters where it provides background information about some of the other characters, allowing readers to get a clearer picture of where they are coming from and helping us get a clearer understanding of their reactions, their behaviours, turning it into something of a collective narrative, and not only the story of the two main characters. We might or might not like some of the people we meet, but we get to understand them a bit better.

I highlighted plenty of sentences and full paragraphs as I read, and I’ll follow my usual policy of recommending possible readers to check a sample of the book if they can, but I’ll share a couple of random examples, to give you a taste:

All Tack knew was that here in Lauderville, a little town tucked in the bumpy toe of Virginia as close to Tennessee as a blanket is to a sheet, the winters were cold, the springs and autumns were nice, and the summers could be pleasant —or hot as Hades. Like today.

Here, talking about the Maven’s behaviour at Francine’s Beauty Parlor:

They shamelessly, deliberately, and corporately encouraged Gilda the way a child is prodded to repeat a dirty word. That she could run her mouth faster and louder than an un-muffled Chevy only added to her appeal. And with her ability to spin an innuendo faster than a frog can snatch a fly, she entertained the Mavens who would not miss it for anything short of the funeral of a close relative—although not one among them would admit it. Everybody around her sat and listened, assured that their own stations in life were considerably loftier than Gilda’s.

I have mentioned the ending, and yes, I’m sure it won’t disappoint readers. I felt sad for losing sight of the characters, but the ending is pretty perfect, in the way the best fairy tales and happy novels can be, especially when the characters have gone through so much. It’s easy to imagine what their lives will be like from then on, and the outlook is excellent.

This is a wonderful novel, and I enjoyed it enormously. It is not realistic and gritty in the standard sense, but if I had to include any warnings, as I’d mentioned before there is a scene that is fairly explicit and terrifying, and another one that will cause heartache to most readers who love pets; and child abuse and neglect are important themes in the story. Of course, if one thinks of classic fairy tales, they are not mild or non-violent, can be terrifying, and often feature abuse, neglect, abandonment, cruel behaviours, and worse. I wouldn’t recommend this novel to people looking for a hard and totally realistic account of life in 1930s small-town America, but readers looking for a magical story, with wonderful characters, a strong sense of place, the nostalgic feel of an era long gone, and beautiful writing peppered with local expressions and idioms, will love this novel. I can’t wait to see what the author with delight us with, next.

Thanks to Rosie and the members of the team for their support, thanks to the author for this wonderful book, thanks to all of you for reading, sharing, commenting, liking, and remember to keep safe, keep smiling, and try and be as happy as you can!

 

 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog Snow (St. John Strafford 1) by John Banville (@FaberBooks). Classic mystery but not as we know it

Hi all:

Before I forget, Happy New Year. This year I’m sure we’re all happy to see the end of the year that leaves us. Let’s hope the next one is better (come on, this time is not that difficult, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed).

And now, to the review.

Snow by John Banville

Snow (St. John Strafford 1) by John Banville

‘Superb.’ The Times
‘Outstanding.’ Irish Independent
‘Exquisite.’ Daily Mail

A CrimeReads Most Anticipated Book of 2020

‘The body is in the library,’ Colonel Osborne said. ‘Come this way.’

Following the discovery of the corpse of a highly respected parish priest at Ballyglass House – the Co. Wexford family seat of the aristocratic, secretive Osborne family – Detective Inspector St John Strafford is called in from Dublin to investigate.

Strafford faces obstruction from all angles, but carries on determinedly in his pursuit of the murderer. However, as the snow continues to fall over this ever-expanding mystery, the people of Ballyglass are equally determined to keep their secrets.

‘The sinister and unnerving Snow has all the trimmings of a classic country house mystery – body in the library, closed circle of suspects, foul weather – all elevated by Banville’s immaculate, penetrating prose.’ Peter Swanson

https://www.amazon.com/Snow-John-Banville-ebook/dp/B083VRN8LK/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Snow-John-Banville-ebook/dp/B083VRN8LK/

https://www.amazon.es/Snow-John-Banville-ebook/dp/B083VRN8LK/

About the author:

Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland. His father worked in a garage and died when Banville was in his early thirties; his mother was a housewife. He is the youngest of three siblings; his older brother Vincent is also a novelist and has written under the name Vincent Lawrence as well as his own. His sister Vonnie Banville-Evans has written both a children’s novel and a reminiscence of growing up in Wexford.

Educated at a Christian Brothers’ school and at St Peter’s College in Wexford. Despite having intended to be a painter and an architect he did not attend university. Banville has described this as “A great mistake. I should have gone. I regret not taking that four years of getting drunk and falling in love. But I wanted to get away from my family. I wanted to be free.” After school he worked as a clerk at Aer Lingus which allowed him to travel at deeply-discounted rates. He took advantage of this to travel in Greece and Italy. He lived in the United States during 1968 and 1969. On his return to Ireland he became a sub-editor at the Irish Press, rising eventually to the position of chief sub-editor. His first book, Long Lankin, was published in 1970.

After the Irish Press collapsed in 1995, he became a sub-editor at the Irish Times. He was appointed literary editor in 1998. The Irish Times, too, suffered severe financial problems, and Banville was offered the choice of taking a redundancy package or working as a features department sub-editor. He left. Banville has been a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books since 1990. In 1984, he was elected to Aosdána, but resigned in 2001, so that some other artist might be allowed to receive the cnuas.

Banville also writes under the pen name Benjamin Black. His first novel under this pen name was Christine Falls, which was followed by The Silver Swan in 2007. Banville has two adult sons with his wife, the American textile artist Janet Dunham. They met during his visit to San Francisco in 1968 where she was a student at the University of California, Berkeley. Dunham described him during the writing process as being like “a murderer who’s just come back from a particularly bloody killing”. Banville has two daughters from his relationship with Patricia Quinn, former head of the Arts Council of Ireland.

Banville has a strong interest in vivisection and animal rights, and is often featured in Irish media speaking out against vivisection in Irish university research.

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/91.John_Banville

My review:

Thanks to Faber & Faber and to NetGalley for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

John Banville is a well-known, well-respected, and multiple award winner author (his awards include the Booker Prize, the Franz Kafka Prize, and the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature, among others), and although he is perhaps better known for his literary fiction (he also writes short stories, scripts and adapts plays), he has also written several crime fiction novels under the pen name of Benjamin Black. I read one of his novels years back (probably The Sea) and although I can’t remember much about it, what stayed with me was how beautiful his writing was. So, I was intrigued when I saw that he’d published the first book in a crime series, this time using his own name. And let me assure you that his writing is as beautiful as I remembered, even if the subject does not always correspond to the beauty vested upon it.

Funnily enough, this is a strange but unsuitably suitable Christmas read, as the story takes place around the festive season, but there is no Christmas cheer or spirit behind the happenings described in the book at all. I don’t want to talk about the plot in too much detail, to avoid spoilers and because I feel that the actual plot is somewhat incidental to what makes the book so interesting, but, in short, a Catholic priest is found dead in the library of a big aristocratic manor, in County Wexford, Ireland, in the late 1950s. The circumstances of his death are quite gruesome (despite the attempts at keeping the decorum the Church and most authorities involved make), and there are plenty of added complications. The Osborne family —the owners of the house— are Protestants, as is the detective inspector sent to investigate the murder, Strafford (from an aristocratic family as well), and, as you’d expect, they all hide secrets (or most of them): money is a problem; the first wife of Colonel Osborne died from a fall (down the same stairs the priest used before his death); Osborne’s new wife was a friend of the first wife, suffers from insomnia, is heavily medicated and is a less-than-reliable witness (she was the first person to find the body); the daughter of the family has been expelled from school but hasn’t told anybody and her behaviour is daring beyond her years; the son of the family is eager to abandon Medicine and seems to have some questionable friendships; there is a stable boy with a troubled past… As you might suspect from the title, there is plenty of snow that makes the search all the more complicated; nobody has seen or heard anything; the priest was supposed to be very popular but other than his sister nobody seems to be really sorry to see him go; Osborne’s brother-in-law has been banned from the house but was in the area at the time of the murder; there is a doctor who also hangs around the house and whose prescribing sounds suspect; the people in the village seem superficially friendly but are not very helpful, and the local police… Well, you probably catch my drift.

There is much in the novel that will remind classical mystery readers of the genre (yes, even the characters in the novel remark on the fact that the body is found in the library of a grand house), and there are plenty of homages/jokes/winks to other famous mysteries and characters, down to people always mispronouncing Strafford surname, asking him why he decided to become a detective (but he is not Poirot by any stretch of the imagination)… And Strafford is fully aware of the fact that he does not fit into the mould or the expectations, both as a detective and as a man of the upper-class, as he does not drink alcohol, he doesn’t smoke, he’s chosen a less-than-glamorous or reputable profession, and he is not particularly intuitive, brilliant, or self-assured. He does suffer from imposter-syndrome and often feels as if he was playing a part in a play (and at times as if everybody else was as well). In some ways, the novel challenges the stereotypes of that kind of book, while staying pretty close to the form and some of its conventions. At times it feels as if the central character had walked into the wrong book, but as we read, we come to realise that other things are out-of-kilter as well. It is an eerie reading experience, and an unsettling one, in a good way.

When I said that the plot was rather incidental to the interest I felt for the book, that is because although there is a mystery, most people reading the novel now (and in the future) will probably suspect what is behind the crime from very early on, although that might not have been evident to somebody like Strafford at the time. Although the exact details are not straightforward and there is a later development that adds an interesting dimension to the actual ending, I think this is an occasion when the readers are likely to be ahead of the investigator and end up observing his thought processes and the whole community rather than looking for clues about the case. Other themes abound like: the strained relationships (at times) between Protestants and Catholics and the expectations and prejudices of both sides (Strafford’s conversation with the Archbishop is priceless); family relationships; changes in circumstances for old aristocratic/landed families; the power and control of the Catholic Church over the media and civil authorities; the secrets of the Church; the nature of gossip and rumour in small villages; recent Irish history, and above all, the character of Strafford, who can be in turn naïve and insightful, highly intelligent and blind, sophisticated and socially inadequate, sharp and useless at judging people, and whose self-knowledge is, at times, sorely lacking. The book deals in pretty dark subjects as well (that I won’t mention to avoid spoilers, but you might already suspect from my comments), while at the same time being witty and having some truly humorous moments (pretty dark at times).

I have talked about the main character and have mentioned some of the others. There is also Sergeant Jenkins (his description is priceless as you can see if you read on), a more standard fit into the genre, who investigates with Strafford although nobody can remember his name, and I’ve mentioned some of the other characters before, although there are also villagers, local police, and some that we only hear about but never get to meet. None of the other characters are as well-drawn or as distinctive as Strafford, and many would not stand out in a classic mystery novel, although with some twists and a dark undertone. I’ve read some reviews that complained of the female characters, and although it is true that they appear unrealistic, conventional, and two-dimensional, the rest of the male characters don’t fare much better either. I think it is partly to do with Strafford and his shortcomings (after all, we see things through his eyes), and in the few instances when we get a different perspective, things aren’t as simple as they appear to him. In some of the cases, later events and information cast doubts on what we thought we knew.

The story is told, mostly, in a linear fashion, in the third person, as we follow Strafford while he investigates. Although we get inside of his head and the action is described from his point of view most of the time, there are moments when an omniscient observer offers us a glimpse of Strafford from outside, as it were. There are also two fragments from a different point of view, clearly separated from the rest of the text: one following a female character (I’m keeping my peace here), narrated in the third person, and another one in the first person, from the victim’s perspective, set a few years before his death, and although it is pretty tough to read, it also rings psychologically true.

The style is not the straightforward easy-to-read language we’re used to in mysteries. This is Banville, and it is a joy. It does not follow any of the dictates of avoiding unnecessary words, keeping to the action, keeping it simple, pushing the action forward… And, as an English teacher, I kept thinking it would be a great book for advanced students (proficient students) looking to learn less common vocabulary and precise and unique words (that, of course, would fit a well-educated and refined man such as Strafford). If anybody tried to put the book through Grammarly, I suspect it would break at the percentage of unusual words. Although I’m not sure this is a book for the standard mystery lover, I’m convinced those who love and study language and its intricacies will enjoy it. A few tasters from the book (although remember, mine is an ARC copy and there might be some changes in the final edition):

The last thing he saw, or seemed to see, was a faint flare of light that yellowed the darkness briefly.

The first thing everyone noticed about Sergeant Jenkins was the flatness of his head. It looked as if the top of it had been sliced clean off, like the big end of a boiled egg. How, people wondered, was there room for a brain of any size at all in such a shallow space?

…her skin was pinkly pale, the colour of skimmed milk into which had been mixed a single drop of blood. Her face was like that of a Madonna by one of the lesser Old Masters, with dark eyes and a long sharp nose with a little bump at the tip.

To a microbe, he mused, each tiny burst of fire would seem a vast conflagration, like a storm on the face of the sun. He thought again of the snowy fields outside, smooth and glistening, and over them the sky of stars burning in icy brightness. Other worlds, impossibly distant. How strange a thing it was to be here, animate and conscious, on this ball of mud an brine as it whirled through illimitable depths of space.

As usual, I also recommend checking a sample or the look inside feature if you have doubts about how well the style would suit your reading taste.

The ending will be unlikely to surprise readers of mystery novels or most readers, but, as I’ve said, I don’t think that’s the point of the story. And there is a coda at the very end, that although not exactly surprising, I found quite satisfying.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I would, but not to readers looking for a standard murder mystery that conforms to the usual norms, or people looking for a cozy and gentle story. If you enjoy novels that challenge the conventions, enjoy beautiful use of language, don’t mind dark subjects, and are interested in recent historical fiction set in Ireland, check it out. I am curious to see where Banville goes with book 2 in the series.

Thanks to the publisher and the author for the novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and share if you fancy, like, comment… And please, be safe!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview Fun with Dick by John Dolan (@JohnDolanAuthor) The darkest of humours and the most unforgettable character

Hi all:

I bring you a big by one of my favourite writers, who’s been having some fun…

Fun with Dick by John Dolan

Fun with Dick by John Dolan

Twenty-five-year-old Richard Blackheart – geek, wage slave and Superman wannabe – seems destined for a life of dull obscurity.
Then one day he hits upon an idea for the ultimate non-self-help book, ‘How to Die Alone, Smelly and Unloved’, and things start to change …

‘Fun with Dick’ is a heart-wrenching, hilarious and harrowing tale of one man’s struggle against gravity and cats. It is not recommended for people who are easily triggered. If you do read it, keep your shrink’s phone number handy.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B083RW93CV/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B083RW93CV/

https://www.amazon.es/dp/B083RW93CV/

Author John Dolan

About the author:

“Makes a living by travelling, talking a lot and sometimes writing stuff down. Galericulate author, polymath and occasional smarty-pants.”

John Dolan hails from a small town in the North-East of England. Before turning to writing, his career encompassed law and finance. He has run businesses in Europe, South and Central America, Africa and Asia. He and his wife Fiona currently divide their time between Thailand and the UK.

He is the author of the ‘Time, Blood and Karma’ mystery series and the ‘Children of Karma’ mystery trilogy.

https://www.amazon.com/John-Dolan/e/B008IIERF0

My review:

I have read and reviewed all the books John Dolan has published so far (you can check my most recent review here), and you’d be forgiven for thinking that, after seven (well, eight, as he also co-authored one) books, he wouldn’t be able to surprise me any longer. Well, wrong! I kept reading the book and wondering what I was missing. Things couldn’t be quite as simple as they appeared. Of course, they couldn’t.

This is a novel that would be perfect for a book club because there are tonnes of things to discuss, but the book club would need to be pretty special. Some of the topics that are mentioned in the book, even if not described in detail or explicitly, would put off (or even trigger) some readers; and the novel is a nightmare for those who are sticklers for political correctness, because, humour or not, it is extremely dark, and it takes no prisoners. The cast of characters seems recruited from a variety of books in different genres: a Jewish psychiatrist, a bullying and unkind sister; an extremely overweight and lazy friend; the mother of said friend, who is a bit of a cougar (or a lot, as the protagonist knows only too well); a dismissive boss and a bunch of peculiar work colleagues working for the games’ industry; a girlfriend who is more interested in her ex than in the protagonist; and a central character called Dick Blackheart, who dreams of being a superhero with special powers but appears to be a looser. A passing conversation convinces him that he should write a pretty special non-self-help book (‘How to Die Alone, Smelly and Unloved’, and the title is quite indicative of the content, although perhaps not of how truly extreme the advice is), and somehow that seems to help him focus. Shortly after, things take a turn for him, seemingly a downward trend, and he makes a decision. He is going to travel to Thailand with his friend Nigel, who will serve as his experimental subject for the book, and finish it. And perhaps…

I won’t try to go into every single detail of the book, because readers should go into it without clear expectations and see what they make of it. I’ve mentioned the issue of the sensitive topics (the list is too long to include, but I’d suggest that if you can think of a taboo topic, it is quite probably there, or close to it), and the novel is narrated in the first person, so that might not suit everybody’s taste. Dick’s dead-pan style is very peculiar, and in a way, it makes his adventures, and his efforts at keeping up his mood and looking on the bright side, all the more affecting. Yes, there are very funny moments, although many of them are cringe-worthy as well. You are both laughing and horrified at your own laughter at the same time. You feel sorry for Dick and appalled by some of the things he says and writes. Is he joking or is he in earnest? There are subjects and topics most of us wouldn’t dare to joke about, but that does not seem to be the case for Dick. Why? He seems a pretty mild individual when we meet him, harmless, and unlucky when it comes to the things that make life shine. But be warned. You read on at your own peril.

I liked the way the protagonist drags us in, and we can’t help but watch as things unravel. We might feel appalled, dismayed, and disgusted, but somehow we need to accompany Dick in his trip of self-discovery (or self-revealing) until the very end. The extracts from his book are a must-read, and Nigel’s mother is quite a character, and not the only one. I also enjoyed the cameo appearance of David Braddock, the main character in the author’s other series. He wouldn’t have wanted to miss this for the world. The book seems to move from a pretty light beginning into darker and darker depths, and it takes a very skilled writer to pull the trick off and not lose the readers in the process. It also takes a pretty daring one. Oh, and I love the ending as well.

I don’t have any dislikes, other than the fact that the book is quite short, but that might work in its favour as it increases its impact, and I am not sure that most readers would have wanted things to get even darker (especially not at a moment like the one we’re living).

I recommend this book to Dolan’s fans, although with the warning that it is darker than most of his other work (or perhaps it appears so because it’s all packed in a very short length because, despite the sharp humour, the other novels are not easy reads either). Many sensitive subjects appear in its pages (trauma, parental loss, bullying, child abuse, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution, and more…), so it needs to be approached with caution. It is a fantastic read, and I recommend those who might harbour doubts about it, to check a sample, and see how they feel. It is not an ordinary novel, and I’m sure I won’t forget it any time soon. If ever.

Thanks to John for another fabulous book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep smiling, and take care!

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE LOST BLACKBIRD by Liza Perrat (@LizaPerrat) Heart wrenching and compelling. A must-read #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you a new book by an author who’s become one of my new favourites in recent times. I’m sure you’ll remember her and her books. I met her through Rosie’s group, and she is another great discover.

The Lost Blackbird by Liza Perrat

The Lost Blackbird: Based on Real Events by Liza Perrat

A powerful story of sisters cruelly torn apart by a shameful event in British-Australian history. Clare Flynn, author of The Pearl of Penang
London 1962. A strict and loveless English children’s home, or the promise of Australian sunshine, sandy beaches and eating fruit straight from the tree. Which would you choose?
Ten-year-old Lucy Rivers and her five-year-old sister Charly are thrilled when a child migrant scheme offers them the chance to escape their miserable past.
But on arrival in Sydney, the girls discover their fantasy future is more nightmare than dream.
Lucy’s lot is near-slavery at Seabreeze Farm where living conditions are inhuman, the flies and heat unbearable and the owner a sadistic bully. What must she do to survive?
Meanwhile Charly, adopted by the nurturing and privileged Ashwood family, gradually senses that her new parents are hiding something. When the truth emerges, the whole family crumbles. Can Charly recover from this bittersweet deception?
Will the sisters, stranded miles apart in a strange country, ever find each other again?
A poignant testament to child migrants who suffered unforgivable evil, The Lost Blackbird explores the power of family bonds and our desire to know who we are.

https://www.amazon.com/-/es/Lost-Blackbird-Based-Real-Events-ebook/dp/B08F7ZJFB3/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/-/es/Lost-Blackbird-Based-Real-Events-ebook/dp/B08F7ZJFB3/

https://www.amazon.es/-/es/Lost-Blackbird-Based-Real-Events-ebook/dp/B08F7ZJFB3/

Author Liza Perrat

About the author:

Liza grew up in Wollongong, Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife for fifteen years.
When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her husband and three children for twenty-seven years. She works part-time as a French-English medical translator, and as a novelist.
Several of her short stories have won awards, notably the Writers Bureau annual competition of 2004 and her stories have been published widely in anthologies and small press magazines. Her articles on French culture and tradition have been published in international magazines such as France Magazine and France Today.

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

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

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

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

https://www.amazon.com/-/es/Liza-Perrat/e/B008385OF2

https://www.lizaperrat.com/

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and was provided with an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Liza Perrat has quickly become one of my favourite authors. I read the Silent Kookaburra at the time of its publication, four years ago, and I’ve read all her novels since, both those in the Australia series (set in Australia in the fairly recent past) and also those in her historical series “The Bone Angel”, set in France over the centuries. They all have female protagonists and centre on the lives, difficulties, and challenges women have had to face throughout history. Although the novels are thematically related, they are fully independent and readers can pick any of them and enjoy them without worrying about not having read the rest (although I’d challenge anybody to read one of these novels and not feel compelled to explore the rest).

This novel —quite close thematically to The Swooping Magpie in many ways— offers readers an insight into a shameful and horrific event in recent British-Australian history, which those familiar with the work of the Child Migrant Trust and/or who have watched or read the story behind the film Oranges and Sunshine (the book was originally called Empty Cradles and written by Margaret Humphreys) will be aware of. If The Swooping Magpie talked about forced adoptions, here we go a step further, and children were not only adopted under false pretenses, but also sent to the other end of the world (near enough), so they were completely severed from their relatives and all they were familiar with, in some cases to be adopted, but in others to became forced labour and had to undergo terrible abuse in many cases.

Perrat’s fictionalised account takes as its protagonists two sisters from London, whose short lives (Lucy is 10 and Charly 5 when we meet them) had already seen much hardship and suffering, and then a traumatic event results in them ending up in care, and things only take a turn for the worse from then on. The chapters alternate between the point of view of the two sisters (Lucy’s chapters narrated in the first person and Charly’s in the third), although we have a few from the point of view of Annie, their mother (in the third person, present tense). This works very well because although initially, we get different versions of the same events, which help readers get to know the two sisters and their outlook in life, later on, when they reach Australia, they are separated (despite the guarantees to the contrary they had been given) and we get to share in their two very different experiences. Although neither of them is as promised or expected, the challenges the two sisters have to face are miles apart. While the younger one gets her identity all but completely erased, the older sister is systematically abused, worked to the bone, and has to experience so many losses that she is almost destroyed in the process.

The story is not an easy read, and it deals with harsh truths and with difficult topics beyond the main historical subject (domestic violence, the institutional care system both in the UK and Australia, forced adoptions and child labour, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, prostitution, poverty, post-natal depression, pathological grief…) so although this is a compelling book, readers must be prepared to be confronted with some ugly truths. I’ve read novels that are much more explicit than this one; don’t get me wrong, but because of the degree of attachment to the characters, the nasty events hit hard.

The characters are well-drawn and believable. Both girls, Lucy and Charly, have their own distinct personalities, with Charly being quiet, a reader, and a deep thinker, and Lucy more of an action girl. She fiercely loves her mother and her little sister but finds it impossible to keep her mouth shut and keeps getting into trouble, mostly for trying to help or defend others. She learns to be tough and to present a hard front to the world, but that also makes her resentful and unwilling to ask for help. She is mistrustful but also naïve at times, and her stubbornness sometimes works against her. There are moments when her extreme behaviour makes her difficult to like, but her reactions are quite understandable, and her circumstances are such that we can’t help but wonder if we would have done any better. The rest of the girls and boys they meet through their journey, and also their ersatz families are memorable, and some of the scenes that take place have become engrained in my brain and will keep playing there for a long time.

Perrat’s writing is flawless, as usual. She is particularly adept at making us share in her characters’ experiences, and we can see, hear, smell, taste, and almost touch, everything around them: bird songs and cries, food, clothes, the oppressive heat, the sting of mosquitoes, the joy of the first swim in the sea, the luxury of the big cruiser ship… Her depiction of the character’s mental state, their ruminations, the intrusive memories and flashbacks, are also excellent and there is plenty of action, secrets, mystery, and intrigue to keep us turning the pages. The book is also full of Australian and English expressions that will delight lovers of vernacular and casual expressions, and I’ve learned the origins of quite a few expressions I had heard and learned some new ones (blackbirding anyone?)

The ending, as the author comments on her acknowledgements at the end of the book, might not be the norm in many real cases, but it is very satisfying, and I enjoyed it (although throughout the novel we also get to see some pretty different outcomes). The author shares her sources and also thanks those who have contributed to this well researched and accomplished novel in the final pages of the book, and I advise people interested in the topic to read until the very end for further information.

I recommend this novel, and all of this author’s novels, to readers interested in books about the female experience, and also, in this case, about the forced migration of thousands of British children to Australia and other Commonwealth countries over the years (this practice was only stopped in 1970). Because of the subject matter, this is not an easy read and can be heart-wrenching at times, but it is a compelling fictionalised account of an episode of history that everybody should know about. It is wonderfully written, well-researched, and its characters are likely to remain with readers long after they close the book. A must-read. (Remember that you can always try a sample of the book if you want to get a taster and check if it’s for you).

Thanks to the author and to Rosie and her team, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep safe. And keep smiling. 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead by Colson Whitehead (@LittleBrownUK). Inspiring, tough, appalling. A must read.

Hi all:

I bring you today the review of a book by an author who’s become well-known but I hadn’t managed to catch up with yet. I’m happy I have now. Extraordinary.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead by Colson Whitehead

Author of The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead, brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in 1960s Florida.

Praise for Pulitzer Prize-winning The Underground Railroad: 
‘My book of the year by some distance . . . luminous, furious, wildly inventive’ Observer
‘An engrossing and harrowing novel’ Sunday Times
‘Tells one of the most compelling stories I have ever read’ Guardian
Whitehead is a superb storyteller . . . [he] brilliantly intertwines his allegory with history . . . writing at the peak of his game’ Telegraph


Elwood Curtis has taken the words of Dr Martin Luther King to heart: he is as good as anyone. Abandoned by his parents, brought up by his loving, strict and clearsighted grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But given the time and the place, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy his future, and so Elwood arrives at The Nickel Academy, which claims to provide ‘physical, intellectual and moral training’ which will equip its inmates to become ‘honorable and honest men’.

In reality, the Nickel Academy is a chamber of horrors, where physical, emotional and sexual abuse is rife, where corrupt officials and tradesmen do a brisk trade in supplies intended for the school, and where any boy who resists is likely to disappear ‘out back’. Stunned to find himself in this vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold on to Dr King’s ringing assertion, ‘Throw us in jail, and we will still love you.’ But Elwood’s fellow inmate and new friend Turner thinks Elwood is naive and worse; the world is crooked, and the only way to survive is to emulate the cruelty and cynicism of their oppressors.

The tension between Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision which will have decades-long repercussions.

Based on the history of a real reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped and destroyed the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative by a great American novelist whose work is essential to understanding the current reality of the United States.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Nickel-Boys-Pulitzer-Prize-winning-Underground-ebook/dp/B07K23HGTW/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Nickel-Boys-Pulitzer-Prize-winning-Underground-ebook/dp/B07K23HGTW/

https://www.amazon.es/Nickel-Boys-Pulitzer-Prize-winning-Underground-ebook/dp/B07K23HGTW/

Editorial Reviews

An Amazon Best Book of July 2019: Based on a real school for boys that closed in Florida in 2011 after more than one hundred years in existence, Colson Whitehead’s Nickel Academy is the kind of institution that purports to rebrand bad boys into good young men. So in theory it should be a good place for Elwood, a young black man who, although he had planned to attend a nearby college, was caught unknowingly riding in a stolen car. But what happens inside Nickel Academy does not match its public image, and Elwood is about to learn that, no matter how idealistic or optimistic he is, his life is taking a very bad turn. He is lucky to meet Turner, who does not share Elwood’s idealism and who helps him to survive Nickel Academy. But what Elwood experiences there will never leave him. Set in the 1960s during Jim Crow, The Nickel Boys is both an enjoyable read and a powerful portrayal of racism and inequality that acts as a lever to pry against our own willingness to ignore it. —Chris Schluep, Amazon Book Review

Review

“Haunting and haunted…devastating…The book feels like a mission, and it’s an essential one…he pulls off a brilliant sleight of hand that elevates the mere act of resurrecting Elwood’s buried story into at once a miracle and a tragedy.”—Frank Rich, The New York Times Book Review (cover)

“Stellar…heartbreaking…a beautiful, unforgettable young hero who walks right off the page and into your heart…If you have been thinking you should read Colson Whitehead, The Nickel Boys is the perfect place to start.”– Newsday
 
“America’s Storyteller. A book that will further cement his place in the pantheon of influential American writers.”  — Time Magazine

The Nickel Boys is a chilling, masterful novel that explores the depths of evil and the resilience of the human spirit. Whitehead’s prose is dazzling, and the narrative’s nimble twist is a swift kick to the solar plexus.”—The Minneapolis Star-Tribune
 
“Propulsive and gorgeous and completely devastating.”—LitHub.com

“THE NICKEL BOYS is in conversation with works by James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison and especially Martin Luther King…. It shreds our easy confidence in the triumph of goodness and leaves in its place a hard and bitter truth about the ongoing American experiment.”  — Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“A tense, nervy performance, even more rigorously controlled than its predecessor.  The narration is disciplined and the sentences plain and sturdy, oars cutting into the water.  Every chapter hits its marks.”— Parul Seghal, The New York Times

Author Colson Whitehead

About the author:

Colson Whitehead is the author of the novels Zone One; Sag Harbor; The Intuitionist, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award; John Henry Days, which won the Young Lions Fiction Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Apex Hides the Hurt, winner of the PEN Oakland Award. He has also written a book of essays about his home town, The Colossus of New York, and a non-fiction account of the 2011 World Series of Poker called The Noble Hustle. A recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a MacArthur Fellowship, he lives in New York City.

His latest, the #1 New York Times bestseller The Underground Railroad, is just out in paperback. It received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Carnegie Medal, the Heartland Prize, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Hurston-Wright Award, and was longlisted for the Booker Prize.

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

My review:

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

In brief, this is an extraordinary book. Beautifully written, haunting, it vividly portrays and era and a place (the early 1960s in Florida), and illustrates the very best and the very worst of human beings and their behaviour. Although everybody should know about the true story this book is inspired by, my only hesitation in recommending this book to all is that it is a tough read, and one that could upset people who have experienced abuse or violence or prefer not to read graphic accounts of those topics. (It is not extreme, in any way, in its depiction of violence and abuse, and much is left to the imagination of the reader rather than being unnecessarily and openly graphic, but then, my level of tolerance is quite high, so it might not be an indication of other readers’ opinion. On the other hand, it is emotionally harrowing, as it should be).

I had not read any of Whitehead’s books before but had heard and read many comments about his recent success with The Underground Railroad, and was keen to see what he would write next. Although I can’t compare the two, based on how much I have enjoyed this story and the style of writing, I am eager to catch up on the author’s previous novels.

I went into this book not having read reviews or detailed comments about it, other than the short description on NetGalley, and I was quickly drawn into the story. After the brief prologue, that sets up the scene and introduces what will become the main setting (and a protagonist in its own right) of the story, The Nickel Academy (previously, The Florida Industrial School for Boys, created in 1899, a reform school in serious need of reforms), we get to meet the two protagonists, first Elwood Curtis, an upstanding boy, determined to make his grandmother proud, a firm believer in Martin Luther King’s philosophy and speeches, a hard student and worker, and later Jack Turner, a boy with a more difficult background whom we meet during his second stay at Nickel. The interaction between the boys, the differences between them, the unlikely friendship that develops, and the ways their lives influence each other, not always evident as we read it, form the backbone of this novel, whose action is set mostly in a momentous era, the 1960s, and with the background of the Civil Rights Movement at its heart. Elwood’s determination to follow King’s dictates is sorely put to the test at Nickel, but he does learn much about himself and about the world there, including some things that should never happen to anybody, no matter their age or colour. Turner, a survivor who has been exposed to a much harsher reality than Elwood from the beginning, learns a new set of values and much more.

As I mentioned above, the story, narrated in the third person but mostly from the point of view of the two main characters (the novel is divided into different parts, and it is clearly indicated which point of view we are sharing), is beautifully written. It lyrically captures the nuances of the period and the place, using a richly descriptive style of writing that makes us feel as if we were there, experiencing the oppressive heat, the excitement of being a young boy going on his first adventure, the thrill of joining a heartfelt protest, the fear of Nickel, the dashed hopes… And later, we also touch base with the main character’s life at different points after Nickel, including the present, when he hears about the unearthing of the story, and we realise that, for him, it’s never gone away; it’s never become the past. The author intersperses the words of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches, of James Baldwin’s stories, and, as he explains in the Acknowledgements’ section at the end, he also quotes from real life accounts from survivors of the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida, whose story inspired the setting and much of the story this book narrates. Although I didn’t know the story was based on a real place, I kept wondering about it as I read —it felt true, for sure—, and I was not surprised when my suspicions were unfortunately confirmed at the end. (The author provides plenty of links and information about the real story of Dozier and also includes a bibliography of the other sources he has used, which will prove invaluable to researchers and readers eager to find out more). The author’s use of quotes adds to the true feel of the novel while establishing a clear connection between this story and the troubled history of race (and to a slightly lesser extent class) relations in the USA. Although based on a real reform school, Nickel is a microcosm, a metaphor for the abuse and corruption that has marred not only the United States but many other countries, and a reminder that we must remain vigilant, as some things and behaviours refuse to remain buried and keep rearing their ugly heads in more ways than one. I, for one, will not hear talk about the White House and not think about quite a different place from now on.

The characters are compelling, easy to empathise with, and one can’t help but root for these young men who find themselves in impossible circumstances. Some are complicit in the abuse, some mere victims, but most are just trying to survive. As for the perpetrators… There’s no attempt at explaining why or how it happened. This is not their story. Their story has been the official History for far too long.

Apart from all I’ve said, there’s quite a twist towards the end of the story, which casts a new light on some of the events and on the relationship between the two boys, clarifying some questions that are left answered as the story progresses. This is not a mystery or a thriller as such, but the twist introduces an element of surprise that, at least for me, increased the power of the narrative and the overall effect of the story. The compelling plot of the novel is perfectly matched by the masterly way it is told.

I highlighted a lot of passages from the novel, but I thought I’d share the opening, and another paragraph from the preamble, to give you a taster. (As I mentioned, mine is an ARC copy, so there might be some changes to the final published version).

Even in death the boys were trouble. (A fantastic opening line that will become one of my favourites from now on).

When they found the secret graveyard, he knew he’d have to return. The clutch of cedars over the TV reporter’s shoulder brought back the heat on his skin, the screech of the dry flies. It wasn’t far off at all. Never will be.

A great novel, inspiring, appalling, tough, lyrical, fitting homage to the victims of a corrupt, merciless, and racist institution, and an indictment of the society that allowed it to exist.  Highly recommended, with the only reservations mentioned above about the subject matter.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Rosie's Book Review Team Rosie's Book Team Review Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog WINTER FLOWER by Charles Sheehan-Miles #RBRT A highly recommended tough and inspiring read

Hi all:

I bring you another review of one of the books in Rosie’s team. Another great find.

Winter Flower by Charles Sheehan-Miles
Winter Flower by Charles Sheehan-Miles

Winter Flower by Charles Sheehan-Miles

This book is all about love, family, survival, acceptance and forgiveness… one big giant emotional rollercoaster ride

  • Book Freak

From the bestselling author of Just Remember to Breathe and The Last Hour, a shocking and poignant story of a family on the brink of destruction and the transformational events that could bring them back together–or tear them apart.

Every day, Cole Roberts reminds himself that life wasn’t always this bleak. He was once passionately in love with Erin. Sam used to be an artistic and lively kid. They hadn’t always lived in a shabby two-room house in rural Alabama, where he runs a mediocre restaurant in the middle of nowhere.

That was before Brenna disappeared. It was before Cole lost his job and they lost their home.

Every day it gets worse. Erin drinks wine out of the bottle and spends her days with a tormented expression, searching the web for signs of their daughter. Sam hides in his room and rarely speaks. And Cole works himself to a stupor for a paycheck a fraction of the size of his old salary.

Until one day a phone call changes everything.

Winter Flower is at once a tragic tale of the disappearance of a child; struggling with gender identity; of the dark world of sex-trafficking and the transformation and healing of a family. Sheehan-Miles’s longest novel delves into the depths of family life–and how, sometimes, we can heal and find restoration.

https://www.amazon.com/winter-flower-Charles-Sheehan-Miles-ebook/dp/B07R91MG6Q/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/winter-flower-Charles-Sheehan-Miles-ebook/dp/B07R91MG6Q/

https://www.amazon.es/winter-flower-Charles-Sheehan-Miles-ebook/dp/B07R91MG6Q/

Author Charles Seehan-Miles
Author Charles Seehan-Miles

About the author:

Charles Sheehan-Miles has been a soldier, computer programmer, short-order cook and non-profit executive, and is the author of several fiction and non-fiction books, including the indie bestsellers Just Remember to Breathe and Republic: A Novel of America’s Future. Charles and his partner Andrea Randall live and write together in South Hadley, Massachusetts.

Charles’ books include:

The Thompson Sisters & Rachel’s Peril
A Song for Julia
Falling Stars
Just Remember
to Breathe
The Last Hour

Girl of Lies
Girl of Rage
Girl of Vengeance

America’s Future
Republic
Insurgent

Other Books:
Prayer at Rumayla
Saving the World on $30 A Day

Find out more at http://www.sheehanmiles.com

You’re also invited to join the Remember to Breathe Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/rer

https://www.amazon.com/Charles-Sheehan-Miles/e/B002BM0T7E/

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 the first novel I read by Charles Sheehan-Miles, who is a brand new author to me, although he has published a large number of books, and from the comments, I guess he has a legion of fans that were surprised by this book, as it is not a romance. I cannot compare it to his previous work, but I agree with the warning. If readers from his previous books approach this novel as a romance, they will be shocked, because it is far from it.

This is a long book (over 600 pages long), divided up into four parts, with a prologue set two years before the main action of the book, although there are flashbacks (memories) narrated in the first-person by the four main characters —all members of the same family— that offer readers a good understanding of the background to the current situation and help them get to grips with their circumstances, their pasts, and who they are. This is the story of a family, a married couple and their two children, on the brink of collapse due to a terrible tragedy that took place two years before the action we follow chronologically. Or so it seems. (The truth is a bit more complicated than that). Sam and Brenna, the children (adolescents by the time we met them) are close, and Brenna has always willingly played the role of big sister to Sam, there to protect and guide. Until she disappears. Carrying on without her puts a big strain on a family we soon learn was going through difficulties already (some more out in the open than others), and whose communication had ground almost to a halt. The parents, Cole and Erin, are living example of the “opposites attract” edict, at least from a political perspective (Cole, the father, who as a young man decided formal education wasn’t for him and moved up the corporate ladder at lightning speed, is conservative as can be, while Erin, the mother, a college  graduate, is a convinced liberal who sacrificed her career to look after her children), and although the story opens up with Sam’s narration, we soon get to read their own perspective on the matter and the kind of traps they find themselves in.

This is a story that deals in many important subjects, and it could have been told in a variety of ways, but I am impressed not only by the subjects (adultery and its toll on family relationships, sex trafficking, rape, prostitution, bullying, harassment and violence against the LGBT community, missing youths, the isolation of the trans-gender experience for young people, prejudice and harassment at work…) and the sensitive and enlightening way they are handled, but also by the way the story is told. The author allows each character to tell his/her own story, and that makes us walk a mile in their shoes, no matter how uncomfortable they might feel. I am sure many readers will think, as they read, that they would have never reacted in a certain way, or allowed their circumstances to deteriorate to such an extent, but, do we truly know? Although, as the author reminds us in the final note, the events in the book are far from unique (yes, it is a work of fiction, but many individuals and families, unfortunately, will go through similar experiences to those depicted in the book), many of us will never have been in close contact with somebody in such dire circumstances, much less be directly affected by it, so, how do we know what we would do? The characters are not necessarily the most likeable when we meet them (drinking heavily, harassed, afraid for their lives, paralysed and frozen, unable to make decisions and move on), and they are all closed off from each other, trapped, physically or mentally, sometimes by others and their preconceptions, sometimes by their own fears and inability to grief and forgive. The author also makes a conscious decision to introduce the rest of the family —the parents and Sam— first, so we get to see the effect her loss has had on the family before we meet Brenna, the missing girl. Her situation is heart-wrenching, and the most extreme and difficult to read about, although none of the characters have an easy ride.

Thankfully, the author manages to achieve a difficult balance between telling the story, not pulling any punches, making sure people can understand and empathise with what the characters are going through, while avoiding extremely graphic scenes (both of sex and violence), and gratuitous iterations and repetitions of the abuse, which would risk further exploitation rather than facilitating understanding and empathy. Don’t get me wrong; this is a hard read, and readers with triggers around topics such as child abuse, rape, bullying, violence against women and the LGTB community, and racism need to be aware of it. Even people who don’t have such triggers will find it a tough read, but, on the other hand, this is a book with a big heart, and the individual journey of each character, and of the family as a whole, make for an inspiring and hopeful read.

I have already talked about how impressed I am by the story and the way it is told. I grew fond of all the members of the family by the end of the book (it’s impossible for our hearts not to go out to Sam and Brenna, but we get to appreciate their parents as well), and I particularly enjoyed the journey of enlightenment Cole’s father goes through. The author includes most of the reactions we can imagine to these subjects, from the sublime to the ridiculous, (not everybody changes and accepts either. Bigotry remains alive and well, as we all know), and they all felt true. I was particularly fond of Jeremiah and his wife — almost too good to be true— who are an ideal we should all aspire to. I also liked the fact that the story does not stop when most readers would expect it to, and even Sam makes comments on that. There is no magical happy ending here that just makes everything right again. All the members of the family will have to keep working at their relationship and supporting each other, but that is as it should be.

There were no negative reviews of the book at the time I wrote this, and the only objections (apart from the warning that it is not a romance) some people had referred to were Sam’s virtual game playing (that a reader didn’t feel added anything to the novel. Personally, I think it helps readers understand what life is like for the character and experience the kind of coping strategies adolescents in similar circumstances might use), and some others felt the book could have been shorter and still managed to tell the same story. That might be true, but I suspect some of the nuances would have been lost.

This is an excellent book that manages to combine complex and credible characters with a plot that deals with several difficult subjects, without becoming preachy or too graphic. It is horrifying, touching, and insightful all at the same time, and it makes readers witness the highs and lows of the human condition. I recommended it to readers interested in the subjects, but I advise those who might worry about possible triggers to proceed with caution. The author adds some resources (links to websites) for people who need more information about some of the issues raised in the book, and I thought the final conversation of the book, between Brenna and her grandfather in the garden —when the grandfather talks about the snapdragon, and how it grows back after getting rid of the dead stuff, stronger and more beautiful— stands as a great metaphor for the story, and explains the title. Highly recommended.

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

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog DAISY JONES AND THE SIX #daisyjonesandthesix by Taylor Jenkins Reid (@tjenkinsreid) Recommended to lovers of Rock & Roll, music, and the 1970s rock scene.

Hi all:

For all of you Rock & Roll lovers, I bring you:

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Daisy Jones & The Six: A Novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

A gripping novel about the whirlwind rise of an iconic 1970s rock group and their beautiful lead singer, revealing the mystery behind their infamous breakup.

“I devoured Daisy Jones & The Six in a day, falling head over heels for it. Daisy and the band captured my heart.”—Reese Witherspoon (Reese’s Book Club x Hello Sunshine book pick)

Everyone knows DAISY JONES & THE SIX, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock ’n’ roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.

Praise for Daisy Jones & The Six

“Daisy Jones & The Six is just plain fun from cover to cover. . . . Her characters feel so vividly real, you’ll wish you could stream their albums, YouTube their concerts, and google their wildest moments to see them for yourself.”—HelloGiggles

“Reid’s wit and gift for telling a perfectly paced story make this one of the most enjoyably readable books of the year.”—Nylon

“Reid delivers a stunning story of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll in the 1960s and ’70s in this expertly wrought novel. Mimicking the style and substance of a tell-all celebrity memoir . . . Reid creates both story line and character gold. The book’s prose is propulsive, original, and often raw.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

https://www.amazon.com/Daisy-Jones-Taylor-Jenkins-Reid-ebook/dp/B07DMZ5YR9/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1786331500/

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of March 2019: There is something a little intoxicating about Daisy Jones and the Six. This is the story of a young, captivating singer who came of age in the late 60s/early 70s, all told as an oral history. The Six did not hit the big time until Daisy joined the band as their lead singer, but her presence brought along drama, intrigue, and a variety of tensions between herself and Billy Dunne, the leader of The Six. It’s best not to know too much about this book going into it; instead, allow the transcribed interviews from the band members (they weren’t real, but they seem real), and from those who tagged along during this great fictitious band’s run, to unspool the story for you. –Chris Schluep, Amazon Book Review

Review

“I devoured Daisy Jones & The Six in a day, falling head over heels for it. Taylor Jenkins Reid transported me into the magic of the ’70s music scene in a way I’ll never forget. The characters are beautifully layered and complex. Daisy and the band captured my heart, and they’re sure to capture yours, too.”—Reese Witherspoon

“Reid is a stunning writer whose characters are unforgettable and whose stories are deeply emotional. . . . Her most gripping novel yet.”—Emily Giffin, author of All We Ever Wanted

“Reid’s writing is addictive and all-consuming. Filled with passion, complexity, and fascinating detail, Daisy Jones & The Six felt so real, I had to remind myself that it was fiction.”—Jill Santopolo, author of The Light We Lost

“From the very first page you know this book is something special. Taylor Jenkins Reid brings insight and poetry to a story that’s utterly unique and deeply authentic, one that transports you to world of seventies rock—with all its genius and temptation and creativity—so completely it feels like you’re there.”—Katherine Center, author of How to Walk Away 

“Raw, emotive, and addictively voyeuristic, Daisy Jones & The Six is imbued with the same anguished heart that fuels the very best rock ‘n’ roll. Like my favorite albums, this book will live with me for a very long time.”—Steven Rowley, author of Lily and the Octopus 

“An explosive, dynamite, down-and-dirty look at a fictional rock band told in an interview style that gives it irresistible surface energy . . . although the real power of this delicious novel is at its tender beating heart. It’s an anthem and a ballad and a marvel.”—Elin Hilderbrand, author of The Perfect Couple 

Taylor Jenkins Reid
          Taylor Jenkins Reid

About the author:

Taylor Jenkins Reid lives in Los Angeles and is the author of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo as well as One True Loves, Maybe in Another Life, and more. Her novels have been named best books of summer by People, US Weekly, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, InStyle, PopSugar, BuzzFeed, Goodreads, and others.

You can follow her on Twitter @tjenkinsreid.

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Random House UK, Cornerstone, for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I kept seeing this book pop up all over when it came to recommendations of new releases and that made me curious. I also read that Reese Witherspoon had bought the rights to adapt it into a TV series, and the comments about the book made me think about the movie This Is Spinal Tap, although the musical genre is different (yes, it’s all Rock & Roll, baby) and the story is not intended as a parody, and all that together with the evocative cover, I knew I had to check it out.

This is one of those novels where I was intrigued to read what other reviewers had said, and, curiously enough, one of those where I could see the point of both, those who really loved the book, and also those who hated it. Somehow, I could see the merit on both types of opinions, and it really depends on the kinds of books you enjoy or not. A couple of provisos, here. Many of the reviews talk about the author, and especially refer to one of her previous books, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, which seems to be a well-loved novel, and for people who had loved that book, their expectations were very high, and some found this book too different (some fans of the writer also loved this book, so don’t let that put you off). I haven’t read any of the author’s previous novels, so I cannot help with that. After reading the reviews and this novel, I became curious about her other books, but I come to it without any previous knowledge. The second proviso is that quite a few people compare the ‘fiction’ band at the heart of the story, The Six, that is later joined by Daisy Jones, with Fleetwood Mac (with Daisy Jones then being a stand-in for Stevie Nicks), but I must confess not to know enough about the ins and outs of this band to be able to comment (I was quite young when they were at the height of their popularity, and I never read much about them, although having read a bit about them since, yes, I can see similarities, but I can also see differences). So, if you are a big fan of Fleetwood Mac, you might be more intrigued to read this novel, but you might also hate it. You’ve been warned.

So, what are the comments on both sides that I agree with? The way the story is told will not be to everybody’s taste. This is the story of the band, and of Daisy Jones, pieced together through interviews conducted many years after the band was created, and that makes it very fragmented. It does follow a chronological order, and we get to know about Daisy Jones, and about the Dunne Brothers (Billy and Graham), from before they got into singing, composing, and playing songs, and later on the rest of the members of the band, Camila (Billy’s girlfriend and later wife) and their manager also come into play. These fragments of interviews often refer to the same events, providing the reader different points of view, and sometimes completely different descriptions, but it can cause a disjointed effect, and it will suit some readers but others will hate it. Personally, I found it fun and quite dynamic, but it is true it does not immediately create a picture of what’s going on in one’s head, in the same way as more standard narratives do.

There were also a lot of comments about the characters, and how some of them were one-dimensional and it was difficult to tell them apart. As I have said before, the story starts with the origin of the band (we later learn why), and then we only get to hear from the rest of the members as they join the band or meet the other characters. For me, Pete, Eddie and Warren were not distinctive enough. Yes, Eddie always seemed to have issues with Billy and didn’t like his style of leading the band. Pete had a girlfriend in the East and he would phone her often, and Warren was the drum player, but other than that I’m not sure I got a strong impression of who they were, and when later in the book one of them wanted to leave the band, I realised that I must have been told two of them were brothers already, but because that hadn’t feature prominently anywhere (after all, the interview is about the band, their tours, and their records, and the questions asked are mostly about the time they spent together), it had not registered with me. Camila is talked about a lot, because many of Billy’s songs are about her, and although she seems to represent an old-fashioned model of femininity, the staying-at-home Mom, she gets involved at crucial points, and she has a more important role than one might think when the story starts. I did feel that the female characters were the strongest, and although that did not make them immediately sympathetic and likeable, I thought they were the more complex and the ones I most enjoyed. I liked Karen (I’m not a musician, but I did feel a connection with her) the keyboard player, as well, and she is, perhaps, my favourite character. And I quite liked Daisy’s friend, Simone, also, although she is mostly portrayed as her friend, rather than being an individual in her own right, and that comes in part from her telling Daisy’s story and her role in it rather than giving us much insight into her own character. Although Daisy marries at some point, Simone is more of a steadying influence for her, like Camila is for Billy, than any of the men she meets and talks about in the book. But I agree, the way the story is told does not make for fully rounded characters, although many of the situations will feel familiar to people who have read a lot of biographies of rock & roll bands.

Some reviewers were disappointed by the ending, that perhaps feels more like a whimper than a bang, but I thought it made perfect sense, and yes, there is something I’ve seen described as a twist, that is perhaps not truly a twist, but it helps join everything together and adds a nice touch.

I am not an expert on music, and not a big follower of bands. I have not been to many concerts, although even with that, it is difficult not to have heard or read about the use of drugs, wild parties, hotel rooms trashed by bands on tour, groupies following bands from city to city, and the paraphernalia around the 1970s world of rock & roll music scene. There is plenty of that here, and also of envies, of fights, of creative differences, of the process of composing, creating, and editing an album, down to the shooting of the cover, that will delight people who really love the period and reading about it. Even I, who am not knowledgeable about it, enjoyed it, particularly learning more about the process of creation, although it might not sound authentic to people who truly know it. The writer gives the different characters (at least the main ones) distinct voices, and the lyrics of the songs, that are also included in full at the end, fit perfectly in with the band and its themes, and it made me keen on reading more of the author’s novels.

There is more than R & R to the book, or perhaps some of the themes seem inherently related to it, like drug addiction, family relations, alcoholism, abortion, fatherhood, bringing up children, the role of men and women in the family, child neglect and abuse… Although some of them are only mentioned in passing, we get a fuller picture of others (Daisy is very young when she leaves her parents and starts visiting bars, taking drugs, and engaging in behaviours that would be considered risky at a much older age, and drug and alcohol addiction and its consequences are discussed in detail), and readers must be cautious if they find those subjects upsetting.

I have talked a bit about the characters and said which my favourites are. In some ways, Billy and Graham are the most sympathetic to begin with. Their father abandon them when they are very young, and they work very hard, are talented, and support each other through thick and thin. However, when Billy becomes addicted to drugs and then gets sober and becomes the head of the band, he puts himself and his family first and is not always likeable (even if creatively he sounds interesting). Daisy, on the other hand, sounds at first like a rich-spoiled girl, but her family pays no attention to her, and she is in fact neglected. She is selfish and egotistical as well, but she has no role models or understanding. I liked her attitude, but not her in particular, at least at first, and her behaviour will be alien to most people (although typical of the image we might have in our head about what a rock star would be like). However, the way the story is told gives us the opportunity to read her later reflections and the way she now sees things and how she evaluates much of what she did at the time. And although I didn’t particularly like the Daisy of the period (she is described as a magnet to everybody who met her, but I never had the feeling I would have liked it if I had known her), I came to appreciate the older Daisy and her take on things.

What did I think of the book? I really enjoyed it. It panders to most of our standard images of what the life of a rock & roll band would have been like at that time, but it gives an insight into parts of the process that I found interesting. It also creates some credible female characters that have made their own decisions and fought their own fights, and in the world of music that is not always easy to find. The way of telling the story worked for me, although I know it won’t work for everybody. I highlighted a lot of the story. I share a few examples here, but I’d recommend possible readers to check a sample and get a sense of the narrative style.

Warren: Let me sum up that early tour for you: I was getting laid, Graham was getting high, Eddie was getting drunk, Karen was getting fed up, Pete was getting on the phone to his girl back home, and Billy was all five, at once.

Camila: I think you have to have faith in people before they earn it. Otherwise it’s not faith, right?

Daisy talking about being cornered by a man called Hank: When you’re in a situation like that, when you have a man looming over you, it’s as if every decision you made to lead to that moment —alone with a man you don’t trust— flashes before your eyes. Something tells me men don’t do that same thing. When they are standing there, threatening a woman, I doubt they count every wrong step they made to become the asshole they are. But they should.

Daisy: I used to care when men called me difficult. I really did. Then I stopped. This way is better.

Billy: And Daisy didn’t actually have confidence. She was always good. Confidence is OK being bad, not being okay being good.

Does it deserve the hype? Well, perhaps not for me, but it’s a good read and I can see why it will captivate some readers more than it did me. Oh, and for those who love audiobooks, I’ve read very good reviews of the audio version, and I understand that there is a full cast of narrators and each character is voiced by a different person, so it is worth considering.

If you are a rock & roll fan and enjoy trips down memory lane, especially to the 1970s, I’d recommend this book. And I hope to explore further novels written by the same author.

Thanks to author, publisher, NetGalley, and especially to all of you for reading. If you’ve enjoyed it, remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep reading and keep smiling!

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Book review Book reviews

#TuesdayBookBlog Saigon Dark by Elka Ray (@ElkaRay) (@crimewavepress) A blend of psychological (noir) thriller with domestic drama, with a conflicted protagonist #Bookreview

Hi all:

I had this book on my list for a while and when I read it I realised it can fit in a category of books that seem to have become more and more popular recently. Those who read my blog regularly might remember our discussion about it (waving at you, Debby!).

Book review. Saigon Dark by Elka Ray
Saigon Dark by Elka Ray

Saigon Dark by Elka Ray

“There’s no way this book can be easily described – well written and fascinating subject matter is only the beginning. It could easily become a huge hit and also has all the hallmarks of a Noir classic.”

— Lissa Pelzer, Author & Crime Critic

A STORY ABOUT FAMILY, BETRAYAL AND BELONGING – AND HOW HARD WE FIGHT TO PROTECT THOSE WE LOVE.

In Saigon, a grief-stricken young American mother switches her dead child for a Vietnamese street kid. Then she returns to the US. Good and bad. Life and death. Some choices aren’t black and white

She remarries and starts to feel safe until she gets a note: ‘I know what you did’.
Can she save her daughter from her dark secret?

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Saigon-Dark-Elka-Ray-ebook/dp/B01M4PZWBX/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Saigon-Dark-Elka-Ray-ebook/dp/B01M4PZWBX/

Author Elka Ray
Author Elka Ray

About the author:

Born in the UK, and raised in Africa and Canada, Elka now lives in Central Vietnam. She’s the author of two novels, a short story collection and three kids’ books that she also illustrated. To learn more about Elka’s upcoming projects, please visit www.elkaray.com

https://www.amazon.com/Elka-Ray/e/B004VRXDM0/

My review:

Thanks to the publishers, Crime Wave, for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This novel is a thriller that takes place within the domestic sphere and one of its unique features is that it is set (mostly) in Vietnam. The main character is a paediatric surgeon, Lily, whose family escaped to the United States when she was a child, and after studying Medicine decided to go back and work there. Although she is a successful professional, her personal life is not a happy one. Her husband, another doctor from a similar background to hers, has left her, and her youngest child, a little girl, suffers from a rare genetic condition, and she does not know how well she will develop. Tragedy strikes; the character seems unable to react rationally due to the pain and makes one disastrous decision after another. We all know that secrets have a way of coming back and biting us, and although Lily is quite lucky, not even she can escape the consequences of her actions, or can she? (I am trying not to reveal any spoilers).

The novel is told, in the first-person, from the point of view of Lily, and as was the case with a recent novel in the same/similar genre I read and reviewed, that might be a problem for some of the readers. It is impossible not to empathise with Lily, and although some of her reactions are bizarre, the author is very good at getting us inside her head and making us understand her disturbed mental state. Perhaps we think we would never do something like that, but we can understand why she does. Personally, I did not sympathise with her (or even like her very much) and at times felt very frustrated with her. I had to agree when one of the other characters told her that she was selfish, blind to other’s needs, and she never thought of anybody else. This is all the more evident considering her privileged existence in contrast to that of the general population, and how much of what happens is a direct result of her actions and her decisions, whilst others are victims of the circumstances with no options to escape. She seems to realise this towards the end, when even her son is more together than her, but all that notwithstanding, the action of the novel is gripping, and it is impossible not to feel curious about what will happen next and wonder if fate and karma will finally catch up with her.

The novel moves at a reasonable pace, at times we seems to be reading a standard domestic drama (about child-rearing and the relationship with her new husband), whilst at others it is an almost pure thriller, and we have blackmailers, red herrings, betrayals, and plenty of suspects. I think those two elements are well-combined and are likely to appeal to fans of both genres, although those who love hard thrillers might take issue with the amount of suspension of disbelief required to accept some of the events in the novel.

The ending is fairly open. Some questions (perhaps the main one) are resolved, but some others are not, and this might be frustrating for readers who prefer everything to be tied up in the end. There is a hint of some insight and growth in the character, but perhaps not enough considering the hard lessons she’s gone through.

There is some violence (although not extreme), serious issues are hinted at (domestic violence, poverty, bullying), and I particularly liked the realistic setting, and the way it depicts Vietnam, Hanoi and Saigon, the big social differences, and the expat scene.

In sum, a blend of psychological (noir) thriller with domestic drama, intriguing and heart-breaking at times, which takes place in an unusual and fascinating setting, recommended to those who don’t mind first-person narration and slightly open endings and who prefer their thrillers with more drama and less emphasis on procedural accuracy.

Thanks to the publishing company and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and please, feel free to like, share, click, review, and above all, keep smiling!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview #THE FEAR by C.L. Taylor (@callytaylor) An intense psychological thriller about a disturbing topic.

Hi all:

Today I bring you a book by a popular author I hadn’t read yet.

Cover of the Fear by C.L.Taylor book review
The Fear by C.L. Taylor

The Fear: The sensational new thriller from the Sunday Times bestseller, now in a brand new look for 2018 by C.L. Taylor

‘Claustrophobic and compelling’ KARIN SLAUGHTER
‘A rollercoaster with multiple twists’ DAILY MAIL
’A million dollar new story from a million selling author’ SARAH PINBOROUGH

Sometimes your first love won’t let you go…

When Lou Wandsworth ran away to France with her teacher Mike Hughes, she thought he was the love of her life. But Mike wasn’t what he seemed and he left her life in pieces.

Now 32, Lou discovers that he is involved with teenager Chloe Meadows. Determined to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself, she returns home to confront him for the damage he’s caused.

But Mike is a predator of the worst kind, and as Lou tries to bring him to justice, it’s clear that she could once again become his prey…

The million copy Sunday Times bestseller returns with a gripping psychological thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat.

Praise for The Fear:

‘A skewering portrait of obsessive love and psychological manipulation, this book gets under the skin from the outset and won’t let you go until you’ve gasped at THAT ending. This is Taylor’s best book yet.’
CJ Cooke (author of I Know My Name)

‘Wow! Such a fast-paced, gripping, tense thriller. My heart was in my mouth at the end. Her best yet!’
Claire Douglas (author of Local Girl Missing)

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fear-sensational-thriller-Sunday-bestseller-ebook/dp/B07566QWH4/

Praise for The Fear:

‘Fans of C.L. Taylor are in for a treat. The Fear is her best yet.’
Clare Mackintosh (author of I Let You Go)

‘Smart, packing a punch to the heart, and dark in all the right places, The Fear has bestseller written all over it.’ Sarah Pinborough

‘A terrifying glimpse into a dark subject. This brilliant book stayed with me long after I finished the last page.’
Cass Green (author of In a Cottage in a Wood)

‘A highly original and timely tale that kept me utterly enthralled and entertained from beginning to end.’
Liz Nugent (author of Unravelling Oliver)

‘A total corker! Twisted, unbearably tense and a shock ending.’
CJ Tudor (author of The Chalk Man)

‘When you finish a book and your lungs hurt because you’ve FORGOTTEN TO BREATHE.’
Miranda Dickinson

‘Dark and disturbing. This is a book I will remember for a long time.’
Rachel Abbott

‘A gripping and disturbing psychological thriller, The Fear is as addictive as it is dark.’
Lucy Clarke

Tense, twisty, terrifying―with one of the best premises I’ve read in ages.’
Julie Cohen

‘I lost my entire weekend to it! What an absolutely cracking read…pacy, well written, and anxiety inducing.’
Lisa Hall

‘The Fear is a compulsive read, that forces the reader to consider just how far they would go to protect themselves and those around them. I could not put this book down!’
Emma Kavanagh

‘It’s a close call as the bar’s set so high but this has to be C.L. Taylor’s best yet. SO entertaining, high on the shock-factor and yet totally ‘real’.’
Caz Frear

‘The Fear covers very dark territory, but it is handled realistically and sensitively through her excellent writing…Fantastically plotted and perfectly paced, this dark thriller gets a standing ovation from me.’ S.J.I. Holliday

‘A disturbing and all too real story that tests your own morals as you quickly flick through the pages. Dark, claustrophobic realism – I was completed gripped.’ Mel Sherratt

Author C.L. Taylor Book review The Fear
Author C.L. Taylor

About the Author

C.L. Taylor is the Sunday Times bestselling author of five gripping, stand-alone psychological thrillers: THE ACCIDENT, THE LIE, THE MISSING, THE ESCAPE and THE FEAR. Her books have sold in excess of a million copies, been number one on Amazon Kindle, Kobo, iBooks and Google Play and have been translated into over 20 languages. THE ESCAPE won the Dead Good Books ‘Hidden Depths’ award for the Most Unreliable Narrator and THE LIE has been optioned for TV by The Forge who produced National Treasure featuring Robbie Coltrane.

Cally Taylor was born in Worcester and spent her early years living in various army camps in the UK and Germany. She studied Psychology at the University of Northumbria and went on forge a career in instructional design and e-Learning before leaving to write full time in 2014.

She started writing short stories in 2005 and was published widely in literary and women’s magazines. She also won several short story competitions. In 2009 and 2011 her romantic comedy novels (as Cally Taylor) were published by Orion and translated into fourteen languages. HEAVEN CAN WAIT was a bestseller in Hungary and China and HOME FOR CHRISTMAS was made into a feature film by JumpStart Productions. Whilst on maternity leave with her son Cally had an idea for a psychological thriller and turned to crime. She has also written a Young Adult thriller, THE TREATMENT, which was published by HarperCollins HQ.

C.L. Taylor lives in Bristol with her partner and young son.

Sign up to join the CL Taylor Book Club for access to news, updates, and information that isn’t available on the web, as well as exclusive newsletter-only competitions and giveaways and the books that CL Taylor thinks will be the next big thing. You will also receive THE LODGER for free when you sign up:

http://www.callytaylor.co.uk/cltaylorbookclub.html

www.cltaylorauthor.com

www.twitter.com/callytaylor

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https://www.amazon.co.uk/C.L.-Taylor/e/B00ICKTWPE/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to the Publishers (Avon) for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

After reading this novel, which is a page-turner and moves at a fast pace, I checked the reviews, and it is one of these odd cases when I agreed both with the positive and with the negative reviews about the book. Some of them compared it to other novels by C.L. Taylor, an author who has a big following (this novel is a bestseller Amazon UK), but as I had not read anything by her before, I cannot comment on that. But I agreed with some of the other opinions.

The novel revolves around three females, two grown women, and a thirteen-year-old girl. In fact, they are three generations, with Wendy the oldest and Chloe the youngest. We follow the points of view of the three women for most of the novel, although there is more of the story told from Lou’s point of view. Her part of the story is narrated in the first person, while the rest are in the third person, and, at least at the beginning, she is the most active of the three. Due to her father’s death she has to go back to the town where she grew up, to deal with her father’s house, and her past comes back to haunt her, both figuratively and literally, when she sees the man who had abused her (Mike) when she was a teenager and worries that he is at it again. The three women have been affected by what Mike did, and the novel is very good at focusing on the emotions of the characters, that go from love to denial, and to absolute fear. Lou’s account is interspersed with fragments from her diary as a teenager, where we get to fully understand the background of the story and how dangerous this man truly is. The combination of charm, manipulation, and his skill at picking up girls lacking in confidence and easy targets for his advances is well portrayed. The subject matter reminded me of an Australian novel I’ve really enjoyed, The Silent Kookaburra (you can check my review here).

The subject remains as relevant (if not more) as ever, unfortunately, and this book offers a good perspective of the psychological damage such abuse can have, not only on the direct victims (that might never get over it) but also on those around them (family, wives, friends…). Should they have believed the abuser’s excuses? Are they guilty by association? What is their responsibility? The book is set in the UK and it refers specifically to changes in Criminal Law (like the introduction of the sex offenders register) but although it does not discuss those issues in detail, I don’t think that would cause difficulty to readers from other places.

The three characters fall (or have fallen) prey to Mike and find themselves in very vulnerable positions. It is impossible not to wonder what one would do faced with their dilemma, particularly that of Lou. Her impulsive actions are extreme and I agree with the readers who have commented that at times the book is over the top, although Lou’s doubts, her continuous hesitation, and her fear feel real. She is not alone in being pushed to the edge, and this is a book where characters do not play safe, rather the opposite.

The writing is fluid, and brings to life the three female characters, whose only connection is through Mike, perhaps with more immediacy in the case of Lou —this is helped by the first person narration and her diary— but it manages to make us empathise and feel for the three by the end of the story. And no, not all of them are likeable, to begin with.  I know some readers worry about head-hopping, but each chapter states clearly which character’s point of view we are following and there’s no possible confusion. Although there are brief moments of relief when things seem to be about to take a turn for the better, this is only to lure us into a false sense of security, and the tension and the pressure keep increasing and so does the pace. The ending is satisfying and will have most readers cheering on.

If you’re wondering what are the negative comments I agreed with, well, I was not necessarily talking about the degree of suspension of disbelief (yes, readers will need a fair deal of this, but as we are engaged with the characters and their plight, this is not difficult to maintain), but about some anachronisms, some details that seemed incongruent to the time when the story is set. I felt that the emphasis on Facebook messages, fake accounts, hacking, etc. seemed excessive for a story set in 2007. Other readers, who decided to research in more detail, discovered that indeed, some of the things mentioned, Apps, songs, etc., were not available yet. One reader noted that she could not understand why the story wasn’t set in the present, as that would have avoided these issues, but another pointed out that some aspects of the plot would only make sense if the story was set up in the recent past (including some of the legal issues). I wonder (as a writer) if the story was originally set in the present but somebody spotted the plot issues and came up with the solution of moving it back in time (without changing some of the modern references).

This novel does a good job of creating believable characters and making readers think about the plight of the victims of paedophiles. Although it might be less satisfactory to die-hard lovers of police procedural books, I think it is difficult to read it without empathising with the female characters and having to pause to reflect on this serious issue. And the questions at the end will further engage book club readers and encourage meaningful discussion. I don’t think this will be the last novel by C.L. Taylor I’ll read and I can easily understand why she is popular. (Ah, and she calls book bloggers book fairies. I like that!)

Thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, read, REVIEW and keep smiling!

[amazon_link asins=’0008118078,B01MS3CW8P,1492602655,1402294182,0007540035,0008240566,B01N5P2FOT’ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’wwwauthortran-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’1f692177-3458-11e8-bd2c-533c39c321cc’]

 

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE CHALK MAN by C. J. Tudor (@cjtudor ‏) A morally ambiguous thriller and a story of tainted friendships that will appeal to readers of King’s It. #crimefiction

Hi all:

I read this book a little while back but I waited until it was published (it was due for publication on the 11th January 2018, so I hope it’s now available) to share it, so you wouldn’t have to wait to read it if you felt as intrigued by it as I was. Well, I won’t make you wait any longer:

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor
The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

The Chalk Man: A Novel by C. J. Tudor

A riveting and relentlessly compelling psychological suspense debut that weaves a mystery about a childhood game gone dangerously awry, and will keep readers guessing right up to the shocking ending

In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code: little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same.
In 2016, Eddie is fully grown, and thinks he’s put his past behind him. But then he gets a letter in the mail, containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his friends got the same message, they think it could be a prank . . . until one of them turns up dead.
That’s when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.
Expertly alternating between flashbacks and the present day, The Chalk Man is the very best kind of suspense novel, one where every character is wonderfully fleshed out and compelling, where every mystery has a satisfying payoff, and where the twists will shock even the savviest reader.

Preorder THE book of 2018. The Chalk Man is coming . . .

None of us ever agreed on the exact beginning.

Was it when we started drawing the chalk figures, or when they started to appear on their own?

Was it the terrible accident?

Or when they found the first body?

****

What authors are saying about The Chalk Man

 

‘[I] haven’t had a sleepless night due to a book for a long time. The Chalk Man changed that. Many congrats C. J. Tudor’ Fiona Barton, bestselling author of The Widow

‘What a great book. A twisty thriller and downright creepy ending. 5 stars’ Sarah Pinborough, the bestselling author of Behind Her Eyes

‘Tense, skillful storytelling’ Ali Land, bestselling author of Good Me Bad Me

‘Absolutely brilliant. I was expecting a creepy horror story that I’d have to read with all the lights on but this book is so much more than that – it’s witty, insightful, clever, thoughtful, mysterious, gripping, nostalgic and utterly compelling. Publishers often talk about “an exciting new voice in fiction” and I genuinely think C. J. Tudor is going to be huge. This book has bestseller written all over it and if it doesn’t go to number one I will eat my crime writing hat’ C. L. Taylor, bestselling author ofThe Missing

‘With its driving plot and sensitive evocation of friendship and loneliness, The Chalk Man is an utterly gripping read, with an ending that will make the hairs on the back of your neck bristle’ Karen Perry, bestselling author of Can You Keep a Secret?

‘What an amazing debut! Such an ingenious, original idea. I was engrossed from the very first page. I loved how the 1986 and present day storylines weaved so skilfully together to create that unforgettable and unexpected ending. Compelling, taut and so very, very chilling. This book will haunt you!’ Claire Douglas, bestselling author of Last Seen Alive

‘It’s been a while since I’ve read such an impressive debut.The pace was perfectly judged, the characters superbly drawn and there’s a creeping sense of unease that starts with the prologue and grows throughout the book. And then that ending! It feels so fresh and deserves to be a huge success’ James Oswald, bestselling author of theInspector McLean series

‘Impossible to put down, cleverly constructed and executed’ Ragnar Jonasson, author of the bestselling DarkIceland series

‘Finished reading The Chalk Man by C.J Tudor last night. What a book! Enjoyed every minute of it.A total banger!’ Amy Lloyd, author of The Innocent Wife

‘Kept me up until five in the morning. Wonderfully written. I loved it!’ Kimberley Chambers, bestselling author of Backstabber

“The grip the past has on the present reveals itself in ever more sinister and macabre ways in this utterly original and relentlessly compelling psychological thriller. The Chalk Man kept me guessing all the way to the end” Fiona Neil, bestselling author of The Betrayals

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Chalk-Man-C-J-Tudor-ebook/dp/B06XXSVQ9T/

https://www.amazon.com/Chalk-Man-C-J-Tudor-ebook/dp/B06XXSVQ9T/

Author C.J. Tudor
Author C.J. Tudor

About the author

C. J. Tudor was born in Salisbury and grew up in Nottingham, where she still lives with her partner and young daughter.

She left school at sixteen and has had a variety of jobs over the years, including trainee reporter, radio scriptwriter, shop assistant, ad agency copywriter and voiceover.

In the early nineties, she fell into a job as a television presenter for a show on Channel 4 called Moviewatch. Although a terrible presenter, she got to interview acting legends such as Sigourney Weaver, Michael Douglas, Emma Thompson and Robin Williams. She also annoyed Tim Robbins by asking a question about Susan Sarandon’s breasts and was extremely flattered when Robert Downey Junior showed her his chest.

While writing the Chalk Man she ran a dog-walking business, walking over twenty dogs a week as well as looking after her little girl.

She’s been writing since she was a child but only knuckled down to it properly in her thirties. Her English teacher once told her that if she ‘did not become Prime Minister or a best-selling author’ he would be ‘very disappointed.’

The Chalk Man was inspired by a tub of chalks a friend bought for her daughter’s second birthday. One afternoon they drew chalk figures all over the driveway. Later that night she opened the back door to be confronted by weird stick men everywhere. In the dark, they looked incredibly sinister. She called to her partner: ‘These chalk men look really creepy in the dark . . .’

She is never knowingly over-dressed. She has never owned a handbag and the last time she wore heels (twelve years ago) she broke a tooth.

She loves The Killers, Foo Fighters and Frank Turner. Her favourite venue is Rock City.

Her favourite films are Ghostbusters and The Lost Boys. Her favourite authors are Stephen King, Michael Marshall and Harlan Coben.

She is SO glad she was a teenager in the eighties.

She firmly believes that there are no finer meals than takeaway pizza and champagne, or chips with curry sauce after a night out.

Everyone calls her Caz.

https://www.amazon.com/C.-J.-Tudor/e/B074WBT1GL/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin UK for offering me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

This story, told in two different time frames by Eddie Adams (known as Eddie Munster as a child, because all the friends had nicknames and somehow the Munsters and the Adams became conflated into one…), has all the elements fans of mysteries and thrillers love. Strange characters, plenty of secrets, red herrings and false clues, lies, many suspects, a slightly odd setting, bizarre murders, strange relationships… A murder involving bizarre circumstances (a chopped-up body with a missing head, strange chalk drawings…) took place in a small and picturesque UK city (it sounds small enough to be a town, but as it has a cathedral, it is a city) in 1986 (although there were other strange things that happened at the time too, coincidental or not), and became known as the Chalk-Man murder. Thirty years later someone starts asking questions and stirring things up. Eddie narrates, in the first-person, the events, including his memories of what happened when he was a teenager and also telling us what is happening now. Those of you who read my blog know I have a thing for unreliable narrators, and, well, Eddie is a pretty good one. He is an English high school teacher and seems fairly reliable and factual in his account, and he does a great job of making us feel the emotions and showing us (rather than telling us) the events; although slowly he starts revealing things about himself that make him less standard and boring, and slightly more intriguing. Eddie does not have all the information (it seems that the friends kept plenty of things from each other as children), and sometimes he is unreliable because of the effect of alcohol, and possibly his mental state (his father suffered early dementia and he is concerned that he might be going down the same path). But there are other things at play, although we don’t fully get to know them until the very end.

The story reminded me of Stephen King’s It, most of all because of the two time-frames and of the story of the children’s friendship, although the horror element is not quite as strong (but there are possible ghosts and other mysterious things at play), and the friends and their friendship is more suspect and less open. In some ways, the depiction of the friend’s relationship, and how it changes over time, is more realistic. Of course, here the story is told from Eddie’s point of view, and we share in his likes and dislikes, that are strongly coloured by the events and his personal opinions. The main characters are realistically portrayed (both from a child’s perspective and later from an adult one), complex, and none of them are totally good, or 100% likeable, but they are sympathetic and not intentionally bad or mean (apart from a couple of secondary characters but then… there is a murderer at work). Morality is ambiguous at best, and people do questionable things for reasons that seem fully justified to them at the time, or act without thinking of the consequences with tragic results. I am not sure I felt personally engaged with any of the characters (perhaps because of Eddie’s own doubts), but I liked the dubious nature of the narration, and the fact that there were so many unknowns, so many gaps, and that we follow the process of discovery up-close, although there are things the main character knows that are only revealed very late in the game (although some he seems to have buried and tried hard to forget). The parents, and secondary characters, even when only briefly mentioned, serve the purpose well, add a layer of complexity to the story and are consistent throughout the narration.

The mystery had me engaged, and the pieces fit all together well, even when some of them are not truly part of the puzzle. I can’t say I guessed what had happened, although I was suspicious of everyone and, let’s say I had good reason to be. I liked the ending, not only the resolution of the mystery but what happens to Eddie. If you read it, you’ll know what I mean.

The writing is fluid, it gives the narrator a credible voice, it gets the reader under the character’s skin, and it creates a great sense of place and an eerie atmosphere that will keep readers on alert. The story deals with serious subjects, including child abuse, bullying (and sexual abuse), dementia, and although it is not the most graphically violent story I have read, it does contain vivid descriptions of bodies and crime scenes, and it definitely not a cozy mystery and not for the squeamish reader.

A great new writer, with a very strong voice and great ability to write psychological thrillers, and one I hope to read many more novels by.

Thanks very much to Penguin, NetGalley and the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and of course, REVIEW!

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