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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog MICHEL: FALLEN ANGEL OF PARIS by Hans M Hirschi (@Hans_Hirschi) A coming of age story, a love story, and a story of another pandemic that changed everything #LGTBI

Hi all:

Today I review a novel by an author who never fails to impress me (and to make me cry as well), one linked to the first of his novels I ever read.

Michel: Fallen Angel of Paris by Hans M Hirschi

Michel: Fallen Angel of Paris by Hans M Hirschi

Preparing to evacuate from an approaching hurricane, Haakon Chitragar stumbles upon the diary of his first love, Michel, who died from AIDS in his arms in November of 1986. Diary in hands, Haakon embarks on a journey back in time, to learn about Michel’s life, his difficult and painful path to accepting his true self, despite pressure from family, church, and society.

Michel – Fallen Angel of Paris is the story of one young man, one of countless victims of a pandemic still claiming lives every day, almost forty years after his death on a park bench in Paris. It’s also a story about the most unlikely of friendships, connections across time and space, acceptance, redemption, and learning to love and to be loved for who you are.

Michel – Fallen Angel of Paris is based on a character from The Fallen Angels of Karnataka. While both stories are intertwined, Michel can be read as a stand-alone novel.


Michel – Fallen Angel of Paris is a masterpiece. Brilliantly written, it tells a riveting, heartfelt story that shows that, in spite of all the crises (present and pre-existing) there is still reason for hope. Michel is an awe-inspiring and memorable read, impossible to put down.”

– Alina Oswald, Arts Editor, A&U Magazine

https://www.amazon.com/Michel-Fallen-Angel-Hans-Hirschi-ebook/dp/B09VCJ1GLY/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Michel-Fallen-Angel-of-Paris/dp/B09VCJ1GLY/

https://www.amazon.es/Michel-Fallen-Angel-Paris-English-ebook/dp/B09VCJ1GLY/

Author Hans M Hirschi

About the author:

Hans M Hirschi has been writing stories ever since he was a child. Adulthood and the demands of corporate life put an end to his fictional writing for over twenty years. A global executive in training and channel development, Hans has traveled the world extensively and published a couple of non-fictional titles on learning and management.

The birth of his son and the subsequent parental leave provided him with the opportunity to once again unleash his creative writing, writing feel-good stories you’ll remember.

Having little influence over his brain’s creative workings, he simply indulges it and goes with the flow. However, the deep passion for a better world, for love and tolerance are a read thread throughout both his creative and non-fictional work.

Hans lives with his husband, son, and pets on a small island off the west coast of Sweden. English isn’t his first or even second language. It’s his seventh!

Contact Hans through his website at http://www.hirschi.se.

https://www.amazon.com/Hans-M-Hirschi/e/B00E0DP0EE/

My review:

I was provided with an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

I have been following Hans M Hirschi’s career for a few years now, and he is one of a group of authors whose books I immediately add to my list (and as close to the top as I can), as soon as I know they’ve published something new. I don’t hesitate. I know I’m going to get a book that will touch my heart, make me think, and will often deal with uncomfortable and/or controversial subjects (his adult books are never “light and easy” reads, but they are well worth the emotional challenge), whose characters I’ll get to know and love (or hate, sometimes), and a story that I will not forget. And, although the author explains that he had a pretty tough time of writing this book, and the whole process took him longer than usual, the results are up to his usual standards, if not better.

This book held another hook for me, as the main character had appeared in one of the author’s previous novels, The Fallen Angels of Karnataka, the first I had read by him, and one where I had been left hoping to know more about the background and the previous story of some of the characters. I agree with the author, though, that this book could be read and enjoyed without having read the previous novel, as the story told here is complete and fairly independent, and there is sufficient information provided to understand the few references to that book. And those who have read it, even if it was a long time ago, will enjoy catching up with some of the characters and getting a fuller understanding of the build-up to the events of that book.

This is a coming-of-age story. Perhaps because the future looks uncertain and dangerous and he is facing a crisis; when Haakon comes across his first love’s diary, he decides to read it. He had only read the bits related to their relationship, but they hadn’t known each other long, and there was much he didn’t know. We hear about Michel, a young boy of 12 when he gets his diary, living in Rennes. We learn about his family, his very religious (Roman Catholic) mother, and his father, very concerned about appearances. They used to live in St. Malo but when his father couldn’t carry on being a fisherman, they had to move somewhere with more opportunities. The family is never well off, and they struggle to make ends meet, although they don’t have any serious problems. As an only child, his mother in particular is always concerned about him and insists that he help at mass and that he meet the Monseigneur, for spiritual guidance. If you suspect the worst… Well, you’d be right. Michel doesn’t realise until many years later what had really happened, but he discovers he is gay, at a time when that was not easily accepted, thanks to some unlikely friends. He is lucky and finds support in an ersatz family (his real parents are not so understanding), although he is also a victim of hate crimes, and abuse, and has to live through pretty traumatic experiences. When things seem to be looking up, an illness that changed everything and took the lives of so many, strikes him down, allowing him only the briefest of glimpses at happiness. Haakon realises that there are many unanswered questions and important people in Michel’s life who deserve closure as much as he does. And he decides to put things to rights.

The novel explores issues like sexual identity, growing up in a small town and being “different”, religious faith and religious intolerance, traditional families and intergenerational conflict, LGTBI culture in the 1970s and 80s, AIDS, guilt, grief, acceptance, second chances, happiness, charity, sex abuse, intolerance and hate crimes, and friendship and love…

We get some of the story directly from Michel’s pen, but most of it is mediated through Haakon, and that adds a layer of interpretation and also his emotional reaction to what he reads. He learns many things he didn’t know about Michel, and there is also his own life and the present time to be taken care of. Michel’s story covers from 1976 (well, from 1964 when he was born) until 1986; there are also some small sections of present-day narration at the beginning and in the middle of the book, and once Haakon has finished reading the diary, the final section follows him and his husband in their trip to France, in the present.

I’ve particularly liked the way the story is told, as it allows us to see what it must have been like for Michel at the time, and also provides us with the perspective of somebody who is familiar with some of the issues and with bits of the story, but not all. There are heart-wrenching moments, moments that will horrify and upset many readers (be warned), but Haakon is exactly as Michel describes him: non-judgmental, kind, and understanding. Michel is harsher on himself and his behaviour than Haakon could ever be, and despite the hard and painful moments, the love story between the two is very moving. This novel also reflects a recent historical period, one that perhaps the younger readers will not be familiar with, but many of us remember what happened when the AIDS epidemic first appeared, and the panic, paranoia, and terrible consequences it had. There was a before and an after AIDS, and it is important to remember that it hasn’t gone away.

The author’s writing reflects perfectly the events, with the right amount of description to make the places, the people, and the era come alive before our eyes, and despite how difficult some parts of the story are, there are also extremely beautiful passages and scenes that will make a strong impression in all readers.

There is nothing I didn’t like about the story. The ending is not surprising, but that is not what the book is about. Hirschi has been called “the queen of unconventional happy endings” and he lives up to that title here as well. Yes, the story’s ending is not “happy, happy” but it is a good ending, everything considered. And it is a hopeful ending as well.

As usual, I recommend readers to check a sample of the book to make sure that the writing style will suit their taste, and, I have already warned of the type of content people can find here. As you will imagine, there is also sex in the novel. Although this is neither erotica nor pornography, and there are very few explicit scenes, readers take that into account when choosing to read this story.

If you enjoy good writing, are interested in the historical period, are partial to first-love stories, and are unlikely to be disturbed by an open and honest look at the coming of age story of a young gay man growing up in a small French town in the 1980s, you should read this book. If you’ve never read one of Hans M Hirschi’s novels, you’ll discover a new author to add to your favourites, and if you’ve read The Fallen Angels of Karnataka, you are in for a special treat.

Thanks to the author for his novel, thanks to all of you for reading, liking, sharing, commenting, and don’t forget to keep safe and keep smiling. 

 

Categories
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!

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog BLIND TURN by Cara Sue Achterberg (@carasueachterberg) A wonderful mother-daughter relationship were everybody learns #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you a book by an author I’ve read and loved before. I’m slightly ahead of its publication date (it is due on the 7th of January 2021), but I thought you might appreciate the chance of getting ahead and having some suitable reading ready for the beginning of the year (and let’s hope it helps start the year on a better note). And without further ado…

Blind Turn by Cara Sue Achterberg

Blind Turn by Cara Sue Achterberg

In the aftermath of a fatal texting and driving accident, a mother and daughter must come to terms with the real meaning of forgiveness.

Liz Johnson single-handedly raised an exemplary daughter. Jessica is an honor-student, track star, and all-around good kid. So how could that same teenager be responsible for the death of the high school’s beloved football coach? This is Texas, where high school football ranks right up there with God, so while the legal battle wages, the public deals its own verdict.

Desperate for help, Liz turns to a lawyer whose affection she once rejected and attempts to play nice with her ex-husband. Jessica faces her angry peers and her own demons as she awaits a possible prison sentence for an accident she doesn’t remember.

A tragic, emotional, ultimately uplifting story, Blind Turn is a natural book club pick.

https://www.amazon.com/Blind-Turn-Cara-Sue-Achterberg-ebook/dp/B08LSLSZZF/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Blind-Turn-Cara-Sue-Achterberg-ebook/dp/B08LSLSZZF/

https://www.amazon.es/Blind-Turn-Cara-Sue-Achterberg-ebook/dp/B08LSLSZZF/

Author Cara Sue Achterberg

About the author:

Cara Sue Achterberg is a writer, blogger, and shelter dog advocate who lives in New Freedom, Pennsylvania and Bentonville, Virginia.

She is the author of four novels, two memoirs (‘dog-oirs’), and a handbook/memoir of the organic life.

Cara has fostered over 180 dogs for the nonprofit all-breed rescue organization, Operation Paws for Homes and writes a blog about her experiences (AnotherGoodDog.org), and she is the co-founder of Who Will Let the Dogs Out (WhoWillLettheDogsOut.org), a non-profit initiative whose mission is to raise awareness and resources for shelter dogs.

Her small hillside farm in PA is home to a shuffling cast of foster dogs and foster kittens, her two dogs Gracie and Fanny, two horses, a barn cat named Tonks, and plenty of chickens. Cara travels to the mountains of Virginia every chance she gets. Links to all of her blogs, pictures of her foster dogs and more information can be found at CaraWrites.com.

twitter: @caraachterberg
instagram: @carasueachterberg
Facebook: @carasueachterberg

https://www.amazon.com/Cara-Sue-Achterberg/e/B00PYVVB5S

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.

I read and reviewed a novel by the same author, Practicing Normal, over three years ago, but I enjoyed it so much, and it made such an impact that I requested this one straight away. (You can check my review here). The author has been busy with other projects and has published several non-fiction titles in the meantime, but I can say that her new novel was worth the wait.

The book description gives an idea of the bare bones of the story, which is not very complicated, at least on the face of it. The novel follows the aftermath of a terrible accident, although perhaps not a totally ‘accidental’ accident, as the girl driving, Jess, was ‘allegedly’ texting while driving. The girl, who suffers a concussion, can’t remember anything about the accident, but her friend Sheila, who was with her in the car, has plenty to say. The victim is a well-known town coach and a friend and mentor of the girl’s father. Let’s say there’s not much love lost for the girl and her family in the town (Jefferson, Texas) after that happens. The novel falls into the categories of family drama (or women’s stories, as the story is told by the two women, Liz, the mother, and Jess, her daughter, in the first-person) as well as a coming of age story. Jess is only sixteen when the accident happens, and she grows up considerably during the next few months, while she discovers who her real friends are, reorders her priorities, gains a new appreciation for both her parents, learns about guilt, and more than anything, about forgiveness. She is not the only one who grows up in the process, and her mother also learns a lot about herself and about those around her.

I’ve mentioned some of the themes discussed in the book, and there are others: disappointed expectations, second chances, the risks of texting and driving (of course), parenting, split-up families, the nature of guilt and forgiveness, the way all lives are interconnected and all actions have consequences, unplanned parenthood, looking after the elderly (especially our parents)… This is not a novel full of secrets and twists, devious characters, and bizarre motives, but rather one that we could imagine happening to our own relatives and/or friends (or ourselves). That is one of its strengths. The plot does not require any suspension of disbelief (or not much. At times, I wondered if in real life things wouldn’t have got even more difficult for those involved, and especially some of the male characters seem very understanding and forgiving, although that is refreshing), and as the book is not heavy on details or descriptions, it is even easier to imagine its scenario taking place around us.

I liked all (or most) of the characters. Although I have little in common with Liz or Jess, I found them both easy to empathise with. They are not perfect but are fundamentally good people trying to get on, and they love each other deeply, though at times it might not be that evident even to themselves. The rest of the characters are also pretty decent despite their flaws, and this is not a book where good and evil are clearly separated. Sometimes a mistake can have terrible consequences, and sometimes good people can do terrible things. If I had to choose some of my favourites, I quite liked Katie, Liz’s sister; her friend Avery; their neighbour, Dylan; Ellen, the counsellor; and Fish, a boy Jess’s father knows. Both of their love interests are endearing, although at times they appear a touch too perfect (but things happen that qualify that impression), and even the characters whose behaviour is not exemplary are not despicable. Through the main characters’ narrations, we get to share in their doubts, hesitations, fears, defense-mechanisms, disappointments, expectations, hopes, guilt feelings; and it’s impossible not to wonder what we’d do in their place. I have no children, but I could easily imagine what Liz might feel like, and as somebody who’s driven for years and has been lucky enough not to be involved in any serious accidents (none involving injuries), Jess’s plight was instantly recognisable. Their thoughts and their emotions felt true, and the way they behave and eventually grow suits perfectly the kind of human beings they are.

The use of the first-person narration by the two main female characters works well, as we get both sides of the story, with access to more background into the changes and the actions of each character than the other has, and it also provides us with some distance from each woman and an outsider perspective on them, and we come to realise that they are more alike than they think. The author is both skilled and thoughtful enough to avoid common-places, and she does not give her characters an easy way out. They have to work through their issues and earn the hard lessons they learn. Saying that, I loved the ending that manages to be both, open and hopeful.

The writing flows easily, and although the novel is not full of action or a page-turner in the standard sense, there are very emotional moments. We become so involved in the lives of the characters that it’s difficult to put the book down, as we care too much for them to rest until we know what happens. I read a review written by somebody from Jefferson, Texas, who felt somewhat disappointed because she had expected to recognise some of the landmarks, so beware if you have similar expectations. On the other hand, I got a good sense of what it felt like to live there (or at least in the Jefferson of the novel) and to know the characters personally, and that worked perfectly well for me.

I thought I’d share a few of the passages I highlighted (although, remember mine was an ARC copy, so there might be some slight changes in the final version):

Why does forgiveness require a sacrifice? That piece of Christianity never made sense to me. That sounds more like making a deal than offering forgiveness.

I am the roadrunner, running in thin air, moments from smacking into reality.

Sometimes it feels like I’m in a dystopian novel being controlled by a cosmic author who makes the characters do things no one would ever dream they would do —especially themselves.

I am different too. I am finished withholding forgiveness and clinging to my anger and fear like some kind of sick armor to shield my heart.

I recommend this novel to readers who love realistic/plausible coming-of-age stories and family dramas that don’t fall into the trap of trying to make everything right or easy for the characters while at the same time avoiding unnecessary twists used simply for effect. If you’re looking for an inspiring story you can connect with and characters you’d love to have as neighbours or friends, this is your book. There is heartache, tears, and also a process of growth and lessons to be learned, and you’ll feel better for having read it. And what more can we ask for! (Oh, I almost forgot! There are dogs as well!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#TuesdayBookBlog #Bookreview SON OF A PREACHER MAN by Karen M. Cox (@KarenMCox1932) A #coming of age story full of atmosphere and a nostalgic look at a more innocent era#giveaway and guest post.

Hi all:

I’m repeating author today and I bring you a book that’s definitely not of this time although the book was just published. I became aware of this book thanks to Rosie Amber and her fantastic Book Team Review (you must check her out if you haven’t yet, here). Karen M. Cox has kindly offered readers the opportunity to enter a giveaway (and note, this is an international giveaway, readers, so not excuse not to have a go) and after reading her book I was pretty intrigued by how she felt about writing from a male perspective, and she has sent me a guest post that will be of interest to readers and writers alike. But first, let me tell you about the book:

Cover reveal Son of a Preacher Man by Karen M. Cox
Son of a Preacher Man by Karen M. Cox

Son Of A Preacher Man by Karen M Cox

“I forget that you’re a fella sometimes.”

“Gee, thanks.”

I never forgot that she was a girl. Not for one second…

  1. The long, hot Southern summer gently bakes the small town of Orchard Hill. Billy Ray Davenport, aspiring physician and only son of an indomitable traveling minister, is a young man with a plan. Handsome, principled, and keenly observant, he arrives in town to lodge with a local family. He never bargained for Lizzie Quinlan—a complex, kindred spirit who is beautiful, compassionate, and scorned by the townsfolk. Could a girl with a reputation be different than she seems? With her quirky wisdom and a spine of steel hidden beneath an effortless sensuality, Lizzie is about to change Billy Ray’s life—and his heart—forever.

A realistic look at first love, told by an idealist, Son of a Preacher Man is a heartwarming coming of age tale set in a simpler time.

Links:

Son of a Preacher Man is available in Kindle, Apple, Barnes&Noble, Kobo versions, and from other ebook distributors. Print version will be out soon.

Universal Link: https://books2read.com/links/ubl/bwYdqe

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07DNHH1N1

Son of a Preacher Man Book Launch Giveaway

Enter for a chance to win an ebook copy of one of my backlist titles (1932, Find Wonder in All Things, Undeceived, I Could Write a Book, or The Journey Home(novella) AND a $10 Amazon Gift Card. Three winners will be randomly selected on 7/25/18. This giveaway is international.

Giveaway Link: https://kingsumo.com/g/f6jjaf/son-of-a-preacher-man-launch-giveaway

Author Karen M. Cox
Author Karen M. Cox

About the author:

Karen M Cox is an award-winning author of four full-length novels accented with romance and history: “1932”, “Find Wonder in All Things”, “Undeceived”, and “I Could Write a Book”, and an e-book companion novella to “1932” called “The Journey Home”. She has also contributed stories to three anthologies: “Northanger Revisited 2015”, in “Sun-Kissed: Effusions of Summer”; “I, Darcy”, in “The Darcy Monologues”, and “An Honest Man” in “Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s Rakes and Gentlemen Rogues”. She has two upcoming releases: “Son of a Preacher Man” in July, 2018, and a contribution to the anthology “Rational Creatures” (Fall, 2018).
Karen was born in Everett WA, which was the result of coming into the world as the daughter of a United States Air Force Officer. She had a nomadic childhood, with stints in North Dakota, Tennessee and New York State before finally settling in her family’s home state of Kentucky at the age of eleven. She lives in a quiet little town with her husband, where she works as a pediatric speech pathologist, encourages her children, and spoils her granddaughter.
Channeling Jane Austen’s Emma, Karen has let a plethora of interests lead her to begin many hobbies and projects she doesn’t quite finish, but she aspires to be a great reader and an excellent walker – like Elizabeth Bennet.
Connect with Karen:

www.karenmcox.com

www.karenmcoxauthor.wordpress.com

https://www.instagram.com/karenmcox1932/

https://twitter.com/KarenMCox1932

https://www.facebook.com/karenmcox1932

https://karenmcox.tumblr.com/

https://www.pinterest.com/karenmc1932/

My review:

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

Recently, I read and reviewed one of Karen M. Cox’s novels I Could Write a Book (you can read the review here) and as she was one of the authors who’d also taken part in one of my favourite recent anthologies (Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues, check that review here), when I heard she was going to publish a new book and read the description, I had to check it out.

In contrast with the other two books, this book is not a Regency novel (it takes place in the South of the USA in the late 1950s –early 1960s), and it is not related to Jane Austen (although, like her novels, is excellent at reflecting the social mores of the place and the era). It is the story, narrated in the first person, of Billy Ray Davenport, a young man with a tragedy in his past (he lost his mother to a terrible accident), whose father is a travelling preacher. He used to spend his summers travelling with him (he went to school and stayed at his aunt’s the rest of the year), but when we meet him, just before he goes to medical school, he is due to spend a few weeks with a doctor, friend of the family. He hopes to gain medical knowledge and get a taste of what his future will be like. This summer will prove momentous for Billy Ray, who will learn much more about the world, small-town society, girls, and himself than he had known until then. What he experiences there will make him question some of his strong-held beliefs and what he is truly made of.

This novel captures beautifully the everyday life in a small-town, where rumours and whispers can destroy somebody’s reputation (especially a young girl’s), where everybody knows everybody else and there is nothing private and nowhere to hide.  Marlene, the daughter of the doctor Billy Ray is working with, takes a shine to him and proves to be very spiteful, badmouthing and spreading rumours about another girl, Lizzie. Lizzie is like a modern scarlet woman, and her behaviour repels and attracts Billy Ray in equal measure, putting his beliefs about proper behaviour and relationships between men and women to the test.

Lizzie is a great character. Although she does not always behave consistently, and at times she manages to make things more difficult for herself, we get to understand her and root for her. She has had to make herself strong and mistrusts everybody for very good reasons. She is different to the rest of the characters in the novel and in Orchard Hill, and it is not surprising that Billy Ray sets his eyes on her. She is a modern woman who knows her own mind and is prepared to do whatever it takes to make her dreams come true.

Billy Ray feels very old-fashioned, perhaps even more because he falls for Lizzie, and the contrast between the opinions and behaviours of the two could not be more extreme, at least at first sight. Billy Ray is the preacher’s son of the title, and although we might be familiar with stories about the children of preachers rebelling against their strict religious upbringing (Footloose, for instance), he is a chip off the old block. I wondered if Billy Ray is not, in fact, even more morally upright and a stricter follower of the spirit of the Bible than his father is. He is a thoroughly good man (he struggles at times and is not perfect, but he is one of the genuinely good guys), and although he is young and naïve at the beginning of the story, he has the heart in the right place and tries very hard to live up to Christian moral standards. He is a thinking man and the roller-coaster of his emotions and his doubts and hesitations reflect well his age. The roles between the two main characters challenge the standard stereotypes, and we have the good and innocent young man and the experienced woman who tempts him trying to send him down the wrong path, rather than the rogue going trying to steal the virtue of an innocent young woman. Of course, things are not that simple, and the relationship between the two main characters has many nuances, ups and downs, and despite what they might think, they need each other to become better versions of themselves.

The rest of the characters are given less space (this is a coming of age story, after all, and adults are not the centre of the book, although the relationship between Billy Ray and his father is beautifully rendered) but even the characters we don’t get to know that well (the rest of Lizzie’s family, the doctor, the midwife) are convincing and engaging. There are parallels between Billy Ray and Lizzie and some of the older characters as if they embodied what would have happened to them if they hadn’t found each other. It is evident that Billy Ray is focused on telling the story of his relationship with Lizzie and the book reflects the single-mindedness of his protagonist, as the affairs of society and the world at large only rarely get mentioned.

The rhythm of the novel is paused and contemplative and it feels like the summer months felt when we were young: eternal and full of possibilities. The turn of phrase and the voices of the different characters are distinct and help recreate the Southern atmosphere, adding a vivid local feel, and some humorous touches. After the summer we follow the character’s first few years at university and we see him become a man. I don’t want to go into detail, but I can tell you I really enjoyed the ending of the book, which is in keeping with the rest of the novel.

Although religion and the character’s beliefs are very important to the story’s plot (I am not an expert, so I cannot comment if this novel would fit into the category of Christian books, or if it would be considered too daring, although there is no explicit sex and I cannot recall any serious swearing), and the main character might appear old-fashioned and not a typical young man, for me, that is one of its assets. It does not feel like a modernised recreation of the past, but as if it truly had been written by somebody who was recording the important aspects of his long-gone youth.  I recommend it to readers keen on books full of atmosphere and centred on characters and relationships that differ from the norm. It is also a great book for people looking to recreate the feeling of the late 1950s and early 60s in a Southern small town.

And now, a few words from the author herself, about her experience writing from a male character’s point of view:

Hi, Olga!

Thanks so much for the invitation to guest blog with you and your readers! When you contacted me after reading Son of a Preacher Man, you mentioned being curious about the challenges of a woman author writing from a man’s point of view (Son of a Preacher Man is written in the first-person point of view of the hero, Billy Ray Davenport.)

It was a struggle at times. The first two-thirds of the story were a breeze; I was typing along, not worried about too much, and then as I was trying to resolve the conflict in the story, just tell the entire world what Lizzie was REALLY thinking, I realized. I can’t DO that! I know her whole story, but Billy Ray doesn’t, and I’m inside his head. I can only write what he knows, even though I know what she knows.

You know?

I worked through that conundrum, and in some ways, I think that made the story stronger, because readers are left to extrapolate some pieces of Lizzie’s story for themselves, and that helps them maps themselves onto her experiences and perhaps identify and empathize more with her.

A second challenge came up during the editing process. I became concerned that some of Billy Ray’s thoughts and words, well—sometimes Billy Ray didn’t really sound too much like a guy. For example, he probably wouldn’t label the color of a woman’s dress with something like “azure blue” or “mauve” (although he might notice how the dress fit her.) Or he wouldn’t say things in quite those words—girly words—’cause I’m a girl, and I often write like a girl (which I mean in the very best of ways.)

Some of this issue I solved by making Billy Ray an unusual young man: unusually empathetic, unusually observant, unusually sheltered. By making more stereotypical feminine traits part of his personality and giving him a profession focused on nurturing others’ well-being (he’s an aspiring physician), I created a character who could tread that line a little more credibly. At least, I hoped so. I also self-edited his lines with a more and more critical eye as I went through the manuscript.

In general, here are 5 tips that helped me get through writing in male POV:

  1. Be an observer of men. I think I do this a lot already. I mean, I like men J and the “otherness” of them interests me. There are wonderful men in my life too: my husband, my son, my dad, my male friends. And I’ve met men that weren’t quite so wonderful over the years as well. They all helped me write Billy Ray.
  2. Don’t be concerned about writing something you don’t understand or agree with. Men don’t see things like I do all the time. Sometimes they say things I think are insensitive, or rude, or misogynistic, or just plain wrong. And sometimes words and actions like that are part of the story, and if I’m in that man’s head, speaking for him, I have to accept I’m not going to personally cheer for everything he says and does.
  3. Remember the humanity in mankind. In the end, men and women are human beings, and there are a lot of experiences we share, even if we don’t always share them with each other.
  4. Let a man read it. My male beta reader told me a few times, “Yeah, a man wouldn’t say that.” Point taken.
  5. Make something about your male character like yourself – so you can empathize with him. Billy Ray wants to help people. I do too. He wants to be a doctor; I’m a speech therapist. He’s easily embarrassed by discussing personal matters; I am too. Because we share those traits, I can better interpret situations from his point of view.

So, while writing from a male point of view is a challenge, I don’t think it’s an impossible task. I considered writing Son of a Preacher Man from dual points of view—the story is definitely as much about Lizzie as it is Billy Ray. But after all was said and done, I decided he was really the troubadour. He had to be the one to tell the tale.

Thanks to Rosie and her team, thanks to the author, thanks to you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, REVIEW and keep smiling!

 

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