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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog ENDING FOREVER by Nicholas Conley (@NicholasConley1) Inspiring, hopeful, beautifully descriptive and heart-wrenching at times #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you today a book by an author who always makes me think and wonder. I kept thinking about an author and blogger I know while I read this book, and I think she’ll know why.

Ending Forever by Nicholas Conley

Ending Forever by Nicholas Conley

Axel Rivers can’t get his head above water. Throughout his life, he’s worn many hats — orphan, musician, veteran, husband, father—but a year ago, a horrific event he now calls The Bad Day tore down everything he’d built. Grief-stricken, unemployed, and drowning in debt, Axel needs cash, however he can find it.

Enter Kindred Eternal Solutions. Founded by the world’s six wealthiest trillionaires and billionaires, Kindred promises to create eternal life through mastering the science of human resurrection. With the technology still being developed, Kindred seeks paid volunteers to undergo tests that will kill and resurrect their body—again and again—in exchange for a check.

Axel signs up willingly, but when he undergoes the procedure—and comes back, over and over—what will he find on the other side of death?

 https://www.amazon.com/Ending-Forever-Nicholas-Conley-ebook/dp/B09XW82CXT/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ending-Forever-Nicholas-Conley/dp/194805194X/

https://www.amazon.es/Ending-Forever-English-Nicholas-Conley-ebook/dp/B09XW82CXT/

Author Nicholas Conley
Author Nicholas Conley

About the author:

Nicholas Conley is an award-winning Jewish American author, journalist, playwright, and coffee vigilante. His books, such as Knight in Paper Armor, Pale Highway, Clay Tongue: A Novelette, and Intraterrestrial, merge science fiction narratives with hard-hitting examinations of social issues. Originally from California, he now lives in New Hampshire.

www.NicholasConley.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 thank her and the author for this opportunity.

This is the third book by Nicholas Conley I read and reviewed, and having loved both, Pale Highway and Knight in Paper Armor, I was eager to check his newest work. His books are never run-of-the-mill or formulaic, and they don’t fit easily into a genre, and that is the case here as well. They also make readers question their beliefs, thoughts, and assumptions, in this particular book, about life and, especially, about death. Not an easy topic, and not one many books discuss openly, and that makes this unique book, all the more extraordinary.

The description included with the book provides a good idea of the plot without revealing too much, although this short book —which probably falls into the category of science-fiction for lack of a more suitable one— is not a mystery or an adventure story, and a detailed description wouldn’t provide true spoilers. But there is something to be said for discovering its wonders without being prewarned in advance. For that reason, I’ll only add that grief (as mentioned) and guilt are behind the main character’s feelings and many of his actions. He’s been pushed (by life and by his own decisions) to desperation, to the point of no return —or so he thinks— and the experiment he signs himself for offers him money, evidently, but perhaps something else, something or someone that will bring him peace.

Apart from grief, guilt, loneliness, depression, trauma, the nature of memory, family life, becoming an adult orphan, losing a child… if those topics were not enough to make it a must-read, the novel also comments on human greed, arrogance, and the immaturity and silliness of some of those mega-rich people who come up with self-aggrandising vanity projects, sometimes hiding behind the gloss of some future venture with commercial possibilities, or under the guise of research useful to humanity at large. I don’t think I need to name any names, here, as I’m sure a few will easily come to mind. And, of course, this is a book that explores our relationship with death and our reluctance to look closely at it.

Axel is the central character, and Conley presents him without any embellishments. This is a broken man, and although the story is narrated, mostly, in the third-person; we only see things from his point of view. The main story takes place over a few days (the ending, though, reveals the after-effects of what happens during Axel’s deaths and is set at a later date), but there are fragments in italics that clearly represent the memories of the character, and there are also brief interjections and thoughts we are allowed to see that come directly from his head. It is impossible not to sympathise with the character, because of all he has gone through, from early childhood onward; and the more we learn about him, the more we get to empathise with him as well. There are other characters, and although we don’t spend so much time with them, it is evidence of the author’s talent that they all feel real and complex nonetheless. I loved Brooklyn, whom Axel meets at the experiment, and who is truly his kindred spirit. Her little girl, Gwendolyn, is wonderful as well, and that makes their part of the story even more poignant. Malik, Axel’s friend and always supportive, keeps him grounded and real. Dr Kendra Carpenter is a more ambiguous character. She is on the wrong side of things, and her attitude is less than exemplary, but her reasons make her less dislikeable and more nuanced than a true baddie would be. We don’t meet the people financing the whole scheme, but that is not necessary to the story, as this is not about them. There are some important characters whom we only meet through Axel’s memories, both from his recent and from his more distant past, but they also become real to us.

The author writes beautifully. I have said already that this book probably falls within the science-fiction category, but not into the hard sci-fi subgenre, as it does not provide any details about the science behind the experiment. The novel is speculative in the sense of exploring and coming up with fascinating ideas and insights into what the other life (death) might look like, and the Deathscape and its inhabitants (for lack of a better word) are described in gorgeous (and sometimes scary) detail, with a pretty limitless imagination. Although the “real life” events taking place in the “now” of the story are narrated in third-person past, what happens while he is dead is narrated in the present (third-person again, apart from the odd moment when we hear his thoughts directly), but the changes in tense felt organic and in keeping with the nature of the story. Of course, one needs to suspend disbelief when reading such a book, but that is to be expected. I was completely invested in the story, and there was nothing that suddenly jolted me and brought me back to reality. Apart from the wonderful description, and the memories that are so vivid they pull at one’s heartstrings, the feelings of the main character are so recognisable, understandable, and so compellingly rendered, that one can’t help but share the way he is feeling, and that applies to both, when he is feeling devastated and when he is feeling hopeful.

Those who want to get a better idea of what the writing is like, remember that you can always check an online sample.

I struggled to decide what to share, but I decided to include the introduction and a couple of fragments:

 Dedicated to everyone I have ever lost. Every sunset precedes a sunrise, and what the dead leave behind shapes the future. May the memory of you —each of you—be a blessing.

 Here, Axel is talking to his father, as a young child. His father has lifted him on his shoulders and is showing him the lake.

…when Ax said that they were on the edge of the world, Papa said, “no, son. That out there, on the horizon.” He pointed. “It’s the beginning of the world. And it’s all yours to explore. To dream. Remember that.”

 “On the other hand, big machines don’t run unless all the little pieces work, right? And infinity… we might be small, Axel, but y’know, maybe we’re still totally vital to the whole thing running. Every decision we make influences every other part of it, I think. Even after we die. Might as well make the most of it while we’re still alive, I say.” (This is Brooklyn talking to Axel).

What a beautiful ending! Conley has a way of making readers experience the highs and lows of existence, of asking them to look into the abyss and to face subjects that make them uncomfortable, like death, but he always rescues them and offers them hope and a positive ending. And this story is no different. Do take the time to read the author’s acknowledgements at the end of the book. They offer an insight into the book’s creation and the author’s own world.

So, would I recommend it? Well, what do you think? Of course! I have mentioned the themes, and although the story is ultimately one of redemption and hope, there are some emotionally difficult and extremely sad moments as well, and it might be a tough read for people who are facing or have recently had to deal with some of the topics mentioned. I’d leave this to the judgement of the individual, but I’d say that most people will finish the book with a smile on their faces and feeling more hopeful and confident about the future.

Another great book by Conley, one of a group of authors I am happy to read and recommend without any hesitation.

Thanks to Rosie and the members of her team for their work and support, thanks to the author for another beautiful book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and always keep smiling and safe. ♥

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview 337 by M Jonathan Lee (@MJonathanLee) A ‘total’ reading experience #literaryfiction

Hi all:

I bring you a pretty surprising (albeit enjoyable) reading experience.

337 by M. Jonathan Lee

337 by M Jonathan Lee

337 follows the life of Samuel Darte whose mother vanished when he was in his teens.

It was his brother, Tom who found her wedding ring on the kitchen table along with the note. While their father pays the price of his mother s disappearance, Sam learns that his long-estranged Gramma is living out her last days in a nursing home nearby.

Keen to learn about what really happened that day and realising the importance of how little time there is, he visits her to finally get the truth. Soon it’ll be too late and the family secrets will be lost forever. Reduced to ashes. But in a story like this, nothing is as it seems.

https://www.amazon.es/337-M-Jonathan-Lee/dp/0995492352/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/337-M-Jonathan-Lee/dp/0995492352/

https://www.amazon.com/337-M-Jonathan-Lee-ebook/dp/B08HQYXLKP/

Author M. Jonathan Lee

 About the author:

M Jonathan Lee is a nationally shortlisted author and mental health campaigner.

His first novel The Radio was shortlisted in the Novel Prize 2012. Since that time he has gone on to publish five further novels. 337 is his sixth novel.

He is obsessed with stories with twists where nothing is exactly how it first appears. He was born in Yorkshire where he still lives to this day with his twins, James and Annabel.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M_Jonathan_Lee

Here you can find an interview with the author:

https://www.hideawayfall.com/meet-our-authors/

337 by M. Jonathan Lee

My review:

I had never met M. Jonathan Lee before but when I was approached by his publishing company and read a bit more about the new story and its background, I had to give it a go. I thank them for providing me an ARC hardback copy of the book, which I freely chose to review.

I was intrigued because they were insistent on sending me a hardback copy, but once I had it on my hands, I knew why. This is a pretty special book, not only because of the way it is written and the story it contains, but also because of the format. At first sight, the book appears to be double-ended. The images on both sides are the same (or almost): the door of a house with several transparent glass panels and a stained glass geometrical design on top and on one side, wood flooring (flooded by light) and a side door (on that door the glass panels on the cover are glossy rather than matte like the rest of the cover) —although perhaps it is a reflection rather than a real door— and the number 337 written (inside a box in a lighter colour) at the bottom on the right hand corner (oh, and the number is also glossy). The palette of colours includes different tonalities of yellows and browns, with a touch of green in the stained window. The other side is the same, but the palette of colours goes from violet to blue, as if this was a nocturnal version of the previous cover. It seems that the name of the author is only written on the spine, but if we pay attention to the title and the typography we soon realise that the 337 of the title, upside down, reads “LEE”.  Whichever end of the book you open, it seems to be the start of the book, with the information about the edition, some quotes about the author’s previous books, a poem, and then chapter one. As I am a bit contrary, I started reading by what I later discovered was the back cover (I guess), the night version of the door, and when I reached page 16 I was greeted by this message ‘Nothing is as it seems…’ and in the next page I was told to turn the book and keep reading from page 16. Several empty pages and pages with geometrical motives followed, so I turned the book, and after checking to make sure I hadn’t missed a different beginning, I kept reading. Yes, not your standard novel, and it got me thinking. However, in case you’re already intrigued and rushing to order the book, please note the double-ended upside-down opening for this book is available in books ordered in hard copy from UK booksellers only. Don’t worry, though, the rest of the book is pretty special as well.

This is a work of literary fiction, even if a quick reading of the description might induce some people to think they are going to read a standard murder mystery book. Although there is an investigation or a process of research going on, there is nothing standard about it, and the book’s description hints at that. The book delves into memories, looks at how we remember our childhood and past events, examines the stories we tell ourselves (both about ourselves and about those around us), the way we protect ourselves from events and feelings, what happens when we are confronted with reality, and also reflects upon the many alternative ways different people deal with trauma in their lives. Some refuse to let it go; some bury it; some chose to try and forget (sometimes aided by drugs and alcohol); some reinvent themselves…

This is a book with very few characters, and in some ways, it reminded me of a play with a very small cast. It also brought to my mind a very well-known (and excellent) Spanish novel by Miguel Delibes called Cinco horas con Mario (Five hours with Mario) where the recently widowed wife of Mario reflects upon her life with him while she seats next to his coffin at the wake. Here, the main character and narrator of the story, Sam (Samuel) tells the story, in the first-person and in the present tense. He is a man leading a life that appears rather meaningless. He still lives in his parents’ house; he has an online job where he just seems to clock hours for doing as little as possible; he is in the process of divorcing his wife (she initiated divorce proceedings); and he seems to live stuck in the past, still trying to understand what happened to his family following his mother’s disappearance and his father’s imprisonment for her murder. The book opens with a dream/memory from the past, a time when his family and his grandparents —on his father’s side— had gone for a picnic to the park, a family annual tradition. There are several dreams/flashbacks throughout the book, and they are so beautifully and carefully described that we get quite a clear sense of what the family life might have been like (in full technicolour detail). Of course, as the book reminds us, things are not always as they seem, and although for much of the book we only have Sam’s own point of view, events, comments, and even memories that intrude into the action make us start wondering how reliable a narrator he is as we keep reading. We also hear about his wife, Sarah, his brother, Tom, his father, his mother (the one whose disappearance is at the centre of the book), his grandfather, and especially his grandmother, who is dying in a nursing home and whom, after much hesitation, he ends up visiting. Despite his initial reluctance, he ends up spending a lot of time with his grandmother, and that makes him reconsider things. We also meet a few members of the staff at his grandmother’s nursing home. And not even there things are as they seem to be.

The writing style is fascinating. I’ve mentioned the beauty of the descriptions, and there are some fabulous similes and metaphors as well. The writing is lyrical and at times reminded me of poetry, both in written and visual form (we might get a white space where there is a meaningful silence in a conversation, or very short sentences written as if they were a prose poem), mixed with some very insightful comments and reflections. We also have access to the conversations Sam shares with others, mostly his grandmother, but also Tom and the other characters that have much to contribute to our understanding, although not perhaps in the way we think at first. The book flows well and there is something very compelling about it, although it is not a page-turner in the usual sense, because nothing much happens for those who love action, while at the same time there is a lot going on.

A few examples of the writing, so you can see for yourselves what I mean (although remember this is an ARC copy):

Random thoughts are now jumping like kernels of corn over heat. They pop and explode inside my head like fireworks in New Year’s Eve.

When you experience some kind of serious trauma at a young age, it stays with you. It’s like a ghost which follows a few feet behind every footstep — a quiet whispered sound that reminds you of your past.

It has always confused me why people who have not got the slightest clue of what somebody is experiencing still believe that it is their right to state their opinion on the subject. I’ve given this a lot of thought. I believe it comes down to guilt.

And here, Sam is ranting (mentally) about the effects of mobile phones on conversations:

We could be locked in some deep conversation, maybe about to open up about some desperate fear or seemingly unsurmountable problem, and instead a screen is thrust in front of us and we have to smile politely at a picture of a surprised-looking cat near a cucumber. It is unbelievable. The number of truly worthwhile moments that have been spoiled by the interruption of mobile phones is limitless.

The ending… I am going to keep my peace and only tell you that I loved the way it is written and I liked the ending itself, although it wasn’t a surprise for me.

This is not a book for people who are looking for a plot-driven book and an intricate story. It has elements of mystery but it is, first and foremost, a subjective reading experience. If you enjoy literary fiction and like to savour writing in the same way you might enjoy a delicate meal or a beautiful piece of music, I recommend this novel to you. It is a ‘total’ reading experience.

Thanks to the publisher and to the author for this very special novel, thanks to all of you for reading, remember to keep safe, and if you feel like it, like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling. We’ll get there.

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#TuesdayBookBlog WHEN THE STARS SANG by Caren J. Werlinger A delightful read, full of great characters, inspiring, and heart-warming. Also recommended to dog lovers! #LGTB #Bookreview

Hi all:

Today I bring you a book that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, although it is not in a genre I read very often. A great read.

When the Stars Sang by Caren R. Werlinger
When the Stars Sang by Caren R. Werlinger

When the Stars Sang by Caren J. Werlinger

Nearly twenty-five years ago, Kathleen Halloran’s brother drowned during the last summer they ever spent with their grandmother on a remote island off Maine’s coast. Like a siren’s call she can’t resist, Kathleen is pulled back to Little Sister Island. She leaves her job and her girlfriend packs up her few belongings and moves into her grandmother’s cottage.

Molly Cooper loves life on Little Sister, where the islanders take care of their own. Kathleen Halloran doesn’t belong here, and her arrival stirs up unwelcome memories for the islanders—including Molly’s brother. Molly is certain Kathleen will pack up at the first big blow. When she doesn’t, Molly begins to see maybe there’s more to Kathleen than she thought.

Sometimes, before you can move forward, you have to look back.

https://www.amazon.com/When-Stars-Sang-Caren-Werlinger-ebook/dp/B07B7CT41D/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/When-Stars-Sang-Caren-Werlinger-ebook/dp/B07B7CT41D/

Author Caren J. Werlinger
Author Caren J. Werlinger

About the author:

Caren was raised in Ohio, the oldest of four children. Much of her childhood was spent reading every book she could get her hands on, and crafting her own stories. She was influenced by a diverse array of authors, including Rumer Godden, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Willa Cather, and the Brontë sisters. She has lived in Virginia for over twenty years where she practices physical therapy, teaches anatomy and lives with her partner and their canine fur-children. She began writing creatively again several years ago. Her first novel, Looking Through Windows, won a Debut Author award from the Golden Crown Literary Society in 2009. Since then, she has published several more novels, winning three Goldies and multiple Rainbow Awards. She recently completed her first fantasy trilogy, The Dragonmage Saga.
Check out her blog: http://cjwerlinger.wordpress.com

https://www.amazon.com/Caren-J.-Werlinger/e/B002BOI2ZI/

My review:

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

I occasionally read romance novels although I am not their number one fan, but there was something about this book that called my attention from the very beginning. I am always attracted towards stories that are set in special locations (real or imagined) and the description of the island definitely fitted the bill for me. And, in this case, first impressions were right.  I loved the story and the place, and I wish it existed and I could be a part of the community in Little Sister.

The story is narrated in the third person from the point of view of two female characters, Kathleen, who returns to Little Island as an adult (after a traumatic breakup with her on-and-off girlfriend of 14 years), and goes to live to the house of her recently deceased grandmother (although she had not been back there since she was a child due to a very traumatic event), and Molly, the island’s sheriff, and also a handywoman, who loves restoring and repairing boats, but can set her hand at anything that needs repairing (even a broken heart). Although they are suspicious of each other at first, it is clear that they are meant for each other, but, as we all know, the path of true love never does run smooth, and there are a number of obstacles on their way, some of their own making, but others to do with childhood trauma, dysfunctional family relationships, and a past that refuses to be buried. If you are a big fan of romances, LGBT or otherwise, you do not need to worry. Although I won’t discuss the ending to avoid spoilers; I think you’ll be happy with it.

The author creates realistic characters we care for, and not only the protagonists. While Kathleen and Molly can be stubborn and blind at times (and even annoying, but ultimately likeable), there is a full catalogue of fabulous secondary characters, including Molly’s family (her wonderful parents, and her brothers, including Aidan, who is an integral part of the incident that made everything change for Kathleen), sisters Olivia and Louisa (who always carry the ashes of their father with them), Rebecca, the librarian and depository of the island’s traditions, and many more. Oh, and let’s not forget Blossom, a stray dog adopted by Kathleen (well, the adoption is mutual), that is both a totally realistic dog and a fantastic and heart-warming character.

There is lovely food, a variety of ceremonies and traditions, a strong sense of community [including matrilineal heritage that reminded me of the book The Kingdom of Women by Choo Wai Hong (you can read my review here)], secrets, deception, ecology and renewable energy, and plenty of love, not only between the two women, but between all the members of the community. The sense of belonging and the healing and growth of the characters is intrinsically linked to the way of life in this island that mixes Irish folklore and beliefs with Native-American (First Ones) ones. Werlinger creates a beautiful setting, both in its landscape and spirituality. Readers feel a part of this wonderful community, and I, for one, was sorry to come to the end of the book and would love to live in such a place.

The writing ebbs and flows, allowing readers to enjoy the descriptions of the island, its inhabitants, their actions and also their mental processes, although I did not find it slow and I was hooked to the story and the feeling of becoming one with the inhabitants of the place. As a writer, I easily empathised with Kathleen, who is an editor and also creates book covers, and I enjoyed the fact that female and male characters are diverse, are not restricted to standard gender roles, and the attitude of the islanders towards same-sex love is open and unquestioning. There are certain necessary characteristics that make a relationship truly compatible, but gender is not one of them.

As readers, we share the thoughts and experiences of the main characters although the third person narration also gives us enough distance to be able to make our own minds up. There are some surprises, some quasi-magical elements, some light and fun moments, but there are also nasty characters (although these are always outsiders), and intuition and family connections are very important. As for the love story, there are some sexual elements, but not a full-blown graphic description of events, and I found it rather delicate and in good taste (and I am not a fan of erotica).

I wanted to share a few things I highlighted:

Normally, those messages would have torn at Kathleen’s heart. But she wasn’t sure she had a hart any longer. She tapped her chest, half expecting it to sound hollow, like the Tin Man.

“It should be a mix. None of us is just one thing, complete in and of ourselves. We are the island, and the island is us.”

“That is not how it works. Love that has to be deserved or earned was never love to begin with.”

A joyful read, which I recommend to readers who enjoy books set in special locations, who appreciate a strong sense of community and belonging, and love solid characters. There are ups and downs, happy and sad events, although it is not a book for lovers of adventures and frantically paced novels. This is a contemplative and inspiring book, heart-warming and positive. If you need a pick-me-up, this is your book.

Thanks very much to Rosie for her fabulous group and for the opportunities to review and discover great books, thanks to the author (she has written many other books that I’ll have to check), and thanks to all of you for reading. Remember to like, share, comment, click, REVIEW and SMILE!

[amazon_link asins=’0996036865,0998217905,B00JW2M60O,B00BJ9FMV8,B01APWFEC6,0996036881,B00HMQ7MHY,B00EVSTP08′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’wwwauthortran-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’9528a693-2de5-11e8-83f0-018384406b52′]

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#TuesdayBookBlog #Bookreview ON THE BRIGHT SIDE by Hendrik Groen (@PenguinUKBooks) The Old-But-Not-Dead Club strikes again. A truly inspiring read, whatever your age.

Hi all:

Today I bring you the review of a book that I had been looking forward to for a while. Some of you might remember my review of the first book but…

On the Bright Side. The New Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen
On the Bright Side. The New Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen

On the Bright Side by Hendrik Groen

‘A funny but also touching diary praised for its wit and realism’ BBC Radio 4 Front Row

The Old-But-Not-Dead Club return, in the sequel to the INTERNATIONALLY BESTSELLING The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen83 ¼ Years Old, bringing with them some life-affirming lawlessness.

Chaos will ensue as 85-year-old Hendrik Groen is determined to grow old with dignity: to rise up against the care home director. NO more bingo. NO more over- boiled vegetables. NO more health and safety.

85-year-old Hendrik Groen is fed up to his false teeth with coffee mornings and bingo. He dreams of escaping the confines of his care home and practising hairpin turns on his mobility scooter. Inspired by his fellow members of the recently formed Old-But-Not-Dead Club, he vows to put down his custard cream and commit to a spot of octogenarian anarchy.

But the care home’s Director will not stand for drunken bar crawls, illicit fireworks and geriatric romance on her watch. The Old-But-Not-Dead Club must stick together if they’re not to go gently into that good night. Things turn more serious, however, when rumours surface that the home is set for demolition. It’s up to Hendrik and the gang to stop it – or drop dead trying . . .

He may be the wrong side of 85, but Hendrik Groen has no intention of slowing up – or going down without a fight.

Praise for Hendrik Groen

‘A story with a great deal of heart, it pulled me in with its self-deprecating humour, finely drawn characters and important themes. Anyone who hopes to grow old with dignity will have much to reflect on’ Graeme Simsion

‘There are many laughs in this book but it’s so much more than just a comedy. It’s a story about how friendship, selflessness and dignity lie at the heart of the human experience. When I’m an old man, I want to be Hendrik Groen’ John Boyne

‘I laughed until I cried and then laughed and cried some more’ David Suchet

‘Thoughtful, anxious and gruff… Laced with humour’ The Best New Fiction Mail on Sunday

‘Amusing [and] wickedly accurate’ ***** FIVE STARS Sunday Express

‘Highly entertaining … a fiction so closely based on the observation of real life that it is utterly convincing’ Daily Express

‘Full of off-beat charm and quirky characters’ Cathy Rentzenbrink, Stylist

‘Hendrik pens an exposé of his care home. This geriatric Adrian Mole made me laugh and think. Terrific’ Fanny Blake, Woman and Home

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bright-Side-Hendrik-Groen-ebook/dp/B074R9K8Q1/

https://www.amazon.com/Bright-Side-Hendrik-Groen-ebook/dp/B074R9K8Q1/

Editorial review:

Review

Amusing [and] wickedly accurate … I was constantly put in mind of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, another comi-tragedy concerning the tyranny of institutions of the unwanted. Enjoy Groen’s light touch but do not be fooled by it. We live in an ageing society. The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen is a handbook of resistance for our time (***** FIVE STARS Sunday Express)

A story with a great deal of heart, it pulled me in with its self-deprecating humour, finely drawn characters and important themes. Anyone who hopes to grow old with dignity will have much to reflect on (Graeme Simsion)

There are many laughs in this book but it’s so much more than just a comedy. It’s a story about how friendship, selflessness and dignity lie at the heart of the human experience. When I’m an old man, I want to be Hendrik Groen (John Boyne)

I laughed until I cried and then laughed and cried some more (David Suchet)

Thoughtful, anxious and gruff… Laced with humour (Best New Fiction Mail on Sunday)

Highly entertaining … a delightful and touching saga of one man’s way of coping with old age … we may assume that Hendrik Groen is a character of fiction. But it is a fiction so closely based on the observation of real life that it is utterly convincing (Daily Express)

A joy to read, as much concerned with friendship and dignity as it is with the debilitating effects of aging … An entertaining and uplifting story of a man in the winter of his days, stoic in the face of bureaucratic nonsense and an unabashed need to wear a nappy. Imagined or not, this is the diary of someone who wants nothing more than to be allowed see out his days with dignity and respect. It’s not too much to ask, really, is it? (John Boyne Irish Times)

Full of off-beat charm and quirky characters (Cathy Rentzenbrink Stylist)

Praise for The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ Years Old ()

Very funny (Jeremy Paxman Financial Times)

From the Inside Flap

85-year-old Hendrik Groen is fed up to his false teeth with coffee mornings and bingo. He dreams of escaping the confines of his care home and practising hairpin turns on his mobility scooter. Inspired by his fellow members of the recently formed Old-But-Not-Dead Club, he vows to put down his Custard Cream and commit to a spot of octogenarian anarchy.

But the care home’s Director will not stand for drunken bar crawls, illicit fireworks and geriatric romance on her watch. The Old-But-Not-Dead Club must stick together if they’re not to go gently into that good night. Things turn more serious, however, when rumours surface that the home is set for demolition. It’s up to Hendrik and the gang to stop it – or drop dead trying . . .

He may be the wrong side of 85, but Hendrik Groen has no intention of slowing up – or going down without a fight.

My review:

Thanks to Net Galley and to Penguin UK-Michael Joseph for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

A while back I read The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old (check my review here) and loved it. I was on the lookout for the next one, and when I saw the next one was available for download at NetGalley I did not hesitate. It has now been published and I could not pass the chance to share my review.

Hendrik explains what has happened since his last diary (yes, he is older now) and decides to write his diary for another year, as a way to keep his brain going. He is now 85 and he needed some time to get over some of the sad events of the last book. But the Old-But-Not-Dead Club is still going strong, with new members and plans, including regularly exploring international cuisine (more or less), a short holiday abroad, and an attempt at local (extremely local) politics. Hendrik’s voice is as witty and observant as it was in the first book, although there is perhaps a grittier and darker note (he is feeling low, everything is getting tougher and unfortunately, life gets harder as the year goes along). But not all is doom and gloom and there are very funny moments, as well as some very sad ones. His comments about politics and world events, always seen from an elderly population’s perspective, are sharp and clear-sighted and will give readers pause. Some of them are local and I suspect I was not the only one who did not know who many of the people where or what anecdotes he referred to at times (I must admit that although I know a bit about Dutch painters, I know little about their politics or music, for example), but even if we cannot follow all the references in detail, unfortunately, they are easily translatable to social and political concerns we are likely to recognize, wherever we live. Funding cuts, social problems, concerns about health and social care, crime, terrorism, global warming feature prominently, although sometimes with a very peculiar twist.

The secondary characters are as wonderful and varied as in the previous book. Some of them have moved on (physically, mentally, or both), and we get to know better some of the ones that only briefly appeared in the previous volume. We also have new arrivals at the nursing home, and a more direct involvement in the home’s politics (with anxiety-provoking news present as well. Is the nursing home going to close?). I loved some of the proposed and adopted rules (a complaint-free zone to avoid wallowing in conversations about ailments and illnesses, a high-tea facilitated by the residents, an art exhibition, even if the artist is not the most sympathetic of characters…) and the sayings of the residents. Of course, life at a nursing home comes with its share of loss and although I don’t want to reveal too much, I can say the subject of death is treated in a realistic, respectful, and moving way.

I shed some of the quotes I highlighted, to give you a taster (although I recommend checking a sample and seeing what you think. And, although it is not necessary to read the first book first, I think it works better knowing the characters and their journey so far):

The idea of using care homes to look after the comfort, control and companionship of the elderly is fine in principle. It just fails in the execution. What old age homes actually stand for is infantilizing, dependence, and laziness.

One in four old people who break one or more hips die within the year. That number seems high to me, but it’s in the newspaper, so there is room for doubt.

It’s always astonished me to see the wide support clowns and crooks are able to muster. Watching old newsreels of that loudmouth Mussolini, you’d think now there’s a bloke only his mother could love. But no, millions of Italians loved him.(Yes, I’m sure this can make us all think of a few people).

Difficult new terms that tend to obscure rather than clarify, especially when uttered by policy-makers. It often has to do with hiding something —either a budget cut, or hot air, or both at once.

Managerial skills alone don’t make for better care, it only makes for cheaper one.

And, a great ending (and one we should all take up this year):

A new year —how you get through it is up to you, Groen; life doesn’t come with training wheels. Get this show on the road. As long as there’s life.

The tone of the book is bitter-sweet, and, as mentioned, it feels darker than the previous one, perhaps because Hendrik is even more aware of his limitations and those of his friends, and is increasingly faced with the problem of loneliness, and with thoughts about the future. But, overall, this is a book that makes us think about the zest for life, about living life to the full, and about making the best out of our capabilities. As I said on my previous review, I hope I can meet a Hendrik if I get to that age, and I’ll also make sure to join the Old-But-Not-Dead Club and be an agitator and enjoy life to the end. Don’t ever settle for the easy way out.

A great book for those interested in the subject of growing old, in great characters, and in an out-of-the-ordinary setting. It has plenty of adventures and events (even trips abroad and international cuisine), although it is not a book I’d recommend to people who love fast action and high-octane thrillers. If you enjoy first-person narrations, love older characters, and don’t mind thinking about the long-term (ish) future, I recommend this very inspiring book.

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

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Book review Book reviews Rosie's Book Review Team Rosie's Book Team Review

#TuesdayBookBlog SILHOUETTES by E. L. Tenenbaum (@ELTenenbaum) A Young Adult novel for all ages about family, friends, and life with a positive and inspiring message. #RBRT #YA

Hi all:

Today I bring you another review I’ve written for Rosie’s Book Review Team. This is a very special book and I hope it gets the attention it deserves.

Silhouettes by E. L. Tenenbaum
Silhouettes by E. L. Tenenbaum

Silhouettes by E. L. Tenenbaum  

Brooke was just killed in an accident, but a part of her is still here. Seeking answers, she sets out to retrace her life and soon meets others like her, among them, Tyler. Tyler remembers Brooke from before, and so she hesitantly gives him the one thing she never bothered to when they were alive; a chance. Together, they visit the people and places in their small beach town that once held meaning to them, developing a mutual, grudging respect as they learn to view life in different and unexpected ways.

Tyler soon decides that they must let go of their pasts if anything is to change, but Brooke can’t bring herself to say goodbye just yet. As she watches the impact of her death on her loved ones, Brooke questions her desperate need to hold onto a life that’s no longer hers. But can she move on from a life she’s barely begun to live?

A bittersweet story about family, friendship and the impact one life can have on others, no matter how young it is.

https://www.amazon.com/Silhouettes-L-Tenenbaum-ebook/dp/B075RPZTT8/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Silhouettes-L-Tenenbaum-ebook/dp/B075RPZTT8/

About the author:

Hi! I am writer who thinks a bookstore (real or online) is the happiest place on earth!
I’m also partial to other things, like baking (cookies), musicals (though I can’t really sing) and superhero graphic novels (though I can’t really fly).
Above those, I love to write in different mediums, especially novels.
Read, share, talk about them.
Enjoy.

https://www.amazon.com/E.-L.-Tenenbaum/e/B01EXPUFWK/

http://www.eltenenbaum.com/

My review:

I write this review on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team. Thanks to Rosie Amber from Rosie’s Book Review Team (if you are an author and want your book reviewed, check here) and to the author for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Brooke is an 18 year-old-girl who is popular (although not as popular as cheerleaders are), the captain of the dance group, a volunteer at her local hospital (in the children’s ward), a good student, a beloved daughter and sister (to her 14 year-old brother, Aaron), who has very clear plans for the future and a lot of life ahead of her, until she is killed in a car crash. She discovers then that although she is now dead, she is still hanging around, and can follow her friends and family, visit the familiar places where she used to spend her time, but she cannot interact with anybody or make herself known to the living. She meets other silhouettes (as they look like somewhat less solid and more transparent versions of themselves), but they don’t seem to have much in common with her until she meets a young boy her age, Tyler, who used to go to the same school but didn’t cross paths with her. While he knew who she was, she had never noticed him. As there is little to do other than wander around, and neither has any idea of why they are still there, they spend time together and discover things about each other, and also about themselves.

The story is narrated in the first-person from Brooke’s point of view. Although she is angry and devastated, to begin with, she is also very concerned about her family and friends and tries to help but does not know how. Her memories of those around her are heart-warming and feel real. What she remembers are the little moments, not the big occasions, and she talks about her friends and family in a loving way. Although she is shocked by some of the things she discovers about others, she also gains an understanding of what is really important. She realises that she was living in a bubble and there were aspects of the town and of its people’s lives she’d never noticed. The language is beautiful and lyrical at times, without being overly complex. Tyler played the guitar and composed songs with his friend Dylan, and the lyrics of these songs are like poems, that give us a moment of pause and sometimes encapsulate and sometimes enhance the rest of the text. Although the interaction between the two characters feels true, and they remain psychologically consistent, they are both fully aware that what they are experiencing is not the same as they did when they were alive, and there is a new sense of detachment and perspective that they have been granted by their situation. Being granted time and distance to think without the pressure of trying to conform to other’s expectations is illuminating.

The relationship between Brooke and Tyler develops slowly and it is clear that they are there to help each other, even if the details are only revealed at the end. Like with some of the other secrets we discover throughout the book, I was not surprised by the revelation, but what is really important is the characters’ reaction to the revelation and that is both understandable and perfect. Although it might seem strange to talk about happy endings in a novel that centres on dead characters, I think most readers enjoy the ending and feel inspired by it.

I highlighted many sentences and paragraphs, as the novel manages to capture many of the questions we all wonder about and provides insights and inspiration without ever becoming preachy or adhering to a particular faith or religion. But here come a few to give you an idea:

Diamonds hide in a lump of coal.

Here Brooke is talking to Tyler, trying to convince him they should go to school.

“What else are you gonna do?” I asked. “No one will see you anyway. You’re safe. They’ll walk right through you.”

“Great. Just like when I was alive.”

Brooke observes: Words like that should never have reason to be said at all.

“You don’t need to do some momentous thing that changes the world or say things that everyone puts on wooden signs to have made a difference. It’s doing things in your way, the way you laughed, and cried, and hung out, and lived, and just were, that’s what your mark is, even if you can only find it in ten people instead of ten thousand.”

A YA novel that can be read by people of any age (there is no use of swear words, violence or sex), that makes us think (yes, and tear up too) about family, friendship, memories, and life. A positive and inspiring read I’d recommend everybody. I know many readers are wary of reading books about children’s deaths, especially those who have been touched personally by it. Although I cannot offer my personal perspective on the matter, I’d suggest trying a sample of the book before making a decision. The novel put me in mind of The Lovely Bones and I would recommend it to readers who loved Sebold’s novel but were perturbed by the most gruesome aspects of the plot. (Here you can check my post for Rosie’s Twin Books features where I talk about both books). E. L. Tenenbaum is an author I didn’t know but I’ll be watching closely from now on.

Thanks to Rosie and to the author for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview CHILDHOOD AND DEATH IN VICTORIAN ENGLAND by Sarah Seaton (@penswordbooks) A sobering picture of the Victorian era and a must read for those interested in social history #socialhistory #VictorianHistory

Hi all:

Today I bring you a pretty hard book to read, not because of the writing style, but because of the subject.

Childhood & Death in Victorian England by Sarah Seaton
Childhood & Death in Victorian England by Sarah Seaton

Childhood and Death in Victorian England by Sarah Seaton.

In this fascinating book, the reader is taken on a journey of real life accounts of Victorian children, how they lived, worked, played and ultimately died. Many of these stories have remained hidden for over 100 years. They are now unearthed to reveal the hardship and cruel conditions experienced by many youngsters, such as a traveling fair child, an apprentice at sea and a trapper. The lives of the children of prostitutes, servant girls, debutantes and married women all intermingle, unified by one common factor – death.

Drawing on actual instances of Infanticide and baby farming the reader is taken into a world of unmarried mothers, whose shame at being pregnant drove them to carry out horrendous crimes yet walk free from court, without consequence. For others, they were not so lucky.

The Victorian children in this publication lived in the rapidly changing world of the Industrial Revolution. With the introduction of the New Poor Law in 1834 the future for some pauper children changed – but not for the better. Studies have also unearthed a religious sect known as the ‘Peculiar People’ and gives an insight into their beliefs.

This book is not recommended for those easily offended as it does contain graphic descriptions of some child murders, although not intended to glorify the tragedies, they were necessary to inform the reader of the horrific extent that some killers went to.

This book will appeal to anyone with an interest in the social history of the Victorian period.

https://www.amazon.com/Childhood-Death-Victorian-England-Seaton-ebook/dp/B073WGBR1H/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Childhood-Death-Victorian-England-Seaton-ebook/dp/B073WGBR1H/

https://www.amazon.com/Childhood-Death-Victorian-England-Seaton/dp/1473877024/

About the Author

Sarah Seaton has a Masters degree in Local and Regional History from the University of Nottingham. She taught the subject for Derbyshire County Council, The University of Nottingham and the WEA. Sarah is the author of The Derby Book of Days, The History of Greasley Parish Church, Nottinghamshire and War Time Memories of the Amber Valley* (*for Derbyshire County Council); she has regularly written articles in the Nottingham Post and is editor for the Nottinghamshire Local History Association’s The Nottinghamshire Historian magazine.

My review:

Thanks to Alex from Pen & Sword for providing me with a review paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

After working as a forensic psychiatrist for a number of years, I guess death and what brings it about is something I’ve given a fair amount of thought to. I have always been more interested in social history, and the everyday lives of people in other historical periods than I am about battles, war, etc. (I am intrigued by some of the people who get to make the decisions and fight in the battles, but not so much by the actual specifics). Old records being what they are, the adage about the two things that are certain in life, death and taxes, comes to mind. And although the subject of the book might appear particularly morbid, examining death records and other information about the deaths, in particular of children, tells us a great deal about what society was like at the time. Because what more important for the future of a nation than its children?

I live in quite an old village and one can find gravestones from three or four centuries back and I could not help but notice that many of those buried in the Victorian period were babies and very young children. Sometimes there were families who lost quite a number of children in quick succession. And although I had read about poor sanitation, deaths at birth, and illnesses of the period, and I knew that life for poor children was harder at the time, I had never spent much time reading about it. When I saw this book I felt perhaps it was time I did.

In the introduction, the author explains that she had a similar experience to mine. While researching newspapers and archives for another book, she came across many items about dead children and thought they deserved to have their stories told.

Although the book is respectful and tries to bring to light what the conditions were like, the nature of the material can make for a hard reading. I won’t go into details, but if you are very sensitive you might want to look away now or stop reading.

Seaton divides her book into five chapters.

Chapter one: Industrial Mishaps and Misdemeanours, brings home how hard life what for poor children, especially (but not only) orphans, children who ended up in the workhouse, and who were working from as young as four. And we’re not talking about easy jobs. They went to sea, working in fishing boats (yes, many drowned or were severely abused, beaten up and killed), the mines (opening and closing air shaft for hours on end, and quite a few died when there was flooding, some not far from where I live), textile factories (crushed by the machines), chimney sweeps (yes, no Mary Poppins romanticism here. Small kids could go up the chimneys easily and sometimes burn inside too)… The author notes that the laws changed, first increasing the age at what children were allowed to start working (the Ten Hour Bill in 1832 stated that no child under 9 could work and those under 18 should not work for longer than 10 hours per day and only 8 on Saturdays), and later insisting that all children should have access to education, and that helped avoid the worse of the abuse (that was not considered abuse at the time).

Chapter two: Accidents. It is strange to read this chapter and imagine a time when mothers might go out or go to work and leave their children under the care of another child, only a few years older than his or her charges, when children would play in a room with a live fire and no protection (there are a large number of deaths by fire), or would go out and play by a river and drown, or be run over.

Chapter three: Poverty, Paupers and Health, centres on matters of health, illnesses, poor diets, and also the fact that many illegitimate children were sent away to women who usually would take many children for money, feed them little or nothing, and keep what were called ‘baby farms’. At the time it was common to give children laudanum if they felt unwell, and many of them died of opium overdoses. As the author notes, while nowadays there are many services and programmes offering information and help to new mothers on how to bring up a child, and there is support in place, charities, welfare services, doctors and midwives who offer practical advice and support, that was not the case at the time, and even children from well-off families could die in circumstances that seem incredible to us now.

Chapter four: Manslaughter, Murder and Circumstantial Evidence, is a particularly hard one to read. The author notes that some of these crimes remind us that some things don’t change much and there are incidents that are remarkably similar to recent ones, but the chapter includes from murders where the criminal was clearly mentally disturbed, to others that caused outrage for their cruelty. At that point in history the police were becoming a better organised and official body and they were starting to use techniques that would allow them to trace evidence and use it to catch the criminals (newspapers used to wrap body parts with names or addresses on it feature prominently). This is a horrific chapter, but one that would be of interest to mystery writers considering setting their novels in this historical period.

Chapter five: Newborn and Early Infant Deaths. Many of these are the result of illegitimate births, with young mothers who usually had hidden their pregnancy and at the moment of birth got desperate, out of options and with no support. But there are also cases of women who offered their services ‘adopting’ children only to neglect them or actively kill them. It is of note that although newborn and infant deaths were very high at the time, very few of these were reported as homicides.

The author concludes that although at the beginning she talks about modern children having little freedom compared to their Victorian counterparts, we must acknowledge that the circumstances have changed for the better and now society puts a lot of emphasis on protecting children. There is the welfare state, better transportation, many of the illnesses that decimated children have disappeared or can be cured…  (Of course, the book looks at the subject in Victorian England, and the comparisons are to current circumstances in the UK. We all know not all societies are respectful of children’s lives even today).

This is a hard book to read. It does paint a sobering picture of the Victorian era, as it centres mostly on those whose stories were not important enough to make it into the big chronicles and the Historic books in capital letters. The author uses newspaper articles to illustrate the specific cases she chooses, but also archival materials. The book offers detailed accounts of the events, and reflects the opinion of the time, leaving most of the personal comments or interpretations to the beginning or end of the chapters, although she mostly lets the facts speak for themselves. We read witness testimonies, coroner’s reports, inquests, all fairly objectively reported, but the nature of the material makes it poignant.

The paperback version contains pictures, mostly illustrations from newspapers, but also photographs of the period and some modern ones of some of the locations, in black and white.

This is a well-researched book that would be of interest to people researching the social history of the Victorian period, particularly as it pertains to the treatment of children, to writers looking for background on the period, but it is not a light read or a standard history book of the era. It goes to show that truth can, and it often is, more terrifying than fiction.

Thanks very much to Pen & Sword and to the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

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#Bookreview When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. A singular and professional look at death

Hi all:

This is another one of the reviews I posted in Lit World Interviews that I never shared here. This book has become pretty well-known but I thought it deserved to feature here in case you hadn’t heard of it.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

REVIEWS FOR LITERARY WORLD REVIEWS

Title:   When Breath Becomes Air
Author:   Paul Kalanithi
ISBN13:  978-0812988406
ASIN:  B0165X8WN2
Published:  Vintage Digital
Pages:  258
Genre:  Non-fiction, Medical Books: neurosurgery, Ailments and diseases: cancer

Description:

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.

Praise for When Breath Becomes Air

“I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option. . . . Part of this book’s tremendous impact comes from the obvious fact that its author was such a brilliant polymath. And part comes from the way he conveys what happened to him—passionately working and striving, deferring gratification, waiting to live, learning to die—so well. None of it is maudlin. Nothing is exaggerated. As he wrote to a friend: ‘It’s just tragic enough and just imaginable enough.’ And just important enough to be unmissable.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“An emotional investment well worth making: a moving and thoughtful memoir of family, medicine and literature. It is, despite its grim undertone, accidentally inspiring.”The Washington Post

“Possesses the gravity and wisdom of an ancient Greek tragedy . . . [Kalanithi] delivers his chronicle in austere, beautiful prose. The book brims with insightful reflections on mortality that are especially poignant coming from a trained physician familiar with what lies ahead.”The Boston Globe

“Devastating and spectacular . . . [Kalanithi] is so likeable, so relatable, and so humble, that you become immersed in his world and forget where it’s all heading.”USA Today

“It’s [Kalanithi’s] unsentimental approach that makes When Breath Becomes Air so original—and so devastating. . . . Its only fault is that the book, like his life, ends much too early.”Entertainment Weekly

“[When Breath Becomes Air] split my head open with its beauty.”—Cheryl Strayed

Body of review: As this is a non-fiction book the usual format does not work well but I thought it was well-worth sharing.

Here it is:

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi A singular and professional look at death

Thanks to Net Galley and to Vintage Digital for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

I read this book with conflicting emotions. When it came to my attention and saw some of the comments I wondered if I was ready to read it. (My father died 14 months ago of cancer, in his case prostate, with bone metastases, stage IV at the time of diagnosis, after a year of fighting the illness.) In some ways I guess I was challenging myself to see if I’d manage and perhaps hoping that it would give me some answers, although I’m not sure what to. I will try to make this review as objective as possible, but by the nature of the book and its subject this is more difficult than usual (no two people read the same book and that’s the beauty of it, of course).

In my effort to try and make my mind up as to what to say I’ve read a few of the reviews. Some of the negative ones state that the book is little more than a couple of essays, a foreword and an epilogue. That’s a fair comment. We know that Paul Kalanithi died before he finished the book, and we don’t know how much editing went into it, or what else he might have written if his life hadn’t been cut short. The foreword works as an introduction of the book and a sum up of the author’s career and perhaps helps tie up the unfinished nature of it. It is nicely written, although the fact that Abraham Verghese had only met the writer once hints at how professionally packaged the book is. Yes, this is not just another account by a totally anonymous individual fighting cancer.

Other reviewers note that Kalanithi’s circumstances are so unique (well-educated, professional family, bright and driven, studying at the best universities, training in neurosurgery at one of the best hospitals, and also treated in one of the best units with access to all the treatments, surrounded and supported by his family) that perhaps his reflections and his experiences are not applicable to most of the population. I can’t argue with that. I’m not sure we can claim to a universality of experience and say that death or impending death affects everybody the same. There’s no doubt that the end result is the same but the process and the way it is felt is quite different.  All lives start and end the same but that does not mean they are the same.

Some reviewers take issue with the decisions the author and his family made, for instance his insistence on going back to work as a neurosurgeon after the diagnosis and whilst he was being treated, wondering how safe that was, and accusing him of selfishness. Sometimes in harrowing circumstances we do what we have to do to keep going and to see another day, although that is no justification to put others at risk. In his case it is clear from the write up that there was a strong plan in place to ensure safety and that he was no operating by himself (we’re talking about neurosurgery, a highly complex field and a team endeavour). Perhaps the way the author focuses on his own efforts and how he managed to overcome the symptoms of the illness to keep working leaves too much of what was going on around him in the shadows, but then, he was writing about his experience and how he saw it at the time. Other readers appear upset at the family’s decision to have a child knowing he wouldn’t be alive to see her grow. That’s a matter of personal opinion and I can’t see how that has any bearing on our thoughts about the quality of the book.

After this long preamble (my review is becoming an essay in its own right), what did I think? I am a doctor (a psychiatrist, and although I remember with fondness my placement in general surgery and I attended in some operations for other specialties, like paediatrics, breast or chest, I can’t claim to any hands-on experience in neuro-surgery) and I identified with early parts of the book when Kalanithi describes medical school, and also his love of literature. I haven’t worked in the US although I’ve read (and we’ve all watched movies and TV series) about the gruelling schedules and training process medical students and trainees face there. There is a great deal of emphasis on his career and not much on his other experiences. Although there are more details about his relationship with his wife later on, we don’t know much about how they met or what they shared, other than their interest in Medicine and plans for their professional future. Some reviewers noted that we don’t get to know the man. I can imagine that to get to the professional peak he had achieved one needs to be focused on one’s career to the detriment of other things, and there are some reflections about that in the book: about delayed gratification, about working hard and putting other parts of our life on hold, for whenever we’ve reached that next goal, that next step. Often that moment never arrives, because we find other goals or other objectives. Living the now and for it is a lesson that not many people learn. I also felt I did not get to know Kalanithi well. He writes compellingly about his work, his efforts to find meaning and to offer meaning to others through his vocation, he mentions religion and how he turned to literature too to try and understand death. There are glimpses of him, mostly towards the end of the book, and truly heart-wrenching moments, like the birth of his daughter. I agree with everybody that his wife’s epilogue is more touching and heart-felt, less analytical and rationalised than the parts he wrote and I felt more connection to her than to her husband. I wish her and her daughter well and I have the feeling she is more than equal to the task of bringing up her girl and carrying on with her career.

This is an interesting book, a book that will make the reader think about his or her own mortality, and it will touch many. It does have a fair amount of medical terminology (I’m a doctor so it’s not easy for me to judge how complex it might be for somebody with no medical knowledge, although I saw some comments about it) and it’s not a touchy-feely open-my-heart type of confession about the final days of somebody. It’s a fairly intellectualised look at matters of life and death, but it ultimately provides no answers. Why that should be a surprise to anybody, I’m not sure. It is not a book on spirituality (although there are some reflections about it) or a moral guide to live your death. If bearing all that in mind you’re still interested, I found it well-worth a read.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Buy it at:  
Format & Pricing:
Hardcover:  $14.88 (http://www.amazon.com/When-Breath-Becomes-Paul-Kalanithi/dp/081298840X/)
Kindle: $14.14 (http://www.amazon.com/When-Breath-Becomes-Paul-Kalanithi-ebook/dp/B0165X8WN2/)

Audiobook: $23.88 (http://www.amazon.com/When-Breath-Becomes-Air/dp/B01CQ0CFQS/)

Olga Núñez Miret

@OlgaNM7

http://www.authortranslatorolga.com

http://www.OlgaNM.com

 

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen by Lindsay Ashford (@LindsayAshfordA). Faction and death in the Austen Family

Hi all:

I shared this review on Lit World Interviews a while back but not here and considering how entertaining the book is and what it is about, I was sure many of you would be interested if you hadn’t come across it yet.

The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen by Lindsay Ashford
The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen by Lindsay Ashford

The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen by Lindsay Ashford

Description:

When Jane Austen dies at the age of just 41, Anne, governess to her brother, Edward Austen, is devastated and begins to suspect that someone might have wanted her out of the way. Now, 20 years on, she hopes that medical science might have progressed sufficiently to assess the one piece of evidence she has – a tainted lock of Jane’s hair. Natural causes or murder? Even 20 years down the line, Anne is determined to get to the bottom of the mysterious death of the acclaimed Miss Austen. A compelling speculative fictional account of the circumstances surrounding Jane Austen’s mysterious death from established crime writer Lindsay Ashford, based on her own and relatives correspondence.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Mysterious-Death-Miss-Jane-Austen/dp/1402282125/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mysterious-Death-Miss-Austen-ebook/dp/B007BTHCIQ/

Author Lindsay Jayne Ashford
Author Lindsay Jayne Ashford

About the author:

Raised in Wolverhampton, UK, Lindsay Jayne Ashford became the first woman to graduate from Queens’ College, Cambridge in its 550 year history. She gained a degree in Criminology and was employed as a reporter for the BBC before becoming a freelance journalist, writing for a number of national magazines and newspapers.
Lindsay began her career as a novelist with a contemporary crime series featuring forensic psychologist Megan Rhys. She moved into the historical genre with ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen’, and her two most recent books, ‘The Color of Secrets’ and ‘The Woman on the Orient Express’ blend real events with fiction and are set in the first half of the twentieth century.
She has four children and divides her time between a house overlooking the sea on the west coast of Wales and a small farmhouse in Spain’s Sierra de Los Filabres. When she is not writing she is a volunteer with the charity Save the Children. She also enjoys kayaking and walking her dog – a Border Terrier called Milly.

Review:

Thanks to Honno Welsh Women’s Press for sending me a paperback copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

I do like Jane Austen’s novels. Some more than others (Pride and Prejudice is my favourite at the moment, although there are some that I can’t even remember if and when I read them, so this could change), but I am not an expert on the subject or her number one fan. Still, when I was offered a copy of this book, I was intrigued. I had written a post about Jane Austen for my series of guest classical authors and it proved one of the most popular in my blog, and I remembered from checking her biography that she’d died quite young after a somewhat unclear illness. So a book exploring her death, and backed up with research into the archives at Chawton House, in other libraries, and also by a careful perusal of some of her best-known biographies was intriguing. (I’m also a doctor, but not in internal Medicine, and no Dr House either).

The book is narrated in the first person by Miss Anne Sharp, a governess who goes to work for one of Jane’s brothers, Edward, and his wife, Elizabeth, at Godmersham. Her personal circumstances are difficult, and not that different from those of Jane herself, a single woman, educated but of no independent means. In Miss Sharp’s case, she does not have a family to rely on and she considers herself lucky obtaining a position with a wealthy family, even if her standing is unclear (she is neither a servant to share the world of downstairs, nor a member of the family who can participate in all their social gatherings). She meets Jane when she visits and they are kindred spirits, well-read and less interested in fashion and finding a husband than in cultivating their minds and observing the world and the society around them. They soon become friends, and correspond and see each other often over the years, despite changes in circumstances, until Jane’s death.

The novel mixes well-researched data with some flights of fancy (the intricacies and complexities of the Austen’s family relationships are rendered much more interesting by suggestions of illicit affairs involving several family members, which then become one of the backbones of the hypothesis that Jane was poisoned with arsenic, providing a possible motivation). I’ve read reviews stating that if this novel had been published within 50 years of Jane’s death it could have been considered slander. This is probably true (I won’t go into detail, as I don’t want to give the plot away) but hardly the point. Yes, there are suppositions that would be virtually impossible to prove, but they help move the story along and serve to highlight the nature of the society of the time.

I liked the portrayal of Jane, indirect as it is and from the point of view of a fairly unreliable narrator. She is presented as a bright, humorous and fiercely intelligent woman, devout of her family but fully aware of their shortcomings. She is a keen observer of human nature and a good amateur psychologist, producing wonderful portraits of the people and the types they come across. There isn’t much detail about the process of getting her novels into publication, other than what the narrator conjectures, as she is no longer in the Austen’s circle at that point.

In the novel, Anne Sharp has feelings for Jane that go beyond friendship, but she never reveals them to Jane, and three is no suggestion that Jane reciprocates her feelings. One of the keys to the novel is the narrator. Although I thought the observational part of the novel was well achieved (I’m not an expert on the literature of the period, though, but I felt there was enough detail without getting to the point of overburdening the story), I was not so sure about how rounded Miss Sharp’s character was. She can be self-restrained one minute (in her relationship with Jane) and then throw all caution to the wind and risk her position with no solid basis for her accusations. And some of the theories she works with and then rejects felt a bit forced (yes, I had worked out who the guilty party was going to be well before she gets there). I didn’t dislike her but wasn’t fully convinced either.

I enjoyed the book. The story moves along at good pace and it made me want to read more about Jane Austen’s life, and, especially, revisit some of her novels. As a murder mystery of the period, it is perhaps closer to a cosy mystery than to a police procedural (for evident reasons), with the added beauty that the background and the period are well researched and fascinating in their own right. I would recommend it to readers in general, particularly to people who enjoy or are curious about Austen’s work, although I suspect that to real scholars of the subject it might appear too little and too fanciful. But if you want a good read, go for it.

Thanks to Honno Welsh Women’s Press and to the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, commend and CLICK! And to leave a review if you read any books!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview ALL I EVER WANTED by Lucy Dillon (@lucy_dillon) A feel-good story with its heart in the right place.

Hi all:

As promised, I’m going down my list of reviews. As it’s in alphabetic order, it’s luck of the draw what comes up, genre-wise, but you won’t have to wait long for the next one.

All I Ever Wanted by Lucy Dillon

All I Ever Wanted by Lucy Dillon I recommend it to anybody who loves a gentle story about families, with no scandals, major shocks, histrionics or extremes

FROM THE BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF A HUNDRED PIECES OF ME AND ONE SMALL ACT OF KINDNESS COMES A HEARTWARMING, BITTERSWEET AND UPLIFTING STORY OF MISSED CHANCES AND UNEXPECTED OPPORTUNITIES.

‘Lucy Dillon’s books make the world a better place’ Heat

‘Bittersweet, lovely and ultimately redemptive; the kind of book that makes you want to live your own life better’ Jojo Moyes

‘So satisfying and clever and deeply moving’ Sophie Kinsella

Caitlin’s life is a mess. Her marriage to a man everyone else thinks is perfect has collapsed, along with her self-esteem, and breaking free seems the only option.

Nancy, her four-year-old daughter, used to talk all the time; in the car, at nursery, to her brother Joel. Then her parents split up. Her daddy moves out. And Nancy stops speaking.

Nancy’s Auntie Eva, recently widowed and feeling alone, apart from the companionship of two bewildered pugs, is facing a future without her husband or the dreams she gave up for him.

But when Eva agrees to host her niece and nephew once a fortnight, Caitlin and Eva are made to face the different truths about their marriages – and about what they both really want . . .

Links:

 

 

About the author: 

Author Lucy Dillon
Author Lucy Dillon

Lucy Dillon grew up in Cumbria and read English at Cambridge, then read a lot of magazines as a press assistant in London, then read other people’s manuscripts as a junior fiction editor. She now lives in a village outside Hereford with two basset hounds, an old red Range Rover, and too many books.

ONE SMALL ACT OF KINDNESS is Lucy’s sixth novel. The people are made up, but the basset hound, unfortunately, isn’t.

Lucy won the Romantic Novelists’ Association Contemporary Romantic Novel prize in 2015 for A HUNDRED PIECES OF ME, and the Romantic Novel of the Year Award in 2010 for LOST DOGS AND LONELY HEARTS.

You can follow her on Twitter @lucy_dillon or find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/LucyDillonBooks.

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Hodder & Stoughton for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily review.

This novel tells the story of a family, as unique as all families, and it starts seemingly at a point of crisis. What is supposed to be a fun trip to London for the kids, just ahead of Christmas, somehow marks the beginning of the end for of Caitlin and Patrick’s marriage. In the aftermath of the separation between them, Patrick’s sister, Eva, who was widowed a couple of years ago, ends up becoming roped into the situation and making interesting discoveries about herself.

The story is told in the third person, mostly from the alternating points of view of Caitlin and Eva, although there are a couple of fragments from the point of view of little Nancy. This is a book dominated by the female perspective, although it is not chick-lit. Each character is very distinctive and the reader gets to share in their point of view, although the alternating voices help to give more perspective to the story and to create a fuller understanding and a richer picture. Whilst at times we might identify completely with the characters and share their thoughts and feelings, they are not presented as perfect or always right. In fact, it is easy to feel annoyed and frustrated at times with some of the decisions they take, and we start questioning our alliances. But, as is the case with real human beings, nobody is perfect, and in this case, the story helps us understand their circumstances, why they behave as they do. By the end, we conclude that they all love each other, sometimes even if they are not aware of it, but they needed to work through their difficulties communicating and to get rid of the secrets they kept from each other.

The novel offers us two very different female protagonists, Caitlin, reckless, impulsive, disorganised, with a big heart, a fierce mother who’d do anything to protect her cubs, but less than perfect, and aware of her weak points, and Eva, a far more rational, business-like and determined woman. Both of them thought they’d found the perfect husband but they discover things aren’t quite as they think. As mentioned, we might feel closer to one or the other, but they both come through the pages as real people. We share their fears, hopes, puzzlement, even if at times we might not agree with what they do. The two children, Joel and Nancy are beautifully depicted, with their very different temperaments, and they also function well as stand-ins for children in similar situations, trying their hardest to cope and make sense of what’s going on around them. In a way, Nancy and her predicament, when she stops talking, is an embodiment of the difficulties between the adults, who are also keeping secrets and are unable to communicate effectively their feelings, even if they are still talking. The men in the story, although only seen through the perspective of the women, are neither knights in shining armour (no matter how hard they try), nor villains, but good people trying their best to be worthy of their partners and their families. And if you love pets, the two pugs, Bumble and Bee will melt your hearts, with their individual personalities, their ways of communicating and providing a safe haven to humans, and their winning ways.

This is a touching novel that makes us think about families (standard and alternative), about the impact of expectations and childhood experiences on our adult behaviour, and about the risks of trying to impose impossible standards on others. We need to remain true to ourselves to be the best for our families. The author invites us to become members of this extended family and we feel a bit orphaned at the end. I recommend it to anybody who loves a gentle story about families, with no scandals, major shocks, histrionics or extremes. A feel-good story with its heart in the right place.

Thanks to NetGalley, to the publishers and to the author for this wonderful novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember, like, share, comment and CLICK! More tomorrow!

 

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Book review Book reviews Reviews Rosie's Book Review Team Rosie's Book Team Review

#Bookreview #RBRT THE BEAUTY OF THE FALL by Rich Marcello. A beautifully written novel about loss, meaning and relationships, with its heart in the right place. #TuesdayBookBlog

Hi all:

Rich Marcello, the author of this novel, got in touch with me asking for a review. As the book sounded well-wroth a read but I was buried under a mountain of books, I agreed to review when I could and also made some suggestions as to other venues for reviews. Finally, I’m pleased to say I’ve read it.

Here, the novel, including the press release that the author kindly sent me.

Cover of the Beauty of the Fall by Rich Marcello
The Beauty of the Fall by Rich Marcello

The Beauty of the Fall by Rich Marcello

A TECHNOLOGY EXECUTIVE CHARTS A HIGH-RISK, UNCONVENTIONAL PATH WHILE GRIEVING THE LOSS OF HIS SON

Dan Underlight, a divorced, workaholic technology executive, suffers lingering grief over the death of his ten-year-old son, Zack. When Dan’s longtime friend and boss fires Dan from RadioRadio, the company that he helped create, he crashes and isolates himself.
Willow, a poet and domestic violence survivor, helps Dan regain his footing. With her support, Dan ventures on a pilgrimage of sorts, visiting Fortune 500 companies to flesh out a software start-up idea. He then recruits three former RadioRadio colleagues and starts Conversationworks, a company he believes will be at the vanguard of social change.
Guided by Dan’s leadership, Conversationworks enjoys some early successes, but its existence is soon threatened on multiple fronts. Will Dan survive the ensuing corporate battles and realize the potential of his company? Or will he be defeated by his enemies and consumed by his grief?

https://www.amazon.com/Beauty-Fall-Novel-Rich-Marcello-ebook/dp/B01MFCTYYW/

Press release

 

  Softcover

  ISBN: 978-1-63505-402-6

 Page Count: 376

 Release Date: October 25th, 2016

Price: $16.95 

The Beauty of the Fall takes Readers on Intriguing Journey

In Rich Marcello’s new novel, The Beauty of the Fall, Dan Underlight, a divorced, workaholic technology executive, suffers lingering grief over the death of his ten-year- old son, Zack. When Dan’s longtime friend and boss fires Dan from RadioRadio, the company that he helped create, he crashes and isolates himself.

Willow, a poet and domestic violence survivor and advocate, helps Dan regain his footing. With her support, Dan ventures on a pilgrimage of sorts, visiting Fortune 500 companies to flesh out a software start-up idea.

When Dan returns home with a fully formed vision, he recruits the help of three former RadioRadio colleagues and starts Conversationworks, a company he believes will be at the vanguard of social change. Guided by Dan’s generative leadership, Conversationworks enjoys some early successes, but its existence is soon threatened on multiple fronts. Will Dan survive the ensuing corporate battles and realize the potential of his company? Or will he be defeated by his enemies and consumed by his grief?

This captivating, idea-driven novel appeals to readers who are interested in exploring a technology based solution to many of our current social problems, and to readers who are interested in father-son relationships, gender equality, and working through grief.

Author Rich Marcello
Author Rich Marcello

About the Author

Rich is a poet, a songwriter and musician, a creative writing teacher, and the author of three novels, The Color of Home, The Big Wide Calm, and The Beauty of the Fall.

As anyone who has read Rich’s work can tell you, his books deal with life’s big questions: love, loss, creativity, community, aging, self-discovery.  His novels are rich with characters and ideas, crafted by a natural storyteller, with the eye and the ear of a poet.

For Rich, writing and art making is about connection, or as he says, about making a difference to a least one other person in the world, something he has clearly achieved many times over, both as an artist and a teacher.

Advanced Praise

“Few novels are as intelligent and relevant as The Beauty of the Fall.  Almost none is as eloquent, compelling, heartbreaking, and ultimately, uplifting.”  — Mark Spencer,

Faulkner Award winner and author of Ghostwalking

“Rich Marcello’s The Beauty of the Fall takes the reader on two intriguing journeys: the exciting coffee-fueled rise of a high-tech start-up and the emotional near-collapse of the man behind the revolutionary company, his personal journey through grief and healing.”

––Jessamyn Hope, author of Safekeeping

“Rich Marcello’s third novel, The Beauty of the Fall, intermixes poetry and prose fluidly throughout the manuscript, and in fact, incorporates poetry as one of its major themes. As a practicing poet, I was swept away by the lyrical language, the characters, and the unexpected twists and turns in the plot. Overall, a great and inspiring read!” — Rebecca Givens Rolland, author of The Wreck of Birds 

Links to the novel and author sites:

https://www.amazon.com/Beauty-Fall-Novel-Rich-Marcello-ebook/dp/B01MFCTYYW/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32711997-the-beauty-of-the-fall

https://www.facebook.com/richmarcelloauthor/

https://www.instagram.com/rich.marcello/

My review:

I received an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team.

This beautifully written novel touches on many subjects that are important at different levels: some, like loss (be it the death of a child, a divorce, the loss of not only a job but also a life-project) can be felt (and there are heart-wrenching moments in the novel) understood and managed at a very personal level, others, like the role of communications technology (who must control it? Should it remain neutral or become involved in the big issues? Should it ally itself with governments or be creatively independent?) or domestic and gender-related violence, although no doubt having a personal component, also seem to require global solutions.  This ambitious novel tries to give answers to many of these questions and it does so through a first person narrative interspersed with poetry.

The novel is narrated by Dan Underlight, whom we meet at a particularly difficult time in his life. His son died a couple of years earlier and he feels guilty about it (we learn the details quite late in the novel), he is divorced, and now, the technology company he helped to create, and by extension his business partner and the woman he’d been closer to than almost anybody else for many years, fires him. His job, the only thing that had kept him going, is taken away from him. He has no financial worries. He has a good severance pay, a huge house, two cars, but his life is empty. Through the novel, Dan, who still sees his son, has conversations with him and wants to start a project in his memory, meets many people. Most of them are enablers. He has known Willow, a woman who works helping women victims of domestic violence, and herself a survivor (although she doesn’t talk much about it, at least with Dan) for some time and eventually, their friendship turns into a romantic relationship for a while. He has also been attending therapy with Nessa, a very special therapist (as a psychiatrist I was very curious about her techniques, but working in the NHS in the UK I must admit I’d never even heard of a Buddha board) since his son’s death, and during his peculiar pilgrimage, he gets ideas, encouragement, and a few brushes with reality too.

Much of the rest of the novel is taken up by Dan’s creation of a new company, based on his idea that if people could converse about important subjects and all these conversations could be combined, they would reach agreements and solve important problems. As conversations and true communication in real life amount to more than just verbal exchanges, there are technical problems to be solved, funding, etc. I found this part of the novel engaging at a different level and not having much knowledge on the subject didn’t detract from my interest, although I found it highly idealistic and utopian (not so much the technical part of it, but the faith in the capacity of people to reach consensual agreements and for those to be later enforced), and I also enjoyed the underhand dealings of the woman who had been his friend but seemed somehow to have become his enemy. (I wasn’t sure that her character came across as consistent, but due to the subjective nature of the narration, this might have more to do with Dan’s point of view than with Olivia herself).

Dan makes mistakes and does things that morally don’t fit in with the code he creates for his company, or with the ideals he tries to live by (he is human, after all) and things unravel somewhat as life has a few more surprises for him, but, without wanting to offer any spoilers, let’s say that there are many lessons he has learned along the way.

As I said before, the language is beautiful, and the poems, most of which are supposedly written by Willow, provide also breathing space and moments to stop, think and savour both the action and the writing style.

First of all, let me confess I was very taken by this novel and I couldn’t stop reading it and even debating the points with myself (I live alone, so, that was the best I could do). I was also touched by both the emotions expressed and the language used. As a sensorial reading experience, it’s wonderful.

Now, if I had to put on my analysing cap, and after reading some of the reviews on Goodreads, I thought I should try and summarise the issues some readers have with the novel.

The themes touched are important and most people will feel able to relate to some if not all of them. Regarding the characters and their lifestyle, those might be very far from the usual experience of a lot of readers. Although we have a handful of characters who are not big cheeses in technology companies, those only play a minor part in the book. The rapid expansion of the technology and how it is used in the book is a best case scenario and might give readers some pause. Personally, I could imagine how big companies could save money using such technology, but charitable organisations, schools or libraries, unless very well-funded, in the current financial times when official funding has become very meagre, would have problems being able to afford it all, and that only in theoretically rich countries. (The issue of world expansion is referred to early on in the project but they decide to limit their ambitions for the time being).

Also, the fact that issues to be discussed and championed were decided by a few enlightened individuals (although there is some debate about the matter) could raise issues of paternalism and hint at a view of the world extremely western-centred (something again hinted at in the novel). Evidently, this is a novel and not a socio-political treatise and its emphasis on changing the US laws to enforce legislation protecting equality, women’s rights and defending women against violence brings those matters the attention and focus that’s well-deserved.

For me, the novel, where everything that happens and every character that appears is there to either assist, hinder, or inspire Dan (it is a subjective narrative and one where the main character is desperately searching for meaning) works as a fable or perhaps better a parable, where the feelings and the teachings are more important than the minute details or how we get there. It is not meant to be taken as an instructions manual but it will be inspirational to many who read it.

In summary, although some readers might find it overly didactic (at times it seems to over-elaborate the point and a word to the wise…) and might miss more variety and diversity in the characters, it is a beautifully written book that will make people think and induce debate.  This is not a book I’d recommend to readers that like a lot of action and complex plots, but to those who enjoy a personal journey that will ring true with many. It is a touching and engaging read to be savoured by those who enjoy books that challenge our opinions and ideas.

Thanks to the author and to Rosie, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment and CLICK!

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