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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog UNTOUCHED by Jayme Bean (@JaymeBeanAuthor) If you’ve always loved adventures in the jungle, read this #RBRT

Hi, all:

I bring you another one of the discoveries from Rosie’s group, in this case, a debut novel, so it’s truly a discovery, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was published yesterday, but I had a chance to check an ARC copy before its publication.

Untouched by Jayme Bean

Untouched by Jayme Bean

Dr. Julia Morrow and her graduate students, David and Marisol, embark on a research trip to explore a remote section of the Amazon rainforest. When their trails seem to change direction at will and they find themselves lost and without communication, the trio worry they may be in for more than just the latest scientific discovery. After strange circumstances divide the group, they’re left deciding which is more important – finding out why the rainforest seems like it’s alive or getting back home in one piece. The deeper they travel into the jungle in search of answers, the more they realize that some places are meant to remain untouched.

https://www.amazon.com/Untouched-Jayme-Bean-ebook/dp/B08YN48638/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Untouched-Jayme-Bean-ebook/dp/B08YN48638/

https://www.amazon.es/Untouched-Jayme-Bean-ebook/dp/B08YN48638/

 

About the author:

Jayme Bean is an independent author who enjoys writing stories that speak both to the wonders of the world and the highs and lows of the human condition. Inspired by her travels around the world and her career as a zookeeper, she writes using her experiences, which lend a unique viewpoint to her stories. Jayme calls the sunny state of Florida home and shares her life with her husband, son, and four cats.

Catch up with Jayme over social media:
@JaymeBeanAuthor on Twitter and Instagram
/JaymeBeanAuthor on Facebook

You can also visit Jayme on Goodreads or on her website JaymeBeanAuthor.com

https://www.amazon.com/Jayme-Bean/e/B08TMZYPPV/

 My review:

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

This is a debut novel, and based on the acknowledgments, it seems that despite the author’s initial reluctance to write a book, her enthusiasm for the Amazon rainforest, her contact with other writers, and her husband’s support encouraged her to embark on the project, and I am grateful for it. It is a great story, and I’ve enjoyed it enormously.

The plot is not too complicated, although this is a book where the devil is in the detail. What if the Amazon rainforest could defend itself against the intrusions and destruction it is suffering at the hands of the human being? What if the plants and the trees fought us back? The Day of the Triffids came to my mind, but let that not confuse you. That’s not what this is about. The beauty of the story is that the protagonists who end up fighting for their survival are not “baddies” in the classical sense, but quite the opposite. They are not there to destroy the forest but to research and learn about it, to try to preserve it. But, research and experiments, as we all know, are not always harmless, and the best of intentions can have terrible consequences. In that peculiar setting, we have the protagonists (Marisol and David are the research students, and they get separated from Dr. Morrow quite early in the book, although they become a trio again when they meet Ben, who’d gone missing before their arrival), and the novel is, in a way, something I’ve referred to before: a “coming of age”-style or “rite of passage” novel with a grown-up protagonist. Although the three: Marisol, David, and Ben are put to the test by what happens, David is the one that goes through a major change, and whose experiences get him further away from his comfort zone. In their own different styles, the three are geeks: studious, bookworms, and more focused on their research and learning than on their social lives, but David has always loved the indoors and seems totally unprepared for the expedition. Despite that, his contributions are very important to the resolution of the novel (although I won’t spoil the whole of the story for you), and he comes out of it a changed man.

If I had to choose a genre, I am not sure which one I would use to describe the story. It is an adventure story, a mystery (as two people go missing in the story, and later on there are other mysteries to try to solve, as the protagonists get lost in the rainforest and don’t know how to get out) that veers into horror at times, but also a story about learning who you are by confronting your fears, learning to work as part of a team, and to trust others. Along the way, we learn a lot about plants, biology, and the Amazon rainforest, about the organisation of a research expedition, about some Peruvian traditional beliefs, about panic attacks and its symptoms, and there is an interesting —if somewhat brief— conversation about bisexuality and how people react to it. There is a love story as well, and although I don’t think it will take anybody by surprise, it works well, and it adds further depth to the characters.

Although there are some other characters that contribute to the story (like the local guides, some of the other members of the research team), and I would have liked to get to know Dr. Morrow a bit better, the story centres on the three characters I’ve already mentioned. Marisol comes from Florida, her humble family is originally from Puerto Rico, her mother died when she was quite young, and she is very fond of her father, brothers (including a twin brother), and despite her scientific studies and knowledge can’t help but remember her grandmother’s teachings and religious beliefs, which make her worry about the guides’ refusal to go further into the forest, that they deem “tierra maldita” (“accursed land”). David, on the other hand, is from a very well-off family, but his parents have never been particularly close or even interested in him and his life, and he took refuge in his books and his studies. He never seemed to connect with anybody and has no true friends. He also suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, and although he has learned to manage those quite well, in most cases, it is not easy in his current circumstances. They make for a very odd couple, but, as you will probably image, they learn much about each other and about themselves in the process. Ben… We don’t get to know so much about him, as he is introduced later in the story, but he comes from a reasonably happy family, although he prefers to do his own thing and feels his parents try to over-control him; and he is independent to a fault, having learned how to live in the rainforest and become a true survivalist. The story also reminded me of a Young Adult or a New Adult story, because of its focus on characters (especially David) who are emotionally younger than their years, with the advantage that in this case, their ages (they are in their late twenties) make the whole novel more realistic, as we aren’t confronted with 17 years old who have the skills and knowledge that many experienced adults would be envious of, a common trope in some of these novels.

The story is told in the third person, although the point of view alternates between the different characters. In my opinion, David’s point of view dominates the story overall, but the author is excellent at introducing the experiences of the other characters as well, and although there is a fair amount of telling (because the characters —and us, of course— need to learn details about the project, the place, the plants, and the environment to make sense of what is happening), we often get to see and experience the full richness of the rainforest, the wonder and marvel of the sounds, the colours, the shapes, the feelings, the smells, and also the fear of being at the mercy of nature and not fully knowing what is coming next. The combination of the scientific knowledge titbits (that I found fascinating despite knowing very little about plants and even less about the rainforest), the fight for survival, and the strength and resilience of the characters, with the occasional touch of humour, reminded me of The Martian, and although the setting is completely different, I think there are some commonalities there. There are scenes of great tension interspersed with more contemplative moments, and the narrative eaves and flows, but although sometimes it might seem as if the characters are banging their heads against a wall (tree?) or spinning their wheels, I was hooked by the narrative and gripped by the story from very early on, and sad when it came to an end.

I highlighted much of the text and have found it too difficult to choose a few examples from the selection to share. There are witty dialogues, moving confessions, wonderful descriptions, scientific explanations, and awe-inspiring and scary passages as well. As usual, I’d advise prospective readers to check a sample of the novel, to see if the style of writing suits their taste.

I loved the ending, and although perhaps I would have liked to know more, it felt satisfying and right. I’ve mentioned the author’s acknowledgments, and I enjoyed reading about the process and what inspired her to write this book.

I recommend this book, which I had a great time with, to readers who enjoy adventure stories set in the wild, particularly those with an emphasis on ecology, biology, and the rainforest, happy to read about science and learn new things, and who also enjoy novels whose characters grow and learn from their experiences. There are beautifully descriptive passages that don’t overwhelm the story; there are plenty of adventures and scary moments for those who like to be gripped by a narrative; and also much to make us think. At the beginning of the novel, the author warns about the presence of episodes describing anxiety and panic attacks, and it is a fair warning, as the descriptions are very realistic and might cause upset to sufferers. There are also very mild scenes of M&M intimacy (I’d hesitate to call it erotica, and there is little explicit in them), but as I know what is somewhat subjective, I thought I’d mention it. There is no interpersonal violence in the book, but I’ve mentioned some scary scenes, and there are other kinds of violence and injuries present as well (that probably would be covered by the author’s warning about strong themes).

Oh, I came across this video shortly after reading the novel, and I couldn’t help but add it here, in case you want to learn more about plants and their defense mechanisms.

Thanks to Rosie and her team for the support, thanks to the author for the novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to keep safe, to take care, and, of course, to keep reading, smiling, to comment, and to share if you know anybody who’d enjoy it. 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog HOW MUCH OF THESE HILLS IS GOLD by C Pam Zhang (@hayleycamis) (@ViragoBooks) How the West was won, but not as we know it

Hi all.

I bring you a pretty amazing book today. I hope you’re all keeping safe.

How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang

How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang

‘The boldest debut of the year’ Observer

‘It is refreshing to discover a new author of such grand scale, singular focus and blistering vision’ Guardian

America. In the twilight of the Gold Rush, two siblings cross a landscape with a gun in their hands and the body of their father on their backs . . .

Ba dies in the night, Ma is already gone. Lucy and Sam, twelve and eleven, are suddenly alone and on the run. With their father’s body on their backs, they roam an unforgiving landscape dotted with giant buffalo bones and tiger paw prints, searching for a place to give him a proper burial.

How Much of These Hills is Gold is a sweeping adventure tale, an unforgettable sibling story and a remarkable novel about a family bound and divided by its memories.

‘A truly gifted writer’ Sebastian Barry, two-time Costa Book of the Year winner

‘Pure gold’ Emma Donoghue, Booker-shortlisted author of Room

‘Remarkable. It will haunt readers’ Chigozie Obioma, Booker-shortlisted author of An Orchestra of Minorities

‘Dazzling’ Daisy Johnson, Booker-shortlisted author of Everything Under

‘This book is a wonder’ Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You

‘Ferocious, dark and gleaming’ New York Times bestselling author of Fates and Furies

‘I envy you your first read of this book’ R. O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries

‘A hypnotic, virtuosic novel’ Tahmima Anam, winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize

https://www.amazon.com/How-Much-These-Hills-Gold-ebook/dp/B07SZL7V8B/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Much-These-Hills-Gold-ebook/dp/B07SZL7V8B/

https://www.amazon.es/How-Much-These-Hills-Gold-ebook/dp/B07SZL7V8B/

Author C Pam Zhang

About the author:

Born in Beijing but mostly an artifact of the United States, C Pam Zhang has lived in thirteen cities across four countries and is still looking for home. She’s been awarded support from Tin House, Bread Loaf, Aspen Words and elsewhere, and currently lives in San Francisco.

https://www.amazon.com/C-Pam-Zhang/e/B01LZ3PS2E?

My review:

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

My father was a fan of Westerns, and although as a child I was tired of always having to watch old Westerns (as a young man, my father used to read the Spanish equivalent of the Western dime novels as well), I must confess that that world, its mythology, and its true history, captivate me as well. And never more so than when the stories chronicle the people who hardly ever make it into the history books (although there has been a move towards redressing that in recent years). So this novel had all the elements to intrigue me, and it is a debut novel as well. And one I won’t forget in a hurry.

This new author has been compared to Cormac McCarthy (but I’ve only read one of his novels, so I don’t feel I can comment), and her choice of characters reminded me of recent books I’ve read and reviewed by Sebastian Barry. I know it is common place to write that you’re surprised a novel has been written by a debut writer, or it is their first novel, but it is the case here, and it’s clear that the author has a talent for writing (and I don’t doubt she has worked very hard at it as well).

The novel, set around the time of the Gold Rush, is divided into four parts, covering a period of around a decade in the life of Lucy (and her sister/brother Sam). The first three parts tell the story of how they got to the situation we find them in at the beginning of the novel, in reverse chronological order (sort of). The fourth part moves forward and we see what happened to Lucy afterwards, and we meet Sam again, albeit briefly. We meet the two sisters when they lose their father (they had lost their mother a few years earlier), see them struggle to try to bury him in the appropriate way (their mother had come from China and had taught them plenty of stories and traditions that they try to follow and live by), and eventually split up. The second part chronicles the events that had happened before, providing a background story of the family and also explaining how they lost their mother. Part three is hauntingly beautiful, and rather than the third person narration from Lucy’s point of view (that grows more insightful and elaborate as the novel advances) we get a narration from Ba, her father’s point of view. It’s not clear if this is his ghost telling the story or some memory that lives on, but it is addressed to Lucy, and it explains things that she does not know, some tragic and terrific, and some beautiful and lyrical. In part four we catch up with the siblings, years later, and learn what happened next. This is historical fiction gold, a revisionist story/history of the West, and a look at some of the forgotten figures and peoples in history.

Many themes are touched upon on this novel. I’ve mentioned history, but this is history from the point of view of outsiders, who although born in the country will never be accepted, and people will always look at them as if they were an exotic plant or animal (the tiger is a symbol hovering over much of the novel), either heaping abuse at them, exploiting them for entertainment or enjoyment, or trying to turn them into object of curio and study. Race and gender are at the forefront of the novel but remain somewhat ungraspable and ambiguous (is Sam a boy in a girl’s body, or a girl whose father’s wish for a son she internalised to the point where she no longer has a will of her own, or something entirely different?). Ultimately, there are myths, lies, pretences, stories we tell others and ourselves, gold prospecting, mining, the building of the railroads, migration, different models of womanhood, of culture, of family… It’s a novel about identity and how we build ours, and how others also cast upon us their own labels and prejudices. It’s a novel about survival and about much more.

Lucy, Sam, and their parents are unforgettable characters. If Lucy is the girly-girl, studious, and prim and proper, and Sam is the tomboy/boy, always following his father, they all play specific roles in their family, and when the family breaks, it’s difficult to keep going. The young sibling is far less naïve and weak than Lucy thinks, and they are both the children of their parents in more ways than they realise. It’s impossible not to feel for these orphans and their terrible circumstances, and the author does a great job of making us share in and understand why they are how they are. The story is at times breathtakingly beautiful and at others horrifyingly ugly, true to life. Although perhaps the style of the writing and the narration might not suit all tastes, I think most readers will connect at an emotional level with the characters, empathise and suffer with them.

The writing style changes throughout the novel, growing with the main character, and becoming more articulate and less impressionistic. The beginning of the novel reminded me of Sebastian Barry’s recent book A Thousand Moons, which also has a young girl as the protagonist, and there is a strong focus on description, not only of the physical world, but also of the emotions and the feelings the character experiences as she is confronted with her personal tragedy. For all her fascination with books and the intelligence that’s supposed to be her strong point, she can be naïve at times, and places too much trust in appearances. Later in the novel she is more insightful and the writing also reflects her progressive enlightenment and what it truly means. I’ve talked about the third part of the book, which is the jewel of the crown for me, but I truly enjoyed it all, although, as usual, I’d recommend prospective readers to check a sample first.

A couple of examples from the book (although I must remind you that I read an ARC copy, so there might be changes in the final version of the book):

And Lucy is reminded that what makes Ma most beautiful is the contradiction of her. Rough voice over smooth skin. Smile stretched over sadness —this queer ache that makes Ma’s eyes look miles and miles away. Brimming with an ocean’s worth of wet.’

A land stripped of its gold, its rivers, its buffalo, its Indians, its tigers, its jackals, its birds and its green and its living. To move through this land and believe Ba’s tales is to see each hill as a burial mound with its own crown of bones. Who could believe that and survive? Who could believe that and keep from looking, as Ba and Sam do, always toward the past? Letting it drag behind them. Letting it make them into fools.’

The ending might not satisfy readers who prefer everything to be tied up and a clear conclusion, but for me, I couldn’t think of a more fitting ending. I won’t go into details and leave readers to decide.

In sum, this is a book that has a distinct style of writing, tells a fascinating story, full of myths, tales, imagination, and also some truly awful realities of a historical period that has often been written about and represented in films and popular culture, but the official depiction glosses over many of the events and ignores a lot of the people that were there as well, just because their race, gender, lifestyle choices, or a combination of those, does not fit into the traditional history books. Its characters are unforgettable, and I recommend it to readers who enjoy a different perspective on historical events and who don’t mind taking up a narrative whose style might be challenging at times but it’s ultimately rewarding. A great novel.

Thanks to the publisher and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to keep safe, keep reading, reviewing, and always, keep smiling.

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview BEASTS OF EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCE by Ruth Emmie Lang (@ruthemmielang) A great debut novel for those looking for a bit of magic and hope #Iamreading

Hi all:

I will be on my way to Barcelona today, so if I take time to reply to your comments, don’t worry. I wanted to post this today because I hope to catch up on more reading and I didn’t want to have to post too many reviews very close to Christmas (as I know we all have other things to do). And, I had to share this book. Although the novel is not Christmassy per se, its spirit is very appropriate to this time of the year. And I loved it. Well, here it is.

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang
Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

“Exquisite and adventurous” —Bustle, “11 New Fiction Books You Need”

“Told with brains and heart” –Michelle Gable, New York Times bestselling author of A Paris Apartment

“Bristles with charm and curiosity” –Winston Groom, New York Times bestselling author of Forrest Gump

“A wholly original and superbly crafted work of art, Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance is a masterpiece of the imagination.” –Lori Nelson Spielman, New York Times bestselling author of The Life List and Sweet Forgiveness

“Charlotte’s Web for grown-ups who, like Weylyn Grey, have their own stories of being different, feared, brave, and loved.” –Mo Daviau, author of Every Anxious Wave

Finding magic in the ordinary.

In this warm debut novel, Ruth Emmie Lang teaches us about adventure and love in a beautifully written story full of nature and wonder.

Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasn’t like other people. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas day in Oklahoma, he realized just how different he actually was.

That tornado was the first of many strange events that seem to follow Weylyn from town to town, although he doesn’t like to take credit. As amazing as these powers may appear, they tend to manifest themselves at inopportune times and places. From freak storms to trees that appear to grow over night, Weylyn’s unique abilities are a curiosity at best and at worst, a danger to himself and the woman he loves. But Mary doesn’t care. Since Weylyn saved her from an angry wolf on her eleventh birthday, she’s known that a relationship with him isn’t without its risks, but as anyone who’s met Weylyn will tell you, once he wanders into your life, you’ll wish he’d never leave.

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance tells the story of Weylyn Grey’s life from the perspectives of the people who knew him, loved him, and even a few who thought he was just plain weird. Although he doesn’t stay in any of their lives for long, he leaves each of them with a story to tell. Stories about a boy who lives with wolves, great storms that evaporate into thin air, fireflies that make phosphorescent honey, and a house filled with spider webs and the strange man who inhabits it.

There is one story, however, that Weylyn wishes he could change: his own. But first he has to muster enough courage to knock on Mary’s front door.

Links:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beasts-Extraordinary-Circumstance-Ruth-Emmie/dp/1250112044/

https://www.amazon.com/Beasts-Extraordinary-Circumstance-Ruth-Emmie/dp/1250112044/

Author Ruth Emmie Lang
Author Ruth Emmie Lang

About the author:

Ruth Emmie Lang was born in Glasgow, Scotland and has the red hair to prove it. When she was four years old, she immigrated to Ohio where she has lived for the last 27 years. She has since lost her Scottish accent, but still has the hair.

Ruth currently lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband and dreams of someday owning a little house in the woods where she can write more books. Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance is her first novel.

https://www.amazon.com/Ruth-Emmie-Lang/e/B06VW16MRN/

My review

Thanks to NetGalley and to St. Martin’s Press for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This book is a joy. Readers need to be prepared to suspend disbelief more than usual, perhaps, but from the very beginning, you realise you are in for a ride where everything will be extraordinary. Weylyn, the protagonist, is born in circumstances that his doctor never forgets, and he grows up to be more than a bit special.

I will not repeat the description of the book, which summarises quite well the main aspects of the novel. Weylyn’s story is told, mostly, from the point of view of the characters he meets along the way, and who, somehow, are changed by his presence in their lives. The story is set in the present, with interludes where a boy who literally falls on Weylyn (who lives like a hermit in the forest, with a wolf as his only company) keeps pestering him to tell him his story, and then goes back to the past, and the story is told, always in the first person, by a number of characters. As all readers know, narrators have a way of revealing a lot about themselves when they tell somebody else’s story, and this is true here. None of the narrators are unreliable, but they tell us more of their own stories through their memories of Weylyn than they do about Weylyn himself. We get to know him by the effect he has on those around him (children, adults, some of the characters —those he is closest to— her revisits over the years) and he remains a bit of a cipher, perhaps because he does not know himself or can explain himself fully either. We hear from him towards the end of the book, also in the first person, but he is not a character who defines himself by his “powers” (if that is what they are), and he never gives his talents a name, although he allows people to think whatever they like (He even tries to hide his prowess behind a pig, Merlin, insisting that the horned pig is the one who controls the weather). Despite all these points of view, the book is easy to read as each point of view is clearly delineated and their stories and narrative styles are distinct and appropriate to the characters. The writing flows well and there is enough description to spur readers’ imagination without going overboard.

In a world where children and parents have difficulty communicating, where fitting in and appearances are more important than true generosity, where politicians are self-serving and corrupt, where people stay in relationships because they don’t know how to end them, and where the interest of big corporations always trumps the needs of the common man, Weylyn is like the energy and light he manages to harvest, a ray of hope and a breath of fresh air.

Weylyn is a great character, but so are most of the other characters in the book. Some are more memorable than others, but they are all likeable and changed for the better by their interaction with Weylyn.

Although there are magical and fantastic elements in the novel, in my opinion, it fits into the category of magic realism (as the world the characters live in is our world and that is precisely why people are touched and surprised by his skills, his “specialness”). It would also fall under literary fiction, although it is a much easier read than many books classed under that label (and I feel this is a book not exclusively for adults either. There is minimal violence, clean romance, and many young characters, all distinct and likeable in their own ways).

A story for readers who love great characters and like to let their imaginations fly, not always feeling the need to remain anchored to reality. This is one of those books that we feel sorry to reach the end of and are thankful because we know their memory will remain with us. A great debut novel.

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

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