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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog KNIGHT IN PAPER ARMOR by Nicholas Conley (@NicholasConley1) Scary, inspiring, and ultimately life-affirming #RBRT #Sci-fi

Hi all:

Today I bring you the review of a book by an author that impressed me with one of his novels a few years back:

Knight in Paper Armor by Nicholas Conley

Knight in Paper Armor by Nicholas Conley

Billy Jakobek has always been different. Born with strange and powerful psychic abilities, he has grown up in the laboratories of Thorne Century, a ruthless megacorporation that economically, socially, and politically dominates American society. Every day, Billy absorbs the emotional energies, dreams, and traumas of everyone he meets—from his grandmother’s memories of the Holocaust, to the terror his sheer existence inflicts upon his captors—and he yearns to break free, so he can use his powers to help others.

Natalia Gonzalez, a rebellious artist and daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, lives in Heaven’s Hole, an industrial town built inside a meteor crater, where the poverty-stricken population struggles to survive the nightmarish working conditions of the local Thorne Century factory. Natalia takes care of her ailing mother, her grandmother, and her two younger brothers, and while she dreams of escape, she knows she cannot leave her family behind.

When Billy is transferred to Heaven’s Hole, his chance encounter with Natalia sends shockwaves rippling across the blighted landscape. The two outsiders are pitted against the all-powerful monopoly, while Billy experiences visions of an otherworldly figure known as the Shape, which prophesizes an apocalyptic future that could decimate the world they know.

https://www.amazon.com/Knight-Paper-Armor-Nicholas-Conley-ebook/dp/B08CLSSX8Z/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Knight-Paper-Armor-Nicholas-Conley-ebook/dp/B08CLSSX8Z/

https://www.amazon.es/Knight-Paper-Armor-Nicholas-Conley-ebook/dp/B08CLSSX8Z/

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 (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

I read and reviewed Conley’s novel Pale Highway (you can check my review here) a while back, and it left a long-lasting impression. A book that although falling under the aegis of Science Fiction did not easily fit into any category and provided a unique reading experience.

Conley’s new novel shares some of the same characteristics. It is set in the not too-distant future, a dystopian future where the United States seems to have become more parcelled out and separate than ever —different populations are segregated into newly created states [immigrants have to live in certain areas, the Jewish population in another state, the well-to-do elsewhere…]—, where huge corporations have taken over everything, and prejudice is rampant. From that perspective, the book fits into the science-fiction genre, and there are also other elements (like Billy’s powers, the way the Thorne Corporation is trying to harness those powers…) that easily fit into that category, although, otherwise, the world depicted in it is worryingly similar to the one we live in. Although there aren’t lengthy descriptions of all aspects of the world, there are some scenes that vividly portray some parts of the town (Heaven’s Hole), and I would say the novel is best at creating a feeling or an impression of what life must be like there, rather than making us see it in detail. Somehow it is as if we had acquired some of Billy’s powers and could “sense” what the characters are going through.

I don’t want to discuss the plot in too much detail, as there is much to discover and enjoy, but the book is also, at some level, a rite of passage for the two young protagonists, who might come from very different backgrounds and traditions but have much in common (they’ve lost beloved family members to unfair treatment, discrimination, and manipulation; their grandmothers have played an important role in their lives; they are outsiders; they are strongly committed to others…), and who help each other become better versions of themselves. Although there is a romantic aspect to their relationship (it is reminiscent of “insta love” that so many readers dislike) and even a sex scene (very mild and not at all descriptive), the story of Billy and Natalia’s relationship goes beyond that. I don’t think I would class this novel as a Young Adult story, despite the ages of the protagonists (at least during most of the action), but that would depend on every reader. There is plenty of violence, death of adults and children, instances of physical abuse and serious injuries of both youths and adults, so I’d recommend caution depending on the age of the reader and their sensitivity to those types of subjects.

The book can be read as a metaphor for how the world might end up looking like if we don’t change our ways (and I thought about George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm often as I read this novel), or as a straight Sci-Fi novel where two young people, one with special powers and one without, confront the government/a powerful tyrannous corporation to free society from their clutches (think the Hunger Games, although many other examples exist). It’s easy to draw comparisons and parallels with the present (and with other historical eras) as one reads; and the examples of bullying, abuse, extortion, threats, corruption… might differ in detail from events we know, but not in the essence. There is also emphasis on tradition, memory (the role of the two grandmothers is very important in that respect), identity (Billy’s Jewish identity, Natalia’s Guatemalan one, although she and her family have to pass for Mexicans at some point), disability, diversity, poverty, power, the role of media…

I have talked about the two main characters, who are both heroes (each one in their own way) and well-matched, and their families feature as well and play an important part in grounding them and making us see who they are (although Billy’s family features mostly through his memories of them). We also have a baddie we can hate at will (he is despicable, but I didn’t find him too impressive compared to others, and I prefer baddies with a certain level of humanity rather than a purely evil one), another baddie who is just a bigot and nasty (not much characterization there), and some others whose actions are morally wrong but whose reasons we come to understand. The circumstances of Billy and Natalia are so hard, and they have such great hearts that it is impossible not to root for them (I’m a big fan of Natalia, perhaps because she saves the day without having any special powers and she is easier to identify with than Billy, who is such a singular character), and their relatives and friends are also very relatable, but as I said, things are very black and white, and the book does not offer much room for shades of grey.

The story is told in the third person, although each chapter follows the point of view of one of the characters, and this is not limited to the two protagonists, but also to Thorne, and to one of the scientists working on the project. There are also moments when we follow some of the characters into a “somewhere else”, a vision that might be a memory of the past, or sometimes a projection of something else (a possible future?, a different realm or dimension?, the collective unconscious), and these chapters are quite descriptive and have an almost hallucinatory intensity. The Shape plays a big part on some of those chapters, and it makes for a much more interesting evil character than Thorne (and it brought to my mind Lovecraft and Cthulhu). Readers must be prepared to follow the characters into these places, although the experience can be painful at times. I was touched and close to tears quite a few times while I read this book, sometimes due to sadness but others the experience was a happy one.

The book is divided up into 10 parts, each one with a Hebrew name, and as I’m not that familiar with the Jewish tradition I had to check and found out these refer to the ten nodes of the Kabbalah Tree of Life. This made me realise that the structure of the book is carefully designed and it has a significance that is not evident at first sight. That does not mean it is necessary to be conversant with this concept to read and enjoy the book, but I am sure there is more to it than meets the eye (and the Tree of Life pays and important role in the story, although I won’t say anything else to avoid spoilers). The writing is lyrical and beautiful in parts, and quite horrific and explicit when it comes to detailing violence and abuse. This is not a fast page-turner, and although there is plenty of action, there are also moments where characters talk, think, or are even suspended in non-reality, so this is not for those who are only interested in stories where the plot is king and its advancement the only justification for each and every word written. I often recommend readers to try a sample of a book before purchasing, and this is even more important for books such as this one, which are not easy to pin down or classify.

From my references to Orwell you will know that this is a book with a clear message (or several) and not “just” light entertainment, but I don’t want you to think it is all doom and gloom. Quite the opposite, in fact. The ending is positive, hopeful and life-affirming. Those who like endings where everything is resolved will love this one, and those who are looking for an inspiring novel and are happy to boldly go where no reader has gone before will be handsomely rewarded.

I had to include the quote that opens the book, because it is at the heart of it all, and because it is so relevant:

The opposite of love I not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference. Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies. To be in the window and watch people being sent to concentration camps or being attacked in the street and do nothing, that’s being dead. Elie Wiesel.

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

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog MATT: MORE THAN WORDS by Hans M Hirschi (@Hans_Hirschi) A challenging and beautifully diverse reading experience #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you the review of a book by an author I’m a big fan of:

Matt: More Than Words by Hans M Hirschi

Matt: More Than Words by Hans M Hirschi

Imagine…

…being locked inside your own body, unable to move at will, unable to speak your mind.

Born prematurely and with complications at birth, twenty-three-year-old Matthew Walker is neurologically injured and diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy. Unable to speak or voluntarily move his limbs, Matt depends on around-the-clock care and has never said a word—most people, including his mother, assume he never will. Then one day, Timmy, a new assistant to Matt’s care team, is sitting at the breakfast table with Matt when he notices a couple of regular taps from Matt’s right big toe. Has Matt finally found a way to break out of his involuntary prison?

Matt–More Than Words is the story of a life without that which most of us take for granted: the ability to communicate. It is a story of suffering, abuse, loneliness, family, friendship, love, hope, and—finally—a green light, a future.

“It is certainly daunting to walk in Matt’s shoes. You might not know anyone or ever have met anyone who has difficulty communicating to the extent that Matt has. But…these people exist.

“I am very pleased to see that a book like this one has been written, highlighting the situation of someone who has been unlucky to suffer such great difficulties with his body.”

—Eva Holmqvist, MSc, reg Occupational Therapist, Council Certified Specialist in Occupational Therapy, Sahlgrenska University Hospital

https://www.amazon.com/Matt-More-Words-Hans-Hirschi-ebook/dp/B085YCBMZC/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Matt-More-Words-Hans-Hirschi-ebook/dp/B085YCBMZC/

https://www.amazon.es/Matt-More-Words-Hans-Hirschi-ebook/dp/B085YCBMZC/

Author Hans M. Hirschi

About the author:

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

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

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

Hans lives with his husband, son, and pets on a small island off the west coast of Sweden.

Contact Hans through his website at www.hirschi.se

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

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.  We have just recently celebrated the sixth anniversary of the team, and it’s going from strength to strength. Don’t hesitate to visit if you’re a reviewer or a book lover either!

I have read quite a few of Hirschi’s novels and have enjoyed them all, and some are among my favourites in recent years. He combines some of the characteristics that I most admire in authors: he writes strong and diverse characters, no matter what particular challenges they might be faced with; he carefully researches the topics he touches on (even when some of them might seem only incidental to the novel, he makes sure nothing is left to chance) and uses his research wisely (never banging readers on the head with it); and he does not shy away from the ugliest and harshest realities of life, while at the same time always dealing sensitively and constructively with those. His stories are not fairy tales, and they force us to look at aspects of society and of ourselves that perhaps we’re not proud of, but if we rise to the challenge we’ll be rewarded with an enlightening experience. And a great read.

This novel is no exception. We follow the life of Matt, a young man diagnosed with cerebral palsy due to birth complications, for a few rather momentous months. The book, narrated in the third person, is told from three of the main characters’ perspectives. The novel is mostly Matt’s, or at least as good an approximation at what Matt’s experience might be as the author can achieve. It is a difficult task, and he expresses it better than I can in his acknowledgements at the end (‘How does one write about someone in whose situation you’ve never been? How do you give voice to someone who has none? And maybe, most importantly, how, without being insensitive, without objectifying, generalizing, stereotyping, in short without being a “dick”, do you tell a story that needs telling, about someone who could actually be out there, right now?’).  He also explains that he shared his early drafts with experts (people with cerebral palsy and their carers), and, in my non-expert opinion, he manages to depict what the daily life of the protagonist would be like. The other two main characters, Timmy, a professional carer who is Matt’s personal assistant at the beginning of the story but gets removed from his team due to a misunderstanding, and Martha, Matt’s mother, are also given a saying and some of the chapters are told from their perspective. Timmy is a lovely young man, a carer in the true sense of the word, and he has a real calling for the type of job he is doing. Martha is a devoted mother who found herself in a tough situation when she was very young and who has poured her heart and soul into looking after her son. Neither one of them are perfect (nor is Matt for that matter), and they make mistakes, lose heart and faith at times, and can feel overwhelmed or despondent, but they never give up and always have Matt’s best interests in mind.

Of course, I’ve already said that this is not a fairy tale. Far from it. We all know and have heard about some of the terrible things that happen: abuse, neglect, lack of resources, and although in this case there is no political and/or social oversight (Matt has access to a package of care and the family is reasonably well supported, something that unfortunately is not the case everywhere), somehow things still go wrong, and we get to see what it must be like to be the victim of such abuse when you are totally unable not only of physically defending yourself but also of even talking about it. Terrifying. Not everybody is suited for this kind of work, and it is sad to think that those in the most vulnerable circumstances can be exposed to such abuse. And yes, because of the level of need and the limited resources, sometimes the vetting procedures are not as stringent as they should be. (The current health crisis has highlighted how much we expect of some workers and how little a compensation they receive for their efforts).

Communication and how important it is to try and make sure everybody can communicate and become as independent as possible is one of the main themes of the book. The experience of living locked up inside your own body, with other people not even aware that you know what is going on around you and always making decisions for you comes through very strongly in the book. Matt knows and worries about how he is perceived by others, has internalised many of the attitudes he’s seen, and the comments he’s overheard, and many aspects of life we take for granted are like an impossible dream to him. Speaking, going for a walk, even deciding what to watch on television, are tasks beyond his scope. The research into ways to facilitate communication and to increase independence is highlighted in the novel, and the role new technologies (including AI) can play is explored. With the appropriate investment, there’s little doubt that this could make a big difference in the lives of many people.

Martha’s difficult situation (she wishes her son to fulfil his potential and be able to do what any other 23 years old normally does, but she’s also fiercely protective of him and does not want to get her hopes up for them to only be crushed again), the personal price she has to pay, the way she has to sacrifice any semblance of a normal life to keep looking after Matt, her worry about the future… are also convincingly depicted. And Timmy’s own feelings and his acknowledgment of his own limitations ring true as well. Family relationships feature strongly not only in the case of Matt, but also of Timmy, originally from Africa and adopted by Caucasian parents, a loving couple who accept him as he is, and Chen, Timmy’s friend and ex-boyfriend, whose parents are more understanding than he thought they’d be.

The writing style is compelling and descriptive, although the descriptions are focused on the emotions and feelings rather than on the outward appearance of people and things. I found the story moving, and although it is not a page-turner in the common sense of the word, I was totally engulfed in it and couldn’t put it down, even when some of the events were horrifying at times and made me want to look away.

The novel ends in a positive note, and I hope that in real life everybody in Matt’s situation will have access to a fulfilling life, if not now, in the very near future. As a society, we can do much to help, and we should.

This novel reminded me of Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo (yes, the famous screenwriter who ended up in the blacklist, one of Hollywood’s Ten), whose movie version I saw as a teenager (also directed by Trumbo), and I’ve never forgotten. The main character there is a WWI soldier who is so severely injured during the war that he ends up unable to move and to communicate, or so those around him think. Although the circumstances are very different (the main character there had led a normal life before and has many memories, although if that makes his life better is a matter of opinion), and I’m sure this novel will appeal to people looking for a book focusing on diverse characters and exploring the world beyond our everyday experiences. As I’ve explained, it is not a comfortable and easy read, but one that will challenge us and make us look at life with new eyes. If you are up for the challenge, the rewards are immense.

The author told me that he’d also done a project where they had turned the story of Matt into poetry, together with a dancer. I share it here:

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

Categories
Book review Book reviews Christmas presents

#Bookreview A CHANCE AT CHRISTMAS by Beppie Harrison (@BeppieHarrison) Recommended short feel-good #Christmasstory set in the Regency period.

Hi all:

I don’t tend to read many books in this genre, but I am translating a historical romance novel and I’ve been reading novels set around the same period, for research, you know, and when I mentioned that to Rosie Amber, she suggested I check NetGalley, and I did. I plan on shearing a few of the novels I’m reading in one post, but as this one was set around Christmas time and it has a lovely cover (and no the usual barechested rake), I thought it was perfect for this time of the year…

A Chance at Christmas by Beppie Harrison
A Chance at Christmas by Beppie Harrison

A Chance at Christmas by Beppie Harrison.

Christmas is coming, and Catherine Woodsleigh and her crippled brother John have no hope of celebration until an invitation to spend Christmas with an old friend and her family arrives. But after the holiday, worse misfortune looms before them. Living on the diminishing number of coins drawn from a jar left by their dead father and mother, a dire future seems inevitable. Will this chance to share a wondrous sparkling Christmas not only provide a glorious holiday but a new turn in their futures and the astonishing possibility of romance?

https://www.amazon.com/Chance-at-Christmas-Beppie-Harrison-ebook/dp/B0763CQY29/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Chance-at-Christmas-Beppie-Harrison-ebook/dp/B0763CQY29/

Author Beppie Harrison
Author Beppie Harrison

About the author:

Beppie Harrison lives on Boston’s South Shore close to the ocean in a big white New Englandish house with her husband, a lawyer daughter, and an assortment of dogs and cats. They live a somewhat trans-Atlantic lifestyle. Her husband is an English architect, and they lived in London at the beginning of their marriage, only moving to the States when they had young children. Now the children are grown, they return to old friends and familiar places as frequently as they can. In many ways, England still feels like their second home. For Beppie, the pull from across the Atlantic comes not only from the dales of Yorkshire and the buzz of London, but from Ireland. Did it start with its literature, its green beauty, or its wonderfully garrulous people? However it happened, both England and Ireland draw her now. Her first fiction trilogy, the Heart Trilogy, is placed primarily in Ireland during the Regency period. The Grandest Christmas, a companion novella for the holiday season, is a warm and cozy read for Christmastime. Her upcoming quartet of novels is placed again in Regency times, but, as introduced by the novella The Dowager’s Season, introduces four cousins to the excitement and romance of London’s presentations and balls.

You can check her website here:

http://www.beppieharrison.com/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Candem Hill Press for providing me an ARC copy of this novella that I freely chose to review.

This is a Regency romance that I decided to read in part as research for a project, and also because it sounded and looked a bit different to many of the books in the genre (no couple on the cover, and, especially, no bare-chested male). Indeed this is a ‘sweet’ or ‘clean’ romance, although as some reviewers have noted, the strongest relationship in the story is that between Catherine, a young orphaned girl whose financial circumstances are extremely precarious at the beginning of the story, and her brother, John, a couple of years her junior, who fell from a horse when he was a child and now suffers from physical disabilities that make a normal life impossible. (He can move about with some difficulty and needs assistance to complete some complex tasks, although he is a fighter and manages better than people think when they meet him). The little money left by her parents has almost gone and she is wondering about the future. Although she is hopeful about getting a position for herself, she cannot see any options that would allow her to carry on looking after her brother. When an invitation to spend Christmas with a wealthy school friend arrives, Catherine starts making all kinds of plans in her head.

The story is short but manages to paint a detail picture of the conditions Catherine and her brother live in, of the arrangements she has to make to try and make do by modifying her mother’s old dresses, and then also about the huge contrast between their lives and that of her friend Katie and her family. (At times it made me think of Dickens but without going to extremes).This allows readers to see things from Catherine’s point of view and to appreciate the huge gap that existed in the society of the time between the haves and the have-nots. (It also reminded me of one of my favourite stories by Louisa May Alcott, An Old-Fashioned Girl, which I recommend). We also realise how unforgiving and intolerant the society of the time was of those suffering any type of disabilities, and it is impossible not to cringe at some of the comments the siblings have to endure.

The story shares some characteristics with a fairy-tale (there is something of Cinderella about Catherine, although at least she does not have a cruel stepmother), and also with a morality-tale, where Catherine’s innocence and her devotion to her brother are rewarded in the end.

The Christmas part of the story works well, and we hear about a Christmas log, there is a trip to find mistletoe, carollers come along to the mansion, and we have some wondrous descriptions of foods of the period.

As for the love story… Well, we soon realise Katie’s brother seems interested in Catherine, although she has not been exposed to society and cannot work out if he is flirting, laughing at her, or really interested. There is a misunderstanding that has the most wonderful consequences for all involved (one hopes, anyway), but while we get some sense of who Catherine is and some indication of her brother’s thoughts and feelings, we do not get to know the rest of the characters too well, but the indications are positive.

In sum, this is a short read, full of detail about the contrast between high and low-income lives at the time, set during Christmas, and it does a good job of bringing to life the Christmas spirit. It might not satisfy those looking for a passionate love story although it shows strong sibling relationships and has a likeable and self-sacrificing heroine (think Melanie in Gone with the Wind), and there is no sex or bad language. Recommended if you’re looking for a short feel-good Christmas story set in the Regency period.

Thanks to NetGalley, to the author and the publisher for the book, to Rosie for the suggestion (don’t forget to check her wondrous blog, here and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling!

Oh, any suggestions of recent romance novels set in Regency or Victorian period are welcome, especially if they are not too heavy on the sex front and at bargain prices (I cannot afford to spend a lot on them). Many thanks!

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