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#TuesdayBookBlog Not Just Any Man: A novel of Old New Mexico by Loretta Tollefson #Historicalfiction with a diverse cast and a fascinating account of life in early XIX c. New Mexico

Hi all:

I bring you the review of the first book in a series I’ve been following for the last few years, and despite reading it out of order, or perhaps because of it, I loved it!

Not Just Any Man by Loretta Tollefson

Not Just Any Man: A novel of Old New Mexico by Loretta Tollefson Historical fiction with a diverse cast and a fascinating account of life in early XIX c. New Mexico

Just a man. Known for his character, not the color of his skin.

That’s all Gerald, son of a free black man and an Irish servant girl, wants to be. It’s an impossible goal in slave-holding Missouri, but in the West, mountain men and villagers alike seem to accept him without question.

New Mexico is all that Gerald hoped for, but shortly after he arrives in Taos, he realizes he wants more than he’d thought: A girl with her own complex ancestry and a high mountain valley with intriguing potential.

To make either dream possible, Gerald needs to earn something more than a scratch living. The only way to do that is to trap beaver. It’s a tough way to earn cash and the wilderness is an unforgiving place.

Can Gerald survive the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the Mohave Indians, and the arid south rim of the Grand Canyon as well as the fellow trapper who hates him for the color of his skin? Can he prove to himself and the girl he loves that he is, after all, not just any man?

Loretta Miles Tollefson grew up in the American West in a log cabin built by her grandfather from timber harvested from the land around it. She lives in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo mountains, where she researches the region’s history and imagines what it would have been like to actually experience it. 

https://www.amazon.com/Not-Just-Any-Man-Mexico-ebook/dp/B07JQSZGWS/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Not-Just-Any-Man-Mexico-ebook/dp/B07JQSZGWS/

https://www.amazon.es/Not-Just-Any-Man-Mexico-ebook/dp/B07JQSZGWS/

Author Loretta Miles Tollefson
Author Loretta Miles Tollefson

About the author:

Loretta Miles Tollefson has been publishing fiction and poetry since 1975. (She’s not old–she started young!) Growing up in foothills of the Olympic Mountains in the log cabin her grandfather built and her father was born in led naturally to an interest in history and historical fiction. When she retired to the mountains of northern New Mexico, writing historical fiction set there was a logical result. The Moreno Valley Sketches books are the first in many planned books set there.

Before turning to historical fiction full time, Loretta wrote Crown of Laurel, a novel set in Seattle in the recession of the early 1980’s. Loretta holds a B.S. in Bible Education from Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon. This background informs her poetry collections Mary at the Cross: Voices from the New Testament and And Then Moses Was There: Voices from the Old Testament.

In the mid-1980’s, Loretta and her husband suffered the loss of their first child in the fifth month of pregnancy. Her poetry collection But Still My Child came out of that period and is designed to help others deal with the pain of miscarriage.

Loretta holds M.A.’s in Communication and in English Literature from the University of New Mexico. Most days, you’ll find her researching New Mexico history in the 1800’s and writing furiously. She publishes short historical fiction every week at https://lorettamilestollefson.com/

My review:

A copy of the novel was provided for my perusal, and I freely chose to review it.

This is the third of Loretta Tollefson’s Old New Mexico novels I read, although it is the first one in the series that relates the adventures of Gerald Locke and his family. I came across the second novel thanks to a review group I belong to (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check Rosie’s Book Review Team here), (Not My Father’s House, check the review here), loved it , and read the third one when it was published, (No Secret Too Small, you can find the review here), and loved it as well. When I was offered the option to read the beginning of the saga, I couldn’t resist. And although I know I haven’t read the series as it was designed and intended, it has worked wonderfully for me. It was like having hindsight in reverse: I knew everything that would happen later, and I got to see how things had started, and why they had developed the way they did. It was a fascinating exercise, as it helped me realise how well-conceived the whole story is, and how many details and words that we might not think are important to the plot when we read them, in the end, are fundamental to the development of the whole narrative. It all fits in, organically. This is not a series where books are just added to stretch the story or to tell the further adventures of the characters. This is a story told in three books, where each one gives more attention and voice to one of the characters in the family. And, although that does not mean each book cannot be read in its own right, the whole is more than the sum of its individual parts.

The author has personal knowledge of the area, and of the lifestyle as well, as stated in her biography, and her skills as a researcher and her interest in history shine through this book and the whole series. She manages to insert her fictional characters into a world that feels incredibly close to how life must have been in New Mexico at the time, and the inclusion of real historical events and characters (mayors [alcaldes, as the territory was under Mexican rule in the early XIX century, when the story is set], governors and other local politicians, priests, soldiers, and military men, trappers, Native American chiefs, members of the important families, merchants…), and her use of original sources from the era make give it a very vivid feel, as if we were immersed in the era, partaking in the trapping expeditions, and becoming involved in the complex and changing politics.

The style of writing is beautifully descriptive, with special attention being paid to the rhythm of the seasons, nature and landscapes, the land and the resources it could provide for sustenance and livelihood, and the action is narrated in the third person and present tense (that although it might come across as a bit weird at first, it adds to the impression readers get of sharing the experience with the characters as it is taking place), mostly from the point of view of Gerald Locke, although there are some brief fragments from other character’s perspective (we get to know what Suzanna thinks of Gerald before he does, and we also witness some interesting conversations that give us an insight into matters we are likely to have been wondering about, and others that might come to the fore in the future). Although there are plenty of adventures included in this novel, the pace is not a whirlwind, and it doesn’t rely solely on non-stop action. There are high pressure moments, but there is a lot of drudgery, hanging around, or simply travelling from one place to the next and then waiting around, as is the case in real life, and more so when you depend on the seasons, the weather, and the will and actions of others. As usual, I’d recommend checking a sample of the book to those wondering if the writing style would suit them, or the author’s blog, as she shares a lot of stories there as well.

I don’t want to provide too many details about the plot, other than those already included in the above description, which I think gives a fair idea of the adventures and the conflicts Gerald experiences. Themes like race and discrimination play an important part in the story, and the author explains in her note at the end of the novel what the society of New Mexico was like at the time in that respect. It sounds like the “melting pot” one hears mentioned very often when referring to the United States, which seems to be —in many cases and historical periods— unfortunately very far from the truth. Tollefson explains the laws and the traditions in the area, and why they were more tolerant there than in Missouri, where Gerald comes from. Of course, that does not mean that everybody was as understanding and open-minded as the more enlightened people, and one of the characters in the book exemplifies the worst of all behaviours: he is lazy; he blames others for his shortcomings; he is racist and prejudiced; he is abusive towards all he perceives as his inferiors or weaker than him (women, Mexicans, mixed-race…). He is a villain through and through, but there are other characters who are morally ambiguous, and although they seem to behave reasonably enough in some aspects (they might give Gerald a fair opportunity and help him along), they might not always be honest in all their dealings with others or with the government or the law (that is shown as capricious at best, truly unreasonable or worst in most cases), or might have other flaws (they drink too much, talk too much, tell tall tales, chase after women, are selfish and only think of themselves…).

The author offers a list of historical characters and also of the sources she has used at the end of the novel, and in her note, she explains how closely she followed some of the trapping expeditions and real events that took place then. The brief biographical notes she provides about the characters suffice to give us a good idea of how colourful some of these characters really were and to make us understand that she doesn’t seem to have strayed too far from the truth in recreating them.

As for the fictional characters… I’ve mentioned the villain, although I won’t say anything else about him to avoid spoilers. Let me warn readers, though, that he is the protagonist of some scenes that might cause upset or trigger some readers, as he threatens physical and also sexual violence and abuse in several occasions, and once quite explicitly so. I like Gerald, though. Especially after having read the other two novels, where we see him from other people’s perspective most of the time, it was good to get to know him and understand where he was coming from, his circumstances, his deep love for the land, and also why he makes a certain decision that will, much later (in the third book), come back to bite him. He is quite understanding and willing to give others the benefit of the doubt, and his view of the property of the land and the rights of those who live in it makes him a truly modern character, much more enlightened than most. Even if he doesn’t always choose wisely, he tries to do what he thinks is right. We also meet many of the characters that will play big parts in the other novels, like Suzanna, who already appears like a remarkable young woman who knows her own mind and has many skills, despite her age (not quite sixteen yet); her father (a man with an interesting past and quite open-minded when it comes to education and to his daughter and her future), Encarnación (the cook, who has a strong sense of loyalty and loves Suzanna’s family as if it was her own), Ramón (the perfect companion for Gerald, and one that will continue to play an important part in the series), and many others. As I’ve mentioned at the beginning, I was impressed by how well the arc of the characters works through the series, and how consistent the overall atmosphere and story is.

The ending is also perfect. It seems to be a fairly happy ending (a bit hesitant, perhaps), but the epilogue hints at things yet to come. I don’t mean there is a cliffhanger at all, but readers will probably guess that the story is far from complete, and some of the things that seem solved are anything but.

In sum, I recommend this book to readers of historical fiction looking for a story about a historical period and an era not usually the subject of novels, and about people who don’t normally feature in historical books either, as they are not considered important enough. I mentioned Little House in the Prairie in a previous review, and fans of those books, and anybody interested in the pioneers, and in life in New Mexico in the early XIX Century should check this series. It is a joy.

Thanks to the author for her book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, keep reading, reviewing, smiling, and above all, to keep safe. ♥

 

 

 

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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!

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