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#TuesdayBookBlog #Blogblast The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E. Smith (@JenESmith) (@QuercusBooks) #GretaJames An adult coming-of-age story full of warmth, heart, and music set in beautiful Alaska

Hi all:

I bring you a book that was a very pleasant surprise for me, and I’m happy I was given the opportunity to participate in the blog blast on the day of its publication.

The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E. Smith

An indie musician reeling from tragedy reconnects with her father on a week-long cruise in this tale of grief, fame, and love from bestselling author Jennifer E. Smith.

Just after the sudden death of her mother – her most devoted fan – and weeks before the launch of her high-stakes second album, Greta James falls apart on stage. The footage quickly goes viral and she stops playing. Greta’s career is suddenly in jeopardy – the kind of jeopardy her father, Conrad, has always warned her about.

Months later, Greta – still heartbroken and very much adrift – reluctantly agrees to accompany Conrad on the Alaskan cruise her parents had booked to celebrate their fortieth anniversary. It could be their last chance to heal old wounds in the wake of shared loss. But the trip will also prove to be a voyage of discovery for them both, and for Ben Wilder, a charming historian who is struggling with a major upheaval in his own life.

In this unlikeliest of places – at sea and far from the packed venues where she usually plays – Greta must finally confront the heartbreak she’s suffered, the family hurts that run deep, and how to find her voice again.

https://www.amazon.com/Unsinkable-Greta-James-Novel-ebook/dp/B096D6BCTF/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unsinkable-Greta-James-Jennifer-Smith/dp/1529416434/ (The Kindle version was not available when I checked, but I am sure it is only a matter of time)

https://www.amazon.es/Unsinkable-Greta-James-English-ebook/dp/B097G36DJQ/

Author Jennifer E. Smith

About the author:

Jennifer E. Smith is the author of nine books for young adults, including The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between, both of which have recently been adapted for film. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and her work has been translated into thirty-three languages. She currently lives in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter at @JenEsmith or visit her at

https://www.jenniferesmith.com/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jennifer-E.-Smith/e/B001JS1GEQ

 NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR

‘This book is a very special one for me. It’s my tenth novel, but my first one for adults, so it feels like a debut in many ways, and I’ve never been prouder of anything I’ve written. I may not be a rock star, and we may not be in a packed music venue with all its energy and immediacy, but I think what happens between writers and readers is something even more profound, something quieter and more personal. So whether this is the first you’ve heard of me, or you’ve grown up along with my books, I’m endlessly grateful to you for choosing to spend time with Greta. It means the world’ – Jennifer Smith

My review:

My thanks to Quercus and NetGalley for the ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review, and for the opportunity to participate in the blog blast on the day of its release.

Jennifer E. Smith is an author well-known for her YA novels, but this is the first book I read by her, and although I can’t comment on how it compares to her previous work, I loved this one.

The book’s description is very accurate and gives a good idea of what to expect, at least in general terms. It is an adult coming-of-age story, a category that keeps popping up on my reading list recently, and that, so far, has been full of pleasant surprises. Here we have several adult coming-of-age stories, in fact. Apart from the story of Greta, the unsinkable musician of the title (as she proves to be by the end), who has to learn to see things from other people’s perspective, to accept her loss and heartbreak, and to discover that even our dreams are not perfect; we also discover the story of her father, Conrad, who has to face the same loss and make peace with a daughter who challenges his way of life and his dreams; and Ben, a man who is living a dream he never truly believed in and has to pay a hefty price for it. The novel explores family relationships (the stories families tell about themselves, the roles the different members adopt, and how those change), loss (of a close relative, of a relationship, of a dream, of the capacity to create…) and the guilty feelings that often accompany it, different choices and lifestyles (family versus career, dreams versus security), fame and the lack of privacy that comes with it, the role of parents in encouraging their children’s dreams and giving them wings (or not), different concepts of love, the beauty of nature and music and the healing powers of both…

Greta, the central character, is a strong woman, even if we meet her at a low point, a moment when she is going through a deep crisis. She has not only lost her mother and had a public meltdown during a concert, but she is also trying to recover from the breakup from her relationship with her boyfriend and producer, the most stable romantic relationship she’d ever had. Although the story is told in the third person and in the present tense (it felt a bit odd, to begin with, but I quickly forgot about it, and considering most of it takes place in a week and in almost real-time, it feels quite apt) from Greta’s point of view, through her memories and her conversations we get to learn a lot of what happened to get her where she is now, no matter how hard she tries not to think about it. It is very strange, considering that I have hardly anything in common with the character but I really liked her and connected with her from the start, and I often found myself nodding at her comments and reflections, and feeling that many of her words could very well apply to me. The protagonist is far from perfect; she can be obstinate and often refuses to consider things from anybody else’s perspective, but she is hurting so badly and is trying so hard to keep going and to make amends, that it is impossible not to feel for her and cheer her on. The same is true for the rest of the characters. The two couples who have been her parents’ friends forever and travel with them are very different but also very likeable. Pritee, a young girl Greta meets at the beginning of the cruise, is wonderful (and we can easily imagine young Greta when we see this girl’s enthusiasm and zest for life); Ben, the love interest, is a genuinely nice guy, with his own problems but always happy to try and be there for Greta as well; her brother, Asher, is the complete opposite of her and nonetheless a thoroughly decent man, who deeply cares for his family; even her ex-boyfriend sounds quite caring (if far from perfect). And Conrad, her Dad… Well, this man and his interactions with his daughter are the heart of the novel and are both, heartbreaking and heart-warming. There are so many things unsaid between them, and so much hurt, but… 

Let me not forget Alaska. Most reviewers comment on the beautiful depiction of Alaska and say they felt like dropping everything to go there. I have wanted to visit it for quite a while, and now I am more determined than ever. Both Alaska and the ship (it’s not a boat, and those who read the book will know why I say that) play important parts in the novel, providing the perfect setting, full of awe-inducing and unforgettable experiences; a sanctuary where the protagonists can have the necessary breathing space and break free from their everyday lives for long enough to confront some hard truths and start anew.

Smith’s writing flows easily, and she excels at describing experiences, feelings, sensations, in a lyrical and compelling manner. There are very sad and moving moments (tissues are recommended), funny interludes, and tender and joyful scenes that will make readers smile. The book is full of eminently quotable gems, but as I have only read an ARC copy, I am aware there might be some changes in the final edition. I decided that I would only share a few of the fragments I had highlighted, as a taster. 

Here, Greta is talking about her mother to one of her mother’s friends:

“Also, she made the worst coffee. Like, seriously bad. And she had no street smarts. She’d come to New York and act like she was in a musical, like the whole world is singing along with her. And… she left me. She left all of us, but it feels like she left me most of all, and I know that’s completely self-centered, but it’s how I feel. I hate that she’s gone. I really, really hate it.”

That moment, that phone call, that missed opportunity: all of it is as elemental to their lives as this glacier is to the beach, huge and imposing and receding so slowly, so gradually, that you might be forgiven for assuming it would be here forever.

 Greta and her Dad are talking about Ben and his family responsibilities:

“Everyone has baggage,” he says. “Even you. Just because yours is a different shape and size doesn’t mean it’s not heavy too.” 

“Maybe the point isn’t always to make things last,” he says. “Maybe it’s just to make them count.” (Another one of Conrad’s wise comments). 

I felt the ending was perfect. It has a touch of whimsy and openness that appealed to me because rather than leaving things unresolved (some readers would have preferred more clarity, but I didn’t mind at all), it ends on a hopeful note, full of possibilities. You know that whatever might come next, Greta will be OK and will remain unsinkable.

In summary, this is a novel I would recommend to anybody who enjoys stories with a strong female protagonist, especially one going through a difficult and challenging period in her life, full of interesting characters and real-life emotions. This is a novel about relationships and growing up, and it will not suit those looking for a complex plot full of adventures or intrigue. Although there is a love story of sorts, this is not the most important part of the novel, and people looking for a big romance might be disappointed, but anybody who appreciates stories about family relationships and about how they change, anybody who has experienced the loss of a parent, and particularly those who are fans of indie music and love an Alaskan setting, will enjoy this novel. Book clubs will find plenty to talk and think about in this novel as well (and the fact that one of the characters is a writer and a fan of a classic American author will add to the attraction), and although it is not squeaky-clean, there is no violence or graphic sex, and readers are left with a warm feeling. I don’t know if Smith will carry on writing for adults (although I think older YA and NA would probably enjoy this book as well), but I hope she does, although I wouldn’t mind reading her YA novels either. And I am sure those who try this one will keep on reading her as well.

Thanks to Quercus (Milly Reid in particular), to NetGalley, and of course the author, for such a lovely book, thanks to all of you for following me and reading my reviews, and remember to like, share, comment (if you feel it is worth it), but especially, keep smiling and stay safe. And keep reading!

 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog APPLES NEVER FALL by Liane Moriarty (@MichaelJBooks) (@PenguinUKBoos) Family relationships, secrets, mysteries, and a lot of tennis #Booklaunch

Hi, all:

I bring you a novel that is officially launched today, 14th of September, by an author who has become even more popular and well-known recently thanks to the adaptations to the TV of her novels. I’ve read a few of her novels, and I can’t say I’m not surprised. And here comes her latest one.

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty 

#1 New York Times bestselling author Liane Moriarty is back with a novel that looks at marriage, sibling rivalry, and the lies we tell others and ourselves. Apples Never Fall is the work of a writer at the top of her game.

The Delaney family love one another dearlyit’s just that sometimes they want to murder each other . . .

If your mother was missing, would you tell the police? Even if the most obvious suspect was your father?

This is the dilemma facing the four grown Delaney siblings.

The Delaney family is a communal foundation. Stan and Joy are the envy of all of their friends. They’re killer on the tennis court, and off it their chemistry is palpable. But after fifty years of marriage, they’ve finally sold their famed tennis academy and are ready to start what should be the golden years of their lives. So why are they so miserable?

The four Delaney children—Amy, Logan, Troy, and Brooke—were tennis stars in their own right, yet as their father will tell you, none of them had what it took to go all the way. But that’s okay, now that they’re all successful grown-ups. Well, that depends on how you define success. No one in the family can really tell you what Troy does, but based on his fancy car and expensive apartment, he seems to do it very well, even if he blew up his perfect marriage. Logan is happy with his routine as a community college professor, but his family finds it easier to communicate with his lovely girlfriend than him. Amy, the eldest, can’t seem to hold down a job or even a lease, but leave it to Brooke, the baby of the family, to be the rock-steady one who is married with a new solo physiotherapy practice . . . which will take off any day now.

One night a stranger named Savannah knocks on Stan and Joy’s door. She says she chose their house because it looked the friendliest. And since Savannah is bleeding after a fight with her boyfriend, the Delaneys are more than happy to give her the small kindness she sorely needs. If only that was all she wanted.

Later, everyone will wonder what exactly went on in that household after Savannah entered their lives that night. Because now Joy is missing, no one knows where Savannah is, and the Delaneys are reexamining their parents’ marriage and their shared family history with fresh, frightened eyes.

https://www.amazon.com/Apples-Never-Fall-Liane-Moriarty-ebook/dp/B08PG6CKZJ/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Apples-Never-Fall-Liane-Moriarty-ebook/dp/B08PG6CKZJ/

https://www.amazon.es/Apples-Never-Fall-Liane-Moriarty-ebook/dp/B08PG6CKZJ/

Author Liane Moriarty
Author Liane Moriarty

About the author:

Liane Moriarty is the Australian author of eight internationally best-selling novels: Three Wishes, The Last Anniversary, What Alice Forgot, The Hypnotist’s Love Story, Nine Perfect Strangers and the number one New York Times bestsellers: The Husband’s Secret, Big Little Lies and Truly Madly Guilty. Her books have been translated into over forty languages and sold more than 20 million copies.

Big Little Lies and Truly Madly Guilty both debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list – the first time this was ever achieved by an Australian author. Big Little Lies was adapted into a multiple award-winning HBO series with a star-studded cast including Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon. Hulu is adapting Nine Perfect Strangers into a limited series starring Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy for release in 2021.

Her new novel, Apples Never Fall, will be released in September 2021.

Liane lives in Sydney, Australia, together with her husband, son and daughter. You can find out more at www.lianemoriarty.com and www.facebook.com/LianeMoriartyAuthor

https://www.amazon.com/Liane-Moriarty/e/B00459IA54/

My review:

I received a NetGalley ARC copy of this novel from Penguin Michael Joseph UK, which I freely chose to review.

This is the fourth of Liane Moriarty’s novels I read, and I’m sure it won’t be the last one. She has become well-known, justifiably so, through her writing, and more recently thanks to the TV adaptations of a couple of her novels (Nine Perfect Strangers is available already, and although I’ve only watched a bit of it so far, it doesn’t look bad at all).

If I had to characterise her writing, based on the books I’ve read so far, I’d say she excels at creating lively and totally credible ensembles of characters (sometimes small communities, sometimes neighbours, sometimes complete strangers thrown into a common setting, or, as is the case here, a family and their close contacts), dropping —bomb-like— a mystery in their midst, and observing what happens. The mystery side of the story has the added benefit of getting readers hooked into the story at the beginning, when we don’t know much about the characters yet, because as things progress, and although the author is good at keeping her hand hidden (red herrings, twists and turns, and deceptive appearances are skilfully employed), we get more and more involved with the characters and learn things that sometimes end up being much more interesting than the original mystery. That, of course, depends on the reader’s taste, and I’m a sucker for psychologically complex characters and for books centred on the connections and relationships between individuals going through difficult circumstances. Those types of books that don’t seem too heavy on plot, but they are like ducks on a pond: there is a lot going on under the surface, invisible to the naked eye. One has to be prepared to get wet and go diving.

The description above is quite comprehensive, and as I want to avoid spoilers, I won’t go into a detailed account of what happens. Joy Delaney, a woman in her sixties, a tennis player and a coach, and mother of four children, disappears on Valentine’s Day, after having an argument with her husband, without telling him anything and only sending an unintelligible text to her sons and daughters, which mentions going off-grid. We soon learn that a few months earlier they had a house guest staying with them, a young woman called Savannah, and the novel alternates the two timelines, both chronological: one following on from Joy’s disappearance, and the other going back in time to show readers what happened to all the members of the Delaney family after Savannah came into their lives. The story is narrated in the third person, but from different characters’ points of view, mostly the members of the family (well, not so much Stan, at least not in the beginning), but also from others who don’t play a major part, like friends of the family, neighbours, and also the two police officers investigating the disappearance. This provides us with a choral view of events, and we get very different pictures and perspectives of the family and their relationships as if we were watching them through a kaleidoscope.

This is a long book (and quite a few reviewers have commented that they felt it could have been edited much more tightly, but I enjoyed the pace and the amount of detail, so I won’t complain), which I would describe as a domestic drama/mystery, and there are lots of issues explored: how our perspectives, goals, and priorities change with time and age; changes in the role of women and their own perceptions of themselves in recent generations; who gets to define success and how much of an impact our upbringing has on our sense of self; domestic violence; anxiety; migraines; sibling-rivalry; the world of professional sports, tennis in particular; long-term relationships and marriages; empty-nest syndrome and the toll of retirement… Even COVID-19 makes an appearance. Personally, I was a bit skeptical of the inclusion of the coronavirus in the novel, but although I don’t think it was necessary, I feel it adds a little something to the story, so it’s fine with me.

The six members of the Delaney family provide readers with plenty of room for thought. I was much more intrigued by the parents than I was by their children (although I developed a bit of a soft spot for Amy and quite liked Logan, oh, and some of their partners as well), especially because of their relationship, which we get to learn plenty about. They had not only been successfully (?) married for over fifty years and had four children, but they still played tennis together (doubles) and won and had run a successful business together too. What a challenge! Unsurprisingly, we discover there are some cracks and secrets between them, lies (some they tell each other and some they tell themselves), some skeletons hiding in cupboards, and quite a few things still left unsaid. Although Joy is the centre of attention, for evident reasons, and she is quite a character, I grew fond of Stan as well, and the author does a great job of making us understand why the characters are who they are and do what they do, even when they do pretty unforgivable and appalling things. Savannah is also fascinating, though extreme, and although I am not sure I’d say I identified with any of the characters, I was hooked from the beginning by their interaction and had to keep reading to find out what glued them together and who they really were and would end up becoming.

I have mentioned that the story is told in two timelines, which eventually converge, and it is narrated in the third person from a variety of points of view. The changes in the timeline are clearly marked. As I have read an ARC copy of the book, I am not sure if the formatting of the final version of the novel will be very different from the version I read, so I can’t say if the different points of view will be evident to the naked eye. In any case, I had no problem working out whose perspective I was reading, so I don’t think readers need to worry unduly about that, although I advise them to keep their eyes open and not get distracted. Everything is there for a good reason, even if it might not appear important at the time.

The author’s writing is deceptively simple: she does not overdo her descriptions or use complex words but knows how to insert small details and motifs that create a vivid and compelling picture of the characters, their environment, and their personalities. Even the dog has her own mind. Moriarty knows how to drop hints and sow doubts in our minds, is an expert in leading us down the wrong path, and she takes her time building up the characters, the background, and maintaining the suspense. The reveals are well-timed, and although this is not a page-turner in the usual sense, dedicating plenty of time to exploring the characters’ motivations and going on detours to learn more about the past, the action flows well, and everything fits in beautifully at the end. Even though it does not lack a sense of humour, I found it, in general, more understated when it came to light content and funny scenes than some of her other novels, with many more quietly amusing moments than those that make one guffaw.

I enjoyed the ending and its several twists, although more than one big ending, this is a book that takes its time to tie all the loose threads, so although there are aspects of the novel (more to do with what will happen next than with the actual mystery) left to the reader’s imagination, I particularly recommend it to those who feel frustrated when any aspects of the story aren’t fully explained.

In sum, this is a good example of what Moriarty’s stories are like, full of psychologically well-drawn characters, an intriguing mystery, and a novel for readers who don’t mind taking time to learn about the relationships and interactions within a family or a community, particularly when there are plenty of secrets and lies to uncover. And those who love tennis will appreciate it even more.

Thanks to Michael Joseph/ Penguin Random House UK and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it or know anybody who might, feel free to like, share, comment, and always keep smiling and stay safe!

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE LONDON PROPERTY BOY by Patrick Brigham (@PatrickBrigham) London in the 70s and 80s from a clear-eyed and no-frills perspective. And a bit of spying.

Hi all:

I bring you a book by an author who has visited my blog before, although this one is pretty different. You know I like different… Oh, I kept thinking about Pete who blogs from Beetley now and whose London stories (and others) I enjoy so much. If you don’t know him, you can check his blog here.

The London Property Boy by Patrick Brigham

The London Property Boy by Patrick Brigham

Michael Mostyne, a thirty-something developer and property dealer, has fallen foul of Great Britains 1970s economic recession. A property crash like no other, it foreshadows the end of a promising career, but it is also the end of his unhappy marriage to Lavender Mostyne. The tale of his painful struggle to get back on his feet, whilst dealing with the past and an acrimonious divorce, Mike Mostyne leaves his provincial home, moves to London and gets a job running a West London real estate agency. Through hard work, success soon turns to success and his life begins to change for the better. By manoeuvring around his bosses, with their narrow self-interest, his own desire for big money and a wish to be financially independent means he has to take huge risks.

London is not short of girls, and Mike Mostyne is rarely on his own. Christine, a West End PA and a good time girl, looks at him through a cloud of cannabis smoke. Sofie, a minor Dutch diplomat, disappears when Mike’s son Mark is mysteriously kidnapped by the IRA. And finally, there is Nadezhda Antova, who friends say is an Eastern European honey trap, but who he marries despite their warnings. From rags to riches, and with the next property crash waiting around the corner, will fate finally conspire to finish him off once again? Will he also find personal happiness with Nadezhda Antova, and why is MI5 so interested?

https://www.amazon.com/London-Property-Boy-Patrick-Brigham/dp/1704684587/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/London-Property-Boy-Patrick-Brigham/dp/1704684587/

https://www.amazon.es/London-Property-Boy-Patrick-Brigham/dp/1704684587/

Author Patrick Brigham

About the author

Patrick Brigham has lived in the Balkans for many years. Originally from London, where he was in the property business, he lived in the City until 1993 and then moved to Sofia. As Chief Editor of a magazine called the Sofia Western News, and the first English language magazine in ex-Communist Bulgaria, it introduced him to the intrigues of Eastern Europe, and a firm understanding of the people living there.

Now living in Northern Greece, Patrick has published many murder mystery novels as well as stand-alone literary fiction and a humorous play. Writing for the more thoughtful reader, Patrick Brigham says:–

“I have lived quite an eventful life, so much of what I write is based on fact. Most of my books concentrate on a particular subject, and The London Property Boy does just that and has quite a lot of me in it. We should never simply dwell on the past, but a colourful past is where much of our inspiration comes from.”

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Patrick-Brigham/e/B00BGZTKFE

My review:

I received an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to read and review.

I read and reviewed Bringham’s Goddess of the Rainbow some time ago, and I was curious to read a new work by him, in this case a novel that seemed totally different in setting and subject matter. And that is indeed the case. This is not a choral book, and although there are quite a number of characters, the story centres around Mike Mostyne, and most of it takes place in London (although other parts of the UK also feature, and there are occasional trips to Bulgaria as well, and that connects it somewhat to the previous novel). The author’s biography confirmed my impression that the novel showed a deep and personal knowledge of the world of the property business in London in the 70s and 80s.

I don’t want to go into a lot of detail about the plot, as the description covers the gist of the main events. We follow Mike Mostyne, who is a property developer when we meet him at the beginning of the novel, through several decades of adventures that mirror what’s happening in London’s property market and the UK economy at large, from bust to boom and repeat. Although a lot of the novel is taken by his work and his efforts to rebuild his business and avoid bankruptcy, we also read about his personal life (although not in so much detail): his two marriages and the other women who cross (and some share, even if momentarily) his life, the relationship with his son, his attempts at looking after his mother and his fraught relationship with his sibling, his interaction with friends and associates, and also some more unusual goings-on (there’s some spying thrown in). Although this is narrated in a third-person omniscient voice (most of it from Mike’s point of view, but we also get some inside information about some of the other characters the protagonist could not be privy to [at least not at the time when the events were taking place], and in some occasions, we appear to be observing Mike as if from a distance), at times it feels as if it were a memoir, but rather than Mike writing it, it is as if he had told the story to somebody else who had gathered other information as well, and we get to read this more detailed account of events. And believe me, the events make for quite a good read.

Although some of the themes might be pretty standard and to be expected in a novel (I’ve mentioned some already: private life, family relationships, love, friendship, business), Mike goes through more than his fair share of disappointments, betrayals, misunderstandings, strange deals and connections, unusual characters, politics (both in the UK and in Bulgaria, which gives him an unusual insight and perspective into the transition from the communist regime to the new democracies of some of the Eastern Bloc countries), and secrets beyond those most people come across in a lifetime. People familiar with the London of the 1970s and 80s will feel quite at home in this novel, and those who know or are interested in the property business, especially as it was 40 to 50 years ago in London, will remember and/or learn a lot about how things were really like. Tricks of the trade, underhand deals, backstabbing and internal company politics, corruption, traffic of influences, legal and not-so-legal procedures… It’s an eye-opener for those of us without direct experience who have always felt curious about it.

Mike is the main character, and we get to know him fairly well, although, as I’ve mentioned, the way the story is told and the fact that there is plenty of telling rather than showing, means that this is not in a touchy-feely way. Even when he is distressed, there is no much time dedicated to his feelings, and the style of the storytelling seems to go hand in hand with the character, who tries not to dwell on bad things, who is eminently practical and prefers to get on with things and act rather than to gaze at his own navel, and who never gives up. We get glimpses of his relationship with his mother, his sister and his brother, his first wife (who is a pretty dislikeable character, at least in my opinion), his son (who sounds like a terrific boy, but we don’t hear about him very often), some of the other women he comes across, and some pretty colourful characters, like a Bulgarian spy/politician, and John Cunningham, who is a puzzle in his own right. Personally, I would have liked to learn more about some of them (I particularly like his mother, although we meet her at a bad time in her life), but, as I have mentioned, the style of writing reflects the character’s personality, and one gets the sense that whatever his true feelings or interests, he would be unlikely to delve on them or divulge them even to those closest to him.

I’ve mentioned the point of view of the novel; the language suits the character and the location perfectly; it is peppered with local British expressions (which I think many readers will enjoy) and popular references to the period, without excessive or flowery descriptions (but there are some memorable characterisations); and it flows quite well. It isn’t a page-turner in the usual sense, as even when events take a turn that appears risky or dangerous, there isn’t a quickening of the pace but there isn’t an excessive build-up of tension either. It is a less-is-more approach that I found quite refreshing, although it seems to go against the usual dictates of how to write a bestseller. This is a fascinating story, told without too many bells and whistles, in a style that allows the facts to speak for themselves. That does not mean there is a lack of reflection and insight, as there are comments and quotes that are so sharp and true that one is left nodding in amazement and agreement. And, unfortunately in many cases, some of them are as relevant now as they were at the time the story is set in. I highlighted a lot of the text, and I share a few examples here (but, as usual, I recommend readers to check the look-inside feature or get a sample before deciding if the style suits their taste):

It always surprised him how solicitors managed to remove their umbrella when it began to rain, and to charge heavy fees when the pressure was on, and how, even after years of loyalty, you became their victim in the end.

Mike reflects about his mother and her failing memory:

Perhaps her memory loss was closely connected to her loneliness, and recollecting the past only served to increase her feelings of isolation. Maybe that was the solution to loneliness: to simply forget.

Here Mike is talking to John Cunningham about a pretty peculiar Bulgarian character (yes, Bulgarians don’t come out of this novel particularly well, although they aren’t the only ones to suffer a harsh treatment, and the author seems to be talking from personal experience) who after the fall of the Eastern Bloc decides to become a candidate in the first democratic elections in his country:

‘What, from con man to respectable politician? I thought that was an oxymoron?’

‘It’s just like good old Dr Johnson said —“Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”

The ending is open, and it promises further adventures (although I don’t know if there’s another book planned or not). That does not mean there is a cliff-hanger. Nothing like that. As I’ve said before, Mike is a man who never gives up and who’s always after a new project or challenge, so it’s not surprising he goes searching for the next thing.

This is a book for those who enjoy local atmosphere and fiction set in the recent past (the latter part of the XX century), particularly in the UK and London. It doesn’t easily fit into a genre (it is a fictionalised memoir with plenty of information about the property business, family and romantic relationships, and even elements of the spy novel), and it defies many of the expectations of the majority of novels published these days. If you want more of the same or love standard genre novels, don’t bother with this one. But if you’d like to check a story that reflects the period, has touches of humour, and is non-apologetically personal, give it a go. It’s likely to leave you eager for more.

Thanks to the author for his novel, thanks to all of you for reading, I hope 2021 has started on a good note for you (don’t we all need it!), and remember to comment, like, share, click, and especially keep safe, and keep reading!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

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

Hi all:

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

Blind Turn by Cara Sue Achterberg

Blind Turn by Cara Sue Achterberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Cara Sue Achterberg

About the author:

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

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

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

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

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

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

My review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview #TheGlassHouse by Eve Chase (@EvePollyChase) (@PenguinUKBooks) A totally immersing and wonderful reading experience

Hi all:

I bring you a book that I’ve enjoyed by an acclaimed author I hadn’t had a chance to read yet but has now become a favourite.

The Glass House by Eve Chase

The Glass House by Eve Chase

PRE-ORDER THE STUNNING NEW MYSTERY ABOUT OLD FAMILY SECRETS FROM THE AUTHOR OF BLACK RABBIT HALL AND THE VANISHING OF AUDREY WILDE

‘A captivating mystery: beautifully written, with a rich sense of place, a cast of memorable characters, and lots of deep, dark secrets’ Kate Morton, bestselling author of The Clockmaker’s Daughter

Outside a remote manor house in an idyllic wood, a baby girl is found.

The Harrington family takes her in and disbelief quickly turns to joy. They’re grieving a terrible tragedy of their own and the beautiful baby fills them with hope, lighting up the house’s dark, dusty corners.

Desperate not to lose her to the authorities, they keep her secret, suspended in a blissful summer world where normal rules of behaviour – and the law – don’t seem to apply.

But within days a body will lie dead in the grounds.

And their dreams of a perfect family will shatter like glass.

Years later, the truth will need to be put back together again, piece by piece . . .

From the author of Black Rabbit Hall, The Glass House is an emotional, thrilling book about family secrets and belonging – and how we find ourselves when we are most lost.

‘I adored this beautifully-written, riveting mystery’ Rosie Walsh, bestselling author of The Man Who Didn’t Call

‘Absolutely her best yet’ Lisa Jewell, bestselling author of The Family Upstairs

‘So beautifully and insightfully written, with characters I grew to love. A compelling, moving story that kept me turning the pages right to the very last’ Katherine Webb, author of The Legacy

Praise for Eve Chase

‘Enthralling’ Kate Morton

‘Simply stunning’ Dinah Jefferies

‘The most beautiful book you will read this year’ Lisa Jewell

https://www.amazon.com/Glass-House-Eve-Chase-ebook/dp/B07VRY3DBN/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Glass-House-Eve-Chase-ebook/dp/B07VRY3DBN/

https://www.amazon.es/Glass-House-Eve-Chase-ebook/dp/B07VRY3DBN/

Author Eve Chase

About the author:

I’m an author who writes rich suspenseful novels about families – dysfunctional, passionate – and the sort of explosive secrets that can rip them apart. I write stories that I’d love to read. Mysteries. Page-turners. Worlds you can lose yourself in. Reading time is so precious: I try to make my books worthy of that sweet spot.

My office is a garden studio/shed. There are roses outside. I live in Oxford with my three children, husband, and a ridiculously hairy golden retriever, Harry.

Do say hello. Wave! Tweet me! I love hearing from readers. I’m on Twitter and Instagram @EvePollyChase and on Facebook, eve.chase.author.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Eve-Chase/e/B01AKOSDWW

My review:

Thanks to Penguin UK – Michael Joseph and NetGalley for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review. This is the first time I’ve read one of Eve Chase’s novels, and I’m sure it won’t be the last one as I found it a totally immersing and wonderful experience.

The plot has something of the fairy tale (or of several fairy tales), as this is a dual-timeline story where we read about some events that took place in the early 1970s —although that part of the action (in fact, the whole book) has something timeless about it— and then others that are taking place in the present. The story is told from three different points of view, those of Rita (told in a deep third person, as readers are privy to her feelings and thoughts), a very tall nanny (they call her ‘Big Rita’) with a tragic past; Hera, one of her charges, an intelligent and troubled child (almost a teen), who is more aware of what is truly going on around her than the adults realise; and Sylvia, a recently separated woman, mother of an eighteen-year-old girl, Annie, and trying to get used to an independent lifestyle again. Both, Hera and Sylvia, tell the story in the first person, and the chapters alternate between the three narrators and the two timelines. Rita and Hera’s narratives start in the 1970s and are intrinsically linked, telling the story of the Harrington family and of a summer holiday in the family home in the Forest of Dean, intended as a therapeutic break for the mother of the family, which turns up to be anything but. Most readers will imagine that Sylvia’s story, set in the present, must be related to that of the other two women, but it is not immediately evident how. There are secrets, mysteries, adultery, murders, lost and found babies, romance, tragedy, accidents, terraria (or terrariums, like the lovely one in the cover of the book), cruelty, fire… The book is classed under Gothic fiction (and in many ways it has many of the elements we’d expect from a Victorian Gothic novel, or a fairy tale, as I said), and also as a domestic thriller, and yes, it also fits in that category, but with a lot more symbolism than is usual in that genre, a house in the forest rather than a suburban or a city home, and some characters that are larger than life.

Loss, grief, identity (how we define ourselves and how we are marked by family tradition and the stories we are told growing up), the relationship between mothers and daughters, and what makes a family a family are among the themes running through the novel, as are memory and the different ways people try to cope with trauma and painful past events.

I’ve mentioned the characters in passing, and although some of them might sound familiar when we start reading about them (Rita, the shy woman, too tall and scarred to be considered attractive, who seeks refuge in other people’s family; Hera, the young girl growing in a wealthy family with a mother who has mental health problems and a largely absent father; and Sylvia, a woman in her forties suddenly confronted with having to truly become an adult when both, her mother and her daughter need her), there is more to them than meets the eye, and they all grow and evolve during the novel, having to confront some painful truths in the process. I liked Rita and Sylvia from the beginning, even though I don’t have much in common with either of them, and felt sorry for Hera. Although the events and the story require a degree of suspension of disbelief greater than in other novels, the characters, their emotions, and their reactions are understandable and feel real within the remit of the story, and it would be difficult to read it and not feel for them.

I loved the style that offers a good mix of descriptive writing (especially vivid when dealing with the setting of the story, the forest, Devon, and the terrarium) and more symbolic and lyrical writing when dealing with the emotions and the state of mind of the characters. At times, we can almost physically share in their experiences, hear the noises in the woods, or smell the sea breeze. This is not a rushed story, and although the action and the plot move along at a reasonable pace, there is enough time to stop to contemplate and marvel at a fern, the feel of a baby’s skin, or the music from a guitar. This is not a frantic thriller but a rather precious story, and it won’t suit people looking for constant action and a fast pace. I’ve read some reviews where readers complained about feeling confused by the dual timelines and the different narrators, although I didn’t find it confusing as each chapter is clearly marked and labelled (both with mention of the time and the character whose point of view we are reading). I recommend anybody thinking about reading the book to check a sample first, to see if it is a good fit for their taste.

The ending… I’m going to avoid spoilers, as usual, but I liked the way everything comes together and fits in. Did I work out what was going on? Some of the revelations happen quite early, but some of the details don’t come to light until much later, and the author is masterful in the way she drops clues that we might miss and obscures/hides information until the right moment. I guessed some of the points, others I only realised quite close to the actual ending, but, in any case, I loved how it all came together, like in a fairy tale, only even better.

This is a novel for readers who don’t mind letting their imagination fly and who are not looking for a totally realistic novel based on fact. With wonderful characters, magnificent settings, many elements that will make readers think of fairy tales, and a Gothic feel, this is a great novel and an author whose work I look forward to reading again in the near future.

Thanks to the publisher, NetGalley, and the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling. And keep safe!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog GROWN UPS by Marian Keyes (@PenguinUKBooks) Complex family relationships and serious issues for devoted Keyes’s fans

Hi all:

Today I bring you a book by a famous author I hadn’t read yet.

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

PRE-ORDER THE BRAND-NEW BOOK FROM MARIAN KEYES, THE INTERNATIONALLY BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF THE BREAK

PICKED AS ONE TO WATCH IN 2020 BY THE TIMES, DAILY MAIL, EVENING STANDARD, THE i, STYLIST, COSMOPOLITAN, GRAZIA AND MORE

‘Magnificently messy lives, brilliantly untangled. Funny, tender and completely absorbing!’ GRAHAM NORTON


They’re a glamorous family, the Caseys.

Johnny Casey, his two brothers Ed and Liam, their beautiful, talented wives and all their kids spend a lot of time together – birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, weekends away. And they’re a happy family. Johnny’s wife, Jessie – who has the most money – insists on it.

Under the surface, though, conditions are murkier. While some people clash, other people like each other far too much . . .

Everything stays under control until Ed’s wife Cara, gets concussion and can’t keep her thoughts to herself. One careless remark at Johnny’s birthday party, with the entire family present, starts Cara spilling out all their secrets.

In the subsequent unravelling, every one of the adults finds themselves wondering if it’s time – finally – to grow up?


‘Superb. Warm-hearted, wise and highly entertaining’ OBSERVER

‘I loved every word. I will be missing those gorgeous vibrant characters for many weeks to come’ LIANE MORIARTY, bestselling author of Big Little Lies

‘Messy, tangled complex humans who reminded me that few of us ever really sort our lives out at all’ JOJO MOYES, bestselling author of Me Before You

‘Her best yet. Charming, funny and poignant, but also profound, heartbreaking’ NINA STIBBE, bestselling author of Reasons to be Cheerful

‘Sensitive, funny, wonderful, immensely touching’ NIGELLA LAWSON

‘It’s SUCH a treat. I felt like I was reading the cleverest cream cake of words’ CAITLIN MORAN

‘A novel that is warm and witty but never afraid to tackle the big stuff’ ELIZABETH DAY, bestselling author of HOW TO FAIL

‘Tender, hilarious, important, with characters who feel as real as your own family by the time you’re done’ BETH O’LEARY, bestselling author of The Flatshare

‘Funny & thoughtful and such brilliantly drawn characters that I am genuinely bereft my time with them is over’ HANNAH BECKERMAN, bestselling author of If Only I Could Tell You

‘She’s only gone and done it again! Brilliant as ever’ JANE FALLON, bestselling author of Tell Me A Secret

https://www.amazon.com/Grown-Ups-Marian-Keyes-ebook/dp/B07QCTWJCK/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Grown-Ups-Marian-Keyes-ebook/dp/B07QCTWJCK/

https://www.amazon.es/Grown-Ups-Marian-Keyes-ebook/dp/B07QCTWJCK/

Author Marian Keyes
Author Marian Keyes

About the author:

Marian Keyes’ international bestselling novels include Rachel’s Holiday, Last Chance Saloon, Sushi for Beginners, Angels, The Other Side of the Story, Anybody Out There, This Charming Man and The Woman Who Stole My Life. Three collections of her journalism, Under the Duvet, Further Under the Duvet and Making It Up as I Go Along, are also available from Penguin. Marian lives in Dublin with her husband.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Marian-Keyes/e/B000APV464?

My review:

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

Marian Keyes is a very well-known and popular Irish author, but this is the first novel of hers I read and therefore I can’t compare it to her previous novels. Based on reviews, some readers feel that it is less tight and less funny than some of her other books, but not everybody agrees. I’ll leave it to her fans to make their own minds up.

This novel is the story of a family, well, or of the families of three Irish brothers, John, Ed and Liam Casey, their wives and children. It is a family saga of sorts, although it does not cover several generations of the same family. I must confess that when I read the description I thought this would be the story of what happened when Cara, due to her concussion, started spilling the beans about everything and everybody, and how that would evolve. But Keyes uses that point in the story as the introduction to the characters, and then goes back in time, to a few months earlier, so we learn the reasons behind some of the secrets she reveals, and we also learn a lot about the characters. A lot. This is a very long book, and at first, the timeline can seem confusing because of the initial scene, but once we go back in time, the novel progresses in a chronological order (not perfect, because often the characters will remember their past, how the couples met, or details of their previous lives, and those will be interspersed with the actual events), up to the point where it catches up with the birthday celebration dinner for Johnny (quite late in the book), and then moves forward until the end of the novel. We learn about each couple and each individual (at least the adults, not so much the children), although we learn more about the women than about the men: we learn about Jessie’s role in organising family events, inviting everybody and keeping the family together; we read about Cara, who is eminently practical and loves hotels but lacks in confidence in other areas and suffers from a very unhealthy relationship with food (that develops into a full-blown bulimia); we read about Nell, the newcomer to the family, an unconventional theatre designer whom everybody loves despite (or perhaps because) of her unique style; and about the brothers:  Johnny, who married the widow of his best friend and is at times overwhelmed by his wife’s need to control and organise and by the legacy of her previous marriage; Ed, who is the kindest and more supportive of the three; and Liam, who seems attractive, light and fun to begin with but things aren’t always as they seem. Ferdia, Jessie’s son from her first marriage, is a young man who changes enormously through the novel. Oh, and he is a hunk, as we are reminded quite often.

As you can imagine from the description, the book delves into secrets, family relationships (these three families are very enmeshed and that explains some of the bizarre happenings), the nature of love, trust, confidence, self-worth, how relationships change over the years, there is an important subplot about body image and bulimia (very well done, in my opinion), parenting…  There are also funny/dreadful murder-mystery parties, luxury hotels, alternative festivals, romance (with some age difference)… This is not a page-turner in the sense of a plot moved by action and suspense. It is more like a soap opera where the lives of the characters ebb and flow, with some peaks of excitement, triumphs, and disappointments.

I have mentioned the main characters, although there are many others, including the younger children, friends, work colleagues, staff at the different places where they spend time, collaborators, and although some of the secondary characters are quite memorable, and I didn’t dislike the main characters either (apart from one, but no spoilers), I can’t say I connected with any of them in particular. I liked Nell, Cara (her struggle with bulimia is one of the most realistic and best-written parts of the book for me), and Ed, but I didn’t feel personally invested in their stories, although I kept reading, and it’s a long book, so that is saying something.

The story is narrated in the third person from the alternating point of view of the main characters, especially the females, but we also get snippets of what the men think at times. The change in point of view can take place sometimes within the same chapter (several of the characters can meet at an event, for example, and the point of view will then follow someone else), but I didn’t find it confusing, as they are all very different, and we quickly learn to tell them apart.

Keyes’s writing flows well, and she can easily pass from describing an interior to making readers share in the state of mind and distress of one of her characters, and although she touches on serious subjects, her writing is not overdramatic or heavy. There are some light scenes, but the book is far from funny overall, although there are moments where the wit of the writer shines through (as I said, some of her habitual readers complained about the novel not being as funny as some of her previous ones, and I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking for a laugh-out-loud read). I very much enjoyed the Irish expressions and some of the dialogue sparkled, showing the talent and range of the author. As a little taster, here I leave you with a snippet of a conversation between Jessie and an analyst who is helping her decide how to move her business forward. He is “slightly” creepy.

‘…And the thing is, the thing, Karl that I have just remembered—‘

‘Yeah?’

‘Is that I have a very sexy, non-repulsive husband.’

‘Forty minutes ago you could “never forgive him”.’

‘Time is a great healer.’

The passage is witty but it also illustrates how contradictory we can all be, and there is plenty of that in the novel.

Everything is resolved in the end, and although I think some situations dragged a bit, overall I enjoyed the ending and it fulfilled my expectations.

In sum, this is a book I’d recommend to readers who love stories about big families, especially set in Ireland, who aren’t looking for a lot of laughs, or for diverse characters, and who don’t mind spending a long time with a book. I did wonder if this book wouldn’t have worked better as a collection, with individual volumes being dedicated to each one of the families (I think that at least some of the books, for example, the one dedicated to Cara and Ed, would have been stronger), and a tighter edit might also have turned it into a more manageable book for the general public, but I have no doubt that Marian Keyes can write compelling characters, and I’ll check some more of her work in the future. Ah, there are some very mild sex scenes (at least very mild for me, and I don’t like erotica), in case somebody is looking for a totally clean book.

 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog NINE PERFECT STRANGERS by Liane Moriarty (@PenguinRandomUK) Recommended to wellness retreats enthusiasts with a sense of humour

Hi all.

I hope you’re enjoying the summer. Although this book takes place in January, that is Australian January, and somehow it feels like an appropriate read for summer.

Nince Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty, book cover
Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

THE SUNDAY TIMES NO. 1 BESTSELLER AND RICHARD & JUDY SPRING BOOK CLUB PICK, FROM THE AUTHOR BEHIND AWARD WINNING TV SERIES BIG LITTLE LIES.

Nine perfect strangers, each hiding an imperfect life.

A luxury retreat cut off from the outside world.

Ten days that promise to change your life.

But some promises – like some lives – are perfect lies . . .
__________

GUARDIAN BEST SUMMER READS

‘Fantastic’ Times

‘Original, suspenseful, downright brilliant’ Clare Mackintosh

‘The twist blew my mind’ Marian Keyes

‘A super-suspenseful page-turner’ Mail on Sunday

‘Will grip you from the first page’ Sunday Express

‘Captivating’ Good Housekeeping

‘Had me utterly hooked’ Daily Mail

https://www.amazon.com/Nine-Perfect-Strangers-bestselling-author-ebook/dp/B07C66F1N2/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Nine-Perfect-Strangers-bestselling-author-ebook/dp/B07C66F1N2/

https://www.amazon.es/Nine-Perfect-Strangers-bestselling-author-ebook/dp/B07C66F1N2/

Author Liane Moriarty
Author Liane Moriarty

About the author:

Liane Moriarty is the Australian author of seven internationally best-selling novels: Three Wishes, The Last Anniversary, What Alice Forgot, The Hypnotist’s Love Story and the number 1 New York Times bestsellers: The Husband’s Secret, Big Little Lies and Truly Madly Guilty. Her books have been translated into over forty languages and read by more than 14 million people worldwide.

Big Little Lies and Truly Madly Guilty both debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list – the first time this has been achieved by an Australian. Big Little Lies was adapted into a multiple award-winning HBO series starring Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, who have also optioned the film rights for Truly Madly Guilty. Truly Madly Guilty has sold over 1 million copies in the US alone.

Her new novel, Nine Perfect Strangers is due for release in November 2018.

Liane lives in Sydney, Australia, together with her husband, son, daughter and Labrador. You can find out more at www.lianemoriarty.com and www.facebook.com/LianeMoriartyAuthor

https://www.amazon.com/Liane-Moriarty/e/B00459IA54/

My review:

I thank NetGalley and the publisher (Michael Joseph UK) for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

I’ve read and reviewed two novels by Moriarty, Little Big Lies and Truly, Madly, Guilty (you can read my reviews here and here), quite different but enjoyable. The first one is funnier, sharper, wittier, and flashier than the other, which is more intense, focuses around a single event and its consequences (although that is a structure the author comes back time and again), the characters are less extreme, glamorous, bubbly, and more evidently damaged and vulnerable. Secrets and lies are a common occurrence, and the difference between appearances and reality and the games people play are present in both. There are similarities in some of the themes and subjects in both novels, and these are also evident in Nine Perfect Strangers, which, in my opinion, sits somewhere in between with regards to the tone and the subject matter. The high quality of the writing is also a constant in the three books.

We have a fairly large cast of characters, seemingly unrelated and contrasting in their beliefs and attitudes to life (although not particularly diverse), composed by the guests (or clients) at an Australian wellness retreat, and the staff members. The guests are: a family of three (Napoleon, Heather, and Zoe, their daughter, whose 21st birthday is due during their stay at Tranquillum House, all still struggling with a big loss in their lives); a young couple, Jessica and Ben, who won the lottery and now are rich beyond their wildest dreams but not necessarily happier; a romance writer who hasn’t moved with the times (Frances); Tony, and ex-footballer (Australian football) who used to be known as Smiley but seems to find it difficult to find his place in the world now, Lars, a divorce lawyer living happily (?) with a long-term male partner but afraid to commit too much (no children); and Carmel, a divorced mother obsessed by her weight and lacking in self-confidence. The staff members are Masha, Yao, and Delilah. Masha, who used to hold a high-powered corporate position, has rediscovered herself as a wellness guru. Delilah used to be her PA in her previous incarnation and has come along for the ride, and Yao, formerly a paramedic, met Masha in interesting circumstances and is convinced by her programme and devoted to her. At first, this mishmash of characters seem straight out of a joke book, and they appear as caricatures, but through their “therapy” we get to know them as fully fledged individuals and get to empathise with them. There are parallels between them, perhaps inevitably. All of them are struggling with changes in their lives, due to age, to personal tragedies, to external events, and have difficulty coming to terms with those and moving on. Some of the characters are better drawn than others although none of them are true evil, they all (or most) have their moments of clarity and stardom, and I think most readers are likely to find somebody to connect with.

The story is told in the third person from most of the characters’ points of views, although some get more space than others (Frances, Masha, Yao, for example have a great deal to say), but this varies as the story evolves, and this technique helps readers get into the thick of things. There is a fairly dramatic prologue, which takes place ten years before the rest of the action and at first appears unrelated, but is not. After the main action of the novel ends (this somewhat “false” ending is cathartic but not quite as dramatic as the reveals in the two other novels), we have a number of chapters that follow the characters (some of them) for a period afterwards, providing a protracted ending that I really enjoyed and thought suited the story well. (One of the problem with therapies is that sometimes we don’t get a long-enough follow-up to see how effective they are long-term. This is not the case here).

I won’t go into detail about the actual therapy the guests engage in, as I want to avoid spoilers. Let’s say some of the elements will be familiar to people who have ever undertaken (or even read about) a retreat, but there are some pretty big surprises, and things turn pretty dark too, although people who prefer their novels free from major violence and blood are on safe ground here. That does not mean that there are no serious subjects at the heart of the novel (loss and suicide feature heavily, as does drug use, growing older… and there are major questions asked, such as: what defines who we are, how much value we place in those around us and our relationships with them, our role in society versus our own interests…), but there are moments of mirth and hilarity (many down to Frances, who made me think of the heroin of a chick-lit novel growing older disgracefully, as should be), and despite the difficult moments all the characters go through, this is not a challenging reading experience, and there are no great insights or revelations bound to make any readers feel enlightened or keep them thinking for ages once they finish the novel. It’s true that all the characters learn something by the end, but, if there is a serious message in this novel is that there are no quick-fixes or shortcuts to solving one’s problems, and we have to keep working at it day after day. But you might come to a different conclusion if you read it.

A few quotes from the book:

So I called reception and asked for a lower, cloudier, more comfortable sky. (Frances, describing how she felt contemplating the sky that day).

Sol was a real man who didn’t like adjectives or throw cushions.

She sucked in her stomach, ready to take it like a man, or at least like a romance novelist capable of reading her own royalty statements. (This is dedicated to all fellow authors).

In sum, I enjoyed the novel, although it is not my favourite work by the Moriarty. It has light touches and funny moments, some serious ones, pretty memorable characters, some ominous and dark undertones, it is easy to read, well-written engaging and entertaining. Another Australian author whose books I eagerly await.

Thanks to the publishers and the authors, special thanks to all of you for writing, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

 

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview RETURN TO HIROSHIMA by Bob Van Laerhoven (@bobvanlaerhoven) An #ultra-noir novel for lovers of beautiful writing and dark subjects that probe the human psyche

Hi all:

I bring you a book by an author who’s already visited my blog and left a lasting impression. Here it is:

Book review of Return to Hiroshima by Bob Van Laerhoven
Return to Hiroshima by Bob Van Laerhoven

Return to Hiroshima by Bob Van Laerhoven

1995, Japan struggles with a severe economic crisis. Fate brings a number of people together in Hiroshima in a confrontation with dramatic consequences. Xavier Douterloigne, the son of a Belgian diplomat, returns to the city, where he spent his youth, to come to terms with the death of his sister. Inspector Takeda finds a deformed baby lying dead at the foot of the Peace Monument, a reminder of Hiroshima’s war history. A Yakuza-lord, rumored to be the incarnation of the Japanese demon Rokurobei, mercilessly defends his criminal empire against his daughter Mitsuko, whom he considers insane. And the punk author Reizo, obsessed by the ultra-nationalistic ideals of his literary idol Mishima, recoils at nothing to write the novel that will “overturn Japan’s foundations”…
Hiroshima’s indelible war-past simmers in the background of this ultra-noir novel. Clandestine experiments conducted by Japanese Secret Service Unit 731 during WWII become unveiled and leave a sinister stain on the reputation of the imperial family and the Japanese society as a whole.

PRAISE FOR RETURN TO HIROSHIMA:

Van Laerhoven’s Return to Hiroshima might well be the most complex Flemish crime novel ever written.
Fred Braekman, De Morgen, Belgium

A complex and grisly literary crime story which among other things refers to the effects of the nuclear attack on Japan.
Linda Asselbergs, Weekend, Belgium

Van Laerhoven skillfully creates the right atmosphere for this drama. As a consequence, the whole book is shrouded in a haze of doom. Is this due to Hiroshima itself, a place burdened with a terrible past? Or is the air of desperation typical for our modern society
Jan Haeverans, Focus Magazine, Belgium

Van Laerhoven won the Hercule Poirot Prize with Baudelaire’s Revenge. You’ll understand why after reading Return to Hiroshima
Eva Krap, Banger Sisters

Links:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Return-Hiroshima-Bob-Van-Laerhoven-ebook/dp/B079NL7FNN/

https://www.amazon.com/Return-Hiroshima-Bob-Van-Laerhoven-ebook/dp/B079NL7FNN/

Author Bob Van Laerhoven
Author Bob Van Laerhoven

About the author:

Bob van Laerhoven was born on August 8th, 1953 in the sandy soil of Antwerp’s Kempen, a region in Flanders (Belgium), bordering to The Netherlands, where according to the cliché ‘pig-headed clodhoppers’ live. This perhaps explains why he started to write stories at a, particularly young age. A number of his stories were published in English, French, German, Spanish and Slovenian.

DEBUT
Van Laerhoven made his debut as a novelist in 1985 with “Nachtspel – Night Game.” He quickly became known for his ‘un-Flemish’ style: he writes colourful, kaleidoscopic novels in which the fate of the individual is closely related to broad social transformations. His style slowly evolved in his later novels to embrace more personal themes while continuing to branch out into the world at large. International flair has become his trademark.

AVID TRAVELLER

Bob Van Laerhoven became a full-time author in 1991. The context of his stories isn’t invented behind his desk, rather it is rooted in personal experience. As a freelance travel writer, for example, he explored conflicts and trouble-spots across the globe from the early 1990s to 2004. Echoes of his experiences on the road also trickle through in his novels. Somalia, Liberia, Sudan, Gaza, Iran, Mozambique, Burundi, Lebanon, Iraq, Myanmar… to name but a few.

MASS MURDERS

During the Bosnian war, Van Laerhoven spent part of 1992 in the besieged city of Sarajevo. Three years later he was working for MSF – Doctors without frontiers – in the Bosnian city of Tuzla during the NATO bombings. At that moment the refugees arrived from the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica. Van Laerhoven was the first writer from the Low Countries to be given the chance to speak to the refugees. His conversations resulted in a travel book: “Srebrenica. Getuigen van massamoord – Srebrenica. Testimony to a Mass Murder.” The book denounces the rape and torture of the Muslim population of this Bosnian-Serbian enclave and is based on first-hand testimonies. He also concludes that mass murders took place, an idea that was questioned at the time but later proven accurate.

MULTIFACETED OEUVRE

All these experiences contribute to Bob Van Laerhoven’s rich and commendable oeuvre, an oeuvre that typifies him as the versatile author of novels, travel stories, theatre pieces, biographies, non-fiction, letters, columns, articles… He is also a prize-winning author: in 2007 he won the Hercule Poirot Prize for best crime novel of the year with “De Wraak van Baudelaire – Baudelaire’s Revenge.” “Baudelaire’s Revenge” has been published in the USA, France, Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium. Russian and Italian translations are in the making. In 2014, a second French translation of one of his titles has been published in France and Canada. “Le Mensonge d’Alejandro” is set in a fictitious South-American dictatorship in the eighties. The “junta” in this novel is a symbol for the murderous dictatorships in South-America (Chile and Argentine, to mention two)during the seventies and beginning of the eighties. In The Netherlands and Belgium, his novel “De schaduw van de Mol” (The Shadow Of The Mole) was published in November 2015. The novel is set in the Argonne-region of France in 1916. An English translation of the novel will be available in the US in 2017.
“Baudelaire’s Revenge” is the winner of the USA BEST BOOK AWARDS 2014 in the category Fiction: mystery/suspense.
In April 2015 The Anaphora Literary Press published the collection of short stories “Dangerous Obsessions” in the US, Australia, the UK, and Canada, in paperback, e-book, and hardcover. “Dangerous Obsessions” was voted “best short story collection of 2015 in The San Diego Book Review. In May 2017, Месть Бодлерa, the Russian edition of “Baudelaire’s Revenge” was published. “Dangerous Obsessions” has been published in 2017 in Italian, Portuguese, and Swedish editions. Spanish and Chinese translations will follow in 2018.

 

My review:

Thanks to the author for providing me a paperback copy of the book that I freely chose to review.

I read and reviewed Baudelaire’s Revenge some time ago (you can check that review here) and I was fascinated and intrigued by it, so I did not think twice when the author told me he had published a new novel. Van Laerhoven’s work has won awards, been translated into several languages, and he has a unique voice that stays with the reader long after finishing the book. I don’t mean the stories and the plots of his books are not interesting (they are fascinating), but the way he writes about the historical period his stories are set in, and the characters he follows and analyses are distinct and unforgettable. His words are, at once, poetic and harsh, and they perfectly convey both, the utmost beauty and the extremes of cruelty and dejection that can be found in human beings.

When I reread my previous review, while I was preparing to write this one, I realised that much of what I had written there (apart from the specifics about the plot and the characters) applied also to this book. The author once more writes historical fiction, although this time it is closer to our era. The main action takes place in Japan in 1995, although, as the title might make us suspect, the story also goes back to 1945 (and even before) and towards the end of the book we have scenes set in that period, with all that involves.

The story is mostly narrated in the third person from the points of view of a variety of characters, a police inspector (who has to investigate the murder of a baby, a strange attack at a bank with a large number of casualties, and a bizarre assault on a tourist), a female photographer, a young man and a young woman members of a strange sect, a strange man/God/demon (who is more talked about than actually talking, although we get access to his memories at some point). There are also fragments narrated by a woman, who is in hiding when we first meet her, and whose identity and mental state will keep readers on tenterhooks.

Apart from the mystery elements and from the bizarre events, which at first seem disconnected but eventually end up by linking all the characters, I noticed some common themes. Families, family relationships, and in particular relationships between fathers and sons and daughters, take centre stage. The inspector’s search for his father and how that affects his life, the young woman’s relationship with her father, at the heart of the whole plot, the photographer’s relationship with her father, another famous photographer, and her attempts at finding her own identity as an artist… While some characters seem totally amoral (perhaps because they believe they are beyond usual morality), others are trying to deal with their guilt for things that they did or did not do. Some of the characters might feel too alien for readers to empathise with, but others experience emotions and feelings fully recognisable, and we feel sad for some of them at the end, but relieved for others. The claustrophobic and pressured atmosphere running against the background of the atomic bomb and its aftermath are perfectly rendered and help give the story an added layer of tension and depth.

This is a book of extremes and not an easy read. Although the language used is lyrical and breath-taking at times, there are harsh scenes and cruel behaviours described in detail (rape, drug use, torture, violence), so I would not recommend it to people who prefer to avoid such kinds of reading. I’ve seen it described as horror, and although it does not easily fit in that genre, in some ways it is far more unsettling and scarier than run-of-the-mill horror. This novel probes the depths of the human psyche and its darkest recesses, and you’ll follow the author there at your own peril.

I wanted to share some samples I highlighted that should not provide any spoilers for those thinking about reading it:

Books protected me from reality. I remember them as a choir of pale shapes, sometimes hysterical, other times comforting, vividly prophetic, or disquieting, like a piano being played in the dark. I’ve always been convinced that stories influence the mind: they haunt regions of the brain where reason has lost its way.

This one I find particularly relevant to this book (and I think most writers would know perfectly well what it’s getting at):

“Writers are like God. They love their characters, but take pleasure in the suffering they put them through. They torment themselves through the puppets they create and in the midst of the torment they discover a sort of rage, the rage you need to create. There’s a lot of sadomasochism in the universe and literature has its own fair share.”

Here, one of the characters talks about how she feels when she is depressed:

Her malady gave her the impression that the buildings and the people she saw were nothing more than pixels of energy bundled together by an insane artist who could shift around the worlds inside him like pieces of chess.

This ‘ultra-noir’ novel, as the blurb aptly describes it, is an extraordinary read, but is not a book for somebody looking for a typical genre thriller with slightly twisted characters. This is far darker than most of the thrillers I’ve read. But don’t let that put you off. As I said in my previous review of another one of the author’s novels, ‘if you’re looking for a complex and challenging historical novel and don´t shrink from dark subjects, this is a pretty unique book.’

Thanks to the author for his book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE LEAVERS by Lisa Ko (@iamlisako) A book about mothers, sons, emigrations, and how to survive when you’ve lost a part of yourself #TheLeavers #emigration

Hi all:

I don’t usually blog on Thursdays, but when I was invited to participate in this blog tour, I know you would not mind getting an extra post. And here it is:

Review of the Leaver by Lisa Ko
The Leavers by Lisa Ko

The Leavers: Winner of the PEN/Bellweather Prize for Fiction by Lisa Ko

‘A vivid fictional exploration of what it means to belong and what it feels like when you don’t’Oprah Magazine – Favourite Books of 2017

Finalist for the National Book Award 2017

Winner of the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Fiction

‘There was a time I would have called Lisa Ko’s novel beautifully written, ambitious, and moving, and all of that is true, but it’s more than that now: if you want to understand a forgotten and essential part of the world we live inThe Leavers is required reading’ – Ann Patchett

‘Ambitious . . . Lisa Ko has taken the headlines and has reminded us that beyond them lie messy, brave, extraordinary, ordinary lives’ New York Times Book Review

*****

Ko’s novel is a moving story of how a boy comes into his own when everything he loves is taken away, and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of the past.

One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, Polly, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, goes to her job at a nail salon – and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her. With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left mystified and bereft. Eventually adopted by a pair of well-meaning white professors, Deming is moved from the Bronx to a small town upstate and renamed Daniel Wilkinson. But far from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his adoptive parents’ desire that he assimilate with his memories of his mother and the community he left behind.

Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid examination of borders and belonging. It’s a moving story of how a boy comes into his own when everything he loves is taken away, and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of the past.

https://www.amazon.com/Leavers-Winner-Bellweather-Prize-Fiction-ebook/dp/B077MTG7T1/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Leavers-Winner-Bellweather-Prize-Fiction-ebook/dp/B077MTG7T1/

Press Release

‘Imperative reading’ Oprah’s Book Club DIALOGUE BOOKS’ LAUNCH TITLE  WINNER OF THE 2016 PEN/BELLWETHER PRIZE FOR FICTION FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARDS 2017

One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, Polly, goes to her job at a nail salon – and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her.

With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left mystified and bereft. Eventually adopted by a pair of well-meaning white professors, Deming is moved from the Bronx to a small town upstate and renamed Daniel Wilkinson. But far from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his adoptive parents’ desire that he assimilate, with his memories of his mother and the community he left behind.

Told from the perspective of both Daniel – as he grows into a directionless young man – and Polly, Ko’s novel gives us one of fiction’s most singular mothers. Loving and selfish, determined and frightened, Polly is forced to make one heart-wrenching choice after another.

Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid examination of borders and belonging. Of identity. It’s a moving story of how a boy comes into his own, when everything he loves is taken away, and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of the past.

Author Lisa Ko
Author Lisa Ko

About the Author:

Lisas Ko is the author of The Leavers, a novel which was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction and won the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. Her writing has appeared in Best American Short Stories 2016, The New York Times, Brooklyn Review, and extensively elsewhere. Lisa has been awarded fellowships and residencies from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the MacDowell Colony, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, Writers OMI at Ledig House, the Jerome Foundation, Blue Mountain Center, the Van Lier Foundation, Hawthornden Castle, the I-Park Foundation, the Anderson Center, the Constance Saltonstall Foundation, and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center. Born in Queens and raised in Jersey, she lives in Brooklyn.

Visit Lisa on her site: lisa-ko.com or on Twitter: @iamlisako #TheLeavers

https://www.amazon.com/Lisa-Ko/e/B01I8ML74E/

 

Praise for The Leavers

‘There was a time I would have called Lisa Ko’s novel beautifully written, ambitious and moving, and all of that is true, but it’s more than that now: if you want to understand a forgotten and essential part of the world we live in, The Leavers is required reading’—ANN PATCHETT

‘[The Leavers] uses the voices of both [a] boy and his birth mother to tell a story that unfolds in graceful, realistic fashion and defies expectations. Though it won last year’s PEN/Bellwether Award for Socially Engaged Fiction, Ko’s book is more far-reaching than that’—THE NEW YORK TIMES

‘Courageous, sensitive, and perfectly of this moment’—BARBARA KINGSOLVER

‘[A] dazzling debut… Filled with exquisite, heartrending details, Ko’s exploration of the often-brutal immigrant experience in America is a moving tale of family and belonging’—PEOPLE

‘A sweeping examination of family…. Ko’s stunning tale of love and loyalty—to family, to country— is a fresh and moving look at the immigrant experience in America, and is as timely as ever’  —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (STARRED REVIEW)

‘What Ko seeks to do with The Leavers is illuminate the consequence of [deportation] facilities, and of the deportation machine as a whole, on individual lives. Ko’s book arrives at a time when it is most needed; its success will be measured in its ability to move its readership along the continuum between complacency and advocacy’ —THE LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS

‘Ko’s unforgettable narrative voice is a credit to the moving stories of immigration, loss, recovery, and acceptance that feel particularly suited for our times’—NYLON

‘[E]ngaging and highly topical… Ko deftly segues between the intertwined stories of the separated mother and son and conveys both the struggles of those caught in the net of immigration authorities and the pain of dislocation’ —THE NATIONAL BOOK REVIEW

‘Skillfully written… Those who are interested in closely observed, character-driven fiction will want to leave room for The Leavers on their shelves’—BOOKLIST

‘[A]n impressive literary debut…. Ko does a wonderful job of crafting sympathetic characters. The Leavers is never sentimental or cloying’—SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST

‘This timely novel depicts the heart- and spirit-breaking difficulties faced by illegal immigrants with meticulous specificity’—KIRKUS REVIEWS

‘The Leavers is also about the very concept of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ — about belonging, and who we are when we lose the people who make us, well, ourselves. It’s about immigration and cultural barriers, the promise of the American dream and the less talked about way it can devolve into an American nightmare’—REFINERY29

‘The Leavers has already won the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, an honor it surely deserves for its depiction of the tribulations of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Beyond that, and perhaps even more admirable, it is an exceptionally well written, fully realized work of art portraying the circumstances and inner worlds — the motives and emotional weather — of its two central characters. Ko is so psychologically penetrating, so acute in her passing observations and deft in the quick views she affords of her characters’ inner lives and surroundings, that her skill and empathy give real joy’ —KATHERINE POWERS, BARNES AND NOBLE REVIEW

‘Ko tells the heart-breaking story of a Chinese mother and her American-born son, who is adopted by a white couple after she disappears without warning and fails to return for several months. Ko is part of an active subgenre shining a light on an ugly truth about our country—that it is possible to come to America and be worse off as a result’ —THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

‘Vividly written and moving, The Leavers is an engrossing story of one young boy struggling to adjust to his new life without his mother and community’—BUZZFEED

‘One of 2017’s most anticipated fiction debuts… The Leavers feels as relevant as ever as the future of immigrants in America hangs in the balance’—TIME

‘A must-read’—MARIE CLAIRE US

‘Beautifully written and deeply affecting, combining the emotional insight of a great novel with the integrity of long-form journalism, The Leavers is a timely meditation on immigration, adoption, and the meaning of family’—THE VILLAGE VOICE

‘A dazzling international parade of the intrigue and dark shadows of motherhood, The Leavers will leave every reader craving more. This is one of the most ambitious novels of 2017, and it delivers’—REDBOOK

‘Touching upon themes such as identity, determination, addiction, and loyalty, the author clearly shows readers that she is an emerging writer to watch. Ko’s writing is strong, and her characters, whether major or minor, are skilfully developed’—LIBRARY JOURNAL (STARRED REVIEW)

‘A rich and sensitive portrait of lives lived across borders, cultures, and languages … One of the most engaging, deeply probing, and beautiful books I have read this year’ —LAILA LALAMI, AUTHOR OF THE MOOR’S ACCOUNT

‘The year’s powerful debut you won’t want to miss. The Leavers expertly weaves a tale of the conflicts between love and loyalty, personal identity and familial obligation, and the growing divide between freedom and social justice. An affecting novel that details the gut-wrenching realities facing illegal immigrants and their families in modern America’—BUSTLE

‘Heart-wrenching literary debut’—ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

‘There is something incredibly timely about this book, and something invaluable in Ko’s ability to fully humanize people who are far too often relegated to the position of symbols and far too rarely seen as fully realized beings. The Leavers is more than just a gorgeously written and perfectly constructed novel; it’s a book that means something – maybe even more than its author intended’—PORTLAND BOOK REVIEW

My review:

Thanks to Little Brown UK for providing me an ARC copy of this book and for inviting me to participate in the blog tour on the occasion of the UK book’s launch.

The Leavers comes highly recommended (winner of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction) and it feels particularly relevant to the historical times we live in. The plight of emigrants, issues of ethnic and national identity, transnational adoptions, alternative family structures and mother and son relationships. There is plenty of talk and official discourses about laws, building walls, and placing the blame on Others for the problems of a country these days, but this is nothing new. As I read the book, I could not help but think that the situation is a cyclical one, and perhaps the countries the immigrants come from, go to, or their circumstances change over time, but people keep moving. Sometimes they are met with open arms and others, not so much.

This novel is divided into four parts, and it is narrated by two characters. Peilan (Polly) is a young Chinese woman who initially leaves her fishing village for the city (to have access to better opportunities) and eventually takes on huge debt to move to America, already pregnant. She narrates her story in different time-frames (she recalls past events back in China, the difficult time when she had the baby and could not work in New York, her hard decision to send her child to live with her father in China, and the boy’s return after her father’s death), in the first person, first in America, and later, in present-day China. Deming (Daniel), her son, is born in America, shipped back to China, then back to America, and eventually ends up being adopted by a white American family. His story is told in the third person, and we follow him from age 11 (and some earlier memories) all the way to his early twenties. This is the story of two character’s growth, their struggle to discover (or rediscover) who they are and to make sense of their complex history.

The book is beautifully written, with enthralling descriptions of places, sounds, and emotions. If water and nature are particularly significant for Peilan, music makes life meaningful for Daniel and gives him an identity beyond nation and ethnic origin. Like our memories, the book is contemplative and meandering, and the thoughts of both characters reflect well how our minds work, as a smell, a sound, or a glimpsed figure can conjure up an image or a flood of emotions linked to a particular moment in time.

There is a mystery at the centre of the story. Polly leaves her son and nobody knows why. The alternating points of view put the readers in both roles and make us feel lost and abandoned on the one side, and on the other feel puzzled, as we clearly see that Polly loves her son, although she might have felt desperate and done extreme things at times. The explanation, when it eventually comes, is heart-wrenching and particularly poignant in view of some of the policies being enforced and implemented by some countries. Although it is not a traditional mystery novel, and it does not lose its power even if the readers get a clear idea of what had happened, I will try and avoid spoilers.

Both characters feel real, understandable and easy to empathise with, although not necessarily always likeable or immediately sympathetic. Deming is no star pupil, studious and well-behaved, and he makes many mistakes and has a talent for doing the wrong thing and upsetting almost everybody around him. Polly keeps her emotions under wraps; she works hard and puts up with incredibly hard situations until she suddenly does something that comes as a big surprise to everyone who knows her. They are not the perfect Norman Rockwell family by any stretch of the imagination, but that is what makes them more poignant and gives the novels its strength. It is easy to accept and sympathise with those we like and we feel are exceptional cases, but every case is unique and exceptional. The secondary characters are well-drawn and not simple fillers for the main story, their circumstances and personalities are interesting and believable, and the subject of the Deming’s adoption is afforded the nuance and complexity it deserves. The book deals with those issues from a personal perspective, but it is impossible to read it and not think about the effect that policies and politics have on the lives of so many people.

I highlighted many fragments of the book and it is difficult to select some that don’t reveal much of the plot, but I will try.

Instead of friends, Kay and Peter had books they read in bed at night. (Kay and Peter are Daniel’s adoptive parents).

He counted the heartbeats during that little catch between songs, savoring the delicious itch as the needle dropped and the melody snuck its toe out from behind a curtain.

A record was to be treasured, its circle scratches a mysterious language, a furtive tattoo.

“And that is it?” you said. “You forgot me?” “I didn’t forget. I just survived.”

Everyone had stories they told themselves to get through the days.

This novel reminded me of two of the books nominated for the Booker Prize I read last year, one of the finalists, Exist West by Mohsin Hamid (which explores emigration in a very novel way. You can check my review here), and the other one Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (which also deals with identity and displacement, but it was the character of the brother and his descriptions of music that brought the book to my mind. You can read it here). I recommend it to readers who enjoyed those two books, and also readers interested in memory, identity, emigration, adoption (especially across ethnic and national boundaries) or anybody keen to discover a new writer who can paint images, emotions, and sounds with her words.

Thanks very much to NetGalley, to Grace Vincent from Little Brown UK, to all of you for reading and don’t forget to like, share, comment, click, REVIEW and keep smiling!

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#Booklaunch #Bookreview DISEASE: WHEN LIFE TAKES AN UNEXPECTED TURN by Hans M. Hirschi (@Hans_Hirschi) An emotional journey into a disintegrating mind and its effects #Dementia

Hi all:

I have been following this author and his books for a while, and I heard such great things about this book that I had to ask him for an ARC copy. And yes, Hans Hirschi has done it again. (Ah, the book is officially published on the 26th of October, but you can preorder it. The paperback version is already available).

Disease: When Life takes an Unexpected Turn by Hans M Hirschi An emotional journey into a disintegrating mind and its effects When journalist Hunter MacIntyre is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, he realizes that his life is about to change, not to mention that he’s been handed a certain death sentence. Alzheimer’s is a disease affecting the patient’s loved ones as much, if not more, than the patient themselves. In Hunter’s case, that’s his partner Ethan and their five-year-old daughter Amy. How will they react to, and deal with, Hunter’s changing behavior, his memory lapses, and the consequences for their everyday lives? Disease is a story of Alzheimer’s, seen through the eyes of one affected family. https://www.amazon.com/Disease-When-Life-takes-Unexpected-ebook/dp/B074G3XH93/ https://www.amazon.co.uk/Disease-When-Life-takes-Unexpected-ebook/dp/B074G3XH93/ https://www.amazon.com/Disease-When-Life-takes-Unexpected/dp/1786451611/ About the author: Hans Martin Hirschi (b. 1967) has been writing stories ever since he was a child. Adulthood and the demands of corporate life efficiently put an end to his fictional writing for over twenty years. A global executive in training and channel development, Hans has traveled the world and published a couple of non-fictional titles. The birth of his son and the subsequent parental leave provided him with a much needed breathing hole and the opportunity to once again unleash his creative writing. 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 Twitter (@Hans_Hirschi) or Facebook or through his website at www.hirschi.se My review: I have read quite a few books by Hans Hirschi (not all, but I might get there given time) and have enjoyed them, no matter what the genre. The author is not somebody who writes thinking about the market or the latest trend. He writes stories he cares about, and beyond interesting plots and fully-fledged characters, he always pushes us to think about some of the big questions: prejudice, ecology, poverty, child abuse, families, laws, gender, identity… If all of his stories are personal, however fictional, this novel is perhaps even more personal than the rest. As a psychiatrist, I’ve diagnosed patients with dementia (Alzheimer’s disease or other types), I’ve assessed and looked after patients with dementia in hospital, and I have seen, second-hand, what the illness does to the relatives and friends, and also to the patients, but as an observer, from outside. I’ve known some people who have suffered from the condition but not close enough to be able to give a personal account. The novel tries to do something quite difficult: to give us the insight into what somebody suffering from Alzheimer’s feels, what they think, and how they experience the process of losing their own memories and themselves. The book is written in a diary format, in the first person, by Hunter, a man in his forties who, after some episodes of forgetfulness, goes to the doctors and is diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s. He writes articles for a living, is married to Ethan, who is a high-school teacher, and they have a five-year-old daughter, Amy (born of a surrogate mother, and Ethan’s biological daughter). They live in Michigan, where they moved to from California, and therefore they are not legally married, as that was not an option at the time. To the worry of his illness and how this will affect him (Hunter’s mother also died of the condition, so he is fully aware of its effects on its sufferers), are added the worries about practicalities, about Amy’s care, about financial stability, about his own care, as they are not a couple with equal rights in the eyes of the law. Hunter’s diary is framed by Ethan’s narration. Ethan finds the file of the diary a couple of years after Hunter’s passing and decides to publish it, mostly letting Hunter’s words speak for themselves, but at times he clarifies if something Hunter narrates truly happened or not, or gives us his own version of events (for instance, when Hunter gets lost). Although the story is mostly written by Hunter and told from the point of view of the sufferer, Ethan’s brief contributions are poignant and heart-wrenching, precisely because we do get the sense that he is trying so hard to be strong, fair, and to focus on his daughter. He accepts things as they are and is not bitter, but the heavy toll the illness has taken is clear. The novel ends with a letter written by Amy. Although brief, we get another perspective on how the illness affects families, and through her eyes we get to know more about how Ethan is truly feeling. A deeply moving letter that rings true. The characters are well drawn, and even when the progression of the illness means that some of the episodes Hunter describes might not be true, they still give us a good insight into his thoughts, his illusions, and his worries. He writes compellingly and beautifully (although there are is evidence of paranoia, ramblings, and some disconnected writing towards the end), and the fact that his writing remains articulate (although the gaps between entries increase as the book progresses and he even stops writing when he misplaces the file) fit in with research about preservation of those skills we have used the most and are more ingrained. Hunter pours into his diary his thoughts and experiences, some that he has never shared in detail with anybody (like being trapped at a hotel in Mumbai during a terrorist attack), and others that seem to be flights of fancy or wishful thinking. He shares his own opinions (his dislike of nursing homes, his horror at the thought of being looked after by somebody he doesn’t know, his worries about the future, his memories of the past…) and is at times humorous, at times nasty, at others indignant and righteous. He is not a cardboard cut-out, and neither are any of the other characters. Apart from the personal story of the characters, we have intrusions of the real world, including news, court decisions, that ground the events in the here and now, however universal they might be, but wherever you live and whoever you are, it is impossible not to put yourself in the place of the characters and wonder what you would do, and how much more difficult things are for them because they are not a “normal” family. This is an extraordinary book, a book that made me think about patients I had known with similar diagnosis, about the difficulties they and their families face (there are not that many nursing homes that accommodate early dementia, and most of those for elderly patients are not suited to the needs of younger patients), about end of life care, and about what I would do faced with a similar situation. The book does not shy away from asking the difficult questions, and although it is impossible to read it and not feel emotional, it tells the story with the same dignity it affords its main character. Although there is a certain degree of intrigue from the beginning (we do not find the exact circumstances of Hunter’s death until very close to the end) that will, perhaps, contribute to reading it even faster, this book is for readers who are interested in dementia and Alzheimer’s (although it is not an easy read), who love well-drawn characters, deep psychological portrayals, and stories about families and their ties. A great and important book I thoroughly recommend and another first-rate addition to Mr. Hirschi’s oeuvre. I received an ARC copy of this book and I freely decided to review it. Thanks to the author and the publisher for this opportunity.
Disease: When Life Takes an Unexpected Turn by Hans M. Hirschi

Disease: When Life takes an Unexpected Turn by Hans M Hirschi  An emotional journey into a disintegrating mind and its effects

When journalist Hunter MacIntyre is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, he realizes that his life is about to change, not to mention that he’s been handed a certain death sentence. Alzheimer’s is a disease affecting the patient’s loved ones as much, if not more, than the patient themselves. In Hunter’s case, that’s his partner Ethan and their five-year-old daughter Amy. How will they react to, and deal with, Hunter’s changing behavior, his memory lapses, and the consequences for their everyday lives? Disease is a story of Alzheimer’s, seen through the eyes of one affected family.

https://www.amazon.com/Disease-When-Life-takes-Unexpected-ebook/dp/B074G3XH93/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Disease-When-Life-takes-Unexpected-ebook/dp/B074G3XH93/

https://www.amazon.com/Disease-When-Life-takes-Unexpected/dp/1786451611/

Author Hans M. Hirschi
Author Hans M. Hirschi

About the author:

Hans Martin Hirschi (b. 1967) has been writing stories ever since he was a child. Adulthood and the demands of corporate life efficiently put an end to his fictional writing for over twenty years. A global executive in training and channel development, Hans has traveled the world and published a couple of non-fictional titles. The birth of his son and the subsequent parental leave provided him with a much needed breathing hole and the opportunity to once again unleash his creative writing.

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 Twitter (@Hans_Hirschi) or Facebook or through his website at www.hirschi.se

My review:

I have read quite a few books by Hans Hirschi (not all, but I might get there given time) and have enjoyed them, no matter what the genre. The author is not somebody who writes thinking about the market or the latest trend. He writes stories he cares about, and beyond interesting plots and fully-fledged characters, he always pushes us to think about some of the big questions: prejudice, ecology, poverty, child abuse, families, laws, gender, identity… If all of his stories are personal, however fictional, this novel is perhaps even more personal than the rest.

As a psychiatrist, I’ve diagnosed patients with dementia (Alzheimer’s disease or other types), I’ve assessed and looked after patients with dementia in hospital, and I have seen, second-hand, what the illness does to the relatives and friends, and also to the patients, but as an observer, from outside. I’ve known some people who have suffered from the condition but not close enough to be able to give a personal account.

The novel tries to do something quite difficult: to give us the insight into what somebody suffering from Alzheimer’s feels, what they think, and how they experience the process of losing their own memories and themselves. The book is written in a diary format, in the first person, by Hunter, a man in his forties who, after some episodes of forgetfulness, goes to the doctors and is diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s. He writes articles for a living, is married to Ethan, who is a high-school teacher, and they have a five-year-old daughter, Amy (born of a surrogate mother, and Ethan’s biological daughter). They live in Michigan, where they moved to from California, and therefore they are not legally married, as that was not an option at the time. To the worry of his illness and how this will affect him (Hunter’s mother also died of the condition, so he is fully aware of its effects on its sufferers), are added the worries about practicalities, about Amy’s care, about financial stability, about his own care, as they are not a couple with equal rights in the eyes of the law.

Hunter’s diary is framed by Ethan’s narration. Ethan finds the file of the diary a couple of years after Hunter’s passing and decides to publish it, mostly letting Hunter’s words speak for themselves, but at times he clarifies if something Hunter narrates truly happened or not, or gives us his own version of events (for instance, when Hunter gets lost). Although the story is mostly written by Hunter and told from the point of view of the sufferer, Ethan’s brief contributions are poignant and heart-wrenching, precisely because we do get the sense that he is trying so hard to be strong, fair, and to focus on his daughter. He accepts things as they are and is not bitter, but the heavy toll the illness has taken is clear.

The novel ends with a letter written by Amy. Although brief, we get another perspective on how the illness affects families, and through her eyes, we get to know more about how Ethan is truly feeling. A deeply moving letter that rings true.

The characters are well drawn, and even when the progression of the illness means that some of the episodes Hunter describes might not be true, they still give us a good insight into his thoughts, his illusions, and his worries. He writes compellingly and beautifully (although there is evidence of paranoia, ramblings, and some disconnected writing towards the end), and the fact that his writing remains articulate (although the gaps between entries increase as the book progresses and he even stops writing when he misplaces the file) fit in with research about preservation of those skills we have used the most and are more ingrained. Hunter pours into his diary his thoughts and experiences, some that he has never shared in detail with anybody (like being trapped at a hotel in Mumbai during a terrorist attack), and others that seem to be flights of fancy or wishful thinking. He shares his own opinions (his dislike of nursing homes, his horror at the thought of being looked after by somebody he doesn’t know, his worries about the future, his memories of the past…) and is at times humorous, at times nasty, at others indignant and righteous. He is not a cardboard cut-out, and neither are any of the other characters.

Apart from the personal story of the characters, we have intrusions of the real world, including news, court decisions, that ground the events in the here and now, however universal they might be, but wherever you live and whoever you are, it is impossible not to put yourself in the place of the characters and wonder what you would do, and how much more difficult things are for them because they are not a “normal” family.

This is an extraordinary book, a book that made me think about patients I had known with similar diagnosis, about the difficulties they and their families face (there are not that many nursing homes that accommodate early dementia, and most of those for elderly patients are not suited to the needs of younger patients), about end of life care, and about what I would do faced with a similar situation. The book does not shy away from asking the difficult questions, and although it is impossible to read it and not feel emotional, it tells the story with the same dignity it affords its main character.

Although there is a certain degree of intrigue from the beginning (we do not find the exact circumstances of Hunter’s death until very close to the end) that will, perhaps, contribute to reading it even faster, this book is for readers who are interested in dementia and Alzheimer’s (although it is not an easy read), who love well-drawn characters, deep psychological portrayals, and stories about families and their ties. A great and important book I thoroughly recommend and another first-rate addition to Mr. Hirschi’s oeuvre.

I received an ARC copy of this book and I freely decided to review it. Thanks to the author and the publisher for this opportunity.

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

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