Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview OUTSIDE by Ragnar Jónasson (@ragnarjo) (@MichaelJBooks) #Nordicthriller A solid mystery with few (and not very likeable) protagonists, and where the Icelandic highlands play a big part

Hi all:

I bring you the review of a novel by an Icelandic author I have read before, and who has become quite popular in recent times.

Outside by Ragnar Jónasson

Outside by Ragnar Jónasson

With three million copies of his books sold worldwide, “world-class crime writer”(The Sunday Times, UK) Ragnar Jónasson brings us a chilling new standalone thriller with Outside.

Four friends. One night. Not everyone will come out alive . . .

When a deadly snowstorm strikes the Icelandic highlands, four friends seek shelter in a small, abandoned hunting lodge.

It is in the middle of nowhere and there’s no way of communicating with the outside world.

They are isolated, but they are not alone . . .

As the night darkens, and fears intensify, an old tragedy gradually surfaces – one that forever changed the course of their friendship.

Those dark memories could hold the key to the mystery the friends now find themselves in.

And whether they will survive until morning . . .

https://www.amazon.com/Outside-Ragnar-Jonasson-ebook/dp/B09CNFG8KW/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B095WF13P2/

https://www.amazon.es/dp/024149365X/

Author Ragnar Jónasson

About the author:

Ragnar Jónasson is the award winning author of the international bestselling Dark Iceland series, the Hulda Trilogy and standalone crime fiction.

CBS Studios is to adapt The Darkness as an eight-part TV series.

The Times selected The Darkness as one of the 100 Best Crime Novels and Thrillers since 1945. Snowblind was selected as one of Top 100 Crime Fiction of all time by Blackwell’s. 

Ragnar has been a no. 1 bestseller in Germany (Spiegel Bestseller), a no. 1 crime fiction bestseller in France and a no. 1 Kindle bestseller in the UK and Australia. In 2020 he became the first Icelandic author ever to have three books in the top ten of the German Spiegel bestseller.

Ragnar has also enjoyed awards across the international crime scene. He won the Mörda Dead Good Reader Award for Nightblind, and The Mist won the Amazon Publishing & Capital Crime Mystery of the Year award in 2020. Snowblind was selected by The Independent as one of the best crime novels of 2015. His books have also won praise from publications such as The Times of London, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Times Literary Supplement.

 He has also been shortlisted for Novel of the Year in Sweden, The Barry Award in the US and the Petrona Award. The film rights for The Darkness have also been snapped up by Hollywood production company Stampede, led by former President of Warner Bros, Greg Silverman. They have struck a deal with CBS Studios to adapt the novel into an eight-part series.

Ragnar is the co-founder of the Reykjavik international crime writing festival Iceland Noir. From the age of 17, Ragnar translated 14 Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic. Ragnar has appeared on festival panels worldwide, and lives in Reykjavik. Ragnar has a law degree and works as an investment banker in Reykjavik, in addition to teaching law at Reykjavik University. 

http://ragnar-jonasson.squarespace.com

My review:

I thank NetGalley and Penguin Michael Joseph UK for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

I read one of Ragnar Jónasson’s novels some time ago (The Darkness, the first in his Hidden Iceland series), and I really enjoyed the novel, although I hadn’t managed to catch up with any of his other books yet (although I am sure I have some others on my list).

When I came across this one, I decided it was time to try another one of his novels, although people seemed a bit more divided on their opinions about it. And it is not difficult to see why that should be the case. I also thought that a book set in Iceland in the middle of a snowstorm would be the perfect read to combat the current heatwave. One thing is for sure, the story and its protagonists are quite chilling.

As it clearly states in the description, this is a stand-alone novel and not a part of a series, so readers don’t need to be worried if they haven’t read anything by the author. Nordic thrillers have become almost a genre in their own right, and this novel fits into the category perfectly.

It also fits into a group of books that are reminiscent of the locked room or isolated location mysteries, but with some twists. Now, instead of an impossible mystery (or in addition to it), we have a house or some other location (a mountain refuge in this case) where a group of people ends up trapped, for one reason or another, and although things appear pretty harmless and even nice at first, the situation starts deteriorating soon enough, the relationship between the characters (when there is one) starts to unravel, and secrets and lies surface with dire consequences. Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party is a popular example that I was reminded of when I read this novel, although not the only one.

We have four friends who’ve gone on a hunting trip in the Icelandic highlands, three men and one woman, and they are as different as you can imagine: one is an actor living in the UK, with a girlfriend 15 years his junior, his best friend is a lawyer and a recovering alcoholic who has been dry for a couple of years now, the woman is still grieving the loss of the love of her life in pretty tragic circumstances, and the man who organised the trip, who know owns a tour company, has a bit of a dark past, and got into a fair amount of trouble in Denmark.

As seems to be the norm, the characters are not particularly likeable, and because the story is told (in the third person) alternatively from the point of view of the four friends, we get to know how their minds work and some (not all) of their secrets. The author is good at plotting and at creating psychologically realistic characters, and he knows what to show and what to hide in order to keep the intrigue going, as there are things that are very important to the plot, and we don’t get to know until very close to the end. But well… It’s the nature of the beast.

Of course, there are hidden reasons behind the trip and the bizarre things that start happening, although not everything is part of the plan. There are some red herrings as well, that might rise the readers’ suspicions and they work well, especially considering there are very few characters and it is difficult to keep the tension going, but the author manages to do that pretty well.

What I most liked about the story is the setting and the way the author uses Iceland and the specific location and the weather conditions to add to the tense atmosphere. I also appreciated the way the story is told and the skill the author has in revealing and hiding some pieces of information to make the story work. It is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. It is easy to put some pieces together, but the whole picture reveals new and unexpected things. The chapters are short and the story progresses at a good pace, even when there is not much actual movement. I also enjoyed the way we get to know how the characters think, and we can almost see their brains ticking while trying to save themselves and make the right decision, whatever the price. The situations are so extreme that it is impossible not to wonder what we would in those circumstances, but, on the other hand, the characters have such particular baggage that it is unlikely we would feel exactly the same as they and be compelled to do some of the things they do.

The characters have very few redeeming features, if any, although I won’t go into any detail to avoid possible spoilers. Readers who need to connect with the characters or have, at least, someone to root for, will find it a bit difficult here, but the plot and the reasons behind what happens are likely to keep most people sufficiently intrigued to keep going. I have said before that I don’t mind unlikeable characters as protagonists, and although I wouldn’t like to call any of the people in this book my friends, I was quite keen on reading about them and trying to guess what would happen next.

The ending worked for me. There is a note of disquiet that I feel suits the genre pretty well, but people who like neatly tied and wrapped stories where the world is put to rights, will not share my opinion.

I’d recommend this novel to people who enjoy Nordic thrillers, especially those with few protagonists and who prefer stand-alone stories. I enjoyed The Darkness much more, as it is a more complex book, not so driven by the plot, but I am sure this won’t be the last of Jónasson’s novels I’ll read.

Thanks to the publisher and to NetGalley for this book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, keep smiling and keep cool! Take care!

Categories
Blog Tour Book launch Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE SOUND OF VIOLET by Allen Wolf (@theallenwolf ) An atypical romance (plus) with a fabulous ending #Virtualblogtour #romantic

Hi all, as you can see, I’m participating in a Virtual Blog Tour today. This one is a bit special, as you’ll soon realise:

The Sound of Violet by Allen Wolf

The Sound of Violet by Allen Wolf

Desperate to find a soulmate, Shawn goes on one awkward date after another until he encounters the alluring Violet. He starts dating her, but his autism keeps him from realizing that she’s actually a prostitute. Shawn thinks he’s found a potential wife while Violet thinks she’s found her ticket to a brand new life. This hilarious and dramatic award-winning story has been adapted into a major motion picture.

 PRAISE FOR THE SOUND OF VIOLET:

“Wolf, an award-winning filmmaker, has adapted this first novel from his own original screenplay, and its cinematic potential clearly shows. The high-concept narrative is entertaining, well-paced, and highly visual … It’s a charming, humorous, and hopeful tale. A quirky, touching love story that offers insights into autism, religion, and personal tragedy.” – Kirkus Reviews

“A wonderfully well-written, funny, romantic love story. Unique and inspirational. The Sound of Violet is not your average romance. Rarely do I find myself so captivated by a book that I cannot put it down for nearly two hours. Pick up this book and get lost in the beauty of their relationship. My only complaint would be that the story had an ending, as all stories do, and I did so want to keep reading on. Most highly recommended. The Sound of Violet is simply remarkable.” – Readers’ Favorite

“By turning conventions of contemporary romance on its stilettos and swapping out the typical sassy, fashion-obsessed female protagonist for an autistic male who reads jokes from index cards, Wolf puts a fresh spin on the genre. Adapted from his award-winning screenplay, The Sound of Violet shows signs of its origins with snappy dialogue and humorous, well-staged scenes … A sweet and entertaining romantic comedy, The Sound of Violet touches on autism and the power of faith. It will appeal to any reader who enjoys a blend of quirky characters, humor, and drama.” – Blue Ink Review

“Heartfelt, out-of-the-ordinary romance … This warm, witty story does not shy away from serious themes like exploitation, redemption, and true love. The Sound of Violet explores heavy issues with a light touch. It’s easy to see this being adapted into an enjoyable movie …” – Foreword Reviews

https://www.amazon.com/Sound-Violet-Hooked-Allen-Wolf/dp/1952844134/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1952844134/

https://www.amazon.es/dp/1952844134/

Author, game creator, podcaster, and filmmaker Allen Wolf 

About the author:

Allen Wolf has won multiple awards as a novelist, filmmaker, and board game creator. His debut novel Hooked won a Book of the Year Award from Foreword Reviews, Gold Medal from the Readers’ Favorite Book Awards, Silver Medal from the Benjamin Franklin Book Awards, Bronze Medal from the IP Awards, and was a finalist for the USA Book Awards. Kirkus Reviews wrote, “The high-concept narrative is entertaining, well-paced, and highly visual.”

Allen wrote, directed, and produced the movie version of Hooked that is expected to debut in theaters in 2019.

As a filmmaker, Allen wrote, directed, and produced In My Sleep which was released worldwide, won multiple film festivals, and is available on Amazon and iTunes. Hollywood Reporter raved, “In My Sleep never rests, a credit to the tight, psychologically astute pacing of filmmaker Wolf.”

Wolf created five board games that won 38 awards – You’re Pulling My Leg!, Slap Wacky, JabberJot, You’re Pulling My Leg! Junior, and Pet Detectives. They have brought smiles to hundreds of thousands of people around the world through his company, Morning Star Games.

He graduated from New York University’s film school. He married his Persian princess and they have two kids together. He enjoys traveling around the world and hearing other people’s life stories. Allen also cherishes spending time with his family, chocolate, and visiting Disneyland.

https://www.amazon.com/Allen-Wolf/e/B00OWGVWPA/

You can also access more information about the author (including a sample of the first chapter of this novel), here: www.allenwolf.com/author 

All those who purchase the novel will get a sneak preview of the trailer for the upcoming movie. They only need to email a screenshot of their order or their order number to info@thesoundofviolet.com. Oh, I have watched the trailer, and I’m looking forward to watching the movie already!

 My review:

 Thanks to NetGalley and to the publisher for providing me an ARC copy of the novel and for asking me to take part in the Virtual Blog Tour of its launch.

I had never read any of the author’s books, but it is evident from his biography that he is a multi-talented individual with an ample career in filmmaking, screenwriting, podcasting, and also creating games. I hope to be able to catch up on some of his other skills soon because reading about his work has piqued my curiosity.

 The description of the book offers enough information for future readers to be able to get a good sense of what to expect. If I had to add to this, I would say that it made me think of Pretty Woman. That is if we transform the male protagonist —a very charming and classy millionaire (or billionaire)— into a not quite so wealthy, but equally charming (more, in my opinion) young man, who loves weddings, dreams of a happy marriage, and whose autism might not be evident at first, but it affects his social interactions and his everyday life in not-always-subtle ways. And although the female character is a young prostitute as well, there is more realism and more darkness behind her circumstances. So, although there is certainly plenty of comedy and amusing scenes and episodes, there is also a darker reality explored by this novel.

 This is eminently a work of fiction and an entertaining and ‘alternative’ romantic story, but there are some themes the novel delves into which deserve a special mention. I have talked about the protagonist’s high-functioning autism, and although I don’t think people familiar with Asperger’s and autism will discover anything new here, there is a lightness of touch in the way we learn about some of Shawn’s experiences (like his synaesthesia, that makes him literally ‘hear’ colours, or his almost painful sensitivity to touch and any intense stimuli of his senses) which will suit people who worry about information dumps or over-the-top descriptions, while bringing to life what it must be like, not only to be Shawn, but also to meet him or live with him. We meet his grandmother and his brother, both great characters (I love Ruth the most, but Colin is a nice guy as well), and learn about his parents’ role (or lack of it). Through Violet, the author explores issues like human trafficking and also child abuse and trauma, and although this is not a tough and harsh documentary look at any of those subjects, it helps anchor it more firmly in reality and makes it a far less idealised and rosy story than many in the genre. People looking for a totally clean, non-traumatic, and violence-free read should look elsewhere, but most readers happy with the description are unlikely to feel offended by its content, with the provisos mentioned before. The book also discusses the world of dating apps, second chances, bereavement, religious belief, prejudice… and family relationships feature prominently in its plot.

I have mentioned a few of the characters of the book, and the novel has plenty of others, some of who we don’t get to know that well (like Anton, the pimp, a pretty devious guy as you can imagine; Jake, Shawn’s boss, who hides depths not evident at first; and also some of Shawn and Violet’s coworkers), but those who play an important role in the story are usually given enough space to leave a mark in the reader. And the protagonists are both very memorable in their distinct ways. Not that they are perfect, by any means. As Colin reminds Shawn sometimes, he has a tendency to think about his own needs, first of all, forgetting what those around him might experience or feel. And Violet at first wants to use Shawn but soon becomes charmed by him, and her relationship with him helps her find the strength she needs to fight her low self-esteem, her trauma, and her circumstances.

The novel’s style is easy to read, it flows well, and it does feel very similar to watching a movie (yes, there is a movie and it looks good, despite the change of setting, as the film is set in Seattle rather than New York), because it is a page-turner written in a scene or episodic format, where the action moves quickly from one situation to the next, following a chronological order. It is written in the third person, but readers have access to the thoughts and feelings of, mostly, the main protagonists, though occasionally and briefly we get to see things from one of the other character’s points of view, and that helps to offer its reader a wider and more rounded perspective.

As for the ending, it suits perfectly his unusual romantic comedy plus (if I had to fit it into a category, or perhaps ‘romantic dramedy’ as the author says later on) genre, and I think most people will be happy with the way events unfold, although some parts of it felt a bit rushed and required more suspension of disbelief than the rest of the novel. But the ending proper is lovely, for sure. And it seems that the author is planning to write more about the characters in the next novel, so don’t worry if you’ve become fond of the characters and wish for more. It’s likely to come.

So, would I recommend this novel? Yes, to anybody who is looking for a romantic comedy that goes a little beyond the usual and has a hard edge. Readers should be aware that some of the topics discussed are darker than is expected in the standard examples of the genre, but it is perfect for those who don’t mind a touch of realism and grit and are looking for a dynamic and heart-warming book, full of lovable characters, and an atypical romance with a fabulous ending. 

I include a Q&A session about this novel in the author’s own words, in case you want to know more.

 Q&A with Author Allen Wolf

 How did you come up with the story for The Sound of Violet?

 A friend and I were laughing about the challenges of navigating the dating world in Los Angeles years ago. Even though I was married, those days were still vivid in my mind. Those conversations inspired me to write The Sound of Violet about two dating-challenged people from entirely different walks of life and the opposite from each other in significant ways. The woman is paid to be with men and has a skewed view of love. The man is autistic and struggles with forming relationships as well as physical touch. And he has his own idealistic view of relationships. I thought bringing those two together would make a fascinating and dynamic story and could teach us something about love.

I can relate to Shawn’s dating journey because it reflects some of my journey when I was a single man in Los Angeles. Even though I’m not on the autism spectrum, I struggled with many of my main character’s issues, such as meaningfully connecting with women, being naïve in relationships, and struggling with building intimacy. The woman he falls in love with works as a prostitute, which he doesn’t realize. I thought that would be a compelling contrast with Shawn, who has a faith background and saved himself for marriage. He resists touching because it’s too intense for him, while she’s forced to touch others. I thought that would make a compelling story.

 Can you tell us about the book?

 The Sound of Violet is about a man who believes he found his perfect soulmate, but his autism keeps him from realizing she’s actually a prostitute. The novel allows readers to experience a love story between two people who are unlikely to fall in love. The main character is autistic, and I mainly wrote the novel from his perspective. He’s very trusting, so when he meets Violet, he believes she’s an actress when she’s actually a prostitute. I wanted the reader to experience the rollercoaster of the relationship mainly through his eyes with glimpses into Violet’s world. 

 You wear many different hats beyond being an author. How do you balance being an author, a filmmaker, a game creator, and a podcaster?

 I start most days around 4:00 a.m. and sometimes even earlier. In those early morning hours, I’m able to work on my creative projects without interruption. I try to work on a project consistently and chip away at it day after day. Then, one day it’s finished, and I’m able to move on to something else. Starting any new project feels like standing at the base of an enormous mountain, and it can feel overwhelming to think of what’s ahead. But if I can move forward with one small step after another, eventually, I discover I’ve made it to the summit. It takes a lot of perseverance, but it’s worth it when I see my creative work come to life and hear how what I’m doing is having a positive impact on people’s lives.

Where do you find inspiration?

 Since I’ve started hosting the Navigating Hollywood podcast, I’ve been inspired by my guests, who have overcome tremendous odds to succeed in the world of film and television. I’m also creatively inspired by my family, friendships, and adventures I’ve taken around Los Angeles and the globe. I love watching my kids create entire worlds using boxes and construction paper. Their limitless imaginations spur me on. I always feel creatively recharged when I visit museums, experience a great movie, enjoy a game night with friends, or visit Disneyland, where I’ve visited over 500 times. Everything in Disneyland is based on a story, and I’ve spent many hours at the park to work on novels, screenplays, or other creative ideas.

Can you tell us about your upcoming movie, The Sound of Violet, based on your novel? 

 The Sound of Violet is a romantic dramedy about a man who believes he found his perfect soulmate, but his autism keeps him from realizing she’s actually a prostitute, so the storyline is the same as the novel. My hope is for the movie to bring awareness to human trafficking while helping people to see autism through a new lens. I wrote, directed, and produced the film. We had a fantastic team of actors and people who worked behind the scenes to make it happen. 

While the novel is set in New York City, I changed the movie’s location to Seattle so readers will have a whole new experience in watching the film. We were able to film in some fantastic places, which will showcase areas of Seattle that you don’t usually see in movies based there. I made some changes to the characters. Natasha, who is Russian in the novel, is named Nadia in the film. She’s from India and doesn’t talk. I combined the characters of Flynn and Shawn’s boss Jake so that Jake is more of a central figure. 

 It’s a very different experience to experience the movie compared to reading the novel. In the book, I’m able to explore the inner lives and thoughts of the characters with words, while in the movie, you’re able to experience the story visually, which brings a whole new dimension to the story. Our composer, Conrad Pope, created a lush score that also helps bring the story to life.

 What was the process like bringing The Sound of Violet to life from the novel to the screen?

 It was a monumental effort to bring The Sound of Violet to life on the screen. I first relocated the story from New York City to Seattle, which I knew would be a friendlier city to make the film. I changed locations for scenes in the novel to be more visual for the movie. I wanted to explore Seattle’s beautiful landscapes for the film, so I featured scenes in Gas Works Park, the shipping yards, alongside the enormous bridges and different spots around the city that you usually don’t see featured in Hollywood movies.

 I wanted to cast unknown actors in the lead roles so the audience wouldn’t have any preconceived notions of who they are during the film. This movie is the debut for our two lead actors, and they pulled off stunning performances. I also had to find ways to tell the story in a tighter timeframe, so I condensed some scenes and took out others. I wanted the experience of watching the movie to be different from the book, so while the story beats are identical, the movie’s journey takes you on various twists and turns than the novel. When I write a novel, I’m able to concentrate on the inner lives of the character. But in creating a movie, I have to communicate all of that through the actors’ performances. There were several moments on the set when it struck me that the characters I had written for the page were walking and talking in front of me. That was surreal! I was so thankful to be surrounded by such a talented team of actors and the crew who worked tirelessly. Composer Conrad Pope created the soundtrack for the movie, which we also recorded in Seattle with a 54 piece orchestra. I appreciate how he draws out the emotional beats of the story through his musical craftsmanship. I’m very much looking forward to the film premiering in theaters and hearing what the experience is like for our readers.

 What was it like seeing the characters from your novel come to life in the movie?

 It was surreal to see the characters and story from the novel come to life for the film. It struck me that characters I had written about in solitude had become living and breathing human beings. Now, when I read the book, I picture the faces of those actors.

 How can we see a trailer of The Sound of Violet?

Anyone who purchases the novel will get a sneak preview of the trailer. Readers send their receipt or transaction number to info@thesoundofviolet.com, and they’ll be one of the first people to see the trailer.

What are your current creative influences?

 The works of C.S. Lewis inspire me, and I have read his books numerous times. I recently finished reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to my kids for the first time. I’m always impressed by how C.S. Lewis can weave together a powerful story with a deeper meaning. JRR Tolkien also inspires me for the same reasons. I’m also a huge fan of Liane Moriarty and love how she captures the inner lives of her characters in her novels.

 What did you learn when writing this story?

 When I first started writing the story of The Sound of Violet, Violet’s character was an “empowered hooker” that you typically see portrayed in Hollywood movies. But then, as I researched prostitution, I realized that the vast majority of these women are being trafficked. Or, they were sexually abused, and they’re reliving that trauma as prostitutes. I then consulted with several organizations that work with trafficked people, which opened my eyes tremendously. I took a whole new direction in creating Violet’s character, and I think it reflects the reality of someone caught up in prostitution today. I also learned a lot about autism while researching Shawn’s character. I have a relative who is autistic and consulted with several others to accurately portray Shawn’s character. There isn’t one standard description of an autistic person, so I crafted a character I thought was best for this story. While I was prepping the story, I talked to two different mothers whose autistic sons had unknowingly started relationships with prostitutes, which brought some realism to the story I had created.

 What does the title mean?

 The title The Sound of Violet has a double meaning. The main character Shawn has a condition called synesthesia which allows him to hear sounds in colors. So if he’s staring at the color violet, he will hear a sound. The main character’s name is also Violet, and she comments to him that he should be with someone whose colors sound right to him.

 What do you think happened to the characters after the book ended?

 I’m working on a sequel to answer that question.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and above all, stay safe and keep smiling!

 

GET MY FREE BOOKS
%d bloggers like this:
x Logo: Shield Security
This Site Is Protected By
Shield Security