JJ Marsh is the author of The Beatrice Stubbs series, featured in The Guardian Readers’ Recommend and The Bookseller’s Editor’s Choice
* A founder member of Triskele Books, an award-winning author collective founded in 2011
* Swiss Ambassador for The Alliance of Independent Authors
* Co-editor of The Woolf, Zürich’s literary ezine and writers’ workshop
* Reviewer for Bookmuse, the readers’ site with a difference
She lives in Switzerland with her husband and three pugs, and in an attic overlooking a cemetery, she writes.
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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.
JJ Marsh is an author I’ve read great reviews about and has been on my list for a while, so I took the chance when I saw an ARC for her next book had become available. I can’t compare it to the rest of her works, but based on this novel, which is a new genre for her, I wouldn’t hesitate recommending her books, and I look forward to catching up on some of her previous novels.
I think the description above provides plenty of hints as to the plot, and this is one of those novels where the way the story is told and the fine details are fundamental, so I’ll try to avoid over explaining things or giving too many hints (I want to avoid spoilers at all cost). This is a story built around six friends (three women and three men) who meet at university, while they are studying to become international translators, and grow to be quite close. They come from different countries (mostly Europe, although one comes from the US, and one is from Indian origin), have very different personalities and backgrounds, and it’s likely that their friendship would have fizzled and died if not for a tragic event that takes place while they are away celebrating New Year (and the new millennium) in December 1999. After that, they meet every two years, and the event that binds them together weighs heavily on them all, having a very different impact in each one of them. Things come to a head on the 20th anniversary of that fateful New Year’s celebration and readers are privileged witnesses of another night to remember. This novel reminded me of a book I read and reviewed recently, The Hunting Party, but also of films like The Celebration (Festen), where there is a build-up of tension, strained relationships, plenty of secrets and lies, and a surprise or two. Although I think many readers will smell a rat from early on in the novel, even if they get it right (and let’s say things are left open to interpretation), the beauty of this novel is in the way it is built, the variety of points of view, and the psychological insights it offers into a catalogue of characters that are not miles away from people most of us know. Considering this is the author’s first incursion into the psychological drama genre, I take my hat off to her.
There are a variety of themes that come up in the novel, some more important to the action than others, for instance the nature of friendship, the way different people experience grief, the guilt of the survivor, how we change and evolve over time and how our relationships change with us, love, death, careers, priorities, family, charity missions, and, of course, lies.
As for the characters, I won’t go into too much detail about them, because the author does a great job of building them up through the novel, and readers should discover them as they read. Marsh chooses one of the female characters, Gael, as the main narrator, and she starts the story ‘now’ (in 2020). The whole novel is written in the first person, but not all from the same point of view. Although I’ve said that Gael is the main narrator, and she has more chapters than the rest, we also get to hear the voices of the other characters, who take us back into some of the reunions the friends have had over the years, and that allows readers to compare and contrast Gael’s version of the rest of her friends with their own words and insights. Readers can compose a mental picture and fit in the pieces of the puzzle, making their own minds up and deciding if they agree or not with Gael’s perceptions. It also makes for a more rounded reading experience, as we get to know each character more intimately, and perhaps to empathise, if not sympathise, with all of them. I liked Gael from the start: she is articulate, a journalist, and a bit of a free spirit, but she always tries to understand and accommodate others as well, and she is more of the observer and the outsider in the story, for reasons that will become evident to the readers from early on. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the friends are like an ersatz family, with individual roles they always fall back on when they are together (the nurturing mother, the responsible and dependable father, the youngest and spoilt sister, the rushed and sporty brother, the sister whom everybody confides in [Gael]), and this reminded me of Eric Berne’s Games People Play. All the characters are articulate and savvy enough to be aware of this and play it for keeps as well.
The book flows well, and the language used is appropriate to each one of the individual characters, fitting with their personalities and quirks without calling too much attention to itself. It helps move the story along and manages to build up the tension, even when there isn’t a lot of action in the usual sense. There are mysterious events taking place (some that will have readers wondering if the characters are imagining them or not), clues that sometimes don’t seem to amount to much, hints, and some memorable scenes. But all those elements are woven subtly into the narrative creating a spider web that traps the readers and the more they read, the more they become entangled in the strands of the story and the characters until it becomes almost impossible to put the book down.
There is a closure of sorts, although the ending is ambiguous and most of the surprises and big reveals have come before then. I liked the fact that there is much left to the imagination of each reader, but I know such things are down to personal taste.
This is a great psychological drama, with engaging characters (some more likeable than others), fascinating relationship dynamics, and a mystery at its heart. It’s a gripping read, perfect to keep our minds engaged and to have us pondering the ins and outs of friendships, relationships, and which actions would push us beyond the limits of forgiveness. A gem.
The last 7% of the e-book contains the first-chapter of the author’s work-in-progress, in case you wonder about its length.
Thanks to Rosie and her team, thanks to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep smiling, and especially, keep safe!
Today, although we are already in September, I bring you a light read to recover from the holidays and put you in a good mood if you’re back to work. Another fabulous finding from Rosie Amber’s great group of reviewers.
The Not So Perfect Plan to Save Friendship House: A heartwarming, uplifting comedy about friendship, community and love by Lilly Bartlett
Meet Phoebe, who’s 28, and Laney, Dot and Maggie, who are 68, 78, and none of your business. Together they’ll prove that age doesn’t matter when it comes to friendship, belonging and an unquenchable zest for life.
A hilarious, uplifting novel about the ties of community, the strength of love and how nobody is truly ordinary.
When Framlingham’s famously all-female senior living home goes co-ed, a war between the sexes is declared.
Stuck in the middle, chef Phoebe Stockton is desperate to help her friends’ plot to keep the community that means so much to them. It’s become her life raft, too. She finds comfort in her beloved career that might finally make her parents proud. But Phoebe’s darling Nick is lining up on the other side of the battle, and their relationship is suffering collateral damage.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. If the home’s owner can’t improve business by moving the men in, he’ll have to evict everyone.
Lilly Bartlett’s cosy romcoms are full of laugh out loud moments, quirky characters and guaranteed happily-ever-afters.
Lilly is the pen-name of Sunday Times and USA Today best-selling author, Michele Gorman, who writes best friend-girl power chick lit under her own name.
BE SURE YOU DON’T MISS LILLY’S NEXT BOOK. Copy and paste this link into your browser: http://eepurl.com/dr5RGX and sign up for her newsletter (only around 3 per year) to get the chance to read her books FOR FREE before they are published!
I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and thank Rosie Amber (check here if you would like to have your book reviewed) and the author for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.
Sometimes it seems as if all the books and movies on offer are centred on young protagonists, and I’m not only talking about Young Adult books. However, recently there has been a move towards including older protagonists and subjects. I enjoyed the two Dutch books about Hendrik Groen, a man in his eighties living in a nursing home, and have watched a few movies, usually choral, about older protagonists (like The Exotic Marigold Hotel). The setting of this novel, in a residential home, and the promise of a comedy made it sound like the perfect choice for me.
The first-person narrator of the story is Phoebe, a chef who had a very successful career in a bistro before disaster struck. She loves her job at the residential home (The Jane Austen Home for Ladies, and, as we discover, the name is meaningful in several ways), but has always felt frustrated because her parents (and her mother, in particular) do not seem to value her job and are dismissive of her career. To make matters worse, her mother (a larger-than-life character) dies suddenly at the beginning of the book, but her internalised voice keeps gnawing on her confidence. Her best friend, June, is the manager of the home, and she fancies Nick, who is the official physiotherapist but also takes on any odd jobs going on (art therapy, gardening, handyman…). I know some readers don’t like first-person narratives, although Phoebe is unassuming, witty and an excellent friend. (On the minus side, her lack of self-confidence can make her sound paranoid and bitchy, and she keeps mulling over things, unable to decide what to do, trying hard to feel comfortable in her own skin and accept the credit for her achievements). We learn some surprising things about her family life together and by the end of the book, although I don’t have much in common with her character, I felt connected to her and appreciated her role as a narrator. Her friendship with June is convincing and their relationship is one of the strongest points of the book.
I also loved the residents of the home, and in many ways (not only due to my age, I hope), I felt closer to them than to the protagonist. We get to know some of them more than others (Maggie is fabulous and I loved Dot, Laney, Sophie, and yes, even Terence). They all feel real, with their foibles and their endearing traits, and make the book memorable. We follow the intrigues that have to do with the home and the changes that take place there (from a women’s only place to a mixed one) and learn about its inhabitants, their secrets, and their past lives. We are both observers and participants in much of the action, and we feel invested in their fates. We learn the importance of accepting people for who they are and moving beyond appearances and prejudices.
There are several romances with happy, or at least hopeful, endings (for the young and the older generations), broken hearts and disappointments, secrets and lies, and there is also the connection (pointed out through references to the book club and their discussions) to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I would not call the novel a variation on Pride and Prejudice but if we think of Austen’s text as we read it we can discover nuances that might be easily missed otherwise.
Although there are many amusing lines in the novel (and some pretty touching ones as well. As we know, humour can be an excellent defence mechanism against hurt), I thought I’d share a few (remember that I got an ARC copy, so there might be some changes to the final version of the novel):
We’ve never let something as trifling as the spectre of death stand in the way of a good snipe.
My mother didn’t get ulcers, she gave them.
He’s a perv-whisperer.
‘Nice as piles,’ he grumbles. ‘Same pain in the arse.’
She wouldn’t like my ponytail, though. I did try taking it down, but having it up in a hair tie the entire weekend meant my hair had a ridge along the back that gave it a very White Cliffs of Dover effect.
I’m surprised he doesn’t need an oxygen tank with all the social climbing he’s been doing.
The writing flows well and fits in perfectly with the voice of the narrator, who can spend inordinate amounts of time thinking about her beau but is also attuned to the feelings of the residents and her friend. There are plenty of amusing events taking place throughout the novel that keep the action moving, but the characters are much stronger than the plot and by the end of the book (that I enjoyed) they have all become good friends (or most of them have).
The author defines her books as light reads, as beach novels, and says her readers describe them as “feel-good.” All that is true, although behind all the funny goings-on the book illustrates the importance of keeping expectations and prejudices under control, and it reminds parents that they should encourage their children to find fulfilment in their own terms rather than expect them to make their parent’s dreams come true. If you are looking for a light read, full of memorable characters, plenty of humour, and a big deal of heart, I’d recommend this novel. And, if it existed in real life, I wouldn’t mind working at the home (and in time even living there) either.
Many thanks to Rosie and her team, to the author for her fun novel, to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click , review, and keep smiling!
Jane Fallon is the multi-award-winning television producer behind shows such as This Life, Teachers, and 20 Things to Do Before You’re 30. Her debut novel “Getting Rid of Matthew’ was published in 2007 and became a Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller as have her subsequent books ‘Got You Back’, ‘Foursome’, ‘The Ugly Sister’, ‘Skeletons’, ‘Strictly Between Us’ and ‘My Sweet Revenge”
Her 8th novel Faking Friends is available now to pre-order in both paperback and for Kindle.
Join Jane on Twitter – @janefallon or at her website www.janefallon.co.uk
Thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.
This is the first time I read one of Jane Fallon’s novels, and I’ve realised she has quite a following, and this is not the first novel she writes about revenge.
In this case, we have an actress, Amy, (not a big star, but an actress who has struggled from bit-part to bit-part until she managed to get a regular role in an American crime series. Well, or so she thought) who goes back home to surprise her childhood-friend Mel for her birthday, and she is the one to get a nasty surprise when she discovers her fiancé, Jack, is having an affair and somebody has taken her place. It does not take her long to discover that her supposed best-friend has stabbed her in the back, and rather than confronting both, her fiancé and her friend, she decides to try and get a new life and show them that she can make it on her own, before letting them know she is aware of their betrayal. This creates many awkward and difficult situations and a complex net of lies and deceit that will keep readers turning the pages.
The book is narrated in the first person, mostly from Amy’s point of view (who alternates what is happening in the present with the story of her friendship with Mel), although towards the last third of the novel we also have a few scenes when we follow Mel’s point of view, and that gives us some insight into her plans (more than her feelings, that we don’t know in detail, other than her wish to give Amy’s her comeuppance) and a different perspective on Amy’s relationships. (Sometimes both points of view might alternate in a single chapter, although it is easy to tell them apart).
Amy is a likeable character, although her reaction to the betrayal and her insistence in carrying on with her revenge plans for months and months and dragging others into it (including her friend Kat and Kat’s husband, Greg, two great characters, and Simon, a new love interest she meets when she moves back to London) make her less so at times, and she appears immature and too dependent on Mel’s friendship. Although both, Mel’s current behaviour, and what we learn about the history of their friendship, shows Mel in a very negative light (she is full of herself, self-aggrandizing, self-centred, vain, shows clear narcissistic personality traits, and is jealous of Amy’s good fortune, never giving her any credit and ruining her other friendships), sometimes, when Amy fights fire with fire, she goes so far that we have to wonder if they are not as bad as each other. Eventually, though, Amy has some scruples and there are lines she won’t cross, and it is easy to see that her friendship with Mel has made her doubt herself and lose her confidence. When a friend dismisses everything you do and only uses you to make herself feel better, she is not a friend, as Amy discovers.
There are a number of other characters (university friends, relatives, love interests, agents, etc.) that create an interesting and varied background, and London also provides a realistic setting for the story, from the difficulties of finding an affordable apartment, to the landscape, shops, food, and transportation. I particularly enjoyed the insights into the acting career (that the author has good knowledge of), that go beyond the glamor and big successes we are used to in films and books. Amy is a working actress who has to fight tooth and nail for tiny parts (woman in park, woman in pub), who is no longer young, and who has dedicated plenty of time to the career because she loves it, not because she thinks she will become famous and make it big (most of the time she can hardly make a living out of it). The fact that Mel, who also wanted to become an actress, and who was the more attractive and popular of the two when they were younger, never made it is a particularly nice touch.
The novel is enjoyable, full of lies, deceit, and twisted individuals, but it is a pretty light fare. There is some suspense, but it is not difficult to guess some of the events; there are some pretty funny moments, and some cringe-inducing ones too. Although the book exemplifies a toxic friendship, it is not a treatise in psychology and it is not a guidebook or a serious treatment of the subject (there are true memoirs and books written by experts if you are interested in the topic), but a light revenge novel, whose final message is a hopeful and positive one. Although the character goes through much heartache during the book, she learns from the experience, and she discovers who she really is and who her true friends are. (And, to be honest, she seems to be much better off without Jack, as there does not seem to be much love lost or chemistry between them).
Fallon’s style is fluid and the novel is easy to read and moves at good pace, although I don’t think the main characters will stay with me for long. A solid chick-lit book, set up in the world of acting, and one I’d recommend to those of you who enjoy revenge stories (and might have fantasised about your own).
Thanks to NetGalley, to Penguin UK and to the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, and REVIEW!
Ah, and some great news! You’ll remember that I became an instructor at the University of the People a few months ago (and it’s going well, although due to the move I’ve taken this term off) and we’ve just had some great news. Olympic gymnast medalist Simone Biles has become a student, Global Ambassador and there is now the Simone Biles Legacy Scholarship Fund at the UoPeople.
Here she is being interviewed and showing her courage and strength:
As I’ve been telling you, I have quite a few reviews due and accumulated, and today I’m sharing a review for a book coming from Australia by a well-known writer, although this is the first book by Liane Moriarty I’ve read.
The new novel from Liane Moriarty, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Husband’s Secret, Big Little Lies, andWhat Alice Forgot, about how sometimes we don’t appreciate how extraordinary our ordinary lives are until it’s too late.
“What a wonderful writer―smart, wise, funny.” ―Anne Lamott
Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?
In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty turns her unique, razor-sharp eye towards three seemingly happy families.
Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.
Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.
Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?
In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty takes on the foundations of our lives: marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don’t say can be more powerful than what we do, and how sometimes it is the most innocent of moments that can do the greatest harm.
Here, my review:
Thanks to Net Galley and to Penguin UK- Michael Joseph for providing me with a free copy of the novel in exchange for an unbiased review.
I confess to having checked some of the reviews of the book and noticed that many of the comments compared this novel to some of this Australian writer’s previous work, particularly The Husband’s Secretand Big Little Lies. This is the first of Moriarty’s novels I read and therefore I don’t know if this might be a disappointing read for those who have read the others.
The novel is clearly set from the beginning around something that happened at a barbeque (this being Australia, I guess it’s to be expected). The chapters alternate between the aftermath of the said barbeque (weeks later) and events that happened at the time, although we’re not told exactly what that was until half way through. It is evident that it was an event that affected everybody involved, but the author cleverly (although perhaps annoyingly for some readers) circles around the details and the circumstances of what happened without quite revealing it (and no, I won’t either).
The story is narrated in the third person from the various characters’ points of view, mostly those who were present at the barbeque (that includes Dakota, the young daughter of the couple who had invited the rest to their house), but also some that we only later realise were either involved in the incident or know something about it others don’t. I know some readers don’t like too many changes in viewpoint, although in this case the characters and their voices are sufficiently distinct to avoid confusion.
The three couples present at the incident are very different from each other. Erika and Oliver are a perfectly matched couple. Both grew up with difficult parents and survived disrupted childhoods, although not unscathed. They are organised and methodical and they do everything by the book (or so it seems). Clementine and Sam are the ‘opposites attract’ kind of couple. She is a musician, a cellist, and he doesn’t even like classical music. She is the artist and he is more down to earth. They have two daughters and they are impulsive, free for all and relaxed (although perhaps not as much as they seem). Camilla and Erika are childhood friends, although their friendship was instigated by Camilla’s mother, who became Erika’s heroine and role model, perfect motherhood personified. Camilla feels guilty for resenting Erika’s interference in her childhood because she’s aware of her family circumstances. But she still feels put upon. Erika’s feelings towards her friend are also complicated, mixing envy, disdain and some true affection.
The third couple, Vid and Tiffany, are Erika and Oliver’s neighbours, very rich, very loud, and seemingly perfect for each other. They enjoy life to the full and don’t mind bending the rules for fun or to get their own way. Although on the surface they seem harmless and good fun, they represent temptation and we later discover they might be darker than they appear. They don’t know the others very well but even they are affected by what happens.
The novel shows how a seemingly unimportant oversight can have an impact on many people’s lives, putting an end to innocence and burdening all with guilt, and how we all keep secrets, sometimes even from ourselves. The guilt we carry, justified or not, can put a terrible strain on relationships and lives and can affect people’s mental health. The story builds up slowly and perhaps because of the emphasis on the event (that is not easy to guess and is kept under wraps for very long) it might result somewhat anticlimactic once it is revealed. For me, it works like a puzzle where the pieces are being fitted together slowly, with an insistence on fitting first the outskirts of the picture rather than the centre of it. How much of the detail is necessary is debatable, and it also depends on how much you care for the characters, that are interesting but perhaps not that easy to identify with. There were flashes of humour, but very few and I understand from comments that the author’s previous books were funnier.
I enjoyed the ending that I found unexpectedly positive, although it is not earth-shattering. Some of the couples learn from the event and move on, but not all, although we get to understand the microcosms and all the characters much better by the end of the novel as they have grown more rounded and human . Although I don’t think this is a novel for everybody and it is not a page-turner, I hope to get to check the author’s previous work and I appreciate the quality of her writing, which is descriptive and precious.
Today I bring you a new book (the author belongs to one of the groups of authors I joined early on in my career and where I learned the little I know, ASMSG, Authors Social Media Support Group) by Maer Wilson. Although I’ve known her for a while, I hadn’t managed to read any of her books, but when she offered an ARC of her newest and I read what it was about, I couldn’t resist. And don’t worry, the book was published earlier this week (on the 9th of August) so you won’t have to wait. Ah, and read until the end, as another author of the book reminded me that in the ASMSG website readers can access free books by the authors in the group, and some of mine are there too!
Maer Wilson was very kind and sent an excerpt and extra material, so you can get a better sense of what her book is like.
“As a literary figure, Philip K. Dick is popularly perceived as a crazed, drug-addled mystic with a sinister Third Eye. Nothing could be further from the truth – the Phil I knew was a warm, humane, very funny man. Maer Wilson understands these truths far better than I, and The Other Side of Philip K. Dick casts a welcome shaft of daylight upon the real PKD, as opposed to the dark, distorted caricature Dick has become.” Paul M. Sammon, Author of Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner
What is the truth behind the legend of Science Fiction great, Philip K. Dick?
In spring, 1972, Phil Dick moved to Fullerton, CA, where he met Theatre student Mary (Maer) Wilson. Amid marriage proposals, marathon talk-fests and a love for music and films, they forged a strong friendship that would last the rest of his life.
Wilson’s quirky, yet unflinchingly honest, memoir reveals a funny, compassionate and generous man. She captures an inside view of one of our literary greats – a brilliant writer who gave the world some of its most revered Science Fiction.
“I found this book engrossing and authentic – a truthful and serious account of the last part of Phil Dick’s life by someone who was a fundamental part of it and who has the skill to write about it. There is evident love and friendship in this book, but also honesty. This was the Phil Dick I knew.” James P. Blaylock, World Fantasy Award-Winning Author
You can pre-order ebook versions now. The paperback will be available on August 9, 2016
After a successful career being other people, and later teaching others the many tricks of that trade, Maer Wilson has decided to be herself for a while. Turns out she’s a writer.
Maer first met Philip K. Dick in 1972 when he moved into the apartment across the hall from her in Fullerton, California. They remained close friends until his death in 1982. Maer was always an avid reader, but it was Phil who introduced her to science fiction, and she fell in love with the genre, later expanding into most aspects of Spec Fic.
When she’s not writing, Maer plays online video games, teaches college and reads. Maer is a partner in Ellysian Press, a small publishing house. She lives in the high desert of Southern Nevada with her two poodles.
Named 2015 Fantasy Author of the Year by AuthorClassifieds.com, Maer’s books include the recent Apocalypta Z. Her Modern Magics series includes the novels Relics,Portals, and Magics, as well as novelettes and stories set in that universe. Maer recently contributed to, compiled and published the charity anthology, The Dark Dozen. She is currently working on a science fiction novel, Truthsayer.
You can find all Maer’s books and novelettes at Amazon and other online retailers. For more info, you can visit Maer’s website at http://maerwilson.com/.
A few links so you can check other books by the author:
It’s April, 1972 in Fullerton, California around 7:00 PM. The sun has set and the night is cool, balanced between full spring and hints of summer. Can you feel the slight breeze?
The street is Quartz Lane. Some of the many apartment buildings in the area line the short road. We’re going to go to the first complex on the right, just past the church. There’s a small courtyard and the residents all have their curtains drawn. Most are translucent and clearly show the light from the apartments. But there. That first apartment on our right? The one upstairs. Yes, that one with the light shining through a gap in the curtains.
And the one across from it. The light isn’t as bright, but we need to note that one, too.
We can almost hear the giggles of two girls as we make our way up the stairs and fade through their door. Shhh… We’ll be as quiet as the ghosts from the future that we are.
The scene is set. The actors and orchestra are in their places as the curtain rises.
The stage lights come up.
The conductor taps his baton on the music stand.
The music begins.
Chapter 1 – At First
“It happened back when I was still immortal.”
Praise for The Other Side of Philip K. Dick
“I found this book engrossing and authentic – a truthful and serious account of the last part of Phil Dick’s life by someone who was a fundamental part of it and who has the skill to write about it. There is evident love and friendship in this book, but also honesty. This was the Phil Dick I knew.” James P. Blaylock, World Fantasy Award-winning Author
“As a literary figure, Philip K. Dick is popularly perceived as a crazed, drug-addled mystic with a sinister Third Eye. Nothing could be further from the truth – the Phil I knew was a warm, humane, very funny man. Maer Wilson understands these truths far better than I, and The Other Side of Philip K. Dick casts a welcome shaft of daylight upon the real PKD, as opposed to the dark, distorted caricature Dick has become.” Paul M. Sammon, Author of Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner
“The strongest piece of writing I’ve read in years. Wilson’s pacing is perfection. The Other Side of Philip K. Dick is filled with laughter and the kind of love only true friends can share. Even if, for some reason, you’ve never heard of Philip K. Dick, you will fall in love with him and Wilson. The ending had me crying, like “end of the Notebook” crying. Utter perfection.” M. Joseph Murphy, Author of the Activation series
“There are many tales of epic friendships, but there is one huge difference here: The Other Side of Philip K. Dick is real. Wilson’s prose gives us an inside view into two minds, a genius and a young girl. Through her eyes I am left with one thought — this is a man I wish I had known.” –Danielle DeVor, author of the Marker Chronicles.
“Frank and revealing. One part faithful memoir, one part a wonderful evocation of Phil’s final 10 years. Writing with crisp clarity, Maer’s humorous anecdotes wonderfully evoke both the times and the man. Her conversational prose sparkles with truth and winning story-telling. Best of all, this warm tribute replaces the oft-told myths about Phil with unique insights into his caring, compassionate and generous nature.” Daniel Gilbertson, Friend of PKD
“As a fan of Dick’s fiction, I was engrossed by these amusing, insightful, and poignant reminiscences of the last ten years of his life. Wilson evokes a human portrait of a warm, funny, unassuming man who was a good friend to a young student. This memoir is well-written and heart-felt. It illustrates not only the private world of a great writer but what it was like to be young in the seventies in California.” Carol Holland March, Author of The Dreamwalkers of Larreta
I received an ARC copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
I thought I’d get a couple of things out of the way before I gave my opinion of the book. This is the first book by Maer Wilson that I’ve read. I’m aware she writes fiction but haven’t read any of her novels yet. The second thing is that I’ve read some of Philip K. Dick’s novels, but I’m not a connoisseur of his work and I have but a passing acquaintance with his life. Like a lot of people I’m more familiar with some of the film adaptations of his science-fiction novels than I am with the original books (but I must say one doesn’t forget easily reading one of his books and notwithstanding my undying love for Blade Runner, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is imprinted in my brain).
This book is not a biography of Philip K. Dick, or a memoir of Mary (Maer) Wilson, although it does have elements of both. The author sets up the scene and explains clearly what she intends to do at the opening of the book. This is the story of her friendship with the writer that spanned the last ten years of his life. She does not justify his behaviour, she does not provide a critical analysis of his work, and she does not go on a research digging expedition trying to discover who the true Philip K. Dick was. After many years of reading works about the man she got to know quite closely, and not recognising the versions of her friend those books created, she decided to share the man she knew. She acknowledges that he might have been different when he was younger and that perhaps he presented differently with different people. (In fact she has an interesting theory about the matter that makes perfect sense to me, but although not a true spoiler, I’ll leave you to read it yourselves).
Mary Wilson met Philip K. Dick when she was a young theatre student, and although she goes to great pains to try and remember and record the things as they happened at the time (and as her young-self experienced them), the older (and of course wiser) Maer Wilson can’t help but sometimes despair of her younger counterpart. As all young people, and especially somebody preparing from a young age for an acting career, the young Mary thinks she is immortal and the centre of the universe. She accepts friendships as they come and does not question either motives or reasons. She does not inquire why an older man (when they meet she doesn’t even know he’s a writer) is living with a young student or why he would want to make friends with people who are twenty five years his juniors. The way she writes about the young Mary reminded me of Herman Melville’s Redburn, where the older writer can’t help but reflect on the naïveté and inexperience of his younger self. (Not that she is all that naïve as she acknowledges that the writer had a crush on her and she handled it remarkably well, but she’s neither humble nor always wise).
The author does not aim to discover where Philip K. Dick was coming from or what happened during the periods when they lost contact, for example when he got married and his wife wasn’t keen on his younger friends, or when Mary was living with a boyfriend and so busy with her theatrical performances that she couldn’t always make time for a social life. She does not try to make up for gaps or recreate things that she was not witness too. She does include photographs of events relevant to the narration, drawings, etc., and has obtained some of the correspondence a common friend had kept, but in its majority, the book is made up of anecdotes, conversations and events that the writer remembers in plenty of detail, as would be expected of somebody talking about a close and dear friend. I also got the sense, from the book and the foreword, that Dick had remained a topic of conversation for his group of friends and some of the episodes mentioned have been reminisced upon more than once.
As it has been noted often (and is also mentioned in the foreword of the book), anybody who attempts to tell somebody else’s story, ends up telling his or her own, and the author gives us a wonderful insight into ten years of her life, from her years as a student, performing and putting on plays, to having her own theatre company, and working herself to exhaustion. It is a vivid portrayal of a type of life, a place and a period, that will make readers wish they were there, going to watch A Clockwork Orange with Philip K. Dick, or meeting Ridley Scott to talk about Blade Runner. It isn’t a glamorous story or a celebrity autobiography (thankfully!), and it has ups and downs, moments of enlightenment and regrets, happy moments and doubts and what ifs, but that’s what real life is like. The author writes as if she was telling her memories of Dick to a close friend, or perhaps as if she was retelling herself the episodes she recalls, trying to puzzle together and order her thoughts, to grab hold of her experience and not let go. It is an intimate and reflective style of writing that makes the reader feel close to both actors and events.
I personally enjoyed getting to know both the author of the book and a bit more about Philip K. Dick, the friend of his friends. This is not a book for somebody looking to acquire facts and figures about Dick, or a comprehensive biography, warts and all. It isn’t a book that talks in detail about his writing (although there are references to his comments at the time and the stories he shared), and it isn’t a gossip column trying to settle grudges (and sadly this is not the first non-fiction book I read where the people really close to somebody are pushed aside by the individual’s official family when s/he is no longer able to do anything to prevent it). This book will be of interest to people who want to find a new dimension, a more personal one, to Dick the man rather than the myth. And also to readers who want to experience the era of the 1970s (and early 80s) in California as it would have been for a very talented and artistic group of friends. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall at some of those meetings. That’s not possible but at least I have this book.
Thanks to Maer Wilson for giving me the opportunity of reading and reviewing her new book, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it, like, share, comment, and CLICK!
Ah, and another author from the group, Carolynne Raymond (from Lady Maverick Publishing) has written a great post for readers so they can access some books by this talented group, and all for FREE! Check it here! (And yes, one of mine is available there).
Sorry to crowd you all with so many posts but I’ve been having a few funny days, with travelling, trying to sort out the house, and a job offer that might mean (if it comes to pass) that I’ll have to take a bit of time off, at least initially from being everywhere. In the middle of this maelstrom and because one has to try everything, I suddenly decided to publish one of my stories that had done well in Wattpad but I never seriously thought about publishing it anywhere else. As I didn’t have a lot of time and I wanted to do a bit of a test, at the moment it’s only available in Amazon and will be available in Unlimited too, at least for 90 days (I’ve never had any luck with that, but). I decided to try a different persona too, and to offer it free for a couple of days (29th and 30th of July, although you know Amazon days are West Coast days, so do check later if not free when you try). So if you know somebody who might be interested in a YA story with quirky characters, friendship, romance and some emotional ups and downs…
Meet the Waltons. They arrive to Leamington, a sleepy town, and cause chaos and outrage. They are ‘weird’. According to some they are scandalous and indecent. But if you let them, they might steal your heart.
We Are Family. A Young Adult story of friendship, families and how you don’t always have to go far to find love.
Kim, a young girl, sees her quiet existence shaken by the arrival of the new neighbours, the Waltons, a family of hippy travellers whose lifestyle creates conflict and tensions in Leamington. Accusations of rape, teenage pregnancy, adultery, suicide…the newcomers pay a heavy price for daring to intrude in the ordered lives of the inhabitants of Leamington. But not all is bad, and Kim’s life is transformed for the better. Forever. Oh, yes, and she finds romance and love.
Thanks to all of you for reading, and don’t feel obliged to download and read, but if you know of anybody who might enjoy it, especially readers who like YA stories or YA readers, I’d be grateful for any shares, comments and CLICKS! I’ll keep you posted on my news and also on this experiment.
I signed up for this blog review tour when my mother was in hospital as I wanted something that would be a light read and would keep me busy, although I thought it was only one book! There was a change of date, but here finally I bring you Complicated Love the series.
I had some extra comments I haven’t included because I’m convinced my experience was different to somebody who had a more leisurely read (I read the three books in 6 days…).
Blurb: Dina Martin and Nicholas Riley are total opposites. She’s the good girl with the perfect grades and he’s the bad boy with the reputation. Growing up together with close family ties, they have been at war for as long as they can remember. When the unthinkable happens, neither of them wants it.
Set in a small town at the turn of the millennium, this story is about family and friendship, the love of music and how sometimes who you don’t want, is exactly who you need.
This is how it all started. A sweet love story. Well, almost.
I was provided a free copy of this novel in exchange for an unbiased review as part of a book-review tour. Having read the three novels I recommend that the whole series is read to get a better grasp of the story and the characters. See my other two reviews for full details.
The first book in the Complicated Love Series (and I must explain that I read them in the order of publication, so I read book 2 first, then book 3 and last but not least, book 1) is told in the third person, with alternating chapters for each of the two main protagonists, the couple who are destined to fall in love, although at the point where the story starts you couldn’t find two more different people. Dina (Christina) a fourteen year old girl, daughter of a bohemian family, with a driven and determined mother, a virgin, studious, invisible to many and not particularly attractive. And Riley (Nicholas), a seventeen year old wild boy, head of the Outcast Crew, best friends with Johnny, Dina’s brother, part of the music band (waiting for a name at that point), the black sheep of the Rileys (and old moneyed family from Shanwick) who’s never noticed Dina other than to tease her. He has all the girls in the world, does not study and embarrasses his family no end. He also has a reputation as a psycho. How do these two characters find each other? Well, Dina auditions as singer for the band and her voice talks to Riley’s soul.
The book could well be a Young Adult or New Adult story, with interesting characters, strong friendship and bonds, stories of bullying, drugs, wild parties, inappropriate relationships, teenage love, talent and misunderstandings galore. This novel follows the chronological order of the romance between the characters, without any of the jumps in time that characterised the other two, and it also has its share of hilarious moments and disappointments and sadness. Gabby, Dina’s sister, although young, only ten, is already one of the stars of the book and a force to be reckoned with, and we get to meet the parents and get a more rounded picture of events.
The writing style is compact, easy to follow and the dialogues are one of the strengths of the book.
I did enjoy this novel and thought many readers would enjoy it too, although it is perhaps different in tone to the other two (there are some sexy moments but definitely it is much tamer regarding the sexual encounters of the characters, although not squeaky-clean). Readers who read this novel first and then move on to the rest might find them quite a different reading experience, although the characters’ journey can be followed through the three novels and develops in an understandable and organic manner.
Blurb: *Recommended for audiences over the age of 18*
If you like your characters quirky, socially awkward, and badly behaved, this is the book for you. What if you got another chance with the love of your life, even when you didn’t want one? Would you grab the opportunity, or run as fast as you could in the opposite direction?
Christina Martin, lawyer, ex high school grunge queen, teenage bride, divorcee, and once a suspected killer, is confronted by a past that she has spent the last eight years carefully avoiding. Drawn back to her hated hometown, with her family under the worst of circumstances, matters are complicated when she finds the love of her life, ex-husband and nemesis, Nicholas Riley, also in residence.
Riley, a man with secrets, who has a penchant for psychological games, made wary by life and with one weakness, his ex-wife. Christina is the woman that brings out all his protective instincts and others less noble. All it takes is one fateful night, where these two collide, opening a door both thought slammed shut and locked forever.
From the past to the present, Christina and Riley show that true love doesn’t always run smoothly, it might not conquer all, and most importantly, love is complicated.
“Lost in Flight” is book two in the “Complicated Love Series.”
I can’t live with or without you, forwards and back
I was provided a free copy of this novel in exchange for an unbiased review as part of a book-review tour.
Two families, the Rileys (wealthy, old family from Shanwick) and the Martins (father a musician and British, mother mixed-race. Bohemian and alternative). A boy, Riley (Nick, but known as Riley), who is the black-sheep of his family. Handsome, talented, attractive, has all the women he wants and he’s even chased by those he can’t bear. A girl, Christina (Dina, because her older brother, Johnny, couldn’t pronounce her name when they were kids), responsible, serious, clever, good at school, big boobs but not classically pretty otherwise. They’ve grown together (their mothers had been good friends and so were both families. Later Dina’s mother dies of cancer, but by that point their mothers were no longer friends and their families weren’t in very good terms either), Riley is Johnny’s best friend. Yes, they fall in love, and although they seem destined and fated for each other, chaos and destruction ensues. The series chronicles the story of their relationship. I know you’re probably familiar with the story of the star-crossed lovers, and their complications. This is not Romeo and Juliet but the hilarious moments (mostly when the girls get together) alternate with pretty sad ones where the relationship crashes and burns.
Book two is told, like the rest of the series, in the third person and from alternate points of view. One chapter from Dina’s point of view (when the series opens she’s been living in Washington D.C. for years and works as a lawyer, so she’s more Christina than Dina) and the next from Riley’s. They are divorced but as Dina’s little sister, Gabby (she is one of the greatest characters in a book with plenty of amazing secondary characters), is in hospital and Riley manages the band where Johnny, Dina’s brother, plays, they seem fated to meet again. The story follows their collision course. The two are like the opposite poles of magnets and despite their best intentions they can’t avoid revisiting and reliving their story, both the good and the bad.
The novel is a rollercoaster of emotions. Each character goes through hope and desperation many times over, and shows why they got together in the first place, and also how they ended up hurting each other so badly. They are clearly in love still, but don’t seem able to move past their past. They keep bringing up things that happened before, and the novel moves backwards and forward in time to share with the reader many of the events that brought the couple to where they are now. Although I did not find the story in general difficult to follow, I must admit that at times I wasn’t so sure what had happened first and it wasn’t simple to keep the timeline straight in one’s head.
The two characters are likeable. Christina cares deeply for her family and her friends (the fabulous and fiery Bonnie, I adore Bonnie, and Mandy, the common-sense and practical one) and tries her best to be grown-up and responsible, always allowing her sense of duty to dictate her actions (even when it means risking her self-esteem and sanity), but her insecurities are brought to the fore when she has to go back to Shanwick, where she had been badly treated. Riley wants Dina back, but he is also bitter and has insecurities of his own, and both of them hide secrets that mean there’s plenty of heartbreak and healing to be done.
As I mentioned, I enjoyed the variety of characters, especially the secondary ones, although as tends to happens in these novels, I also wanted to grab the two protagonists by their necks and shake them, telling them to stop being so silly and start being honest with each other.
There are some sex scenes, and although not erotica and not the most explicit I’ve read, I wouldn’t recommend it to people looking for a good clean and sweet romance. The couple are passionate and it shows.
The style of writing makes it easy to read and the dialogue sparkles at times, with characters having distinctive voices. Some of their expressions and quirks I won’t easily forget.
There were many unsolved questions by the end of the book and I look forward to learning more about the characters and their adventures.
Forced to return to her hated hometown to work, Christina Martin, lawyer and ex resident bad girl, finds herself questioning her life choices. Reunited with her former husband, Nicholas Riley, their tenuous and complicated relationship is tested when secrets from the past and present are revealed.
Riley, a man with explosive secrets and penchant for psychological games, faces the dilemma of keeping the woman he loves through lies by omission or potentially losing her with the truth. This isn’t just their second chance for happiness, it’s their last chance and there may be some things that love can’t conquer at all.
Equal parts helped and hindered by a colorful cast of supporting characters, Ties that Bind, book three in the Complicated Love series, continues the dysfunctional relationship of Riley and Dina.
Darkness, forgiveness and endings (but not where and when you think)
I was provided a free copy of this novel in exchange for an unbiased review as part of a book-review tour.
In book three of the Complicated Love Series, we follow the story of Dina and Riley from where we left them in book two, when they had worked through some of the issues that had ended their previous marriage, but there were still many secrets and actions the characters had taken that their loved one didn’t know about, ensuring further complications. Again the story is told in alternating chapters from each of the protagonists’ point of view and there are some jumps in time where we get to learn more about the events surrounding their wedding and then the traumatic divorce, which had been referred to, but not discussed in detail. There are fewer changes in time (I wouldn’t call them flashbacks as they seem to come at points in the story where both characters are thinking about that particular event and they’re not exclusively narrated from one of the character’s perspective) than in book 2, and the narration is more straightforward, although it also swings to extremes, reflecting the emotions the characters go through. When things seem to have been solved between them, with all secrets revealed and both of them accepting the other for what and who they really are (and in the process accepting themselves too), thinks get much darker.
There are some sex scenes (I would rather call them sexy and passionate) but less explicit than in book two, and there is a hilarious scene early on in the book involving a cat. Well, there are several funny scenes involving that cat. Again there are funny and sad scenes in the novel, although I found them more finely balanced than in book two, with the ups and downs a bit less extreme.
I was particularly touched by the conversation between Dina and Riley’s Mom, a character that had been particularly difficult to understand up to that point. On the other hand there is a psychiatric diagnostic offered as an explanation in the novel that as a psychiatrist I had my doubts about, but even with that I enjoyed the ending.
I also enjoyed the secondary characters I had come to love in the previous book, and gained respect for some of the ones I didn’t like that much. Gabby, one of my favourite characters, comes into her own and she sizzles. The style of writing was again easy to read, dynamic and with great dialogue exchanges. A fitting conclusion to the series.
Neeny Boucher is a nom de plume because my real name sounds like a 19th Century suffragette. Originally from New Zealand, I’m a long-time supporter of the All Blacks. Currently, I live in Europe and am trailing spouse, following my husband all over the world for his work. This not only gives me the opportunity to write, but also, experience the world and indulge in one of my favorite past-times: people watching.
My own employment history is varied and ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous. All of those experiences and encounters, however, have allowed me to collect amazing stories, which now form the basis of my writings.
I have always loved the weird, the outcast and those on the margins of society because they see the world in a different way. These are the people my characters are based around.
I have a BA, BA Honors, and a PhD in Sociology/Indigenous Studies.
The Complicated Love Series, books one to three: Back of Beyond, Lost in Flight, and Ties That Bind.
Skin meets skin, trailing promises and desire. Feathery breaths whisper on Christina’s shoulders. Her eyes snap open, squinting at the morning sun. The dull throb in her head gives notice, as does fierce thirst.
Her tongue seeks moisture on her lips, but there’s none. Christina’s stomach roils. Her breath is radioactive. She makes her own self feel sick.
Blue walls, a dresser, and a familiar door: recognition tugs at her consciousness. Christina knows this room, but hasn’t been here in a long, long time. She’s also naked and not alone.
Wrapped around her is her ex-husband, ex-love of her life, and persona non grata, Nicholas Riley. Riley’s fast asleep, breathing heavily, and his hands are wandering up her body. One lands on her boob, clutching, groping.
Christina jerks forward, shrugging him off. She opens and closes her eyes, counting to ten. Nothing changes and he is still here.
The gory details of last night are behind the ominous, pulsating fog in her head. The man, the lack of clothing, and the rumpled bedding indicate what it involved. Adrenaline responds to her internal alarm.
If he wakes… A myriad of awkward scenarios run free-flow through her head. This will be the fastest exit of shame in the history of exits of shame.
Extracting herself finger by finger from Riley’s death grip, Christina slips over the side of the bed. The room sways, rocking back and forth. She lurches forward on wobbly legs.
Christina’s bladder aches. She needs to do things, desperate things… human things. She just can’t do them naked.
Her little blue dress is at the end of the bed. Hunching down, she crawls to retrieve it. A quick search for her other belongings throws up further questions. Draped at an odd angle on the mirror are her panties. It looks like someone slingshot them.
Cringe lands on Christina’s face in big, red, heat spots. What did she do? Scratch that. Willful ignorance is sometimes a kindness.
Her bra, shoes, and handbag are nowhere to be seen. The bras and shoes are manageable, but the handbag is a problem. Her life is in there.
Hauling on her dress, Christina slinks over to her panties, pulling them on with a hop and a bump. She recoils at the woman in the mirror. Smeared mascara accentuates dark brown eyes and then there’s the lipstick. It’s everywhere: face, teeth, chin, and neck.
But, the makeup is nothing in comparison to the hair. Her after-sex hair is an 80’s rock video. Dragging her fingers through it, she winces. Taming it is a lost cause and also, she doesn’t want to anger it.
Years ago, this wouldn’t have bothered her. She was “Dina,” high school Queen of the Outcast Crew, and a true believer in grunge. By today’s standards, Christina Martin, lawyer, she is a complete mess.
Wiping as much of last night’s makeup off as she can, Christina creeps to the door. Riley hasn’t moved, just rolled over onto his back and settled in the space she vacated. Taking a deep breath, she blows it out of her mouth quietly.
I can do this. I can get out of here and if anything comes of it, I can use the old lawyer’s trick of: deny, avoid, defer, and engage. There is also “settlement,” but that is the last resort.
Christina’s hand is on the bedroom door handle. She freezes at the crunching sound it makes. Every nerve ending is on high alert, but the silence from him allows her to relax.
She pulls the door toward her, but it sticks. She pushes and pulls, but it will not budge. Horror sweats break out.
“Good morning.” Riley’s raspy, amused voice hits her senses like an old lover’s caress. Intimate, knowing. It sends chills up her spine.
Thanks so much to Lady Amber’s Reviews & PR and to Neeny Boucher for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading and if you’re interested, like, share, comment and CLICK!
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