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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE SILENT BROTHER by Simon Van der Velde (@SimonVdVwriter) A hard-hitting novel, beautifully written and observed, and a lesson in narrative

Hi all:

I bring you another book by an author whose very special book of short stories, Backstories, I featured recently. This one is a novel, and it is quite a novel.

The Silent Brother by Simon Van der Velde

The Silent Brother by Simon Van der Velde 

When his beloved little brother is stolen away, five-year-old Tommy Farrier is left alone with his alcoholic mam, his violent step-dad and his guilt. Too young to understand what has really happened, Tommy is sure of only one thing. He is to blame.

Tommy tries to be good, to live-up to his brother’s increasingly hazy memory, but trapped in a world of shame and degradation he grows up with just two options; poverty or crime. And crime pays.

Or so he thinks.

A teenage drug-dealer for the vicious Burns gang, Tommy’s life is headed for disaster, until, in the place he least expects, Tommy sees a familiar face…

And then things get a whole lot worse

Links:

Northodox Press – https://bit.ly/3qObqdl

Amazon https://amzn.to/3uK9sNC

Barnes and noble https://bit.ly/3MOA8CS

Goodreads – https://bit.ly/3ri3std

Author Simon Van Der Velde

 About The Author

Simon Van der Velde was born and educated in Newcastle upon Tyne where he trained and practiced as a lawyer. Writing, however, was always the real passion, and Simon has now left the legal profession in order to concentrate on his writing.

Since completing a creative writing M.A. (with distinction) at University of Northumbria in 2011, Simon’s work has won and been short-listed for numerous awards including; The Yeovil Literary Prize, (twice), The Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal, The Wasafiri New Writing Prize, The Luke Bitmead Bursary, The Frome Short Story Prize, The Writers’ and Artists’ Short Story Prize, The Harry Bowling Prize, The Henshaw Press Short Story Competition and The National Association of Writers’ Groups Open Competition.

Simon is the founder and chair of Gosforth Writers Group and author of the widely acclaimed, Amazon bestseller, Backstories, ‘the stand-out most original book of the year’ in 2021. His literary crime novel, The Silent Brother is published on 16th June, 2022 by Northodox Press. Simon is

currently working on both Backstories II and his follow-up crime novel, Dogwood.

Having travelled throughout Europe and South America, Simon now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne with his wife, labradoodle and two tyrannical children.

https://www.amazon.com/Simon-Van-Der-Velde/e/B08SKCFFNY/

My review:

I read and reviewed Simon Van der Velde’s book Backstories, which was a great success with many other members of Rosie’s Book Review Team as well; I expressed my interest in reading the second volume of that book (due in autumn 2022), and I ended up exchanging several messages with the author. He told me he had finished a novel and asked me if I’d be interested in reading it, although it was quite different to Backstories. When he told me what it was about, I could not resist, and I thank the author for providing me with an early ARC copy of The Silent Brother, which I freely chose to review.

The author, of course, was right. This novel is pretty different from Backstories, although it retains some of its best qualities and goes further still, building up the setting and, especially, the characters, creating fully-fledged individuals and a universe that merges realistic details with fictional but truly believable and understandable situations. One wouldn’t be surprised to read some of the episodes featured in the novel in a local (or national) newspaper, and, unfortunately, many will be quite familiar, especially to UK readers. (Not that similar stories don’t happen in other places, but one of the beauties of the novel is in the detail, and the author explains where the story comes from and how and why it was born, in his note Victims or Perpetrators? The Inspiration Behind The Silent Brother). I suspect that for many people in the West, the idea of poverty wouldn’t include their neighbours or people living just a few streets away from them, but there are many who are born into families with little to no resources and for whom “dysfunctional” is perhaps an understatement in our own countries and cities.

Tommy, the protagonist of the novel, is one of those people. Born into a family that is far from conventional (or happy), he lives a very traumatic event when he is very young, and he blames himself for what happened and feels guilty ever since. This is only the first of many traumas he manages to survive, but not unscathed, and it is easy to understand why and how he ends up becoming a criminal. There is never much of a reprieve for Tommy, though, and every time things seem to be going right for him, something happens and reality comes crashing down on him. But, one of the qualities that will endear him to most readers is that he never gives up. His decisions might get him (and others) into trouble quite often, but he is loyal to his friends (in his own way), and he is a better judge of character than he gives himself credit for.

The story is told in the first-person from Tommy’s point of view, and although he is not always the most reliable of narrators (Personally, I think he knows when to stop telling a story and when to edit out some things. He is clearly in control of the narrative), his pretty unique point of view and his inside knowledge serve the reader well, because he is insightful enough to pick up on clues and events that are important even before he knows why, and although he hides some things even from himself, he evolves and has learned to face the truth by the end of the novel.

I have talked about Tommy, and, as I have mentioned before, I think the characters are all very well written, recognisable, and memorable. There are truly bad baddies; some that fall in the grey area (most of the rest); some likeable but puzzling and ambiguous (sometimes, perhaps, because we see them through Tommy’s eyes, and his emotions and feelings toward them change); and some that we can’t help but feel sorry for. Tommy sometimes annoyed me, but he also intrigued me, grabbed my attention, and wouldn’t let go, and I loved Annie from the very first. She is a wonderful character, despite (or perhaps because of) the terrible circumstances she finds herself in, and she is full of ambiguities, as real people are.

Beyond the social commentary (which makes the book well-worth a read already), particularly aimed at the changes many cities in the North of the UK went through in the final decades of the XX century (in this case, the Northeast, especially Newcastle and Sunderland), we have many themes that are explored in the novel: single parenthood, the underclasses, alcohol and drug abuse, abusive relationships including domestic violence, the role of social services, bullying, gang crime and violence, drug dealing, family relationships, regret, guilt, trauma, self-harm, PTSD, the self-expressive and healing power of art, different kinds of friendship, the nature of storytelling and narratives, and above all, this is a story about love: fraternal love, family love, and also romantic love, against all odds.

The writing is wonderful, though harsh at times, of course. The author has a talent for descriptions, and I don’t mean only physical descriptions —which he does well enough— but he can make us see a person, a place, and feel as if we were living a moment, by focusing on the small details: a noise, a touch, a gesture… He recreates the atmosphere of the city, the pubs, the clubs, the houses, the social services office… And he immerses us inside the head of the main character, getting us to share his thoughts and his experiences. It can be a pretty uncomfortable place to be in, but, somehow, you don’t want to leave until you’ve seen the whole thing through. The story is told (mostly) chronologically, although at times there are intrusive memories and thoughts that disrupt the character’s perspective, sending him (and us) back to particular events.

Rather than sharing my favourite quotes (and there are many I highlighted), I include an excerpt at the end, chosen by the author.

As you can imagine from the list of themes, the book is tough and pulls no punches. This isn’t a look at life through rose-tinted glasses, so people who find bad language, violence, and any (or all) of the topics mentioned upsetting, should be wary of the contents. Despite all that, though, this is a very hopeful book, and I loved the slightly bittersweet ending. I won’t give too many details, because I don’t want to spoil it for readers, and some things aren’t revealed until the very end and might come as a surprise, but let’s say that I was satisfied with the fate of most of the characters, and I hope most readers will be as well.

I recommend this novel to those who already know the author (I’m sure they’ll love it as well) and to those who don’t but appreciate realistic and hard-hitting stories, beautifully written, full of heart, with social consciousness, especially those set in the contemporary UK (particularly the North of England). It does not pull any punches, so people worried about certain types of content (violence, substance use, abuse…) should be warned, but otherwise, this is a novel whose characters will stay with the reader, and one that will make us face some uncomfortable truths as well. The author has more novels coming out soon, so make sure not to miss any. I won’t.

Excerpts from The Silent Brother

‘They’re coming for you,’ Mam said

That’s how it all got started…cos of me being a coward

Bells, it says, but it doesn’t ring, it crashes

‘Do as your told and there’s five grand in it for you. Or you can piss about and get another kicking’

Back in Walker …with the police camera that never works and the half bricks lying in the road, and all those mean-eyed bastards sitting on their front steps, getting pissed, shouting the odds at anyone who looks at them.

‘All I want is a fair cut.’ ‘You want your cut? I swear, you f*ck me about and you’ll get your f*cking cut’

I’ve got a good feeling about this. I’ve got a good feeling about everything. So long as I keep the music playing and the money coming, so long as I don’t go back down Belmont Street, so long as I keep on flying and never look down.

Her arms pull me closer. Her body draws me deeper. I don’t know where I end, where she begins.

The place is normally lit in this pink-ish dusk with silk sheets hanging off the balcony rail, so it looks like the sort of boozer

Aladdin might’ve bought it after he found his genie. But Aladdin didn’t buy it. Eddie Burns did. That’s why we’re sitting here, shitting ourselves, waiting to see exactly how pissed off Eddie’s going to be.

Thanks to Rosie and the members of her team for introducing me to this author, thanks to the author for the book, and thanks to all of you for reading, for your support, for sharing with all who might be interested, and remember to keep smiling and being your wonderful selves. ♥

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog A WOMAN OF VALOR by Gary Corbin (@garycorbin) A solid police-procedural with an inspiring female protagonist #RBRT

Hi all:

I repeat today with another book by an author I read last year.

Cover of A Woman of Valor
A Woman of Valor by Gary Corbin

A Woman of Valor by Gary Corbin.

In A Woman of Valor, Jack Reacher meets Tracy Crosswhite as #metoo victims find a heroine who will fight back for them – with a vengeance.

A rookie policewoman, who was molested as a young girl, pursues a serial child molester, and struggles to control the emotions his misdeeds awake in her.

Valorie Dawes carries a serious emotional scar from being molested in her youth by a family “friend,” a tragedy referred to by family members only as “The Incident.” Her namesake uncle, a well-known Clayton, CT police detective, learned of her ordeal only days before being gunned down in the line of duty. Resolving to continue in his footsteps, she becomes a Clayton policewoman at the age of 22.

But Val’s self-doubts emerge and multiply when she encounters bullying and chauvinism from many of the seasoned male cops in her department. Only her partner, Gil, manages to crack through her veneer of mistrust of men by showing patience, kindness, and confidence in her. Under Gil’s tutelage, Val shows promise as a talented, thoughtful, and quick-thinking street cop, earning praise from her superiors–and continued resistance from old-school line cops, jealous of her quick rise.

Despite Gil’s support, Val becomes increasingly isolated within the department and vilified in the public eye as reckless and incompetent. Complicating matters, a blogger, Paul Peterson, somehow gains inside knowledge about her and is quick to sensationalize her mistakes on his trashy “police-accountability” website.

One of Val’s early mistakes involves getting overpowered in a domestic abuse encounter with a serial child abuser, Richard Harkins, who proves to be both elusive and cruel. His escape haunts her and she spends an increasing amount of her time and energy trying to track him down before he strikes again and subjects any more young girls to the fate Val encountered in her own youth.

Can Valorie overcome the trauma she suffered as a child and stop Harkins from hurting others like her–or will her bottled-up anger lead her to take reckless risks that put the people she loves in greater danger?

https://www.amazon.com/Woman-Valor-Gary-Corbin-ebook/dp/B07R4G617Z/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Woman-Valor-Gary-Corbin-ebook/dp/B07R4G617Z/

https://www.amazon.es/Woman-Valor-Gary-Corbin-ebook/dp/B07R4G617Z/

Author Gary Corbin
Author Gary Corbin

About the author:

Gary Corbin is a writer, editor, and playwright in Camas, WA, a suburb of Portland, OR. Lying in Judgment, his Amazon.com best-selling legal thriller, was selected as Bookworks.com “Book of the Week” for July 11-18, 2016, and was the feature novel on Literary Lightbox’s “Indie Spotlight” in February 2017. The long-awaited sequel to Lying in Judgment, Lying in Vengeance, was released in September, 2017.

Gary’s second novel, The Mountain Man’s Dog, came out in June 2016, kicking off the Mountain Man Mysteries series. The sequel, The Mountain Man’s Bride, was released Feb. 8, 2017. The third book in the series, The Mountain Man’s Badge, was just released in June, 2018.

All of these mysteries are available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook forms.

New: Lying in Judgment and Lying in Vengeance now available in audiobook format! The Mountain Man Mysteries will be available on video later in 2019.

Join Gary’s mailing list (http://garycorbinwriting.com/about-gary-corbin/contact/) and be the first to be notified of free preview editions, 99 cent specials, free book promotions, and exclusive content such as deleted chapters and early-draft excerpts of upcoming novels.

Gary’s plays have enjoyed critical acclaim and have enjoyed several productions in regional and community theaters. His writer’s reference, Write Better Right Now: A Dozen Mistakes Good Writers Make-And How to Fix Them, is available exclusively on Kindle.

Gary is a member of the Willamette Writers Group, Northwest Editors Guild, 9 Bridges Writers Group, PDX Playwrights, the Portland Area Theater Alliance, and the Bar Noir Writers Workshop, and participates in workshops and conferences in the Portland, Oregon area.

A homebrewer and coffee roaster, Gary loves to ski, cook, and watch his beloved Red Sox and Patriots. He hopes to someday train his dogs to obey. And when that doesn’t work, he escapes to the Oregon coast with his sweetheart.

Author’s website: http://garycorbinwriting.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/garycorbin1

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/garycorbin

https://www.amazon.com/Gary-Corbin/e/B01BT8SPLW/

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 reviewed another one of this author’s books (The Mountain Man’s Badge, the third book in the Mountain Man’s Mysteries series, you can check my review here), enjoyed it and was pleased when I was given the chance to review this book, as I always feel slightly uneasy when I start reading a series in the middle, because I am aware that I am missing on the background and the development of the characters throughout the previous books, and my review will not be able to reflect that aspect of the story. Here, we have a stand-alone novel (after reading the book and getting to the end of it, it seems that there is a second novel with the same protagonist, Valorie Dawes, due for publication in the spring of 2020, so you won’t have to say goodbye forever to the characters if you get attached to them) and therefore we get an opportunity to meet the characters and become familiar with the setting from the start.

This novel combines the police procedural (a rookie policewoman following in the footsteps of her uncle, who was more of a father and hero figure for her than her own father, joins the local police force, learns the difference between the books and the streets, and tries to catch a criminal that brings back memories she’d rather forget) with subjects and themes more common in women’s fiction (the protagonist was sexually abused as a child and despite her best efforts is still affected by the experience; she has to confront plenty of prejudice and sexism in the police force, has a difficult relationship with her father, and can’t help compare herself to her best friend, who seems to have a much easier and happier life than hers). The author manages to make the mix of the two genres work well, providing plenty of details of how the local police force works that felt quite realistic (and the language and descriptions of the characters, narrated in the third-person —mostly from the point of view of the protagonist— seem straight out of a police report), and demonstrates a good insight into the mind-set of a young woman who has survived such trauma and finds herself confronted by sexist, abusive, and old-fashioned attitudes. (There are small fragments of the book told from some of the other characters’ point of view, also in the third-person, but those are brief, and other than giving us an outsider’s perspective on the main character, I didn’t feel they added much to the plot). Her fight to overcome her difficulties, to take other people into her confidence, and to make meaningful connections, is inspirational and will also feel familiar to readers of literary fiction or women’s fiction.

As mentioned in the description, this book feels, unfortunately, very current, not only because of the abuse (even if the story was originally developed well before #metoo shone some light into the scale of the problem), but also because of the prejudiced attitude of the police towards ethnic minorities (racial profiling is evident throughout the plot), and the way social media can spread falsehoods and fake news, ruining somebody’s reputation only to gain a bit of notoriety. There are plenty of action scenes, chases, and violence (although not extreme) but there are also the slow moments when we see the characters patrolling the streets, making connections with the local gang, or interacting with the locals, and that also felt more realistic than the non-stop frantic rhythm of some thrillers, that seem to never pause for characters to have some breathing space. It shows the work of the police in its various forms, not always running after criminals, but there are also the quiet moments (waiting around, doing research, manning the phones), and when there are actions scenes, these are also followed by consequences that some novels brush over (filling up forms, reporting to Internal Affairs and having a psychological evaluation after a lethal shooting). Although it is mostly set in a chronological order from the moment Val joins the police force, there are chapters where something makes her remember what happened ten years ago, and we get a flashback from her perspective as a 13 y. o. girl. These interludes are clearly marked in the book, and rather than causing confusion, help us understand what Val is going through and why she reacts as she does to her experiences. She is very closed off, she is insecure, finds it difficult to trust people, men in particular, and struggles to maintain her professionalism when confronted with certain types of criminals. There is much discussion in the book about different types of policemen (I’ll leave you to read about those yourself), and she fights hard to be deserving of her uncle’s memory.

The author is skilled at managing a large cast of diverse characters: Val’s friend, Beth; her father, who is on a slippery-slope of self-destruction; Gil, her partner, a sympathetic and likeable character; the other policemen in the team, including her superiors (more enlightened than most of the other men), the other women in the force (and there are wonderful scenes of sisterhood between the women), her brother, sister-in-law and her cute little niece (obsessed with becoming a policewoman like her aunt), the members of an African-American gang (who although tough and engaged in criminal activities, live by their own code of honour), a blogger with inside information who is happy to distort the truth… and of course, the nasty criminal, who has no redeeming features. Even those who play a small part are realistically portrayed and add to the atmosphere and the realism of the novel. This is not one of those books that take place in a city but feel as if only four or five people were living there. We see neighbours, the owners of businesses, and we also have a good sense of the connections between the local police force and the others in the same county and state.

On reading the author notes after the novel, I felt quite touched by the story behind it, and understood why it feels so personal, despite this being a novel with a main female character written by a male author. In the acknowledgements, the author thanks several members of law enforcement for their expertise and advice, which he has incorporated well into the novel, and the book contains a list of questions that should prove particularly useful for book clubs.

In my opinion, this is a novel that includes a solid plot, with a main bad character (who is truly bad) all readers will hate, some lesser unlikeable characters (the blogger, many of the other policemen Val comes across), some intrigue (who is feeding inside distorted information to the blogger?, what really happened to Val’s uncle?), a hint of romance (don’t worry, honestly. This is not a romantic novel), sympathetic characters easy to engage with and root for, even if we might have very little in common with them, particularly Val and Gil, and a more than satisfying ending.

As I said, I read an early ARC copy of the book, so there might be some minor changes in the final version. This is a book that contains some violence, shootings, and sexual abuse of young girls (and although not extremely explicit, I am aware this could be a trigger for some readers).

Thanks to Rosie and to all the members of her team, thanks to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it, remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Oh, and I’ll be away for a little while (until the end of August), in a place where I won’t have regular access to e-mail and/or internet. It is a break/holiday sort of. Well, you know what they say about a change being as good as a break, don’t you? I have left some reviews programmed, in case you need any extra reads for the holidays, and I won’t close the comments, but I’ll only be able to reply to them when I can connect. I just wanted to let you know so you don’t worry if you don’t hear from me or you don’t see me around as often as you’re used to. Have a lovely summer!

 

 

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview GIRL ON POINT by Cheryl Guerriero (@uncle_cher) A great novel about grief, revenge, and discovering that we are all more alike than we realise #YAnovel

Hi all:

Don’t worry. I haven’t accumulated tonnes and tonnes of book reviews while my friend and her family were visiting, but I don’t want to get behind, so I bring you another one today. This would definitely make a great movie. And the author is going places too.

Girl on Point by Cheryl Guerriero

Girl on Point by Cheryl Guerriero

“One of the most dramatic and emotional books I have read this year, Girl On Point is extremely well-written, showing the aftermath of a horrific crime which changes the lives of all involved. Cheryl Guerriero’s story of a girl struggling with the death of her younger sister, and with the overwhelming guilt that her sister had been in the wrong place at the wrong time at her request, is incredibly powerful on so many levels.” Readers’ Favorite

Alexandra Campbell’s life comes to a crashing halt the night her younger sister is killed during a convenience store robbery. Shattered by guilt, Alex distances herself from her friends and family. Months later, with the police investigation stalled, she fears justice may never be served.

Determined to avenge her sister’s murder, Alex disguises herself and joins the gang responsible for the shooting. To identify the one who pulled the trigger, she must put her own life at risk in a world of dangerous criminals. But the longer she plays her new game, the more the lines blur between loyalty and betrayal.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Girl-Point-Cheryl-Guerriero-ebook/dp/B071R9DYPS/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Girl-Point-Cheryl-Guerriero-ebook/dp/B071R9DYPS/

Author Cheryl Guerriero

About the author:

Cheryl Guerriero was born and raised in New Jersey and currently lives in Los Angeles. Cheryl, an athlete since the age of 7, went on to college where she became a National Lacrosse Champion. Upon graduating, her mother insisted she get a job at Prudential Insurance company which was a five-minute drive from their home and get married. Guerriero promptly moved to New York City and became a writer.

After Cheryl received her first check for writing, her parents got off her back about getting a real job. She began her career as a screenwriter and has won numerous awards, but her proudest moment to date was when she was sitting in a Chicago movie theater watching her first produced film, National Lampoon’s Pledge This!, when one fine moviegoer yelled out, “This movie sucks!” Making it even more special was the fact that Cheryl, voted “funniest” in high school, had written the screenplay with a best friend who had been voted “most likely to succeed.” The movie was neither funny, nor successful.

Cheryl continued on her way with writing and saw her next original screenplay Hunting Season, a mystery thriller, make it from the page to the screen. Hunting Season has aired on HBO/Cinemax, Lifetime and numerous TV channels around the globe.

In addition to writing, Cheryl also directed and produced the documentary short My Best Kept Secret and was invited onto the Oprah Winfrey show as a guest to discuss the documentary.

Girl on Point is Cheryl’s debut suspense novel and she hopes you enjoy reading it as much as she enjoyed writing it!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cheryl-Guerriero/e/B06ZZVH8JM/

Author Cheryl Guerriero with Oprah talking about her documentary

My review:

I thank the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

This is a Young Adult novel for all ages, as is the case with the best in the genre. It is the story of a girl, Alex, a great basketball player and fairly popular, whose younger sister, Jenny, gets killed during an armed robbery at a convenience store. The girls were playing basketball with school in a bad neighbourhood, and she had sent her sister to get her a drink from the store while she finished getting dressed. Her sister seemed to get caught in the crossfire of the robbers, who also killed the owner of the store, and died in Alex’s arm. She had carried her guilt and her grief with her, and despite therapy and medication, she could not go back to her old life. The police suspected that a gang of young girls were responsible for the robbery and the murders, but were unable to prove it. Feeling depressed, suicidal, and not caring about the consequences, Alex decides to go undercover and to try and infiltrate the gang to discover the truth and to obtain evidence to convict the killers (or perhaps get her own revenge). As you can imagine, things are far from straightforward, and Alex discovers a truth or two more than she had bargained for.

The story is told in the first person from Alex’s point of view. The author is good at reflecting the girl’s emotions, her grief, her rage, her hate, her desperation, and her fear and paranoia. Although I know some readers shy away from first person narrators, Alex is so focused on her plans and on getting justice (or revenge) for her sister’s death that she hardly ever strays too far from her feelings towards her sister and family, the situation at hand, and her plans. She does not spend pages talking about her looks, or about those of others. She is not self-obsessed. She is obsessed with her sister’s death and by the killers. She has fears, regrets, and at times is worried that she will not be able to accomplish what she set to do. She gets sick, she makes the wrong decisions, she hesitates, she lies, pretends, abuses the trust of those who love her, but she is easy to empathise with, due to the rawness of her emotions and the depth of her grief. We might not like what she does, and we might not know enough of her before this to truly get a sense of how the experience has changed her, but there are enough glimpses of her previous life to know that she was never perfect (she confesses to stealing things from shops when she was younger) but she loved her family and adored her sister.

The story show us the contrast between Alex’s normal life (she lives in a nice house, has her own car, can go to basketball camp and college without worrying about money, and she comes from a good upper middle-class family. It is true that her mother has not coped well with her grief and blames her for her sister’s death and is drinking too much, but her father continues to support her, and her seemed to be a happy family before the tragedy struck), and the lives of the girls of the Black Diamond gang. We get to know them individually, especially Natice, the girl she works with at the pizza place, and we discover that even the most violent and aggressive of them are human beings, who have grown up in difficult situations, without access to any of the privileges Alex grew-up with, and some have had to endure terrible abuse. If at first, she is somebody who had no empathy or understanding for the experiences of the people who live on the other side of the tracks, she gets many of her prejudices challenged and she learns to see the person behind the label.

Alex’s task, though, is not a sociological experiment. She ‘goes native’ with all the risks it entails. Like Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, she risks losing herself in the process. To be convincing enough to be let into their secrets, she has to become one of the girls, and that means doing morally questionable things and committing crimes. Although she might not like what she does, and at times is horrified by her behaviour and that of the other girls, she is honest enough to herself to admit that she enjoys some aspects of the process. She becomes really close to some of the girls but the circumstances conspire to remind her of why she is really there.

This is a novel that explores many types of grief and shows us that not everybody reacts the same way to the loss of a loved one. It also shows us that revenge and justice are not always as simple, pure, and blind as we might think. After all, we are not heroes in a comic, and playing vigilante is far from easy or glamorous. Very few things in life are black or white, and it is easier to hate something or somebody unknown than an individual we have come to care about.

I particularly liked the realistic psychological portrayals of the characters and the way all the girls are shown as both good and bad. Yes, Alex manages to get away with many things that seem very difficult at her age, especially when she had led a reasonably sheltered life, but this is a standard trope of the genre and she is shown as a resourceful young woman who takes all difficulties in her stride.

The book is well-written, with enough descriptions to make us feel as if we were there, but without excessive details. There is action, and the pace is quick. As we share the main character’s point of view, we suffer with her, worry for her safety, and are swept by the maelstrom and chaos of the gang life. The ending is realistic and I think most readers will find it satisfying. (And no, I won’t say anything else).

In sum, this is a novel of psychological depth and good emotional insight that looks closely at family relationships, friendships, grief, revenge, and gang culture. It does not shy from the ugliness and violence of that world and it constructs believable characters, some that we like and some that we dislike. It is not an easy book to read (as mentioned, there is violence, drug taking, and criminal behaviour) but it is one that grabs the reader at an emotional level and does not let go. It combines good action with strong characters and I recommend it to lovers of the genre and, in general, to those who enjoy well-written novels, dealing with complex matters and populated by diverse characters.

Thanks very much to the author for her novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, CLICK and of course, REVIEW!

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