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Blog Tour Book launch Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

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

Hi all:

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

The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E. Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Jennifer E. Smith

About the author:

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

https://www.jenniferesmith.com/

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

 NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR

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

My review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog PASTA MIKE: A STORY OF FRIENDSHIP AND LOSS by Andrew Cotto (@andrewcotto) A moving and intimate account of male friendship and grief #RBRT

Hi all:

Today I bring you a short read, but a very moving one, by an author I discovered last year and I’ve talked about before, although this is a bit different.

Pasta Mike: A Story of Friendship & Loss by Andrew Cotto

Pasta Mike: A Story of Friendship & Loss by Andrew Cotto

Mike O’Shea and Andy Cotto knew each other their entire lives. Born days apart on the same block, baptized in the same water, the two friends were inseparable growing up and into adulthood.

After celebrating their 40th birthdays together, Mike falls ill and dies shortly after. The impact on Andy is enormous, and he spirals into a depression that threatens everything he holds dear.

Through memory and support, Andy is able to reconcile his grief and appreciate the power of male friendship and the beauty of life.

Pasta Mike is a testimony to the bonds men share and the vulnerabilities beneath the stoic surface.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09KT3GNFQ/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09KT3GNFQ/

https://www.amazon.es/dp/B09KT3GNFQ/

Author Andrew Cotto

About the author:

Andrew Cotto is an award-winning author and a regular contributor to The New York Times. He has written for Parade, Men’s Journal, Rolling Stone, La Cucina Italiana, AARP, Rachael Ray In Season, Maxim, The Huffington Post, the Good Men Project, Salon, Conde Nast Traveler, Italy Magazine and more. Andrew has an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

https://www.amazon.com/Andrew-Cotto/e/B006SHJK4Q/

 My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.

I first came across this author thanks to Rosie’s team and to his novel Black Irish Blues: A Caesar Stiles Mystery (a pretty peculiar small-town noir novel, here is my review), and because that was the second novel in that series, I went on to read the first, Outerborough Blues. A Brooklyn Mystery (another pretty special noir novel, this one set in New York, which I reviewed here). And I love the way the author recreates the atmosphere and the vibe of the settings of his stories (be it a district of New York or a small town), imagines compelling and unforgettable characters whose actions and words keep us glued to the pages, and as an added attraction for foodies, there is always a fair amount of cooking and juicy descriptions of delicious dishes thrown in as well.

Pasta Mike, although in a totally different genre (I found it listed under biographical fiction), shares many of those characteristics. We get a beautiful picture of what Queens was like when the characters were children, in the late sixties and early seventies, (and there is still some of that left at the time the current events are set), with some descriptions of other parts of the city, and recent events. Andy is a walker, and we accompany him in his strolls that help him reflect on things and reach new insights. I’ll talk about Mike a bit later, but although we only get to briefly glimpse at other characters (this is a novella and pretty short), we have memorable grandmothers, mothers who bond over their pregnancy, girlfriends, wives, neighbours, shop owners, and bartenders, all of them real people we could meet and would be happy to have a chat with. And there is plenty of talk of food and cooking (mostly Italian), as those are not only an important part of Andy and Mike’s culture and way of life and are strongly linked to their childhood, but are also comforting and, for Andy, cooking is a creative and therapeutic activity.

 The description gives readers a big clue that this is a story that, at least in part, is about the author, and about his dearest friend from childhood. I am aware that some of the details have been changed, so I don’t know how far the story strays from the actual history of the two friends, but that is inconsequential. The story would be moving even if it were about fictional characters, but knowing it is based on reality makes it more powerful. Because, although things are slowly changing, the social expectations of what a man’s behaviour should be like, and how he should react to the loss of a best friend, would dictate keeping up a façade of strength and stoicism, and never digging into or expressing one’s feelings. Yes, perhaps getting drunk, perhaps sharing amusing anecdotes with other friends, and probably feeling sad in private, but never talking about it. But falling to pieces completely, having to rebuild himself, and writing about it… That is not so common. And it does take courage.

I loved Mike. He is a fabulous character, larger than life (physically as well as for all his qualities, his charm, his kindness, and his heroism. He is a true friend to his friends, and there are so many of those…), and as sometimes happens with our best and oldest friends, even though Andy and he had separate lives and did very different things when they met it was as if they had only said goodbye to each other a few hours earlier. The story is told in the first person by Andy, a teacher, and a writer, and that is evidenced by the beautiful descriptions of places, memories, and feelings. The story starts at a particular point, which becomes very significant for Andy, as it will be the last good memory he got to share with Mike, and then we follow his wandering mind back and forth, learning about their childhood —the everyday and the momentous events—, their adulthood, and we learn more about both, especially about Andy. His life had already undergone major changes before he lost his friend, but realising that he wouldn’t have Mike by his side to help him carry on comes as a shock to him, and this novel is both a memorial to his friend and a way to process his feelings and to share with others that process. There are no easy recipes and no rights or wrongs when it comes to dealing with loss, but brushing it under a carpet or drowning it in a bottle of alcohol are not the best options.

I don’t have any negative things to say about this novella, other than it is quite short, and as warnings, there is plenty of drinking of alcohol; if you’re on a diet, the food descriptions might be too mouthwatering to resist; and readers who have lost someone dear and near might want to be cautious. I know some people prefer to avoid reading about the subject, while others find it helpful. That is something only each person knows. I think many people will easily identify with the feelings of loss, hopelessness, and helplessness of the main character, with his sense of shame at his reaction and his inability to carry on with life as normal, and with his difficulty talking about it and seeking help. The book has many funny and heartwarming moments, and I would not class it as sad or melancholy overall, although there are very moving and poignant moments as well, as can be imagined.

As this is a short novella, I’ll only share one quote, but any prospective readers can easily check a sample of it.

There was nothing to do, not eat, drink, nor anything else available in the most vibrant city in the world, paralyzed emotionally and spiritually as I was, so I trudged closer and closer to home in what felt like a death march, the cold creeping into my bones with its sights on my soul.

I recommend this book to anybody looking for a short and compelling read, especially if you love a New York setting, like first-person biographical fiction, and appreciate moving stories of male friendship. Oh, and to Italian food fans.

Thanks to Rosie and her team for all the support, thanks to the author, for another wonderful book, and especially thanks to all of you for being there, for reading, for commenting, for sharing, and for the support. Stay safe and keep smiling.

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog CENOTAPH by Rich Marcello (@marcellor) Recommended to those looking for beauty, depth, and meaning #RBRT

Hi all:

I am pleased to bring you the new book by an author I discovered thanks to Rosie’s team, and one that always manages to make me pause and think.

Cenotaphs by Rich Marcello

Cenotaphs by Rich Marcello 

AFTER A CHANCE MEETING, AN OLD MAN AND A MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN CHART AN UNCONVENTIONAL PATH FORWARD.
When Ben Sanna, a contemplative retiree with a penchant for helping people, and Samantha Beckett, a secretive New York City hedge fund manager, meet by chance in a small Vermont town, they enter into a tenuous relationship. Over several weeks, Samantha and Ben open their pasts inch by inch, sift through their futures consciously, and come to terms with the strength and depth of their bond. A meditation on redemption told in alternating chapters of musings and scenes, Cenotaphs is about platonic love; the ways we close ourselves off in reaction to pain and what happens when we open ourselves up again; and the deep, painful legacy of loss.

Praise for Cenotaphs
“Cenotaphs is a beautiful, timely, powerful novel. I read it slowly, savoring each scene. Its elegance, intelligence, poignancy, and humanity remind me of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.”—Mark Spencer, author of An Untimely Frost
“Cenotaphs
 is a masterful, moving meditation on loss and moving forward, and on the possibility of transcendence. But it’s the characters and their voices that will keep haunting me, so much so that I know readers will return to them time and again, as if they’re long lost members of a family.”––Rebecca Givens Rolland, author of On the Refusal to Speak
“Cenotaphs
 is an achingly poignant tale of love and loss, and for its protagonist Ben, how the two are intimately intertwined. In the course of this short novel, classic betrayal and unfathomable loss birth the most unexpected platonic love, and in doing so, show us the power of forgiveness. Marcello’s writing is elegant and lyrical and through a complex web of extremes, Cenotaphs cleverly reminds us that nothing is meant to last forever.”––Mark E Sorenson, author of A Restaurant in Jaffa
Previous Works
“. . .The Latecomers blends humor, suspense, and poetic prose while tackling big issues like graceful aging, chosen families, corporate ethics, personal fulfillment, and the unending quest for self-discovery, and brims with philosophical depth about the world and life’s possibilities.“—Indie Reader Approved––IndieReader
“Every once in a while, we get to read books that change how we see life. Rich Marcello brought such change in his literary novel, The Beauty of the Fall. This is for readers who love an intellectual read with profound life lessons and a host of inspiring characters.”––The Online Book Club

“While The Big Wide Calm can rightly be called a coming-of-age story, it is also very much a tale of a young woman who discovers how to truly love. . .Well-written, thought-provoking, and filled with flawed characters, it meets all the basic requirements for best-of-show in the literary fiction category.”––The US Review of Books

“The Long Body that Connects Us All is a powerful collection of poetry. If you want to think and feel about your life and future, read this book alongside a box of tissues. In sharing his poetry, which reads like a memoir, Marcello has really written on elements of the human condition that do connect us all. Rating: 5 out of 5 ––The Book Review Directory 

https://www.amazon.com/Cenotaphs-Rich-Marcello-ebook/dp/B097Q3WR2X/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cenotaphs-Rich-Marcello-ebook/dp/B097Q3WR2X/

https://www.amazon.es/Cenotaphs-Rich-Marcello-ebook/dp/B097Q3WR2X/

Author Rich Marcello
Author Rich Marcello

About the author:

Rich is the author of five novels, The Color of Home, The Big Wide Calm, The Beauty of the Fall, The Latecomers, and Cenotaphs, and the poetry collection, The Long Body That Connects Us All. He also teaches creative writing at Seven Bridges’ Writer Collaborative. Previously, he enjoyed a successful career as a technology executive, managing several multi-billion dollar businesses for Fortune 500 companies.

As anyone who has read Rich’s work can tell you, his books deal with life’s big questions: love, loss, creativity, community, self-discovery and forgiveness. His novels are rich with characters and ideas, crafted by a natural storyteller, with the eye and the ear of a poet. For Rich, writing and art making is about connection, or as he says, about making a difference to a least one other person in the world, something he has clearly achieved many times over, both as an artist, a mentor, and a teacher.

Rich lives in Massachusetts with his wife and Newfoundland Shaman. He is currently working on his sixth and seventh novels, The Means of Keeping and In the Seat of the Eddas, a follow-on to The Latecomers.

https://www.amazon.com/Rich-Marcello/e/B00G97QU16/

 My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author, whom I met thanks to the team, for this opportunity and for the ARC copy of the book.

I have read two of Marcello’s novels, The Beauty of the Fall and the Latecomers, and I have quickly become an admirer of his books, as he combines a lyrical and poetic style of writing with a choice of subjects that transcend the usual genre novel and look deep into the souls and minds of his characters.

This novel is not heavy on plot or action (some things happen, of course, and there are references to pretty major events that took place before, although I won’t spoil the novel for future readers). It is primarily about relationships between all kinds of people. The primary relationship we learn about is the one between Ben, a retired man who leads a pretty quiet life in a cabin in Vermont and spends his time sharing his advice and wisdom with others, and Sam, a thirty-something hedge fund manager who spends most of her time travelling and conversing with strangers. They meet by chance and quickly realise that there is a connection between them. Although in appearance they are as different as could be, they come to realise that they share some experiences and feelings. They both feel guilty of something that happened to their families (they were both brought up in the Roman Catholic faith, although neither of them are followers of any official religion now), and they find companionship and comfort in each other. Their relationship confounds many, but although Platonic, they know they have found something special in each other and treasure it.

This book reminded me of some of my favourite French movies, especially Eric Rohmer’s, that made you feel as if you were a privileged witness to the conversations between two characters (or a few characters), as they slowly got to know each other and to discover that they were meant to be with each other (or sometimes, to be apart but to gain some important insight from their time together). This is a book of communing with nature, with your dog, of going fishing, of building a cenotaph, of stripping your life of unnecessary things and acknowledging what is truly important, and of understanding that you cannot heal from your emotional wounds by hiding your true self and pretending to be somebody else. People can help you along the way, but you have to come to accept your pain, your loss, your responsibility and, perhaps, if you’re lucky, meet somebody else and make amends.

It is difficult to talk about the genre of this book, because other than literary fiction, it doesn’t fit in nicely under any other category. There is romance, but not in the standard sense. It is not strictly a self-help book, because it is a fictional story, but I am sure it will inspire many readers. It deals in loss, grief, guilt, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and other self-destructive behaviours, but also in music, nature, friendship, family relationships, spirituality, religion, love, and the meaning of life. It even touches upon the paranormal and metaphysics, so anybody who likes to reflect, analyse, and dig into the depths of what makes us human could potentially be a good match for this book.

I wouldn’t say I quickly warmed to the two main characters. I was intrigued and puzzled by them, as it was clear that there were many secret motivations behind their behaviours and their actions, but slowly, as I learned about them, I came to understand them a bit better and to accept them as human beings (with all their faults and their gifts). Although we don’t learn that much about the rest of the characters, I quite liked Scott (terrible mistake and all) and would have liked to learn more about Marianne, one of Ben’s friends but not around when we meet him. Zeke, the dog, was quite a character, and I enjoyed the conversations between Ben, Sam, and all of Ben’s friends, so different but so happy to share and engage in serious debate.

I also loved the lyrical quality of the language and the many thoughts and phrases that made me stop and think. As usual, I’d advise people thinking about reading it to check a sample of the novel to see how they feel, but I’ll also share a few quotations I highlighted. Please, remember that I am reviewing an early copy, and there might have been changes in the final version.

An aspiration for old age: When the weight lifts, float up over all the love harmed, and marvel that something as healing as forgiveness exists at all.

Sometimes an undercurrent joins two people right from the start.

My greatest learning is this —love people exactly where they are, flaws and all, for as long as they grace your life. We don’t get do-overs, do we?

We never really fully understand another human being, do we, only the ways they touch us.

The story is narrated in the first person by both main characters, and if I had to highlight one of the things that got me a bit confused, it was the way the book was divided up. Who was narrating each part was clearly indicated, but there were several parts I and parts II throughout the book, and some ‘chapters’ with their own separate titles. I think part of the issue might be due to reading an ARC e-book copy and not having a clear idea of its structure, but later on, there is a development in the novel itself that helps to give this issue a totally different perspective. So, although the novel is written in the first person, and I know there are readers who don’t appreciate that, there is a good reason for the choice, and the quality of the writing is such that it should dispel any concerns. (The author sent me an up-to-date version of the e-book, and I can confirm that the issue I had with the format and the titles of the chapters seems to have been a problem with the early copy, so no need to worry). 

I recommend this book to people who enjoy beautiful writing, who are looking for a different kind of story, one that makes you think, reflect and ponder, rather than turn the pages quickly to know what will happen next. To those who love to explore the reasons behind people’s behaviours, to look closely at their relationships, and to wonder about the meaning of life. And if you’ve never read any of the author’s books, you’re in for a treat and a delightful surprise. Don’t delay.

Thanks to the author and to Rosie and her team, thanks to all of you for writing, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling and safe. Big hugs!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview 337 by M Jonathan Lee (@MJonathanLee) A ‘total’ reading experience #literaryfiction

Hi all:

I bring you a pretty surprising (albeit enjoyable) reading experience.

337 by M. Jonathan Lee

337 by M Jonathan Lee

337 follows the life of Samuel Darte whose mother vanished when he was in his teens.

It was his brother, Tom who found her wedding ring on the kitchen table along with the note. While their father pays the price of his mother s disappearance, Sam learns that his long-estranged Gramma is living out her last days in a nursing home nearby.

Keen to learn about what really happened that day and realising the importance of how little time there is, he visits her to finally get the truth. Soon it’ll be too late and the family secrets will be lost forever. Reduced to ashes. But in a story like this, nothing is as it seems.

https://www.amazon.es/337-M-Jonathan-Lee/dp/0995492352/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/337-M-Jonathan-Lee/dp/0995492352/

https://www.amazon.com/337-M-Jonathan-Lee-ebook/dp/B08HQYXLKP/

Author M. Jonathan Lee

 About the author:

M Jonathan Lee is a nationally shortlisted author and mental health campaigner.

His first novel The Radio was shortlisted in the Novel Prize 2012. Since that time he has gone on to publish five further novels. 337 is his sixth novel.

He is obsessed with stories with twists where nothing is exactly how it first appears. He was born in Yorkshire where he still lives to this day with his twins, James and Annabel.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M_Jonathan_Lee

Here you can find an interview with the author:

https://www.hideawayfall.com/meet-our-authors/

337 by M. Jonathan Lee

My review:

I had never met M. Jonathan Lee before but when I was approached by his publishing company and read a bit more about the new story and its background, I had to give it a go. I thank them for providing me an ARC hardback copy of the book, which I freely chose to review.

I was intrigued because they were insistent on sending me a hardback copy, but once I had it on my hands, I knew why. This is a pretty special book, not only because of the way it is written and the story it contains, but also because of the format. At first sight, the book appears to be double-ended. The images on both sides are the same (or almost): the door of a house with several transparent glass panels and a stained glass geometrical design on top and on one side, wood flooring (flooded by light) and a side door (on that door the glass panels on the cover are glossy rather than matte like the rest of the cover) —although perhaps it is a reflection rather than a real door— and the number 337 written (inside a box in a lighter colour) at the bottom on the right hand corner (oh, and the number is also glossy). The palette of colours includes different tonalities of yellows and browns, with a touch of green in the stained window. The other side is the same, but the palette of colours goes from violet to blue, as if this was a nocturnal version of the previous cover. It seems that the name of the author is only written on the spine, but if we pay attention to the title and the typography we soon realise that the 337 of the title, upside down, reads “LEE”.  Whichever end of the book you open, it seems to be the start of the book, with the information about the edition, some quotes about the author’s previous books, a poem, and then chapter one. As I am a bit contrary, I started reading by what I later discovered was the back cover (I guess), the night version of the door, and when I reached page 16 I was greeted by this message ‘Nothing is as it seems…’ and in the next page I was told to turn the book and keep reading from page 16. Several empty pages and pages with geometrical motives followed, so I turned the book, and after checking to make sure I hadn’t missed a different beginning, I kept reading. Yes, not your standard novel, and it got me thinking. However, in case you’re already intrigued and rushing to order the book, please note the double-ended upside-down opening for this book is available in books ordered in hard copy from UK booksellers only. Don’t worry, though, the rest of the book is pretty special as well.

This is a work of literary fiction, even if a quick reading of the description might induce some people to think they are going to read a standard murder mystery book. Although there is an investigation or a process of research going on, there is nothing standard about it, and the book’s description hints at that. The book delves into memories, looks at how we remember our childhood and past events, examines the stories we tell ourselves (both about ourselves and about those around us), the way we protect ourselves from events and feelings, what happens when we are confronted with reality, and also reflects upon the many alternative ways different people deal with trauma in their lives. Some refuse to let it go; some bury it; some chose to try and forget (sometimes aided by drugs and alcohol); some reinvent themselves…

This is a book with very few characters, and in some ways, it reminded me of a play with a very small cast. It also brought to my mind a very well-known (and excellent) Spanish novel by Miguel Delibes called Cinco horas con Mario (Five hours with Mario) where the recently widowed wife of Mario reflects upon her life with him while she seats next to his coffin at the wake. Here, the main character and narrator of the story, Sam (Samuel) tells the story, in the first-person and in the present tense. He is a man leading a life that appears rather meaningless. He still lives in his parents’ house; he has an online job where he just seems to clock hours for doing as little as possible; he is in the process of divorcing his wife (she initiated divorce proceedings); and he seems to live stuck in the past, still trying to understand what happened to his family following his mother’s disappearance and his father’s imprisonment for her murder. The book opens with a dream/memory from the past, a time when his family and his grandparents —on his father’s side— had gone for a picnic to the park, a family annual tradition. There are several dreams/flashbacks throughout the book, and they are so beautifully and carefully described that we get quite a clear sense of what the family life might have been like (in full technicolour detail). Of course, as the book reminds us, things are not always as they seem, and although for much of the book we only have Sam’s own point of view, events, comments, and even memories that intrude into the action make us start wondering how reliable a narrator he is as we keep reading. We also hear about his wife, Sarah, his brother, Tom, his father, his mother (the one whose disappearance is at the centre of the book), his grandfather, and especially his grandmother, who is dying in a nursing home and whom, after much hesitation, he ends up visiting. Despite his initial reluctance, he ends up spending a lot of time with his grandmother, and that makes him reconsider things. We also meet a few members of the staff at his grandmother’s nursing home. And not even there things are as they seem to be.

The writing style is fascinating. I’ve mentioned the beauty of the descriptions, and there are some fabulous similes and metaphors as well. The writing is lyrical and at times reminded me of poetry, both in written and visual form (we might get a white space where there is a meaningful silence in a conversation, or very short sentences written as if they were a prose poem), mixed with some very insightful comments and reflections. We also have access to the conversations Sam shares with others, mostly his grandmother, but also Tom and the other characters that have much to contribute to our understanding, although not perhaps in the way we think at first. The book flows well and there is something very compelling about it, although it is not a page-turner in the usual sense, because nothing much happens for those who love action, while at the same time there is a lot going on.

A few examples of the writing, so you can see for yourselves what I mean (although remember this is an ARC copy):

Random thoughts are now jumping like kernels of corn over heat. They pop and explode inside my head like fireworks in New Year’s Eve.

When you experience some kind of serious trauma at a young age, it stays with you. It’s like a ghost which follows a few feet behind every footstep — a quiet whispered sound that reminds you of your past.

It has always confused me why people who have not got the slightest clue of what somebody is experiencing still believe that it is their right to state their opinion on the subject. I’ve given this a lot of thought. I believe it comes down to guilt.

And here, Sam is ranting (mentally) about the effects of mobile phones on conversations:

We could be locked in some deep conversation, maybe about to open up about some desperate fear or seemingly unsurmountable problem, and instead a screen is thrust in front of us and we have to smile politely at a picture of a surprised-looking cat near a cucumber. It is unbelievable. The number of truly worthwhile moments that have been spoiled by the interruption of mobile phones is limitless.

The ending… I am going to keep my peace and only tell you that I loved the way it is written and I liked the ending itself, although it wasn’t a surprise for me.

This is not a book for people who are looking for a plot-driven book and an intricate story. It has elements of mystery but it is, first and foremost, a subjective reading experience. If you enjoy literary fiction and like to savour writing in the same way you might enjoy a delicate meal or a beautiful piece of music, I recommend this novel to you. It is a ‘total’ reading experience.

Thanks to the publisher and to the author for this very special novel, thanks to all of you for reading, remember to keep safe, and if you feel like it, like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling. We’ll get there.

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog WHEN ALL IS SAID by Anne Griffin (@AnneGriffin_) A gorgeous and deeply touching book #WhenAllIsSaid

Dear all:

I love this book, and I hope you will too.

When All Is Said by Anne Griffin
When All Is Said by Anne Griffin

When All is Said by Anne Griffin.

Five toasts. Five people. One lifetime.

‘A hugely enjoyable, engrossing novel, a genuine page-turner.’ Donal Ryan

‘An extraordinary novel, a poetic writer, and a story that moved me to tears.’ John Boyne

‘I’m here to remember – all that I have been and all that I will never be again.’

At the bar of a grand hotel in a small Irish town sits 84-year-old Maurice Hannigan. He’s alone, as usual -though tonight is anything but. Pull up a stool and charge your glass, because Maurice is finally ready to tell his story.

Over the course of this evening, he will raise five toasts to the five people who have meant the most to him. Through these stories – of unspoken joy and regret, a secret tragedy kept hidden, a fierce love that never found its voice – the life of one man will be powerfully and poignantly laid bare.

Heart-breaking and heart-warming all at once, the voice of Maurice Hannigan will stay with you long after all is said.

‘This is how you tell a story’ Cecelia Ahern

‘Beautifully written, unhurried and thoughtful, and a character you love from the off’ Kit de Waal

When All Is Said catches a world in a moment. Maurice Hannigan is a wonderful invention, whose bitter-sweet meditations will stay long in the reader’s mind. Anne Griffin has fashioned a rare jewel’ John Banville

‘Masterful storytelling’ Graham Norton

https://www.amazon.com/When-All-Said-Anne-Griffin-ebook/dp/B07C72YBSX/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/When-All-Said-Anne-Griffin-ebook/dp/B07C72YBSX/

Editorial Reviews

Review

“There’s something special here.” ―John Boyne, New York Times bestselling author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

“This is how you tell a story.” –Cecelia Ahern, New York Times bestselling author of PS, I Love You

“When All Is Said catches a world in a moment. Maurice Hannigan is a wonderful invention, whose bitter-sweet meditations will stay long in the reader’s mind. Anne Griffin has fashioned a rare jewel.” ―John Banville, New York Times bestselling author of Time Pieces and Man Booker Prize award-winning author of The Sea 

“In the twilight of his long and eventful life, Irishman Maurice Hannigan still possesses the deep and mellow voice that his grandmother once told him ‘could melt icebergsa voice that debut author Anne Griffin renders with wit, verve, and endearing irascibility. When All Is Said captures the texture of a night catching up with an old friendthe pleasures and comforts, the stories and surprisesone that you never want to end, and all the more bittersweet because you know, of course, that it must.” ―Kathleen Rooney, bestselling author of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

“Anne Griffin’s debut novel is a must read. Beautifully observed, masterful story telling – stunning!” ―Graham Norton, award-winning author

When All Is Said is lovely. I’m a sucker for structure and the conception of this novel, told around five toasts is just wonderful, it gives you that sense of a whole life, of someone accounting for themselves and their decisions, it takes a firm grip and draws us in. It is beautifully written, unhurried and thoughtful, a lonely man truthfully wrought and a character you love from the off, in spite of his flaws or maybe because of them.” ―Kit de Waal, bestselling author of My Name is Leon

“Maurice Hannigan is one of those rare and unforgettable characters whose lives we enter, inhabit for a time all too brief, and emerge from deeply changed. Anne Griffin is a writer with a bright, bright future.” ―National Book Award finalist Janet Peery

“A deceptively powerful tale. Beneath the surface of seemingly simple lives lie stunning stories of love, heartbreak, humor, hope, tragedy, regret, and―most of all―humanity.” ―Viola Shipman, international bestselling author of The Summer Cottage and The Charm Bracelet

“When All Is Said is a hugely enjoyable, engrossing novel, a genuine page-turner. Maurice is a fabulous character, wonderfully flawed and completely engaging; his voice is familiar and real, full of sadness and regret and defiance, and unexpected tenderness.” ―Donal Ryan, award-winning author of The Spinning Heart

“It is difficult to believe that When All Is Said is a first novel, as Anne Griffin displays such an assured hand at locating and maintaining the voice of our lead character, Maurice Hannigan. An old widower, Hannigan picks a night at the local pub and toasts the five people who influenced his life in the most important ways, and, in the process, gives an oral first person history of his own life―both the truthful and the delusional. With an impeccable eye, Anne Griffin picks out details from seemingly-unimportant moments in a life that become so much more in her capable hands. Each toast brings a new facet of Hannigan’s life into focus, sometimes shining a light on things he would rather keep buried deep within himself, and the result is quite lovely. I truly felt as if I were in a country pub, sitting with the county raconteur, and I enjoyed his company immensely!” ―Bill Carl, Wellesley Books

“The Irish prequel of A Man Called Ove” ―Susan Taylor, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza

“Griffin’s portrait of an Irish octogenarian provides a stage for…the course of one memorable night.”Kirkus

Author Anne Griffin
Author Anne Griffin

About the author:

Anne Griffin is an Irish novelist living in Ireland. Anne was awarded the John McGahern Award for Literature, recognising previous and current works. Amongst others, she has been shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award and the Sunday Business Post Short Story Award.

Anne’s debut novel ‘When All Is Said’ will be published by Sceptre in the UK and Ireland on 24th January, 2019 and by Thomas Dunne Books in the US and Canada on the 5th March, 2019. It will also be published by Rowohlt Verlag in Germany, Delcourt in France, by Harper Collins Holland in the Netherlands, by Wydawnictwo Czarna in Poland, and by Tyto Alba in Lithuania.

https://www.amazon.com/Anne-Griffin/e/B07FWTQQQV

annegriffinwriter.com

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Sceptre for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is a beautiful novel. Its structure is simple and so is the plot. Written in the first person, this is the story of a man, Maurice Hannigan, a widower, who has come to a decision about what to do with the rest of his life. Having made that decision, it has come the time to explain why he has decided what he has. The novel is structured around his conversation with his son, Kevin, who lives in the USA and is not there in person; therefore it becomes a monologue, with an intended audience of one. We, the readers, act as his son’s stand-ins. Maurice, as we soon learn, has never been the talking kind, so this is a bit of a departure for him, probably because of the time of his life and because he is not eye-to-eye with the person he is addressing.

Maurice has booked the best room in the hotel and is drinking five toasts to the people who have had the most impact in his life. In the process of talking about them and their influence, we get to hear about his life and what made him who he is. He chooses carefully his drinks, measures his words, and also the mementos he has kept. He drinks ale and also his preferred drink, whisky, and shares photographs, a pipe, a coin, and plenty of memories. He toasts to his brother, who died of TB when he was very young, always protected him and was his role model; to the daughter who never was and has always remained present for him; to his wife’s sister, who spent most of her life in psychiatric hospitals, took to him from the first and played an important role in solving an interesting mystery; to his son, who always had different dreams but tried hard to keep in touch; and to his wife, the one and only, the person he cannot live without.

Through his toasts we learn a lot about Maurice, his world, and the changes in Ireland through the years: when he was young life was harsh for farmers, the owners of the big house could behave as if they owned the people around them, school was hard for those who could not learn at the normal rhythm, and a family feud could last for years. Ireland moves with the times, and we hear about his change of circumstances, but he finds it difficult to let go of his wish for revenge and his resentments, of his low self-confidence because he never did well with books (later on in life he realises he suffers from dyslexia), and especially, of his grief and bereavement. He has suffered many losses through life, and he has many regrets, although he has also done some good things, intentionally or not.

Maurice feels real and very familiar, and I think most readers will be reminded of somebody they know. He is not the most sympathetic character at first sight, although he has gone through a lot, and some of his decisions are harsh and mean-spirited. During the book we get to understand what has made him as he is and it is difficult not to feel touched by his narrative, even if we don’t have much in common with him. There are plenty of family secrets revealed, and he learns to let go of the hatred he held for most of his life. The author writes beautifully, and without using complex language manages to convey true feeling and emotions. She gives her character a recognisable and true voice, dry and sharp, with touches of black humour and always understated, even when talking about those dearest to him. There is a beautiful love story at the heart of this novel, and it is very difficult not to feel moved by it. As for the ending… I won’t discuss it in detail, but I don’t think it will come as a surprise to most readers, although what might be surprising is how we feel about it by then.

Although the author is well-known, this is her first novel, and it is a thing of beauty, poetic and sincere. Here I share some examples of her writing:

It’s an awful thing, to witness your mother cry. You cannot cure nor mend nor stick a plaster on.

Forty-nine years ago, I met Molly, and only for fifteen minutes. But she has lived in this dilapidated heart of mine ever since.

I watched her skin survive the years, softly, folding upon itself. I touched it often, still hopelessly loving every bit of her, every line that claimed her, every new mark that stamped its permanency.

Loneliness, that fecker again, wreaking havoc on us mortals. It’s worse than any disease, gnawing away at our bones as we sleep, plaguing our minds when awake.

These past two years have been rotten. I’ve felt the ache of her going in my very bones. Every morning, every hour of every day I’ve dragged her loss around with me. The worst thing has been the fear that I’ll wake one morning and she’ll be gone from my memory forever, and that, son, that, I just can’t do.

This is a gorgeous book that touches on important subjects and deep feelings without going over the top and being sugary sweet. It is not a page turner plot-wise, and there isn’t much action (other than in some of the memories), so it will not suit readers who are looking for a fast plot. But anybody who loves a character-driven novel, enjoys savouring the quality and poetry of good writing and is looking for new authors will have a field day. I am going to follow Anne Griffin’s career with interest, and I expect to hear great things from her.

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

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog WHEN THE STARS SANG by Caren J. Werlinger A delightful read, full of great characters, inspiring, and heart-warming. Also recommended to dog lovers! #LGTB #Bookreview

Hi all:

Today I bring you a book that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, although it is not in a genre I read very often. A great read.

When the Stars Sang by Caren R. Werlinger
When the Stars Sang by Caren R. Werlinger

When the Stars Sang by Caren J. Werlinger

Nearly twenty-five years ago, Kathleen Halloran’s brother drowned during the last summer they ever spent with their grandmother on a remote island off Maine’s coast. Like a siren’s call she can’t resist, Kathleen is pulled back to Little Sister Island. She leaves her job and her girlfriend packs up her few belongings and moves into her grandmother’s cottage.

Molly Cooper loves life on Little Sister, where the islanders take care of their own. Kathleen Halloran doesn’t belong here, and her arrival stirs up unwelcome memories for the islanders—including Molly’s brother. Molly is certain Kathleen will pack up at the first big blow. When she doesn’t, Molly begins to see maybe there’s more to Kathleen than she thought.

Sometimes, before you can move forward, you have to look back.

https://www.amazon.com/When-Stars-Sang-Caren-Werlinger-ebook/dp/B07B7CT41D/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/When-Stars-Sang-Caren-Werlinger-ebook/dp/B07B7CT41D/

Author Caren J. Werlinger
Author Caren J. Werlinger

About the author:

Caren was raised in Ohio, the oldest of four children. Much of her childhood was spent reading every book she could get her hands on, and crafting her own stories. She was influenced by a diverse array of authors, including Rumer Godden, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Willa Cather, and the Brontë sisters. She has lived in Virginia for over twenty years where she practices physical therapy, teaches anatomy and lives with her partner and their canine fur-children. She began writing creatively again several years ago. Her first novel, Looking Through Windows, won a Debut Author award from the Golden Crown Literary Society in 2009. Since then, she has published several more novels, winning three Goldies and multiple Rainbow Awards. She recently completed her first fantasy trilogy, The Dragonmage Saga.
Check out her blog: http://cjwerlinger.wordpress.com

https://www.amazon.com/Caren-J.-Werlinger/e/B002BOI2ZI/

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, check here if you want to get your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for the ARC copy of the book, which I freely chose to review.

I occasionally read romance novels although I am not their number one fan, but there was something about this book that called my attention from the very beginning. I am always attracted towards stories that are set in special locations (real or imagined) and the description of the island definitely fitted the bill for me. And, in this case, first impressions were right.  I loved the story and the place, and I wish it existed and I could be a part of the community in Little Sister.

The story is narrated in the third person from the point of view of two female characters, Kathleen, who returns to Little Island as an adult (after a traumatic breakup with her on-and-off girlfriend of 14 years), and goes to live to the house of her recently deceased grandmother (although she had not been back there since she was a child due to a very traumatic event), and Molly, the island’s sheriff, and also a handywoman, who loves restoring and repairing boats, but can set her hand at anything that needs repairing (even a broken heart). Although they are suspicious of each other at first, it is clear that they are meant for each other, but, as we all know, the path of true love never does run smooth, and there are a number of obstacles on their way, some of their own making, but others to do with childhood trauma, dysfunctional family relationships, and a past that refuses to be buried. If you are a big fan of romances, LGBT or otherwise, you do not need to worry. Although I won’t discuss the ending to avoid spoilers; I think you’ll be happy with it.

The author creates realistic characters we care for, and not only the protagonists. While Kathleen and Molly can be stubborn and blind at times (and even annoying, but ultimately likeable), there is a full catalogue of fabulous secondary characters, including Molly’s family (her wonderful parents, and her brothers, including Aidan, who is an integral part of the incident that made everything change for Kathleen), sisters Olivia and Louisa (who always carry the ashes of their father with them), Rebecca, the librarian and depository of the island’s traditions, and many more. Oh, and let’s not forget Blossom, a stray dog adopted by Kathleen (well, the adoption is mutual), that is both a totally realistic dog and a fantastic and heart-warming character.

There is lovely food, a variety of ceremonies and traditions, a strong sense of community [including matrilineal heritage that reminded me of the book The Kingdom of Women by Choo Wai Hong (you can read my review here)], secrets, deception, ecology and renewable energy, and plenty of love, not only between the two women, but between all the members of the community. The sense of belonging and the healing and growth of the characters is intrinsically linked to the way of life in this island that mixes Irish folklore and beliefs with Native-American (First Ones) ones. Werlinger creates a beautiful setting, both in its landscape and spirituality. Readers feel a part of this wonderful community, and I, for one, was sorry to come to the end of the book and would love to live in such a place.

The writing ebbs and flows, allowing readers to enjoy the descriptions of the island, its inhabitants, their actions and also their mental processes, although I did not find it slow and I was hooked to the story and the feeling of becoming one with the inhabitants of the place. As a writer, I easily empathised with Kathleen, who is an editor and also creates book covers, and I enjoyed the fact that female and male characters are diverse, are not restricted to standard gender roles, and the attitude of the islanders towards same-sex love is open and unquestioning. There are certain necessary characteristics that make a relationship truly compatible, but gender is not one of them.

As readers, we share the thoughts and experiences of the main characters although the third person narration also gives us enough distance to be able to make our own minds up. There are some surprises, some quasi-magical elements, some light and fun moments, but there are also nasty characters (although these are always outsiders), and intuition and family connections are very important. As for the love story, there are some sexual elements, but not a full-blown graphic description of events, and I found it rather delicate and in good taste (and I am not a fan of erotica).

I wanted to share a few things I highlighted:

Normally, those messages would have torn at Kathleen’s heart. But she wasn’t sure she had a hart any longer. She tapped her chest, half expecting it to sound hollow, like the Tin Man.

“It should be a mix. None of us is just one thing, complete in and of ourselves. We are the island, and the island is us.”

“That is not how it works. Love that has to be deserved or earned was never love to begin with.”

A joyful read, which I recommend to readers who enjoy books set in special locations, who appreciate a strong sense of community and belonging, and love solid characters. There are ups and downs, happy and sad events, although it is not a book for lovers of adventures and frantically paced novels. This is a contemplative and inspiring book, heart-warming and positive. If you need a pick-me-up, this is your book.

Thanks very much to Rosie for her fabulous group and for the opportunities to review and discover great books, thanks to the author (she has written many other books that I’ll have to check), and thanks to all of you for reading. Remember to like, share, comment, click, REVIEW and SMILE!

[amazon_link asins=’0996036865,0998217905,B00JW2M60O,B00BJ9FMV8,B01APWFEC6,0996036881,B00HMQ7MHY,B00EVSTP08′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’wwwauthortran-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’9528a693-2de5-11e8-83f0-018384406b52′]

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE KEEPER OF LOST THINGS by Ruth Hogan (@ruthmariehogan) A gentle read for those who love books set in Britain, short-stories and Blithe Spirit

Hi all:

I should be all caught up with my reviews by the end of this week (more or less. I have some programmed already and one that I’ll post later on because the book will be published later in the month) so soon I’ll be posting as I read. Hooray!

But first, another review:

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

The Keeper of Lost Things: The feel-good novel of the year by Ruth Hogan

We’re all waiting to be found…

‘The first book I read in 2017 – and if another as good comes along in the next 12 months, I’ll eat my special gold reviewing spectacles’ DAILY MAIL

Meet the ‘Keeper of Lost Things’…
Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before.

Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.

But the final wishes of the ‘Keeper of Lost Things’ have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters…

Ruth Hogan’s second novel A Beginner’s Guide to Drowning is now available for pre-order

https://www.amazon.com/Keeper-Lost-Things-feel-good-novel-ebook/dp/B01D8ZE2C0/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Keeper-Lost-Things-feel-good-novel-ebook/dp/B01D8ZE2C0/

Author Ruth Hogan
Author Ruth Hogan

About the author:

instagram.com/ruthmariehogan

twitter.com/ruthmariehogan
facebook.com/ruthmariehogan
Website: http://ruthhogan.co.uk

I was born in the house where my parents still live in Bedford. My sister was so pleased to have a sibling that she threw a thrupenny bit at me.
As a child I read everything I could lay my hands on. Luckily, my mum worked in a bookshop. My favourite reads were THE MOOMINTROLLS, A HUNDRED MILLION FRANCS, THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, and the back of cereal packets, and gravestones.
I passed enough A levels to get a place at Goldsmiths College, University of London, to study English and Drama. It was brilliant and I loved it.
And then I got a proper job.
I worked for ten years in a senior local government position: a square peg in round hole, but it paid the bills and mortgage. In my early thirties, I had a car accident which left me unable to work full-time and convinced me to start writing seriously.
It was all going well, but then in 2012 I got Cancer, which was bloody inconvenient but precipitated an exciting hair journey from bald to a peroxide blonde Annie Lennox crop. When chemo kept me up all night I passed the time writing and the eventual result was THE KEEPER OF LOST THINGS, my first novel.
I live in a chaotic Victorian house with an assortment of rescue dogs and my long-suffering husband. I am a magpie; always collecting treasures (or ‘junk’ depending on your point of view) and a huge John Betjeman fan.
My favourite word is’ antimacassar’ and I still like reading gravestones.

https://www.amazon.com/Ruth-Hogan/e/B01KO3PWVY/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and Two Roads for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Although I am not sure this is ‘the feel-good novel of the year’ I’d have to agree it is a feel-good novel, although perhaps not for everybody.

The novel tells many stories, although it tells two in more detail, those of Anthony and Laura (later of Laura and her new family) and Eunice and Bomber. Although those stories are separated by forty years, they are parallel in many ways: an older man who puts an advertisement for an assistant, a younger woman —very young in Eunice’s case— who ends up becoming a personal friend of the man and whose life ends up enmeshed and entangled with that of her employer, both men’s work relates to literature (Anthony is a fairly successful writer of short stories and Bomber is a publisher), both males die leaving some sort of legacy to these women (and also asking them to fulfil their final wishes). As we read on, we might suspect that the relationship between these two stories runs deeper than at first appears, but it is not confirmed until very close to the end.

There are other important elements in the novel, which functions also as a collection of short stories, as Anthony, after experiencing a terrible loss, started to collect lost things, cataloguing them and using his study for safe keeping, in an attempt at recovering something he had lost himself. Throughout the novel, there are stories about those objects (written in italics so it is easy to differentiate them to the rest) interspersed with the two main stories. We are told, later in the book, that Anthony used those objects as inspiration for several collections of short stories, but the novel allows for several possible interpretations of what these stories really are. Are they imaginary stories? Are they the real stories behind the objects? If they are imaginary short-stories who has written them? Anthony? Somebody else? Each reader can choose whatever explanation s/he prefers and I’m sure there are more possibilities.

I mentioned the two main stories that frame the novel and the short stories within. Each chapter is told (in the third person) from one of the characters’ point of view (mostly Laura or Eunice) and this is is clearly indicated, as it is the year, because Eunice and Bomber’s story develops from the 1970s up to the current days. We get to know his family and follow his father’s illness (Alzheimer’s) that unfortunately later also afflicts Bomber himself. There are comments on movies of the period; there is the wonderful relationship with Bomber’s parents, the two dogs that share his life and an unrequited and impossible love story. Ah, and Bomber’s sister, Portia, her awful behaviour and her even worse attempts at getting her brother to publish one of her rip-offs of well-known and loved classics, that make for hilarious reading, especially for authors and book lovers. I must confess that, perhaps because their story develops over time and it has none of the paranormal elements added to the other, I particularly warmed to it. I found the depiction of the dementia sufferers (both father and son) touching, humorous and bittersweet, and although we don’t get to know Eunice well (other than through her devotion to Bomber and his life-work), she is a character easy to like and some of her actions make us cheer her on.

Laura’s story is that of somebody lost, perfectly in keeping with Anthony’s life mission. She made some questionable decisions when she was younger, married too young and her knight in shining armour turned up to be anything but. She is very insecure and full of self-doubt and that makes her a less likeable character as she pushes people away rather than risk being rejected, but she is also the one who has to change more and work harder to get out of her shell. Sunshine, a young neighbour, Down’s syndrome, also shares her point of view with the reader at times and becomes a member of the family, although she has her own too. She is less hindered by concern about what others’ might think, or what is right and wrong, and she has a special connection (not sure ‘power’ is the right word) with the objects and with the paranormal elements that later appear in the novel. Fred, the gardener, is the love interest, handsome and kind, but he seems to be there to provide the romance and second chance more than anything else, and he is not very well developed.

I’ve mentioned the paranormal elements. There is a ghost in the house and that takes up a fair amount of the book as Laura keeps trying to work out how to make things right. I am not sure this added much to the story but references to Blithe Spirit (that is being performed by an amateur theatrical group in the neighbourhood) put an emphasis on the effect the writer might have been aiming for (each reader can decide how well it works for them).

This is a well-written novel, with effective descriptions of objects, locations and people. There are elements of chick-lit (the descriptions of Laura’s disastrous date, her chats with her friend…), romantic touches, some elements of mystery, plenty of loss, death and second chances, a fair bit about literature… The whole feeling of the story is somewhat old-fashioned (and very British. I’ve lost count of how many ‘lovely cups of tea’ are prepared and drunk during the novel, and although that is partly in jest, yes, there is a fair amount of repetition, foreshadowing and signposting, perhaps unnecessary in this kind of story). Some of the references, including songs and films, will be lost on the younger generations. Everything is fairly gentle; even the bad characters (Portia) are only moderately nasty and they are the object of fun rather than being truly evil. There are gossip and misunderstandings but nothing really awful happens. No gore details, no huge surprises, no hot sex (I think you’ll have to buy Portia’s stories of Hotter Potter for that), and even technology only appears by the backdoor (people send text messages and a laptop and a website  appear towards the end, but this is not a book where characters follow mother trends).

Funnily enough, a publisher (rival of Anthony) sums up what the books he publishes should be like, thus:

I know what normal, decent people like, and that’s good, straightforward stories with a happy ending where the baddies get their comeuppance, the guy gets the girl and the sex isn’t too outré.

The structure of the novel and some of the short-stories are not at all like that, but the spirit behind it perhaps it and its charm might be lost on some readers who prefer more action and adventures and a more modern style of writing.

In summary, a gentle read, bittersweet, with plenty of stories for those who love short stories, of particular interest to lovers of books and movies set in Britain, stories about writers, the publishing world and women’s stories. It has sad moments and funny ones but it is unlikely to rock your world.

Thanks so much to NetGalley and to the publishers, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, CLICK and REVIEW!

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Book review Book reviews Reviews Rosie's Book Review Team Rosie's Book Team Review

#Bookreview #RBRT THE BEAUTY OF THE FALL by Rich Marcello. A beautifully written novel about loss, meaning and relationships, with its heart in the right place. #TuesdayBookBlog

Hi all:

Rich Marcello, the author of this novel, got in touch with me asking for a review. As the book sounded well-wroth a read but I was buried under a mountain of books, I agreed to review when I could and also made some suggestions as to other venues for reviews. Finally, I’m pleased to say I’ve read it.

Here, the novel, including the press release that the author kindly sent me.

Cover of the Beauty of the Fall by Rich Marcello
The Beauty of the Fall by Rich Marcello

The Beauty of the Fall by Rich Marcello

A TECHNOLOGY EXECUTIVE CHARTS A HIGH-RISK, UNCONVENTIONAL PATH WHILE GRIEVING THE LOSS OF HIS SON

Dan Underlight, a divorced, workaholic technology executive, suffers lingering grief over the death of his ten-year-old son, Zack. When Dan’s longtime friend and boss fires Dan from RadioRadio, the company that he helped create, he crashes and isolates himself.
Willow, a poet and domestic violence survivor, helps Dan regain his footing. With her support, Dan ventures on a pilgrimage of sorts, visiting Fortune 500 companies to flesh out a software start-up idea. He then recruits three former RadioRadio colleagues and starts Conversationworks, a company he believes will be at the vanguard of social change.
Guided by Dan’s leadership, Conversationworks enjoys some early successes, but its existence is soon threatened on multiple fronts. Will Dan survive the ensuing corporate battles and realize the potential of his company? Or will he be defeated by his enemies and consumed by his grief?

https://www.amazon.com/Beauty-Fall-Novel-Rich-Marcello-ebook/dp/B01MFCTYYW/

Press release

 

  Softcover

  ISBN: 978-1-63505-402-6

 Page Count: 376

 Release Date: October 25th, 2016

Price: $16.95 

The Beauty of the Fall takes Readers on Intriguing Journey

In Rich Marcello’s new novel, The Beauty of the Fall, Dan Underlight, a divorced, workaholic technology executive, suffers lingering grief over the death of his ten-year- old son, Zack. When Dan’s longtime friend and boss fires Dan from RadioRadio, the company that he helped create, he crashes and isolates himself.

Willow, a poet and domestic violence survivor and advocate, helps Dan regain his footing. With her support, Dan ventures on a pilgrimage of sorts, visiting Fortune 500 companies to flesh out a software start-up idea.

When Dan returns home with a fully formed vision, he recruits the help of three former RadioRadio colleagues and starts Conversationworks, a company he believes will be at the vanguard of social change. Guided by Dan’s generative leadership, Conversationworks enjoys some early successes, but its existence is soon threatened on multiple fronts. Will Dan survive the ensuing corporate battles and realize the potential of his company? Or will he be defeated by his enemies and consumed by his grief?

This captivating, idea-driven novel appeals to readers who are interested in exploring a technology based solution to many of our current social problems, and to readers who are interested in father-son relationships, gender equality, and working through grief.

Author Rich Marcello
Author Rich Marcello

About the Author

Rich is a poet, a songwriter and musician, a creative writing teacher, and the author of three novels, The Color of Home, The Big Wide Calm, and The Beauty of the Fall.

As anyone who has read Rich’s work can tell you, his books deal with life’s big questions: love, loss, creativity, community, aging, self-discovery.  His novels are rich with characters and ideas, crafted by a natural storyteller, with the eye and the ear of a poet.

For Rich, writing and art making is about connection, or as he says, about making a difference to a least one other person in the world, something he has clearly achieved many times over, both as an artist and a teacher.

Advanced Praise

“Few novels are as intelligent and relevant as The Beauty of the Fall.  Almost none is as eloquent, compelling, heartbreaking, and ultimately, uplifting.”  — Mark Spencer,

Faulkner Award winner and author of Ghostwalking

“Rich Marcello’s The Beauty of the Fall takes the reader on two intriguing journeys: the exciting coffee-fueled rise of a high-tech start-up and the emotional near-collapse of the man behind the revolutionary company, his personal journey through grief and healing.”

––Jessamyn Hope, author of Safekeeping

“Rich Marcello’s third novel, The Beauty of the Fall, intermixes poetry and prose fluidly throughout the manuscript, and in fact, incorporates poetry as one of its major themes. As a practicing poet, I was swept away by the lyrical language, the characters, and the unexpected twists and turns in the plot. Overall, a great and inspiring read!” — Rebecca Givens Rolland, author of The Wreck of Birds 

Links to the novel and author sites:

https://www.amazon.com/Beauty-Fall-Novel-Rich-Marcello-ebook/dp/B01MFCTYYW/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32711997-the-beauty-of-the-fall

https://www.facebook.com/richmarcelloauthor/

https://www.instagram.com/rich.marcello/

My review:

I received an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team.

This beautifully written novel touches on many subjects that are important at different levels: some, like loss (be it the death of a child, a divorce, the loss of not only a job but also a life-project) can be felt (and there are heart-wrenching moments in the novel) understood and managed at a very personal level, others, like the role of communications technology (who must control it? Should it remain neutral or become involved in the big issues? Should it ally itself with governments or be creatively independent?) or domestic and gender-related violence, although no doubt having a personal component, also seem to require global solutions.  This ambitious novel tries to give answers to many of these questions and it does so through a first person narrative interspersed with poetry.

The novel is narrated by Dan Underlight, whom we meet at a particularly difficult time in his life. His son died a couple of years earlier and he feels guilty about it (we learn the details quite late in the novel), he is divorced, and now, the technology company he helped to create, and by extension his business partner and the woman he’d been closer to than almost anybody else for many years, fires him. His job, the only thing that had kept him going, is taken away from him. He has no financial worries. He has a good severance pay, a huge house, two cars, but his life is empty. Through the novel, Dan, who still sees his son, has conversations with him and wants to start a project in his memory, meets many people. Most of them are enablers. He has known Willow, a woman who works helping women victims of domestic violence, and herself a survivor (although she doesn’t talk much about it, at least with Dan) for some time and eventually, their friendship turns into a romantic relationship for a while. He has also been attending therapy with Nessa, a very special therapist (as a psychiatrist I was very curious about her techniques, but working in the NHS in the UK I must admit I’d never even heard of a Buddha board) since his son’s death, and during his peculiar pilgrimage, he gets ideas, encouragement, and a few brushes with reality too.

Much of the rest of the novel is taken up by Dan’s creation of a new company, based on his idea that if people could converse about important subjects and all these conversations could be combined, they would reach agreements and solve important problems. As conversations and true communication in real life amount to more than just verbal exchanges, there are technical problems to be solved, funding, etc. I found this part of the novel engaging at a different level and not having much knowledge on the subject didn’t detract from my interest, although I found it highly idealistic and utopian (not so much the technical part of it, but the faith in the capacity of people to reach consensual agreements and for those to be later enforced), and I also enjoyed the underhand dealings of the woman who had been his friend but seemed somehow to have become his enemy. (I wasn’t sure that her character came across as consistent, but due to the subjective nature of the narration, this might have more to do with Dan’s point of view than with Olivia herself).

Dan makes mistakes and does things that morally don’t fit in with the code he creates for his company, or with the ideals he tries to live by (he is human, after all) and things unravel somewhat as life has a few more surprises for him, but, without wanting to offer any spoilers, let’s say that there are many lessons he has learned along the way.

As I said before, the language is beautiful, and the poems, most of which are supposedly written by Willow, provide also breathing space and moments to stop, think and savour both the action and the writing style.

First of all, let me confess I was very taken by this novel and I couldn’t stop reading it and even debating the points with myself (I live alone, so, that was the best I could do). I was also touched by both the emotions expressed and the language used. As a sensorial reading experience, it’s wonderful.

Now, if I had to put on my analysing cap, and after reading some of the reviews on Goodreads, I thought I should try and summarise the issues some readers have with the novel.

The themes touched are important and most people will feel able to relate to some if not all of them. Regarding the characters and their lifestyle, those might be very far from the usual experience of a lot of readers. Although we have a handful of characters who are not big cheeses in technology companies, those only play a minor part in the book. The rapid expansion of the technology and how it is used in the book is a best case scenario and might give readers some pause. Personally, I could imagine how big companies could save money using such technology, but charitable organisations, schools or libraries, unless very well-funded, in the current financial times when official funding has become very meagre, would have problems being able to afford it all, and that only in theoretically rich countries. (The issue of world expansion is referred to early on in the project but they decide to limit their ambitions for the time being).

Also, the fact that issues to be discussed and championed were decided by a few enlightened individuals (although there is some debate about the matter) could raise issues of paternalism and hint at a view of the world extremely western-centred (something again hinted at in the novel). Evidently, this is a novel and not a socio-political treatise and its emphasis on changing the US laws to enforce legislation protecting equality, women’s rights and defending women against violence brings those matters the attention and focus that’s well-deserved.

For me, the novel, where everything that happens and every character that appears is there to either assist, hinder, or inspire Dan (it is a subjective narrative and one where the main character is desperately searching for meaning) works as a fable or perhaps better a parable, where the feelings and the teachings are more important than the minute details or how we get there. It is not meant to be taken as an instructions manual but it will be inspirational to many who read it.

In summary, although some readers might find it overly didactic (at times it seems to over-elaborate the point and a word to the wise…) and might miss more variety and diversity in the characters, it is a beautifully written book that will make people think and induce debate.  This is not a book I’d recommend to readers that like a lot of action and complex plots, but to those who enjoy a personal journey that will ring true with many. It is a touching and engaging read to be savoured by those who enjoy books that challenge our opinions and ideas.

Thanks to the author and to Rosie, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment and CLICK!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview 20 by Vatsal Surti (@vatsal_xo) Beautiful language for those looking for a very subjective reading experience

Hi all:

As I’ve mentioned a few times, I have quite a few reviews that I haven’t shared yet and I’ve decided to try and make sure I don’t miss any and start sharing in alphabetical order (apart from some that I had booked for certain dates). I’m working on several projects that I’ll tell you more about when I can (most of them don’t depend only on me) but in the meantime, I’ll share reviews when I can and I’ll keep up with reblogs of interesting things I see on my other blog.

And here, first on the list…

Cover of 20 by Vatsal Surti
20 by Vatsal Surti

20 by Vatsal Surti

The story of a troubled young model and an introspective writer, 20 is a novel about loneliness, love, hopes and dreams.

One night as she is driving back home from a show, she almost runs over someone. She holds her breath, and through the fog, they see each other for the first time. Love begins to form in the space between them, in precognitions and thoughts, lights and intimacies. Seasons change. They come to know more things about themselves and each other. Life wraps them in its embrace like a haze, in a vacant space bigger than their eyes can see.

Fans of Haruki Murakami will enjoy this atmospheric and deeply felt debut from Vatsal Surti, who was described by an Amazon HALL OF FAME reviewer as “a young author to observe.”

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/20-Vatsal-Surti-ebook/dp/B01N4BD97I/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/20-Vatsal-Surti-ebook/dp/B01N4BD97I/

About the author:

Vatsal Surti is a US-based author who writes about the interconnections of humans.
His novella, To Desire, written when he was 17, was described by Kirkus Reviews as “poetic” with “engaging thoughts about the meaning of life and death.”
He wrote his first novel, 20, at the age of 20. His other work includes On Love, a small collection of short stories and prose poems published in 2013.

https://www.amazon.com/Vatsal-Surti/e/B00I6HPVU8/

My review:

Thanks to Net Galley and to Hybrid Texts for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely choose to review. They were also conscientious enough to inform me that an updated version was available, that is the one I review.

This novel is like a confessional/stream of consciousness diary of a young woman, a fashion model who lives alone and who records her thoughts, feelings and impressions over time. The book is divided into chapters and follow the seasons, but as we spend most of the time inside the head of the protagonist (although the story is written in the third person) sometimes, as we all do in our own minds, she might go back and forth in time, and other times, due to illness, substances and her state of mind, we don’t know if something she’s experiencing is happening at all in the real world. There are also fragments of the book told from the point of view of a young man she meets, whom she falls in love with, but these are not many.

Despite the beauty of the language, I found it a bit difficult to engage with the story (that is not really a story). Perhaps it is, as some reviewers have commented, partly the fact of not knowing the name of the main protagonist or her beloved. We get to know the name of Natasha, a friend who invites her to live with her, but we don’t know much about her. We don’t know where she is, know little about who she is, and her circumstances. I imagine it might be an attempt at universalizing the story, but most readers enjoy living other lives, even if completely different to theirs, rather than a very subjective but somewhat blank one.

What I thought at times while I read the book was that I remembered having similar thoughts and feelings when I was an adolescent, at a time when everything feels new, unique, and we believe nobody has ever gone through similar experiences or knows what we’re going through. Everything is measured by how it affects us and we live inside a bubble of our own making that few things can pierce. In the case of the protagonist she suffers a very traumatic event that depresses her (although it seems to be more a matter of degree rather than the nature of the emotions she experiences, as some of her thoughts were very similar before the said event) but in a way it seems to help shake her up and realise what life is really about.

To give you a taster of the language, here I share a couple of sentences I highlighted:

A few miles above them, a plane took off, breaking the sky that had begun falling to night once again, like love inside youth.

Her eyelids closed, and behind them, her eyes shone like stars.

In summary, a book that requires a very special type of reader, and that I suspect will connect better with younger readers (YA, NA). Not a book recommended for those interested in a good story and engaging plot, but for those who enjoy descriptive, subjective and sensuous writing.

Thanks to NetGalley, to the authors and the publisher, thanks to you for reading and yes, like, share, comment and CLICK!

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