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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog The School for Good Mothers: A Novel by Jessamine Chan (@jessaminechan) (@HutchHeinemann) Not an easy read, but one that will make you think about families and social control #TheSchoolforGoodMothers #NetGalley

Hi all:

I am not a mother, but recently I have read two books that shine a pretty special light on motherhood. You might remember my review for Chouette, and this one, although totally different, I think will also stay with me for a long time. And it has a fantastic title as well.

The School for Good Mothers: A Novel by Jessamine Chan

An Instant New York Times Bestseller

A Read with Jenna Today Show Book Club Pick

In this taut and explosive debut novel, one lapse in judgement lands a young mother in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance.

Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices. She can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her. Harriet may be all she has, but she is just enough.

Until Frida has a very bad day.

The state has its eyes on mothers like Frida. The ones who check their phones, letting their children get injured on the playground; who let their children walk home alone. Because of one moment of poor judgment, a host of government officials will now determine if Frida is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that measures the success or failure of a mother’s devotion.

Faced with the possibility of losing Harriet, Frida must prove that a bad mother can be redeemed. That she can learn to be good.

A searing page-turner that is also a transgressive novel of ideas about the perils of “perfect” upper-middle class parenting; the violence enacted upon women by both the state and, at times, one another; the systems that separate families; and the boundlessness of love, The School for Good Mothers introduces, in Frida, an everywoman for the ages. Using dark wit to explore the pains and joys of the deepest ties that bind us, Chan has written a modern literary classic.

 https://www.amazon.com/School-Good-Mothers-Novel-ebook/dp/B093JHS53T/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/School-Good-Mothers-Handmaids-century-ebook/dp/B09FGD85XB/

https://www.amazon.es/School-Good-Mothers-Novel-English-ebook/dp/B093JHS53T/

Author Jessamine Chan

About the author:

Jessamine Chan’s short stories have appeared in Tin House and Epoch. A former reviews editor at Publishers Weekly, she holds an MFA from Columbia University and a BA from Brown University. Her work has received support from the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Wurlitzer Foundation, Jentel, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center, the Anderson Center, VCCA, and Ragdale. She lives in Chicago with her husband and daughter.

https://www.amazon.com/Jessamine-Chan/e/B092BKD9NX/

My review:

I thank NetGalley and Random House UK, Cornerstone, Hutchinson Heinemann for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

I heard a lot of comments about this novel, was intrigued by its subject, and I can honestly say this is a book that won’t leave anybody indifferent.

The author is well-known for her short stories, but this is her first novel, and as she explains in the author’s acknowledgments at the end of the book, she had been working on it for many years before it saw the light. It seems that it started as a short story, but at the recommendation of a writing mentor at a workshop, Chan felt encouraged to develop the concept. Readers who are interested in the writing process will enjoy reading the author’s note, as it gives a good sense of what inspired her, which writers influenced her, includes a bibliography for those interested in her sources, and it also gives an account of how many people play a part in the final product, from the author and her family to the institutions providing support of all kinds.

The description of the novel gives a reasonable overview of the plot, although I am not sure everybody who has read it would agree on the way the book is characterized in the last paragraph.

We have all heard stories of neglectful parents, and/or parents doing things that seem unthinkable, like kidnapping their children, harming them, or even killing them. I have often thought that in this day and age when one can hardly do anything without having “training” and holding “a certificate” (at least in most Western societies), it is amazing that one of the most difficult things to do, raising a child, requires no qualification and there is no supervision or education provided to ensure that young people of a certain age know, at least, the very basics. As if the author had read my mind, in this book, the authorities create a School for parents (yes, for the bad mothers of the title, but there is also an equivalent school for bad fathers, although with fewer students and much more lenient), and “dystopic” doesn’t quite make it justice. The action takes place in a world that sounds exactly like ours and in the present (or at least not in a particularly distant future) in the USA, and that increases its impact, because it is not that difficult to imagine something like this happening (although perhaps some of the details are a bit fanciful and stretch credibility slightly, but only slightly).

Frida, the main protagonist, does something that is definitely bad (I am not a mother, so I cannot speak with any inside knowledge, but I think it is understandable although I cannot imagine anybody would condone it), although not, by far, the worst thing we hear about in the novel, and she is not the most sympathetic of characters. And that is, perhaps, what makes it a particularly effective but tough book to read. Because it is very easy to feel sorry for a character who is tender-hearted, kind, and nice, and feel outraged for the way s/he is treated, but here, we not only meet Frida (whose story is narrated in the third person but from her limited point of view), but also some of her peers, and none of them are people most of us would want as friends in normal circumstances, especially once we learn about what landed them at the school. But Frida gets to care for them and we do as well, and we also feel their frustration, their pain, and their desperation. Those of you who are parents, imagine if everything you did when you were with your children (and even when you were not with them) was recorded: every word, every move, every gesture, every look… and all that evidence was judged in comparison to some perfect standard impossible to achieve (and most of the time, impossible to explain by the teachers and impossible to understand by the students).

Apart from motherhood (parenthood), issues such as identity, legacy, family expectations (grandparents, relatives…), cultural differences, prejudice, desire, temptation, mental illness, privacy, mono-parental households, single mothers, the difficult (almost impossible at times) balance between profession and personal life/ work and family life, and big questions like who gets to decide what is the best for a child, and how far can laws and society go to regulate certain aspects of our lives… This is a book of big ideas, and I am sure book clubs would find plenty to discuss here, although I suspect some readers will not feel comfortable reading it and might abandon it before the end.

I enjoyed the writing style, even though I am not a fan of the use of present tense (we follow Frida’s story, chronologically, for over a year, and this is narrated in the present, although there are memories and thoughts about the past or a possible future that also make an appearance), but it suited the tempo of the story, which follows the seasons and the school programme, and it progresses at a slow pace. (I am not sure “page-turner” is a good definition, at least not if it makes us think of non-stop action and a quick pace). One of the strong points of the novel is the way it describes the thoughts of the main protagonist, her doubts, her guilt, her second-guessing herself and others, and also the way it explores her feelings, her efforts to control herself, to be seen to be doing the right thing, however hard it might be (and still failing sometimes). Although the story is poignant and very hard, there are some lighter and witty (even bitchy) comments and moments that make us smile. Yes, I’m not ashamed to confess I cheered when Harriet, Frida’s daughter, bit the horrible social worker, and although I don’t think any fragment can do justice to the novel (and if you want to get a better idea of how well the book would fit your reading taste, I recommend checking a sample of it), I thought I’d share a few brief quotes:

Here, Frida is talking about Susanna, her husband’s new girlfriend:

The girl is on a mission to nice her to death. A war of attrition.

 Perhaps, instead of being monitored, a bad mother should be thrown into a ravine.

 Harriet is wearing a gray blouse and brown leggings, like a child of the apocalypse.

 What little she knows about the lives of saints comes back to her now and she thinks, this year, she might become holy.

 “A mother is a shark,” Ms. Russo says. “You’re always moving. Always learning. Always trying to better yourself.” (You’ve probably guessed that’s one of the members of staff at the school).

 The ending… I am not sure I’d say I liked it, but I think it fits the novel perfectly, and I cannot imagine any other ending that would work better. Readers seem very divided by it, and some felt it ruined the novel for them, while others loved it. It is open to interpretation, but I like to imagine that it shows Frida has learned a lot about herself and about being a mother in the school, but not perhaps the kind of lessons they had hoped to teach her.

 In sum, I enjoyed (although it is not the right descriptor, you know what I mean) this novel, and I am sure I’ll be thinking about it for a long time. I don’t think this is the kind of book to recommend to a young mother, or to somebody struggling with motherhood or thinking about it, but anybody interested in the subject of government control, education, parenthood, and keen on dystopic narrations should check it out. And I will be keeping an eye on the author’s career. I’d love to know what she writes next.

Thanks to the author, the publisher, and NetGalley for this book, thanks to all of you for your continued support, and remember to keep on reading, smiling, and safe (as safe as we can all be these days, at least). 

 Check what the publishers did in London to celebrate the publication of the book:

 

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Book launch Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog MATILDA WINDSOR IS COMING HOME by Anne Goodwin (@Annecdotist) A moving look at mental health care as it was

Hi all:

Today I don’t bring you one of my usual reviews. The author of this novel, Anne Goodwin, contacted me ahead of its publication because she thought I might be interested to read it due to the topic and the story. She couldn’t have been more right, and rather than a review, I ended up writing a reflection on the type of thoughts and memories the novel brought to my mind. The book is being published by Inspired Quill on the 29th of May 2021, but I wanted to share it today because the author is holding a virtual book launch this Thursday, 27th of May, and I wanted to give those of you interested a chance to join in (I share the link below). Unfortunately, I can’t make it, as I am teaching an English lesson at that time on a Thursday afternoon, but I’m sure it will be fascinating. And without further ado:

Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home by Anne Goodwin

Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home by Anne Goodwin

In the dying days of the old asylums, three paths intersect.

Henry was only a boy when he waved goodbye to his glamorous grown-up sister; approaching sixty, his life is still on hold as he awaits her return.

As a high-society hostess renowned for her recitals, Matty’s burden weighs heavily upon her, but she bears it with fortitude and grace.

Janice, a young social worker, wants to set the world to rights, but she needs to tackle challenges closer to home.

A brother and sister separated by decades of deceit. Will truth prevail over bigotry, or will the buried secret keep family apart?

In this, her third novel, Anne Goodwin has drawn on the language and landscapes of her native Cumbria and on the culture of long-stay psychiatric hospitals where she began her clinical psychology career.

Find out more on Matilda Windsor’s webpage

Book links

Matilda Windsor webpage https://annegoodwin.weebly.com/matilda-windsor.html

Matilda Windsor link tree https://linktr.ee/matildawindsor

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57764021-matilda-windsor-is-coming-home

Matilda Windsor’s Twitter @MWiscominghome

Matilda Windsor at Inspired Quill: https://www.inspired-quill.com/product/matilda-windsor-is-coming-home/

Amazon UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1913117057/

Amazon US https://www.amazon.com/dp/1913117057/

Author Anne Goodwin

About the author:

Anne Goodwin grew up in the non-touristy part of Cumbria, where this novel is set. When she went to university ninety miles away, no-one could understand her accent. After nine years of studying, her first post on qualifying as a clinical psychologist was in a long-stay psychiatric hospital in the process of closing.

Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity a secret for thirty years, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, about a man who keeps a woman captive in his cellar, was published in 2017. Her short story collection, Becoming Someone, on the theme of identity, was published in November 2018. Subscribers to her newsletter can download a free e-book of prize-winning short stories.

Website: annegoodwin.weebly.com

Twitter @Annecdotist.

Link tree https://linktr.ee/annecdotist

YouTube: Anne Goodwin’s YouTube channel

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

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Anne-Goodwin/e/B0156O8PMO/

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Anne-Goodwin/e/B0156O8PMO/

Inspired Quill: https://www.inspired-quill.com/blog/anne-goodwin/

Newsletter signup https://bit.ly/daughtershorts

My review:

I arrived in the UK in September 1992. My goal was to qualify as a psychiatrist (I had studied Medicine back home in Barcelona, Spain) and, also, to improve my English. I started working as a junior doctor in psychiatry in February 1993, and Anne Goodwin’s new novel is set (mostly) just a couple of years earlier, at a moment when mental health services in the UK were undergoing a major change. The move from the big old-style asylums —where people who suffered from chronic mental health conditions, sometimes poorly defined, were “warehoused”—to “care in the community”, with its resulting emphasis on normalisation, on reintegration, and on support within the family, and/or the community, rocked the foundations of the system, and resulted on new practices, roles, and also in bringing to the fore a number of patients who had spent most of their lives in institutions and had real difficulties finding a place in an outside world they no longer recognised.

Even though this is a work of fiction, it is evident that the author is writing from personal experience, and that lends immediacy and depth to the story. Goodwin captures perfectly the atmosphere of the mental health asylums, where routine was sacred, and everybody had a part to play they were not allowed to deviate from. She offers readers several points of view: that of a newly-qualified social worker (Janice), who is going through an unsettling time in her personal life, and whose values and certainties will be put to the test by this job, especially by Matty’s case; Matty’s, one of the long-stay patients, whose story is less-than-certain after having been institutionalised for over 50 years, who allows us a peek into her unique world (stuck as she is in the past, an imaginary refuge from her less than glamorous reality); Henry’s, a man who also lives stuck in the past, waiting for a sister/mother whom he is no longer sure ever existed; and Matilda’s, who takes us back to the 1930s and tells us a story full of everyday tragedy, loss, and despair.

Although I only experienced the aftermath of the closing of the big asylums, I got to talk to many nurses and doctors who had spent most of their working lives there and had been involved in the changes as well. I also met many of the patients who hadn’t been lucky enough to move back into the community and ended up in newer long-term units, and also some of those who managed to create new lives for themselves, with the dedicated support of members of staff who were usually stretched to their limits. I worked in a newly-built unit in the grounds of one of the big asylums in the South of England, and walked the beautiful gardens, saw the impressive buildings (it had even had a railway station in its heyday), and it was easy to imagine how things must have been. Hardly any of the patients who’d spent years there had any contact with their families any longer, and their worlds had become reduced to their everyday routine, the tea with the sugar and milk already in, and the daily trip to the shop that the novel so realistically portrays. The way the author contrasts the experiences from the characters who live “normal” lives in the community (Henry’s life is “peculiar” to say the least, and Janice is in a sort of limbo, an impasse in her life) with Matty’s life in hospital emphasises the importance of the stories we tell ourselves, and also reminds us of the need to take control and to impose our own meaning in our lives. If we don’t, we are at risk of becoming the person or the version of ourselves that other people decide. And that is the worst of tragedies.

This is not an easy story to contemplate, and most readers will soon imagine that the truth about Matilda’s past, once revealed, will be shocking and tragic. Worse still, we know that it is all a too-familiar story and not a flight of fancy on the part of the author. But she manages to make it deeply personal, and I challenge any casual readers not to feel both, horrified and moved, by the story.

As a mental health professional, this novel brought goosebumps to my skin and a lot of memories. As a reader, it gave me pause and made me care for a group of characters whom I share little with (other than my professional experience). As a human being, I can only hope no girls find themselves in the position of Matilda ever again, and also that, as a society, we always remember that there is no health without mental health. Thankfully, many people have come forward in recent years and shared their mental health difficulties and their experiences trying to find help. It was about time because those patients not at liberty to leave the hospital always reminded us that we would go home at the end of the day, but they had no home to go to, or, worse even, the hospital was their only home. Out of sight, out of mind is a terrible attitude when it comes to people’s suffering. Hiding away mental health problems does nothing to help those suffering them or the society they should be fully participating in, and Goodwin’s novel reminds us that we have come a long way, but there’s still a long way ahead.

A fantastic novel, about a tough topic, which highlights the changes in mental health policy and forces us to remember we are all vulnerable, and we should fight to ensure that nobody is ever left behind.

Thanks to the author for offering me the opportunity to read her novel ahead of publication. It will stay with me for a long time, and I’m delighted to hear that she’s already working on its second part.

I haven’t forgotten the invitation to the online launch. Tickets can be booked here:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/matilda-windsor-is-coming-home-book-launch-tickets-151938446985

Thanks to the author for sharing this novel with me. As you can see from my comments, it brought back many memories. Thanks to all of you for reading, and if you know anybody who might be interested, remember to share and pass the message on. Remember that it will be published on the 29th of May, so not long to go. Remember to keep safe and keep smiling!

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF LEAH BRAND: A PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER (A Year in the Life of … Book 1) by Lucinda E Clarke (@LucindaEClarke). A solid domestic noir page turner

Hi all:

I bring you a book from an author I’m sure many of you will have come across already. I’m sure it won’t be the last one of her books I read.

A Year in the Life of Leah Brand: A Psychological Thriller (A Year in the Life of … Book 1) by Lucinda E Clarke

A Year in the Life of Leah Brand: A Psychological Thriller (A Year in the Life of … Book 1) by Lucinda E Clarke

Leah’s nightmare began the day the dog died.

A few years earlier a fatal car crash took the lives of Leah’s beloved husband and their two babies, leaving her disabled. Life looked bleak. She was approaching forty, unemployed, broke and desperate.

Then she met Mason. He was charming, charismatic, persuasive, and a successful businessman, well respected in the community. His teenage daughter did nothing to welcome Leah into the family, but life is never perfect.

Then, two years into her second marriage, Leah Brand’s world is turned upside down; inanimate objects in the house move, her clothes are left out for the rubbish collection, pieces of furniture change places, there are unexplained noises and hauntings.

As the disturbances increase, everyone accuses Leah of losing her mind. Soon she begins to doubt herself and she starts to spiral down into a world of insanity. Is she going mad, or is someone out to destroy her? And if so, why?

A gripping, psychological thriller for fans of Mary Higgins Clarke and Louise Jensen.

https://www.amazon.com/Year-Life-Leah-Brand-Psychological-ebook/dp/B07WHJKGXF/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Year-Life-Leah-Brand-Psychological-ebook/dp/B07WHJKGXF/

https://www.amazon.es/Year-Life-Leah-Brand-Psychological-ebook/dp/B07WHJKGXF/

Author Lucinda E. Clarke

About the author:

Lucinda E Clarke was born in Dublin but has lived in 8 other countries to date. She wanted to write but was railroaded into teaching. She fell into other careers; radio announcer, riding school owner, sewing giant teddy bears. She began scriptwriting professionally in 1986 winning over 20 awards. She also wrote mayoral speeches, company reports, drama documentaries, educational programmes, adverts, news inserts, court presentations, videos for National Geographic, cookery programmes and street theatre to name but a few!

She lectured in scriptwriting, had her own column in various publications, and wrote articles for national magazines. She was commissioned for two educational books by Heinemann and Macmillan, and book reports for UNESCO and UNICEF.

She set up and ran her own video production company in South Africa.

“Walking Over Eggshells” was her first self-published book, an autobiography describing the emotional abuse she suffered from early childhood and subsequent travels and adventures.

She published her second book a novel, “Amie: African Adventure” in July 2014, which was a #1 bestseller in genre on both sides of the Atlantic.

Lucinda’s third book “Truth, Lies, and Propaganda”, was followed by “More Truth, Lies and Propaganda” – memoirs about her career in the print and broadcast media, highlighting South Africa and its people.

“Amie Savage Safari” is the 5th in the Amie in Africa award-winning series – the world’s most reluctant and incompetent spy is in trouble again.

In 2019 Lucinda changed genre and published the first in a series of psychological thrillers. “A Year in the life of Leah Brand” was followed by “A Year in the Life of Andrea Coe.” Book 3 is due out in September 2020.

https://www.amazon.com/Lucinda-E-Clarke/e/B00FDWB914

My review:

I purchased a copy of this novel that I am also reviewing it as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, check here if you want to get your book reviewed).

I have been a follower of the author’s blog for some time, and I know that she has been a writer (among many other things) for a long time, in different genres, although this was the first time she published a psychological thriller. Having read many great reviews of this novel and the other two in the series, I was intrigued as this is one of my favourite genres.

I find this review quite difficult to write because I don’t think I am the ideal reader for this book. I am sure people who don’t work in mental health and don’t read as many thrillers as I do will not have the same issues I had. Let me clarify. Clarke knows how to write, for sure. She builds up the tension slowly, creates credible (they might be annoying and irritating at times, but that is what makes them real) characters, has a great sense of rhythm and pace (things seem to be happening slowly at first, then get increasingly faster; we have breaks to allow us to catch our breath, and then things get even weirder and scarier), and piles up ambiguous evidence that can be interpreted in different ways. She also chooses well the point of view of the story; it is told in the first person (so readers who don’t like first-person narratives, be warned) from Leah’s perspective, and that allows us to experience all her doubts, hesitations, and to witness events through her eyes. Due to the nature of the story, that works perfectly well, as it manages to keep the surprises well-hidden. (I suspected what was happening from early on, but then… No, no spoilers).

However, some aspects of the plot stretched too much my suspension of disbelief, to the point where the story lost some of its hold on me. As a habitual reader of thrillers and police procedural novels, I do prefer books in those genres to be —even when the events might be rather extreme— fairly realistic when it comes to details and settings, unless they blend genres or take place in an alternative universe. For me, this book seems to fit into the domestic noir category that has become quite popular in recent years, and I am slowly coming to the realisation that this genre is not a great fit for me. I have similar issues with it as I have with cozy mysteries: I like the premise; in some cases I really enjoy the story and the characters; but there are aspects that don’t work for me, mostly to do with the actual mystery.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about the plot, to avoid spoilers and also because the description offers readers enough information already. My favourite character was Aunt Deirdre. Leah, the protagonist, has survived such tough and dramatic circumstances that it’s impossible not to sympathise with her, but I must admit to finding her annoying at times and wanting to grab her and force her to take charge of things, while at the same time imagining how hard it would be to have to face what she was going through, feeling so helpless after being undermined at every turn. Most of the other characters are dislikeable or ambiguous (they seem to blow hot and cold or are nasty most of the time), and there are some we don’t get to know too well, but, of course, as we see everything from the character’s perspective, sometimes it’s difficult to extricate what is what (and that’s the point, evidently).

As I said, the book is well-written, the pacing, the clues and red-herrings build-up and grab readers’ attention, and there is no excess violence or any explicit sex scenes. The thrill (or the threat) is mostly psychological, and the effect on Leah’s character and self-confidence are compellingly portrayed. The self-doubts and her hesitation ring true as well.

I’ve already said that some of my issues with the believability of the story are probably due to my experience working as a psychiatrist in the UK, and that means that some of the details of the story don’t work for me, but that shouldn’t put off other prospective readers. I also found there was a twist too many in the story, and that’s all I’ll say about the ending.

After reading a sample of Clarke’s Amie: African Adventure, I am sure I’ll be reading more of her books, but perhaps in other genres.

This is a page-turner and I’m sure readers of domestic noir who prefer stories with no explicit violence, love a first-person narrative and an ambiguous/unreliable narrator, will enjoy this story. A fun and fast read, but not exactly what I was looking for.

Thanks to Rosie and her team for their hard work and support (reviewers, please visit and join), thanks to the author for her novel and thank you for reading, liking, sharing, reviewing… And remember to keep safe!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview RAGDOLL by Daniel Cole (@TrapezeBooks). Weird murders, a London setting, a ticking clock, and a morally ambiguous hero #amreading

Hi all:

I seem to be reading a lot of thrillers recently, although this one had been on my Kindle for a long time (and I’ve read it will become a TV series…)

Ragdoll by Daniel Cole
Ragdoll by Daniel Cole

Ragdoll: The thrilling Sunday Times bestseller everyone is talking about (Ragdoll 1) by Daniel Cole

‘A brilliant, breathless thriller‘ MJ Arlidge, author of Hide and Seek

‘The most exciting debut we’ve read in a long time.’ Heat Magazine

‘Highly anticipated debut that is surely bidding to be the year’s most gruesome thriller.’ Metro

Terrifyingly brilliant. I dare you to turn the lights out after reading!’ – Robert Bryndza, author of Cold Blood

 

**********************

ONE BODY. SIX VICTIMS. NO SUSPECTS.

A body is discovered with the dismembered parts of six victims stitched together, nicknamed by the press as the ‘Ragdoll’. Assigned to the shocking case are Detective William ‘Wolf’ Fawkes, recently reinstated to the London Met, and his former partner Detective Emily Baxter. The ‘Ragdoll Killer’ taunts the police by releasing a list of names to the media, and the dates on which he intends to murder them.

With six people to save, can Fawkes & Baxter catch a killer when the world is watching their every move?


For readers who were gripped by PunishmentThe Guilty WifeThe Girl Before and Dark Matter


‘A first class, dark thriller.’ Emlyn Rees

‘A high concept solution to a mystery.’ Sophie Hannah

Gruesome, twisty and wildly addictive… I couldn’t put Ragdoll down.’ Lisa Hall, author of Tell Me No Lies

I loved Ragdoll. A rip-roaring, inventive and riveting read.’ Jill Mansell, author of Meet Me At Beachcomber Bay

‘A star is born. Killer plot. Killer pace. Twisted killer and a killer twist. Kill to get a copy.’ Simon Toyne, bestselling author of Solomon Creed

‘Give an arm or a leg to get hold of a copy… An exciting thriller.’ – Linwood Barclay


What readers have to say about Ragdoll

‘Quite simply one of the best books I have read for years – and I read a lot of crime novels.I can see this being made into a film. Looking forward to reading the next one.’ Amazon, 5 stars

‘Brilliantly written. Very clever police procedural, crime writing at its best. Murder mystery, psychological thriller, a touch of romance. I can’t wait for the next book.’ Amazon, 5 stars

‘I think this is going to be one of the most memorable crime novels of 2017.’ Goodreads

‘This better be the first in a series Daniel Cole, I want to see Wolf again soon.’ Goodreads

One of the best stories I’ve have read in a long time! A masterpiece if I can say that.’ Goodreads

 

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Briskly paced. . . . Cole’s grim yet humorous first novel offers a fresh take on British detective drama that is bound to attract admirers of Robert Galbraith and Clare Mackintosh.” (Library Journal)

“A smart, psychologically complex read. Think Luther (BBC) meets Harry Bosch, and toss in some dark, old-country folklore for good measure.” (Booklist)

“[A] strong first novel. . . . Cole uses the rising tension and the mystery of the killer’s true identity to create a page-turning narrative.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Daniel Cole’s Ragdoll is a bold first step in what is liable to be a spectacular career. Disturbing, taut and compelling, this book took me down the rabbit hole as only the best of thrillers can. Bravo, Mr. Cole.” (John Hart, bestselling author of Redemption Road)

“I’d give an arm or a leg to get hold of Ragdoll. . . . An exciting thriller.” (Linwood Barclay, bestselling author of the Promise Falls trilogy)

“A star is born. Killer plot. Killer pace. Twisted killer and a killer twist. Kill to get a copy.” (Simon Toyne, author of Solomon Creed)

“A gruesome delight! Daniel Cole’s thriller Ragdoll, in which gritty detective William “Wolf” Fawkes comes upon a single corpse stitched together out of six bodies, had me flipping pages furiously. It’s an impressive debut, dark, propulsive, and surprisingly funny.” (Gregg Hurwitz, bestselling author of Orphan X)

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Ragdoll-thrilling-bestseller-everyone-talking-ebook/dp/B01FG4LTTK/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ragdoll-thrilling-bestseller-everyone-talking-ebook/dp/B01FG4LTTK/

Author Daniel Cole
Author Daniel Cole

About the author:

At 33 years old, Daniel Cole has worked as a paramedic, an RSPCA officer and most recently for the RNLI, driven by an intrinsic need to save people or perhaps just a guilty conscience about the number of characters he kills off in his writing.

He currently lives in sunny Bournemouth and can usually be found down the beach when he ought to be writing book two instead.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Daniel-Cole/e/B01N26PO9D/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Trapeze for offering me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

This novel had passed me by (my to be read list is getting longer and longer) when it was first published, but I have been reading quite a number of thrillers recently, saw this book mentioned, and remembered I had yet to read it.

The ARC copy I read includes a funny introduction by the author, which sets the tone for what is to come quite well, although I did not see it in the look inside feature at the front of the published e-book version. The novel is a hard thriller but with a considerable amount of dark humour thrown in (a very British version of it as well). The initial premise is gripping. We have a brief prologue that introduces us to a past case and a deranged detective, and then we discover that four years later he’s back at work, and he has to investigate a very bizarre case. The ragdoll of the title is the name given to the macabre discovery of a body composed of the parts of six different victims. Not happy with that, the killer also releases a list of names of people and the dates when he intends to kill them. And the said detective (Wolf) is the last one on the list. The methods the killer employs are also very imaginative, and there is plenty of violence (and pretty extreme at that).

This thriller, set in London, follows the format of a police procedural novel, but as some reviewers have noted, it does require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. The fact that somebody who was as disturbed as Wolf, and who very seriously assaulted a suspect in front of a whole courtroom, is allowed to go back to work, stretches the imagination. The way the team works, that seems confused and disorganised, also will surprise those who appreciate the attention to detail and authenticity. As a psychiatrist who has worked in the UK, I didn’t find the portrayal of the mental health secure unit where Wolf had spent time very realistic either (although one could query the fact that he was not well at the time, and other than a brief visit by one of the members of the team, we don’t have any objective accounts of it), and one hopes that news agencies will not be like the one depicted in the novel either (Wolf’s ex-wife works for a TV news station and becomes involved in the case also). But, if we accept the premises of the novel, and forget about how likely it is that this could happen in the real world, it is difficult to fault the book for its imagination, pace, energy, and for the way it grabs and keeps the reader’s attention.

This novel keeps taking us back to the past, and at some points it felt as if it should have been the second novel in the series, as it is evident that what happened four years earlier has a lot to do with the current events, and the way the narration is structured, around the previous case, is one of the strong points, in my opinion. It is as if the whole department had been affected by what happened to Wolf and it has become something of a dysfunctional family. Although there are things that seem far-fetched, on the other hand, the general feeling of pressure, desperation, media attention, cover-ups… felt very real. I have mentioned dark humour, and there is a very cynical undercurrent permeating the whole book, which suits it well and, perhaps, will be easier to appreciate by those who live in or are familiar with the UK, its politics, and its current social situation. I felt as if it was almost a caricature of the truth. Exaggerated and taken to the extreme but easily recognisable nonetheless.

Although it is not a psychologically complex story (and many of the characters play to stereotype: the older detective who is about to be retired, the young rookie who’s just been transferred from a different section and is a stickler for details and rules, the young attractive female detective who looks up to the lead investigator but whose feelings are unclear…), there is plenty of action and many twists and turns, characters, locations, and the ticking clock makes it a rather tense and intense read that will keep most readers guessing. There are a large number of characters, and although we get to know the members of the New Scotland Yard team fairly well over the novel (although quite a few of them keep secrets and are contradictory at best), victims, witnesses, characters from the personal lives of the detectives… all are given a bit of space, and it is important to pay attention not to get lost, especially because of the way the story is narrated.  The story is told in the third person but from quite a number of characters’ points of view, not always the main characters either, and although I did not find it difficult to follow and it is a good way to keep the intrigue (by switching points of view and giving us snippets of information only some characters have access to), it means readers should not miss a beat.

Notwithstanding the dark and sharp sense of humour, there are some introspective moments, guilty feelings, and characters wrestle with the morality of the situation, although I do not think it breaks new ground or is the most successful attempt at delving into such issues. At some point, the novel seems about to enter into paranormal territory, and it did remind me of Jekyll and Hyde, as there comes a moment when you have to wonder what it takes to make somebody step over the fine line between fighting a monster and becoming the monster. I don’t want to go into too much detail to avoid any spoilers, but let’s say that good and bad are not ultimately such clear-cut concepts as we would like to believe.

This is a very enjoyable page-turner, especially recommended for those who like a tense and gripping read and are not put off by some over-the-top characterisations and some stretching of the truth, and who don’t mind graphic violence and dark humour. And if you enjoy a London setting, even better.

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

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Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview Lunatics, Imbeciles and Idiots: A History of Insanity in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Ireland by Kathryn Burtinshaw (@PinpointAnc) and John R F Burt (@penswordbooks) A great book for researchers of the XIXc

Hi all:

I bring you today the review of another one of the jewels in the Pen & Sword Catalogue. I know it isn’t a topic for everyone but it is fascinating and a very well researched book, and you’ll realise straight away why (you’ve probably already noticed by the title). And no, this is not an old one. Don’t worry, I’m just sharing books I’ve finished reading recently. 🙂

Lunatics, Imbeciles and Idiots: A History of Insanity in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Ireland by Kathryn Burtinshaw and John R F Burt
Lunatics, Imbeciles and Idiots: A History of Insanity in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Ireland
by Kathryn Burtinshaw and John R F Burt

Lunatics, Imbeciles and Idiots: A History of Insanity in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Ireland by Kathryn Burtinshaw and John R F Burt

In the first half of the nineteenth century, treatment of the mentally ill in Britain and Ireland underwent radical change. No longer manacled, chained and treated like wild animals, patient care was defined in law and medical understanding, and treatment of insanity developed. Focusing on selected cases, this new study enables the reader to understand how progressively advancing attitudes and expectations affected decisions, leading to better legislation and medical practice throughout the century. Specific mental health conditions are discussed in detail and the treatments patients received are analyzed in an expert way. A clear view of why institutional asylums were established, their ethos for the treatment of patients, and how they were run as palaces rather than prisons giving moral therapy to those affected becomes apparent. The changing ways in which patients were treated, and altered societal views to the incarceration of the mentally ill, are explored. The book is thoroughly illustrated and contains images of patients and asylum staff never previously published, as well as firsthand accounts of life in a nineteenth-century asylum from a patients perspective. Written for genealogists as well as historians, this book contains clear information concerning access to asylum records and other relevant primary sources and how to interpret their contents in a meaningful way.

Hardcover:

https://www.amazon.com/Lunatics-Imbeciles-Idiots-Insanity-Nineteenth-Century/dp/1473879035/

e-book:

https://www.amazon.com/Lunatics-Imbeciles-Idiots-Insanity-Nineteenth-Century-ebook/dp/B06XGNLH5M/

 

About the authors:

Kathryn Burtinshaw is an experienced researcher who holds an Advanced Diploma in Local History from Oxford University and an M.Sc. in Genealogy, Palaeography and Heraldry from the University of Strathclyde. Kathryn runs her own genealogy company, Pinpoint Ancestry, and lives in North Wales. Dr John Burt is a professional genealogist and family historian based in Edinburgh. A retired general medical practitioner, he has held a lifelong fascination in Scottish social history. He graduated in Medicine in 1983 and holds an M.Sc. in Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies from the University of Strathclyde. John was an honorary clinical tutor to the School of Medicine, University of St Andrews, 2010-2013. John specialises in medieval, military and medical records.

If you are interested in genealogy and studying your ancestry, you might want to check these two websites:

http://www.whodoyouthinkyouarelive.com/speaker/dr-john-burt-and-kathryn-burtinshaw

http://pinpointancestry.co.uk/

My review:

Thanks to Pen & Sword for gifting me a copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I have read and reviewed several books by Pen & Sword and have commented on their great catalogue before. As you know, I’m a psychiatrist and could not resist it when I saw this book.

The authors, who are well-known for writing about genealogy, note in their introduction that when people try to trace their ancestors and find that some of them seem to have disappeared from records or be lost, a possibility worth considering is that they might have had a history of mental health problems or epilepsy. If that is the case, checking the records of lunatic asylums, workhouses and the poor law records might provide plenty of information not available elsewhere. Their book focuses on mental health care during the XIX c. although there is a chapter about the pre-nineteenth century situation (that chapter, in particular, is very hard, and the way patients were cared for at the time until new reformers came along, is scary to read).

The book is divided into chapters that revise the laws in different areas of the United Kingdom, the asylums that were built, who run them, how they worked, and always offers some case studies, that share the stories of some of those patients, for the most part, voiceless and lost to history.

Later chapters look at the life in asylums (that as a psychiatrist, I found fascinating), the staff and their work, and then at different types of patients (the criminal lunatic, imbeciles and idiots, epilepsy, general paralysis of the insane, puerperal insanity, suicide). The chapters on diagnostic and causes, and treatments were particularly illuminating for me (even though I had read of some of them, the case studies and the details brought it to life).

I started working in psychiatry in the UK in 1993 and by then many of the asylums had disappeared, but, although I’ve only ever talked to people who had worked in them in the late XX century, I’ve had a chance to visit some of those fascinating buildings (some are listed buildings now and have been transformed into apartments and offices) and some are still dedicated to caring for people with mental health disorders, although, evidently in a very different form. With the changes to the philosophy and theory of caring for people with mental health problems, the discovery of new medications and a more enlightened attitude towards learning difficulties, it is important to record and revise how much the situation has changed, and not lose sight of the history of those places and particularly of the people (reformers and especially patients). In my professional capacity I’ve heard many discussions as to the advantages and disadvantages of the different models of care, and after reading this book I have gained perspective and feel much better informed.

As I read, I highlighted many points and quotes I wanted to share, but some are so extreme (when talking about ‘care’ pre-asylums) that they put horror movies and books to shame. I did not want to sensationalise a book that is, above all, a chronicle and a study that reflects changed social attitudes and laws, and that is invaluable to anybody who wants to have a good overview of mental health care in the UK in the XIX c.  and part of the XX (a recent book about R.D. Laing reminded me that even with the discovery of new medications, some things had changed little regarding the care of the mentally ill until the later part of the XX century).

This is a good compendium of the care of people with mental health illnesses, learning disabilities and epilepsy in the XIX century, and it encompasses laws, reformers, workers, buildings, and more importantly, patients. It is a great resource for researchers looking to gain a general view of the subject and offers biographies of the main players, a glossary and bibliography. The paperback copy also has great drawings and also pictures of ledgers, buildings, patients. I recommend it to anybody looking for information on the subject, to genealogists interested in researching in depth some of the lesser known records and to anybody interested in the history of psychiatry and psychiatric care, in particular in the UK.

Thanks very much to Pen & Sword and to the authors, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment and of course, CLICK and REVIEW!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview KILL THE NEXT ONE by Federico Axat (@FedericoAxat) A twisted and twisting thriller that questions identity, sanity, family, good and evil, and the nature of narration.

Hi all:

I keep trying to share the reviews I haven’t brought you yet, hoping that when I’ve caught up I’ll share them as I read. Let’s see. Today it’s a pretty special one, funnily by an Argentinian author whom I happened to read in translation first. Oh well…

Kill the Next One by Federico Axat
Kill the Next One by Federico Axat

Kill the Next One by Federico Axat  (Author), David Frye (Translator).

THE PERFECT THRILLER

Ted has it all: a beautiful wife, two daughters, a high-paying job. But after he is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour he finds himself with a gun to his temple, ready to pull the trigger. That’s when the doorbell rings.

A stranger makes him a proposition: kill two deserving men before dying. The first is a criminal, and the second is, like Ted, terminally ill, and wants to die. If Ted kills these men he will then become a target himself in a kind of suicidal daisy chain—and won’t it be easier for his family if he’s a murder victim?

Kill The Next One is an audacious, immersive psychological thriller in which nothing is what it seems.

 

Federico Axat was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1975. His earlier novels have been translated into Italian, German, French, Portuguese and Chinese. His third novel, Kill the Next One, was published as La última Salida in Spanish and has become an international sensation with rights sold in 33 territories. Axat’s novels stand out for their high dose of suspense, plot twists and unexpected endings. Kill the Next One is set in the United States, where Axat lived for a time before returning to his native Argentina.

‘An absorbing psychological thriller, perfectly measured and balanced. The nerve-racked reader cannot help but keep turning pages, lost in Axat’s labyrinthine twists.’ ABC (Spain)

‘A psychological thriller where nothing is what it seems…and where pieces are moved as in a game of chess.’ El Mundo

‘Take some drops of Hitchcock, the boldness of Jules Verne, the tricks of The Mystery of the Yellow Room, some Stephen King characters, the atmosphere of Shutter Island, Christopher Nolan’s film scripts, The Game, some episodes of Lost…and you won’t be able to put it down…[Kill the Next One] is a gripping, fast-paced read. A big Hollywood producer is already working on the film.’ La Vanguardia

‘With more twists than a double helix, Kill the Next One is a relentlessly-paced, unputdownable psychological thriller. It zigs one way, then zags another, providing the kind of stomach-clenching, unsettling suspense readers associate with Lauren Beukes and Stephen King…Expertly paced and plotted, and extremely visceral, with bucket-loads of surprises and genuine chills, it’s sure to be one of the most-talked about thrillers of the year. Let’s hope Kill the Next One isn’t Axat’s only book to receive an English translation. He’s a writer to watch, and this book is one to savour.’  Simon McDonald

‘Nightmare imagery, mind-bending plot twists, and a kaleidoscopic storytelling style lend Axat’s tale a vertiginous air, but at the core of this literary fever dream lies an elegantly crafted and emotionally resonant mystery that astonishes, devastates, and satisfies in equal measure.’ Publishers Weekly

‘Axat harnesses that uncertainty to build suspense and creates an intriguing, mind-bending thriller in the vein of Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island.’ Booklist

‘Made up of four parts, as Kill the Next One moves from one section to the next, it pulls from beneath you any presumption you might have about where its story was headed.’ Bookbag

‘Section after section ends with a smashing revelation that what we thought we knew was at best only part of the truth, and at worst just wrong…a clever and elaborate reconstruction of the life of a man warped into an alibi for others’ Shots Magazine

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Kill-Next-One-Federico-Axat-ebook/dp/B01DSTTQPY/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kill-Next-One-Federico-Axat-ebook/dp/B01DSTTQPY/

Author Federico Axat

The author’s page in Amazon is in Spanish (a brief bio is provided further up, and other than mentioning that he’s a civil engineer, all is there). Here is the link:

https://www.amazon.com/Federico-Axat/e/B00A7FI19K/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Mulholland Books for offering me an ARC copy of the book that I voluntarily choose to review.

The description of the novel fascinated me both as a reader and as a psychiatrist, but although I couldn’t completely switch off the psychiatrist in me (probably even non-psychiatrist will be wondering about diagnostics and pathologies as they read), my review is as a reader. (I don’t think I could avoid spoilers if I tried to offer a psychiatric reading of the story, so I won’t).

I have seen quite a few comments comparing it to Christopher Nolan, Stephen King, to Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island, Alfred Hitchcock, all apt comparisons, and I did think of Spellbound at some point. It is a clever and complex story divided into four books, that reflect different levels of insight and understanding, as we progressively enter deeper and deeper into Ted’s, the main character, mind.

The story is told in the third person from the point of view of the protagonist, Ted, whom we meet at a moment of crisis. The novel starts with a bang that will grab most readers, and it gets complicated as it moves along. What seemed a morally complex choice facing the protagonist becomes… Well, it’s not easy to know what. It’s difficult to talk about this book without revealing any spoilers, but let’s say that the level of confusion the reader experiences mirrors well that experienced by the main character, who finds it difficult to know what is true and what is not, if the people he meets are real or not, and if the experiences and memories he revisits in his mind are, or have been, real, or are simply figments of his imagination. The readers find themselves in the shoes of the protagonist, questioning everything they read and wondering how the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

The novel offers an explanation after another of what is happening and questions everything, from the soundness of mind of the protagonist and those around him to matters of identity, feelings, past and present, family relationships and notions of good and evil. It is a psychological thriller where we don’t even realise what really is at stake until quite late in the narration, which does not follow a standard format, and will fascinate those looking for something different and with an emphasis on the psychological.

The ending, that I did find more than satisfactory (although that might depend on the reader) made me question issues of narration once again and considering my fondness for unreliable narrators, although not narrated in the first person, this novel will definitely figure high in my list of recommendations. And I must try and make sure I read the author in Spanish too.

Thanks very much to NetGalley, to the author and publisher and especially to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment and CLICK!

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