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#TuesdayBookBlog NO MORE MULBERRIES by Mary Smith (@marysmithwriter) An immersive trip into rural Afghanistan #Afghanistan

Hi all:

Many of you probably know and follow the blog of the author whose first novel I’m reviewing today. I hope she is feeling better.

No More Mulberries by Mary Smith

No More Mulberries by Mary Smith

Scottish-born midwife, Miriam loves her work at a health clinic in rural Afghanistan and the warmth and humour of her women friends in the village, but she can no longer ignore the cracks appearing in her marriage. Her doctor husband has changed from the loving, easy-going man she married and she fears he regrets taking on a widow with a young son, who seems determined to remain distant from his stepfather.
When Miriam acts as translator at a medical teaching camp she hopes time apart might help her understand the cause of their problems. Instead, she must focus on helping women desperate for medical care and has little time to think about her failing marriage. When an old friend appears, urging her to visit the village where she and her first husband had been so happy. Miriam finds herself travelling on a journey into her past, searching for answers to why her marriage is going so horribly wrong.
Her husband, too, has a past of his own – from being shunned as a child to the loss of his first love.
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B005RRDZ12/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B005RRDZ12/

https://www.amazon.es/dp/B005RRDZ12/

Author Mary Smith

About the author:
Mary Smith has always loved writing. As a child she wrote stories in homemade books made from wallpaper trimmings – but she never thought people could grow up and become real writers. She spent a year working in a bank, which she hated – all numbers, very few words – ten years with Oxfam in the UK, followed by ten years working in Pakistan and Afghanistan. She wanted others to share her amazing, life-changing experiences so she wrote about them – fiction, non-fiction, poetry and journalism. And she discovered the little girl who wrote stories had become a real writer after all.

Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women is an account of her time in Afghanistan and her debut novel No More Mulberries is also set in Afghanistan.

Mary loves interacting with her readers and her website is www.marysmith.co.uk

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000934032543

Twitter: https://twitter.com/marysmithwriter

Blogs: http://novelpointsofview.blogspot.co.uk

http://marysmith57.wordpress.com/2014/07

My review:

I know I can go on with my reviews, and although I’ll try not to test your patience, I thought I’d offer you a capsule summary of my opinion. Do yourself a favour and read it. This is one of those novels one can’t help thinking about and talking about to anybody they meet. To begin with, I loved the clinical cases and the little stories embedded in it (all those events and lives that touch the protagonist’s life) although I wasn’t so convinced about the main characters. As the novel evolved, I came to appreciate and gain a better insight into the characters as well and came to accept them and like them too.

I was familiar with the author’s blog and had read some of her posts about her life in Afghanistan, so I knew she had plenty of local first-hand knowledge, a wealth of anecdotes, and could tell a story. She does have a sense of humour as well, although that isn’t too evident in the novel (the circumstances the characters are living through are very difficult, so it’s not surprising). I had had her books on my list for a while, and I decided it was time to read her first novel. Having read it, I’m eager to explore her writing further.

The description offers readers a good idea of what to expect. Miriam (born Margaret. She became a Muslim and adopted a new name when she married her first husband, Jawad), a Scottish midwife, and a widow who lost her first husband in tragic circumstances (although she doesn’t know the full details of her first husband’s death at the time we meet her) is back in Afghanistan with her second husband, Iqbal, a doctor who has set up a clinic in the little village where he was born. They have been married for five years, have a daughter together, and also live with Miriam’s son from her first husband, a quiet child who works hard but isn’t too close to his stepfather. Miriam can’t help but compare her two husbands and has put her dead husband on a pedestal nobody can reach. Iqbal resents this, and finds it difficult to cope with being back in his village, where he can’t escape expectations, tradition, and prejudice, regardless of how much he has achieved since his childhood. They are both unhappy and unable to talk about it, trying to do what they think the other expects of them. When Miriam ends up spending a few weeks away at a training medical camp, she gets confronted with her unhappiness and has to face some hard truths about the past and about herself. It’s make or break for her relationship and her life in Afghanistan.

There are elements of romance in the story (a romance where cultural differences take centre stage); grief and how different people deal with it is an important theme, as are also: the role of family; tradition and expectations; life in rural Afghanistan; international organisations providing education and health aid; and how far and deep you need to go sometimes to find your true self.

I have mentioned before that I didn’t connect with the characters straightaway. Although the story is narrated in the third person, it is mostly told from Miriam’s point of view, and she has a keen eye for observing and zooming on little details, gestures, and things, that makes the book quite cinematic in many ways. She can observe a movement, a dirty finger, she can marvel at an oven, or a night sky, but she is also at times quite blind to her own behaviour and the way she might be making matters worse for herself and others, and I was quite impatient with her attitude at times. That is not to say that her husband’s actions help matters, although there is a point in the novel when we get to read about his traumatic childhood from his own point of view (also in the third person) and that makes him more sympathetic. The author cleverly shares the main characters’ flashbacks/memories (Miriam’s most of all) that slowly, layer by layer, help unfold the events that got her to Afghanistan. We read about her love story with her first husband, we hear about their life together, and this is contrasted with her experiences with Iqbal. Events that take place later on, and the advice offered by some of Miriam’s friends help us understand that her memories are not always accurate, and there is more to the story and the characters than meets the eye. Miriam is an unreliable narrator, not only for the readers, but also for her own self.

Apart from the protagonist couple, we have many other characters, like their children, both lovely, Western characters (with their own prejudices and good points), neighbours and friends (wise, peculiar, amicable, gossiping, warm-hearted, mean…), all distinct and familiar, no matter how different their circumstances and way of life might be. They all feel like real people and are recognisable as such, even in the cases where we might not fully understand the motivations behind their actions and/or might dislike what they do, and there are many I’d love to have as friends.

Despite the changes in time-frame brought in by the flashbacks and memories, I felt the book flowed reasonably well, and I didn’t find it confusing. The author uses unfamiliar words to describe objects, clothing, places, characters, and actions, and although the meaning of most can be worked out from the context, I’ve noticed that some reviewers asked about a possible glossary. In some cases I felt an image would be better, for instance when describing clothing. The descriptions don’t overwhelm the book or slow its pace, and the author manages to give us a real sense of life in rural Afghanistan, and makes us not only see, but also feel, taste, and smell all aspects of it. She also makes us pay attention to the unspoken gestures and to the silences of the characters, to the importance of the things that go unsaid, and that is a difficult thing to achieve using only the written form.

I leave you a couple of examples of the writing, so you can judge by yourself.

On moonless nights the Milky Way was a magical white path through stars that didn’t twinkle —they blazed. Constellations her father had taught her to recognise when she was a child —Orion, the Plough, the Seven Sisters —demonstrated proudly that here, they possessed far more jewel-bright stars than she had ever seen in Scotland.

Although they had no decent sized pockets, waistcoats took the place of handbags. Safety pins and sewing needles were embedded in the fabric, matches stowed away in a small side pocket while, pinned to the inside were the keys to unlock the tin trunks in which were stored sugar and sweets and other household valuables.

I won’t talk too much about the ending, but yes, I liked it. I found it perfectly fitting.

So, as I started this review by recommending everybody to read this book, I can only repeat it. If you’re interested in stories about Afghanistan, in stories with protagonists that make difficult choices and are not always wise or likeable, in stories where people try to find themselves and to find a place to fit in, appreciate good writing and have always wondered how it would be like to share your life with somebody from a totally different culture, you should try this book. Oh, and check the author’s blog. I must go and catch up on more of the author’s books.

Thanks to Mary (and hope she is feeling better soon), thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep smiling, visit Mary’s blog, and stay safe.

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#TuesdayBookBlog #Bookreview SON OF A PREACHER MAN by Karen M. Cox (@KarenMCox1932) A #coming of age story full of atmosphere and a nostalgic look at a more innocent era#giveaway and guest post.

Hi all:

I’m repeating author today and I bring you a book that’s definitely not of this time although the book was just published. I became aware of this book thanks to Rosie Amber and her fantastic Book Team Review (you must check her out if you haven’t yet, here). Karen M. Cox has kindly offered readers the opportunity to enter a giveaway (and note, this is an international giveaway, readers, so not excuse not to have a go) and after reading her book I was pretty intrigued by how she felt about writing from a male perspective, and she has sent me a guest post that will be of interest to readers and writers alike. But first, let me tell you about the book:

Cover reveal Son of a Preacher Man by Karen M. Cox
Son of a Preacher Man by Karen M. Cox

Son Of A Preacher Man by Karen M Cox

“I forget that you’re a fella sometimes.”

“Gee, thanks.”

I never forgot that she was a girl. Not for one second…

  1. The long, hot Southern summer gently bakes the small town of Orchard Hill. Billy Ray Davenport, aspiring physician and only son of an indomitable traveling minister, is a young man with a plan. Handsome, principled, and keenly observant, he arrives in town to lodge with a local family. He never bargained for Lizzie Quinlan—a complex, kindred spirit who is beautiful, compassionate, and scorned by the townsfolk. Could a girl with a reputation be different than she seems? With her quirky wisdom and a spine of steel hidden beneath an effortless sensuality, Lizzie is about to change Billy Ray’s life—and his heart—forever.

A realistic look at first love, told by an idealist, Son of a Preacher Man is a heartwarming coming of age tale set in a simpler time.

Links:

Son of a Preacher Man is available in Kindle, Apple, Barnes&Noble, Kobo versions, and from other ebook distributors. Print version will be out soon.

Universal Link: https://books2read.com/links/ubl/bwYdqe

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07DNHH1N1

Son of a Preacher Man Book Launch Giveaway

Enter for a chance to win an ebook copy of one of my backlist titles (1932, Find Wonder in All Things, Undeceived, I Could Write a Book, or The Journey Home(novella) AND a $10 Amazon Gift Card. Three winners will be randomly selected on 7/25/18. This giveaway is international.

Giveaway Link: https://kingsumo.com/g/f6jjaf/son-of-a-preacher-man-launch-giveaway

Author Karen M. Cox
Author Karen M. Cox

About the author:

Karen M Cox is an award-winning author of four full-length novels accented with romance and history: “1932”, “Find Wonder in All Things”, “Undeceived”, and “I Could Write a Book”, and an e-book companion novella to “1932” called “The Journey Home”. She has also contributed stories to three anthologies: “Northanger Revisited 2015”, in “Sun-Kissed: Effusions of Summer”; “I, Darcy”, in “The Darcy Monologues”, and “An Honest Man” in “Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s Rakes and Gentlemen Rogues”. She has two upcoming releases: “Son of a Preacher Man” in July, 2018, and a contribution to the anthology “Rational Creatures” (Fall, 2018).
Karen was born in Everett WA, which was the result of coming into the world as the daughter of a United States Air Force Officer. She had a nomadic childhood, with stints in North Dakota, Tennessee and New York State before finally settling in her family’s home state of Kentucky at the age of eleven. She lives in a quiet little town with her husband, where she works as a pediatric speech pathologist, encourages her children, and spoils her granddaughter.
Channeling Jane Austen’s Emma, Karen has let a plethora of interests lead her to begin many hobbies and projects she doesn’t quite finish, but she aspires to be a great reader and an excellent walker – like Elizabeth Bennet.
Connect with Karen:

www.karenmcox.com

www.karenmcoxauthor.wordpress.com

https://www.instagram.com/karenmcox1932/

https://twitter.com/KarenMCox1932

https://www.facebook.com/karenmcox1932

https://karenmcox.tumblr.com/

https://www.pinterest.com/karenmc1932/

My review:

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

Recently, I read and reviewed one of Karen M. Cox’s novels I Could Write a Book (you can read the review here) and as she was one of the authors who’d also taken part in one of my favourite recent anthologies (Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues, check that review here), when I heard she was going to publish a new book and read the description, I had to check it out.

In contrast with the other two books, this book is not a Regency novel (it takes place in the South of the USA in the late 1950s –early 1960s), and it is not related to Jane Austen (although, like her novels, is excellent at reflecting the social mores of the place and the era). It is the story, narrated in the first person, of Billy Ray Davenport, a young man with a tragedy in his past (he lost his mother to a terrible accident), whose father is a travelling preacher. He used to spend his summers travelling with him (he went to school and stayed at his aunt’s the rest of the year), but when we meet him, just before he goes to medical school, he is due to spend a few weeks with a doctor, friend of the family. He hopes to gain medical knowledge and get a taste of what his future will be like. This summer will prove momentous for Billy Ray, who will learn much more about the world, small-town society, girls, and himself than he had known until then. What he experiences there will make him question some of his strong-held beliefs and what he is truly made of.

This novel captures beautifully the everyday life in a small-town, where rumours and whispers can destroy somebody’s reputation (especially a young girl’s), where everybody knows everybody else and there is nothing private and nowhere to hide.  Marlene, the daughter of the doctor Billy Ray is working with, takes a shine to him and proves to be very spiteful, badmouthing and spreading rumours about another girl, Lizzie. Lizzie is like a modern scarlet woman, and her behaviour repels and attracts Billy Ray in equal measure, putting his beliefs about proper behaviour and relationships between men and women to the test.

Lizzie is a great character. Although she does not always behave consistently, and at times she manages to make things more difficult for herself, we get to understand her and root for her. She has had to make herself strong and mistrusts everybody for very good reasons. She is different to the rest of the characters in the novel and in Orchard Hill, and it is not surprising that Billy Ray sets his eyes on her. She is a modern woman who knows her own mind and is prepared to do whatever it takes to make her dreams come true.

Billy Ray feels very old-fashioned, perhaps even more because he falls for Lizzie, and the contrast between the opinions and behaviours of the two could not be more extreme, at least at first sight. Billy Ray is the preacher’s son of the title, and although we might be familiar with stories about the children of preachers rebelling against their strict religious upbringing (Footloose, for instance), he is a chip off the old block. I wondered if Billy Ray is not, in fact, even more morally upright and a stricter follower of the spirit of the Bible than his father is. He is a thoroughly good man (he struggles at times and is not perfect, but he is one of the genuinely good guys), and although he is young and naïve at the beginning of the story, he has the heart in the right place and tries very hard to live up to Christian moral standards. He is a thinking man and the roller-coaster of his emotions and his doubts and hesitations reflect well his age. The roles between the two main characters challenge the standard stereotypes, and we have the good and innocent young man and the experienced woman who tempts him trying to send him down the wrong path, rather than the rogue going trying to steal the virtue of an innocent young woman. Of course, things are not that simple, and the relationship between the two main characters has many nuances, ups and downs, and despite what they might think, they need each other to become better versions of themselves.

The rest of the characters are given less space (this is a coming of age story, after all, and adults are not the centre of the book, although the relationship between Billy Ray and his father is beautifully rendered) but even the characters we don’t get to know that well (the rest of Lizzie’s family, the doctor, the midwife) are convincing and engaging. There are parallels between Billy Ray and Lizzie and some of the older characters as if they embodied what would have happened to them if they hadn’t found each other. It is evident that Billy Ray is focused on telling the story of his relationship with Lizzie and the book reflects the single-mindedness of his protagonist, as the affairs of society and the world at large only rarely get mentioned.

The rhythm of the novel is paused and contemplative and it feels like the summer months felt when we were young: eternal and full of possibilities. The turn of phrase and the voices of the different characters are distinct and help recreate the Southern atmosphere, adding a vivid local feel, and some humorous touches. After the summer we follow the character’s first few years at university and we see him become a man. I don’t want to go into detail, but I can tell you I really enjoyed the ending of the book, which is in keeping with the rest of the novel.

Although religion and the character’s beliefs are very important to the story’s plot (I am not an expert, so I cannot comment if this novel would fit into the category of Christian books, or if it would be considered too daring, although there is no explicit sex and I cannot recall any serious swearing), and the main character might appear old-fashioned and not a typical young man, for me, that is one of its assets. It does not feel like a modernised recreation of the past, but as if it truly had been written by somebody who was recording the important aspects of his long-gone youth.  I recommend it to readers keen on books full of atmosphere and centred on characters and relationships that differ from the norm. It is also a great book for people looking to recreate the feeling of the late 1950s and early 60s in a Southern small town.

And now, a few words from the author herself, about her experience writing from a male character’s point of view:

Hi, Olga!

Thanks so much for the invitation to guest blog with you and your readers! When you contacted me after reading Son of a Preacher Man, you mentioned being curious about the challenges of a woman author writing from a man’s point of view (Son of a Preacher Man is written in the first-person point of view of the hero, Billy Ray Davenport.)

It was a struggle at times. The first two-thirds of the story were a breeze; I was typing along, not worried about too much, and then as I was trying to resolve the conflict in the story, just tell the entire world what Lizzie was REALLY thinking, I realized. I can’t DO that! I know her whole story, but Billy Ray doesn’t, and I’m inside his head. I can only write what he knows, even though I know what she knows.

You know?

I worked through that conundrum, and in some ways, I think that made the story stronger, because readers are left to extrapolate some pieces of Lizzie’s story for themselves, and that helps them maps themselves onto her experiences and perhaps identify and empathize more with her.

A second challenge came up during the editing process. I became concerned that some of Billy Ray’s thoughts and words, well—sometimes Billy Ray didn’t really sound too much like a guy. For example, he probably wouldn’t label the color of a woman’s dress with something like “azure blue” or “mauve” (although he might notice how the dress fit her.) Or he wouldn’t say things in quite those words—girly words—’cause I’m a girl, and I often write like a girl (which I mean in the very best of ways.)

Some of this issue I solved by making Billy Ray an unusual young man: unusually empathetic, unusually observant, unusually sheltered. By making more stereotypical feminine traits part of his personality and giving him a profession focused on nurturing others’ well-being (he’s an aspiring physician), I created a character who could tread that line a little more credibly. At least, I hoped so. I also self-edited his lines with a more and more critical eye as I went through the manuscript.

In general, here are 5 tips that helped me get through writing in male POV:

  1. Be an observer of men. I think I do this a lot already. I mean, I like men J and the “otherness” of them interests me. There are wonderful men in my life too: my husband, my son, my dad, my male friends. And I’ve met men that weren’t quite so wonderful over the years as well. They all helped me write Billy Ray.
  2. Don’t be concerned about writing something you don’t understand or agree with. Men don’t see things like I do all the time. Sometimes they say things I think are insensitive, or rude, or misogynistic, or just plain wrong. And sometimes words and actions like that are part of the story, and if I’m in that man’s head, speaking for him, I have to accept I’m not going to personally cheer for everything he says and does.
  3. Remember the humanity in mankind. In the end, men and women are human beings, and there are a lot of experiences we share, even if we don’t always share them with each other.
  4. Let a man read it. My male beta reader told me a few times, “Yeah, a man wouldn’t say that.” Point taken.
  5. Make something about your male character like yourself – so you can empathize with him. Billy Ray wants to help people. I do too. He wants to be a doctor; I’m a speech therapist. He’s easily embarrassed by discussing personal matters; I am too. Because we share those traits, I can better interpret situations from his point of view.

So, while writing from a male point of view is a challenge, I don’t think it’s an impossible task. I considered writing Son of a Preacher Man from dual points of view—the story is definitely as much about Lizzie as it is Billy Ray. But after all was said and done, I decided he was really the troubadour. He had to be the one to tell the tale.

Thanks to Rosie and her team, thanks to the author, thanks to you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, REVIEW and keep smiling!

 

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