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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog LIBERATION DAY by George Saunders (@BloomsburyBooks) For readers looking for a true readerly experience #Bookreviews #shortstories

Hi all:

I bring you a collection of short stories by an author I’ve reviewed before, and I’m not surprised some call him “the best short story writer.”

Liberation Day by George Saunders

Liberation Day by George Saunders

“One of our most inventive purveyors of the form returns with pitch-perfect, genre-bending stories that stare into the abyss of our national character. . . . An exquisite work from a writer whose reach is galactic.”—Oprah Daily

Booker Prize winner George Saunders returns with his first collection of short stories since the New York Times bestseller Tenth of December.

The “best short-story writer in English” (Time) is back with a masterful collection that explores ideas of power, ethics, and justice and cuts to the very heart of what it means to live in community with our fellow humans. With his trademark prose—wickedly funny, unsentimental, and exquisitely tuned—Saunders continues to challenge and surprise: Here is a collection of prismatic, resonant stories that encompass joy and despair, oppression and revolution, bizarre fantasy and brutal reality.

“Love Letter” is a tender missive from grandfather to grandson, in the midst of a dystopian political situation in the (not too distant, all too believable) future, that reminds us of our obligations to our ideals, ourselves, and one another. “Ghoul” is set in a Hell-themed section of an underground amusement park in Colorado and follows the exploits of a lonely, morally complex character named Brian, who comes to question everything he takes for granted about his reality. In “Mother’s Day,” two women who loved the same man come to an existential reckoning in the middle of a hailstorm. In “Elliott Spencer,” our eighty-nine-year-old protagonist finds himself brainwashed, his memory “scraped”—a victim of a scheme in which poor, vulnerable people are reprogrammed and deployed as political protesters. And “My House”—in a mere seven pages—comes to terms with the haunting nature of unfulfilled dreams and the inevitability of decay.

Together, these nine subversive, profound, and essential stories coalesce into a case for viewing the world with the same generosity and clear-eyed attention Saunders does, even in the most absurd of circumstances.

https://www.amazon.com/Liberation-Day-Stories-George-Saunders-ebook/dp/B09SKZ4BJ3/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Liberation-Day-collection-Prize-winning-Lincoln-ebook/dp/B09TR3DYKW/

https://www.amazon.es/Liberation-Day-Stories-George-Saunders-ebook/dp/B09SKZ4BJ3/

Author George Saunders
Author George Saunders

About the author:

George Saunders is the author of nine books, including Tenth of December, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the inaugural Folio Prize (for the best work of fiction in English) and the Story Prize (best short-story collection). He has received MacArthur and Guggen-heim fellowships and the PEN/Malamud Prize for excellence in the short story, and was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2013, he was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine. He teaches in the creative writing program at Syracuse University.

https://www.georgesaundersbooks.com

 https://www.amazon.com/George-Saunders/e/B000APEZ74/

 My review:

I received an ARC copy of this collection of stories from NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing UK, and I freely decided to review it.

I read and reviewed Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, his first novel, of well-deserved fame, but I was aware that he was well-known for his short stories and tales, so I could not resist checking this collection. Habitual readers of this author might want to check the book’s contents, as some of them have been published before, but I found it a fascinating work, disquieting, disturbing, thought-provoking, but also beautiful and a masterclass in writing. Exploring a variety of subjects (memory, identity, manipulation, politics, lies, moral and ethical values, love, family relations, loyalty, creativity, and art…), with the multiple voices, points of view, stream-of-consciousness, epistles, varying lengths, and genres, and the many settings and characters, it is an extraordinary reading experience.

 Liberation Day. A novella-sized story, an allegory, and/or a dystopian story set in a not-too-distant future (or in a parallel universe), both breathtakingly beautiful and utterly terrifying. Enslavement, murder, memory, forgetting, history, performance, love, family, work, relationships, politics, social order… Brutal and shocking as a work of art should be.

The Mom of Bold Action: This one will make readers, and especially writers, smile, as the main character, Tina, stuck for an idea for a story, keeps trying to make up stories based on anything and everything that happens around her. Unfortunately, when something important (?) happens, her writing has unexpected consequences. Duty, guilt, justice, family, and motherhood all turn this seemingly comedic story into something not quite so benign.

Love Letter: A moving love letter between a grandfather and his grandson, but also a commentary on ageing, politics, the stories we tell ourselves and the excuses we make for our own actions,on how our everyday lives and actions have an impact on History, and a vivid reminder that, as Edmond Burke wrote: ‘All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing’.

A Thing at Work: This is a story told from multiple points of view (I am not sure what readers who hate head-hopping will think, but it is clear whose head you’re in at all times) narrating an incident at an office. There are good intentions, pettiness, revenge, self-justification, anger, impotence… And although what happens is of little consequence (at least in the large scheme of life), it is a gem of observation and characterization.

Sparrow: Told in the first person plural and at times even the second person, it is an unusual romantic story, beautifully told and surprisingly optimistic.

Ghoul: The same as in Liberation Day, at first we are not sure what is going on and where we are. Is it a strange amusement park, full of actors playing a variety of roles in different set scenes (even though they are called work-houses)? Is this an underground place? Is it Hell? Are these human beings that at some point went underground and now live an alternative life, a pretend one, forever waiting for visitors from above? There are laws, rules, and the consequences for breaking them are horrific. But if you are aware that someone has broken the rules and you don’t denounce the guilty party, you might end up being punished yourself. There is always room for hope, though. A dystopian version of The Truman Show, an allegory of certain political regimes, or something else entirely?

Mother’s Day: A Mother’s Day that starts pretty ordinary, but a chance encounter makes Alma’s mind wander down memory lane, and the same happens to Debby, the woman she meets, who might not be a friend, but they share a connection. We discover lies, pettiness, self-justification, regrets, and, perhaps mother nature bringing on a day or reckoning.

Elliot Spencer: Another story that begins with readers being witness to something that can have different readings: some sort of therapy, perhaps, or rehabilitation, as the main character (89, later Greg, and possibly neither) is taught words, their ‘meanings’, and trained, but, what for? He discovers he is not the only one, and it seems he is a part of some sort of operation staging protests. But why is he there? Who is he? How did he get here? Does he even know what the cause is? And does it really matter? Is that what politics has become? Memory and what makes us what we are lies at the heart of this story, as it does many of the others. It brought to my mind the first part of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.

My House: Two men, with similar dreams, with much in common, whose lives cross because of a house, end up at loggerheads due to a moment’s hesitation and miscommunication. A story that questions what is really important and what meaning we attach to the things that surround us. We cannot be objective about certain things, it seems, and the house stands for something beyond even its history.

I cannot think of any good reason not to read this book. These are not classical stories with a well-defined beginning, middle, and end, and a clear message. These are stories where readers have to work and bring in their own interpretations. After all, that is what reading is, or should be, about. So, accept the challenge, and enjoy these stories.

Thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author, and thanks to all of you for visiting every week, reading, commenting, liking, and sharing with anybody who might be interested. Take care and keep smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview #NineElms (Kate Marshall Book 1) by Robert Bryndza (@LittleBrownUK) I liked the main character but not enough attention to detail for me #NetGalley

Hi all:

Today I bring you a book that didn’t rock the world for me, but you might find it more to your taste (I think I should stop reading thrillers with plots that are too closely related to my previous professional life).

Nine Elms by Robert Bryndza
Nine Elms by Robert Bryndza

Nine Elms (Kate Marshall Book 1) by Robert Bryndza

From the breakthrough international bestselling author of The Girl in the Ice, a breathtaking, page-turning novel about a disgraced female detective’s fight for redemption. And survival…

Kate Marshall was a promising young police detective when she caught the notorious Nine Elms serial killer. But her greatest victory suddenly turned into a nightmare. Traumatized, betrayed, and publicly vilified for the shocking circumstances surrounding the cannibal murder case, Kate could only watch as her career ended in scandal.

Fifteen years after those catastrophic events, Kate is still haunted by the unquiet ghosts of her troubled past. Now a lecturer at a small coastal English university, she finally has a chance to face them. A copycat killer has taken up the Nine Elms mantle, continuing the ghastly work of his idol.

Enlisting her brilliant research assistant, Tristan Harper, Kate draws on her prodigious and long-neglected skills as an investigator to catch a new monster. Success promises redemption, but there’s much more on the line: Kate was the original killer’s intended fifth victim…and his successor means to finish the job.

Editorial Reviews

“[A] heart-pounding series launch.” Publishers Weekly

Nine Elms is a taut thriller that sweeps up the reader into the world of Kate Marshall. Kate is a thoroughly realized character with troubles and virtues who will have you rooting for her through to the nail-biting end.” —Authorlink

“A taunt thriller that will keep readers guessing, this is a powerful start to a new series.” The Parkersburg News and Sentinel

“Robert Bryndza’s characters are so vividly drawn—even the slightest character—and fully human and uniquely imperfect. His plots are clever and original and cool and his sense of timing is excruciatingly flawless. Nine Elms is Robert Bryndza spreading his already formidable wings to thrilling effect.” —Augusten Burroughs, New York Times bestselling author of Running with Scissors

“So chilling, with truly terrifying characters and a hard-hitting storyline that is gripping from start to finish. I will wait with bated breath for the next Kate Marshall thriller.” —Rachel Abbott, Amazon Charts bestselling author

“Bryndza is my type of author and Nine Elms is my type of book. Twisty, dark, and layered with a protagonist you root for from page one, this is a superb start to what promises to be another stand out series.” —M. W. Craven, author of The Puppet Show

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07PJKBZDH/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Nine-Elms-Kate-Marshall-Book-ebook/dp/B07PLNY832/

https://www.amazon.es/gp/product/B07PJKBZDH/

Author Robert Bryndza

About the author:

Robert Bryndza is the author of the international #1 bestselling Detective Erika Foster series. Robert’s books have sold over 3 million copies and have been translated into 29 languages. He is British and lives in Slovakia.

www.RobertBryndza.com

My review:

I thank NetGalley and Little, Brown Book Group UK for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review. This has in no way influenced my review.

I’ll try to be brief and provide information that might help others decide if this is a book they’d like to read. On the whole, I had far too many issues with the book to enjoy it as others have, but I am a regular reader of thrillers and have fist-hand knowledge of many of the issues central to the plot (I have worked as a forensic psychiatrist in the UK, where the story is set, and I have experience of working in a high secure hospital, so I’m more familiar with their security procedures than most readers will be), so I understand that my reading experience is likely to be very different to that of others. (And I won’t mention what my issues were not to derail others’ reading experience).

I had never read any of this author’s books before, and it is evident that he is well attuned to what people expect. He keeps the rhythm of the narration fast; this books starts with quite a bang, and there are only brief moments when the reader can have a bit of a break from the tension and the flow of the story. The plot covers many favourite points of the genre. We have not one but two horrific serial killers (even if the second one is a copycat, he is quite twisted in his own right); their murders are discussed in detail (although I’ve read books where the violence is more extreme, this is not for the fainthearted); we get the story told from a variety of points of view (although for the most part each chapter follows only one point of view), including victims and killers; we do not get all the information about the motivations until the end; there are characters to root for as well, and a complex investigation where the police get the assistance of outsiders (although in this case, Kate Marshall used to be a police detective, so she’s not quite the true amateur of other stories).

I did like Kate Marshall and her assistant, Tristan. It’s true that we do not learn a lot about him, but this is the first book in a new series, so there’s plenty of time for that. Kate seems to combine the characteristics of the main characters in many thrillers, as she is both a victim who survived a terrible attack and has suffered trauma due to that, and she is also a disenchanted and retired member of the police force, who due to her experiences and her way of coping with them lost her career, her way, and her family and is now asked to take a look at a case related to her past. I thought that the peculiarities of her circumstances, her relationship with her son, and her attempts at forging a new life for herself make her an interesting character in her own right, even if some of her actions and decisions are not always consistent.

As I have already said, I found that the story stretched my suspension of disbelief too far, and as I am a bit of a stickler for details and love a well-constructed police procedural, it did not work for me. I am aware that I only had access to an ARC copy, and it might well be that some of the minor issues I detected are not present in the final version. If you are a reader who enjoys novels and TV series about serial killers, prefers fast action, an easy read, don’t mind a good deal of explicit violence and some less than savoury characters and family relationships, focus more on the overall plot than on the details, and are looking for a satisfying ending, you’re likely to enjoy this novel. Do check a sample of it and see what you think.

Oh, the fact that I’ve also written a story about a copycat killer might not have helped matters. Just as a reminder, in case you’re interested, I introduced my book Deadly Quotes here (although the offer is no longer available).

Escaping Psychiatry 3. Deadly Quotes. Cover by Juan Padrón
Escaping Psychiatry 3. Deadly Quotes. Cover by Juan Padrón

Thanks to NetGalley and to the publishers for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to share, like, and comment if you’re so inclined, and always keep reading, reviewing and smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#DutchHouseAtHome #Bookreview by Ann Patchett (@BloomsburyBooks) A beautiful family saga full of magic and compelling writing

Hi all:

I’ve read great reviews of this novel and I couldn’t resist. It’s not for everyone, but I loved it.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

SUNDAY TIMES TOP 10 BESTSELLER

An unforgettably powerful new novel of the indelible bond between two siblings, the house of their childhood, and a past that will not let them go – from the Number One New York Times bestselling author of Commonwealth and Bel Canto


‘The book of the autumn. The American author of Commonwealth (brilliant) and Bel Canto (even better) releases perhaps her finest novel yet’ – Sunday Times

‘The buzz around The Dutch House is totally justified. Her best yet, which is saying something’ – John Boyne

“’Do you think it’s possible to ever see the past as it actually was?’ I asked my sister. We were sitting in her car, parked in front of the Dutch House in the broad daylight of early summer.”

Danny Conroy grows up in the Dutch House, a lavish mansion. Though his father is distant and his mother is absent, Danny has his beloved sister Maeve: Maeve, with her wall of black hair, her wit, her brilliance. Life is coherent, played out under the watchful eyes of the house’s former owners in the frames of their oil paintings.

Then one day their father brings Andrea home. Though they cannot know it, her arrival to the Dutch House sows the seed of the defining loss of Danny and Maeve’s lives. The siblings are drawn back time and again to the place they can never enter, knocking in vain on the locked door of the past. For behind the mystery of their own exile is that of their mother’s: an absence more powerful than any presence they have known.

Told with Ann Patchett’s inimitable blend of humour, rage and heartbreak, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale and story of a paradise lost; of the powerful bonds of place and time that magnetize and repel us for our whole lives.

https://www.amazon.com/Dutch-House-international-bestseller-autumn-ebook/dp/B07PZVYMGL/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dutch-House-international-bestseller-autumn-ebook/dp/B07PZVYMGL/

https://www.amazon.es/Dutch-House-international-bestseller-autumn-ebook/dp/B07PZVYMGL/

Author Ann Patchett
Author Ann Patchett

About the author:

Ann Patchett was born in Los Angeles in 1963 and raised in Nashville. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. In 1990, she won a residential fellowship to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she wrote her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars. It was named a New York Times Notable Book for 1992. In 1993, she received a Bunting Fellowship from the Mary Ingrahm Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College. Patchett’s second novel, Taft, was awarded the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for the best work of fiction in 1994. Her third novel, The Magician’s Assistant, was short-listed for England’s Orange Prize and earned her a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her next novel, Bel Canto, won both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in 2002 and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was named the Book Sense Book of the Year. It sold more than a million copies in the United States and has been translated into thirty languages. In 2004, Patchett published Truth & Beauty, a memoir of her friendship with the writer Lucy Grealy. It was named one of the Best Books of the Year by the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Entertainment Weekly. Truth & Beauty was also a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and won the Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Prize, the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Alex Award from the American Library Association. She was also the editor of Best American Short Stories 2006. Patchett has written for numerous publications, including the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Gourmet, and Vogue. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, Karl VanDevender.

https://www.amazon.com/Ann-Patchett/e/B000AQ6QAW/

My review:

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

I’ve heard of Ann Patchett but hadn’t read any of her novels until now, and this seemed like an excellent opportunity to get started. And I really liked the book cover and was intrigued by the title as well. Having read this novel, I’m sure it won’t be the last of the author’s books I read.

Although most reviews are positive, some readers who are familiar with her previous novels felt disappointed, while others loved it as much, if not more, as her previous work. As I said, I have nothing to compare it with, but I enjoyed it. I loved the characters (most of all), I loved the setting, and the writing, that can be lyrical, touching, and humorous in turns.

This is the story of a family, or, to be precise, of two siblings and the people they meet along the way. Maeve and Danny become a family-unit through unfortunate (and at times bizarre) circumstances. Their mother leaves when Danny, the younger of the two, is only three years old, and Maeve becomes his sister/mother/life coach/career advisor and many more things. Their father, Cyril, a real estate magnate, is consumed by his business and never explains much, either about his background, their mother, or the house, the Dutch House of the title. When he marries Andrea, who has two daughters of her own, things change, and when he dies, things take an even more dramatic turn.

The story, such as it is, is narrated in the first person by Danny, who claims to have intended to tell the story of his sister (a rather extraordinary individual I’d love to meet in real life), but he realised that this could not be done in isolation from his own and from that of many others who had also played parts in the events they might not have been fully aware of at the time. Although there is an overall chronological order to the novel, Danny’s memory sometimes circles back and forth to moments or events that are related or linked, at least in his mind, to what he is thinking or talking about at the time. He explores the memories around the Dutch House (a seemingly mysterious place although things don’t go in the direction readers might expect), and how the different people seem to have contrasting versions of what went on and totally different feelings about it as well. Was their mother a saint, or a heartless woman who abandoned her children in her eagerness to help unknown others? Was Andrea a greedy woman (the wicked stepmother of fairy tales) who married their father for his money and then threw them out? Or did she truly love him and resented them for their connection to him? Was Maeve domineering and manipulative or selfless and generous? Why didn’t Danny’s wife, Celeste, and his sister get on? What power did the Dutch House have over its inhabitants?

As I have already mentioned, I loved the characters. Although we don’t get to know all of them completely (this is the story Danny is telling, and at times he can be remarkably lacking in insight and even curiosity), that is part of the charm of the story. This would make a great novel for book clubs, as there is much to discuss, and I am sure different readers will have totally different opinions on the characters and their possible motives and/or justifications. Interpretations are left open, and although there is an end (yes, a happy ending of sorts), the ending does not necessarily provide an explanation for everything that happens, at least not a definitive one. As is the case in real life, people are unknowable, and even those we think we know best can surprise us at times.

I also loved the house. The similarities to a fairy tale are mentioned in the description and in many of the reviews, and perhaps because we first see the house from the perspective of a little boy, there is something magical about it. There are secret drawers, paintings of previous owners, gold leaf decorations, hidden storage places, and the house seems to hold an ongoing influence over those who’ve ever lived or worked there. I would love to visit it, and the combination of grand mansion and some of the characteristics of a gothic castle work well and give it a strong personality, although it might not live up to everybody’s expectations.

I have read some of the negative comments, and I do understand them and don’t necessarily disagree with the points they make, although I feel they don’t detract from the novel. Some people note that there is no plot or story behind it and complain that it is slow. This is a family saga, and as such there is no conventional plot or a great revelation (there are quite a few secrets and misunderstandings that get cleared out, but that is not the same) at the end. Because this is a book about memory, family life, growing older, and forgiveness, it is not a straightforward narration or a page-turner where the main point is to keep the action moving. Life happens at its own pace; there are funny moments, sad moments, enlightening moments, inspiring ones, and disappointments as well. The writing is compelling, but people who love stories full of action and a quick pace should not attempt this novel, unless they are willing to try something different. Some readers also complain that some of the storylines are unrealistic… Well, this is a novel, and I’ve read some that required a much higher degree of suspension of disbelief than this one, but I am sure realism is not what the author was after.

I loved this novel and would recommend it to readers who appreciate a focus on character, beautiful writing, and some touches of magic and are fond of the adult fairy-tale. As usual, I recommend readers who aren’t sure if they’d enjoy it or not, to try a book sample and see how they feel. I look forward to reading more of Patchett’s stories in the future. I have the feeling that they won’t disappoint.

Thanks to NetGalley, to the publisher and the author, and most of all, thanks to all of you, my friends. Keep reading, reviewing and smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Christmas presents

#Bookreview A CHANCE AT CHRISTMAS by Beppie Harrison (@BeppieHarrison) Recommended short feel-good #Christmasstory set in the Regency period.

Hi all:

I don’t tend to read many books in this genre, but I am translating a historical romance novel and I’ve been reading novels set around the same period, for research, you know, and when I mentioned that to Rosie Amber, she suggested I check NetGalley, and I did. I plan on shearing a few of the novels I’m reading in one post, but as this one was set around Christmas time and it has a lovely cover (and no the usual barechested rake), I thought it was perfect for this time of the year…

A Chance at Christmas by Beppie Harrison
A Chance at Christmas by Beppie Harrison

A Chance at Christmas by Beppie Harrison.

Christmas is coming, and Catherine Woodsleigh and her crippled brother John have no hope of celebration until an invitation to spend Christmas with an old friend and her family arrives. But after the holiday, worse misfortune looms before them. Living on the diminishing number of coins drawn from a jar left by their dead father and mother, a dire future seems inevitable. Will this chance to share a wondrous sparkling Christmas not only provide a glorious holiday but a new turn in their futures and the astonishing possibility of romance?

https://www.amazon.com/Chance-at-Christmas-Beppie-Harrison-ebook/dp/B0763CQY29/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Chance-at-Christmas-Beppie-Harrison-ebook/dp/B0763CQY29/

Author Beppie Harrison
Author Beppie Harrison

About the author:

Beppie Harrison lives on Boston’s South Shore close to the ocean in a big white New Englandish house with her husband, a lawyer daughter, and an assortment of dogs and cats. They live a somewhat trans-Atlantic lifestyle. Her husband is an English architect, and they lived in London at the beginning of their marriage, only moving to the States when they had young children. Now the children are grown, they return to old friends and familiar places as frequently as they can. In many ways, England still feels like their second home. For Beppie, the pull from across the Atlantic comes not only from the dales of Yorkshire and the buzz of London, but from Ireland. Did it start with its literature, its green beauty, or its wonderfully garrulous people? However it happened, both England and Ireland draw her now. Her first fiction trilogy, the Heart Trilogy, is placed primarily in Ireland during the Regency period. The Grandest Christmas, a companion novella for the holiday season, is a warm and cozy read for Christmastime. Her upcoming quartet of novels is placed again in Regency times, but, as introduced by the novella The Dowager’s Season, introduces four cousins to the excitement and romance of London’s presentations and balls.

You can check her website here:

http://www.beppieharrison.com/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Candem Hill Press for providing me an ARC copy of this novella that I freely chose to review.

This is a Regency romance that I decided to read in part as research for a project, and also because it sounded and looked a bit different to many of the books in the genre (no couple on the cover, and, especially, no bare-chested male). Indeed this is a ‘sweet’ or ‘clean’ romance, although as some reviewers have noted, the strongest relationship in the story is that between Catherine, a young orphaned girl whose financial circumstances are extremely precarious at the beginning of the story, and her brother, John, a couple of years her junior, who fell from a horse when he was a child and now suffers from physical disabilities that make a normal life impossible. (He can move about with some difficulty and needs assistance to complete some complex tasks, although he is a fighter and manages better than people think when they meet him). The little money left by her parents has almost gone and she is wondering about the future. Although she is hopeful about getting a position for herself, she cannot see any options that would allow her to carry on looking after her brother. When an invitation to spend Christmas with a wealthy school friend arrives, Catherine starts making all kinds of plans in her head.

The story is short but manages to paint a detail picture of the conditions Catherine and her brother live in, of the arrangements she has to make to try and make do by modifying her mother’s old dresses, and then also about the huge contrast between their lives and that of her friend Katie and her family. (At times it made me think of Dickens but without going to extremes).This allows readers to see things from Catherine’s point of view and to appreciate the huge gap that existed in the society of the time between the haves and the have-nots. (It also reminded me of one of my favourite stories by Louisa May Alcott, An Old-Fashioned Girl, which I recommend). We also realise how unforgiving and intolerant the society of the time was of those suffering any type of disabilities, and it is impossible not to cringe at some of the comments the siblings have to endure.

The story shares some characteristics with a fairy-tale (there is something of Cinderella about Catherine, although at least she does not have a cruel stepmother), and also with a morality-tale, where Catherine’s innocence and her devotion to her brother are rewarded in the end.

The Christmas part of the story works well, and we hear about a Christmas log, there is a trip to find mistletoe, carollers come along to the mansion, and we have some wondrous descriptions of foods of the period.

As for the love story… Well, we soon realise Katie’s brother seems interested in Catherine, although she has not been exposed to society and cannot work out if he is flirting, laughing at her, or really interested. There is a misunderstanding that has the most wonderful consequences for all involved (one hopes, anyway), but while we get some sense of who Catherine is and some indication of her brother’s thoughts and feelings, we do not get to know the rest of the characters too well, but the indications are positive.

In sum, this is a short read, full of detail about the contrast between high and low-income lives at the time, set during Christmas, and it does a good job of bringing to life the Christmas spirit. It might not satisfy those looking for a passionate love story although it shows strong sibling relationships and has a likeable and self-sacrificing heroine (think Melanie in Gone with the Wind), and there is no sex or bad language. Recommended if you’re looking for a short feel-good Christmas story set in the Regency period.

Thanks to NetGalley, to the author and the publisher for the book, to Rosie for the suggestion (don’t forget to check her wondrous blog, here and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling!

Oh, any suggestions of recent romance novels set in Regency or Victorian period are welcome, especially if they are not too heavy on the sex front and at bargain prices (I cannot afford to spend a lot on them). Many thanks!

Categories
Blog Tour Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview and Blog tour THE INCENDIARIES by R. O. Kwon (@rokwon) For lovers of poetic prose, complex narration and unique voices #TheIncendiaries #NetGalley

Banner The Incendiaries Blog Tour 7th September

Hi all:

I was very happy to be invited to participate in the blog tour of this book because it gave me the opportunity to read the first book by an author who is being acclaimed by public and critics alike.

Book review and book blog The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon
The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon

The Incendiaries: A Novel by R. O. Kwon

“Religion, politics, and love collide in this slim but powerful novel reminiscent of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, with menace and mystery lurking in every corner.” —People Magazine

“The most buzzed-about debut of the summer, as it should be…unusual and enticing … The Incendiaries arrives at precisely the right moment.” —The Washington Post

“Radiant…A dark, absorbing story of how first love can be as intoxicating and dangerous as religious fundamentalism.” —New York Times Book Review

A powerful, darkly glittering novel of violence, love, faith, and loss, as a young woman at an elite American university, is drawn into a cult’s acts of terrorism.

Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall meet in their first month at prestigious Edwards University. Phoebe is a glamorous girl who doesn’t tell anyone she blames herself for her mother’s recent death. Will is a misfit scholarship boy who transfers to Edwards from Bible college, waiting tables to get by. What he knows for sure is that he loves Phoebe.

Grieving and guilt-ridden, Phoebe is drawn into a secretive cult founded by a charismatic former student with an enigmatic past. When the group commits a violent act in the name of faith, Will finds himself struggling to confront a new version of the fanaticism he’s worked so hard to escape. Haunting and intense, The Incendiaries is a fractured love story that explores what can befall those who lose what they love most.

https://www.amazon.com/Incendiaries-Novel-R-Kwon-ebook/dp/B077CSDFGP/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Incendiaries-Novel-R-Kwon-ebook/dp/B077CSDFGP/

Editorial Reviews

“Kwon is a writer of many talents, and The Incendiaries is a debut of dark, startling beauty.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Disarmingly propulsive.” —Vogue

“A singular version of the campus novel … a story about spiritual uncertainty and about the fierce and undisciplined desire of [Kwon’s] young characters to find something luminous to light their way through their lives.” —NPR’s “Fresh Air”

“If you only read one book this summer, make it this complex and searing debut novel.” —Southern Living

“[With] a fairy-tale quality reminiscent of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History … [The Incendiaries is] the rare depiction of belief that doesn’t kill the thing it aspires to by trying too hard. It makes a space, and then steps away to let the mystery in.” —The New Yorker

“A juicy look at campus mores…Kwon delivers a poignant and powerful look into the millennial mindset.” —NPR Books

“One of those slim novels that contain multitudes, R.O. Kwon’s debut novel shows how unreliable we are as narrators when we’re trying to invent — and reinvent — ourselves.” —Vulture

“If you haven’t had a chance to pick up one of the buzziest novels of summer, take Emma Roberts’ — and my — word for it: you can’t miss The Incendiaries.” —Bustle

“In R.O. Kwon’s terrific new novel The Incendiaries, a cultist looks for meaning in tragedy. Kwon’s debut is a shiningly ambitious look at how human beings try to fill the holes in their lives.” —Vox

“Kwon’s lush imaginative project … [is to expose] the reactionary impulses that run through American life…[creating] an impression of the mysterious social forces and private agonies that might drive a person to extremes.” —The New Republic

“The main attraction and reward of this book is Kwon’s prose. Spiky, restless and nervously perceptive, it exhales spiritual unease.” —Wall Street Journal

“Kwon’s multi-faceted narrative portrays America’s dark, radical strain, exploring the lure of fundamentalism, our ability to be manipulated, and what can happen when we’re willing to do anything for a cause.” —Atlantic.com

“Deeply engrossing.”—PBS Books

“Remarkable…Every page blooms with sensuous language…These are characters in quiet crisis, burning, above all, to know themselves, and Kwon leads them, confidently, to an enthralling end.”—Paris Review

“A God-haunted, willful, strange book written with a kind of savage elegance. I’ve said it before, but now I’ll shout it from the rooftops: R. O. Kwon is the real deal.”
Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies and Florida

“Every explosive requires a fuse. That’s R. O. Kwon’s novel, a straight, slow-burning fuse. To read her novel is to follow an inexorable flame coming closer and closer to the object it will detonate—the characters, the crime, the story, and, ultimately, the reader.”
Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer and The Refugees

The Incendiaries probes the seductive and dangerous places to which we drift when loss unmoors us. In dazzlingly acrobatic prose, R. O. Kwon explores the lines between faith and fanaticism, passion and violence, the rational and the unknowable.”
Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You

“Absolutely electric, something new in the firmament. Everyone should read this book.”
Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You

“A swift, sensual novel about the unraveling of a collegiate relationship and its aftermath. Kwon writes gracefully about the spiritual insecurities of millennials.”
Karan Mahajan, author of The Association of Small Bombs

“A classic love triangle between two tormented college students and God. The Incendiaries brings us, page by page, from quiet reckonings with shame and intimacy to a violent, grand tragedy. In a conflagration of lyrical prose, R. O. Kwon skillfully evokes the inherent extremism of young love.”
Tony Tulathimutte, author of Private Citizens

“An impressive, assured debut about the hope for personal and political revolution and all the unexpected ways it flickers out. Kwon has vital things to say about the fraught times we live in.”
Jenny Offill, author of Dept. of Speculation

“A profound, intricate exploration of how grief and lost faith and the vulnerable storm of youth can drive people to irrevocable extremes, told with a taut intensity that kept me up all night. R.O. Kwon is a thrilling writer, and her splendid debut is unsettled, irresistible company.”
Laura van den Berg, author of The Isle of Youth and Find Me

Author R. O. Kwon
Author R. O. Kwon

About the author:

O. Kwon is the author of the novel The Incendiaries (July 2018) and is a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow. Her writing is published in The Guardian, Vice, BuzzFeed, Time, Noon, Electric Literature, Playboy, and elsewhere. She has received awards from Yaddo, MacDowell, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Omi International, the Steinbeck Center, and the Norman Mailer Writers’ Colony. Born in South Korea, she has lived most of her life in the United States. She can be found at http://ro-kwon.com.

https://www.amazon.com/R.-O.-Kwon/e/B07B2HG6D1/

 

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Grace Vincent, on behalf of Virago, Little Brown Book Group UK, for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review. Thanks also for the opportunity to take part in the blog tour for the launch of the novel, the first book published by R.O. Kwon, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

This novel describes the attempts by one of its protagonists, Will Kendall, of making sense and understanding the events that have led to his girlfriend’s, Phoebe Lin, participation in a horrific event. As often happens in novels with a narrator (or several), no matter what the story is about, the book often ends up becoming a search for understanding and meaning, not only of the events that form the plot but also of the actual narrator. Why is s/he telling that particular story? And why is s/he telling that story in that particular way? This novel is no different, although the manner the story is told can, at times, work as a smokescreen, and we don’t know exactly who is telling what, and how accurate he or she might be.

On the surface, the novel is divided into chapters, each one headed by one of three characters, John Leal (this one written in the third person and always quite brief), Phoebe (written in the first person), and Will, also written in the first person. At first, it’s possible to imagine that Phoebe’s chapters have been written by her, but later, we notice intrusions of another narrator, a narrator trying to imagine what she might have said, or to transcribe what she had said, or what she was possibly thinking or feeling at certain times. As we read this book, that is quite short notwithstanding the seriousness of the subjects it deals in, we come to realise that the whole novel is narrated by Will, who, after the fact, is trying to make sense of what happened, by collecting information and remembering things, and also by imagining what might have gone on when he was not present. He acknowledges he might be a pretty unreliable narrator, and that is true, for a variety of reasons, some of which he might be more aware than others.

The novel is about faith, about finding it, losing it, and using it as a way to atone and to find meaning, but also as a way to manipulate others. It is about love, that can be another aspect of faith, and they seem to go hand in hand in Will’s case. He discovered his Christian faith in high school, in part as a refuge from his terrible family life, and lost it when it did not live up to his expectations (God did not give him a sign when he asked for one). He moved out of Bible School and into Edwards, and there he met Phoebe, a girl fighting her own demons, a very private person who did not share her thoughts or guilt with anybody. Will falls in love with her and transfers his faith and obsession onto her. But she is also unknowable, at least to the degree he wishes her to be open and understandable for him, and she becomes involved in something that gives meaning to her life, but he cannot truly become a part of. He abandoned his faith, but he seems less likely and able to do so with his belief in her.

The novel is also about identity. The three main characters, and many others that appear in the book do not seem to fully fit in anywhere, and try different behaviours and identities for size. Will invents a wealthy family who’ve lost it all, to fit into the new college better; Phoebe hides details of her past and her wealth, and is Korean but knows hardly anything about it and John Leal… Well, it’s difficult to know, as we only get Will’s point of view of him, but he might, or might not, have totally invented a truly traumatic past to convince the members of what becomes his cult, to follow him.

The language used varies, depending on what we are reading. The dialogue reflects the different characters and voices, whilst the narrator uses sometimes very beautiful and poetic language that would fit in with the character (somebody who had been proselytizing, who was used to reading the Bible, and who tried to be the best scholar not to be found out). Also, he tends to use that language when remembering what his girlfriend had told him or imagining what John Leal might have said as if he remembered her as more beautiful, more eloquent, and more transcendent than anybody else. This is a book of characters (or of a character and his imaginings and the personas he creates for others he has known) and not a page-turner driven by plot. The story is fascinating and horrifying but we know from early on (if not the details, we have an inkling of the kind of thing that will happen) where we are going, and it’s not so much the where, but the how, that is important. The book describes well —through the different characters— student life, the nature of friendships in college, and some other serious subjects are hinted at but not explored in detail (a girl makes an accusation of rape, and she is not the only victim of such crime, there is prejudice, mental illness, drug use, abortion…).

I read some reviews that felt the description or the blurb were misleading, as it leads them to expect a thriller, and the book is anything but. I am not sure if there must have been an earlier version of the blurb, but just in case, no, this book is not a thriller. It’s a very subjective book where we come to realise we have spent most of the time inside of the head of one single character. Nonetheless, it offers fascinating insights into faith, the nature of obsession, and what can drive people to follow a cult and to become strangers to themselves and to those they love.

The ending is left open (if we accept the narrator’s point of view, although there is an option of closure if we don’t) and I was impressed by one of the longest acknowledgements I’ve ever read. It hints not only of a grateful writer attentive to detail but also of a book which has undergone a long process and many transformations before getting into our hands.

A couple of examples of the poetic language in the book:

Punch-stained red cups split underfoot, opening into plastic petals. Palms open, she levitated both hands.

The nephilim at hand, radiant galaxies pirouetting at God’s command. Faith lifted mountains. Miracles. Healings.

Not a light or easy read, but a book for those eager to find a new voice and to explore issues of faith, love, identity. Oh, and for those who love an unreliable narrator. A first book of what promises to be a long and fascinating literary career.

Thanks so much to NetGalley, to Grace Vincent and the publisher, and to the author, for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for writing, and if you’ve found it interesting, feel free to share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview The Demon Road Trilogy (2) Desolation and (3) – American Monsters by Derek Landy (@DerekLandy). To Hell and Back. An ending worthy of the series

Hi all:

Thinking about YA books made me realise that I had only shared the review of the first book in the the Demon Road series by Derek Landy, here. So I decided to share the other two.

The Demon Road 2. Desolation by Derek Landy
The Demon Road 2. Desolation by Derek Landy

Desolation (The Demon Road Trilogy, Book 2) by Derek Landy

 

THE EPIC NEW THRILLER CONTINUES.

Book two in the mind-blowing new supernatural thriller from bestselling author DEREK LANDY, creator of international sensation Skulduggery Pleasant.

Reeling from their bloody encounter in New York City at the end of Demon Road, Amber and Milo flee north. On their trail are the Hounds of Hell – five demonic bikers who will stop at nothing to drag their quarries back to their unholy master.

Amber and Milo’s only hope lies within Desolation Hill – a small town with a big secret; a town with a darkness to it, where evil seeps through the very floorboards. Until, on one night every year, it spills over onto the streets and all hell breaks loose.

And that night is coming…

Here my review

More fascinating characters, a tiny bit of romance, and Alaska, but less of a road trip.

Thanks to Harper Collins Children’s Books and to Net Galley for offering me a free copy of the novel in exchange for an unbiased review.

I read Demon Road recently, loved it and was keen to know what happened next. The first novel was a ride, a succession of adventures along the demon road and there were many stories that I felt would have made great books in their own right.

The second book in the series is about Desolation Hill in Alaska, the only place where Amber and Milo think they might be safe from the hounds of hell that are after them. The novel is less of a road trip (they get there fairly quickly even if finding the actual place seems difficult, we later get to know why) and more of a novel about a town that hides many secrets and is much darker than it might appear at first sight. Amber is still trying to grow up and get to grips with the fact that she’s a demon through no fault of her own, and she still has her parents trying to find her (and now, instead of eating her they want to take her back to the Shining Demon). We still see things from her point of view. But there are many changes.

The story is not only different in the setting, but also in the way it is told. There are other character’s points of view that come into play. I particularly like Virgil, and elderly man who used to star in a TV programme in the seventies (where he was the hero, an avenger type with mask and all), who is later joined by Javier, the actor who used to play his old archenemy. Their interaction is funny, but also poignant and touching at times. There are also a group of fairly young people (and a dog) who hunt demons and evil in its many forms. They jokingly refer at times to Scooby-Doo, and with the dog (Two) and their van there is a certain similarity, although not in the details. We also see the story from their perspective at times and we get the sense that there are many stories (that like Kelly’s tattoos might deserve more screen, or page, time) behind them and ahead of them. The Demon Road throws interesting people together, for sure.

Amber becomes stronger, more determined, and comes up with daring plans and decisions that don’t always bring the expected results (hardly ever). But she’s still vulnerable and her self-esteem when she’s in human form is poor. It is refreshing to see that at least one person she meets thinks she is cooler in human form and does not find her attractive as a demon. Her relationship with Kelly hints at the possibility of a romance but as we well know the path of true love is never a smooth one.

I thought the alternative points of views helped show Amber under a different perspective, more ambiguous, and helped ground the story. On the other hand, I missed the road trip part of it. There are plenty of interesting characters, some from the town and some outsiders, and there is plenty of action. To be truthful, when the festival arrives (I won’t explain what it consists of but yes, I’m happy I’ve never been to one) the action speeds up to such a level that sometimes I found it difficult to keep up. More than a page turner it becomes a hurricane.

The novel ends in a big twist that seems to throw the action in a completely different direction and makes us question once again what kind of person/demon Amber will turn out to be in the end. I definitely want to know.

I would advise anybody considering reading this book to start by reading Demon Road. Although the action might be understood if read alone, and there are clues along the way, some of the nuances and the backstory greatly enhance the overall effect (and some props, like the key used at times are a legacy from previous adventures).

There are things I like better in this book, and things I like better in the first, but I get the sense that the series has been conceived as a whole and it will all fit in together nicely (or nastily, considering the genre) by the end. We shall see. I’ll be waiting for the third one (and it seems it’s only a few months to go).

Links:

Links:

http://amzn.to/23nZ87Y

http://amzn.to/23nZawT

And last, but not least…

The Demon Road 3. American Monsters
The Demon Road 3. American Monsters by Derek Landy

The Demon Road 3. American Monsters by Derek Landy

Description

The epic conclusion in the mind-blowing supernatural thriller from bestselling author DEREK LANDY, creator of international sensation Skulduggery Pleasant.
Bigger, meaner, stronger, Amber closes in on her murderous parents as they make one last desperate play for power. Her own last hopes of salvation, however, rest beyond vengeance, beyond the abominable killers – living and dead – that she and Milo will have to face.

For Amber’s future lies in her family’s past, in the brother and sister she never knew, and the horrors beyond imagining that befell them.

https://www.amazon.com/Demon-Road-03-DEREK-LANDY/dp/000815709X/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/American-Monsters-Demon-Road-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B01CC8DO6Y/

My review:

Thanks to Harper Collin’s Children and to Net Galley for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel that I voluntarily reviewed.

I’ve followed with interest Derek Landy’s series of The Demon Road Trilogy, and the evolution of Amber, the main character. If it’s true that adolescence is a difficult time, try it when your parents are demons planning on eating you when you become sixteen to increase their power, and you’ll see that Amber’s circumstances are extreme, to say the least. Throughout the two previous books, she grows, learns that there are multiple shades of goodness (and even to badness), and discovers many things about herself and her family. She makes deals to save those she cares about, even if that means getting into terrible trouble.

Like the two previous books in the trilogy, this one is also written in the third person but told from Amber’s point of view, and we do get to share in her feelings and deeply hidden thoughts, even those she won’t tell Milo, his faithful (and intriguing) sidekick. If the two previous books are fairly different in their format, with the first one being set as a road trip, and the second as an adventure more self-contained in a fascinating small-town with a very dark side, this one returns to the format of the road trip. Amber has made a deal with the Shining Demon, becoming his Representative, and although her task is fairly disagreeable, she doesn’t embrace the dark side and tries and do the right thing too.

There are memorable episodes and scenes impossible to forget (beware if you love motels, you might not feel safe in one ever again after reading this), a great cast of characters (some we knew from before and we’re happy to see again and some not so much, others brand new), and also tricks, betrayals and sad moments, including the loss of some of the characters we’ve come to care for.  There are fights, mostly with supernatural beings, trips to hell and back (literally), heart-wrenching moments and some lighter ones.

The twists and turns of the plot are intriguing, they keep the action going at a great pace, and there are many surprises. If Amber had never liked herself very much and was despairing of herself and her looks before, now she seems more accepting (the power of love, perhaps), but has another self (a hallucinatory side-effect) that keeps undermining her.  No matter what her demon-self says, she has come a long way from the beginning of her story, has become independent, daring, and has managed to keep her humanity and her sense of morality. She isn’t the only one who has changed and she is instrumental in the changes of those she comes in contact with.

There are sad moments and also very satisfying moments in the book, and there is a reckoning and a resolution at the end, although I won’t give any spoilers. I will miss Amber, Kelly, Milo, even Glen and their adventures  (and the Charger, of course), and I’ll miss the Demon Road, even if I’m not sure I’d like to visit for real.

A great ending to a fabulous trilogy.

Thanks so much to NetGalley and to Derek Landy for the trilogy, thanks to all of you for reading, and you know what to do, like, share, comment and CLICK!

 

Categories
Book reviews

#BookReview THE SECRET DIARY OF HENDRIK GROEN, 83 ¼ Years Old by Hendrik Groen (25th August) We might all be dying but there’s no need to get gloomy about it #TuesdayBookBlog

Hi all:

I’m going on my travels again and I’ve managed to accumulate a lot of reading material, blog tours postings, and reviews I should share for the month of September (when if I’m to judge by the amount of request for reviews I’ve got, there will be an avalanche of new books, brace yourselves!) so if you see a lot of book reviews, don’t worry. I’ll will be there, reading, editing (yes, I’m getting there with lots of help and I hope my book will be out before Christmas… Some early ARCs have gone to readers already. Bless them. )

So here comes one of my reviews. I really loved this book but I was waiting to share it until it was published. It’s been available in other countries and other languages for quite a while but well, here it is…

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 1/4 Years Old by Hendrik Groen (? well, we don't know)
The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 1/4 Years Old by Hendrik Groen (? well, we don’t know)

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old by Hendrik Groen. We might all be dying but there’s no need to get gloomy about it

Description

** THE INTERNATIONAL PHENOMENON ** ‘

‘Another year and I still don’t like old people. Me? I am 83 years old.’

Hendrik Groen may be old, but he is far from dead and isn’t planning to be buried any time soon. Granted, his daily strolls are getting shorter because his legs are no longer willing and he had to visit his doctor more than he’d like. Technically speaking he is … elderly. But surely there is more to life at his age than weak tea and potted geraniums?

Hendrik sets out to write an exposé: a year in the life of his care home in Amsterdam, revealing all its ups and downs – not least his new endeavour the anarchic Old-But-Not Dead Club. And when Eefje moves in – the woman Hendrik has always longed for – he polishes his shoes (and his teeth), grooms what’s left of his hair and attempts to make something of the life he has left, with hilarious, tender and devastating consequences.

The indomitable Hendrik Groen – Holland’s unlikeliest hero – has become a cultural phenomenon in his native Netherlands and now he and his famously anonymous creator are conquering the globe. A major Dutch bestseller, The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen will not only delight older readers with its wit and relevance, but will charm and inspire those who have years to go before their own expiry date.

Advance Praise

Praise for The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old 

‘Hendrik Groen’s account of daily life in a care home for the elderly pulled me in with its self-deprecating humour, finely drawn characters and frank accounting of the trials of old age. Behind Hendrik’s light touch and grumpy-old-man persona is a story with a great deal of heart, and some important themes. Hendrik effortlessly incorporates the politics of aged care, from funding to euthanasia, into his personal story and offers his own acerbic insights. Anyone who has a friend or relative in a nursing home or retirement village, or who hopes to grow old with dignity themselves, will find much to reflect on’.  Graeme Simsion, international bestselling author of The Rosie Project

‘There are many laughs in this book but it’s so much more than just a comedy. It’s a story about how friendship, selflessness and dignity lie at the heart of the human experience. When I’m an old man, I want to be Hendrik Groen’. John Boyne, author of international bestseller The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

‘Funny, tragic and sometimes heart rending’. Het Parool

‘Hendrik Groen is a heart-warming hero’. Trouw

‘With pungent phrasing Groen takes down life in a retirement home. Both charming and hilarious’ ****Leeuwarder Courant

‘Hendrik Groen is king. My mother (78) suffers from dementia. Doesn’t read a newspaper or magazine anymore, only old photo albums can grab her attention for longer than 5 minutes. Hendrik Groen made her laugh out loud’. Ray Kluun, author of Love Life

‘The tears came streaming down my face. From laughing so hard. I couldn’t stop grinning for three days’. Ouderenjournaal

‘Never a dull moment with my new BFF Hendrik Groen’. Read Shop, Hedel

‘It reminded me of a combination between The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Wonderful! Shame it’s finished already’. Arjen Broers, Bookshop Bruna

‘Heart-warming, funny and poignant. It’s about all aspects of life. EVERYBODY should read this’. Bookshop Stevens

My review:

Thanks to Net Galley and to Penguin UK-Michael Joseph for providing me with a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

The description of this book drew me in from the beginning as the protagonist and supposed diarist of the book is correct when he talks about the increased interest in old age pensioners and how they appear to be the subject of everything, from movies to laws. Whatever our age, as another one of the characters tells Hendrik, if you don’t know somebody with dementia (let’s change that to senior citizen) you’re sorely out of fashion. I didn’t realise at the time that the book had been a great success in the Netherlands and in many other countries (including Spain, where I was at the time). I’m not sure why it took so long to be published in an English version but I’m glad it finally did.

I have enjoyed the resurgence of movies with older protagonists, not only because of the original perspective given to the stories, but also because they provide a great chance to see (in most cases together) many of the actors and actresses one has learned to love over the years but who no longer fit into the usual bestselling production. This novel isn’t either the typical bestselling book. It’s not an action book or a thriller (as Hendrik says on a number of occasions, a traffic congestion in the residential home where he lives might be caused by too many people trying to use the lift at the same time with their walking aids, and going for a walk once a day is seen as a big adventure), it isn’t a hot romance (yes, there is romance but gentle and understated), a chick-lit book (the protagonist is a Dutch man who is 83 at the beginning of the book), or a paranormal or science-fiction offering. These are the secret writings of a man (although the true author has not been revealed and the book is classed as humour and fiction) in a residential home who, at the beginning of the year 2013, decides to start writing a diary, because having a goal, however small, helps keep depression and sad thoughts at bay. Despite what I said, there are adventures. He and some friends (some old, some recent, including a love interest) get together in an attempt at fighting apathy and enforced old-age and create the Old-But-Not-Dead club, and they set off on their adventures. There is also intrigue and spy missions (trying to get hold of a copy of the infamous regulations that seem to impede any fun or flexibility within the walls of the institution), there are sad moments (illnesses, both physical and mental, and death), political and social commentaries (of Dutch politics and international affairs, always sharp and mocking), and there are flashy vehicles (there are debates about the best mobility scooters and some driving mishaps).

Added to the varied and unforgettable plot elements are the characters. The book is narrated in the first-person by Henrik Groen. We only get tiny snippets of his previous life (sad events and circumstances that move us but he doesn’t dwell upon) but he has a penchant for observing and commenting on the everyday with a fresh, mocking and humorous eye, not devoid of tenderness. He might be getting on but the really old people are those around him. His loyalty to his friends (not withstanding his objective appraisals of their qualities and defects), his lack of self-pity and his self-deprecating attitude, always trying to see the funny side of things (and trying to remain optimistic), his generosity and willingness to help others no matter what his heart and mind say, and his willingness to fight for what is right and to never hide from unpleasant, embarrassing or difficult subjects (i.e. euthanasia) make him unique and endear him to the reader. He’s a hero and the cast of friends, bit players, enemies  and even the dog and the poor fishes (sorry, you must read the book to know what I mean) create a microcosm that we can’t help but care for.

The book is an easy read, and it adopts British English colloquialisms and sayings that would fit in perfectly with somebody of Hendrik’s age (if he was from the UK).

I loved the book. I laughed, cried, and it made me think: about living every day to the maximum, about having goals, about the future, about relatives and also, about myself. I hope if I get to that age there’ll be a Hendrik wherever I end up. (Or I’ll be like Hendrik). A fabulous read.

Links:

e-book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Secret-Diary-Hendrik-Groen-Years-ebook/dp/B01DOSVSNW/

https://www.amazon.com/Secret-Diary-Hendrik-Groen-Years-ebook/dp/B01DOSVSNW/

Hardcover: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Secret-Diary-Hendrik-Groen-Years/dp/0718183002/

https://www.amazon.com/Secret-Diary-Hendrik-Groen-Years/dp/0718183002/

Audible: https://www.amazon.com/Secret-Diary-Hendrik-Groen-Years/dp/B01KKMXBIA/

I’m sure you’ll see it everywhere, if I’m to judge by its distribution in Spain, but I thought I’d recommend it early anyway.

Thanks again to NetGalley and to Penguin UK-Michael Joseph for the early copy, thanks to you all for reading, and you know what to do, like, share, comment, and of course, if you want a great read, CLICK!

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