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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog OUTERBOROUGH BLUES. A BROOKLYN MYSTERY by Andrew Cotto (@andrewcotto) Brooklyn, noir, cooking: a winning recipe #noirnovel

Hi all:

I revisit an author whose book intrigued me a great deal, as he manages to combine very different elements and make them function incredibly well somehow.

Outerborough Blues. A Brooklyn Mystery by Andrew Cotto

Outerborough Blues: A Brooklyn Mystery by Andrew Cotto 

A beautiful young French girl walks into a bar, nervously lights a cigarette, and begs the bartender for help in finding her missing artist brother. In a moment of weakness, the bartender—a lone wolf named Caesar Stiles with a chip on his shoulder and a Sicilian family curse hanging over him—agrees. What follows is a stylish literary mystery set in Brooklyn on the dawn of gentrification.

While Caesar is initially trying to earn an honest living at the neighborhood watering hole, his world quickly unravels. In addition to being haunted by his past, including a brother who is intent on settling an old family score, Caesar is being hunted down by a mysterious nemesis known as The Orange Man. Adding to this combustible mix, Caesar is a white man living in a deep-rooted African American community with decidedly mixed feelings about his presence. In the course of his search for the French girl’s missing brother, Caesar tumbles headlong into the shadowy depths of his newly adopted neighborhood, where he ultimately uncovers some of its most sinister secrets.

Taking place over the course of a single week, Outerborough Blues is a tightly paced and gritty urban noir saturated with the rough and tumble atmosphere of early 1990s Brooklyn.

Andrew Cotto has written for numerous publications, including The New York TimesMen’s Journal, Salon.com, Teachers & Writers magazine and The Good Men Project. He has an MFA in creative writing from The New School. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

https://www.amazon.com/Outerborough-Blues-Brooklyn-Andrew-Cotto-ebook/dp/B00915UQGI/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Outerborough-Blues-Brooklyn-Andrew-Cotto-ebook/dp/B00915UQGI/

https://www.amazon.es/Outerborough-Blues-Brooklyn-Andrew-Cotto-ebook/dp/B00915UQGI/

Author Andrew Cotto

About the author:

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

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

 My review:

I discovered Andrew Cotto through Rosie’s Book Review Team a few months ago, when I read and reviewed his novel Black Irish Blues. A Caesar Stiles Mystery, which I loved even (or because) I found it difficult to pin down to a specific genre. Although it was stylistically a noir mystery/thriller, I thought it also shared some of the characteristics of the cozy mysteries: pretty special/peculiar/singular characters; a main protagonist that is not your standard cool, slick, and tough guy (Caesar Styles is pretty cool and fairly tough, but he tries to go unnoticed rather than advertise those characteristics); and a sizeable part of the novel being dedicated to a hobby/job/talent… of the protagonist that sometimes might be related to the mystery, although mostly marginally. In this case, the protagonist works as a cook, and he seems to be pretty talented at it as well, and he regales us with mouth-watering descriptions of meals and dishes throughout the novel. I was fascinated by this unusual combination of seemingly diverse parts and how the author managed to bring them together. And I was intrigued as well because although the story could be read independently, I became aware that a previous novel with the same protagonist had been published years back, and there were a few enticing references to what had happened before that left me wanting more. Unfortunately, at that time, the first novel was only available as a paperback, and it was not easy to get hold of.

However, the author informed me that the first novel in the series would be available in e-book format and kindly sent me an ARC copy, which I freely chose to review.

So, this is how I came to read the first novel in this series after the second. This has happened to me more than once, and although I might have got hints of what had happened before, in general, I have enjoyed checking if I was right and filling all the gaps. And yes, this is one of those occasions.

 I went through a detailed summary of my thoughts about Black Irish Blues, not only because being concise is not my forte, but also because much of what I thought and said about that novel applies here as well.

Although the novel is set in the 1990s, there are clear indicators of the social era, and the author manages to convey a very strong sense of the Brooklyn of that period, warts and all, there is also something atemporal about the novel. The descriptions of the traumatic events of Caesar’s childhood are, unfortunately, universal and timeless (bullying and domestic violence, a father who leaves the home and a mother bringing up her sons on her own, a tragedy and a life-changing decision), but there are also details reminiscent of the Depression: runaways (a boy in this case) hopping on trains, living in the streets, a wanderer learning as he goes and living off-the-grid, and others much more modern (drug wars, property speculation, a neighbourhood whose social make-up is changing and where racial tensions reflect a wider state of affairs, changes in the notions of family, loyalty, tradition…).

 And despite the noir vibe and set-up (down to the mystery that gets Caesar into all kinds of troubles: a foreign [French] young girl enters the bar where he works and asks for his help in finding her missing brother. He is an artist who came to New York to study and has now disappeared) reminiscent of classical noir novels and films of the 1940s and 50s, there is also something very modern in the way the story is told. In noir films, flashbacks and a rather dry, witty, and knowing voice-over were typical narrative devices and a sparkling and sharp dialogue was a trademark of the genre in writing as well. Here, Caesar tells his story in the first person, but this is not a straightforward narrative. The story is divided up into seven days and told in real-time, but the protagonist spends much of the novel remembering the past, reflecting upon things that had happened to him before, and we even witness some of his dreams (hopeful ones, but also those that rehearse the past), so anybody expecting a fast-paced, no spare-details-allowed kind of narrative, will be disappointed. For me, the way the story is told is one of its strengths, and there are incredibly beautiful moments in the book (Caesar is a poet at heart), although there are also some pretty violent and ugly things going on, and Caesar is the worse for wear by the end of the story. (And no, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the ending). There is something pretty intimate and personal about the way the story is told, and we get privileged access to the protagonist’s subjectivity, thoughts, and feelings, that is not typical of the classic noir genre (dark things in the past might be hinted at, but they are hardly ever looked at in detail or studied in depth. The answer to most questions can be found in the barrel of a gun).

I was looking for some information in E. Ann Kaplan’s Women in Film Noir (somewhat old now, but excellent) and a comment she made about Klute and Chinatown (some later films that fit into the noir category) rang true for me. She mentioned that both of these films seemed to show a “European” sensibility and style different to that o many of the other American crime films of the same era, and that got me thinking, as Chinatown kept popping in my head as I read this book (although Chinatown is far more classically noir than this novel), perhaps because of the subject of property speculation, of the amount of violence visited upon and endured by the protagonist, of the intricate maze of clues, illegal acts, false identities, hidden interests and influences, and secrets that fill its pages… And, considering the protagonist’s Italian origin, and the fact that the story of his grandmother opens the novel, it all seemed to fit. Although the sins of the father might be visited upon the son as well, here, the sins are those from previous generations and keep being revisited upon the members of the family left alive.

In some ways, the mystery (or mysteries, as others come to light once Caesar starts investigating and unravelling the story strand) is not the most important part of the book. At first, I thought Jean-Baptist played a part somewhat akin to Hitchcock’s concept of a MacGuffin, an excuse to get the story going, to set our character off on a quest, we learn very little about him throughout the book, and he is never given a voice or an opportunity to explain himself (we only hear other people’s opinions about him), but later I decided he was a kind of doppelgänger, a double or a mirror image of Caesar, somebody also trying to run away to find himself and to find a place where he can fit in, although, of course, this can only be achieved when one is at peace with oneself, and the protagonist reaches the same conclusion. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail about the ending, but let’s say that Caesar manages to put to good use his connections and to trade off good information in exchange for settling some family issues that had been hanging over him for a long time. He is not overly ambitious and although he has a sense of right and wrong and morality, he does not play the superhero and knows that some things will only be sorted out by time, and others perhaps never. But he had to attune and reach his internal peace, and that, he does.

Rather than a review, this seems to be a mash-up of a few somewhat interconnected thoughts, but I hope it gives you an idea of why I enjoyed the novel. There is plenty of wit, great descriptions, a tour-de-force banquet towards the end of the book, fabulous dialogue, and beautifully contemplative moments. I will share a few snippets, but I recommend checking a sample if you want to get a better idea of if you’d like his style or not.

At the entrance stood a large security guard who looked like he had swallowed a smaller security guard.

I was in the Mediterranean, floating in the warm water of my ancestors. I rose and fell in the hard green sea, salt in my nose and sun on my face, my fanned hair like a cape behind me. Fishing boats were moored to a nearby jetty, and brilliant white birds circled in the swimming pool sky.

Oh, and, the beginning of the book has joined my list of the best openings of a novel:

My mother’s mother came to this country in the usual way —she got on a boat with other immigrants and sailed from Sicily. She wasn’t one of them, however: neither tired nor poor or part of any huddled mass. Instead, she traveled alone, with her money in one sock and a knife in the other, coming to the new world with an old world motive— to murder the man that had left her for America.

 Don’t worry. We get to know what happened, but, if you need more of a recommendation, this is it: the rest of the novel lives up to its beginning. So, go on, read it, and I’m sure you’ll read Black Irish Blues next. Enjoy.

Thanks to the author for this book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and especially, keep safe and keep smiling. ♥

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog ALWAYS THE DEAD by Stephen J. Golds (@SteveGone58) (@RedDogTweets) A noir/pulp semi-fictional novel, dark, politically incorrect, and just perfect. A gem #Bookreview #noir

Hi all:

I am republishing the post about this novel because quite a few people showed their interest, but the book had been removed by the time my review was published. As I’ve been informed it is available again, and it has also changed covers, here I am sharing it again. 

What follows is my original post:

I bring you an author totally new to me today, although he writes as if he was a pulp-fiction author from the forties or fifties, so, not for everyone, but a fabulous book.

Always the Dead by Stephen J. Golds 

“Dare you read ‘Always the Dead’?

“I dared and I’ve been left reeling.

“This is the noirest of noirs. Truly shocking. Almost a horror novel as much as a thriller.

“Old school. Non PC. Violent. Vicious.

“From the gut-wrenching prologue, through the pornography of war, and the cracked psyche of PTSD, author Stephen Golds never pulls a punch. Neither does his black-hearted protagonist, Scott Kelly. Yet, amidst all the blood and guts and shit and vileness, is a dream-like use of imagery and language rare in stories like this.

“And the search for the woman he loves is as brutal as the language. Tainted love!

“Now I need a lie down!”

— Tina Baker, author of Call Me Mummy.

Los Angeles, California. 1949.
Scott Kelly is a World War Two Marine veteran and mob hitman confined to a Tuberculosis sanatorium suffering from consumption, flashbacks and nightmares from his experiences of The Battle of Okinawa and a botched hit for Bugsy Siegel.
When his movie actress girlfriend disappears, he bribes his way out of the sanatorium to search for her.
What follows is a frantic search, a manic murder spree, stolen contraband, and a briefcase full of cash.
A story that stretches from the war-torn beaches of Okinawa, all the way to the playground of the rich and famous, Palm Springs, California.
An exploration into the depths of L.A crime, PTSD, and twisted love.
A semi-fictional novel based around the disappearance of Jean Spangler.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09JKZXZ9V/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09JKZXZ9V/

https://www.amazon.es/dp/B09JKZXZ9V/

Author Stephen J. Golds

About the author:

Stephen J. Golds was born in London, U.K, but has lived in Japan for most of his adult life. He enjoys spending time with his daughters, reading books, traveling, boxing and listening to old Soul LPs. His novels are Say Goodbye When I’m Gone (Red Dog Press) Always the Dead (Close to the Bone) Poems for Ghosts in Empty Tenement Windows and the forthcoming collection Love Like Bleeding Out With an Empty Gun in Your Hand.

https://www.amazon.com/Stephen-J-Golds/e/B08TX1Q8TM/

My review:

I thank the publisher for providing me an ARC copy of the book, which I freely chose to review.

The author, whose work I’d never read before, describes his book as a semi-fictional novel, and it is true that the details behind the disappearance of Jean Spangler shared in the novel correspond to those available in what seems to be an open case still. It is also, as many of the reviewers have said, a noir novel, a very dark one, taking us back to the pulp fiction novels of the thirties, forties, and fifties, more Mickey Spillane than Dashiell Hammet, although the obsession of the main character with Jean (his ‘twisted love’, quoting from the description) brought to mind many of the authors and the films of the period, James M. Cain included. Some readers might be more familiar with some film-noir movies based on those novels (The Postman Always Ring Twice, D.O.A, Kiss Me Deadly…) and also with some later neo-noir films (I kept thinking of Chinatown, but films adapting more recent novels set in the same period, like L.A. Confidential share in the same aesthetics and themes).

The plot seems pretty straightforward. A hitman (hoodlum, heavy, enforcer, or whatever term you prefer), Scott Kelly —seriously ill with tuberculosis and confined to a sanatorium in L.A.—, discovers that his on-and-off girlfriend (an aspiring actress, starlet, and good-time gal) has gone missing. Despite the risk to his health, he blackmails his way out of hospital and starts a desperate race against time (he becomes increasingly sick as time passes) to try to find her. A reviewer mentioned D.O.A. and there are similarities. There, the detective is fighting to try to find an antidote against a poison running through his veins before it kills him; here, Kelly is dying of his illness, that’s eating his lungs. If that wasn’t enough of a challenge, he also suffers from PTSD (he fought in Okinawa during WWII, and saw pretty horrific things, as his flashbacks make only too clear, and to those experiences, he has added some recent traumas related to his work as a hitman, which only make matters worse). He follows some wrong clues and there are plenty of red herrings and incorrect information that keep making him waste more and more of the little time he has left. As it corresponds to the genre, there are plenty of nasty characters, betrayals, corrupt policemen, mafia bosses, illegal businesses (drugs), combined with memories of his past (good and bad), from his childhood in Ireland (before his family emigrated to the USA) and later in America, to the war, his marriage and divorce, his relationship with Jean, and some of his jobs for the mob. Although the story itself is fiction, many of the characters that make an appearance existed in real life and were involved (or at least were people of interest) in the case (even Kirk Douglas gets a mention).

The story is told in the first-person by Scott, and his is a very harsh, cynical, and bitter voice, although he can be lyrical and beautifully descriptive when it comes to thinking about Jean, their love story (that is not without its very dark moments), and also some of the good old times (although there aren’t many). As usual for this genre, he is sharp and articulate, although in his case this is fully justified, as he loved books and had planned to go back to school and become a writer when he returned from the war, although fate had other ideas. The chronological narrative, following Kelly’s investigation, is disrupted by detailed and beautifully descriptive (although often horrific) flashbacks of his war experience and other events, and these episodes become more and more prominent as his health deteriorates. Kelly is not a character easy to like. Quite the opposite. For me, it was a bit of a process. To begin with, we learn that he is suffering from PTSD, is very ill, and his girlfriend has disappeared, so it was inevitable to feel sorry for him. But as we get to follow him, see how he behaves and interacts with others, and get to experience more and more of his flashbacks (some that seem to put into question his own discourse and his self-perception), it becomes more and more difficult to find anything positive in him (other than his sheer determination to get to the end of his investigation). Before we reach the end, we get glimpses of a different Scott, buried deep behind his bravado and his hard exterior, but I wouldn’t go as far as to talk about redemption. I’ve never minded having a ‘bad’ character as the protagonist of a novel, as long as s/he is interesting and consistent, and Kelly fits the bill. Some of the other characters aren’t quite as complex as Kelly, although Golds always adds some details that make them memorable, and if I had to choose one of the characters as my favourite, it would have to be Rudy, the driver for a mob boss. He is, in many ways, the kind of person Kelly would have become if he hadn’t jumped in at the deep end, although… (Sorry, I’ll leave it there to avoid spoilers). As for Jean… She is a bit like Laura, the protagonist of the 1944 Otto Preminger film of the same name: each person who talks about her seems to have a different opinion of her, and we get a variety of versions: harlot, loving, manipulative, talented, beautiful, disloyal, caring, greedy… She combines the two typical images of the women in film-noir, the virginal maiden, and the deadly femme-fatale. Who she really was is something left open to interpretation, as we never get to hear her own voice directly. In a way, she is a figure that resists all interpretations, at least those of the men who knew her, and, in some cases, thought they were in love with her. What made her so alluring? Was it her skill at becoming the woman each one of those men wanted or needed? Perhaps.

I’ve referred to Kelly’s narrative voice, and the writing reflects perfectly his persona. I’ve seen the novel described as ‘retro-noir’, and if one didn’t know this had been just published, it would be difficult to tell that this wasn’t written in the historical period is set in. That means the book does not adapt or adopt current p.c. standards. Quite the opposite. There are abusive epithets used to describe all races and ethnic minorities (I kept thinking about Roth’s The Human Stain and the incident that triggers that story, because yes, that is one of the words used here as well, but in this case intentionally as a slur, even if the protagonist doesn’t see it that way), there is violence galore (in the current narration but also, and much more disturbing at times, in the episodes Kelly experiences in flashback), and it’s difficult to think of a possible trigger not included in this novel (I can’t remember specific episodes of harm to animals, but, otherwise, there is domestic violence, murder, rape, children’s deaths, various forms of abuse… You name it, it’s likely to be there). So, be warned. It is by no means an easy read. On the other hand, it is very well-written. The descriptions of the flashbacks are cinematic (unfortunately, in some cases, and I think that although this would make a great movie, it would require a very strong stomach to watch it) and the author manages to make us see and feel all the experiences as if we were there (even his illness); there are some exquisite reflections and use of lyrical language at times; some insightful and wise passages; some witty and darkly humorous asides; some fantastic dialogue; there is a beautiful symmetry in the overall story, and an underlying sense of fate/karma at work, that I really liked.

I loved the ending (I’m referring to the epilogue, although the ending itself makes perfect sense as well, and it is, perhaps, even more in keeping with the genre), but I can’t say anything else without revealing too much.

I’ve selected a few fragments from the novel, although, as usual, I recommend prospective readers to check a sample to see if the writing style fits their taste (although the above warning applies here as well, because the novel jumps straight into a flashback, so there is nothing gradual about it):

Pulling a trigger on people tends to change your world view. Conversation and small talk can be difficult and seem altogether worthless when you have seen how easily the human body comes apart, how simple it is to switch someone’s lights out.

One night I sat at the dining table until the early hours of the morning, listening to the sounds of the emptiness. I realized that I had survived the war only by returning as a ghost. A deal I’d made with the devil. A ghost that haunted my own home.

I listened to the sound of her high heels as she walked down the green tiled floor to the front entrance, thinking to myself that the women who are the best at walking away are always the ones you need the most.

Dexter was the kind of guy who constantly wrote checks with his fat mouth that his weak spine couldn’t cash.

This is a great semi-fictional historical novel, retro-noir, that I recommend to anybody who loves the original noir and pulp-fiction stories (that had their heyday from the thirties to the fifties of the XX century in the United States), films, or later neo-noir reimaginings, and don’t mind the dark aspects and conventions of the genre. This is not a novel adapted to current writing practice or sensibilities, and I’d recommend caution to anybody who is looking for a light, feel-good, and politically correct reading experience. The writing and the characters are first class, and the novel pulls no punches, so if you’re ready for a memorable reading experience and are not worried about the less savoury aspects of the plot and use of language, jump right in. I intend to investigate Gold’s writing further, that’s for sure.

Thanks to the author and the publisher for the novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and keep safe and keep smiling. ♥

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog I’LL PRAY WHEN I’M DYING by Stephen J. Golds (@SteveGone58) The best fictional depiction of OCD I’ve ever read. Hard-hitting, tough, and non-PC. Fabulous #OCD #noir

Hi all:

I’ve caught up with an author many of you felt curious about when I first reviewed one of his novels.

I’ll Pray When I’m Dying by Stephen J. Golds

I’ll Pray When I’m Dying by Stephen J. Golds

DO ALL SONS BECOME THEIR FATHERS?

Ben Hughes is a corrupt Boston Vice Detective and bagman for the Southie Mob.
Already desperately struggling with obsessive compulsions and memories of a traumatic childhood, his world begins to fall apart at the seams, triggered by the photograph of a missing child in the newspaper and the anniversary of his father’s death twenty years earlier.

‘I’LL PRAY WHEN I’M DYING’ IS THE STORY OF A BAD MAN BECOMING WORSE…

https://www.amazon.com/Ill-Pray-When-Im-Dying-ebook/dp/B096KM1384/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ill-Pray-When-Im-Dying-ebook/dp/B096KM1384/

https://www.amazon.es/Ill-Pray-When-Im-Dying-ebook/dp/B096KM1384/

Author Stephen J. Golds

About the author:

Stephen J. Golds was born in London, U.K, but has lived in Japan for most of his adult life. He enjoys spending time with his daughters, reading books, traveling, boxing and listening to old Soul LPs. His novels are Say Goodbye When I’m Gone (Red Dog Press) Always the Dead (Close to the Bone) Poems for Ghosts in Empty Tenement Windows and the forthcoming collection Love Like Bleeding Out With an Empty Gun in Your Hand

https://www.amazon.com/Stephen-J-Golds/e/B08TX1Q8TM/

 My review:

I was offered an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

I read a review Always the Dead by Stephen J. Golds a few months ago (you can check my review here), loved it, and when I shared my review on my blog quite a few people were intrigued and interested. Unfortunately, there were problems with that particular edition of the book, and it was removed from sale, but that didn’t diminish my interest and enthusiasm. Quite the opposite. Evidently, when I was given the opportunity to review a new novel by the same author, I couldn’t resist. And let me tell you, wow!

 Many of my comments about the previous novel apply here as well. This novel is darker than noir, harder than hard-boiled, and the characters are true bad-asses, but they are far deeper and better drawn than most bad characters are in novels. I have said, more than once, that I don’t need the protagonist of the books I read to be good to feel engaged and to be able to root for them, and I have always had a bit of a soft spot for anti-heroes and unusual main characters. We might not like to be reminded that we all have a dark side, and that we can do bad things as well (sometimes with the best of intentions, sometimes not so much), but as long as the characters’ behaviour can be understood at a certain level, and we can follow their journey and understand their motivations, no matter how little I like what they do, I’m happy to read about them. In the author’s note, at the end of the book, he explains that he decided to write this book because bad characters are always the antagonists, and very often we never get to understand why they do what they do; they are simply there as a foil to test the hero, a difficulty to be overcome, and he felt they should be given a chance.

Although the main protagonist of the novel is Ben Hughes, a British man who emigrated to the US (Boston) with his mother when he was quite young, the book also tells the story of his father, William, who was in the Met police, in London, and who, like his son, had survived a war but had been badly affected by it. The action and the setting are split into two timelines, separated by twenty years, as the father’s story takes place in 1926 and the son’s in 1946, in the days coming up to the 20th anniversary of his father’s death. There are many similarities in the behaviour of the two characters (Ben is a detective working for the Boston Police Department, but he has other fairly illegal occupations, and, in fact, he uses his job as a cover for the least pleasant aspects of his personality), and violence, corruption, threats, blackmail… are ways of life for both. But while we get much more of an insight into Ben’s motivations and traumas (growing up with a father like his was incredibly tough, and we get a first-row seat into some of his experiences through his memories and flashbacks of his childhood abuse), we don’t get to know that much about William. We don’t know anything about his life before the war, although we learn about a French woman’s betrayal and about the way the war seems to have dehumanised him, as he perceives violence now as an expedient way to get whatever he wants (because at least he is using it now in his own benefit, rather than for free at the behest of others). His alcohol consumption doesn’t help matters either, and he is unrepentant.

His son, Ben, suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and, as a psychiatrist and a reader, I must say I have never come across such a vivid and accurate depiction of the condition. The author explains that he feels this illness is always trivialized in popular media, and many aspects of it are never mentioned or delved upon, and he is absolutely right. I am sure many of us can bring to mind characters in books and movies who are supposed to suffer from OCD, but in most cases, it is only anecdotal, a minor hindrance, not something central to the character’s life. Although the story is told in the third person, Golds immerses us into the minds of the protagonists (we also get the point of view of some minor characters at times, but these are brief scenes, not quite as powerful or in-depth, although I particularly enjoyed meeting again a character from the other novel), and, in the case of Ben, that makes for a very uncomfortable experience. Beyond his actions (that yes, are extreme and hard, to say the least), we are locked inside a mind that is forever trying to fight repetitive thoughts (of contamination, paranoid thoughts, suspicions, guilt…), compulsions, engaging in routines (counting, repeating a poem) to guard against evil and doom, trapped by magical thinking… It is not surprising that his mind unravels as more and more of the things and people who moored him into his precarious existence fail him, and he cannot retain any sense of balance or equilibrium.

The writing style, the repetitions, the interruptions, the combination of short, sharp, and quick sentences combined with beautifully observed (even when ugly) descriptions of people and places, recreate the workings of the main character’s mind and reminded me somewhat of stream of consciousness, a writing technique often used by modernist writers. Although there is plenty of action, a plot thick with events and characters (from the lowest of the low to the highest echelons of society), this is not an easy linear read. The story follows a chronological order, alternating the chapters set in the 1920s and the 1940s, but there are many intrusions and flashbacks that can be disorienting and make the readers empathise (if not sympathise, as that is more difficult) with Ben. He is not good, as I said, and nobody could easily condone his actions, but he is trying to hold on to his soul and wants to help a child to make amends, as he wishes someone would have helped him all those years back. Even though the psychological insight into the protagonist’s psyche is one of the strongest points of the novel, the author also captures beautifully the atmosphere of both periods, the interactions between the characters, the way the gangs and tribes communicate, and the struggle for power (both inside and outside the law). I recommend people thinking of reading it to check a sample of the book, but I strongly advise giving it a good chance and not reading only a few lines, as it wouldn’t give them a fair idea of what the experience is like.

Despite my recommendation, I had to share a few lines with you:

Here, Ben describes how he feels when he sees a picture of a missing boy:

Something like a bullet in the back. A blade across the throat. A headache like a hammer blow to his skull and the start of a fever boiling underneath his clothes.

Distorted images passing through his head like the headlights of a speeding hearse down a black street.

And here, one of Ben’s routines:

He counted his steps in groups of seven. He reached the bakery in four sets. Four was an unlucky number. He turned around and walked back seven spaces, turned and walked back. Cancelling out the bad. Creating order….. He counted the steps up to her door. Twelve. Went back over two steps to make it fourteen. Two sets of seven. Felt relief.

As I had warned in my previous review, this is a novel that would fit perfectly in the publishing world of the era the main action is set in (the late 1940s), but not so much now. I had warned about possible triggers there, and here we have them all as well: brutal violence, corruption, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault… and anybody who might feel offended or upset by any of these subjects or preferring to read a book that fits into current political correctness sensibilities should be advised to stay away. This is a hard book, not without its moments of humour (very, very dark), and it deals in serious subjects, which, unfortunately, no matter how much the language we use has changed, are still present and as disturbing and ugly as ever. If you dare dig deep into the mind of a bad man and are not worried about, perhaps, getting to understand him and feel sorry for him, go on and read. Luckily, I have another one of Golds’ books waiting for me.

Thanks to the author for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to stay safe, keep reading, have as much fun as you can, and keep smiling!

 

 

 

 

 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog BLACK IRISH BLUES: A Caesar Stiles Mystery by Andrew Cotto @andrewcotto A great combination of good writing, great characters, and a compelling setting #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you another book from Rosie’s Book Review Team. Short but full to the brim with great characters and stories.

Black Irish Blues by Andrew Cotto

Black Irish Blues: A Caesar Stiles Mystery by Andrew Cotto

“Being a fan of Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos and Walter Mosley, I would certainly label Andrew Cotto as a comparable read to these luminaries in terms of style, characterization and the depiction of life in a tough neighborhood.” –Raven Crime Reads

“Cotto’s lyrical prose reads like Raymond Chandler taking dictation from Walt Whitman.” –Publishers Weekly

Black Irish Blues is the return-to-origin story of Caesar Stiles, an erstwhile runaway who returns to his hometown with plans to buy the town’s only tavern and end his family’s Sicilian curse.

Caesar’s attempt for redemption is complicated by the spectral presence of his estranged father, reparation seekers related to his corrupt older brother, a charming crime boss and his enigmatic crew, and – most significantly – a stranger named Dinny Tuite whose disappearance under dubious circumstances immerses Caesar in a mystery that leads into the criminal underbelly of industrial New Jersey, the flawed myth of the American Dream, and his hometown’s shameful secrets.

Black Irish Blues is a poetic, gritty noir full of dynamic characters, a page-turning plot, and the further development of a unique American character.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08P26X8ZC/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08P26X8ZC/

https://www.amazon.es/gp/product/B08P26X8ZC/

Author Andrew Cotto

About the author:

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

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

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team, and I received an ARC copy of the novel, which I freely chose to review.

This is my first experience reading this author’s work, although when I checked his biography I realised that he had not only been writing for quite a while, but this is not the first novel he publishes with Caesar Stiles as the main character, although the first one was published in 2012, and it’s only available in paperback. It makes perfect sense when we read the story, as there are references to what has happened before, but it is not necessary to have read the previous novel to enjoy this one.

The description of the book provides a good overview of the plot, especially as I want to avoid any spoilers. I’ve been thinking long and hard about the genre of this short novel, and although it might sound like an impossible combination (and I suspect the author wouldn’t agree) if there was something like a “noir-cozy” or a “hard-boiled-cozy” this would be it. Let me explain what I mean because I know the two concepts seem impossible to reconcile. What I mean by cozy is that the novel has not only a pretty peculiar protagonist (who left his home in quite traumatic circumstances and has been wandering the roads of America ever-since), but many of the other characters that make an appearance are also unique (a fantastically charming “good” baddie, an intriguing father, a bodyguard with plenty of style, a driver-cum-guide with plenty of hidden talents, a rich businessman with an alternative view of life…); there is also a strong focus on a small town and its inhabitants, peculiarities, and power structures and games; and a lot of attention is paid to Caesar’s cooking, with lengthy descriptions of some of his favourite dishes and how to cook them. Cozy mysteries tend to combine the actual mystery with some sort of side attraction or plot-line (cooking and baking are quite popular, but there might also be magic, paranormal elements, acting, song contests or a multitude of other subjects). The crimes investigated in that genre can be serious (murders are quite common), but the investigation itself is not discussed in too much detail; it is hardly on the level of a police procedural novel, and the level of violence tends to be either very minor, bizarre or cartoonish rather than realistic, or not discussed in detail. This novel, like many American novels, depicts a small-town that is far from the white-picket fence oasis urban dwellers imagine. It has a dark side, and there are plenty of non-cozy subjects that make an appearance (prostitution, corruption, prejudice, hints of racism, organised crime, bullying and child abuse…), but although I can’t go into detail, let’s say that the nature of the mystery/crime and the ending of the novel are a bit surprising considering some of the less-than-savoury themes discussed.

The style is definitely noir/hard-boiled, with dialogue that is stylised, hard-hitting, witty, and eminently quotable; there is gloomy foreshadowing; there is threatened and actual violence inflicted (although rather than gore and over the top, it felt fairly restrained in its description, perhaps because the story is narrated in the first person by Caesar and, as he reminds us a few times, he’s got used to enduring violence due to his previous experiences and can take a beating), I’ve already mentioned some of the topics typical of the genre, and as the story is set in the early 90s, we have plenty of characters misbehaving (smoking, drinking alcohol, flaunting their money and being conspicuously materialistic) but not much swearing; we have an old Sicilian curse; a character from the wrong side of the tracks with criminal connections who has lost most of his family by the time we meet him. There are plenty of rich descriptions that bring to life the place and the characters, and the book —which is rather short (a bit long for a novella, but pretty short for a novel)— covers a lot of ground in very few pages. There are plenty of secrets to be uncovered, surprises of all kinds that keep popping up, and friends and enemies are not always easy to tell apart.

I liked the central character and plenty of the other characters that make an appearance, although some we don’t get to know very well, and there are a few truly despicable ones. The fact that Caesar tells the story and is quite a contemplative person, who has a lot of stories in his past and plenty of memories to reflect upon helps us connect easily with him and with the characters he likes, even if some of them are ambiguous and not what they seem to be. He is trying his hardest to make things right and to put an end to the family’s curse; he is eager to reconnect with his past, to leave a worthy legacy, and to help others; and although he is not whiter than white (in fact, we learn that he’s done some pretty questionable things), he does have a sense of what is right and wrong and of morality that most readers will probably feel comfortable with.

As mentioned, the writing style is quite descriptive, and the descriptions do not always help directly advance the story. However, they contribute to create a picture of the places and the people we are reading about, and they also fit the narrative style of the protagonist, who is often told he should write his story, and who notes that he used to write lengthy descriptions of the places he visited and of the people he met in his letters to his mother all throughout the many years he was away. There are scenes of action; there are contemplative moments; there are cooking interludes; and there are memories and flashbacks interspersed in the novel, so the pace is not relentless and the storyline does not rush at breakneck speed, but it flows well, and it packs a lot of information and story into very few pages.

Without giving too many clues, I can affirm that I really enjoyed the ending, and it worked well for me. It is evident when we read the novel that the main character has a past, and recent events in his life have had a lot of impact in his current situation, but there is enough information provided for those of us who like to fill in the blanks in order to give us a good sense of the psychology and the complexity of the main character and to make us wonder what will happen next, while at the same time offering us a full and complex story with a satisfying resolution.

In sum, this is a short novel that manages to combine many genres, with a strong and likeable protagonist and some pretty memorable secondary characters, a vividly depicted setting, dark subjects aplenty, a noir writing style without extreme gore or swear words but full of unforgettable quotes, and enough cooking reference to delight gourmets, especially meat-eaters (not my case, unfortunately). A very interesting author with a unique writing style, and one I’ll make sure to keep my eyes on in the future.

Thanks to the author for his novel, thanks to Rosie and all the members of her team for their ongoing support, and thanks to all of you for reading, commenting, liking, and always being there. Remember to keep safe and to keep smiling.

Before you go, I kept thinking that I couldn’t share a post and not say something in Sue Vincent’s memory. Many bloggers have written about her and her passing already, people who knew her better and who’ve expressed what we were all thinking and feeling in a heartfelt and beautiful way, much better than I could. But just say that I won’t forget her smile, her inspiring images and posts, Annie and her stories, her son Nick and his bravery and example, and her courage and sense humour in the face of adversity. Keep smiling, Sue, wherever you are.

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE FALL OF LILITH (FANTASY ANGELS SERIES, Vol 1) by Vashti Quiroz-Vega (@VashtiQV) An epic-story, which will make you reconsider what you thought you knew about angels, demons, and everything in between #Bookreview #amreading

Hi all:

I am sharing the review for a book by an author I have known for a while and whose blog I follow as well, so I was aware of this novel when it was a work-in-progress, and I’m very pleased to finally have read it. Wow!

The Fall of Lilith by Vashti Quiroz-Vega
The Fall of Lilith by Vashti Quiroz-Vega (I love the cover!)

The Fall of Lilith (Fantasy Angels Series) (Volume 1) by Vashti Quiroz-Vega

In The Fall of Lilith, Vashti Quiroz-Vega crafts an irresistible new take on heaven and hell that boldly lays bare the passionate, conflicted natures of God’s first creations: the resplendent celestial beings known as angels.

If you think you know their story, think again.

Endowed with every gift of mind, body, and spirit, the angels reside in a paradise bounded by divine laws, chief of which are obedience to God, and celibacy. In all other things, the angels possess free will, that they may add in their own unique ways to God’s unfolding plan.

Lilith, most exquisite of angels, finds the rules arbitrary and stifling. She yearns to follow no plan but her own: a plan that leads to the throne now occupied by God himself. With clever words and forbidden caresses, Lilith sows discontent among the angels. Soon the virus of rebellion has spread to the greatest of them all: Lucifer.

Now, as angel is pitted against angel, old loyalties are betrayed and friendships broken. Lust, envy, pride, and ambition arise to shake the foundations of heaven . . . and beyond. For what begins as a war in paradise invades God’s newest creation, a planet known as Earth. It is there, in the garden called Eden, that Lilith, Lucifer, and the other rebel angels will seek a final desperate victory—or a venomous revenge.

“[A] compelling narrative that . . . strays far from the traditional biblical text . . . A well-written, descriptive, and dark creation story.”—Kirkus Reviews

https://www.amazon.com/Fall-Lilith-Fantasy-Angels-ebook/dp/B074CPKLHH/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fall-Lilith-Fantasy-Angels-ebook/dp/B074CPKLHH/

Author Vashti Quiroz-Vega
Author Vashti Quiroz-Vega

About the author:

Hello! My name is Vashti Quiroz-Vega. I’m a writer of Suspense, Thriller, Fantasy, and Horror. I also enjoy mixing in some Humor and Romance into my stories.

From the time I was a young kid, writing has been my passion. I’ve always been a writer I just didn’t know it until much later. For me, it is easier to express my thoughts on paper than with the spoken word. I enjoy making people feel an array of emotions with my writing. I like my audience to laugh one moment, cry the next and clench their jaws after that.

My love of animals and nature are often incorporated into my stories. You’ll read intriguing things about various animals, nature and natural disasters commingled in my character-driven novels.

I love to read almost as much as I love to write. Some of my favorite authors are Stephen King, M. Night Shyamalan, Michael Crichton, Anne Rice, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling and Dan Brown.

https://www.amazon.com/Vashti-Quiroz-Vega/e/B00GTXG5W4/

My review:

I have seen this book described as “epic” and I agree, not only for its length (it is two books in one) but also for its topic. It does talk about all things in Heaven and Earth, near enough, from the creation of the angels and the battle of good and evil to the fall of the angels and their revenge plans once on Earth (that don’t bode well for humanity).

The author’s writing style in this book is reminiscent of the Bible, although the story is told from quite a different point of view, and it deviates from the narrative most Christians are familiar with (I am intrigued to know how the story will resonate with readers not familiar with the Christian tradition, although the world building is detailed enough for anybody to be able to follow the events). I am not a big Fantasy reader, mostly because I am not that fond of lengthy descriptions (I admire authors who do it well), although this story has the added interest of providing a major variation on a story many of us are familiar with. As typical of the genre, there is plenty of telling (in fact, all the characters are storytellers, and we get to hear the angels’ voices often, narrating their own adventures, or even fictional ones, like a fascinating story Lilith narrates in book 1), and beautiful descriptions of Floraison, the part of Heaven inhabited by the angels, of the angels, and also of the creation of Earth, and of Earth itself in book 2. We follow the story in a chronological order, from the time when the angels are quite young, growing up and learning about their powers (this part reminded me of YA books set up in special schools for young people with special abilities, and also of parts of The Hunger Games, when the characters had to train for the battle ahead), through to the battle between good and evil and their fall to Earth. Although the story is narrated in the third person, we follow the points of views of a variety of angels, mainly Lilith, the main character, but also most of the others at some point.

These angels reminded me of the Greek gods. They are not the celestial beings many of us imagine, but more human than human. They have their personalities, their peculiar characters, their flaws, their desires, and they are far from goodie-goodie-two-shoes. Even the good angels have faults… (Oh Gabriel…). We get to know Lilith’s cunning and devious nature better than that of others (she is rebellious, proud, has a superiority complex, and does not seem to feel true affection for anybody, even her supposed friends), but we see that Lucifer is proud and is not a good looser from early on (when he is following the rules), and some of the other angels are weak, easily manipulated, and only worried about their own well-being and interests. The God of this story does not tolerate rebellion or deceit, and he severely punishes his children for their misdeeds. The author excels at writing the punishments and tortures the angels are subject to, and these parts of the book are not for the faint-hearted. I know she writes horror too, and this is quite evident in her penchant for devising monstrous characters and pretty cruel and sadistic tortures.

As is often the case, the bad characters are more interesting than the good ones (that we mostly lose sight of in book 2, apart from some brief appearances). I would not say any of the characters are very sympathetic. Lilith is put to the test and punished for being what she is (and considering angels are given free-will, that seems quite cruel), but she displays psychopathic traits from the beginning and it is difficult to blame her nasty personality on her experiences. She is strong and determined, but she abandons her friends, is manipulative, and goes to extremes that make her exceedingly unlikeable. I have no problem with having a truly horrible character as the main voice of a book, although I missed something that helped me connect with her (there are moments when she hints at a weakness or hurt, but I did not feel they were particularly convincing. Perhaps a sense of humour, no matter how dark, would have helped, but other than some instances of silly behaviour very early on, there are moments of wonder but not many laughs). Gadreel is perhaps the easiest character to empathise with, and she grows and develops during book 2 (to begin with she is constantly complaining and moaning, but she gets more confident, although she is not traditionally good either). Satan does horrible things, especially to Lilith (who is not blameless by a long stretch, not that such abuse could be ever justified in real life), but he is an interesting character and quite loyal to his friends. And he also does much of what he does out of love, however misguided. I don’t know what that says about me, but I really like Drácul, Satan and Lilith’s child. He is described as quite an ugly thing, but I find him cute. There you have it.

For me, book 2 is more dynamic and moves faster than book 1. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the adventures of the fallen angels on Earth allow us to read about their first impressions of the world as it would appear to somebody who had never been here, a totally brand new place. Such estrangement and sense of wonder are fascinating and the writing captures it well. The fact that the fallen angels find themselves in a hostile environment and have to learn to work together to survive adds to the interest. Of course, Lilith has her own plans, and she makes sure she convinces others to follow.

The character of Lilith reminded me of the typical figure of the femme fatale in film noir (or the spider woman, or… well, I’m sure you can think of many epithets such females have received over the years), who is powerful but her power consists in manipulating and deceiving males, convincing them that they are in charge, while she pulls the invisible strings. I do admire such characters, especially when the circumstances are dire and that seems to be the only option to get ahead. There is always a difficult balance to maintain between creating a strong negative female character that can hold her own and making sure it does not reinforce the usual story tropes that blame women for all of the world’s ills from the beginning of times.

This book made me wonder once more about the well-known narrative (and let me tell you, there are some twists that will keep readers on their toes) of events, which amounts to a civil war in Heaven, where there is no reconciliation and no possible redress or forgiveness for those who rebelled against the established order and lost. I also had to wonder about the rules imposed in Floraison and what seems to be a bias against LGBT (sex is bad, but same-sex sex is worse and is more severely punished), which has always been an issue that has caused much religious debate and it falls within the norm of traditional texts.

This book is a tour-de-force that I’d recommend to readers who love to be challenged by narratives that push the limits of well-known stories and make us rethink and reconsider the stories we have been told. And one for those who love strong and wicked female characters. And baby demons… (Oh, and I’ve heard that next book will be from Drácul’s point of view. Yeah!)

Thanks so much to the author for this fantastic book, to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, REVIEW and to enjoy your day!

[amazon_link asins=’162510555X,0898705509,B01MRV0BTW,162998034X,B00V2RRPDU,B01G43HC66,B01LTI0GMI,B0775Z8DHG’ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’wwwauthortran-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’51e9e0fd-2de6-11e8-834d-29c80caf9ee1′]

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE DRY: The Sunday Times Crime Book of the Year 2017 by Jean Harper (@LittleBrownUK) (@janeharperautho)Tense, atmospheric, and reflective Australian #crimenovel.

Hi all:

This is the second part (although it should be the first) of the post I published last week. Oh well, this is me we’re talking about, after all.

The Dry by Jane Harper
The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry: The Sunday Times Crime Book of the Year 2017 by Jane Harper

‘One of the most stunning debuts I’ve ever read…Read it!’ David Baldacci

WINNER OF THE CWA GOLD DAGGER AWARD 2017
AMAZON.COM’S #1 PICK FOR BEST MYSTERY & THRILLER OF THE YEAR 2017
The Gold Australian Book Industry Award for Book of the Year
Australian Book Industry Award for Fiction Book of the Year

WATERSTONES THRILLER OF THE MONTH
THE SIMON MAYO RADIO 2 BOOK CLUB CHOICE
SUNDAY TIMES CRIME THRILLER OF THE MONTH

 

‘Packed with sneaky moves and teasing possibilities that keep the reader guessing…The Dry is a breathless page-turner’ Janet Maslin, New York Times

WHO REALLY KILLED THE HADLER FAMILY?

I just can’t understand how someone like him could do something like that.

Amid the worst drought to ravage Australia in a century, it hasn’t rained in small country town Kiewarra for two years. Tensions in the community become unbearable when three members of the Hadler family are brutally murdered. Everyone thinks Luke Hadler, who committed suicide after slaughtering his wife and six-year-old son, is guilty.

Policeman Aaron Falk returns to the town of his youth for the funeral of his childhood best friend, and is unwillingly drawn into the investigation. As questions mount and suspicion spreads through the town, Falk is forced to confront the community that rejected him twenty years earlier. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret, one which Luke’s death threatens to unearth. And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, secrets from his past and why he left home bubble to the surface as he questions the truth of his friend’s crime.

And if you loved The Dry, don’t miss Jane Harper’s second novel Force of Nature, now available

Editorial reviews:

Review

It is hard to believe that this accomplished piece of writing, which returns again and again to the savage beauty of the landscape, is Harper’s first novel – Sunday Times, Crime Book of the Month January 2017

Wonderfully atmospheric, The Dry is both a riveting murder mystery and a beautifully wrought picture of a rural community under extreme pressure – Mail on Sunday Thriller of the Week, January 2017

The writing is fantastic, and the plot – where many mystery/thrillers fall short these days – was completely unpredictable in the best ways possible… Aaron Falk, returns to his hometown in Australia to mourn, and inevitably investigate, his best friend’s apparent suicide. What comes next is a series of twists and turns that will keep you guessing all the way until the end. I repeatedly found myself shocked and pulled in by Harper’s fast paced and engrossing writing. Truly a fantastic read and hopefully the first of many to come from Ms. Harper – An Amazon Best Book of January 2017, Amazon.com

One of the most assured crime debuts I’ve encountered in many years . . . It grips like a vice from first paragraph to last, atmospherically evoking the small town of Kiewarra . . . Told with heart-breaking precision and emotional power . . . If you read only one crime novel this year make it this one – Daily Mail

Solid storytelling that, despite a plethora of flashbacks, never loses momentum, strong characterization and a sense of place so vivid that you can almost feel the blistering heat add up to a remarkably assured debut – Laura Wilson, Guardian

A sad, beautifully told tale of lives regretted – The Times

‘Jane Harper’s fleet novel about a triple killing is packed with sneaky moves and teasing possibilities that keep the reader guessing…hard to believe this is her first novel… The Dry is a breathless page-turner…The dryness that gives the book its eerie title looms large in the novel’s finale, when certain kinds of weapons become even more terrible than those used to butcher the Hadlers. And a book with a secret on every page now has threats blooming everywhere, too. The Dry has caught the attention of Reese Witherspoon, who has a solid track record for spotting novels with strong movie potential. (Want some evidence? Gone Girl.) But Ms Hadler has made her own major mark long before any film version comes along – Janet Maslin, New York Times

Like True Detective set in the Australian outback…Amid the worst drought in a century, the tension and stifling heat running through the small town of Kiewarra crackle off the pages – Stylist magazine, this month’s most exciting new novels

Set in a small Australian town during a blistering drought, this creepy and tightly woven tale about a detective investigating a brutal triple-murder is getting huge global attention for all the right reasons – it’s brilliant! – Heat magazine

Pulse-thumping suspense… Building from the first page, rammed with atmosphere, suspicions, lies and tension, this is a first-class crime debut’ – Fanny Blake’s Great Reads, Woman & Home

Settle in a comfy chair and read . . . The Dry by Jane Harper. This gripping novel charts a policeman’s unwilling participation in the investigation of a terrible murder in the town of his youth, and is set to be the biggest crime release of 2017 – GQ magazine

Tipped to be one of the biggest novels of the year . . . a gripping read – Hello magazine

Jane Harper creates an atmosphere of simmering tension right from the off. Her version of High Noon in the Outback flickers between past and present to slowly reveal what actually happened between characters who are far more engaging than the cogs usually found in clockwork thrillers . . . A more than promising debut – Evening Standard

One of the most stunning debuts I’ve ever read. I could feel the searing heat of the Australia setting. Every word is near perfect. The story builds like a wave seeking the purchase of earth before it crashes down and wipes out everything you might have thought about this enthralling tale. Read it! – David Baldacci

One of the best crime debuts of 2017 – literary Broadchurch meets Top of the Lake – Joseph Knox, author of Sirens

There is something about isolated communities and secrets and lies that just really intrigues me and this is one heck of a thriller with all of those things and more . . . [this thriller] slowly bubbles like a pan on a stove and you think you can guess the moment when the pan lid is just going to explode. But it’s only been a little while since the water started to bubble, it’ll be ages yet…..then BOOM. I had my eye on that pan lid from the start and I didn’t guess what would happen. My heart is still beating like mad days after finishing the book – The Book Trail (via NetGalley)

You can almost feel the searing heat of the Australian drought in this intense, gripping, atmospheric tale. A compulsive read. – Kate Hamer, bestselling author of The Girl in the Red Coat

Put up your tray table, buckle your seatbelt, and sit back: you’ve found the right book for this flight. Set in the flash-ready tinder of a town going under, The Dry is a cracking good read that will have you hoping the pilot decides to circle the airport before landing. A hit by land or air. – Laura McBride, author of We Are Called to Rise

You will feel the heat, taste the dust and blink into the glare. The Dry is a wonderful crime novel that shines a light into the darkest corner of a sunburnt country – Michael Robotham, CWA Gold Dagger Winner, bestselling author of Life or Death

Every so often a debut novel arrives that is so tightly woven and compelling it seems the work of a novelist in her prime. That’s what Jane Harper has given us with The Dry, a story so true to setting and tone it seemed I fell asleep in Virginia only to wake in Australian heat. It’s rare, that sense of transportation, and I loved every minute of it – John Hart, New York Times bestselling author of Redemption Road

Terrific characters, unique and evocative setting, knockout plot construction. This book has it all – John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling author of The Fall

Every now and then an Australian crime novel comes along to stop your breath and haunt your dreams…There is about The Dry something mythic and valiant. This a story about heroism, the sins of the past, and the struggle to atone – Sydney Morning Herald

[A] devastating debut…From the ominous opening paragraphs, all the more chilling for their matter-of-factness, Harper …spins a suspenseful tale of sound and fury as riveting as it is horrific – Publishers Weekly, starred review

A mystery that starts with a sad homecoming quickly turns into a nail-biting thriller about family, friends, and forensic accounting. Debut author Harper plots this novel with laser precision, keeping suspects in play while dropping in flashbacks that offer readers a full understanding of what really happened. The setting adds layers of meaning. Kiewarra is suffering an epic drought, and Luke’s suicide could easily be explained by the failure of his farm. The risk of wildfire, especially in a broken community rife with poverty and alcoholism, keeps nerves strung taut… A chilling story set under a blistering sun, this fine debut will keep readers on edge and awake long past bedtime – Kirkus, starred review

A stunner…It’s a small-town, big-secrets page-turner with a shocker of an ending. .. – Booklist, starred review

The Dry is one of the most talked-about debuts of the new year….Harper’s story is tightly plotted and moves briskly, the tension as brittle and incendiary as the dried-out crops on the Kiewarra farms. But it is the beautifully evoked landscape and the portrayal of a gloomy outpost on the edge of a desert that are the stars of the show – BookPage

A firecracker debut . . . Journalist Jane Harper proves literary is often mysterious, with her thriller The Dry capturing readers’ attention both for its final twist and its depiction of a hostile small Australian town beset by drought – West Australian

It’s extremely rare and exciting to read a debut that enthralls from the very first page and then absolutely sticks the landing. Told with heart and guts and an authentic sense of place that simply cannot be faked, The Dry is the debut of the year – C.J. Box, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Off The Grid

A razor-sharp crime yarn dripping in the sights, sounds and smells of the Australian bush…The storytelling is accomplished, with a bald sparseness to the writing that draws you in and characterization that rings resoundingly true…as the action twists and turns, the pace build[s] to a fantastic finale that will leave you breathless – Australian Women’s Weekly

A tightly plotted page-turner that kept me reading well into the night…Harper shines a light on the highs and lows of rural life – the loyalty born of collective endurance in adversity, as well as the loneliness and isolation, and the havoc wrought by small-town gossip. She also explores the nature of guilt and regret, and the impact of the past on the present. In this cracker of a book Harper maintains the suspense, with the momentum picking up as it draws to its nerve-wracking conclusion – Australian Financial Review

In this exhilarating debut (which won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript), Falk goes back to a town ravaged by feelings of resentment and distrust that are exacerbated by drought . . . A community psychologically and socially damaged, Kiewarra resembles Henry Lawson’s bush. Australian novelists such as Harper, in a small and select company, are exploring disquieting, imaginative territories, far from the littoral or metropolis – Weekend Australian

In Jane Harper’s debut The Dry, long-held grudges are thrown in the mix to make for an absolute tinderbox – and a cracking read. Harper has delivered a tense, evocative thriller that paints a stark picture of what desperate times can do to a community. She slowly reveals the deep-worn tensions between characters in the small town, and it’s this that makes The Dry such a good read . . . tension crackles . . . It’s not surprising that Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Pacific Standard, has already snapped up film rights for The Dry. It has some decidedly Australian aspects but Harper’s basic point – about the desperate things people will do in desperate times – is universal – Adeleide Advertiser

Atmospheric and riveting, this remarkable debut announces a significant new talent – Morning Star

 Links:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dry-Sunday-Times-Crime-Book-ebook/dp/B01C37W582/

https://www.amazon.com/Dry-Sunday-Times-Crime-Book-ebook/dp/B01C37W582/

Author Jane Harper
Author Jane Harper

About the author:

Jane Harper is the author of The Dry, winner of various awards including the 2015 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, the 2017 Indie Award Book of the Year, the 2017 Australian Book Industry Awards Book of the Year Award and the CWA Gold Dagger Award for the best crime novel of 2017. Rights have been sold in 27 territories worldwide, and film rights optioned to Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea. Jane worked as a print journalist for thirteen years both in Australia and the UK and lives in Melbourne.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Harper/e/B001KI8MCE/

My review:

This is a bit of a peculiar situation. After reading great things about this novel and requesting the author’s second novel Force of Nature (you can check my review here) from NetGalley, I had to read it quickly to take part on a blog tour. When I looked at other reviews, there were so many comparisons to the first novel (although it can be read as a standalone) that I felt I should read the first novel to make my own mind up. That means I will be comparing the first novel to the second, rather than the other way around. Sorry. Why do things the easy way when one can complicate matters?

There is no doubt that Harper knows how to set a story and how to take full advantage of the landscape, atmosphere, and characteristics of the place and the people. She sets the story during a terrible drought in Australia, specifically in Kiewarra, and has the main protagonist (who is also the main character in Force, Aaron Falk, a police detective specializing on fraud and financial crimes) return to his place of birth, twenty years after having left in unfortunate circumstances. The story is also told in the third person, mostly from Falk’s point of view, although we also have fragments, that are differentiated from the rest of the story by being written in italics, that go back to the events that happened many years back (the events that made Falk and his father leave town when he was an adolescent), and also to the more recent deaths. These fragments, also written in the third person, are told from a variety of points of views, although it is not difficult to know which character’s point of view we are sharing. (Some readers enjoy the style and others don’t, so I’d recommend checking a sample of the book before making a decision).

In this story, Falk is called to attend the funeral of his childhood friend, Luke, who has seemingly killed his wife and young son, and then committed suicide, only leaving his baby daughter (13 months old) alive. Luke’s parents are convinced that their son has not killed his family and himself, and ask for Falk’s help. The current killings bring back memories of the death of a young girl who was Falk and Luke’s friend and with it the suspicions of his possible involvement.

The mystery has some elements of the police procedural (as Falk joins forces with the new police Sergeant, Raco), also of the domestic noir (there are many secrets, mostly family secrets buried deep, and relationships that are not what they seem to be at first sight), and there are plenty of suspects, clues, red herrings, to keep us guessing. But the book does not follow a straight linear narrative, as I mentioned;  it does go into plenty of detail about things that do not seem to be always relevant to the murders, and its pace is not what we are used to in more formulaic thrillers. It is slow and contemplative at times, and the past weighs heavily on the investigation (especially on those who have matters pending). Although most of the violence takes place outside the page, and this is by no means the most explicitly violent novel I’ve read (I’m difficult to shock, though), there is violence and it deals in pretty dark subjects, so be warned. Whilst in some crime novels, even very dark ones, there are light and humorous moments that help release tension; there is hardly any of that here. What we have are insightful and contemplative moments, which go beyond the usual snarky comments by the cynical detective.

As an example, a particularly touching comment by Barb, Luke’s mother, talking about the aftermath of her son’s death:

‘No-one tells you this is how it’s going to be, do they? Oh yes, they’re all so sorry for your loss, all so keen to pop round and get the gossip when it happens, but no-one mentions having to go through your dead son’s drawers and return their library books, do they? No one tells you how to cope with that.’

I thought the small town was  realistically portrayed. The envies, the resentment, the discomfort of knowing that everybody is aware of everybody else’s business, and the prejudices and the tensions in a place where nobody can hide, and where you are never given the benefit of the doubt, felt true to life. Although I’ve never visited Australia, the dynamics of the place and its inhabitants, subject to major tensions due to the uncertainty the drought had brought to the local economy, create an atmosphere that is tense and oppressive, even if the story is not fast-paced.

The characters, in my opinion, are somewhat more clearly divided down morality lines in this novel than in the second, although it is not so evident in the beginning. Whilst in Force none of the characters come out of the book unscathed, and most of them are morally suspect, here there are good characters (although they might not appear to be) and some truly bad ones. Most of the characters (at least the good ones) carry a burden of guilt (in most cases for things they are not truly responsible for), whilst the bad characters seem unable/unwilling to take responsibility for their actions, no matter how cruel. As is the case for many investigators, Falk is also investigating his own past, and that is why he finds it so difficult to resolve the case. This process of rediscovery and personal digging will continue in the next novel. I would not say Falk is an immediately likeable character. I found him more consistent and easy to understand in the second book (of course, by then he had survived to the events of this novel, which would have had an impact on him), although he seems to come alive in some of his interactions with others (particularly Luke’s mother, a great character).

Overall, I felt the mystery part of the story is more intriguing and well-resolved here (even though the past case keeps interfering with the present; there are not as many loose ends and red-herrings here), although I did not mind that aspect of the second novel (that I found more morally complex). For me, this one is more of a novel for mystery lovers, especially for those who prefer to take their time and enjoy a different setting to the usual urban thriller. The second novel in the series pays more attention to how the story is told and to the characters themselves. But there is no doubt that Harper is a great writer and I’m sure we’ll keep reading her and about her in the future.

Ah, don’t miss this post with a recommendation of a book that people who have enjoyed The Dry might like (and I could not agree more. I love The Silent Kookaburra by Liza Perrat. You can read my own review, here).

Thanks to the author, to Cathy for her recommendation, to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

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#TuesdayBookBlog FORCE OF NATURE by Jane Harper (@janeharperautho) (@LittleBrownUK) (@kimberleynyam) Steady-paced, beautifully written, and morally ambiguous #ForceOfNature

Hi all:

I am very pleased to take part on the blog tour for the book Force of Nature by Jane Harper. This is the follow-up of a book that got a lot of attention, especially as it was the debut novel of the author (The Dry). And although I had not read it, I remembered the reviews and could not resist…

Force of Nature by Jane Harper
Force of Nature by Jane Harper

Force of Nature: by the author of the Sunday Times top ten bestseller, The Dry by Jane Harper

The gripping new novel from the author of the Sunday Times top ten bestseller, Waterstones Thriller of the Month, Sunday Times Crime Book of the Month, and Simon Mayo Radio 2 Book Club Choice, The Dry.

FIVE WENT OUT. FOUR CAME BACK…

Is Alice here? Did she make it? Is she safe? In the chaos, in the night, it was impossible to say which of the four had asked after Alice’s welfare. Later, when everything got worse, each would insist it had been them.

Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along the muddy track. Only four come out the other side.

The hike through the rugged landscape is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and teach resilience and team building. At least that is what the corporate retreat website advertises.

Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a particularly keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing bushwalker. Alice Russell is the whistleblower in his latest case – and Alice knew secrets. About the company she worked for and the people she worked with.

Far from the hike encouraging teamwork, the women tell Falk a tale of suspicion, violence and disintegrating trust. And as he delves into the disappearance, it seems some dangers may run far deeper than anyone knew.

Links:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Force-Nature-Jane-Harper/dp/B071P6W7D9/

https://www.amazon.com/Force-Nature-Jane-Harper/dp/B071P6W7D9/

Editorial Reviews

I loved The DryForce of Nature is even better. Brilliantly paced, it wrong-foots the reader like a rocky trail through the bush. I adored it (Susie Steiner, bestselling author of Missing, Presumed and Persons Unknown)

I loved The Dry by Jane Harper, I thought it was magnificent, like everybody else did…Fabulous! And her new book Force of Nature…such brilliance. From the first paragraph I was hooked – you just know you’re in the hands of a master. She’s such an excellent writer and the sense of place is so powerful (Marian Keyes)

Lord of the Flies in the Australian outback, with grown women in place of school boys. I loved every chilling moment of it. A blistering follow-up to The Dry from one of the best new voices in crime fiction (Sarah Hilary, author of the bestselling DI Marnie Rome series)

A major voice in contemporary fiction. Like Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series and Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels, Jane Harper’s deftly plotted mysteries double as sensitive inquiries into human nature, behavior, and psychology. And like The DryForce of Nature bristles with wit; it crackles with suspense; it radiates atmosphere. An astonishing book from an astonishing writer (A.J. Finn, bestselling author of The Woman in the Window)

Harper’s debut, The Dry, was The Sunday Times crime novel of 2017 and won the CWA Gold Dagger award. That makes this second outing from the Australian a very hot ticket indeed(Sunday Times, Books of 2018)

The Dry was one of the standout crime debuts of 2017; Australian author Harper follows it with a story of women hiking in the bush – five go out, but only four come back (Guardian, Books of 2018)

Once again, Harper manages to touch on something mythic in the Australian experience of the land…From Frederic McCubbin’s mournful painting…Lost, to Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock…getting lost in the bush was for a while every non-Indigenous Australian’s worst nightmare. Force of Nature plays on this fear and then some. Ratcheting up the sense of threat is the shade of a notorious serial killer lurking in the undergrowth (Sydney Morning Herald)

Force of Nature proves Jane Harper, author of The Dry, is no one-hit wonder. Its premise is instantly gripping (Herald Sun (Melbourne))

As thick with menace as the bush that seems to swallow the difficult Alice…Force of Nature cuts between past and present, corporate and domestic, and cements its author as one of Australia’s boldest thriller writers (Australian Women’s Weekly)

The narrative is finely constructed, with perfectly measured pace and suspense. So much so that it reminded me of another master of form, Liane Moriarty…Harper has also harnessed what captivates the Australian psyche – the landscape. The Dry is set in a small country town in drought, and this time she takes us into the bush. There are echoes of Picnic at Hanging Rock and Lord of the Flies as any appearance of civility slips away and the women lose direction in a hostile landscape. So does Harper’s new book live up to the first? I was thrilled to find that it does. The novel delivers and Harper writes like a dream (The Saturday Paper, Australia)

The best in compulsive literary crime, from the author of the Sunday Times top ten bestseller, The Dry.

Author Jane Harper
Author Jane Harper

About the author:

Jane Harper is the author of The Dry, winner of various awards including the 2015 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, the 2017 Indie Award Book of the Year, the 2017 Australian Book Industry Awards Book of the Year Award and the CWA Gold Dagger Award for the best crime novel of 2017. Rights have been sold in 27 territories worldwide, and film rights optioned to Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea. Jane worked as a print journalist for thirteen years both in Australia and the UK and lives in Melbourne.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Harper/e/B001KI8MCE/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Little, Brown Book Group for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I had not read Harper’s first acclaimed novel The Dry when I read her second novel (although I had acquired it after reading many good reviews of it) and although it seems that most people who have reviewed it so far have read the first, I can confirm that it can be read independently and you will not feel that you are missing a fundamental part of the story. Yes, there are brief allusions to events that you suspect might refer to the first novel, but the case itself is self-contained. I must confess I felt curious about the first novel after reading this one, in part because of the main character, but also in part because of the comments by the reviewers.

If you have read the first novel, you will know that the setting is Australia. This time, rather than a draught and dry landscape, the case Aaron Falk gets involved in takes place in a wet and cold area at that time of the year, the Giralong Ranges. Two teams from the same legal firm (one male and one female) have gone for a weekend hiking, as part of a teambuilding exercise. The two teams take different routes and on Sunday, when they are all supposed to meet, one of the women does not turn up. Aaron Falk, who is a federal investigator dealing with financial crimes, and his partner, Carmen Cooper, knew the woman who had gone missing, Alice Russell, because she was helping them (not without a certain degree of pressure/coercion) investigate the firm. At first, they wonder if her disappearance might have something to do with her undercover activities, but there are many mysteries, lies, and intrigues at play, the red herrings abound, and emotions run high.

The story is told in the third person, but each chapter is divided into two time frames, one following the actual investigation of Alice’s disappearance, from Falk’s point of view, and the other following, in chronological order, the events during the hiking trip, from the alternate points of view of the women who accompanied Alice (and, very briefly, of Alice herself).  It is an interesting technique, as it makes us compare the conjectures of the investigating team, with the reality, and it provides us an opportunity to learn more about the characters from their own perspective. The author excels at her descriptions of the landscape, the weather, and the psychological state of the women (and of the male investigator). Although the story develops slowly and I would not call it fast-paced, it has twists and turns, and enough clues to keep us hooked and intrigued. Also, although understated and not emotionally open, we are also intrigued by how personally challenging this case is for Falk, who carries his father’s rucksack and his legacy with him and learns a lot more than the expected about family relationships throughout the book.

None of the characters (except, perhaps Falk and Cooper, and maybe the girls) are particularly lovable or even likable but we get to understand their motivations and why they do what they do. I know there are readers who prefer books where there are characters we should clearly like or dislike, but life is a bit more complex than that, and this novel abounds in morally ambiguous characters that not intentionally all good or bad. (Personally, I have a soft spot for Beth, one of the twin sisters). Alice is perhaps one of the least likable of all the characters, although she, like the rest, has redeeming qualities. It is also true that she is a character we don’t get much of an insight into, as she does not get a voice, and we mostly reconstruct her personality and character based on other people’s judgements and takes on her. I noticed that the characters seem to be paired-up (there are two twin sisters, that at first seem to be complete opposites but we learn there are more similarities in their life-experiences than they realise; there are two childhood friends whose lives and even daughters seem to follow parallel paths; the CEO of the company has difficulties with his son, and there are other father-son relationships highlighted throughout the novel, including that of Falk with his father, and also that of a serial killer who was infamous for his murders in the area and his son) and family relations are at the heart of the story.

For some reason this novel made me think of the label “domestic noir”, because although most of the story develops outdoors, it is also about families, strange relationships, and twists and turns. It also reminded me of Liane Moriarty’s Truly, Madly, Guilty that I reviewed a long while back (you can check my review here), not only because the author is also Australian, but because the mystery at the heart of the book (that in that case, we don’t discover until quite late) shakes and transforms deeply the lives of people who seemed to be getting on perfectly well, undisturbed in their domestic lives until they realise it was all a very thin veneer of normality. (After writing the review I noticed that one of the editorial reviews pointed at that too. Great minds…) Although it is true that the women get into survival mode when things get difficult, the comparison to Lord of the Flies is too extreme, in my opinion, as the characters’ motivations go beyond pure survival and are more complex and nuanced even when things get extremely ugly.

I enjoyed the book. Harper writes very well and can truly flesh out situations and landscapes, making us feel as if we were there with the protagonists. I agree with the reviewers who query some of the details of the story (yes, the organisation of the adventure does not seem to be very well-planned, for example), and I felt that some of the red-herrings and clues suggested more interesting directions than those finally explored (the previous murders committed there keep being hinted at but are not fully explained), and some I feel are possibly left open. The ending… Well, let’s say the resolution of the case itself is not a huge surprise, but I enjoyed the overall ending.

And after reading some of the reviews and the comments about Harper’s first novel, I have started reading it, so I’ll let you know what I think.

An author who’s made a deserved great impression and a mystery for those who prefer a slower pace and great writing, rather than a thrill a minute. Definitely recommended.

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

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#TuesdayBookBlog IN WOLVES’ CLOTHING by Greg Levin (@greg_levin) A sharp novel, both in action and in style, with fabulous dialogue and a flawed hero you’ll love #RBRT

Hi all:

Today I bring you the review of a novel that once again I’ve discovered thanks to Rosie’s Book Review Team, and I must say I will be watching this author very closely in the future.

In Wolves' Clothing by Greg Levin
In Wolves’ Clothing by Greg Levin

In Wolves’ Clothing by Greg Levin

On his best days, Zero Slade is the worst man you can imagine. He has to be. It’s the only way to save the Lost Girls.

During his seven years on a team fighting child sex trafficking, Zero’s become quite good at schmoozing with pimps, getting handcuffed by cops and pretending not to care about the children he liberates. But the dangerous sting operations are starting to take their toll on his marriage and sanity. His affinity for prescription painkillers isn’t exactly helping matters.

When the youngest girl the team has ever rescued gets abducted from a safe house in Cambodia, Zero decides to risk everything to find her. His only shot is to go rogue, and sink deeper into the bowels of the trafficking world than he’s ever sunk.

It’s the biggest mission of his life. Trouble is, it’s almost certain death.

https://www.amazon.com/Wolves-Clothing-Greg-Levin-ebook/dp/B075WSMPBT/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wolves-Clothing-Greg-Levin-ebook/dp/B075WSMPBT/

Author Greg Levin
Author Greg Levin

About the author:

Biography

Greg Levin is an award-winning author of psychological thrillers with a dark comedic tinge. He’s gone from being read merely by immediate family and friends to being read also by extended family and Facebook acquaintances.

Greg’s novel The Exit Man was optioned by HBO and later by Showtime for development into a TV series, and won a 2015 Independent Publisher Book Award (a.k.a., an “IPPY”). Greg earned a second IPPY with his next novel, Sick to Death, which Craig Clevenger (The Contortionist’s Handbook) called “a tour de force dark comedy.” Greg’s latest book, In Wolves’ Clothing, is his most dangerous. He wrote much of it during a ten-week-long workshop led by the great Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club and lots of other books Greg sleeps with at night).

Greg resides with his wife, daughter and two cats in Austin, Texas. He is currently wanted by local authorities for refusing to say “y’all” or do the two-step.

Website: http://www.greglevin.com

Facebook: @greglevintheauthor
Twitter: @greg_levin
Instagram: @greglevinauthor

Join Greg’s email list to receive a free ebook and a 3-chapter sample of In Wolves’ Clothing, as well as his bi-weekly(ish) blog posts and occasional news/special offers related to his books. You can join the list at greglevin.com.

https://www.amazon.com/Greg-Levin/e/B0051AYWFI/

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Amber from Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, check here if you would like your books reviewed) and to the author for providing me with a copy of the book that I freely chose to review.

Zero Slade is the narrator of this story that packs plenty of action, violence, and darkness in under three hundred pages. He is a flawed hero or even an anti-hero. He drinks too much, he takes prescription painkillers (of course, no longer prescribed, although there’s little doubt that he is in pain); he loves his wife but lies to her and cannot share his feelings; he is good at his job but is falling into a downward spiral where he makes mistakes, often makes the wrong decisions and gets himself and others into trouble. He is a master of witty retorts (although these seem to take the form of a mental commentary rather than things he tells people, as he pretends, both for professional and for personal reasons to be calm, collected, and not easily fazed), and dark-humour and a cynical point-of-view are second-nature to him. His style of internal dialogue reminded me of noir-novels and of the voice-over narrations used by film-noir detectives of the thirties and forties. He is big, strong, and, in appearance at least, tough. And he needs to be, to do the job he does.

The book’s subject is horrific, and although the novel does not go into a lot of detail about sex trafficking, it does highlight the reality of it, the terrible statistics, and the experiences of the young girls and of those who try to help them, often with little long-term success. Doing such a job requires special qualities and takes a toll on all those involved. Zero reflects on the motley crew he works with early on in the novel and when we meet the new recruit he is supposed to train, Caleb, we wonder what he has in common with the rest and how he came to be there. He seems too together. A Buddhist who always sees the positive side of every situation. Of course, things are not always what they seem, and Zero is not the only one keeping secrets.

Coping with such extreme experiences is not easy. Zero’s first-person narration allows the reader to get inside his head and share his techniques to try and avoid getting emotionally involved and overwhelmed by what he sees. His drinking, his drug abuse, and his defence mechanisms and strategies all point to the fact that rather than being hard, tough, and unfeeling, he is trying to protect himself because otherwise, he’d crack.

We don’t get to know all of the secondary characters well (the book is short, but we do get a good sense of what Zero thinks about them, even if he is not always the best judge of character and he gets more than one surprise) but especially those on the good side are varied, interesting, sympathetic, and morally complex. We don’t know every single detail of Zero’s life either (and he spends a fair amount of time under the influence of drink, drugs, both, or in pain) but he shares enough of his memories and experiences for us to root for him. We know how he met his wife, we learn about his brother’s passing, and even about some bad things that he might or might not have done. Many unreliable narrators sometimes try to paint themselves in a positive light, but although Zero is in denial about his addictions, he is a master of understatement and skilled at putting himself down.

I have once again highlighted a lot of the book, but just a few samples of a novel that’s eminently quotable:

Whenever people say, “It could always be worse,” they’re right … unless they’re talking about what the Lost Girls have been through. That’s where worse ends.

Talking about a superheroes blockbuster movie: It’s about Lycra overcoming evil.

I hate that playing a pedophile comes more naturally to me than being myself.

The trouble is, the camera always takes five pounds off the truth.

The flight attendant returns with my refill. Saved by the bourbon.

One of the nurses helping him move tells him: “Okay, this is always the hard part.” The perfect title for my autobiography.

This is a fast novel, sharp both in action and in style, with fabulous dialogue and a quick-fire and pared-down writing that is dynamic and vibrant. It also has a big heart, deals with a very serious subject, and manages to convey the depth of feeling of a character that goes to big lengths to hide that he is a big softy. Ah, and the ending is great too.

If you don’t mind a fair amount of violence (never gratuitous, but still…), the subject matter, and like heroes down on their luck with plenty of verbal style, you are in for a treat with this novel. An author to follow closely and an important subject.

Thanks to Rosie Amber and to the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

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#Bookreview #RBRT THE SILENT KOOKABURRA by Liza Perrat (@LizaPerrat) Australia from the point of view of a child with an edge of creepiness and intrigue #TuesdayBookBlog

Hi all:

As you know, apart from my own reading and the books that authors kindly offer me for review, I review for some groups. Today I bring you one of the books I’ve reviewed for Rosie’s Book Review Team. If you’re a reviewer, I recommend you check her out as she always gets fantastic books and she’s very well organised.

Here it is:

Cover of the Silent Kookaburra by Liza Perrat
The Silent Kookaburra by Liza Perrat

The Silent Kookaburra by Liza Perrat
All eleven-year-old Tanya Randall wants is a happy family. But Mum does nothing besides housework, Dad’s always down the pub and Nanna Purvis moans at everyone except her dog. Then Shelley arrives –– the miracle baby who fuses the Randall family in love for their little gumnut blossom.

Tanya’s life gets even better when she meets an uncle she didn’t know she had. He tells her she’s beautiful and could be a model. Her family refuses to talk about him. But that’s okay, it’s their little secret.

Then one blistering summer day tragedy strikes, and the surrounding mystery and suspicion tear apart this fragile family web.

Embracing the social changes of 1970s Australia, against a backdrop of native fauna and flora, The Silent Kookaburra is a haunting exploration of the blessings, curses and tyranny of memory.

Unsettling psychological suspense blending the intensity of Wally Lamb with the atmosphere of Peter James, this story will get under your skin.

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and I was provided with an ARC copy that I voluntarily chose to review.

The story —set in an Australia richly brought to life by the writing that describes landscape, animals, trees, food, furniture, cars, lifestyle and social mores— is told in the first person by Tanya Randall. Adult Tanya is back in her childhood cottage and a newspaper cutting from 1973, which her grandmother kept, makes her remember that time when she was only eleven. The story of adult Tanya frames that of her childhood memories, which take up most of the book (I had almost forgotten that fact until the very end of the story).

Young Tanya is quite innocent (of course, she doesn’t think so), overweight (she eats compulsively, seemingly to comfort herself when the situation gets difficult at home, when they call her names, when she has any upsets or… most of the time. There are long lists of biscuits and other foods she consumes at an alarming pace, well-researched for the period, although I’m not familiar with them), and loves her mother, father, cat (that she insists on walking as if it were a dog, even if that brings her even more unwanted attention), dog, true crime magazines, and her friend Angelina, although not so much her grandmother, Nanna Purvis.

Seeing (or reading) things from a child’s point of view is a good way to reflect on how adult behaviour might appear to children and how difficult certain things might be to process and understand. Her mother’s miscarriages and depression (that keeps getting missed until very late in the novel), her secret uncle’s devious behaviour (it’s hard to read the scenes of Tanya with her uncle, as she’s clearly craving for attention and we know from early on where things are headed, but Tanya doesn’t and she finds it more and more difficult to extricate herself from the situation). The author is excellent at making us share her point of view and her thought processes that create an atmosphere of dread and impending disaster. The dualistic life view of young children, for whom everything is black or white is reflected perfectly in Tanya’s reactions to her grandmother (whom at first she doesn’t like at all but later, as she realises she’s the only one to stick by her, goes on to become complicit with) and to her uncle, who goes from being perfect to being a monster (although the novel suggests that he had also been a victim).

The novel is not easy to classify, although it comes under the thriller label, but it is a psychological exploration of childhood, memory, tragedy, the lies we tell ourselves, and also a work of historical (albeit recent history) fiction, as it beautifully recreates the time and place (down details such as hit songs, records of the era, bicycles, toys, cars, magazines, foodstuffs, clothing and hairdos) and even historical events, like the opening of the Sidney Opera House. There is something of a twist at the end, and plenty of secrets, like in most domestic noir novels, but for me, the strong points are the way the story is told, and some of the characters. Nanna Purvis (who is a fantastic character and proves that grandmothers are almost always right) has old-fashioned ideas about relationships, sexuality, religion and race, but manages to surprise us and has good insight into her own family. Tanya reminded me of myself at her age (although I read other types of books, I was also overweight and wasn’t the most popular girl at school, and we also lived with my mother’s mother, although thankfully my home circumstances were not as tragic) and she tries hard to keep her family together. Her point of view and her understanding are limited, and her actions and frame of mind repetitive at times (she munches through countless packets of biscuits, pulls at her cowlick often, bemoans the unattractive shape of her ears, wonders if she’s adopted) as it befits a character of her age and historical period (so close but yet so far. No internet, no social media, no easy way to access information). Real life is not a succession of exciting events; even at times of crisis, most of our lives are taken up by routine actions and everyday tasks. Her mother’s sinking into depression and her bizarre behaviour, which is sadly misunderstood and left untreated for far too long, rang a chord with me as a psychiatrist. It is an accurate portrayal of such conditions, of the effect the illness can have not only on the sufferers but also on the family, and of the reactions of the society to such illnesses (especially at the time). Uncle Blackie is also a fascinating character but I won’t say anything else as I want to avoid spoilers. Although the setting and the atmosphere are very different, it brought to my mind some of Henry James’s stories, in particular, What Maisie Knew and The Turn of the Screw.

This is a great novel that I recommend to those who are interested in accurate psychological portrayals, reflections on the nature of memory, and books with a strong sense of setting and historical period, rather than fast action and an ever changing plot. A word of warning: it will be difficult to read for those with a low tolerance for stories about child abuse and bullying. If you’re a fan of good writing that submerges you into a time and place and plunges you inside of a character’s head, with an edge of creepiness and intrigue, this is your book.

Links:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01MTV05MN/

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MTV05MN/

And here a bit about the author:

Author Liza Perrat
Author Liza Perrat

Liza Perrat

Liza grew up in Wollongong, Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife for fifteen years.
When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her husband and three children for twenty years. She works part-time as a French-English medical translator, and as a novelist.
Several of her short stories have won awards, notably the Writers Bureau annual competition of 2004 and her stories have been published widely in anthologies and small press magazines. Her articles on French culture and tradition have been published in international magazines such as France Magazine and France Today.

Spirit of Lost Angels is the first in the historical “The Bone Angel” series set against a backdrop of rural France during the French Revolution. The second in the series, Wolfsangel, set during the WWII German Occupation of France, was published in October, 2013. The third in the series, Blood Rose Angel, set during the 14th century Black Plague years was published in November, 2015.

The Silent Kookaburra, a dark psychological suspense novel set in 1970s Australia, was published in November, 2016.

Friends, Family and Other Strangers From Downunder is a collection of 14 humorous, horrific and entertaining short stories set in Australia, for readers everywhere.

Liza is a co-founder and member of Triskele Books, an independent writers’ collective with a commitment to quality and a strong sense of place, and also reviews books for Bookmuse.

Liza is available for virtual book club visits (via Skype) upon request.

Amazon author page:

https://www.amazon.com/Liza-Perrat/e/B008385OF2/

Thanks to the author and to Rosie Amber for this opportunity, to you all for reading and remember to like, share, comment and CLICK! Happy reading!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview Eileen: Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016 by Ottessa Moshfegh. A Marmite kind of novel #TuesdayBookBlog

Hi all:

Today I bring you a review of a novel that’s quite a puzzle. It’s definitely not for everybody but I don’t think many people will read it and feel indifferent about it. I am hoping to read the ARC of the next novel of the author soon, so as you’ll guess, I’m more than a bit intrigued.

Book Review of Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

SHORTLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2016

SHORTLISTED FOR THE GORDON BURN PRIZE 2016

SHORTLISTED FOR THE CWA NEW BLOOD DAGGER AWARD 2016 

Fully lives up to the hype. A taut psychological thriller, rippled with comedy as black as a raven’s wing, Eileen is effortlessly stylish and compelling. – Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, The Times 

The Christmas season offers little cheer for Eileen Dunlop. Trapped between caring for her alcoholic father and her job as a secretary at the boys’ prison, she tempers her dreary days with dreams of escaping to the big city. In the meantime, her nights and weekends are filled with shoplifting and cleaning up her increasingly deranged father’s messes.

When the beautiful, charismatic Rebecca Saint John arrives on the scene as the new counsellor at the prison, Eileen is enchanted, unable to resist what appears to be a miraculously budding friendship. But soon, Eileen’s affection for Rebecca will pull her into a crime that far surpasses even her own wild imagination.

Alternative cover of Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Random House UK, Vintage Publishing, Jonathan Cape, for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel that I have freely chosen to review.

I confess that I did look at some of the reviews on this novel before writing mine and they are very evenly divided. Some people love it and others can’t stand it. Yes, I guess it’s a Marmite kind of novel. Why? Having checked the novel in several online stores I noticed that it is classified under mystery novels, and if lovers of the genre of mystery read this novel I suspect many of them are bound to feel cheated or disappointed. Literary fiction, which is another one of the categories it is classified under, perhaps is a better fit.

The story is an in-depth look at a character, the Eileen of the title, who is narrating an episode of her own life, in the first person. It is not strictly written as a memoir. As I observed recently when reviewing a novel also told from the point of view of the older character looking back and reflecting at her young self (in that case it was Anne Boleyn), these kinds of books have the added interest for the reader of trying to work out how much of what is being told is filtered by the wishes of the older person to provide a positive portrayal of their young selves. In this case, what is quite shocking is that either that younger Eileen had no endearing features, or the older Eileen is trying to make herself feel better and reassure herself that she’s come a very long way, indeed.

Eileen is a lonely young woman (twenty-four at the time of the episode she describes), whose mother died years back, who has a very superficial relationship with her only sister (who no longer lives at home and who seems to be very different), and who lives with her father, a retired policeman, an alcoholic and paranoid man, who sees hoodlums and conspiracies everywhere. From the mentions she makes of her mother and her past experiences, her childhood was also sad and the opposite of nurturing, with both parents drinking heavily, and neither of them having any interest in family life (and even less in Eileen, as her sister seemed to be the favourite). She lives in a derelict house, drives an old car with exhaust problems, works at a young boy’s prison, and has no friends or hobbies, other than shoplifting and looking at National Geographic magazines. She lives in a world of fantasy, and even her physiological functions are bizarre.

In some ways, the novel reminded me of Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller because of the narrator, who was also very self-absorbed and had no empathy for anybody, although in that case, it wasn’t evident from the star. Here, Eileen sees and observes things carefully as if cataloguing everything that happens, but has nothing good to say about anybody, apart from the people she gets crushes on (however undeserving they might be).

The novel, full of details which can be seen as sad, shocking, or bizarre but humane depending on our point of view, hints from the beginning at something momentous that is going to happen and has influenced the choice of the point at which the story starts. A couple of new employees come to work at the prison and Rebecca, a young and glamorous woman (at least from Eileen’s point of view) becomes Eileen’s new obsession. She tries her best to deserve this woman’s attention and that gets her in some trouble that I guess it the mystery part (and I won’t discuss to avoid spoilers, even though as I said I don’t think the novel fits in that genre easily, although perhaps it shares similarities with some classics of the genre, and I’ve seen mentions of Patricia Highsmith. Ripley, perhaps?). From the reviews, I saw that some readers were disappointed by the ending, although it fits in well with the rest of the book. (And from the point of view of the character, at least, it feels positive.)

The novel is beautifully written (although the content itself is not beautiful by any stretch of the imagination), detailed and fantastically observed, and it works as an impressive psychological study, that had me wondering about all kinds of personality disorder types of diagnosis (although the whole family are depicted as very dysfunctional). It is difficult to empathise with such a character, although she seems to be an extreme representation of somebody with low self-esteem and completely self-obsessed (and at a lesser level, even if we might not feel comfortable acknowledging it, most of us have contemplated some of her thoughts or feelings at some point). She is relentless in her dislike for almost everybody and everything, but even her older self remains unapologetic (and well, it takes guts to just not care at all). I could not help but wonder how much better she is now, despite her words, as her comments indicate that she hasn’t changed an iota. If anything, she’s come into herself. But I guess self-acceptance is a big change for her.

I found it a fascinating novel, a case study of the weird and disturbed, pretty noir, but not a read I would recommend everybody. (After all, I’m a psychiatrist…) It is not a feel-good or a nice novel to read but it might be for you if you like weirdly compelling characters and are happy to go with a narrator who is not sympathetic at all. I don’t think I’ll forget Eileen or its author in a hurry.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Eileen-Shortlisted-Booker-Prize-2016-ebook/dp/B01BYMRLEA/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Eileen-Shortlisted-Booker-Prize-2016-ebook/dp/B01BYMRLEA/

Thanks to NetGalley, Ramdom House and to the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and do like, share, comment, and CLICK! And Merry Xmas!

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