I bring you another book from Rosie’s Book Review Team that I discovered thanks to some of the reviews by other members. They were right!
Eat the Poor (Galbraith & Pole Book 2) by Tom Williams
A werewolf is on the loose in London.
Chief Inspector Pole, the vampire from the mysterious Section S, teams up once again with his human counterpart to hunt down the beast before the people of the city realise that they are threatened by creatures they have dismissed as myths.
Time is short as the werewolf kills ever more recklessly. Can Galbraith and Pole stop it before panic spreads through London?
Galbraith and Pole start their search in Pole’s extensive library of the arcane, accompanied by a couple of glasses of his excellent malt whisky. All too soon, though, they will have to take to the streets to hunt the monster by the light of the moon.
But the threat is even greater than they think, for in its human form the werewolf is terrifyingly close to the heart of government.
This is Tom Williams’ second tongue-in-cheek take on traditional creatures of darkness. Like the first Galbraith & Pole book, Something Wicked, this will appeal to fans of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London.
You never know when the forces of darkness may be released and there will be no time for reading then. Buy Eat the Poor before it’s too late.
Tom Williams used to write books for business. Now he writes novels set in the 19th century that are generally described as fiction but which are often more honest than the business books. (He writes contemporary fantasy as well, but that’s a dark part of his life, so you’ll have to explore that on your own – ideally with a friend and a protective amulet.)
His stories about James Burke (based on a real person) are exciting tales of high adventure and low cunning set around the Napoleonic Wars. The stories have given him the excuse to travel to Argentina, Egypt, and Spain and call it research.
Tom lives in London. His main interest is avoiding doing any honest work and this leaves him with time to ski, skate and dance tango, all of which (before covid) he thought he did quite well. In between he reads old books and spends far too much time looking at ancient weaponry.
I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.
The description of the novel sets up the plot quite clearly, and I won’t elaborate on it. Readers can find elements of the police procedural novel (one flexible enough to allow for a supernatural element rather than one where logic and realism to the minutest detail are the required standard) with an unlikely and seemingly unsuited couple of investigators, and the tongue-in-cheek approach suits beautifully the description of the inner workings of the police department, and the way promotions and a career in the police are likely to progress for those who care for the actual job and are not that keen on cultivating influences and playing political games within the force.
The ironic commentary on UK politics helps make the story even more memorable. After recent shenanigans in the UK Parliament, one can’t help but wonder if a conservative MP with pretty radical (and classist) views, with the peculiarity of being also a werewolf, would really be that much worse than what had been happening. (And, of course, readers in other countries would wonder the same as well, as although the details might be different, the behaviour of the political classes has been less than stellar pretty much around the world).
There is a mystery that owes plenty to the cozy genre (despite some vicious murders and the addition of the supernatural Others that usually belong in the horror genre) and is likely to attract people who are more interested in quirky and original characters than in the investigation itself.
I haven’t read the first novel in the series, so I don’t know anything about the background story between Pole and Galbraith, and I can confirm that this book can be read as a stand-alone. There are some references to the previous case, but those are contextualised and don’t affect the action or the development of the story. Of course, having read this book, I’d like to know more about the first case, but that is to be expected, having enjoyed this one so much.
The story is narrated in the third person from two of the characters’ points of view (mostly, although there are some paragraphs and comments from an outside observer’s perspective), those of Galbraith and of the criminal they are trying to track. That gives readers a better understanding of the personality of the perpetrator and the circumstances behind the crimes, some of which are well beyond anybody’s control. That doesn’t make the criminal more likeable, at least to me (his politics are quite extreme, although looking at the general political situation, it is evident that many people share similar views), but it allows us to follow his reasoning and to see how easy it could be for someone to move from similar type of thoughts to action. Despite the light tone of the story and the amusing characters and events, there is more than a slight touch of social criticism and a call to attention that is impossible to miss. From feeling privileged and proud of one’s achievement to thinking that those who aren’t as well-off as one is are undeserving of any help or assistance there is but a small step.
Chief Inspector Galbraith is a sympathetic character, and especially those readers of a certain age who have seen their jobs change and become enmeshed in bureaucracy and a never-ending litany of meetings and committees are likely to identify with him. (I had to nod at many of the situations, and some of his reflections as well).
Pole is a mysterious character who never quite reveals much about anything, especially himself —he mentions Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, and it is impossible to read about his character and not think of Doyle’s creation—, but there are moments when his real feelings and emotions filter through the hundreds of years of containment and good breed. I came to like him more and more as the story progressed, and I hope there will be plenty of occasions to get to know him better in future books.
I’ve talked about the baddie already, but towards the end of the novel, a new character was introduced and became one of my favourites. Robson is a masterpiece, and he makes the closing of the investigation totally memorable. (And no, I won’t say anything else about him).
Those readers who dislike head hopping and sudden changes in viewpoint don’t need to worry, as each chapter is told from a single point of view, and it is clearly marked. Oh, and I love the old-style titles of the chapters. They are a joy.
You’ve probably guessed that I enjoyed the ending from my mention of Robson, but apart from the resolution of the case, there are a couple of scenes at the end that I also enjoyed. Especially because Pole and Galbraith share a moment that reminded me of Casablanca’s closing scene when Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains disappear into the fog. Very understated and very moving.
So, if you enjoy mysteries but are not a stickler for realism, love quirky characters and appreciate a touch of the paranormal, have a sense of humour, and like to look at politics and society from a critical but seemingly light-hearted point of view, you should give this novel a go. The author has written plenty of historical novels and has a talent for highlighting trends, connections, and behaviours that many might not perceive. I have discovered another author whose books I’m eager to learn more about, and I’m sure I won’t be alone in this.
Thanks to Rosie and her team for the support and the suggestions, thanks to the author, and especially, thanks to all of you for visiting, reading, liking, commenting, sharing… Don’t forget to keep cool, safe, and smiling!
Oh, and before you go, I wanted to let you know that from the 20th of August, for a week or so, we’ll be having a local festival (la Festa Major de Sants), and we’ll be doing live coverage at the radio, so I’ll be quite busy. Just in case you don’t see me much around, don’t worry, I’m just busy doing radio-related things.
What is left of Francisco Franco’s legacy in Spain today? Franco ruled Spain as a military dictator from 1939 until his death in 1975. In October 2019, his remains were removed from the massive national monument in which they had been buried for forty-four years. For some, the exhumation confirmed that Spain has long been a modern, consolidated democracy. The reality is more complicated. In fact, the country is still deeply affected–and divided–by the dictatorial legacies of Francoism.
In one short volume, Exhuming Franco covers all major facets of the Francoist legacy today, combining research and analysis with reportage and interviews. This book is critical of Spanish democracy; yet, as the final chapter makes clear, Spain is one of many countries facing difficult questions about a conflictive past. To make things worse, the rise of a new, right-wing nationalist revisionism across the West threatens to undo much of the progress made in the past couple of decades when it comes to issues of historical justice.
Sebastiaan Faber was born and raised in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where he studied Spanish; his doctorate is from the University of California, Davis, and he is Professor in the Department of Hispanic Studies at Oberlin College. Sebastiaan is the author of “Exile and Cultural Hegemony: Spanish Exiles in Mexico” (Vanderbilt, 2002), “Anglo-American Hispanists and the Spanish Civil War” (Palgrave, 2008), “Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War” (Vanderbilt, 2018), and “Exhuming Franco: Spain’s Second Transition” (Vanderbilt, forthcoming). He is editor, with Gijs Mulder, of Marcellus Emants’ “Schetsen uit Spanje” (2004); with Cristina Martínez-Carazo, of “Contra el olvido. El exilio español en Estados Unidos” (2009); and with Cecilia Enjuto-Rangel, Pedro García Caro, and Robert Newcomb of “Transatlantic Studies: Latin America, Iberia, and Africa” (Liverpool, 2019). He regularly writes for “The Nation,” “La Marea,” “Fronterad,” and “CTXT: Revista Contexto” (more at sebastiaanfaber.com). He serves as Chair of the Board of Governors of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA, www.alba-valb.org), and co-edits, together with Peter N. Carroll, ALBA’s quarterly magazine, “The Volunteer” (www.albavolunteer.org).
I thank Edelweiss and the publisher (Vanderbilt University Press) for providing me an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.
I read and reviewed one of Dr Faber’s books Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War: History, Fiction, Photography (check my review here) a couple of years ago, was impressed by it, and I did not hesitate to read this book, published at a particularly complicated time, not only due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also due to the continued and increasing debates on fascism, the growth of the extreme right, the popular support for the movement of recovery of historical memory, and also the resistance to such initiatives. Even though the book, like the previous one, centres on Spain, the questions the book raises go well beyond its frontiers.
The book opens with the exhumation of Francisco Franco, that, after much debate eventually (and, for many, far too late) took place on the 24th of October 2019. Taking that recent episode of Spanish History as a starting point, Faber goes on to ask a number of probing questions to 25 individuals from a variety of callings (historians, journalists, writers, members of the judiciary, heads of associations, teachers…) mostly Spanish, although he also refers to the opinions of international experts. As he did in the previous book, the author wants to ensure that all voices are heard, and he describes the style of the book as “more journalistic than academic” and later states that although the format has drawbacks (the bibliography is more reduced than is usual in these types of publications, for example), he hopes it is “quite readable”. Rather than quite readable, I found it gripping, and although perhaps that is a strange word to use for this kind of book, even when I might have completely disagreed with the opinions featured (I won’t claim to be neutral on the subjects discussed, but my personal opinion is not relevant to this review), I found them all interesting, well-informed, reasoned, compelling and engaging, and they all gave me much food for thought.
Should the past be put to rest and forgotten, or should old wounds be examined and victims be given a proper burial? Has Spain (and many other countries with a difficult recent-ish history) truly moved on from the past, or are the vestiges of it still impinging on its present and future? Has the much Spanish Transition —which rather than breaking with the Francoist past and taking it to task for its crimes opted for simply moving on and building a new democratic order over the foundations of the old regime— truly worked? Are the remnants of the Franco regime and its legacy the main problem affecting Spanish politics today, or is it simply another example of the rise of extreme-right movements all over the world (and also part of a much longer historical trend)? Is the Spanish understanding of democracy peculiar in any way, and do its worrying characteristics (high levels of corruption, lack of transparency, lack of public confidence in the government, politicians, and institutions…) have to do with the way it came about, or, as the author suggests, each country’s understanding of democracy is as unique as its history?
There are arguments and counterarguments to answer these questions and many more, and it is sometimes surprising to realise that those whose positions seem more distant, at least in theory, come to pretty similar conclusions, at least in some aspects of the debate, even if their interpretation and reasons are different. The author also offers his own take on the question and also recommends further reading matter to those who want to dig further into the subject. Those include works by those whose interviews are featured in the book, but also others recommended by Dr Faber, a world-renowned expert. This is not a heavy academic text but reads rather like a collection of interviews or a series of specialized magazine articles, and that is another one of its many virtues. I have highlighted much of the text, so much that I wasn’t able to select quotes to share that would give a casual reader a fair idea of what s/he is bound to find. Therefore, and as I often do, I’d recommend checking a sample first to those not sure if the writing style would suit them.
This is a book that anybody interested in recent Spanish history and in current Spanish politics and social movements should read. It is also a text where anybody interested in international politics, the rise of the extreme right and populist movements around the world will find plenty of useful information, analysis, and opinions also relevant to the ongoing debates on those topics. I’d recommend it to anybody with even a passing interest in the subject. I’ve been shaken by many of the facts and opinions quoted, and I’ve learned a great deal as well. I’m sure I’ll keep thinking about this book for a long time, and I have to thank the author for his efforts in trying to contribute to the ongoing debate in a most constructive manner.
Thanks to the author and to the publisher for this book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to share with anybody you think might be interested in the topic, like, comment, and above all, keep safe and keep smiling.
I bring you a book that will appeal to quite a few of you. Here it is.
Number Eight Crispy Chicken: A Hilarious and Powerful Literary Satire by Sarah Neofield
The immigration minister has been detained.
Minister for Asylum Deterrence and Foreign Investment, Peter Ruddick, is en route to the remote Pulcherrima Island, the site of his latest privately-run, fast food chain-inspired detention centre. But chaos ensues when Peter misses his connecting flight and finds himself confined to the visa-free zone of the Turgrael airport, without a business lounge in sight.
Stranded in a foreign territory with nothing but McKing’s Crispy Chicken burgers to eat and nobody but a bleeding heart liberal, his seat-mate Jeremy Bernard for company, Peter’s misunderstandings of Turgistani language and culture result in his arrest on suspicion of terrorism, perversion, and espionage. Peter has always had the power to get away with just about anything, but how will he sweet talk his way out of this one? What if he winds up – like those in his centres – indefinitely detained?
‘Hilarious’ and ‘powerful’, Number Eight Crispy Chicken is a carefully researched, funny, and thought-provoking read for fans of the social novels of Tressell, Orwell, Dickens, and Vonnegut.
Grab your copy of Number Eight Crispy Chicken today, because this is one trip you won’t want to miss!
‘Super smart and funny… straddles social commentary and humour perfectly.
‘ – Ava January, author longlisted for the Richell prize
‘I have never been transitioned from hatred to empathy more skillfully by an author. It cuts away all artifice and ideology to expose the raw but crispy human in each of us.
‘ – Dr. Joanne Sullivan
‘I couldn’t stop reading. Peter was really entertaining to watch and I absolutely loved Jeremy… The ending was very intense. Very 1984.‘ – K.T. Egan, author of All You Hold On To
Sarah Neofield grew up in regional South Australia before living in Japan for a year. Always fascinated by language, she completed a PhD in applied linguistics in 2010. She has written extensively on the topics of intercultural communication, how we communicate online, and language learning. At the age of 30, Sarah resigned from her position as a university lecturer to travel, and since has visited over 60 countries.
She blogs about the connection between language, money, and equality at enrichmentality.com, and about reading, writing, and creativity at sarahneofield.com Twitter: @sarahneofield
Sarah’s forthcoming novel, Number Eight Crispy Chicken, follows the misadventures of an immigration minister stranded in a foreign airport.
I am writing this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you’re looking for reviews, I recommend you check her amazing site here), and I thank her and the author for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review. By the way, personalising the ARC copy for the reviewer is a particularly nice touch. Thanks!
I was intrigued by the description, the title (oh, that title), and also the cover of this book. The topic is one that interests me, and I’m sure I’m one among many who have become increasingly alarmed by the situation of asylum seekers all over the world. Although due to my location I’m more familiar with the happenings in the Mediterranean area, this book set in a fictional country (although most readers will reach their own conclusions as to the author’s inspiration for Furtivus, and she openly discusses it on her website) highlights the fact that things are not that different elsewhere (or perhaps that the differences are more cosmetic than substantial).
It’s difficult to discuss the merits of this book separately from its subject. As a politico-social satire, the beauty is in the way it sends up the situation and it pulls up a distorting mirror to the main character, Peter, who is a composite of the worst “qualities” of politicians and public figures whose take on the subject of the asylum seekers’ plight is the hardest of hard-lines and, on top of that, don’t hesitate on personally profiting from the issue (and not only at a political level). I’ve talked before about books whose main character is nasty and despicable, and how reader might find it counterintuitive at first, but in this genre of political satire, this is to be expected. If you’re looking for a book where you can identify and cheer the main character, and you want a hero to follow, please, don’t read this book. Peter is thoroughly dislikeable. The author chooses to tell the story in the third-person, and although at times we are offered an omniscient (observer’s) point of view, which gives us a bit of a break from being inside of Peter’s head (and his rather disgusting body as well) while at the same time clarifying things and giving us an outsiders perspective, most of the time we experience things from Peter’s point of view, and let me tell you, both mentally and physically, it is not a nice place to be.
There are other characters and even one, Jeremy, who is the complete opposite to Peter, and most readers will like, but they don’t play a big part in the story, and although in the case of Jeremy, he is there to show that other options and points of view exist, for the most part we don’t know them in their own right, as true people, but only as obstacles or points of friction for Peter, and that is at it should be, because it reflects perfectly the policies the real-life counterparts of the protagonist formulate and/or adhere to. Only this time he is not in charge, and he does not like it one little bit.
There is a fair amount of telling in the book (the character is forever running his schemes in his mind, feeling self-important and thinking about his “achievements”, and later on, feeling sorry for himself); the author is wonderfully descriptive when it comes to explaining what is happening in Peter’s body, how he sees things, and there are many moments when the books is almost cinematic (oh, the dreaded red buttons, and the feel of his clothes as they degenerate over 24 hours). Peter is a man who judges others by their appearance, and he is very fastidious when we meet him, moaning at everything that is not right to his liking. Self-centred doesn’t quite capture the degree of his egotism, and the little bits of personal information we gather from his rambling mind do nothing to justify his inflated sense of ego.
The plot of the story is simple, and it is clearly explained in the description. Imagine what would happen if somebody who is responsible for making decisions about the refugee policy in a country (and let’s say his policies are less than generous and welcoming), ended up detained at an airport in a foreign country who does not recognise his status, does not accept his money, does not speak his language (or barely), and, basically, does not care an iota about him and does not see him as a person but as a nuisance repeatedly trying to get into the country uninvited. If you think that sounds like he’s got his comeuppance, well, you’d be right, and if you, like me, think that going through a bureaucratic Kafkian nightmare must be hell, I’d recommend you read this book.
The book is not a page-turner in the usual sense. There are many moments in the book when time drags for Peter, and Neofield makes this experience vivid to the reader. Many things happen in the book, but a lot of it is also spent waiting for the nightmare to end. Let me tell you that I loved the ending, that although understated, I thought was perfect.
The novel is full of quotable moments, but one of my favourites must be a conversation when Peter is trying to explain to the security guards (and it’s not his first encounter with the woman in charge) the nature of the blueprints he carries. The fragment is too long to share in its totality, but I thought I’d give you a taster of it, and also of the reply of the guard (whom I love).
‘It’s our Offshore Processing Centre.’
‘It’s where illegal immigrants-‘
‘You mean refugee?’
‘No, boat people. Queue jumpers.’
The guard’s English was even poorer than Peter had realised, if he had to explain the difference. ‘It’s where they are held for processing.’
‘You process their claim?’
‘Well, not exactly-‘
‘What you do?’
‘Mainly we just hold them there.’
‘Ah, yes. We had also. Long time ago. Concentration camp. This electric fence, no?’
‘No, no. It’s a Courtesy Fence. And it’s not a camp. It’s a Concentration Centre. I mean, Detention Centre. I mean, Processing Centre.’…
The conversation carries on for a while, but I had to share the guard’s summing up of her understanding of the situation (after she tells him he must have taken drugs because of the type of things he is saying):
‘Then why you talk crazy? This,’ she said, pointing back at the plans, ‘is not a picture of house. Is tent. This,’ she rolled up the blueprint and slammed it on the desk, ‘is not process centre if you no process. And four year is not ‘temporary’.’
Be this a warning to all spin doctors.
The novel’s description already mentions some writers that might come to mind on reading this book. As a political satire, it made me think of Swift, and I must say that the main character and some of his problems reminded me of the protagonist of Ian McEwan Solar, at least in the early part of the book. And the fixation of the character with his belongings reminded me as well of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. But you can read it and make up your own mind about it. I recommend it to people interested in the subject of the politics of immigration and seeking asylum in many Western countries, especially if looking for a critical and analytical take on it, which is at the same time sharply and painfully funny and entertaining. You’ll love to hate Peter, and the book is particularly suitable for book clubs, as there is much to discuss and mull over, both in the book itself and in the subject it deals with. The author even offers a guide for readers belonging to book clubs and shares some of the sources she used as an inspiration, and you can access them here. I don’t know what the author plans to write in the future, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on her, and I hope plenty of people read this book, and it makes them think.
Thanks to Rosie and her team, to the author, and to all of you for reading. Make sure to share and keep reading and thinking.
Oh, and a quick note. The final novel of my trilogy Angelic Business is now available as an audiobook.
And Angelic Business 3. Pink, Angel or Demon?
Angelic Business 3. Pink, Angel or Demon?
OK, OK, OK. Pink gets it. She’s the Elected, whether she likes it or not. Heaven and Hell are closing in, and their envoys are closer home than ever. So close she can’t ignore them. And she’ll do everything but.
However long she has, she’s determined to make it count. She’ll sort her friends out, she’ll help her family and, she’ll live a bit. And then, she’ll take charge. Because no one will say that Pink went down without a fight. However big and bad the enemy. Because, if you‘re gonna go, you might as well go with a bang.
I catch up on a series I love today. Perfect for any holidays!
Liars & Lunatics in Goose Pimple Junction: A Goose Pimple Junction Mystery, book 5 by Amy Metz
It’s election season, and there’s a new candidate in town. Virgil Pepper is determined
to take the job from Goose Pimple Junction’s long-time mayor. Virgil is a charming and
charismatic candidate but someone who will say anything (and mean none of it)
to get what he wants. Three things top his list: to become mayor, to acquire Jackson
Wright’s land, and to make Caledonia Culpepper one of his many conquests.
Wynona Baxter is back, and she’s a new woman. Now Daisy has a new identity, new life,
and new business–ironically named Killer Cupcakes. But the town soon finds out that
isn’t the only kind of killer in town. Book five of the Goose Pimple Junction mystery series
combines political hijinks, delicious cupcakes, Goose Juice moonshine, the ups and downs
of finding true love, and, of course, murder.
It is said that “It’s a basic truth of the human condition that everybody lies. The only
variable is about what.” Lying in politics, lying for personal and professional gain,
lying about an identity . . . What are the folks of Goose Pimple Junction willing to
lie for . . . and what are they willing to die for?
Amy Metz is the author of the Goose Pimple Junction mystery series. She is a former first grade teacher and the mother of two grown sons. When not writing, enjoying her family, or surfing Pinterest and Facebook, Amy can usually be found with a mixing spoon, camera, or book in one hand and a glass of sweet tea in the other. Amy loves unique Southern phrases, cupcakes, and a good mystery. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky. Find out more at http://authoramymetz.com
The author provided me with an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review. This in no way influenced my opinion.
I have read and enjoyed some of the books in the collection, but I somehow missed number 4, and that, perhaps helps me tailor my comment also towards readers who might be considering reading this book without having checked the rest. Yes, the story is self-contained, although there are references to events that have taken place in previous books, and a lot of the characters will be familiar to those following the series, who will be in a better position to understand the background to some of the interactions and also the web of relationships and the ins and outs of life at Goose Pimple Junction. And yes, in case you’re wondering, I love the name of the place! So, regarding the issue of reading it as a standalone, I’d say one does not need to have read all the books in the series to enjoy it, but because some of the characters have names and nicknames (witty and funny, I admit), and their relationships are not always evident, it might get a bit confusing to follow the story if you are totally new to it. On the other hand, as I said, I had missed one of the books, and I could pick up the narrative without any problem. I am convinced, though, that reading them all in order enhances the experience, and it’s like visiting a familiar place where you always have fun and renew old friendships every time you go.
The way the story is told is quite interesting, and it adds to the mystery. We start with a murder (a new character, Virgil, who is in the race to become the mayor of the town, is murdered in mysterious circumstances), a confession, and then we go back to several months before the event, counting back to the time of the crime, and then moving forward with the investigation. It works well, because we keep mulling over in our minds how everything we read might relate to the crime (and there are other suspicious deaths as well), and this results in plenty of red herrings, more and more suspects and plenty of possible motives (Virgil is far from a nice man, as we discover. In fact, he is a narcissist who treats women badly, and his business practices and politics aren’t much better either). Although told in third person, the narration follows the points of views of several of the characters, without ever giving us an advantage when it comes to solving the mystery. We might think we know what has happened, and we are privy to some information the sheriff department don’t have, but things are, of course, not as straightforward as they seem to be.
As the mystery part of the plot advances, we also get to learn more about some new arrivals to the town (not totally new, but I’ll avoid spoilers), and also catch up on what has happened to those inhabitants we have come to know and cherish. There are romances developing, a new cupcake shop (if you’re on a diet, I’d take care with the book, as there are many reference to Killer Cupcakes, both the shop and the actual items), there are shady business deals (moonshine liquor, buying land with coercion and under false pretences), there is Oktoberfest to spice up things and bring in the party atmosphere (the fancy dresses, mostly wordplay related, bring in plenty of chuckles), and the ending is very satisfying, and it hints at even better times to come for Goose Pimple Junction. (Yes, I want to move there, or at least go for a very long holiday).
The story flows well, moves at good pace, and the combination of the mystery aspects with the lives of the characters is seamless. I highlighted so many parts of the dialogue, funny repartees, and quotes, that I was unable to choose just a few to add to this review, so my recommendation is to check a sample of the book if you’re trying to decide if you’ll enjoy it or not. I wonder if a list of characters, with their names, nicknames, and relationships might serve as a memory aid for readers visiting the town again, and might also assist readers totally new to the series.
The Southern-style sayings and the dialect of the region (Tennessee), the peculiar lingo and expressions of some of the townspeople, the new characters (I liked Daisy, but her mother, Kaye, must be my favourite new addition), and the quotes at the beginning of the chapter (all about lying and liars), give this book its unique flavour, and people who’ve read previous books in the series and loved them, will have a blast with this one.
I recommend this book to lovers of cozy mysteries, especially those who enjoy stories set in the Southern part of the USA and prefer their crimes laced with plenty of humour, wit, and local flavour. I think the novel works better as part of the series, and I’d recommend people who like the sound of it to start at the beginning, with Murder and Mayhem in Goose Pimple Junction (you can check my reviews of the first three books in the series, here). I hope to keep on visiting the town in the future, that is, if I don’t manage to move there!
Thanks to the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to share if you enjoy it or know somebody who might, and above all, enjoy the holiday season!
I bring you a review I’ve completed for Rosie’s Book Review Team. I am back in one piece (I think) from my break, and it was fascinating although quite tiring as well. I hope to catch up on some of the reviews in the next couple of weeks, and I have something else planned once I’m organised.
Seagulls Over Westminster by Richard Wade.
A political thriller for our time, but with a strand of gentle humour woven through it, making this intriguing story into an entertaining page turner.
Its 2024. Popular TV chat show host, and former MP, Bradley Deakin is the man wanted by the Opposition Party of the day to lead them back to power, breaking the chain of endless hung parliaments and uninspiring political leaders. They just need to get him elected first.
Meanwhile, in Brighton, retired bank manager Harvey Britten is enjoying life with the three things he loves most – his family, the city of his birth and his beloved football team, Brighton and Hove Albion, (known locally as The Seagulls). His support for the team has led to a regular spot on the local radio breakfast show, which has turned him into something of a minor celebrity.
It proves very difficult to find Bradley a suitable by-election until one unexpectedly occurs in Brighton. But Harvey strongly objects to a big shot candidate like Deakin being parachuted into his city and is reluctantly persuaded by his family and radio listeners to stand against him as a protest candidate. But only in the knowledge that he won’t actually win!
The race is otherwise between Bradley and the Government party candidate, Alistair Buckland, a local Councillor with a big secret. But as the campaign is gradually engulfed in scandal and conspiracy theories, it throws the whole contest wide open. Can a high class call girl with a plan for revenge change the outcome? Just how far did Bradley and his team go to cause the by-election in the first place? Will Harvey’s worst nightmare come true, in that he might actually win? And how bad does it have to get for a candidate before their loyal party supporters will refuse to vote for them?
As each candidate increasingly has to defend themselves against more and more serious accusations, both they and the people they love soon realise that there’s far more at stake for them all than just who will end up winning the election.
Review of ‘SEAGULLS OVER WESTMINSTER by Dr Peter Critten
“At a time of political uncertainty, when politicians of all parties seem to have lost the public’s respect, the publication of this novel is very opportune and welcome. It revolves around the intricate relationships amongst diverse characters matched against each other as candidates in a local By Election in Brighton (which may give you a clue as to the title).
Richard Wade deftly gives us byte sized insights into each one and plays one against another on a stage of which he is in total control. One of the delights of this book is how he enables the reader to get inside the head of each character and admire or dislike each one. He has a knack of building up tension right up till the end, the night of the election. He is able to keep us guessing as to what happens next all the way through.
Nothing can take away the fact that Richard Wade is a born storyteller whose attention to detail makes the fast moving plot all the more credible.”
Richard Wade grew up in Yeovil, Somerset, but has lived in London since he was 21. He retired in 2018 at the age of 60 and, having always wanted to write a book, started “Seagulls over Westminster” straight away and published it in February 2019. He now has the writing bug and is working on his next novel.
He lives in Ealing West London with his wife Trish.
I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.
This is a novel set in the near future (2024-5) in the UK, focusing on politics, although I’d say that it is the equivalent of what a cozy mystery represents for the mystery genre. It has a light and humorous undercurrent; it does not go to extremes or deals in the most serious aspects of the topic; it is unlikely to offend most readers, and it does not touch on any of the burning and most controversial UK political issues (Brexit, for example). The author explains his reasons for his choice, and you can make of them what you wish.
There is a mix of characters, some more likeable than others, involved in the political race. In my opinion, Harry is the most likeable of them all, probably because he is honest and sincere, he gets reluctantly involved in politics, and as a retired man, fond of his family and with no evident major character flaws, and it is easy to root for him. Alistair has good and bad points, but I think most readers are bound to feel bad for him, and he does not have the necessary traits to ever become a political success. Bradley is the least likeable, although at some points during the book one might wonder if he is not as bad as he seems (and he is far from some of the totally ruthless individuals we are used to reading about in hard political thrillers). There are some secondary characters that are not on stage long enough for us to get to know them well, but they give more variety to the novel and include some intriguing and even menacing elements. I don’t think an expertise on the UK political situation or institutions is necessary to read this book, although I suspect that the novel will be more enjoyable to people familiar and interested in UK politics.
This is a book of the time, and social media and media in general play a big part in the political process, seriously affecting the public’s perception, with revelations about the candidates being leaked as a way of trying to manipulate the results, secrets being revealed left, right, and centre (politically as well). But, as I said, this is a gentle book and even the revelations and the corruption that is unearthed is pretty mild compared to some recent scandals, and it is unlikely to truly shock or repel people (it is no hard-core political invective or exposé). Although some pretty dark goings-on are hinted at, it is never clear who was truly behind them and if any of the political candidates was truly involved, leaving this element of the story open to readers’ interpretations.
The book feels somewhat old-fashioned, even though it is set in the future, and although there are quite a number of female characters, most of them don’t play a central part in the story (and the one who does, and perhaps the most interesting of the characters, has doubtful motivations that stem from her relationships with a particular man), and either disappear early in the book or are part and parcel of a man’s campaign. Saying that, they come up quite well compared to most of the male protagonists, and they are often the ones pulling the strings from behind the curtains.
The story is entertaining, and having lived in Brighton and being familiar with the area, I particularly liked the local touch and the detailed background into local UK politics. I also liked the emphasis on the role of social media and media in general, Harry and his background in local radio (I love local radio and I also volunteer at a local radio station), and some of the most outrageous suggestions of future changes to politics (like the fact that rather than having names, the parties would become either the GOP or the OP, the Government Party or the Opposition Party, regardless of alliances or ideology, to ensure neutrality). It is also difficult not to read this book and think of possible candidates that would fit right into the roles, and worry that, no matter how humorous, what happens might be uncomfortably close to the truth.
The writing flows easily, creating a good sense of who the characters are, and in some cases making us feel touched and close to their experiences (I did feel pretty sorry for Alistair). The author has a light touch and is skilled at managing a fairly large cast of characters without causing confusion or overwhelming the reader.
An entertaining and gentle book that pokes fun at UK politics, unlikely to offend anybody with a sense of humour. An amusing and fun read for a day when we don’t want to take politics too seriously.
Thanks to Rosie and her team, thanks to the author for his novel, and above all, thanks to all of you for reading, commenting, liking, sharing, and please, remember to keep reading, reviewing and always smiling!
Another mystery with a likeable main character and a small-town far from idyllic.
The Mountain Man’s Badge (The Mountain Man Mysteries Book 3) by Gary Corbin
Lehigh Carter never wanted to be sheriff. And he sure never wanted to arrest his new father-in-law for murder.
Mountain Man Lehigh Carter got talked into serving the unexpired term of disgraced long-time Mt. Hood County sheriff Buck Winters, hoping for a quiet nine months in office before the voters selected a new, permanent office-holder. But a few months into the job, poachers discover the body of Everett Downey, a sleazy local businessman.
Unfortunately, the evidence points to Lehigh’s brand-new father-in-law, the once-powerful senator George McBride. To his chagrin and his new bride’s fury, Lehigh is forced to arrest George for the murder, and suddenly his happy marriage is on the rocks. Soon he’s living in a tent with only his two dogs for companionship.
While most people in Mt. Hood County appreciate Lehigh’s honesty and his willingness to fight the cronyism and corruption that have plagued Mt. Hood County law enforcement for decades, his desire for reform ruffles some important feathers.
Lehigh finds himself fighting unseen enemies, determined to portray him as inept and even more corrupt than his predecessor–even at the cost of protecting the integrity of the murder investigation. Even his own deputies seem intent on bringing back the old guard, and a series of evidence leaks put Lehigh’s reputation and ability to serve as sheriff in jeopardy.
Lehigh’s not a quitter, though, and with dogged persistence, begins to chip away at the investigation, discovering facts that don’t add up…and leads him to suspect why some of those most intent on removing him from office have reasons far more sinister than Lehigh’s rustic demeanor.
Gary Corbin is a writer, editor, and playwright in Camas, WA, a suburb of Portland, OR. Lying in Judgment, his Amazon.com best-selling legal thriller was selected as Bookworks.com “Book of the Week” for July 11-18, 2016, and was the featured novel on Literary Lightbox’s “Indie Spotlight” in February 2017. The long-awaited sequel to Lying in Judgment, Lying in Vengeance, was released in September 2017.
Gary’s second novel, The Mountain Man’s Dog, came out in June 2016, kicking off the Mountain Man Mysteries series. The sequel, The Mountain Man’s Bride, was released Feb. 8, 2017. The third book in the series, The Mountain Man’s Badge, was just released in June 2018.
All of these mysteries are available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook forms.
Join Gary’s mailing list (http://garycorbinwriting.com/about-gary-corbin/contact/) and be the first to be notified of free preview editions, 99 cent specials, free book promotions, and exclusive content such as deleted chapters and early-draft excerpts of upcoming novels.
Gary’s plays have enjoyed critical acclaim and have enjoyed several productions in regional and community theaters. His writer’s reference, Write Better Right Now: A Dozen Mistakes Good Writers Make-And How to Fix Them, is available exclusively on Kindle.
Gary is a member of the Willamette Writers Group, Northwest Editors Guild, 9 Bridges Writers Group, PDX Playwrights, the Portland Area Theater Alliance, and the Bar Noir Writers Workshop, and participates in workshops and conferences in the Portland, Oregon area.
A homebrewer and coffee roaster, Gary loves to ski, cook, and watch his beloved Red Sox and Patriots. He hopes to someday train his dogs to obey. And when that doesn’t work, he escapes to the Oregon coast with his sweetheart.
I was provided an ARC copy of this book by the publisher and I freely chose to review it.
I am always in two minds about reading books in a series, especially when I do not catch it right at the beginning, but when I was offered the opportunity of reading and reviewing this book, I was intrigued and could not let it pass. It was, I guess, a combination of the unusual protagonist (a mountain man, as the series title proclaims), the details of the case (who can resist a good dose of local politics and corruption these days?), and the details about the author, who is an experienced and well-respected writer who has written for a variety of media, including the stage. This is the third book in the series, though, but I was reassured that it could be read independently from the other books. So, what did I think?
Gary Corbin is a skilled writer, with a talent for creating unforgettable characters and settings and convoluted plots. Clarkesville, Oregon, is not one of those enchanted little towns we find in some heart-warming books, but quite the opposite. The descriptions of the mountains and the surrounding area are compelling and appealing, but this is a town with a terrible coffee house, sleazy strip clubs, ignorant and prejudiced inhabitants, and rampant corruption (from low-level civil servants all the way to the top). The novel follows on from the adventures described in the two previous novels (from what I gathered while I read the book), and the main protagonist, Lehigh Carter, is one of those mythical American literary (and film) figures, the reluctant hero. In the two previous books he became involved in several mysteries that ended up in the removal of the long-term sheriff and, after things don’t work well for the replacement (I’m trying to avoid spoilers, in case people want to read the three novels in order), he is asked to step in. But he is a lumberjack (with his own business) and not a professional sheriff —as he keeps being reminded by the elected assistant DA, the media, and plenty of others. And he has not been elected either. His job is further complicated when there is a new murder (in a town where such crimes are almost unknown), and the evidence accumulates against his fairly recent father-in-law (and their relationship was anything but friendly even before that). His relationship with his wife suffers, he is kicked out of the marital home, and he is pushed and pulled in all directions, pestered by those who should be working with him, and enmeshed in a spider web of lies and deception. There are enemies and betrayers all around him and he has his own doubts and insecurities to fight against as well. He has no qualifications to show for the job, makes beginner mistakes at times, lacks modern equipment and technical skills, and is being taunted by the commissioners for not having been voted into the job and being an amateur, even when they were the ones signing his appointment.
Although I lacked the background into the protagonist and other important characters in the novel (that I guess would give a more rounded pictures of the relationships between them and the motivations for their actions), I still liked his honesty, his humility, his self-doubt, and his willingness to put everything on the line to do the right thing and to protect his constituency, no matter how much it might cost him. This is not one of those action heroes who never miss a shot or put a foot wrong. He feels real and by the end of the novel, I thought I would happily have voted for him as the new sheriff. I also liked his collaborators, Wadsworth, in his mentor-like role, and especially Ruby Mac (she is fabulous!). His wife is caught up in a difficult situation but eventually, I got to understand and empathise with her and her predicament (and I think she is one of the characters that have grown over the series, so I missed much of that). The politicians, the rest of the sheriff department, other inhabitants of the town, and Bailey —the TV news anchor— are all well-drawn and distinct, and they run the whole gamut of human emotions, qualities, and vices. Some have bigger roles than others, but they give a bit of variety to a place that is portrayed as mostly stuck in its traditions and not very tolerant or diverse.
The plot reminded me of the old-fashioned mystery books and series we all know and love, and, in my opinion, it works better as such than as a detailed police-procedural investigation. As mentioned, Lehigh is an amateur and does not always follow due procedure. He has a good nose and intuition but sometimes misses things and is let down at times by his insecurity and his lack of knowledge. Although the book is set in the present, the sheriff department seems to be stuck in the past, and other than using his mobile for taking pictures, very little technology is in evidence or regularly used; even the computers are ancient and keep malfunctioning, so this is not a story for those fascinated by the latest techniques and the most accurate point-by-point investigations. Much of the police work consists of walking around, interrogating people, and setting up traps to catch suspects and double-crossing staff. There is also an overreliance on evidence that has been overheard and later reported by witnesses. This requires regular readers of detective novels and thrillers to suspend their disbelief to a certain extent, as baddies are overconfident and reckless, and the witnesses never seem to think about taking pictures or recording anybody’s conversations, which is unusual in this day and age, when everything anybody does is recorded and shared, but it gives the mystery a timeless feel, and there are plenty of plot twists and red herrings to keep readers turning the pages at good speed.
The book is written in the third person by a limited omniscient narrator, a technique that works well to allow readers to learn more about the characters, their feelings, and motivations (and some are not nice at all), while at the same time keeping the information necessary to solve the case under wraps, and helping to maintain the suspense and keep us guessing. There is an effective use of description and credible and lively dialogue that add to the characterisation. The book flows well, and there is sufficient information about the previous events to fill in the gaps and allow a reader starting here to follow the plot, although I have the feeling that those who have read the previous books will enjoy it more fully. (I am never sure how much information about previous books might be enough for new readers but not too much for those already familiar with the books. My experience reading series is that, unless you read all the books in quick succession, you need reminders of the previous plot, no matter how well you think you remember it, but different readers will be different on that respect). Although there is some violence, it is not extreme or shown in detail, and there is a good mix of intriguing, creepy, and light-hearted and humorous moments to suit most readers.
I enjoyed the book and feel curious, both about what had happened before and about what the future will bring Lehigh and his team. I was also intrigued by the samples of some of the author’s other books included at the end. I recommend this book (perhaps the whole series, but I cannot comment on the previous books) to readers who like mysteries in non-standard settings, with a good mix of characters and plots, and with a background into small-town politics and corruption that feels eerily relevant.
Thanks to the publisher and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and please, if you have found it interesting, I’d be grateful if you could like, share, comment, click, review, and of course, keep reading and smiling.
‘Two decades of social media had prepared them well for UK2.’
The pace steps up in this final installment of the Project Renova trilogy, as the survivors’ way of life comes under threat.
Two years after the viral outbreak, representatives from UK Central arrive at Lindisfarne to tell the islanders about the shiny new city being created down south. UK2 governor Verlander’s plan is simple: all independent communities are to be dissolved, their inhabitants to reside in approved colonies. Alas, those who relocate soon suspect that the promises of a bright tomorrow are nothing but smoke and mirrors, as great opportunities turn into broken dreams, and dangerous journeys provide the only hope of freedom.
Meanwhile, far away in the southern hemisphere, a new terror is gathering momentum…
‘I walked through that grey afternoon, past fields that nobody had tended for nearly three years, past broken down, rusty old vehicles, buildings with smashed windows. I was walking alone at the end of the world, but I was a happy man. I was free, at last.’
Although this concludes the Project Renova trilogy, a fourth book will be published in early autumn 2018; it is set in the future and features the descendents of Lottie and co. Patient Zero, a collection of short stories related to the series, is also currently available.
Terry Tyler is the author of seventeen books available from Amazon, the latest being ‘UK2’, the third book in her new post-apocalyptic series. She is proud to be self-published, is an avid reader and book reviewer, and a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.
Terry is a Walking Dead addict and loves history, winter, South Park and Netflix. She lives in the north east of England with her husband; she is still trying to learn Geordie.
You can check Terry’s blog where she shares her very sharp book reviews, here.
I was offered an ARC copy of this novel and freely chose to review it.
I have read and reviewed the two previous books in the Project Renova series (check the reviews for book 1, here, and book 2, here), by Terry Tyler, had read great reviews about the third book in the series, and was eager to catch up with the characters after what had happened in the previous two books. I will try not to spoil any of the surprises in the novel, but I want to advise anybody thinking about reading this book that they are written as a series and they should be read in the right order (first Tipping Point, then Lindisfarne, and UK2 third), as the story and the characters’ arcs grow as it goes along, and it is the best way to fully enjoy the story. There is also a compilation of short stories about some of the characters calledPatient Zero (I have that one on my list but haven’t managed to get to it yet), but it is possible to follow the story without having read that one, although I’m sure you’ll feel curious enough to grab that one as well when you’ve finished the three main books.
I thoroughly enjoyed UK2. The novel is divided into three parts, and big events (and big secrets) are discovered in each. Readers who have been following the series will have been eagerly waiting for some of the things that happen in part 1, but in this novel, the action is divided between what is happening in Lindisfarne and what takes place at UK Central (the planned new capital of the UK post-virus). The brains behind UK Central are trying to gather as much of the population together as possible and that means some of the characters choose to move, and readers are given the chance to see how they are affected by their new circumstances. Their fates seem very different, to begin with, but, you won’t be surprised when I tell you that things are not as they seem.
This book is told from a large number of points of view. Many of the characters are given a voice, and here most of them tell the story in first-person, therefore allowing us to see them as they really are, rather than as the personas they try to portray to others. Some of them come out of it very badly (yes, Dex, I’m talking about you) but in other cases, we see characters who grow and develop in front of our eyes. This might come at a cost, but we get the sense that it is well worth it. There are brief interludes written in the third person, some about characters we know whose circumstances change, and others from an omniscient narrator, giving us an insight into what is going on in the world at large and helps create even more tension and anticipation.
The characters remain consistent throughout the series, and there are clear developmental arcs for them. Vicky fluctuates but after some more bad news manages to bounce back, Lottie remains one of my favourite characters and gets some new allies, and there are some surprises, like Flora, who slowly but surely comes into her own. I also enjoyed getting to know more about Doyle, who is another one of the characters who grow through the series, from being quite self-centered and doing anything for a quiet life, to developing a backbone and taking risks.
The quality of the writing is excellent, as usual in this author’s work. There is a good balance between fast-paced action and slower and more reflective moments, but there are gruesome and cruel scenes and sad events that take place as well, as should be the case in the genre. It’s impossible not to think about current politics and wonder what would happen if something like this took place. Let’s say that it feels scarily realistic at times and the novel is great at exploring how human beings can react when faced with extreme situations, with some becoming a better version of themselves, and others… not so much. But, this book is far from all doom and gloom and I loved the ending, and I think most readers will do as well. (Yes, I could not help but cheer at some point!) My only regret was that I had to part with the characters that have become friends by now, but I was reassured by the author’s promise to publish another novel set in the far future with some catch-up to the previous characters. And perhaps one intriguing short-story…
Even if you’ve read the other two novels some time ago, you don’t need to worry because the author has included a link at the very beginning of the novel that allows readers to read a brief summary and catch-up on the action so far.
A great follow-up and closing (sort-of) to the Renova Project series, and one that shouldn’t be missed by anybody who’s been following it. A great ending, a beginning of sorts and a reflection on what extreme conditions can do to the human spirit. Unmissable.
Thanks to the author for the book (and for the mention!), thanks to Rosie Amber and her team, where I first met Terry Tyler and her great reviews, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling!
“Majestically satisfying…a deliciously oppressive page-turner” (Steven Poole Guardian)
“Immensely enjoyable and gloriously dark… He has accomplished that toughest of literary feats: putting his own unmistakable mark on one of Shakespeare’s most celebrated plays” (Matt Gibson Daily Express)
“Inventive and deeply satisfying… a dark but ultimately hopeful Macbeth, one suited to our own troubled times” (James Shapiro New York Times Book Review)
“Nesbo makes excellent use of all the atmosphere of his genre, and the stakes at play are every bit as convincing as those in the original… This is Nesbo doing what he’s good at” (Lucy Scholes Independent)
“Macbeth as a SWAT team leader. His wife as a former prostitute. The three witches as drug dealers. It’s Shakespeare’s darkest tale — reimagined by the king of Nordic noir” (Graeme Thomson Mail on Sunday)
“Immensely enjoyable and gloriously dark… He has accomplished that toughest of literary feats: putting his own unmistakable mark on one of Shakespeare’s most celebrated plays”
“Inventive and deeply satisfying… a dark but ultimately hopeful Macbeth, one suited to our own troubled times”
“Nesbo makes excellent use of all the atmosphere of his genre, and the stakes at play are every bit as convincing as those in the original… This is Nesbo doing what he’s good at”
“Macbeth as a SWAT team leader. His wife as a former prostitute. The three witches as drug dealers. It’s Shakespeare’s darkest tale — reimagined by the king of Nordic noir”
About the author:
The gripping new thriller from the author of TheSnowman
Jo Nesbo is one of the world’s bestselling crime writers, with The Leopard, Phantom, Police, The Son and his latest Harry Hole novel, The Thirst, all topping the Sunday Times bestseller charts. He’s an international number one bestseller and his books are published in 50 languages, selling over 33 million copies around the world.
Before becoming a crime writer, Nesbo played football for Norway’s premier league team Molde, but his dream of playing professionally for Spurs was dashed when he tore ligaments in his knee at the age of eighteen. After three years of military service, he attended business school and formed the band Di derre (‘Them There’). They topped the charts in Norway, but Nesbo continued working as a financial analyst, crunching numbers during the day and gigging at night. When commissioned by a publisher to write a memoir about life on the road with his band, he instead came up with the plot for his first Harry Hole crime novel, The Bat.
Sign up to the Jo Nesbo newsletter for all the latest news: jonesbo.com/newsletter
Thanks to NetGalley and to Vintage Digital for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
This book is part of the Hogarth’s Shakespeare project, a project designed to create novels based on some of Shakespeare’s original plays and bring them up-to-date thanks to best-selling novelists. Although I have been intrigued since I’d heard about the project (because I am a fan of some of the authors, like Margaret Atwood and Anne Tyler), this is the first of the novels to come out of the project that I’ve read. Evidently, the idea behind the series was to try and bring new readers to Shakespeare and perhaps combine people interested in the plays with followers of the novelists. My case is a bit peculiar. I love Shakespeare (I prefer his tragedies and his comedies to the rest of his work) but I can’t say I’m an authority on him, and although I’ve read some of his plays, I prefer to attend live performances or watch adaptations (I’ve watched quite a few versions of Hamlet, but not so many of the rest of his plays, by poor chance). I’ve only watched Macbeth a couple of times, so I’m not the best person to comment on how closely Nesbo’s book follows the original. On the other hand, I have not read any of the author’s novels. I’ve watched a recent movie adaptation of one of them (mea culpa, I had not checked the reviews beforehand) but, although I know of him, I cannot compare this novel to the rest of his oeuvre. So I’m poorly qualified to write this review from the perspective of the most likely audience. But, that’s never stopped me before, and this review might perhaps be more relevant to people who are not terribly familiar with either, Macbeth or Nesbo’s books.
From my vague memory of the play, the novel follows the plot fairly closely, although it is set in the 1970s, in a nightmarish and corrupt city (some of the reviewers say it’s a Northern city somewhere not specified. That is true, and although some of the names and settings seem to suggest Scotland, not all details match, for sure), where unemployment is a huge problem, as are drugs, where biker gangs murder at leisure and control the drug market (together with a mysterious and shady character called Hecate, that seems to pull the strings in the background. He’s not a witch here but there’s something otherworldly about him), where the train station has lost its original purpose and has become a den where homeless and people addicted to drugs hung together and try to survive. The police force takes the place of the royalty and the nobles in the original play, with murders, betrayals and everything in between going on in an attempt at climbing up the ladder and taking control of law-enforcement (with the interesting side-effect of blurring any distinction between law and crime), with the city a stand-in for the kingdom of Scotland in the original.
The story is told from many of the characters’ points of view (most of them) and there is a fair amount of head-hopping. Although as the novel advances we become familiar with the characters and their motivations, and it is not so difficult to work out who is thinking what, this is not so easy to begin with as there are many characters with very similar jobs and, at least in appearance, close motivations, so it’s necessary to pay close attention. The technique is useful to get readers inside the heads of the characters and to get insights into their motivations, even if in most cases it is not a comfortable or uplifting experience. The book is truly dark and it seems particularly apt to a moment in history when corruption, morality, and the evil use of power are as relevant as ever. (Of course, the fact that this is an adaptation of a play written centuries before our era brings home that although things might change in the surface, human nature does not change so much). The writing is at times lyrical and at others more down to earth, but it is a long book, so I’d advise readers to check a sample to see if it is something they’d enjoy for the long-haul. I’ll confess that when I started the book I wondered if it was for me, but once I got into the story and became immersed in the characters’ world, I was hooked.
The beauty of having access to the material in a novelised form is that we can get to explore the characters’ subjectivity and motivations, their psychology, in more detail than in a play. Shakespeare was great at creating characters that have had theatregoers thinking and guessing for hundreds of years, but much of it is down to the actors’ interpretation, and two or three hours are not space enough to explore the ins-and-outs and the complex relationships between the characters fully. I was particularly intrigued by Duff, who is not a particularly likeable character, to begin with, but comes into his own later. I liked Banquo, who is, with Duncan, one of the few characters readers will feel comfortable rooting for (Banquo’s son and Angus would fall into the same category, but play smaller parts), and I must warn you that there is no such as thing as feeling comfortable reading this book. I thought what Nesbo does with Lady is interesting and provides her with an easier to understand motivation and makes her more sympathetic than in the play (it is not all down to greed or ambition, although it remains a big part of it). No characters are whiter-than-white (some might be but we don’t get to know them well enough to make that call), and although the baddies might be truly bad, some remain mysterious and unknown, and they are portrayed as extreme examples of the corruption that runs rampant everywhere. Most of the rest of the characters are human, good and bad, and many come to question their lives and what moves them and take a stand that makes them more interesting than people who never deviate from the path of rightness. Macbeth is depicted as a man of contrasts, charitable and cruel, a survivor with a difficult past, perhaps easy to manipulate but driven, full of doubts but determined, addicted to drugs and ‘power’, charismatic and dependent, full of contradictions and memorable.
The ending of the novel is bittersweet. It is more hopeful than the rest of the novel would make us expect, but… (I am not sure I could talk about spoilers in this novel, but still, I’ll keep my peace). Let’s just say this couldn’t have a happy ending and be truthful to the original material.
Although I have highlighted several paragraphs, I don’t think they would provide a fair idea of the novel in isolation, and, as I said before, I recommend downloading or checking a sample to anybody considering the purchase of this novel.
Not knowing Nesbo’s other novels, I cannot address directly his fans. I’ve noticed that quite a number of reviewers who read his novels regularly were not too fond of this one. Personally, I think it works as an adaptation of the Shakespeare play and it is very dark, as dark as the plot of the original requires (and perhaps even more). It is long and it is not an easy-going read. There are no light moments, and it is demanding of the reader’s attention, challenging us to go beyond a few quotations, famous phrases, and set scenes, to the moral heart of the play. If you are looking for an interesting, although perhaps a not fully successful version of Macbeth, that will make you think about power, corruption, good and evil, family, friendship, and politics, give it a try. I am curious to read more Nesbo’s novels and some of the other novels in the project.
On a personal note, as I was reading this novel, the relationship between Macbeth and Banquo brought to my mind one of the novellas included in Escaping Psychiatry, Teamwork. Readers have described it as noir, and it is fairly twisted. Here is a sample:
“Who is this Justin, then?” Mary asked.
“Oh…Poor guy. He’s going through a really hard time. He comes from a very traumatic background. One of Tom’s men, Sgt. David Leaman…did you meet him?…took him under his wing and…treated him like a son. A truly good job he did with him. Recently…about two months ago, they were working together in a case and…Sgt. Leaman was killed. Tom is quite concerned about Justin, who seems to have reacted very weirdly to the whole thing. He just wants to go back to work, won’t talk to anybody, won’t have counselling…”
So that was it. An informal consultation. That’s what Tom wanted. Fair enough, but at least he could have told her. However hard she tried to leave psychiatry behind and get on with her other career, it didn’t seem to work. She was always pulled back.
“Is it nearly ready?” Tom asked from the dining-room.
Dinner was somewhat weird. It was evident that Justin wasn’t a regular visitor to the house and didn’t quite know what to say. And he didn’t seem the talkative type either. He was sitting opposite Mary, and asked her:
“Doctor in what?”
“Literature and film, aren’t you?” Tom replied for her. Once Tom got distracted by his wife’s conversation she added:
“I also studied Medicine. And Psychiatry. I still work at it sometimes.”
She’d hit the target. His face changed and he became even quieter. Shortly after, he said that he needed to make a phone call. He wasn’t too long and remained as quiet as before when he returned. Both Justin and she made their apologies quite early and left together. Once in the street, as he opened his mouth to say goodbye, Mary said:
“Listen, I didn’t know anything about it. I asked Maureen in the kitchen and she told me what happened to Sgt. Leaman. I’m terribly sorry. But Tom hadn’t told me anything. I can see why he invited me, and I must say I found it a bit weird at the time, but he’d always been helpful and kind to me, I couldn’t say no for no reason. I just wanted you to know that I didn’t come here with the intention of analysing you or anything like that. Goodnight then. And good luck.”
As she turned to leave, he asked:
“Could we…talk? In confidence?”
“If you think it might help…”
“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t talk much. David was one of the few people I’ve ever talked to…And his wife Lea, but less…She’s too distraught to bother her with the way I’m feeling right now.”
“Let’s go somewhere. Do you know any place?”
“There’s an all-night diner not very far away from here. There’re never too many people there.”
He was right. There were a couple of people having something to eat, but otherwise, the place was dead quiet. Mary ordered a hot chocolate and he had some ice-cream and coffee. He had a spoonful of the ice-cream and put it to one side.
“No appetite? You didn’t eat much at the McLeods either.”
“No. I don’t feel like eating.”
“Have you lost weight?”
“Probably. Clothes seem loose now.” He went quiet. Mary asked.
“Are you sleeping all right?”
“Not really…I fall asleep easily enough, and then…I wake up in the middle of the night. I keep having these horrible nightmares…I can see David being shot in the head over and over again…”
“Did you see it?…I knew you’d been there, but I didn’t realise…”
“Yes. I was there. When I close my eyes I keep seeing him…falling down…Yes, I know…post-traumatic stress and all that crap. I don’t care what you call it; I’m not going to let it beat me. Not after what I’ve been through. I was beaten up by my father, tortured by him, really…He sent my mother and me to hospital time and again until one day…he hit her; she knocked her head against a banister and died. I pushed him downstairs, he was drunk…He didn’t die but ended up in a coma, like a vegetable. He finally died a couple of years ago and I couldn’t have cared less. It was a relief. I was 14 when all that happened. And then…They put me in a children’s home, and I did drugs, and drank, and…other things…And David caught me at a robbery…I was 16 at the time, and…I don’t know what it was, but he felt sorry for me. Lea says I probably reminded him of the son he lost as a child. Anyway, he took an interest, took me home with him and…He can’t be dead!” Justin burst out crying and Mary kept quiet, offering him a tissue after a few minutes.
“I hadn’t cried…for a long time. It makes me feel stupid and…”
“Vulnerable?… We’re all human and we hurt. It’s allowed, you know?”
“No. Not me. If I let everything come out…It’s a can of worms, Mary…Can I call you Mary?”
“Sure you can.”
“It’s…The only way I can get on with my life is by forgetting what went on before. Dave used to tell me that I didn’t have control over what the bastard of my father did to me and that he’d been punished for it, and I might as well concentrate on the rest of my life, because over that…I had some control and I could decide what to do. I could change it over; I could become anything I wanted if I just tried hard enough.”
Here, a reminder of the whole book and links:
‘Escaping Psychiatry’ is a collection of three stories in the psychological thriller genre with the same protagonist, Mary, a psychiatrist, and writer. She is trying to develop her literary career but circumstances and friends conspire to keep dragging her back to psychiatry.
In ‘Cannon Fodder’ Mary has to assess Cain, an African-American man accused of inciting a religious riot when he claimed that he could hear God and God was black. He might not be mad, but Mary is sure he’s hiding something.
‘Teamwork’ sees Mary hoodwinked into offering therapy to Justin, a policeman feeling guilty after his partner and ersatz father was killed on-duty. Before Mary can extricate herself from the case, things get personal.
In ‘Memory’ Mary goes missing after an incident with Phil, who is manic as he hasn’t been taking his medication. When she is found, she has been the victim of a horrific crime, but they soon discover she was luckier than they had realised.
The epilogue revisits Mary at the point of the trial of her abductor and sees what changes have taken place in her life. Will she finally manage to Escape Psychiatry?
I don’t usually blog on Thursdays, but when I was invited to participate in this blog tour, I know you would not mind getting an extra post. And here it is:
The Leavers: Winner of the PEN/Bellweather Prize for Fiction by Lisa Ko
‘A vivid fictional exploration of what it means to belong and what it feels like when you don’t’Oprah Magazine – Favourite Books of 2017
Finalist for the National Book Award 2017
Winner of the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Fiction
‘There was a time I would have called Lisa Ko’s novel beautifully written, ambitious, and moving, and all of that is true, but it’s more than that now: if you want to understand a forgotten and essential part of the world we live in, The Leavers is required reading’ – Ann Patchett
‘Ambitious . . . Lisa Ko has taken the headlines and has reminded us that beyond them lie messy, brave, extraordinary, ordinary lives’ New York Times Book Review
Ko’s novel is a moving story of how a boy comes into his own when everything he loves is taken away, and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of the past.
One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, Polly, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, goes to her job at a nail salon – and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her. With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left mystified and bereft. Eventually adopted by a pair of well-meaning white professors, Deming is moved from the Bronx to a small town upstate and renamed Daniel Wilkinson. But far from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his adoptive parents’ desire that he assimilate with his memories of his mother and the community he left behind.
Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid examination of borders and belonging. It’s a moving story of how a boy comes into his own when everything he loves is taken away, and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of the past.
‘Imperative reading’ Oprah’s Book Club DIALOGUE BOOKS’ LAUNCH TITLE WINNER OF THE 2016 PEN/BELLWETHER PRIZE FOR FICTION FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARDS 2017
One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, Polly, goes to her job at a nail salon – and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her.
With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left mystified and bereft. Eventually adopted by a pair of well-meaning white professors, Deming is moved from the Bronx to a small town upstate and renamed Daniel Wilkinson. But far from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his adoptive parents’ desire that he assimilate, with his memories of his mother and the community he left behind.
Told from the perspective of both Daniel – as he grows into a directionless young man – and Polly, Ko’s novel gives us one of fiction’s most singular mothers. Loving and selfish, determined and frightened, Polly is forced to make one heart-wrenching choice after another.
Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid examination of borders and belonging. Of identity. It’s a moving story of how a boy comes into his own, when everything he loves is taken away, and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of the past.
About the Author:
Lisas Ko is the author of The Leavers, a novel which was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction and won the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. Her writing has appeared in Best American Short Stories 2016, The New York Times, Brooklyn Review, and extensively elsewhere. Lisa has been awarded fellowships and residencies from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the MacDowell Colony, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, Writers OMI at Ledig House, the Jerome Foundation, Blue Mountain Center, the Van Lier Foundation, Hawthornden Castle, the I-Park Foundation, the Anderson Center, the Constance Saltonstall Foundation, and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center. Born in Queens and raised in Jersey, she lives in Brooklyn.
Visit Lisa on her site: lisa-ko.com or on Twitter: @iamlisako #TheLeavers
‘There was a time I would have called Lisa Ko’s novel beautifully written, ambitious and moving, and all of that is true, but it’s more than that now: if you want to understand a forgotten and essential part of the world we live in, The Leavers is required reading’—ANN PATCHETT
‘[The Leavers] uses the voices of both [a] boy and his birth mother to tell a story that unfolds in graceful, realistic fashion and defies expectations. Though it won last year’s PEN/Bellwether Award for Socially Engaged Fiction, Ko’s book is more far-reaching than that’—THE NEW YORK TIMES
‘Courageous, sensitive, and perfectly of this moment’—BARBARA KINGSOLVER
‘[A] dazzling debut… Filled with exquisite, heartrending details, Ko’s exploration of the often-brutal immigrant experience in America is a moving tale of family and belonging’—PEOPLE
‘A sweeping examination of family…. Ko’s stunning tale of love and loyalty—to family, to country— is a fresh and moving look at the immigrant experience in America, and is as timely as ever’ —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (STARRED REVIEW)
‘What Ko seeks to do with The Leavers is illuminate the consequence of [deportation] facilities, and of the deportation machine as a whole, on individual lives. Ko’s book arrives at a time when it is most needed; its success will be measured in its ability to move its readership along the continuum between complacency and advocacy’ —THE LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS
‘Ko’s unforgettable narrative voice is a credit to the moving stories of immigration, loss, recovery, and acceptance that feel particularly suited for our times’—NYLON
‘[E]ngaging and highly topical… Ko deftly segues between the intertwined stories of the separated mother and son and conveys both the struggles of those caught in the net of immigration authorities and the pain of dislocation’ —THE NATIONAL BOOK REVIEW
‘Skillfully written… Those who are interested in closely observed, character-driven fiction will want to leave room for The Leavers on their shelves’—BOOKLIST
‘[A]n impressive literary debut…. Ko does a wonderful job of crafting sympathetic characters. The Leavers is never sentimental or cloying’—SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST
‘This timely novel depicts the heart- and spirit-breaking difficulties faced by illegal immigrants with meticulous specificity’—KIRKUS REVIEWS
‘The Leavers is also about the very concept of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ — about belonging, and who we are when we lose the people who make us, well, ourselves. It’s about immigration and cultural barriers, the promise of the American dream and the less talked about way it can devolve into an American nightmare’—REFINERY29
‘The Leavers has already won the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, an honor it surely deserves for its depiction of the tribulations of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Beyond that, and perhaps even more admirable, it is an exceptionally well written, fully realized work of art portraying the circumstances and inner worlds — the motives and emotional weather — of its two central characters. Ko is so psychologically penetrating, so acute in her passing observations and deft in the quick views she affords of her characters’ inner lives and surroundings, that her skill and empathy give real joy’ —KATHERINE POWERS, BARNES AND NOBLE REVIEW
‘Ko tells the heart-breaking story of a Chinese mother and her American-born son, who is adopted by a white couple after she disappears without warning and fails to return for several months. Ko is part of an active subgenre shining a light on an ugly truth about our country—that it is possible to come to America and be worse off as a result’ —THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
‘Vividly written and moving, The Leavers is an engrossing story of one young boy struggling to adjust to his new life without his mother and community’—BUZZFEED
‘One of 2017’s most anticipated fiction debuts… The Leavers feels as relevant as ever as the future of immigrants in America hangs in the balance’—TIME
‘A must-read’—MARIE CLAIRE US
‘Beautifully written and deeply affecting, combining the emotional insight of a great novel with the integrity of long-form journalism, The Leavers is a timely meditation on immigration, adoption, and the meaning of family’—THE VILLAGE VOICE
‘A dazzling international parade of the intrigue and dark shadows of motherhood, The Leavers will leave every reader craving more. This is one of the most ambitious novels of 2017, and it delivers’—REDBOOK
‘Touching upon themes such as identity, determination, addiction, and loyalty, the author clearly shows readers that she is an emerging writer to watch. Ko’s writing is strong, and her characters, whether major or minor, are skilfully developed’—LIBRARY JOURNAL (STARRED REVIEW)
‘A rich and sensitive portrait of lives lived across borders, cultures, and languages … One of the most engaging, deeply probing, and beautiful books I have read this year’ —LAILA LALAMI, AUTHOR OF THE MOOR’S ACCOUNT
‘The year’s powerful debut you won’t want to miss. The Leavers expertly weaves a tale of the conflicts between love and loyalty, personal identity and familial obligation, and the growing divide between freedom and social justice. An affecting novel that details the gut-wrenching realities facing illegal immigrants and their families in modern America’—BUSTLE
‘There is something incredibly timely about this book, and something invaluable in Ko’s ability to fully humanize people who are far too often relegated to the position of symbols and far too rarely seen as fully realized beings. The Leavers is more than just a gorgeously written and perfectly constructed novel; it’s a book that means something – maybe even more than its author intended’—PORTLAND BOOK REVIEW
Thanks to Little Brown UK for providing me an ARC copy of this book and for inviting me to participate in the blog tour on the occasion of the UK book’s launch.
The Leavers comes highly recommended (winner of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction) and it feels particularly relevant to the historical times we live in. The plight of emigrants, issues of ethnic and national identity, transnational adoptions, alternative family structures and mother and son relationships. There is plenty of talk and official discourses about laws, building walls, and placing the blame on Others for the problems of a country these days, but this is nothing new. As I read the book, I could not help but think that the situation is a cyclical one, and perhaps the countries the immigrants come from, go to, or their circumstances change over time, but people keep moving. Sometimes they are met with open arms and others, not so much.
This novel is divided into four parts, and it is narrated by two characters. Peilan (Polly) is a young Chinese woman who initially leaves her fishing village for the city (to have access to better opportunities) and eventually takes on huge debt to move to America, already pregnant. She narrates her story in different time-frames (she recalls past events back in China, the difficult time when she had the baby and could not work in New York, her hard decision to send her child to live with her father in China, and the boy’s return after her father’s death), in the first person, first in America, and later, in present-day China. Deming (Daniel), her son, is born in America, shipped back to China, then back to America, and eventually ends up being adopted by a white American family. His story is told in the third person, and we follow him from age 11 (and some earlier memories) all the way to his early twenties. This is the story of two character’s growth, their struggle to discover (or rediscover) who they are and to make sense of their complex history.
The book is beautifully written, with enthralling descriptions of places, sounds, and emotions. If water and nature are particularly significant for Peilan, music makes life meaningful for Daniel and gives him an identity beyond nation and ethnic origin. Like our memories, the book is contemplative and meandering, and the thoughts of both characters reflect well how our minds work, as a smell, a sound, or a glimpsed figure can conjure up an image or a flood of emotions linked to a particular moment in time.
There is a mystery at the centre of the story. Polly leaves her son and nobody knows why. The alternating points of view put the readers in both roles and make us feel lost and abandoned on the one side, and on the other feel puzzled, as we clearly see that Polly loves her son, although she might have felt desperate and done extreme things at times. The explanation, when it eventually comes, is heart-wrenching and particularly poignant in view of some of the policies being enforced and implemented by some countries. Although it is not a traditional mystery novel, and it does not lose its power even if the readers get a clear idea of what had happened, I will try and avoid spoilers.
Both characters feel real, understandable and easy to empathise with, although not necessarily always likeable or immediately sympathetic. Deming is no star pupil, studious and well-behaved, and he makes many mistakes and has a talent for doing the wrong thing and upsetting almost everybody around him. Polly keeps her emotions under wraps; she works hard and puts up with incredibly hard situations until she suddenly does something that comes as a big surprise to everyone who knows her. They are not the perfect Norman Rockwell family by any stretch of the imagination, but that is what makes them more poignant and gives the novels its strength. It is easy to accept and sympathise with those we like and we feel are exceptional cases, but every case is unique and exceptional. The secondary characters are well-drawn and not simple fillers for the main story, their circumstances and personalities are interesting and believable, and the subject of the Deming’s adoption is afforded the nuance and complexity it deserves. The book deals with those issues from a personal perspective, but it is impossible to read it and not think about the effect that policies and politics have on the lives of so many people.
I highlighted many fragments of the book and it is difficult to select some that don’t reveal much of the plot, but I will try.
Instead of friends, Kay and Peter had books they read in bed at night. (Kay and Peter are Daniel’s adoptive parents).
He counted the heartbeats during that little catch between songs, savoring the delicious itch as the needle dropped and the melody snuck its toe out from behind a curtain.
A record was to be treasured, its circle scratches a mysterious language, a furtive tattoo.
“And that is it?” you said. “You forgot me?” “I didn’t forget. I just survived.”
Everyone had stories they told themselves to get through the days.
This novel reminded me of two of the books nominated for the Booker Prize I read last year, one of the finalists, Exist West by Mohsin Hamid (which explores emigration in a very novel way. You can check my review here), and the other one Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (which also deals with identity and displacement, but it was the character of the brother and his descriptions of music that brought the book to my mind. You can read it here). I recommend it to readers who enjoyed those two books, and also readers interested in memory, identity, emigration, adoption (especially across ethnic and national boundaries) or anybody keen to discover a new writer who can paint images, emotions, and sounds with her words.
Thanks very much to NetGalley, to Grace Vincent from Little Brown UK, to all of you for reading and don’t forget to like, share, comment, click, REVIEW and keep smiling!
‘A funny but also touching diary praised for its wit and realism’ BBC Radio 4 Front Row
The Old-But-Not-Dead Club return, in the sequel to the INTERNATIONALLY BESTSELLING The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old, bringing with them some life-affirming lawlessness.
Chaos will ensue as 85-year-old Hendrik Groen is determined to grow old with dignity: to rise up against the care home director. NO more bingo. NO more over- boiled vegetables. NO more health and safety.
85-year-old Hendrik Groen is fed up to his false teeth with coffee mornings and bingo. He dreams of escaping the confines of his care home and practising hairpin turns on his mobility scooter. Inspired by his fellow members of the recently formed Old-But-Not-Dead Club, he vows to put down his custard cream and commit to a spot of octogenarian anarchy.
But the care home’s Director will not stand for drunken bar crawls, illicit fireworks and geriatric romance on her watch. The Old-But-Not-Dead Club must stick together if they’re not to go gently into that good night. Things turn more serious, however, when rumours surface that the home is set for demolition. It’s up to Hendrik and the gang to stop it – or drop dead trying . . .
He may be the wrong side of 85, but Hendrik Groen has no intention of slowing up – or going down without a fight.
Praise for Hendrik Groen
‘A story with a great deal of heart, it pulled me in with its self-deprecating humour, finely drawn characters and important themes. Anyone who hopes to grow old with dignity will have much to reflect on’ Graeme Simsion
‘There are many laughs in this book but it’s so much more than just a comedy. It’s a story about how friendship, selflessness and dignity lie at the heart of the human experience. When I’m an old man, I want to be Hendrik Groen’ John Boyne
‘I laughed until I cried and then laughed and cried some more’ David Suchet
‘Thoughtful, anxious and gruff… Laced with humour’ The Best New Fiction Mail on Sunday
‘Amusing [and] wickedly accurate’ ***** FIVE STARS Sunday Express
‘Highly entertaining … a fiction so closely based on the observation of real life that it is utterly convincing’ Daily Express
‘Full of off-beat charm and quirky characters’ Cathy Rentzenbrink, Stylist
‘Hendrik pens an exposé of his care home. This geriatric Adrian Mole made me laugh and think. Terrific’ Fanny Blake, Woman and Home
Amusing [and] wickedly accurate … I was constantly put in mind of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, another comi-tragedy concerning the tyranny of institutions of the unwanted. Enjoy Groen’s light touch but do not be fooled by it. We live in an ageing society. The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen is a handbook of resistance for our time (***** FIVE STARS Sunday Express)
A story with a great deal of heart, it pulled me in with its self-deprecating humour, finely drawn characters and important themes. Anyone who hopes to grow old with dignity will have much to reflect on (Graeme Simsion)
There are many laughs in this book but it’s so much more than just a comedy. It’s a story about how friendship, selflessness and dignity lie at the heart of the human experience. When I’m an old man, I want to be Hendrik Groen (John Boyne)
I laughed until I cried and then laughed and cried some more (David Suchet)
Thoughtful, anxious and gruff… Laced with humour (Best New Fiction Mail on Sunday)
Highly entertaining … a delightful and touching saga of one man’s way of coping with old age … we may assume that Hendrik Groen is a character of fiction. But it is a fiction so closely based on the observation of real life that it is utterly convincing (Daily Express)
A joy to read, as much concerned with friendship and dignity as it is with the debilitating effects of aging … An entertaining and uplifting story of a man in the winter of his days, stoic in the face of bureaucratic nonsense and an unabashed need to wear a nappy. Imagined or not, this is the diary of someone who wants nothing more than to be allowed see out his days with dignity and respect. It’s not too much to ask, really, is it? (John Boyne Irish Times)
Full of off-beat charm and quirky characters (Cathy Rentzenbrink Stylist)
Praise for The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ Years Old (–)
Very funny (Jeremy Paxman Financial Times)
From the Inside Flap
85-year-old Hendrik Groen is fed up to his false teeth with coffee mornings and bingo. He dreams of escaping the confines of his care home and practising hairpin turns on his mobility scooter. Inspired by his fellow members of the recently formed Old-But-Not-Dead Club, he vows to put down his Custard Cream and commit to a spot of octogenarian anarchy.
But the care home’s Director will not stand for drunken bar crawls, illicit fireworks and geriatric romance on her watch. The Old-But-Not-Dead Club must stick together if they’re not to go gently into that good night. Things turn more serious, however, when rumours surface that the home is set for demolition. It’s up to Hendrik and the gang to stop it – or drop dead trying . . .
He may be the wrong side of 85, but Hendrik Groen has no intention of slowing up – or going down without a fight.
Thanks to Net Galley and to Penguin UK-Michael Joseph for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
A while back I read The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old (check my review here) and loved it. I was on the lookout for the next one, and when I saw the next one was available for download at NetGalley I did not hesitate. It has now been published and I could not pass the chance to share my review.
Hendrik explains what has happened since his last diary (yes, he is older now) and decides to write his diary for another year, as a way to keep his brain going. He is now 85 and he needed some time to get over some of the sad events of the last book. But the Old-But-Not-Dead Club is still going strong, with new members and plans, including regularly exploring international cuisine (more or less), a short holiday abroad, and an attempt at local (extremely local) politics. Hendrik’s voice is as witty and observant as it was in the first book, although there is perhaps a grittier and darker note (he is feeling low, everything is getting tougher and unfortunately, life gets harder as the year goes along). But not all is doom and gloom and there are very funny moments, as well as some very sad ones. His comments about politics and world events, always seen from an elderly population’s perspective, are sharp and clear-sighted and will give readers pause. Some of them are local and I suspect I was not the only one who did not know who many of the people where or what anecdotes he referred to at times (I must admit that although I know a bit about Dutch painters, I know little about their politics or music, for example), but even if we cannot follow all the references in detail, unfortunately, they are easily translatable to social and political concerns we are likely to recognize, wherever we live. Funding cuts, social problems, concerns about health and social care, crime, terrorism, global warming feature prominently, although sometimes with a very peculiar twist.
The secondary characters are as wonderful and varied as in the previous book. Some of them have moved on (physically, mentally, or both), and we get to know better some of the ones that only briefly appeared in the previous volume. We also have new arrivals at the nursing home, and a more direct involvement in the home’s politics (with anxiety-provoking news present as well. Is the nursing home going to close?). I loved some of the proposed and adopted rules (a complaint-free zone to avoid wallowing in conversations about ailments and illnesses, a high-tea facilitated by the residents, an art exhibition, even if the artist is not the most sympathetic of characters…) and the sayings of the residents. Of course, life at a nursing home comes with its share of loss and although I don’t want to reveal too much, I can say the subject of death is treated in a realistic, respectful, and moving way.
I shed some of the quotes I highlighted, to give you a taster (although I recommend checking a sample and seeing what you think. And, although it is not necessary to read the first book first, I think it works better knowing the characters and their journey so far):
The idea of using care homes to look after the comfort, control and companionship of the elderly is fine in principle. It just fails in the execution. What old age homes actually stand for is infantilizing, dependence, and laziness.
One in four old people who break one or more hips die within the year. That number seems high to me, but it’s in the newspaper, so there is room for doubt.
It’s always astonished me to see the wide support clowns and crooks are able to muster. Watching old newsreels of that loudmouth Mussolini, you’d think now there’s a bloke only his mother could love. But no, millions of Italians loved him.(Yes, I’m sure this can make us all think of a few people).
Difficult new terms that tend to obscure rather than clarify, especially when uttered by policy-makers. It often has to do with hiding something —either a budget cut, or hot air, or both at once.
Managerial skills alone don’t make for better care, it only makes for cheaper one.
And, a great ending (and one we should all take up this year):
A new year —how you get through it is up to you, Groen; life doesn’t come with training wheels. Get this show on the road. As long as there’s life.
The tone of the book is bitter-sweet, and, as mentioned, it feels darker than the previous one, perhaps because Hendrik is even more aware of his limitations and those of his friends, and is increasingly faced with the problem of loneliness, and with thoughts about the future. But, overall, this is a book that makes us think about the zest for life, about living life to the full, and about making the best out of our capabilities. As I said on my previous review, I hope I can meet a Hendrik if I get to that age, and I’ll also make sure to join the Old-But-Not-Dead Club and be an agitator and enjoy life to the end. Don’t ever settle for the easy way out.
A great book for those interested in the subject of growing old, in great characters, and in an out-of-the-ordinary setting. It has plenty of adventures and events (even trips abroad and international cuisine), although it is not a book I’d recommend to people who love fast action and high-octane thrillers. If you enjoy first-person narrations, love older characters, and don’t mind thinking about the long-term (ish) future, I recommend this very inspiring book.
Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin for the book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!
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