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Blog Tour Book launch Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE SOUND OF VIOLET by Allen Wolf (@theallenwolf ) An atypical romance (plus) with a fabulous ending #Virtualblogtour #romantic

Hi all, as you can see, I’m participating in a Virtual Blog Tour today. This one is a bit special, as you’ll soon realise:

The Sound of Violet by Allen Wolf

The Sound of Violet by Allen Wolf

Desperate to find a soulmate, Shawn goes on one awkward date after another until he encounters the alluring Violet. He starts dating her, but his autism keeps him from realizing that she’s actually a prostitute. Shawn thinks he’s found a potential wife while Violet thinks she’s found her ticket to a brand new life. This hilarious and dramatic award-winning story has been adapted into a major motion picture.

 PRAISE FOR THE SOUND OF VIOLET:

“Wolf, an award-winning filmmaker, has adapted this first novel from his own original screenplay, and its cinematic potential clearly shows. The high-concept narrative is entertaining, well-paced, and highly visual … It’s a charming, humorous, and hopeful tale. A quirky, touching love story that offers insights into autism, religion, and personal tragedy.” – Kirkus Reviews

“A wonderfully well-written, funny, romantic love story. Unique and inspirational. The Sound of Violet is not your average romance. Rarely do I find myself so captivated by a book that I cannot put it down for nearly two hours. Pick up this book and get lost in the beauty of their relationship. My only complaint would be that the story had an ending, as all stories do, and I did so want to keep reading on. Most highly recommended. The Sound of Violet is simply remarkable.” – Readers’ Favorite

“By turning conventions of contemporary romance on its stilettos and swapping out the typical sassy, fashion-obsessed female protagonist for an autistic male who reads jokes from index cards, Wolf puts a fresh spin on the genre. Adapted from his award-winning screenplay, The Sound of Violet shows signs of its origins with snappy dialogue and humorous, well-staged scenes … A sweet and entertaining romantic comedy, The Sound of Violet touches on autism and the power of faith. It will appeal to any reader who enjoys a blend of quirky characters, humor, and drama.” – Blue Ink Review

“Heartfelt, out-of-the-ordinary romance … This warm, witty story does not shy away from serious themes like exploitation, redemption, and true love. The Sound of Violet explores heavy issues with a light touch. It’s easy to see this being adapted into an enjoyable movie …” – Foreword Reviews

https://www.amazon.com/Sound-Violet-Hooked-Allen-Wolf/dp/1952844134/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1952844134/

https://www.amazon.es/dp/1952844134/

Author, game creator, podcaster, and filmmaker Allen Wolf 

About the author:

Allen Wolf has won multiple awards as a novelist, filmmaker, and board game creator. His debut novel Hooked won a Book of the Year Award from Foreword Reviews, Gold Medal from the Readers’ Favorite Book Awards, Silver Medal from the Benjamin Franklin Book Awards, Bronze Medal from the IP Awards, and was a finalist for the USA Book Awards. Kirkus Reviews wrote, “The high-concept narrative is entertaining, well-paced, and highly visual.”

Allen wrote, directed, and produced the movie version of Hooked that is expected to debut in theaters in 2019.

As a filmmaker, Allen wrote, directed, and produced In My Sleep which was released worldwide, won multiple film festivals, and is available on Amazon and iTunes. Hollywood Reporter raved, “In My Sleep never rests, a credit to the tight, psychologically astute pacing of filmmaker Wolf.”

Wolf created five board games that won 38 awards – You’re Pulling My Leg!, Slap Wacky, JabberJot, You’re Pulling My Leg! Junior, and Pet Detectives. They have brought smiles to hundreds of thousands of people around the world through his company, Morning Star Games.

He graduated from New York University’s film school. He married his Persian princess and they have two kids together. He enjoys traveling around the world and hearing other people’s life stories. Allen also cherishes spending time with his family, chocolate, and visiting Disneyland.

https://www.amazon.com/Allen-Wolf/e/B00OWGVWPA/

You can also access more information about the author (including a sample of the first chapter of this novel), here: www.allenwolf.com/author 

All those who purchase the novel will get a sneak preview of the trailer for the upcoming movie. They only need to email a screenshot of their order or their order number to info@thesoundofviolet.com. Oh, I have watched the trailer, and I’m looking forward to watching the movie already!

 My review:

 Thanks to NetGalley and to the publisher for providing me an ARC copy of the novel and for asking me to take part in the Virtual Blog Tour of its launch.

I had never read any of the author’s books, but it is evident from his biography that he is a multi-talented individual with an ample career in filmmaking, screenwriting, podcasting, and also creating games. I hope to be able to catch up on some of his other skills soon because reading about his work has piqued my curiosity.

 The description of the book offers enough information for future readers to be able to get a good sense of what to expect. If I had to add to this, I would say that it made me think of Pretty Woman. That is if we transform the male protagonist —a very charming and classy millionaire (or billionaire)— into a not quite so wealthy, but equally charming (more, in my opinion) young man, who loves weddings, dreams of a happy marriage, and whose autism might not be evident at first, but it affects his social interactions and his everyday life in not-always-subtle ways. And although the female character is a young prostitute as well, there is more realism and more darkness behind her circumstances. So, although there is certainly plenty of comedy and amusing scenes and episodes, there is also a darker reality explored by this novel.

 This is eminently a work of fiction and an entertaining and ‘alternative’ romantic story, but there are some themes the novel delves into which deserve a special mention. I have talked about the protagonist’s high-functioning autism, and although I don’t think people familiar with Asperger’s and autism will discover anything new here, there is a lightness of touch in the way we learn about some of Shawn’s experiences (like his synaesthesia, that makes him literally ‘hear’ colours, or his almost painful sensitivity to touch and any intense stimuli of his senses) which will suit people who worry about information dumps or over-the-top descriptions, while bringing to life what it must be like, not only to be Shawn, but also to meet him or live with him. We meet his grandmother and his brother, both great characters (I love Ruth the most, but Colin is a nice guy as well), and learn about his parents’ role (or lack of it). Through Violet, the author explores issues like human trafficking and also child abuse and trauma, and although this is not a tough and harsh documentary look at any of those subjects, it helps anchor it more firmly in reality and makes it a far less idealised and rosy story than many in the genre. People looking for a totally clean, non-traumatic, and violence-free read should look elsewhere, but most readers happy with the description are unlikely to feel offended by its content, with the provisos mentioned before. The book also discusses the world of dating apps, second chances, bereavement, religious belief, prejudice… and family relationships feature prominently in its plot.

I have mentioned a few of the characters of the book, and the novel has plenty of others, some of who we don’t get to know that well (like Anton, the pimp, a pretty devious guy as you can imagine; Jake, Shawn’s boss, who hides depths not evident at first; and also some of Shawn and Violet’s coworkers), but those who play an important role in the story are usually given enough space to leave a mark in the reader. And the protagonists are both very memorable in their distinct ways. Not that they are perfect, by any means. As Colin reminds Shawn sometimes, he has a tendency to think about his own needs, first of all, forgetting what those around him might experience or feel. And Violet at first wants to use Shawn but soon becomes charmed by him, and her relationship with him helps her find the strength she needs to fight her low self-esteem, her trauma, and her circumstances.

The novel’s style is easy to read, it flows well, and it does feel very similar to watching a movie (yes, there is a movie and it looks good, despite the change of setting, as the film is set in Seattle rather than New York), because it is a page-turner written in a scene or episodic format, where the action moves quickly from one situation to the next, following a chronological order. It is written in the third person, but readers have access to the thoughts and feelings of, mostly, the main protagonists, though occasionally and briefly we get to see things from one of the other character’s points of view, and that helps to offer its reader a wider and more rounded perspective.

As for the ending, it suits perfectly his unusual romantic comedy plus (if I had to fit it into a category, or perhaps ‘romantic dramedy’ as the author says later on) genre, and I think most people will be happy with the way events unfold, although some parts of it felt a bit rushed and required more suspension of disbelief than the rest of the novel. But the ending proper is lovely, for sure. And it seems that the author is planning to write more about the characters in the next novel, so don’t worry if you’ve become fond of the characters and wish for more. It’s likely to come.

So, would I recommend this novel? Yes, to anybody who is looking for a romantic comedy that goes a little beyond the usual and has a hard edge. Readers should be aware that some of the topics discussed are darker than is expected in the standard examples of the genre, but it is perfect for those who don’t mind a touch of realism and grit and are looking for a dynamic and heart-warming book, full of lovable characters, and an atypical romance with a fabulous ending. 

I include a Q&A session about this novel in the author’s own words, in case you want to know more.

 Q&A with Author Allen Wolf

 How did you come up with the story for The Sound of Violet?

 A friend and I were laughing about the challenges of navigating the dating world in Los Angeles years ago. Even though I was married, those days were still vivid in my mind. Those conversations inspired me to write The Sound of Violet about two dating-challenged people from entirely different walks of life and the opposite from each other in significant ways. The woman is paid to be with men and has a skewed view of love. The man is autistic and struggles with forming relationships as well as physical touch. And he has his own idealistic view of relationships. I thought bringing those two together would make a fascinating and dynamic story and could teach us something about love.

I can relate to Shawn’s dating journey because it reflects some of my journey when I was a single man in Los Angeles. Even though I’m not on the autism spectrum, I struggled with many of my main character’s issues, such as meaningfully connecting with women, being naïve in relationships, and struggling with building intimacy. The woman he falls in love with works as a prostitute, which he doesn’t realize. I thought that would be a compelling contrast with Shawn, who has a faith background and saved himself for marriage. He resists touching because it’s too intense for him, while she’s forced to touch others. I thought that would make a compelling story.

 Can you tell us about the book?

 The Sound of Violet is about a man who believes he found his perfect soulmate, but his autism keeps him from realizing she’s actually a prostitute. The novel allows readers to experience a love story between two people who are unlikely to fall in love. The main character is autistic, and I mainly wrote the novel from his perspective. He’s very trusting, so when he meets Violet, he believes she’s an actress when she’s actually a prostitute. I wanted the reader to experience the rollercoaster of the relationship mainly through his eyes with glimpses into Violet’s world. 

 You wear many different hats beyond being an author. How do you balance being an author, a filmmaker, a game creator, and a podcaster?

 I start most days around 4:00 a.m. and sometimes even earlier. In those early morning hours, I’m able to work on my creative projects without interruption. I try to work on a project consistently and chip away at it day after day. Then, one day it’s finished, and I’m able to move on to something else. Starting any new project feels like standing at the base of an enormous mountain, and it can feel overwhelming to think of what’s ahead. But if I can move forward with one small step after another, eventually, I discover I’ve made it to the summit. It takes a lot of perseverance, but it’s worth it when I see my creative work come to life and hear how what I’m doing is having a positive impact on people’s lives.

Where do you find inspiration?

 Since I’ve started hosting the Navigating Hollywood podcast, I’ve been inspired by my guests, who have overcome tremendous odds to succeed in the world of film and television. I’m also creatively inspired by my family, friendships, and adventures I’ve taken around Los Angeles and the globe. I love watching my kids create entire worlds using boxes and construction paper. Their limitless imaginations spur me on. I always feel creatively recharged when I visit museums, experience a great movie, enjoy a game night with friends, or visit Disneyland, where I’ve visited over 500 times. Everything in Disneyland is based on a story, and I’ve spent many hours at the park to work on novels, screenplays, or other creative ideas.

Can you tell us about your upcoming movie, The Sound of Violet, based on your novel? 

 The Sound of Violet is a romantic dramedy about a man who believes he found his perfect soulmate, but his autism keeps him from realizing she’s actually a prostitute, so the storyline is the same as the novel. My hope is for the movie to bring awareness to human trafficking while helping people to see autism through a new lens. I wrote, directed, and produced the film. We had a fantastic team of actors and people who worked behind the scenes to make it happen. 

While the novel is set in New York City, I changed the movie’s location to Seattle so readers will have a whole new experience in watching the film. We were able to film in some fantastic places, which will showcase areas of Seattle that you don’t usually see in movies based there. I made some changes to the characters. Natasha, who is Russian in the novel, is named Nadia in the film. She’s from India and doesn’t talk. I combined the characters of Flynn and Shawn’s boss Jake so that Jake is more of a central figure. 

 It’s a very different experience to experience the movie compared to reading the novel. In the book, I’m able to explore the inner lives and thoughts of the characters with words, while in the movie, you’re able to experience the story visually, which brings a whole new dimension to the story. Our composer, Conrad Pope, created a lush score that also helps bring the story to life.

 What was the process like bringing The Sound of Violet to life from the novel to the screen?

 It was a monumental effort to bring The Sound of Violet to life on the screen. I first relocated the story from New York City to Seattle, which I knew would be a friendlier city to make the film. I changed locations for scenes in the novel to be more visual for the movie. I wanted to explore Seattle’s beautiful landscapes for the film, so I featured scenes in Gas Works Park, the shipping yards, alongside the enormous bridges and different spots around the city that you usually don’t see featured in Hollywood movies.

 I wanted to cast unknown actors in the lead roles so the audience wouldn’t have any preconceived notions of who they are during the film. This movie is the debut for our two lead actors, and they pulled off stunning performances. I also had to find ways to tell the story in a tighter timeframe, so I condensed some scenes and took out others. I wanted the experience of watching the movie to be different from the book, so while the story beats are identical, the movie’s journey takes you on various twists and turns than the novel. When I write a novel, I’m able to concentrate on the inner lives of the character. But in creating a movie, I have to communicate all of that through the actors’ performances. There were several moments on the set when it struck me that the characters I had written for the page were walking and talking in front of me. That was surreal! I was so thankful to be surrounded by such a talented team of actors and the crew who worked tirelessly. Composer Conrad Pope created the soundtrack for the movie, which we also recorded in Seattle with a 54 piece orchestra. I appreciate how he draws out the emotional beats of the story through his musical craftsmanship. I’m very much looking forward to the film premiering in theaters and hearing what the experience is like for our readers.

 What was it like seeing the characters from your novel come to life in the movie?

 It was surreal to see the characters and story from the novel come to life for the film. It struck me that characters I had written about in solitude had become living and breathing human beings. Now, when I read the book, I picture the faces of those actors.

 How can we see a trailer of The Sound of Violet?

Anyone who purchases the novel will get a sneak preview of the trailer. Readers send their receipt or transaction number to info@thesoundofviolet.com, and they’ll be one of the first people to see the trailer.

What are your current creative influences?

 The works of C.S. Lewis inspire me, and I have read his books numerous times. I recently finished reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to my kids for the first time. I’m always impressed by how C.S. Lewis can weave together a powerful story with a deeper meaning. JRR Tolkien also inspires me for the same reasons. I’m also a huge fan of Liane Moriarty and love how she captures the inner lives of her characters in her novels.

 What did you learn when writing this story?

 When I first started writing the story of The Sound of Violet, Violet’s character was an “empowered hooker” that you typically see portrayed in Hollywood movies. But then, as I researched prostitution, I realized that the vast majority of these women are being trafficked. Or, they were sexually abused, and they’re reliving that trauma as prostitutes. I then consulted with several organizations that work with trafficked people, which opened my eyes tremendously. I took a whole new direction in creating Violet’s character, and I think it reflects the reality of someone caught up in prostitution today. I also learned a lot about autism while researching Shawn’s character. I have a relative who is autistic and consulted with several others to accurately portray Shawn’s character. There isn’t one standard description of an autistic person, so I crafted a character I thought was best for this story. While I was prepping the story, I talked to two different mothers whose autistic sons had unknowingly started relationships with prostitutes, which brought some realism to the story I had created.

 What does the title mean?

 The title The Sound of Violet has a double meaning. The main character Shawn has a condition called synesthesia which allows him to hear sounds in colors. So if he’s staring at the color violet, he will hear a sound. The main character’s name is also Violet, and she comments to him that he should be with someone whose colors sound right to him.

 What do you think happened to the characters after the book ended?

 I’m working on a sequel to answer that question.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and above all, stay safe and keep smiling!

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE LOST BLACKBIRD by Liza Perrat (@LizaPerrat) Heart wrenching and compelling. A must-read #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you a new book by an author who’s become one of my new favourites in recent times. I’m sure you’ll remember her and her books. I met her through Rosie’s group, and she is another great discover.

The Lost Blackbird by Liza Perrat

The Lost Blackbird: Based on Real Events by Liza Perrat

A powerful story of sisters cruelly torn apart by a shameful event in British-Australian history. Clare Flynn, author of The Pearl of Penang
London 1962. A strict and loveless English children’s home, or the promise of Australian sunshine, sandy beaches and eating fruit straight from the tree. Which would you choose?
Ten-year-old Lucy Rivers and her five-year-old sister Charly are thrilled when a child migrant scheme offers them the chance to escape their miserable past.
But on arrival in Sydney, the girls discover their fantasy future is more nightmare than dream.
Lucy’s lot is near-slavery at Seabreeze Farm where living conditions are inhuman, the flies and heat unbearable and the owner a sadistic bully. What must she do to survive?
Meanwhile Charly, adopted by the nurturing and privileged Ashwood family, gradually senses that her new parents are hiding something. When the truth emerges, the whole family crumbles. Can Charly recover from this bittersweet deception?
Will the sisters, stranded miles apart in a strange country, ever find each other again?
A poignant testament to child migrants who suffered unforgivable evil, The Lost Blackbird explores the power of family bonds and our desire to know who we are.

https://www.amazon.com/-/es/Lost-Blackbird-Based-Real-Events-ebook/dp/B08F7ZJFB3/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/-/es/Lost-Blackbird-Based-Real-Events-ebook/dp/B08F7ZJFB3/

https://www.amazon.es/-/es/Lost-Blackbird-Based-Real-Events-ebook/dp/B08F7ZJFB3/

Author Liza Perrat

About the author:

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

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

The Silent Kookaburra, a domestic noir, psychological suspense novel set in 1970s Australia, was published in November, 2016. The second in this Australian family drama series, The Swooping Magpie, was published in October, 2018. The third in the series, The Lost Blackbird, was published in August, 2020.

Friends & Other Strangers is a collection of award-winning short stories from Downunder.

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

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

https://www.lizaperrat.com/

My review:

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 was provided with an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Liza Perrat has quickly become one of my favourite authors. I read the Silent Kookaburra at the time of its publication, four years ago, and I’ve read all her novels since, both those in the Australia series (set in Australia in the fairly recent past) and also those in her historical series “The Bone Angel”, set in France over the centuries. They all have female protagonists and centre on the lives, difficulties, and challenges women have had to face throughout history. Although the novels are thematically related, they are fully independent and readers can pick any of them and enjoy them without worrying about not having read the rest (although I’d challenge anybody to read one of these novels and not feel compelled to explore the rest).

This novel —quite close thematically to The Swooping Magpie in many ways— offers readers an insight into a shameful and horrific event in recent British-Australian history, which those familiar with the work of the Child Migrant Trust and/or who have watched or read the story behind the film Oranges and Sunshine (the book was originally called Empty Cradles and written by Margaret Humphreys) will be aware of. If The Swooping Magpie talked about forced adoptions, here we go a step further, and children were not only adopted under false pretenses, but also sent to the other end of the world (near enough), so they were completely severed from their relatives and all they were familiar with, in some cases to be adopted, but in others to became forced labour and had to undergo terrible abuse in many cases.

Perrat’s fictionalised account takes as its protagonists two sisters from London, whose short lives (Lucy is 10 and Charly 5 when we meet them) had already seen much hardship and suffering, and then a traumatic event results in them ending up in care, and things only take a turn for the worse from then on. The chapters alternate between the point of view of the two sisters (Lucy’s chapters narrated in the first person and Charly’s in the third), although we have a few from the point of view of Annie, their mother (in the third person, present tense). This works very well because although initially, we get different versions of the same events, which help readers get to know the two sisters and their outlook in life, later on, when they reach Australia, they are separated (despite the guarantees to the contrary they had been given) and we get to share in their two very different experiences. Although neither of them is as promised or expected, the challenges the two sisters have to face are miles apart. While the younger one gets her identity all but completely erased, the older sister is systematically abused, worked to the bone, and has to experience so many losses that she is almost destroyed in the process.

The story is not an easy read, and it deals with harsh truths and with difficult topics beyond the main historical subject (domestic violence, the institutional care system both in the UK and Australia, forced adoptions and child labour, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, prostitution, poverty, post-natal depression, pathological grief…) so although this is a compelling book, readers must be prepared to be confronted with some ugly truths. I’ve read novels that are much more explicit than this one; don’t get me wrong, but because of the degree of attachment to the characters, the nasty events hit hard.

The characters are well-drawn and believable. Both girls, Lucy and Charly, have their own distinct personalities, with Charly being quiet, a reader, and a deep thinker, and Lucy more of an action girl. She fiercely loves her mother and her little sister but finds it impossible to keep her mouth shut and keeps getting into trouble, mostly for trying to help or defend others. She learns to be tough and to present a hard front to the world, but that also makes her resentful and unwilling to ask for help. She is mistrustful but also naïve at times, and her stubbornness sometimes works against her. There are moments when her extreme behaviour makes her difficult to like, but her reactions are quite understandable, and her circumstances are such that we can’t help but wonder if we would have done any better. The rest of the girls and boys they meet through their journey, and also their ersatz families are memorable, and some of the scenes that take place have become engrained in my brain and will keep playing there for a long time.

Perrat’s writing is flawless, as usual. She is particularly adept at making us share in her characters’ experiences, and we can see, hear, smell, taste, and almost touch, everything around them: bird songs and cries, food, clothes, the oppressive heat, the sting of mosquitoes, the joy of the first swim in the sea, the luxury of the big cruiser ship… Her depiction of the character’s mental state, their ruminations, the intrusive memories and flashbacks, are also excellent and there is plenty of action, secrets, mystery, and intrigue to keep us turning the pages. The book is also full of Australian and English expressions that will delight lovers of vernacular and casual expressions, and I’ve learned the origins of quite a few expressions I had heard and learned some new ones (blackbirding anyone?)

The ending, as the author comments on her acknowledgements at the end of the book, might not be the norm in many real cases, but it is very satisfying, and I enjoyed it (although throughout the novel we also get to see some pretty different outcomes). The author shares her sources and also thanks those who have contributed to this well researched and accomplished novel in the final pages of the book, and I advise people interested in the topic to read until the very end for further information.

I recommend this novel, and all of this author’s novels, to readers interested in books about the female experience, and also, in this case, about the forced migration of thousands of British children to Australia and other Commonwealth countries over the years (this practice was only stopped in 1970). Because of the subject matter, this is not an easy read and can be heart-wrenching at times, but it is a compelling fictionalised account of an episode of history that everybody should know about. It is wonderfully written, well-researched, and its characters are likely to remain with readers long after they close the book. A must-read. (Remember that you can always try a sample of the book if you want to get a taster and check if it’s for you).

Thanks to the author and to Rosie and her team, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep safe. And keep smiling. 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Non-fiction

#Bookreview THE 19TH CENTURY UNDERWORLD: CRIME, CONTROVERSY & CORRUPTION by Stephen Carver (@penswordbooks). A must read for anybody interested in London crime history

Hi all:

Today I bring you a review of a book that I think many of you will find interesting. And what a cover!

The 19th Century Underworld: Crime, Controversy & Corruption by Stephen Carver
The 19th Century Underworld: Crime, Controversy & Corruption by Stephen Carver

The 19th Century Underworld: Crime, Controversy & Corruption by Stephen Carver

Underworld n. 1. the part of society comprising those who live by organized crime and immorality. 2. the mythical abode of the dead under the earth.

Take a walk on the dark side of the street in this unique exploration of the fears and desires at the heart of the British Empire, from the Regency dandy’s playground to the grim and gothic labyrinths of the Victorian city. Enter a world of gin spinners, sneaksmen and Covent Garden nuns, where bare-knuckled boxers slog it out for dozens of rounds, children are worth more dead than alive, and the Thames holds more bodies than the Ganges. This is the Modern Babylon, a place of brutal poverty, violent crime, strong drink, pornography and prostitution; of low neighbourhoods and crooked houses with windows out like broken teeth, wraithlike urchins with haunted eyes, desperate, ruthless and vicious men, and the broken remnants of once fine girls: a grey, bleak, infernal place, where gaslights fail to pierce the pestilential fog, and coppers travel in pairs, if they venture there at all.

Combining the accessibility of a popular history with original research, this book brings the denizens of this vanished world once more to life, along with the voices of those who sought to exploit, imprison or save them, or to simply report back from this alien landscape that both fascinated and appalled: the politicians, the reformers, the journalists and, above all, the storytellers, from literary novelists to purveyors of penny dreadfuls. Welcome to the 19th century underworld…

https://www.amazon.com/19th-Century-Underworld-Controversy-Corruption/dp/1526707543/

https://www.amazon.com/19th-Century-Underworld-Controversy-Corruption-ebook/dp/B07NHTTSG8/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/19th-Century-Underworld-Controversy-Corruption-ebook/dp/B07NHTTSG8/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-19th-Century-Underworld-Paperback/p/16220

Dr Stephen Carver
Dr Stephen Carver

About the author:

Stephen Carver is a literary historian, editor and occasional novelist. For sixteen years he taught literature and creative writing at the University of East Anglia, spending three years in Japan as a professor of English at the University of Fukui. He left UEA in 2012 to become Head of Online Courses at the Unthank School of Writing, and to work with The Literary Consultancy in London. He retired from teaching in 2018 to write full-time, although he continues to be affiliated with TLC as a reader and a mentor. He is the biographer of the Victorian novelist W.H. Ainsworth, and his short stories have appeared in Not-Not, Cascando, Birdsuit, and Veto. His first novel, Shark Alley, was published in 2016. The 19th Century Underworld  was published by Pen & Sword last year and Steve has just finished a follow-up on Ainsworth and Dickens.

http://stephenjcarver.com/

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft, from Pen & Sword, for providing me a hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I am not a scholar in the topic of XIX century Britain, London in particular, although I have read a number of fictional books set on that period and place (it has always proved popular, especially with crime writers, for evident reasons) both recent and from the era, and also some historical books (some of the best coming from Pen & Sword as well) on specific aspects of the era, like children’s deaths. I was therefore not sure about what I would find here but hoped that it would enhance my understanding and give me a better sense of what life might have been like, away from the sometimes romanticised version we have of the Victorian era. This volume did that and more.

The book, which contains illustrations of the period as well (some black and white photographs, but mostly sketches and ink drawings that appeared in publications of that era, with a separate table of illustrations), contains facts and descriptions of the less savoury aspects of the XIX century life in London, but the emphasis is not on a XXI century perspective, but on written (and illustrated) sources of the period, and how the different topics were approached by the press, literature, and theatre of the time (movies are also mentioned, although those are references to later versions of the stories and characters discussed). Although most of us will be familiar with the penny dreadfuls, the author shares his expertise and offers us a catalogue of publications, authors (quite a few anonymous), publishers, guides and popular venues that reflect the fact that the hunger for certain types of subjects and the morbid interest in crime and vice are nothing new.

The book combines scholarship (there are detailed footnotes including information and sometimes explanations about the quotes and sources used in the text, at the end of the book, and also a lengthy bibliography and an index) with an engaging writing style, and manages to include plenty of information in each chapter, without cramming too much detail or leaving us with the impression that we are missing the most important part of the story. Although I’m sure most readers will be intrigued by some of the events and characters mentioned in the book and will want to learn more about them, Carver facilitates that task with his sources, and this book is a goldmine for researchers, writers, and anybody interested in the era in general. I usually mark passages I find interesting, to research later or to mention in my review, and in this case I can honestly say I broke the record for number of notes.

To give you an idea of the topics, I’ll briefly (-ish) go through the chapters. Chapter 1: Various Crimes and Misdemeanours, where the author explains that our view of the XIX century underworld is a product of popular culture, and he explains the efforts the society of the time made to try to categorise and control the crime in the capital. Patrick Colquhoun, a Scottish businessman and magistrate who liaised with Jeremy Bentham (a philosopher and social reformer we studied in Criminology for his ideas about prisons and reforms) wrote a book called A Treatise of the Police of the Metropolis in 1796, where he classified the criminals in London into 24 separate categories and estimated that there were around 115000 of them. The Radcliffe Highway murders and how these influenced some of the legal reforms are also discussed in detail.

Chapter 2: A Corinthian’s Guide to the Metropolis, talks about bare-knuckle boxing, betting, and also about a number of articles, guides, and books, purporting to inform discerning gentlemen of the entertainments and lifestyle that could be found in this part of town. We learn where Tom and Jerry came from (Pierce Egan’s writings and his characters seem to have inspired Hanna and Barbera), and the author notes that at this point (early in XIX century), the underworld was not represented as the gothic nightmare it would become later.

In Chapter 3: Bad Books for Bad People, we hear about authors that are more familiar to us, like Dickens and Thackeray, although also some others who’ve faded into oblivion mostly because their take on the topic lost the favour of the Victorians. They chose to write about criminals and outlaws (like Dick Turpin), but not in an overly moralistic or condemnatory manner, and although that was popular at first, later reformists condemned that stance, and it resulted in their loss of popularity and later ruin. There are wonderful examples of the use of jargon and vernacular, very popular at the beginning of the period but that would later fall out of fashion.  (This chapter reminded me of the gangster movies of the 1930s, which could depict violent and immoral characters as long as they ended up getting their just deserts).

Chapter 4: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, looks at the Resurrectionists, those who stole bodies from graves and sold them to medical schools. Although I’ve read some fiction about the subject and knew about Hare and Burke, I didn’t quite realise it was such an organised trade and the huge amounts of money involved. The inquiries and the law changes these incidents caused are discussed, and it is difficult to imagine how such events could have been ignored for so long, but there were powerful interests at play.

Chapter 5: The Real Oliver Twist, focuses on how life was like for children living in poverty, and it reminds us that studies of the 1840s showed that half the children born in the UK at that time died before age five. Children living of picking up dog’s dung, or being trained to become pickpockets or worse were not only the protagonists of fictional stories. They were all too real.

Chapter 6: Fallen Women, talks about prostitution, and I was fascinated by the author’s account of the biography and writings of French writer and activist Flora Tristan, a woman who was a feminist, a social commentator and reformer, who rather than blame prostitution on women’s lack of morals, blamed society and the lack of opportunities for women to get an education and make an honest living. She talked to prostitutes and wrote about what she found in 1840 and she anticipated some of Marx and Engels ideas. A woman I definitely want to learn more about.

Chapter 7: The Greeks Had a Word for It, talks about pornography, the ups and downs its publishers went through (as the period grew less and less tolerant), and it starts by reminding readers of the fact that pornography as a subject is very ancient, as people digging in Pompeii and Herculaneum found out. Many ancient objects of this nature that were recovered made it into private collections, mostly those of discerning gentlemen, and many museums had (and still have) hidden stashes of them. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this chapter, not because of the topic, or the content of the books mentioned (although some of the samples are hilarious) but because of the cat-and-mouse games writers and publishers played with the authorities and also of the evident hypocrisy of the whole endeavour.

Chapter 8: The Death Hunters, treats about what the author describes as “another type of pornography”, the interest in crimes and murders. True murder is not a new genre and although there were not many murders in London (or even the whole of Britain) at the time, the public appetite for it was huge, and sometimes writers would make them up. I had a chuckle at some of Illustrated Police News headlines (‘A Burglar Bitten by a Skeleton’ and ‘A Wife Driven Insane by a Husband Tickling her Feet’ are my favourites). The chapter ends up with Jack the Ripper’s murders, which the author elaborates further on Chapter 9: A Highly Popular Murder, where he notes that much of the speculation about the murders was created by media, and Jack the Ripper has become a phenomenon that combines reality with fiction. He does note that while the Ripper has grown in attention and popularity over the years, little time is dedicated to the victims. I am pleased to say that there is a new book due to be published by Pen & Sword about the victims of Jack the Ripper, and I hope to comment on it in the future.

I recommend this book to anybody interested in London history, history about crime in the XIX century, researchers and writers keen on exploring and writing on any of the topics covered in the book, and to anybody who wants to gain a different perspective on the London of the Victorian era. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Rosie Croft, to the author, and especially to all of you for reading, liking, sharing, commenting, clicking, and for reviewing. Remember to keep on smiling!

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#TuesdayBookBlog WINTER FLOWER by Charles Sheehan-Miles #RBRT A highly recommended tough and inspiring read

Hi all:

I bring you another review of one of the books in Rosie’s team. Another great find.

Winter Flower by Charles Sheehan-Miles
Winter Flower by Charles Sheehan-Miles

Winter Flower by Charles Sheehan-Miles

This book is all about love, family, survival, acceptance and forgiveness… one big giant emotional rollercoaster ride

  • Book Freak

From the bestselling author of Just Remember to Breathe and The Last Hour, a shocking and poignant story of a family on the brink of destruction and the transformational events that could bring them back together–or tear them apart.

Every day, Cole Roberts reminds himself that life wasn’t always this bleak. He was once passionately in love with Erin. Sam used to be an artistic and lively kid. They hadn’t always lived in a shabby two-room house in rural Alabama, where he runs a mediocre restaurant in the middle of nowhere.

That was before Brenna disappeared. It was before Cole lost his job and they lost their home.

Every day it gets worse. Erin drinks wine out of the bottle and spends her days with a tormented expression, searching the web for signs of their daughter. Sam hides in his room and rarely speaks. And Cole works himself to a stupor for a paycheck a fraction of the size of his old salary.

Until one day a phone call changes everything.

Winter Flower is at once a tragic tale of the disappearance of a child; struggling with gender identity; of the dark world of sex-trafficking and the transformation and healing of a family. Sheehan-Miles’s longest novel delves into the depths of family life–and how, sometimes, we can heal and find restoration.

https://www.amazon.com/winter-flower-Charles-Sheehan-Miles-ebook/dp/B07R91MG6Q/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/winter-flower-Charles-Sheehan-Miles-ebook/dp/B07R91MG6Q/

https://www.amazon.es/winter-flower-Charles-Sheehan-Miles-ebook/dp/B07R91MG6Q/

Author Charles Seehan-Miles
Author Charles Seehan-Miles

About the author:

Charles Sheehan-Miles has been a soldier, computer programmer, short-order cook and non-profit executive, and is the author of several fiction and non-fiction books, including the indie bestsellers Just Remember to Breathe and Republic: A Novel of America’s Future. Charles and his partner Andrea Randall live and write together in South Hadley, Massachusetts.

Charles’ books include:

The Thompson Sisters & Rachel’s Peril
A Song for Julia
Falling Stars
Just Remember
to Breathe
The Last Hour

Girl of Lies
Girl of Rage
Girl of Vengeance

America’s Future
Republic
Insurgent

Other Books:
Prayer at Rumayla
Saving the World on $30 A Day

Find out more at http://www.sheehanmiles.com

You’re also invited to join the Remember to Breathe Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/rer

https://www.amazon.com/Charles-Sheehan-Miles/e/B002BM0T7E/

My review:

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 the first novel I read by Charles Sheehan-Miles, who is a brand new author to me, although he has published a large number of books, and from the comments, I guess he has a legion of fans that were surprised by this book, as it is not a romance. I cannot compare it to his previous work, but I agree with the warning. If readers from his previous books approach this novel as a romance, they will be shocked, because it is far from it.

This is a long book (over 600 pages long), divided up into four parts, with a prologue set two years before the main action of the book, although there are flashbacks (memories) narrated in the first-person by the four main characters —all members of the same family— that offer readers a good understanding of the background to the current situation and help them get to grips with their circumstances, their pasts, and who they are. This is the story of a family, a married couple and their two children, on the brink of collapse due to a terrible tragedy that took place two years before the action we follow chronologically. Or so it seems. (The truth is a bit more complicated than that). Sam and Brenna, the children (adolescents by the time we met them) are close, and Brenna has always willingly played the role of big sister to Sam, there to protect and guide. Until she disappears. Carrying on without her puts a big strain on a family we soon learn was going through difficulties already (some more out in the open than others), and whose communication had ground almost to a halt. The parents, Cole and Erin, are living example of the “opposites attract” edict, at least from a political perspective (Cole, the father, who as a young man decided formal education wasn’t for him and moved up the corporate ladder at lightning speed, is conservative as can be, while Erin, the mother, a college  graduate, is a convinced liberal who sacrificed her career to look after her children), and although the story opens up with Sam’s narration, we soon get to read their own perspective on the matter and the kind of traps they find themselves in.

This is a story that deals in many important subjects, and it could have been told in a variety of ways, but I am impressed not only by the subjects (adultery and its toll on family relationships, sex trafficking, rape, prostitution, bullying, harassment and violence against the LGBT community, missing youths, the isolation of the trans-gender experience for young people, prejudice and harassment at work…) and the sensitive and enlightening way they are handled, but also by the way the story is told. The author allows each character to tell his/her own story, and that makes us walk a mile in their shoes, no matter how uncomfortable they might feel. I am sure many readers will think, as they read, that they would have never reacted in a certain way, or allowed their circumstances to deteriorate to such an extent, but, do we truly know? Although, as the author reminds us in the final note, the events in the book are far from unique (yes, it is a work of fiction, but many individuals and families, unfortunately, will go through similar experiences to those depicted in the book), many of us will never have been in close contact with somebody in such dire circumstances, much less be directly affected by it, so, how do we know what we would do? The characters are not necessarily the most likeable when we meet them (drinking heavily, harassed, afraid for their lives, paralysed and frozen, unable to make decisions and move on), and they are all closed off from each other, trapped, physically or mentally, sometimes by others and their preconceptions, sometimes by their own fears and inability to grief and forgive. The author also makes a conscious decision to introduce the rest of the family —the parents and Sam— first, so we get to see the effect her loss has had on the family before we meet Brenna, the missing girl. Her situation is heart-wrenching, and the most extreme and difficult to read about, although none of the characters have an easy ride.

Thankfully, the author manages to achieve a difficult balance between telling the story, not pulling any punches, making sure people can understand and empathise with what the characters are going through, while avoiding extremely graphic scenes (both of sex and violence), and gratuitous iterations and repetitions of the abuse, which would risk further exploitation rather than facilitating understanding and empathy. Don’t get me wrong; this is a hard read, and readers with triggers around topics such as child abuse, rape, bullying, violence against women and the LGTB community, and racism need to be aware of it. Even people who don’t have such triggers will find it a tough read, but, on the other hand, this is a book with a big heart, and the individual journey of each character, and of the family as a whole, make for an inspiring and hopeful read.

I have already talked about how impressed I am by the story and the way it is told. I grew fond of all the members of the family by the end of the book (it’s impossible for our hearts not to go out to Sam and Brenna, but we get to appreciate their parents as well), and I particularly enjoyed the journey of enlightenment Cole’s father goes through. The author includes most of the reactions we can imagine to these subjects, from the sublime to the ridiculous, (not everybody changes and accepts either. Bigotry remains alive and well, as we all know), and they all felt true. I was particularly fond of Jeremiah and his wife — almost too good to be true— who are an ideal we should all aspire to. I also liked the fact that the story does not stop when most readers would expect it to, and even Sam makes comments on that. There is no magical happy ending here that just makes everything right again. All the members of the family will have to keep working at their relationship and supporting each other, but that is as it should be.

There were no negative reviews of the book at the time I wrote this, and the only objections (apart from the warning that it is not a romance) some people had referred to were Sam’s virtual game playing (that a reader didn’t feel added anything to the novel. Personally, I think it helps readers understand what life is like for the character and experience the kind of coping strategies adolescents in similar circumstances might use), and some others felt the book could have been shorter and still managed to tell the same story. That might be true, but I suspect some of the nuances would have been lost.

This is an excellent book that manages to combine complex and credible characters with a plot that deals with several difficult subjects, without becoming preachy or too graphic. It is horrifying, touching, and insightful all at the same time, and it makes readers witness the highs and lows of the human condition. I recommended it to readers interested in the subjects, but I advise those who might worry about possible triggers to proceed with caution. The author adds some resources (links to websites) for people who need more information about some of the issues raised in the book, and I thought the final conversation of the book, between Brenna and her grandfather in the garden —when the grandfather talks about the snapdragon, and how it grows back after getting rid of the dead stuff, stronger and more beautiful— stands as a great metaphor for the story, and explains the title. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Rosie, her team, and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and remember to always keep smiling.

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