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#TuesdayBookBlog THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA by TJ Klune (@tjklune) A fable/fairy tale for adults full of whimsy and quirky characters with a hopeful message #LGBT #fantasy

Hi all:

I bring you a review with an addendum because… Well, you will see why.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

A NEW YORK TIMES, USA TODAY, and WASHINGTON POST BESTSELLER!
A 2021 Alex Award winner!
The 2021 RUSA Reading List: Fantasy Winner!
An Indie Next Pick!
One of Publishers Weekly’s “Most Anticipated Books of Spring 2020”
One of Book Riot’s “20 Must-Read Feel-Good Fantasies”

Lambda Literary Award-winning author TJ Klune’s bestselling, breakout contemporary fantasy that’s “1984 meets The Umbrella Academy with a pinch of Douglas Adams thrown in.” (Gail Carriger)

Linus Baker is a by-the-book case worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world.

Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn. And his secrets will come to light.

The House in the Cerulean Sea is an enchanting love story, masterfully told, about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.

“1984 meets The Umbrella Academy with a pinch of Douglas Adams thrown in.” —Gail Carriger, New York Times bestselling author of Soulless

https://www.amazon.com/House-Cerulean-Sea-TJ-Klune-ebook/dp/B07QPHT8CB/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/House-Cerulean-Sea-TikTok-made-ebook/dp/B095Z4YRLP/

https://www.amazon.es/House-Cerulean-Sea-English-ebook/dp/B07QPHT8CB/

Author TJ Klune

About the author:

TJ KLUNE is a Lambda Literary Award-winning author (Into This River I Drown) and an ex-claims examiner for an insurance company. His novels include the Green Creek series, The House on the Cerulean Sea and The Extraordinaries. Being queer himself, TJ believes it’s important—now more than ever—to have accurate, positive, queer representation in stories.

https://tjklunebooks.com

https://www.amazon.com/TJ-Klune/e/B005LDJ9Z8/

My review:

This is the first book I have read by TJ Klune, and I didn’t know much about him or his books before. This story feels like an adult fairy tale, although I think it would be suitable for teens and YA as well. I also think it can fit into the category of an adult coming-of-age story, as the protagonist, Linus Baker, finds himself and learns to be his own person throughout the story, which covers just a few weeks of his life.

Linus Baker, the main character, is a grey man who lives in a grey world and has a grey job. The reviews mention 1984 and the similarities with the protagonist of George Orwell’s story are evident (minus the political angle. This book feels much more YA than that), and it also reminded me of the protagonist of Brazil, working at his little desk, and swallowed up by a strange world whose rules he tries to live by. Linus has no close friends, he doesn’t get on with his peers or his superiors at work either, and he only seems to care about his cat (it doesn’t appear to be mutual), his music (he loves to listen to records), his sunflowers (a splash of colour in his otherwise grey life), and his job. He lives by the book of Rules and Regulations of his organization and reads it as if it were the Bible. Suddenly, he is sent on a special mission, an extremely secret one, and he discovers an orphanage on an island very close to his dreams of a tropical paradise. The sea is blue (well, cerulean), the skies are sunny, and everything would be wonderful, almost like a vacation, if it weren’t for the peculiarities of the magical children who live at that orphanage. Well, and of the master of the orphanage and…

The novel looks at prejudice, persecution, harassment, intolerance, fear of the other, and the way society tends to lock away those who make it feel uncomfortable or don’t easily fit in. We are all familiar with such issues, that thankfully, have been changing in recent times, but not everywhere, and there’s still plenty of room for improvement. The novel is also full of hope; it explores the idea of found and chosen families; of finding a place you really belong to, and of how we can all help change things, one step at a time. There is also love (a couple of sweet ‘queer romances’, as they are described by the author) although it doesn’t become the dominant element of the novel, and the main romance is one of those “will-they/won’t they” situations where everybody else sees what is going on before the protagonists do.

The six children living at the orphanage are magical in totally different ways: some can do things, some are just… well, nobody knows exactly what kind of being they are, others have powers that can turn them dangerous, and all of them have been abused and marginalised because they don’t fit in. In a society that encourages compliance, surveillance, and uniformity, they are too visibly different. And that causes fear in the population, and it is encouraged by the powers that be.

Linus is reluctant and suspicious at first, but it seems that his superiors misjudged him. He is not just a bureaucrat without a heart who follows blindly the rules and remains detached and professional at whatever cost. He is genuinely devoted to the spirit of the job and cares about the children’s welfare, and that means he learns to see them for who they really are.

I loved the characters, especially the children, and Arthur and Zoe, the adults on the island, as well (later we meet some of the inhabitants of the town who are also formidable, Helen, the mayor, most of all); the way the story is told, like a fairytale; Linus’s transformation (which never becomes overdramatic or unbelievable); and the wit, humour, and quirkiness of it all. Some of the descriptions are as magical as the story, and by the end of the novel, I wanted to visit the island and meet the children and the rest of the characters as well. There are some reveals too, as things are not as they seem in more ways than one, but I wasn’t surprised by what we discover, and I think many readers will have guessed, or at least suspected, what we find out. But that didn’t spoil the enjoyment for me, and I hope that will be the case for most readers.

If I had to mention something I liked a little less, it would probably be the fact that “the message” of the novel is made quite evident and repeated in different ways, and readers who prefer subtlety and are fond of a less-is-more approach might feel it is heavy-handed. This fable makes its point clearly and somewhat forcefully, but it does have its heart in the right place, and the style of the story does fit into the genre, as does the fact that the story is not set in a specific time or real location (there are some vague references, mostly to do with music, but that is all). Some readers also felt that there are too many negative comments about the weight of the protagonist, but as we see the story from his point of view (although it is narrated in the third person), this seems to be another element of his lack of insight into who he really is, and further evidence of how much he has internalised society’s standards and opinions.

I have mentioned that the children have suffered abuse in the past, and they aren’t the only ones in the novel to be victims of prejudice. This is not described in too much detail, and it is mostly left to readers’ imaginations, but I would advise caution to those who feel they might be upset by such topics. You might also want to read my addendum to the review, as that might affect your feelings towards reading it.

The ending is as happy as it should be, and there is a final surprise thrown in (well, a couple) that will delight readers.

 Readers who are fond of fantasy, fairy tales, fables, and particularly enjoy adult coming-of-age stories and those who like quirky characters and Young Adult books should check this novel. It does have a positive message, and it wraps it up into a whimsical story full of heart. Highly recommended.

Just a few quotes as a taster:

These children aren’t animals. You aren’t on a safari with binoculars, watching them from a distance. How are you supposed to evaluate the children if you don’t even take the time to know them?’

‘We all have our issues. I have a spare tire around my middle. His father is Satan. Nothing that can’t be worked out if we try hard enough.’

‘Hate is loud, but I think you’ll learn it’s because it’s only a few people shouting, desperate to be heard. You might not ever be able to change their minds, but so long as you remember you’re not alone, you will overcome. ‘

‘Why can’t life work whatever way we want it to? What’s the point of living if you only do it how others want you to?’

 Addendum:

When I was checking the reviews of this novel, having almost finished it, I found out that there was a fair bit of controversy going on about it. Many reviewers that had given it good (or at least fair) reviews at first, went back to change their reviews and give it only 1 start (You can check the novel’s entry in Goodreads if you want to read about it in more detail).

It seems it all stems from this interview:

https://www.jeffandwill.com/biggayfictionpodcast/2020/03/16/episode-232-tj-klune-on-the-house-in-the-cerulean-sea-extraordinaries-and-greek-creek/

In the interview the author refers to this article:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sixties_Scoop

Here another article about it, this time from the Indigenous Foundations:

Sixties Scoop

There’s plenty of information about the Sixties Scoop available, but it seems that a lot of the people who read the novel had never heard of it. I hadn’t either, although, unfortunately, such things have happened before (and we can but hope they won’t happen again, but perhaps they are already happening) in other places, and other things that share similarities with it have happened, even though the circumstances were different. (In my country, many children from Republican and/or communist families were removed from them and “given” in unofficial adoptions to people loyal to Franco’s regime in the years after the Civil War and up to the 1970s. The case of the Australian aborigines is well-known, and I have reviewed books talking about similar subjects before).

Some readers felt the author was exploiting the story and the children and the communities involved.

If we take into account that nobody would have known about it if the author hadn’t freely mentioned it on one occasion (I read some other interviews, and it never came up); it doesn’t appear as if he was trying to use the historical events and people’s interest in it to sell his story, but I know these days it is difficult to know what might or might not cause outrage. I am sure many writers have read some horrific stories or news items that have sent them down a pathway that has resulted in a book that is very far from the original event, because authors are influenced by many things, and inspiration can take bizarre forms sometimes.

In any case, you don’t need to worry about the book upsetting you because of mentioning the real events or being very close to the facts. That is not the case, although that doesn’t mean the story doesn’t have an emotional impact, because it does. But you can always read the reviews, the comments, and counter-comments and make your own minds up.

Thanks to the author for this book, thanks to all of you for reading, commenting, sharing, and liking, and remember to keep smiling and keep making the best of things. ♥

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE DEVIL’S WHISPERS: A GOTHIC HORROR NOVEL by Lucas Hault (@TCKPublishing) A Dracula variation for lovers of old-fashioned horror and Gothic stories

Hi all:

Well, I love horror, but this one is for lovers of old-fashioned horror.

The Devil’s Whispers by Lucas Hault

The Devil’s Whispers by Lucas Hault

In a silent, sleepy castle, evil has awakened…

Famed British lawyer Gerard Woodward is summoned to an ancient Welsh castle to assist a dying lord in his final affairs. But as his host slips closer to death, Gerard begins to feel less like a guest and more like a prisoner. When he finds himself locked inside his room, he realizes he must escape.

After finding his way out of his room, Gerard begins to wonder if he was safer locked inside. The labyrinthine halls echo secrets. A terrible wail and the rattling of chains sets his nerves on end. Something sinister is happening within the walls of Mathers Castle, and when he descends into the dungeons, he discovers a horrible secret…

In nearby London, children vanish into the night, animals are horribly mutilated, and a savage creature stalks the shadows. When Gerard’s wife, Raelyn, becomes the creature’s next target, his need to escape reaches a fever pitch. He must get out alive so he can dispel the evil that threatens to destroy his beloved Raelyn… and the rest of us.

Fans of epistolary Gothic horror classics like DraculaFrankenstein, and The Picture of Dorian Gray will devour The Devil’s Whispers.

https://www.amazon.com/Devils-Whispers-Gothic-Horror-Novel-ebook/dp/B09Q6HFT83/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09Q6HFT83

https://www.amazon.es/Devils-Whispers-Gothic-Horror-English-ebook/dp/B09Q6HFT83/

Author Lucas Hault

About the author:

Faisal Johar, who writes under his pen name Lucas Hault is an Indian Novelist residing in Ranchi. He received his formal education from St. Anthony’s School, completed his intermediate from St. Xavier’s College and graduated from Jamia Millia Islamia in the year 2017. His first novel named The Shadow of Death — The Conquering Darkness was self-published in the year 2018 under Prowess Publishing. Faisal is also a screenwriter and has written a couple of short horror films for YouTube. He considers J.K. Rowling as his role model and aspires to walk in her path of punctuality. Another of his book titled, The Malign : A Collection of 12 Short Stories was published in June 2021. To get to know more about him, you can connect with him on FB and Instagram.

https://www.amazon.com/Lucas-Hault/e/B09QBTBKVD/

 My review:

I thank TCK Publishing for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

The description recommends this book to fans of epistolary Gothic classics like Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Being a big fan of Oscar Wilde, I won’t compare the novels, but I have read many reviews querying if The Devil’s Whispers can be considered an homage to Dracula, as it follows the original story very closely, basically changing the names, locations, and some of the details of the monster, but not much else. What came to my mind, when trying to find a way of defining it, is something akin to what music composers call “variations”. It’s been decades since I read Dracula, so I can’t (or indeed want) to write a blow-by-blow comparison of the two, but it is true that they are very similar. Some of the differences I can easily mention are the settings (no Transylvania here, although people who love Cardiff might take issue with the way it is portrayed in this novel), the professions of some of the characters (Raelyn is a doctor, but as many people have mentioned, a female doctor in the early part of the XX century [1903] would have had a very difficult time of it, and that is no way reflected in the novel), some of the myths and the beliefs surrounding the supernatural events are different, and, unless I am mistaken, women and children play much bigger parts than in the original.

This is not a historical novel, and anybody looking for accurate depictions of the era, the place, the language, or even the mores and habits, will be disappointed. Neither the Cardiff nor the London of the story have anything to do with reality, and the characters are not very consistent either. Things develop very quickly, and somebody passes from love to hatred in the blink of an eye (sometimes as a result of supernatural influences, that is true, but not always). Suspension of disbelief doesn’t quite cover the reading experience, as we have characters who can leave their jobs at the drop of a hat and disappear for days or weeks on end with no ill consequences, married people who profess their love for their husbands or wives but don’t hesitate before leaving them without a word of explanation or making contact again, to name but two. What the story has, though, is plenty of atmosphere, and an old-fashioned Gothic feel to it. Rather than a reinterpretation of the genre, this is something closer to what many of the stories from the era might have been like, many of which wouldn’t have survived until now or become classics. It makes me think of Little Women, the scene when Prof. Bhaer is disparaging the type of sensationalist romance stories one can find in newspapers, knowing full well that Jo writes them as well, and advises her to write stories that truly matter to her. Those titillating narrations are the kinds of stories that would have been popular at the time, and, why not? (I will not reveal what happens in Little Women, in case somebody hasn’t read it. If you haven’t, please do. I love it!)

I also kept thinking of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author of The Scarlett Letter among many other novels (I recommend it as well), who wrote about the differences between a novel and a romance (not a romantic novel in the sense of a love story, but something quite different).

This is what he wrote on the subject in his preface to The House of the Seven Gables (1851):

When a writer calls his work a Romance, it need hardly be observed that he wishes to claim a certain latitude, both as to its fashion and material, which he would not have felt himself entitled to assume, had he professed to be writing a novel. The latter form of composition is presumed to aim at a very minute fidelity, not merely to the possible, but to the probable and ordinary course of man’s experience. The former – while, as a work of art, it must rigidly subject itself to laws, and while it sins unpardonably so far as it may swerve aside from the truth of the human heart – has fairly a right to present that truth under circumstances, to a great extent of the writers own choosing or creation. If he thinks fit, also, he may so manage his atmospherical medium as to bring out or mellow the lights, and deepen and enrich the shadows of the picture, he will be wise, no doubt, to make a very moderate use of the privilege here stated, and especially to mingle the marvellous rather as a slight, delicate and evanescent flavour, than as any portion of the actual substance of the dish offered to the public. He can hardly be said, however, to commit a literary crime, even if he disregarded this caution.’

So, a novel has to be plausible, while in a romance, flights of fancy and imagination are allowed, and those are the working tools of the author. From that point of view, this book would fall into the category of a romance, and, readers who approach it as such, are likely to be swept by the story and enjoy the experience, but if you are looking for a well-written and high-quality novel as most critics understand it, you are bound to be disappointed.

To be fair, Bram Stoker wrote to entertain his readers and doesn’t seem to have been particularly concerned about issues such as classic status or high-brow definitions of quality. He had problems in the USA because he wanted his story to remain in the public domain rather than be copyrighted, so perhaps there is something more to the comparison than meets the eye.

I know this isn’t one of my usual reviews, but I hope people will get an idea of what they might find and if it is the kind of thing they’d like to read. There are scenes of violence, bizarre events aplenty, and some gore, but more in the style of classic horror than realistic modern descriptions. And I will agree with the recommendation to read Dracula as well if you haven’t yet. Oh, and don’t forget to keep eating onions!

 Thanks to the author and the publisher for this novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to keep the wonder going, the magic, to keep smiling, and to be happy!

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog SHOOT THE MOON: AN ALTERNATIVE GAME OF HEARTS by Bella Cassidy (@BellaMoonShoot) Weddings, laughs, tears, romance and some hard-truths #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you a bit of romance today. I don’t do that often, but I couldn’t resist this one. Blame Rosie.

Shoot the Moon by Bella Cassidy

Shoot the Moon: An alternative game of hearts by Bella Cassidy 

Tassie loves many things: her friends, her job, her garden. Even her first boyfriend. But there’s a kind of love she just can’t find.

Until, in losing everything, she sees what she needed most was there all along.

Sometimes it’s not the person you need to forget, but the person you need to forgive.

Shoot the Moon is the sweetest of bittersweet novels, combining two very different love stories. One of which will probably make you cry.

Tassie Morris is everyone’s favourite wedding photographer, famous for her photos of offbeat ceremonies and alternative brides. Yet commitment is proving impossible for Tassie herself, who cannot forget her first love.

When she’s sent to photograph a ceremony on Schiehallion – the Fairy Hill of the Scottish Caledonians – she meets Dan, who might be the one to make her forget her past. That is, until a family crisis begins a chain of events that threaten to destroy not only Tassie’s love life, but her entire career.

Set in a colourful world of extraordinary weddings, Shoot the Moon explores the complexities of different kinds of love: romantic love, mother love, friendship. And, ultimately, the importance of loving yourself.

“If there’s someone in your life whom you’ve never quite got over – perhaps this book could help explain one of the reasons why.”

 https://www.amazon.com//dp/B09D2DHZYG/

https://www.amazon.co.uk//dp/B09D2DHZYG/

https://www.amazon.es//dp/B09D2DHZYG/

Autor Bella Cassidy

About the author:

Bella Cassidy grew up in the West Country – reading contemporary romances, romances, historical novels, literary fiction… Just about anything she could lay her hands on. After a few years in London, working as a waitress and in PR and advertising, she went to Sussex to read English – despite admitting in her pre-interview that this rather sociable period in her life had seen her read only one book in six months: a Jilly Cooper.

She’s had an eclectic range of jobs: including in the world of finance; social housing fundraising; a stint at the Body Shop – working as Anita Roddick’s assistant; as a secondary school teacher, then teaching babies to swim: all over the world.

She’s done a lot of research for writing a weddings romance, having had two herself. For her first she was eight months pregnant – a whale in bright orange – and was married in a barn with wood fires burning. The second saw her in elegant Edwardian silk, crystals and lace, teamed with yellow wellies and a cardigan. Both were great fun; but it was lovely having her daughter alongside, rather than inside her at the second one.

https://www.amazon.com/Bella-Cassidy/e/B09D3CZX2M/

My review:

I write this 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 to read and review an early ARC copy of this romantic novel.

I am familiar with the name of the author but not being a big reader of romantic novels (I read the odd one and usually enjoy them, but in general prefer other genres and sometimes read them to take a break or when I need something different to my usual read) I hadn’t read one of hers yet. My mother is a big fan of shows about weddings and wedding dresses, and I thought the job of the protagonist promised some amusing adventures, and that was indeed the case, but there was much more to the novel than that.

The description of this novel is very accurate, and I think it gives a good indication of what readers can expect from it. This is a romantic novel, with a background in the world of wedding photos and wedding magazines (and it is eye-opening to realise how much insight a photographer can get into the lives and relationships of those she photographs), with some of the ceremonies taking place in wonderful settings all over the British Isles (or almost), from London, to Exeter, the Scottish Highlands, even New York (sort of), and with stops in Somerset and Shropshire, among other places. We also have wonderful contrasts between city and country life (managing a farm, cheese making, dog breeding… also make an appearance), and although most of the story is narrated in a chronological order (with some jumps forward in time) between 2014 and 2016, Tassie, the main protagonist, also remembers scenes from her youth and her recent past, and quite late in the book we get snippets of a diary set at a much earlier time (when Tassie was a very young child). I won’t go into a lot of detail, to avoid revealing too much, but there are secrets that help explain difficult family relationships and behaviours, and, most importantly, this is one of those novels that I would classify as an adult coming of age stories, because a character that seemed to have got stuck at a young age (much younger than their chronological age), finally gets to mature and grow up. Oh, and there is a touch of the spiritual/paranormal as well.

There are many other themes that pop up in the novel, and some are explored in more detail than others (faith and loss; the difficulties a couple can face when trying to have children, miscarriages, and the toll that takes on the mental health; coming out (or not) to your traditional family; issues of trust; family relationships and the secrets families keep; toxic relationships and how to get free from them; second chances and living our dreams…) but it is far from simply a light and amusing read that will leave you with a smile on your face. There is that as well (yes, it is a proper romantic novel, and there is a happy ending, I can tell you that, although you’ll have to read the whole thing to see how it comes about, and “happy” might look quite different to what we think when we start reading the novel), but there are some important subjects explored in detail in the novel. I recommend readers to not skip the section of acknowledgments at the end, as it gives a good insight into the process of creation of the novel, and it also provides some extra resources to people wanting to explore further some of the issues that play an important part in the book.

The novel, which is narrated in the third person but from Tassie’s point of view, has a fabulous cast of secondary characters. To be totally honest, Tassie isn’t my favourite. Other than Alex, her long-term love interest, and a couple of the characters that appear fleetingly at some of the weddings, she was probably the character I liked the least at first. I didn’t hate her, but although I loved her friends (Syd and Oliver are fabulous, and so are their partners, and there are many other characters that appear only briefly, like the reverend and mother of one of the brides, or Syd’s witch aunt [well, Wiccan. She has an owl! How could I possibly not love her?] that I would have happily read whole books about), she was one of those people I felt like shaking and telling her to get her head out of the sand and start really looking at what was going on around her and in her own life. Perhaps because I’ve had friends with similar issues, I felt closer to those trying to advise her and getting frustrated because nothing seemed to make a difference than to her and because even the wonderful adventure she lives in Scotland with Dan (who is great. Yes, another favourite of mine) seems to follow the usual pattern. The fact that the story is narrated in the third person helps readers get a bit more perspective and perhaps puts them in a privileged position to get a clearer picture of what is at stake, although events that happen later help move things along. And perhaps, the whole point of the story is to make us see that certain things can only get solved when we are brave enough to confront them, no matter what the likely outcome or how painful the process might be. So, yes, although I didn’t feel I had much in common with Tassie, and she wasn’t my favourite character, to begin with, she grew on me, and I felt sorry to see her go at the end.

Although some of the subjects are emotional (and yes, be prepared from some tears), the writing is fluid and dynamic, combining wonderful descriptions of places, people, and situations (some quite hilarious), with quiet moments of reflection and introspection, and the odd touch of magic. There is romance, of course, and although there is passion, this is not an erotic novel full of “hot” sex scenes (much to my relief, as I am not a fan), and most of what goes on take place behind closed doors, so those who prefer to get graphic and detailed blow-by-blow accounts will be disappointed. On the other hand, you have romantic locations, descriptions of gardens and home vegetable patches rides on horses, helicopters, leaking boats, and quite an array of weddings. As usual, those who want to know if the writing will be suited to their taste, are advised to check a sample.

I’ve already mentioned the ending, and as I said, things are solved in what I felt was a very satisfying manner, and I am not talking only about Tassie’s love life, but also about some of the other difficult relationships she and those around her have to go through. Not that it is an easy process, but this is one of the many beauties of this book.

In summary, I recommend this novel to anybody who enjoys romantic novels and is not looking for “hot” or erotic stories but prefers stories exploring complex relationship issues and providing good psychological insights into relevant topics. Fans of weddings and romances set in Scotland (the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Sky, real towns and spots) will particularly enjoy this novel, and for those who like some extras, the author is promising a tour of the locations (on Facebook and Instagram).

Thanks to the author for this wonderful book, thanks to Rosie and her team for all the support, and thanks to all of you, of course, for reading, sharing, commenting, and please, keep safe and keep smiling!

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog HEARTLESS HETTE (HEARTH AND BARD TALES) by M. L. Farb (@FarbMl) A wonderful fairy tale about the power of laughter, magic, and stories #RBRT #fairytale

Hi all!

I bring you another one of the books from Rosie’s Book Review Team, and I loved it! Here it comes.

Heartless Hette by M. L. Farb

Heartless Hette by M. L. Farb

Come to Germania, where a clockwork heart rules and a fool advises–and a laugh can bring both to their knees.

When Princess Hette refuses a sorcerer’s proposal, he retaliates by stealing her heart—literally.

Desperate to resist his influence, Hette makes herself emotionless, stifling all feelings until she can find her heart and win it back. Only Konrad, the despised Court Fool, knows where to find the sorcerer, and he has his own curse to battle.

Riddles and magic plague their path, including a memory stealing witch, an unbeatable knight, and a magic book that would as soon drown them as lead them to their destination. Yet, if Hette can’t find the sorcerer in time, her heart will be the least of her losses.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B099YWX9VT/
https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B099YWX9VT/
https://www.amazon.es/gp/product/B099YWX9VT/

Author M. L. Farb

About the author:
Ever since I climbed up to the rafters of our barn at age four, I’ve lived high adventure: scuba diving, hiking, climbing, and even riding a retired racehorse at full gallop—bareback. I love the thrill and joy.
Stories give me a similar thrill and joy. I love living through the eyes and heart of a hero who faces his internal demons and the heroine who fights her way free instead of waiting to be saved.
I create adventures, fantasy, fairy tale retellings, and poetry. I live a joyful adventure with my husband and six children. I am a Christian and I love my Savior.
https://mlfarbauthor.com/
https://www.amazon.com/M-L-Farb/e/B07TKYDNHD/

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 thank her and the author for this opportunity.
I am not going to say this is not going to be a long review. I hope it isn’t, but I’m not very good at keeping reviews succinct, especially when I am enthusiastic. And I can tell you now, I loved this novel/fairy tale retelling. But I am decided not to make it heavy. I love fairy tales, and if you want to read about them from an academic or more analytical perspective, there are many books you could check. Among my favourites, I recommend Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy tales and, although it is a work on comparative mythology, Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, because the quest motif features not only in mythology but also in fairy tales, and it is central to this story. But my review is just going to tell you why I had such a great time reading this novel.
The author explains where the idea for this story came from at the end of the book, and it was a combination of the dream of one of her sons and her own inspiration of combining it with a classic fairy tale, ‘The Princess Who Never Laughed’ (not one I’m very familiar with, although I think I might have read it once, a long time ago). There are multiple references to other fairy tales, mythological and magical beings, and objects throughout the story, and also true facts, inventions, and knowledge, and the author’s research shines through, although always at the service of the story and its many adventures. I do recommend reading all the back matter of the book because the author explains the meaning of the names of the characters; she shares some of her research (who knew CPR was so old?); and also includes some reflections about the story, which she calls “food for thought”, that would make great starting points for endless discussions at book clubs.
Retellings of all kinds of stories are all the rage, and retellings of fairy tales are quite popular as well. By choosing one of the, perhaps, not so mainstream fairy tales, Farb gives herself plenty of room for manoeuvre, and she makes great use of it. I love the characters. Hette is a favourite of mine, perhaps because we have much in common. No, I’m not a princess, and no, I don’t have a long queue of men knocking at my door, but her love of knowledge, her no-nonsense attitude, her determination to lead her own life, despite conventions, and her decision not to marry (precisely because she wants to be in charge of her future and her kingdom) spoke to me. She is not perfect, though. She is also rigid, lacks a sense of humour, is determined to not let her emotions rule her, and can appear cold and uncaring, but she is honest to a fault, and she discovers many things about herself and others by the end of the story. I also loved the other characters who accompany her in her quest: Konrad, the Fool (fools are always interesting, and he is one of the best); Demuth, a maid who is much more than that; Peter, a talking toad who is also more than a toad (of course). They all teach Hette the importance of friendship, help her learn to look beyond appearances, jobs, and titles, and to appreciate different types of knowledge and points of view.
There are many other wonderful beings and characters scattered throughout the books: sorcerers, witches, magical owls that love riddles, knights gone mad, Nereids, a wolf-man (not a werewolf as such, at least not your standard one), a Kobold (a German house spirit, a pretty naughty one in this case), and many more, but one of the things I most enjoyed in the story is how most of the characters are not cardboard cut-outs and simply good or bad, without nuances. Even the bad characters have depth and are not just “bad” but have their reasons and sometimes have survived pretty extreme experiences that go some way to help us understand the kinds of beings they are now. We also come across all kinds of magical objects and places (rivers of fire, mountains of ice, stone horses, books and sextants with their own ideas, mechanical hearts…), and of course, secrets, curses, and plenty of stories as well. In fact, the main story is framed by another one, like John, a new steward working at a rural estate is forced to attend a performance by a bard, a female bard, even though he thinks it’s a waste of time and nobody should be allowed to attend before all the “important work” is finished. By the end of the story, it seems John has plenty of food for thought of his own.
Apart from the wonderful characters, as you’ll probably have guessed from my comments about the other characters and magical objects, the quest Hette and her friends embark on sees them through many adventures, and anybody with a bit of imagination and a willingness to join these motley crew is likely to enjoy the wild ride, full of scary moments, puzzling events, riddles galore, difficult decisions, sacrifices, heartache, revelations, laughs, and plenty of moments that will make one think and wonder. In my opinion, this story is suitable for most ages (apart from perhaps very little children, although parents will be the best judges of that), and although there are scary moments, and the characters are put to the test, both physically and mentally (the challenges do take a toll on their health and their spirit as well) and suffer injuries and even violence, this is not out of keeping with the genre, or extreme and gore, and I think most older children would enjoy it.
The writing is beautifully descriptive, rich, and fluid; the pace of events is fast (and at some point we get an added ticking clock, so things accelerate even more), and the imagery is vivid and should capture most readers’ sense of wonder and imagination. You can check a sample if you want to make sure you’d enjoy the writing, but here go a few snippets:
“A promise is but the stomach’s wind after dinner, all stink and no substance.”
“Yes, many things are foolish to those who only see things in categories. But life doesn’t sort out so neatly.”
“Seeing paradoxes and allowing that something may be two things at once is one key to wisdom.”
“Who but fools can tell the truth to the great one? Priests are too timid and ministers too selfish.”
I’m sure you already guessed that, but in case you needed me to tell you, the story ends happily, and there is the promise of a short story with more adventures for the main characters coming up soon.
In summary, this is a delightful fairy tale for all ages, that works wonderfully even if you don’t know anything about the original story, full of heart, inspiring, funny, and packed with wonderful characters, all kinds of scary and challenging adventures, and a perfect ending. Recommended to all of those who are young at heart and love a story full of imagination, romance, and, especially, magic.

Thanks to Rosie and all the members of the group for their hard work and ongoing support, thanks to the author for this joyful experience, thanks to all of you for reading, commenting, sharing, and, please, remember to keep safe, and always keep smiling. 

 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog UNTOUCHED by Jayme Bean (@JaymeBeanAuthor) If you’ve always loved adventures in the jungle, read this #RBRT

Hi, all:

I bring you another one of the discoveries from Rosie’s group, in this case, a debut novel, so it’s truly a discovery, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was published yesterday, but I had a chance to check an ARC copy before its publication.

Untouched by Jayme Bean

Untouched by Jayme Bean

Dr. Julia Morrow and her graduate students, David and Marisol, embark on a research trip to explore a remote section of the Amazon rainforest. When their trails seem to change direction at will and they find themselves lost and without communication, the trio worry they may be in for more than just the latest scientific discovery. After strange circumstances divide the group, they’re left deciding which is more important – finding out why the rainforest seems like it’s alive or getting back home in one piece. The deeper they travel into the jungle in search of answers, the more they realize that some places are meant to remain untouched.

https://www.amazon.com/Untouched-Jayme-Bean-ebook/dp/B08YN48638/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Untouched-Jayme-Bean-ebook/dp/B08YN48638/

https://www.amazon.es/Untouched-Jayme-Bean-ebook/dp/B08YN48638/

 

About the author:

Jayme Bean is an independent author who enjoys writing stories that speak both to the wonders of the world and the highs and lows of the human condition. Inspired by her travels around the world and her career as a zookeeper, she writes using her experiences, which lend a unique viewpoint to her stories. Jayme calls the sunny state of Florida home and shares her life with her husband, son, and four cats.

Catch up with Jayme over social media:
@JaymeBeanAuthor on Twitter and Instagram
/JaymeBeanAuthor on Facebook

You can also visit Jayme on Goodreads or on her website JaymeBeanAuthor.com

https://www.amazon.com/Jayme-Bean/e/B08TMZYPPV/

 My review:

I write this 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 debut novel, and based on the acknowledgments, it seems that despite the author’s initial reluctance to write a book, her enthusiasm for the Amazon rainforest, her contact with other writers, and her husband’s support encouraged her to embark on the project, and I am grateful for it. It is a great story, and I’ve enjoyed it enormously.

The plot is not too complicated, although this is a book where the devil is in the detail. What if the Amazon rainforest could defend itself against the intrusions and destruction it is suffering at the hands of the human being? What if the plants and the trees fought us back? The Day of the Triffids came to my mind, but let that not confuse you. That’s not what this is about. The beauty of the story is that the protagonists who end up fighting for their survival are not “baddies” in the classical sense, but quite the opposite. They are not there to destroy the forest but to research and learn about it, to try to preserve it. But, research and experiments, as we all know, are not always harmless, and the best of intentions can have terrible consequences. In that peculiar setting, we have the protagonists (Marisol and David are the research students, and they get separated from Dr. Morrow quite early in the book, although they become a trio again when they meet Ben, who’d gone missing before their arrival), and the novel is, in a way, something I’ve referred to before: a “coming of age”-style or “rite of passage” novel with a grown-up protagonist. Although the three: Marisol, David, and Ben are put to the test by what happens, David is the one that goes through a major change, and whose experiences get him further away from his comfort zone. In their own different styles, the three are geeks: studious, bookworms, and more focused on their research and learning than on their social lives, but David has always loved the indoors and seems totally unprepared for the expedition. Despite that, his contributions are very important to the resolution of the novel (although I won’t spoil the whole of the story for you), and he comes out of it a changed man.

If I had to choose a genre, I am not sure which one I would use to describe the story. It is an adventure story, a mystery (as two people go missing in the story, and later on there are other mysteries to try to solve, as the protagonists get lost in the rainforest and don’t know how to get out) that veers into horror at times, but also a story about learning who you are by confronting your fears, learning to work as part of a team, and to trust others. Along the way, we learn a lot about plants, biology, and the Amazon rainforest, about the organisation of a research expedition, about some Peruvian traditional beliefs, about panic attacks and its symptoms, and there is an interesting —if somewhat brief— conversation about bisexuality and how people react to it. There is a love story as well, and although I don’t think it will take anybody by surprise, it works well, and it adds further depth to the characters.

Although there are some other characters that contribute to the story (like the local guides, some of the other members of the research team), and I would have liked to get to know Dr. Morrow a bit better, the story centres on the three characters I’ve already mentioned. Marisol comes from Florida, her humble family is originally from Puerto Rico, her mother died when she was quite young, and she is very fond of her father, brothers (including a twin brother), and despite her scientific studies and knowledge can’t help but remember her grandmother’s teachings and religious beliefs, which make her worry about the guides’ refusal to go further into the forest, that they deem “tierra maldita” (“accursed land”). David, on the other hand, is from a very well-off family, but his parents have never been particularly close or even interested in him and his life, and he took refuge in his books and his studies. He never seemed to connect with anybody and has no true friends. He also suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, and although he has learned to manage those quite well, in most cases, it is not easy in his current circumstances. They make for a very odd couple, but, as you will probably image, they learn much about each other and about themselves in the process. Ben… We don’t get to know so much about him, as he is introduced later in the story, but he comes from a reasonably happy family, although he prefers to do his own thing and feels his parents try to over-control him; and he is independent to a fault, having learned how to live in the rainforest and become a true survivalist. The story also reminded me of a Young Adult or a New Adult story, because of its focus on characters (especially David) who are emotionally younger than their years, with the advantage that in this case, their ages (they are in their late twenties) make the whole novel more realistic, as we aren’t confronted with 17 years old who have the skills and knowledge that many experienced adults would be envious of, a common trope in some of these novels.

The story is told in the third person, although the point of view alternates between the different characters. In my opinion, David’s point of view dominates the story overall, but the author is excellent at introducing the experiences of the other characters as well, and although there is a fair amount of telling (because the characters —and us, of course— need to learn details about the project, the place, the plants, and the environment to make sense of what is happening), we often get to see and experience the full richness of the rainforest, the wonder and marvel of the sounds, the colours, the shapes, the feelings, the smells, and also the fear of being at the mercy of nature and not fully knowing what is coming next. The combination of the scientific knowledge titbits (that I found fascinating despite knowing very little about plants and even less about the rainforest), the fight for survival, and the strength and resilience of the characters, with the occasional touch of humour, reminded me of The Martian, and although the setting is completely different, I think there are some commonalities there. There are scenes of great tension interspersed with more contemplative moments, and the narrative eaves and flows, but although sometimes it might seem as if the characters are banging their heads against a wall (tree?) or spinning their wheels, I was hooked by the narrative and gripped by the story from very early on, and sad when it came to an end.

I highlighted much of the text and have found it too difficult to choose a few examples from the selection to share. There are witty dialogues, moving confessions, wonderful descriptions, scientific explanations, and awe-inspiring and scary passages as well. As usual, I’d advise prospective readers to check a sample of the novel, to see if the style of writing suits their taste.

I loved the ending, and although perhaps I would have liked to know more, it felt satisfying and right. I’ve mentioned the author’s acknowledgments, and I enjoyed reading about the process and what inspired her to write this book.

I recommend this book, which I had a great time with, to readers who enjoy adventure stories set in the wild, particularly those with an emphasis on ecology, biology, and the rainforest, happy to read about science and learn new things, and who also enjoy novels whose characters grow and learn from their experiences. There are beautifully descriptive passages that don’t overwhelm the story; there are plenty of adventures and scary moments for those who like to be gripped by a narrative; and also much to make us think. At the beginning of the novel, the author warns about the presence of episodes describing anxiety and panic attacks, and it is a fair warning, as the descriptions are very realistic and might cause upset to sufferers. There are also very mild scenes of M&M intimacy (I’d hesitate to call it erotica, and there is little explicit in them), but as I know what is somewhat subjective, I thought I’d mention it. There is no interpersonal violence in the book, but I’ve mentioned some scary scenes, and there are other kinds of violence and injuries present as well (that probably would be covered by the author’s warning about strong themes).

Oh, I came across this video shortly after reading the novel, and I couldn’t help but add it here, in case you want to learn more about plants and their defense mechanisms.

Thanks to Rosie and her team for the support, thanks to the author for the novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to keep safe, to take care, and, of course, to keep reading, smiling, to comment, and to share if you know anybody who’d enjoy it. 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog FACE THE WIND (Little Sister Island #2) by Caren J. Werlinger A perfect reading refuge in these hard times#RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you the second book in a series not intended as such at first, but one I’m very happy to return to.

Face the Wind (Little Sister Island #2) by Caren J. Werlinger

Face the Wind (Little Sister Island #2) by Caren J. Werlinger

Kathleen Halloran has never been happier. She and Molly Cooper have built a life together, living in her grandmother’s cottage. The family drama of the past has calmed down. She and Molly will soon be aunts. Life on Little Sister Island is everything Kathleen could wish for… until the island begins to send ominous signals that change is in the wind.

Living beside a different ocean, Meredith Turner tries to make sense of her dreams—dreams of an island she’s never seen but can’t forget. After an ancestry test throws her family into chaos, the tempest that follows blows Meredith and her parents clear across the country, to the island of her dreams.

For Louisa Woodhouse, it feels the end is near. With no one to follow after her, she’s the last of her line on Little Sister, and her secrets will go with her. Soon, the Woodhouse name will join the others that now exist only in the island’s genealogy records.

But Little Sister Island has its own magic—rhythms and seasons and tides and currents that even the best-laid human plans can’t fight. And in that magic is a warning—a storm is coming.

https://www.amazon.com/Face-Wind-Little-Sister-Island-ebook/dp/B08GJQRXQK/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Face-Wind-Little-Sister-Island-ebook/dp/B08GJQRXQK/

https://www.amazon.es/Face-Wind-Little-Sister-Island-ebook/dp/B08GJQRXQK/

Author Caren J. Werlinger
Author Caren J. Werlinger

About the author:

Bestselling author Caren Werlinger published her first award-winning novel, Looking Through Windows, in 2008. Since then, she has published fifteen more novels, winning several more awards. Influenced by a diverse array of authors, including Rumer Godden, J.R.R. Tolkein, Ursula LeGuin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Willa Cather and the Brontë sisters, Caren writes literary fiction that features the struggles and joys of characters readers can identify with. Her stories cover a wide range of genres: historical fiction, contemporary drama, and fantasy, including the award-winning Dragonmage Saga, a fantasy trilogy set in ancient Ireland. She has lived in Virginia for nearly thirty years where she practices physical therapy, teaches anatomy, and lives with her wife and their canine fur-children.

https://www.amazon.com/Caren-J.-Werlinger/e/B002BOI2ZI

My review:

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

I have read and reviewed two of Werlinger’s novels before this one, and I’ve become a fan (although I have yet to read any of her fantasy novels, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time). I read When the Stars Sang, the first book in the Little Sister Island series (although I don’t think it was intended as a series at first), a while ago and loved it. (You can check my review here). I couldn’t wait to go back to Little Sister, and my second visit more than lived up to my expectations. I am not sure I’d dare to say that I enjoyed this novel more, but I had, at least, as great a time reading it as I did the first, and I was happy to see that this second instalment revisits the characters and places we have come to love, rather than being a totally separate story, although I am sure readers who come across this book first will catch on pretty quickly (but will end up going back to read the first one, no doubt).

All I said about the first novel applies to this one as well. I wasn’t surprised when I read that the author had many requests to carry on writing about the island and its characters, because both, the setting and the people in it are unforgettable. The mix of Celtic and old-Irish tradition with Native-American folklore, the strong sense of community, the way the inhabitants bond with each other and are like a big family, the way of life there (beautiful but harsh at times, stripped down to the bare bones but precious, not fully “connected” [no mobile phone signal], in tune with nature but at times at the mercy of its whims, gentle but risky and dangerous…), and the way they hold onto ancient rituals and traditions whilst at the same time embracing diversity, new technologies, and adapt to changes and challenges, makes it a place where many of us would love to live in, even if we’d never be allowed to (or perhaps because of it).

The story is told in the third person, as the previous one, although we see things from more perspectives this time. We follow Katheen and Molly’s adventures again, and we get to see how their life has been since we last met them. Kathleen has taken to the island and is growing into her new role with gusto, and Molly is happy as well, even with some ongoing concerns about her family, especially two of her brothers. But there are also new characters, Rae and her parents the most important of those. Rae and her mother, Irene, who live all the way across the country, in Oregon, have been having vivid dreams about a storm and a sinking ship most of their lives. A series of coincidences and decisions with unexpected consequences make them travel to Little Island looking for answers. And let me tell you that they find much more than they bargained for.

Little Island is sending its inhabitants messages they are having some trouble deciphering, and Louisa Woodhouse has to face a secret from her past that she had kept hidden from everybody, even her father and sister. How will it affect the island and its inhabitants?

I warmed up to Rae quickly. Although she seems a bit insecure at first (her boyfriend has cheated on her, and she is determined not to let anybody else hurt her), she is also determined to find an explanation for her dreams, loves her parents (even when they do things she doesn’t like and annoy her no end), and has a strong bond with her dog, Jasper. Her mother, her father, and the dog are wonderful in their own right, and few of us would hesitate to invite them into our homes. They quickly become attuned to life in Little Sister and wish they could stay. Most of the characters we met in the previous novel appear again, and Aidan, Molly’s older brother, plays an important part in the plot. Of course, Blossom, Kathleen and Molly’s dog, also plays a role; he and Jasper become pals, and they make a strong winning team. (I do so love them)!

The story includes a variety of topics: adoption, what makes a family, secrets, lineage, history, destiny, romance (there are no explicit sexual scenes but I think fans of romantic novels will find much to enjoy) and second chances, life and death, how our priorities change with age, pets, new beginnings, and what is really important. There is a price to pay for living in a place like Little Island, and the characters, both old and new, get a harsh reminder of that in this novel.

The writing is gorgeous. There are lyrical moments, beautiful descriptions of landscapes, food, and even feelings and emotions. There are also scary and action-packed moments, which we experience at times as observers and other times as full participants. There are contemplative moments and reflections that made me pause in my reading and will stay with me. There is much joy but also tragedy. As happens in life, it is not all sunny and rosy, and we close the book sad to leave, but with a smile on our faces because things are as they should, and the future looks hopeful and full of opportunity.

A few samples from the book to offer you a taster:

“Life here is no more tragic than elsewhere. It’s just more condensed. When you know everyone, when it involves visitors to your home, when things threaten your home, you feel them more deeply than when it’s just something you hear on the evening news.”

“Beauty isn’t one-sided. Sometimes it comes up with a terrible cost.”

“I think some people need the storm, they need that rush of constantly fighting to stay afloat. For years, I was like that, but now I know, it was only because I was afraid of the calm. In the calm, there’s nothing to fight, no waves battering you from outside, trying to sink you. The calm forces you to listen, to look at your own reflection. And I never liked what I saw.”

Do I recommend this novel? Yes. It is beautiful, it takes place in a wonderful setting, it’s inspiring, its characters are engaging and easy to bond with, and there are intrigues, mystery, and magic to keep us coming back for more. I’d love to live inside this book, and I’d love life to be a bit like it is in Little Island, but I guess  I’ll have to make do with reading about it, and I hope you give it a go as well. You’ll feel better for it.

Thanks to Rosie and all the members of her team for the support, thanks to the author for this wonderful book, and thanks to all of you for reading. Remember to keep safe, and like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling under your masks!

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog HAWTHORN WOODS by Patrick Canning. A noirish cozy mystery with dark undertones #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you another review for one of the books I’ve discovered through Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Hawthorn Woods by Patrick Canning

Hawthorn Woods by Patrick Canning

Logline:

Seeking to rediscover herself after a divorce, a detective-minded woman embarks on solving the small mysteries of a Midwest neighborhood, only to learn the secrets hidden there are more horrifying than she could have ever imagined.

Synopsis:

Summer, 1989. Reeling from a catastrophic divorce she just can’t seem to leave behind, Francine Haddix flees San Francisco for a two week stay at her sister’s house in Hawthorn Woods, Illinois. The quaint neighborhood of shady trees and friendly neighbors seems like the perfect place to sort through her pain and finally move on with her life—but the tranquility doesn’t last long.

Beginning with a complete stranger throwing a drink in her face at her own welcome party, Francine soon discovers the supposedly idyllic suburb is hiding a disturbing number of mysteries. Why is the handsome-ish guy next door lying about who he is? What’s hidden in the back of the teenage troublemaker’s shed? Who wrote a threatening message in blood? Which of the smiling neighbors has a secret they’d kill to keep?

Seeking to reclaim a natural passion for sleuthing numbed by her divorce, Francine rewrites her prescription from one of relaxation, to one of investigation. If she can detect the lies, follow the clues, and remember how to trust herself, she might get to the bottom of what’s so very wrong in Hawthorn Woods. She might even be able to believe the future can be good again—assuming she lives long enough to be in it.

https://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Canning-ebook/dp/B08CS2RK9S/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Patrick-Canning-ebook/dp/B08CS2RK9S/

https://www.amazon.es/Patrick-Canning-ebook/dp/B08CS2RK9S/

Author Patrick Canning

About the author:

PATRICK CANNING is the author of three novels, including Cryptofauna (2018), The Colonel and the Bee (2018), and his latest, Hawthorn Woods (2020). He has also published several short stories. When he isn’t writing, he enjoys playing beach volleyball, following space exploration, and losing at bar trivia. Patrick lives in Los Angeles with his dog Hank, who some consider to be the greatest dog of all time.

www.patrickcanningbooks.com

Instagram: @catpanning

My review:

I write this as a member of Rosie’s Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

I had come across Patrick Canning thanks to Rosie’s Review Team, where his previous novel got great reviews, and I had to check his new book. It is quite different to The Colonel and the Bee demonstrating that this is an author who has plenty of tricks up his sleeve, and one likely to enchant us with a variety of stories for a long time to come.

This is a difficult book to review without revealing any spoilers, as talking in any detail about the plot or the characters could let the cat out of the bag, so I apologise for being a bit vague here. I think the synopsis I include above offers a fair idea of the plot. The premise makes one think of a cozy mystery. Francine, a young woman who works as a hairdresser and is still trying to get over her failed marriage (she was convinced it was going to be forever, but they didn’t even make it to their first wedding anniversary) takes the chance of her sister’s long-delayed honeymoon trip to housesit for her, intent on having a therapeutic holiday while there that will help her to move on in her life. The setting reminded me of Desperate Housewives, Blue Velvet or many series and novels about small towns or housing estates, perfect on the surface but with a fair amount of dirt hidden under the carpets. When Francine puts on her Nancy Drew hat and starts investigating what at first-sight appears to be a pretty harmless incident, things soon start to unravel, and she discovers she is not the only amateur detective at work. We realise that what appeared to be a light read starts getting darker, and by the end of the book it has touched on some very serious topics: domestic violence, intolerance and prejudice, historical memory, Justice, animal cruelty, anti-Semitism, mental health problems…

Francine is an eminently sympathetic character. She is going through a hard time but keeps trying to make the best out of things and is always prepared to give everybody a second chance (even when it might be risky). We learn early on that she has always taken refuge in fantasy, loved reading Nancy Drew novels as a child, to the point where she would take on her persona, and her self-esteem is quite low (she does not see herself as others do). She believes in her intuition but second-guesses herself often and can easily be swayed by others she trusts. She is also quite fixated on a questionnaire her ex-husband gave her, and each chapter starts with one of the questions of the questionnaire and her answers (the questionnaire is real, just in case you wonder) which also helps give us an insight into the workings of her mind. Most of the story is told from her point of view (in the third person), but, as mentioned, her perception of things is coloured by her own experiences and feelings about herself, and she is not the most reliable of narrators. There is a long catalogue of other characters, although we don’t get to know them in as much detail as we do Francine. There is a much younger narrator as well, who reminded me of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn mixed in one, a bit naughty and not always a follower of rules, but he knows how to enjoy himself and is a great observer (and yes, a detective of sorts as well). There is a nice elderly man who becomes a father figure to Francine; there is a mysterious and attractive stranger; there is a friend of Francine’s sister who adopts her and takes her under her wing (and she brings a bit of a chick-lit element to the story); there is a vet Marine of a certain age who believes he is still a Don Juan; there is a youth with a motorbike whom everybody believes is a troublemaker; there is a woman who has become the self-appointed queen bee and insists all should follow her rules; there’s the sheriff and his jealous Russian wife (rumoured to be a mail catalogue wife)… As I said, we don’t get to know all of them in detail, but there are secrets and mysteries hiding in many of their lives, and I think most readers will be taken by surprise by how deceptive appearances can be.

The writing flows easily, and we get a good sense of the neighbourhood and the characters without long-winded descriptions disrupting the action. The pace is fairly steady to being with —it ebbs and flows, with some moments of contemplation punctuated by excitement and action— but towards the end, the pace increases and the book crams a lot of action in the last few chapters. Although most of the book is pretty light, with only some hints at dark goings-on (I’ve mentioned animal cruelty, and there are a couple of instances of it), towards the end, things become tenser, minor incidents pile up, and then there is an explosion of action and violence (not extremely explicit or gore, but I would recommend caution to those who prefer a light read) that will get readers turning the pages faster and faster.

I always mention the ending, and I enjoyed this one. Yes, it did not disappoint. In fact, it ties everything up in a most satisfactory way (together with something that happens in the book and I won’t mention).

I recommend this book to people who like the idea of cozy mysteries but prefer something darker; to those who enjoy small-town settings with a dark underbelly, and to readers who delight in putting puzzles together and questioning everything they read. There are unreliable narrators, details that don’t quite seem to fit in, lovely dogs, wayward kids, romance, several mysteries, a colourful cast of characters, and a heroine most of us will root for. If you like the sound of all that, check a sample and give it a go. It will entertain you, make you think, and might even surprise you.

Thanks to Rosie and her team, thanks to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to keep safe, and if you feel up to it, like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling!

I can’t comment in detail on the psychiatric/mental health aspects of the book without revealing too much of the plot, but I can say that although like the rest it requires a degree of suspension of disbelief, it has a solid base in real mental health conditions.

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog RUNNING HAUNTED: A GREEK ROMANTIC COMEDY WITH A GHOST SET IN NAFPLIO GREECE by Effrosyni Moschoudi (@FrostieMoss) Ghosts, a cute dog, wonderful locations and plenty of love #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you an amusing and touching read that is perfect for those of us who have ended up with no holidays.

Running Haunted: A Greek romantic comedy with a ghost set in Nafplio Greece by Effrosyni Moschoudi

Running Haunted: A Greek romantic comedy with a ghost set in Nafplio Greece by Effrosyni Moschoudi

Kelly ran a marathon… and wound up running a house. With a ghost in it.

Kelly Mellios is a stunning, athletic woman, who has learned–the hard way–to value herself. Having just finished her first marathon in the alluring Greek town of Nafplio, she bumps into Alex, a gorgeous widower with three underage children, who is desperately looking for a housekeeper.

The timing seems perfect, seeing that Kelly aches to start a new life, and Nafplio seems like the ideal place to settle down. She accepts the position on the spot, but little does she know that Alex’s house has an extra inhabitant that not even the family knows about…

The house is haunted by Alex’s late wife, who has unfinished business to tend to. By using the family pet, a quirky pug named Charlie, the ghost is able to communicate with Kelly and asks her for help. She claims she wants to ensure her loved ones are happy before she departs, but offers very little information about her plans.

Kelly freaks out at first, but gradually finds herself itching to help. It is evident there’s room for improvement in this family… Plus, her growing attraction towards Alex is overpowering…

Will Kelly do the ghost’s bidding? How will it affect her? And just how strange is this pug?

“I have read all of Effrosyni’s books, the characters become your friends. Running Haunted is the perfect summer read set in Greece.”
~Just Kay, Amazon UK reviewer

“Another charming book from Effrosyni. Read it, and you’ll be transported to Greece & never look a dog the same way again!”
~Just Me.Mo, Amazon UK reviewer

“A fast-paced original story with attention to detail and engaging dialog. A heartfelt emotional read, with family love, romance and a lovable ghost. I highly recommend it.”
~Sheri Wilkinson, Amazon reviewer

https://www.amazon.com/Running-Haunted-romantic-comedy-Nafplio-ebook/dp/B0853CMP1V/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Running-Haunted-romantic-comedy-Nafplio-ebook/dp/B0853CMP1V/

https://www.amazon.es/Running-Haunted-romantic-comedy-Nafplio-ebook/dp/B0853CMP1V/

Author Effrosyni Moschoudi

About the author:

Effrosyni Moschoudi was born and raised in Athens, Greece. As a child, she loved to sit alone in her garden scribbling rhymes about flowers, butterflies and ants. Today, she writes stories for the romantic at heart. She lives in a quaint seaside town near Athens with her husband Andy. Her mind forever drifts to her beloved Greek island of Corfu.

Her debut novel, The Necklace of Goddess Athena, has won a silver medal in the 2017 book awards of Readers’ Favorite. The Ebb, her romance set in Moraitika, Corfu that’s inspired from her summers there in the 1980s, is an ABNA Q-Finalist.

Her novels are Amazon bestsellers, having hit #1 several times, and are available in kindle and paperback format.

What others say about Effrosyni’s books:

“Effrosyni layers her words on the page like music.”
~Jackie Weger, author of The House on Persimmon Road

“Very few writers have such a gift for realism.”
~Kelly Smith Reviews

Go here to grab FREE books by this author: http://effrosyniwrites.com/free-stuff/

Visit her website for free excerpts, book trailers, her travel guide to Corfu, yummy Greek recipes, and to join her email list for her news and special offers: http://www.effrosyniwrites.com

**Like her on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/authoreffrosyni

**Follow her on Twitter:
https://twitter.com/frostiemoss

**Find her on Goodreads:
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7362780.Effrosyni_Moschoudi

https://www.amazon.com/Effrosyni-Moschoudi/e/B00I5JKMXS

My review:

I purchased a copy of this novel, which I also review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here).

I had read and reviewed a novella by this author before and enjoyed it (you can find my review for The Amulet here). It perfectly combined a lightness of touch, humour, a paranormal element (not in a heavy-handed manner but rather whimsically), and a lovely setting in Greece, with plenty of gorgeous locations and pretty tasty-sounding food. The ideal read for a holiday or for those occasions when we need a holiday but are not in a position to take one (and also perfect for the winter months, when we need a bit of sun, even if it is just coming from a page).  I was therefore well-predisposed toward the writer’s offerings, and when I came across an interview where she explained how personal this novel had become for her, I had to buy it and add it to my list to read. I can confirm that it shares many characteristics with the novella I had read before, down to the wonderful settings, the food, the paranormal element (that becomes quite poignant here, in places), and the light and humorous touches.

The description of the book provides a good summary of the plot. There are some surprises along the way (that I won’t go into), and the book fits in well within the romance genre, down to the gorgeous protagonists (both), some difficulties and hindrances along the way (including old lovers and others), plenty of wish fulfilment, and a great ending which will make readers see things in a new light (and will leave them smiling). I have mentioned the paranormal element, and as the blurb explains, we have a ghost who becomes an important protagonist of the book, as well as quite a few unexplained things (and I’m going to avoid spoilers as usual).

All the characters are easy to like (well, almost all, but I won’t get into that). They are far from perfect, though. We have Kelly, who has transformed her life after an abusive relationship (no physical violence, but her ex-boyfriend always put her down and made her feel insecure) and has turned into a woman who won’t let anybody tell her what she can or can’t do, who will fight to become the person she wants and will help others do the same. On the other hand, she can rush into things without thinking about the consequence; she can be pushy and too direct; and the way she approaches some topics might be one-sided and simplistic (her approach to bullying and to the excess weight of one of the kids, for example), but it’s difficult not to be won over by her enthusiasm and goodwill. Alex is still grieving his wife and finds it difficult to know how best to deal with his children, but he is (as usual in romances) pretty perfect otherwise. The children all have their problems but are good kids and loveable, and what can I say about Charlie, the dog. I adored it! None of the characters are very complex, and this is even more so if we talk about their friends and other secondary characters we see little of. On the other hand, the connection between the members of the family, once the problems have been solved, feels real, and readers are likely to enjoy becoming an ersatz member of the household as much as Kelly does. I really liked Lauren, though, and she is perhaps the one aspect of the novel that feels a little less traditional, as we tend to see women mostly in domestic roles, and there are no particular challenges to the status quo. Lauren’s love for her family is inspiring, and it’s easy to understand why they have all struggled so much to cope without her. She and Kelly seem to have much in common, and I loved her resourcefulness and her wicked sense of humour.

The novel touches upon the different ways people deal with grief, and I found particularly interesting the examples of young children trying to come to terms with the death of their mother. There are very touching moments in the book, and although there is a great deal of humour, the subject is sensitively approached, and I think many people who have suffered losses will feel inspired and comforted by this story.

The writing is fluid and the story is told in the third-person, mostly from the point of view of Kelly, the main protagonist, although there are a few snippets from other characters’ viewpoints, which help readers be a step ahead sometimes but not always (the author keeps a few tricks up her sleeve). There are lovely descriptions of locations and mentions of Greek food, but those do not interfere with the action of the rhythm of the story but rather enhance the enjoyment and help readers immerse themselves in the narrative.

I have mentioned the ending before, and it is a joy. Not only will most readers be left with a smile, but I suspect a few will laugh out loud as well. Well done!

If you are looking for a book that challenges genre and gender conventions, whose characters are diverse, and/or want to avoid triggers related to fat-shaming and bullying, this is not your book. On the other hand, this is a great read for those looking for a sweet romance (no sex or erotica here), in a gorgeous setting, who love the inclusion of humour and paranormal elements. I particularly recommend it to readers who love dogs, Greece, and who can’t go on a real holiday. I enjoyed my time with Kelly and Alex’s family, and I’m sure you’ll do too.

Thanks to the author for her book, to Rosie and the members of the team for their support, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep smiling, and keep safe!

 

 

Categories
Book launch Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview FIND WONDER IN ALL THINGS: PERSUASION REVISITED by Karen M Cox (@karenmcox1932) Beautiful writing and a #romance with a timeless quality

Hi all:

I bring you an Austinesque romance by an author I’ve featured a few times (and she’ll be back, no doubt):

Find Wonder in All Things by Karen M. Cox

Find Wonder In All Things: Persuasion Revisited by Karen M Cox

“There could have never been two hearts so open… Now they were as strangers”
—Persuasion

Mountain Laurel Elliot is like her name—she blooms best in the cool comfort of shade, hidden in the Kentucky foothills of Appalachia. Alone on her mountain, she lives a private existence with only her pottery—and her regrets—for company.
James Marshall had a secret dream and Laurel was part of it, but dreams sometimes lead to unexpected places. James’s heart broke when Laurel cut him loose, but he moved on—and became successful beyond his wildest dreams.
For one glorious summer, James and Laurel had each other, but life has kept them far apart.

Until now.

“a magnificent modernization of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.” -Austenesque Reviews

Winner of the Independent Book Publisher’s Award 2012: Gold Medal in Romance and
Next Generation Indie Finalist in Romance 2013

https://www.amazon.com/Find-Wonder-All-Things-Persuasion-ebook/dp/B082725KR7/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Find-Wonder-All-Things-Persuasion-ebook/dp/B082725KR7/

https://www.amazon.es/Find-Wonder-All-Things-Persuasion-ebook/dp/B082725KR7/

Author Karen M. Cox
Author Karen M. Cox

About the author:

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

Visit with Karen on several of the usual social media haunts:

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

https://twitter.com/KarenMCox1932

https://www.facebook.com/karenmcox1932

https://karenmcox.tumblr.com/

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

If you would like periodic bits of authorly goodness delivered to your inbox, be sure to get Karen’s News and Muse Letter. Updates, sales, book recommendations, etc. are yours for the asking.

News and Muse Letter

My review:

I have read several stories and books by Karen M. Cox, both set in and out of the Austen universe, and have enjoyed her beautiful writing, so I did not hesitate when I was offered the opportunity to review the new edition of this novel, which was well-received a few years back. Although this is a retelling of Austen’s Persuasion, I can confirm that it is not necessary to have read that novel to enjoy this one, as I could barely remember the plot of Austen’s original, and it did not detract from my appreciation of the quality of the writing. Fans of Austen will have the added enjoyment of comparing the two, but the rest can be assured that the novel works as a romance in its own right.

I have commented before that this author’s writing has a timeless quality, and even when she sets the action in the present (or very close), there is something that makes one feel nostalgic, and I experienced this very strongly at the beginning of the book, when the male main character, James, recalls his summers at the lake, the time he spent there with his best friend, Stuart, and ends up falling for Laurel, the sister of her friend’s on-and-off girlfriend. The author’s description of the Kentucky foothills of Appalachia made me experience a weird sense of longing, as I’ve never visited but I felt as if I had. It is evident that the author knows and loves the area and can transmit her affection to her readers, who get to understand why Laurel feels so attached to it as well.

The story is narrated from the two main characters’ point of view, and the author clearly separates the two, with the first part (and intermezzo) written from James’s point of view; the second, set several years later, from Laurel’s; and the third alternating both. This allows readers to experience their doubts, frustrations, confusion, and mixed feelings, while at the same having a greater understanding of what lies behind some of their behaviours, words, and actions. If you love stories of the “will they/won’t day” type, you’ll have a field day here because there are many close encounters, lost opportunities, misunderstandings, and numerous occasions when you’ll wish you were there to tell them to just get on with it and talk to each other. But we all know what they say about the course of true love.

The novel is about second opportunities. James and Laurel fall in love when they are quite young, and although he tries to convince her to move in with him when he goes to Nashville to try to make a living in the music business, she’s just started college and decides to follow her family’s advice, carry on with her studies and stay at home. He makes it big —although not exactly how he expected— and seems to have moved on, but he still thinks of her. And it’s mutual. In this retelling of Austen’s story, the characters don’t challenge traditional gender conventions upfront as is common these days, and therefore the book stays closer to the spirit of the original (well, not in all aspects, and the subtlety of the author’s touch is perhaps what most reminded me of Austen). It might be frustrating for those who look for a heroine with a more modern outlook, but, personally, I liked Lauren, understood her plight and her reasoning, and felt her choice of priorities marked her as a very strong woman. James is the one who leaves home and tries to become a success by going wherever the opportunity arises, while Laurel remains close to home, helping her family, and become an artist, living fairly isolated in a mountain cabin, in touch with nature and needing that inspiration to grow into herself. The novel is also about identity, strength, courage, and belonging. We might think we know these qualities and concepts, but they are ultimately very personal and there is no one definition that fits all. The novel also reminds us that we might get to regret the decisions we make, but we’ll never know how things would have been if we’d chosen another path, and we have to live our life now and not get stuck on what may have been.

I enjoyed the setting of the story and the little community of friends and relatives that develops around the two protagonists. I liked the secondary characters, although some of them only appear for a brief period of time, and I was particularly touched by Laurel’s mother and her plight. There is no great emphasis on social mores and the wider world around the main characters (as there would have been in Austen’s novels), and I wouldn’t have minded a bit more on Laurel’s art and James’s music, but this is pretty much a romance focusing on the two characters’ relationship, and very romantic at that, so I’m sure fans of the genre will be more than happy with the story arch. Ah, there are sex scenes (three), which are not extremely graphic, but as somebody who doesn’t care for erotica, I thought I’d better warn you about them. Although it could have been done in other ways, these scenes go some way to challenge the status quo and the way we see the characters, and also exemplify the different phases of the relationship.

I thought I’d share a couple of samples from the novel to give you a taster.

James remembers the summers he spent at the lake with his friend Stuart.

Mrs. Pendleton had said they were eating dinner at the marina restaurant that night, and then there’d be more walking around the dock and maybe some fishing as the sun set. The next day, it would all start again. It seemed as if days on the lake lasted forever and ran one into the other, as the long, lazy days of summer should.

Here Laurel is talking to her sister, Virginia.

“Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”

“Yes, I know. You’re always fine. I just wish you could be happy too.”

This is a novel for romance lovers, especially those who enjoy stories about second chances, and also for fans of Austen. It is beautifully written, and it would be a great choice for book clubs interested in romances and Austen. It includes a number of questions at the end that would help get the discussion started as well. I am pleased to say I have another one of the author’s novels waiting to be read, and I hope they’ll keep coming.

I received an ARC copy of this novel. This has not affected my review, which I freely chose to share.

Thanks to the author for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click (the book is being published today, so it should be available already), and keep reading and reviewing. And I hope 2020 brings you lots of love and romance!

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog INVISIBLE, AS MUSIC by Caren J. Werlinger. Beautiful writing and compelling characters and setting #LGBTromance

Hi all:

I’m sharing today a review of a book I’ve discovered through Rosie’s Book Review Team. It’s the second novel I read by this author, and I don’t think it will be the last.

Invisible as Music by Caren J. Werlinger
Invisible as Music by Caren J. Werlinger

Invisible, As Music by Caren J. Werlinger

Henrietta Cochran has spent nearly forty years dealing with the effects of the polio she contracted in 1945. Her braces and crutches restrict her, define her, but they also give her independence. Almost. She hates that she has become increasingly reliant on a series of live-in companions to help her. For some reason, the companions never seem to want to stay very long. So Henrietta retreats further and further into her art, where her physical limitations don’t matter.
Into her life sails Meryn Fleming: out, outspoken, and fiercely political. She’s young, enthusiastically diving into her first job as a history professor at the local college. When she falls, almost literally, into Henrietta’s path, she seems like a godsend.
Little does Henrietta know that this young woman is about to upend her carefully structured existence. Ryn challenges everything, barging right through the walls Henrietta has built to keep others at a distance.
To Ryn, Henrietta is an enigma: prickly and easily insulted at the slightest suggestion that she can’t do things for herself; a brilliant artist capable of producing the most beautiful paintings; and sometimes, when Henrietta doesn’t realize she’s letting her guard down, a tender and sensitive woman.
With Meryn’s youthful optimism pitted against Henrietta’s jaded acceptance of the world as it is, life will never be the same for either of them.

https://www.amazon.com/Invisible-as-Music-Caren-Werlinger-ebook/dp/B07ZXJQ4WX/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Invisible-as-Music-Caren-Werlinger-ebook/dp/B07ZXJQ4WX/

https://www.amazon.es/Invisible-as-Music-Caren-Werlinger-ebook/dp/B07ZXJQ4WX/

Author Caren J. Werlinger
Author Caren J. Werlinger

About the author:

Bestselling author Caren Werlinger published her first award-winning novel, Looking Through Windows, in 2008. Since then, she has published fourteen more novels, winning several more awards. Influenced by a diverse array of authors, including Rumer Godden, J.R.R. Tolkein, Ursula LeGuin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Willa Cather and the Brontë sisters, Caren writes literary fiction that features the struggles and joys of characters readers can identify with. Her stories cover a wide range of genres: historical fiction, contemporary drama, and fantasy, including the award-winning Dragonmage Saga, a fantasy trilogy set in ancient Ireland. She has lived in Virginia for nearly thirty years where she practices physical therapy, teaches anatomy and lives with her wife and their canine fur-children.

https://www.amazon.com/Caren-J-Werlinger/e/B002BOI2ZI/

My review:

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

This is the second book by this author I read (you can read my review of When the Stars Sang here), and it shares many of the characteristics of the previous one (a great setting, a love story at the centre of the book, a sense of time and place, great characters, both protagonists and secondary, wonderful writing…).

Here we have two characters that seem total opposites at first sight. Meryn, Ryn, a young woman, openly lesbian, newly qualified to teach history, from a large family, gregarious and friendly, dynamic, with strong convictions, and happy to stir things up. Henrietta, on the other hand, contracted polio in the 1940s and has lived with its sequelae ever since, leading a reclusive life, restricted to a small town, with a tiny circle of friends (mostly not deserving of the name), dedicated to her art, and dependant for her everyday life on paid help and living-in companions. Although the book starts in the 1980s, in many ways Henrietta still lives in the fifties. Due to the braces she wears and to her level of disability she has built up a protective shell around herself, and she’s never dared to change anything or explore beyond her self-imposed boundaries.

The story is narrated in the third person, alternating the two main characters’ points of view, and this works very well, as we have the contrast between a total newcomer who finds it difficult to fit into the stuffy and stifling society of the small town and of the Catholic college (where men reign supreme and misbehave without anybody taking them to task) where she works, and an older woman who might not like her lifestyle and those she mixes with if she stops to think about it, but cannot imagine a different life for herself. She fears the pity of others and has never allowed herself to love, after an experience she had as an adolescent prior to her illness. The girl disappeared, and she never heard from her again. That coupled with her conviction that nobody could look at her and feel anything but pity means that she is closed off and does not let anybody in, in case they hurt her.

The author creates two complex characters we get to empathise with and sets them in a recent historical period, but like the best historical fiction, the novel highlights how much some things have changed since, and also how little  other things have truly changed. The gender politics at the college are appalling but not miles away from what still exists today in some places; the prejudice might be less open but is still present (and it takes many forms here: gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, political beliefs…); and as the epilogue reminds us, the parallels with the current political situation (Reagan was in power at the time the story starts and the Democrats lost their campaign, and the book closes after the 2016 election with Trump’s victory) are evident.

Above all that, the novel talks about love: about different kinds of love (religious love, family love, friendship, romantic love…), about acceptance and tolerance of diversity, about letting others in and learning to look with new eyes at ourselves and those around us. Although there are some truly appalling characters, Ryn and Henrietta manage to find a community of friends who make them feel welcome and accept them for who they are. Henrietta’s love for art and painting, and Ryn’s enthusiasm for history and women’s history in particular, their passion and creativity, make them more alike than they realise at first, and although their story is not without complications, and there are sad as well as joyful moments, this is ultimately an inspiring and beautiful read.

This is a novel that explores issues of identity, prejudice, diversity, different definitions of love, and what life (and love) is like for a person with a disability and for those around her. I enjoyed becoming a part of the story and, as was the case with the previous novel by Werlinger, I was sorry to get to the end, and I hope to read more of her stories. Recommended to readers who are looking for LGTB and diverse romances or simply enjoy beautifully written stories that will make them think.

Thanks to the author, to Rosie and her team for their ongoing support, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to spread the word, and to keep smiling!

 

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