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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog BLIND TURN by Cara Sue Achterberg (@carasueachterberg) A wonderful mother-daughter relationship were everybody learns #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you a book by an author I’ve read and loved before. I’m slightly ahead of its publication date (it is due on the 7th of January 2021), but I thought you might appreciate the chance of getting ahead and having some suitable reading ready for the beginning of the year (and let’s hope it helps start the year on a better note). And without further ado…

Blind Turn by Cara Sue Achterberg

Blind Turn by Cara Sue Achterberg

In the aftermath of a fatal texting and driving accident, a mother and daughter must come to terms with the real meaning of forgiveness.

Liz Johnson single-handedly raised an exemplary daughter. Jessica is an honor-student, track star, and all-around good kid. So how could that same teenager be responsible for the death of the high school’s beloved football coach? This is Texas, where high school football ranks right up there with God, so while the legal battle wages, the public deals its own verdict.

Desperate for help, Liz turns to a lawyer whose affection she once rejected and attempts to play nice with her ex-husband. Jessica faces her angry peers and her own demons as she awaits a possible prison sentence for an accident she doesn’t remember.

A tragic, emotional, ultimately uplifting story, Blind Turn is a natural book club pick.

https://www.amazon.com/Blind-Turn-Cara-Sue-Achterberg-ebook/dp/B08LSLSZZF/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Blind-Turn-Cara-Sue-Achterberg-ebook/dp/B08LSLSZZF/

https://www.amazon.es/Blind-Turn-Cara-Sue-Achterberg-ebook/dp/B08LSLSZZF/

Author Cara Sue Achterberg

About the author:

Cara Sue Achterberg is a writer, blogger, and shelter dog advocate who lives in New Freedom, Pennsylvania and Bentonville, Virginia.

She is the author of four novels, two memoirs (‘dog-oirs’), and a handbook/memoir of the organic life.

Cara has fostered over 180 dogs for the nonprofit all-breed rescue organization, Operation Paws for Homes and writes a blog about her experiences (AnotherGoodDog.org), and she is the co-founder of Who Will Let the Dogs Out (WhoWillLettheDogsOut.org), a non-profit initiative whose mission is to raise awareness and resources for shelter dogs.

Her small hillside farm in PA is home to a shuffling cast of foster dogs and foster kittens, her two dogs Gracie and Fanny, two horses, a barn cat named Tonks, and plenty of chickens. Cara travels to the mountains of Virginia every chance she gets. Links to all of her blogs, pictures of her foster dogs and more information can be found at CaraWrites.com.

twitter: @caraachterberg
instagram: @carasueachterberg
Facebook: @carasueachterberg

https://www.amazon.com/Cara-Sue-Achterberg/e/B00PYVVB5S

My review:

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

I read and reviewed a novel by the same author, Practicing Normal, over three years ago, but I enjoyed it so much, and it made such an impact that I requested this one straight away. (You can check my review here). The author has been busy with other projects and has published several non-fiction titles in the meantime, but I can say that her new novel was worth the wait.

The book description gives an idea of the bare bones of the story, which is not very complicated, at least on the face of it. The novel follows the aftermath of a terrible accident, although perhaps not a totally ‘accidental’ accident, as the girl driving, Jess, was ‘allegedly’ texting while driving. The girl, who suffers a concussion, can’t remember anything about the accident, but her friend Sheila, who was with her in the car, has plenty to say. The victim is a well-known town coach and a friend and mentor of the girl’s father. Let’s say there’s not much love lost for the girl and her family in the town (Jefferson, Texas) after that happens. The novel falls into the categories of family drama (or women’s stories, as the story is told by the two women, Liz, the mother, and Jess, her daughter, in the first-person) as well as a coming of age story. Jess is only sixteen when the accident happens, and she grows up considerably during the next few months, while she discovers who her real friends are, reorders her priorities, gains a new appreciation for both her parents, learns about guilt, and more than anything, about forgiveness. She is not the only one who grows up in the process, and her mother also learns a lot about herself and about those around her.

I’ve mentioned some of the themes discussed in the book, and there are others: disappointed expectations, second chances, the risks of texting and driving (of course), parenting, split-up families, the nature of guilt and forgiveness, the way all lives are interconnected and all actions have consequences, unplanned parenthood, looking after the elderly (especially our parents)… This is not a novel full of secrets and twists, devious characters, and bizarre motives, but rather one that we could imagine happening to our own relatives and/or friends (or ourselves). That is one of its strengths. The plot does not require any suspension of disbelief (or not much. At times, I wondered if in real life things wouldn’t have got even more difficult for those involved, and especially some of the male characters seem very understanding and forgiving, although that is refreshing), and as the book is not heavy on details or descriptions, it is even easier to imagine its scenario taking place around us.

I liked all (or most) of the characters. Although I have little in common with Liz or Jess, I found them both easy to empathise with. They are not perfect but are fundamentally good people trying to get on, and they love each other deeply, though at times it might not be that evident even to themselves. The rest of the characters are also pretty decent despite their flaws, and this is not a book where good and evil are clearly separated. Sometimes a mistake can have terrible consequences, and sometimes good people can do terrible things. If I had to choose some of my favourites, I quite liked Katie, Liz’s sister; her friend Avery; their neighbour, Dylan; Ellen, the counsellor; and Fish, a boy Jess’s father knows. Both of their love interests are endearing, although at times they appear a touch too perfect (but things happen that qualify that impression), and even the characters whose behaviour is not exemplary are not despicable. Through the main characters’ narrations, we get to share in their doubts, hesitations, fears, defense-mechanisms, disappointments, expectations, hopes, guilt feelings; and it’s impossible not to wonder what we’d do in their place. I have no children, but I could easily imagine what Liz might feel like, and as somebody who’s driven for years and has been lucky enough not to be involved in any serious accidents (none involving injuries), Jess’s plight was instantly recognisable. Their thoughts and their emotions felt true, and the way they behave and eventually grow suits perfectly the kind of human beings they are.

The use of the first-person narration by the two main female characters works well, as we get both sides of the story, with access to more background into the changes and the actions of each character than the other has, and it also provides us with some distance from each woman and an outsider perspective on them, and we come to realise that they are more alike than they think. The author is both skilled and thoughtful enough to avoid common-places, and she does not give her characters an easy way out. They have to work through their issues and earn the hard lessons they learn. Saying that, I loved the ending that manages to be both, open and hopeful.

The writing flows easily, and although the novel is not full of action or a page-turner in the standard sense, there are very emotional moments. We become so involved in the lives of the characters that it’s difficult to put the book down, as we care too much for them to rest until we know what happens. I read a review written by somebody from Jefferson, Texas, who felt somewhat disappointed because she had expected to recognise some of the landmarks, so beware if you have similar expectations. On the other hand, I got a good sense of what it felt like to live there (or at least in the Jefferson of the novel) and to know the characters personally, and that worked perfectly well for me.

I thought I’d share a few of the passages I highlighted (although, remember mine was an ARC copy, so there might be some slight changes in the final version):

Why does forgiveness require a sacrifice? That piece of Christianity never made sense to me. That sounds more like making a deal than offering forgiveness.

I am the roadrunner, running in thin air, moments from smacking into reality.

Sometimes it feels like I’m in a dystopian novel being controlled by a cosmic author who makes the characters do things no one would ever dream they would do —especially themselves.

I am different too. I am finished withholding forgiveness and clinging to my anger and fear like some kind of sick armor to shield my heart.

I recommend this novel to readers who love realistic/plausible coming-of-age stories and family dramas that don’t fall into the trap of trying to make everything right or easy for the characters while at the same time avoiding unnecessary twists used simply for effect. If you’re looking for an inspiring story you can connect with and characters you’d love to have as neighbours or friends, this is your book. There is heartache, tears, and also a process of growth and lessons to be learned, and you’ll feel better for having read it. And what more can we ask for! (Oh, I almost forgot! There are dogs as well!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Book launch FREE

#2020gift YOU’RE NEVER TOO OLD TO BE A PROM QUEEN #Wattpad

Hi all:

I hope 2020 is going well for you so far, and I also hope it will get better and better. It is customary to take stock of what has gone on over the year, and although I enjoy the posts where people share lists of achievements, recommendations, events, etc., I always find others’ reflections more interesting than mine and seem to have too many other things to share and do this time of the year, so there you have it.

Although I hadn’t planned a “best of 2019”  kind of post, I wanted to offer you a gift (of sorts) for Christmas, but I ran into some technical difficulties and didn’t manage to get everything ready. Instead, I bring you a gift for the New Year. Well, not sure it’s much of a gift, but, hey, ho!

I decided to do a little experiment and try to see if writing for a short period of time every day would work for me. Instead of publishing the resulting book, because I’m not too convinced about it, to tell you the truth, and I’d rather invest the money necessary in other things, I’ve shared it on Wattpad. You can read it there, if you fancy it, although, don’t worry, I know the topic is a bit peculiar and not to everybody’s taste.

You're Never Too Old to Be a Prom Queen by Olga Núñez Miret
You’re Never Too Old to Be a Prom Queen by yours truly!

Here is the description:

You’re Never Too Old to Be a Prom Queen.

Have you ever found yourself in the unenviable position of being told that you are too … (fill in the gap with whichever word fits: young, pretty, thin, fat, short, tall, clever, silly, old…) to do something? Mildred, one of the protagonists of the story, had always dreamed of having a prom. But when she finished her studies, in the UK, that was not the done thing. Now, many years later and with time in her hands after having retired from her full-time job as a nurse, she is still thinking about it. She tells her husband, who is less-than-enthusiastic about her idea. After years of being told what to do, she decides it’s time to take things in her own hands. With more than a little help from her friends, her project starts to take shape.

What started as a challenge becomes a mission that engages the imagination and the hearts of all the people involved.

A heart-warming story for all ages about friendship, creativity, determination, and the power of a tight-knit community and of dreams.

https://my.w.tt/bXAPlbrY32

Thanks for reading my reviews and everything else, and you know what to do! Keep smiling, reading, reviewing, and being happy in 2020!

 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog Not My Father’s House: A Novel of Old New Mexico by Loretta Miles Tollefson Recommended to lovers of historical fiction, pioneer narrations, and women’s stories #historical fiction #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you a review of one of the books from Rosie’s group and one I recommend to people who love historical fiction, especially stories of New Mexico and settlers.

Not My Father's House: A Novel of Old New Mexico by Loretta Miles Tollefson
Not My Father’s House: A Novel of Old New Mexico by Loretta Miles Tollefson

Not My Father’s House: A Novel of Old New Mexico by Loretta Miles Tollefson

Suzanna hates everything about her New Mexico mountain home. The isolation. The short growing season. The critters after her corn. The long snow-bound winters in a dimly-lit cabin.

But she loves Gerald, who loves this valley.

So Suzanna does her unhappy best to adjust, even when the babies come, both of them in the middle of winter. Her postpartum depression, the cold, and the lack of sunlight push her to the edge.

But the Sangre de Cristo mountains contain a menace far more dangerous than Suzanna’s internal struggles. The man Gerald killed in the mountains of the Gila two years ago isn’t as dead as everyone thought.

And his lust for Suzanna may be even stronger than his desire for Gerald’s blood.

https://www.amazon.com/Loretta-Miles-Tollefson-ebook/dp/B07VXFP2KY/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Loretta-Miles-Tollefson-ebook/dp/B07VXFP2KY/

https://www.amazon.es/Loretta-Miles-Tollefson-ebook/dp/B07VXFP2KY/

Author Loretta Miles Tollefson
Author Loretta Miles Tollefson

About the author:

Loretta Miles Tollefson has been publishing fiction and poetry since 1975. (She’s not old–she started young!) Growing up in foothills of the Olympic Mountains in the log cabin her grandfather built and her father was born in led naturally to an interest in history and historical fiction. When she retired to the mountains of northern New Mexico, writing historical fiction set there was a logical result. The Moreno Valley Sketches books are the first in many planned books set there.

Before turning to historical fiction full time, Loretta wrote Crown of Laurel, a novel set in Seattle in the recession of the early 1980’s. Loretta holds a B.S. in Bible Education from Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon. This background informs her poetry collections Mary at the Cross: Voices from the New Testament and And Then Moses Was There: Voices from the Old Testament.

In the mid-1980’s, Loretta and her husband suffered the loss of their first child in the fifth month of pregnancy. Her poetry collection But Still My Child came out of that period and is designed to help others deal with the pain of miscarriage.

Loretta holds M.A.’s in Communication and in English Literature from the University of New Mexico. Most days, you’ll find her researching New Mexico history in the 1800’s and writing furiously. She publishes short historical fiction every week at LorettaMilesTollefson.Wordpress.com

https://www.amazon.com/Loretta-Miles-Tollefson/e/B00I47VVZ4?

https://lorettamilestollefson.com/

My review:

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

When I first read about this book, I was intrigued by the setting (one I must confess I’m not very familiar with but I’ve always been interested in) and the period of the story most of all. I’ve become an eager reader of historical fiction, and I’ve learned plenty about times and places I knew nothing about. This is another perfect example of the way novels can inform and entertain at the same time, immersing us on a time and place completely at odds with our everyday experience. This is book two in the series of novels of Old New Mexico, and although it can be read independently, I must admit I would have liked to be better acquainted with the previous lives of the characters.

Suzanna is very young. Newly wed and only sixteen, she is thrown in at the deep end. She is not very domesticated for a woman of the period (the story is set in the early XIX century): she does not know how to cook, and she was brought up by her father to love books rather than other more feminine tasks, although she does sew, cleans, and knows how to keep a house, more or less (but she did have help back at her father’s house, in Taos, and she still has some help here, because Ramón does the cooking, otherwise they’d die of hunger). She loves to be outdoors and grow plants and vegetables most of all and that is another source of irritation for her in her new location, as this is high mountain territory, and neither the weather nor the seasons are as mild as what she was used to at home.

Suzanna finds fault with everything and she is not the most likeable of characters to begin with, although as we keep reading, the sheer drudgery and harshness of her life, and her brave attempts at making the best out of it end up by endearing her to the reader. We also come to understand that there is something more behind the changes in mood and she needs help, although it is difficult to imagine what form it could take at that point and in that place. Gerald, her husband, does his best and tries to understand her, although he has little time and no workable solutions to make things better. Ramón is a quiet presence and a likeable one, as he is always at hand to help. A perfect example of the strong and quiet type, Mexican style. He and the main characters in the novel experience major and very traumatic losses, and they use different coping strategies to deal with very difficult circumstances. There are other very colourful characters that make their appearance in the book, including Native Americans of different tribes, trappers, Mexican Army soldiers, and assorted animals as well. Some of them, as the author explains at the end of the book, where real historical characters, and they seamlessly mix with the fictional characters whose story we are reading.

The story is a slow burner, rather than a quick page turner, and it is narrated in the third person, mostly from Suzanna’s point of view, but also from a pretty nasty character’s viewpoint (I’m trying to avoid spoilers, although the description will give you a fair idea of the plot), that gives us a different perspective and also creates a fairly uncomfortable reading experience, as we get to share in the thoughts of a man who does not seem to have a single redeeming feature. The author does an excellent job of capturing the natural rhythm of the seasons, and we experience the harshness of the natural environment, the difficulty of coping with extreme weather conditions and having to survive on one’s own wits, but she also brings to life the beauty and the joy of the landscape and the location.

Another very strong point of this novel is the way it reflects the mental health difficulties of Suzanna. Her dark moods, the way she is influenced by the seasons and the lack of light and exercise in the winter months, her irritability, her difficulty explaining her feelings, and how she is further hindered by several losses throughout the book and the effect the birth of her children has on her already fragile mental health are explored and made palpable. Because we share in her perspective, although at first we might think she is just too young and immature for the situation she has landed herself in, we later come to see how hard her circumstances would be for anybody. And when her father visits and explains that she’s always had difficulties in certain times of the year, but they’d managed it well, we understand that she had not been aware of these problems until she had to face them by herself, in more extreme and tough conditions. The author explains her research on depression (post-natal depression and also seasonal affective disorder) and provides the historical context as to how the condition would have been dealt with at the time, in her note at the back of the book. From my experience as a psychiatrist, having talked to and looked after many patients suffering from similar conditions, her portrayal is realistic and vivid, and it reflects well the feelings and desperation of the sufferers.

I learned plenty about the New Mexico of the era, its inhabitants, its customs, and its politics. The author’s research shines through, and she makes an excellent use of it without overbearing the reader. The book also includes an index of the sources used, and a list of the historical characters that make an appearance in the series.

I would recommend this book to anybody who loves historical fiction of this era and location, in particular people who enjoy books about the pioneers and the settlers of the Southern United States. It is not a book for people looking for constant action or for a light read. There are humorous moments, and there is light relief (mostly provided by the dogs. I loved all the dogs, although my favourite was Chaser), but there are also sad and scary moments, and although the book is not terribly graphic in its depiction of violence (and there is no erotica at all), there is violence and a sense of menace and threat that permeates a lot of the novel. If you are fans of Little House in the Prairie and prefer narrations that build up slowly but have a realistic feel, you must check this novel out. I am intrigued by the series, and I hope to learn more about the further adventures of Suzanna and her family.

Thanks to the author and to Rosie and her wonderful group, thanks to all of you for reading, and thanks for liking, sharing, commenting, clicking, and don’t forget to review and always keep smiling!

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog WILL RISE FROM ASHES by Jean M. Grant (@JeanGrant05). An ambitious road-novel about a woman who finds herself among the chaos #RBRT

Hi all:

Today I bring you one of my reviews for Rosie’s Book Review Team. I think many of you will enjoy this book.

Cover of Will Rise from Ashes by Jean M. Grant
Will Rise from Ashes by Jean M. Grant

Will Rise from Ashes by Jean M. Grant

Living is more than mere survival.

Young widow AJ Sinclair has persevered through much heartache. Has she met her match when the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts, leaving her separated from her youngest son and her brother? Tens of thousands are dead or missing in a swath of massive destruction. She and her nine-year-old autistic son, Will, embark on a risky road trip from Maine to the epicenter to find her family. She can’t lose another loved one.

Along the way, they meet Reid Gregory, who travels his own road to perdition looking for his sister. Drawn together by AJ’s fear of driving and Reid’s military and local expertise, their journey to Colorado is fraught with the chaotic aftermath of the eruption. AJ’s anxiety and faith in humanity are put to the test as she heals her past, accepts her family’s present, and embraces uncertainty as Will and Reid show her a world she had almost forgotten.

https://www.amazon.com/Will-Rise-Ashes-Jean-Grant-ebook/dp/B07PNK7P2Z/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Will-Rise-Ashes-Jean-Grant-ebook/dp/B07PNK7P2Z/

https://www.amazon.es/Will-Rise-Ashes-Jean-Grant-ebook/dp/B07PNK7P2Z/

Author Jean M. Grant
Author Jean M. Grant

About the author:

Jean is a scientist by training with a background in Marine Biology, Microbiology, and Immunology. She currently resides in New England and draws from her interests in history, science, the outdoors, and her family for writing inspiration.

She read some big names early on in the historical romance genre, and was awestruck by Scotland, history, and a bit of the mystical. These stories swept her away and inspired her to pursue a career as an author. Fast-forward a few decades, and now out: two books in her historical romance trilogy with a twist of the paranormal (A Hundred Breaths, A Hundred Kisses), a contemporary women’s fiction (Will Rise from Ashes), and a contemporary romance in the Deerbourne Inn series (Soul of the Storm).

Jean also writes non-fiction articles for family-oriented and travel magazines.
When not writing, she enjoys tending to her flower gardens, tackling the biggest mountains in New England with her husband, and playing with her children, while taking snapshots of the world around her and daydreaming about the next story.

https://www.amazon.com/Jean-M.-Grant/e/B0728KFXP9

My review:

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

This is an ambitious novel. The author has tried to combine a complex set of characters with a gripping plot. AJ, the protagonist of the novel, is a woman in crisis, dealing with grief, having to bring-up two young boys on her own (neither of them the ideal well-behaved easy-child that everybody dreams of, but I suspect doesn’t exist in real life. The oldest, Will, in the autistic spectrum, and Finn, whom we hear plenty about but don’t get to know as well first-hand, sounds pretty overactive and his behaviour can be also challenging at times), suffering from anxiety (and perhaps other mental health difficulties), and experiencing an almost totally crippling fear of driving. We hear her side of the story, narrated in the first person. Being a professional writer, she makes for a compelling narrator, and, although not being a mother and not sharing in her extreme circumstances I do not have much in common with her, I felt the author managed to convey well the doubts, anxieties, hesitations, guilt, and the difficulties the character experienced accepting her situation, moving through the stages of grief, and eventually giving herself (and others) a chance. Her son, Will, loves all things volcano, weather, and geology, and the author offers us his perspective of the situation (this time in the third person) that serves two purposes: on the one hand, we get a more objective outsider’s perspective of how things are (because being inside of AJ’s head all the time means her suspiciousness and paranoia are not always easy to separate from how bad things really are), and we also get an understanding of how things look like and feel for a child with high-functioning autism (although there is less emphasis on that aspect than in other books I’ve read, unsurprising if we take into consideration the many other things going on).

We are later introduced to Reid, who is a combination of knight in shining armour, love interest, and also a man haunted by issues from the past (ex-military, talks about PTSD as if he was very knowledgeable about it, and his behaviour is at times mysterious, to say the least). Although AJ is suspicious about him and it takes her a long time to give him a chance, do not worry, the novel also contains romance and an opportunity for redemption. (I don’t want to give any spoilers away, but the description is quite clear in some aspects, and this is not a mystery novel, even if there are some details about the characters that are only revealed late in the story, and eventually help us understand people and events much better).

The plot keeps the story ticking, ensuring that people who might find the self-questioning and doubts AJ has to confront a bit uncomfortable (or worry that they might slow the story) have plenty to keep them turning the pages. A major disaster is the background of the story, which once AJ decides to go searching for her son, becomes the novel equivalent of a road movie. This is not a post-apocalyptic novel, but there is evidence of research and credible details of the likely scenario and consequences of such an event are interspersed through the narrative. Thanks to Will’s interest in volcanos we get first-hand information about that side of things, and as they approach the affected area, we get an almost physical sense of what it would be like to live the aftermath of a super volcano eruption. Apart from nature, the characters have to confront many other problems: technical difficulties, robberies, attempted assaults, road blocks, lack of supplies, poor telephone lines and a break-up in communication, no running water, no access to prescription medication… A woman with a driving-phobia having to drive across half the country is enough of a challenge, but her resolution keeps getting tested, and despite her reluctance to ask for or accept help, no matter how cautious and well-prepared she thought she was, she discovers that she needs a helping hand. Although the situation is harrowing and there is almost no rest or break from it (other than some dreams of the past AJ experiences, that provide us more background information and a better understanding of where she is coming from, her moments writing the diary, and the odd detour), this is not a book that gets into the gore of the destruction in detail, and, if anything, we are so focused on the here-and-now of the story that the global picture (and the many lives lost) is somewhat diluted.

The ending is satisfying and hopeful, in marked contrast to the difficulties and hindrances experienced during the trip, and in many ways the book can be seen as a metaphor for the process the main character must go through. AJ’s whole world has shattered around her, and she has been put to the test. She realises that she is stronger than she needs, that she can ask for help, and that she is ready to —slowly— move on.

As I mentioned, I did not identify with AJ, and I am not a big fan of romance (there is also a mild and not-too-graphic sex scene, but I thought I’d warn people just in case), but the book captures well the mental processes of the main character, who is a credible and complex woman trying to do her best in very difficult circumstances. The challenges of motherhood are also compellingly told (although I have no personal knowledge of the subject), and I am sure many readers will enjoy that aspect as well. If people are looking for other books focusing on the autism side-of-things, I’d recommend a couple of books as well: the well-known The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, from an older boy’s perspective (and if you can catch the play, it’s well-worth watching), and Keith Stuart’s A Boy Made of Blocks where the father of a child with autism is the main character.

A tour-de-force that combines a gripping plot with strong and complex characters, and a hopeful message. Recommended for readers of women’s fiction.

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

 

 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE LAST THING SHE SAID by Rachel Walkley (@RachelJWalkley) #RBRT A beautifully written feel-good story.

Hi all:

I bring you a book by one of the authors I discovered though Rosie’s team. This is the second of her novels and… she’s a keeper!

The Last Thing She Said by Rachel Walkley
The Last Thing She Said by Rachel Walkley

The Last Thing She Said by Rachel Walkley. Women’s fiction with a touch of the paranormal. A beautifully written feel-good story.

“Beware of a man named Frederick and his offer of marriage.”

Rose’s granddaughters, Rebecca, Leia and Naomi, have never taken her prophecies seriously. But now that Rose is dead, and Naomi has a new man in her life, should they take heed of this mysterious warning?

Naomi needs to master the art of performing. Rebecca rarely ventures out of her house. She’s afraid of what she might see. As for Rebecca’s twin, everyone admires Leia’s giant brain, but now the genius is on the verge of a breakdown.

Rebecca suspects Naomi’s new boyfriend is hiding something. She begs Leia, now living in the US, to investigate.

Leia’s search takes her to a remote farm in Ohio on the trail of the truth behind a tragic death.

Just who is Ethan? And what isn’t he telling Naomi?

In a story full of drama and mystery, the sisters discover there is more that connects them than they realise, and that only together can they discover exactly what’s behind Rose’s prophecy.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Last-Thing-She-Said-ebook/dp/B07L2XFPPV/

https://www.amazon.com/Last-Thing-She-Said-ebook/dp/B07L2XFPPV/

Picture of author Rachel Walkley
Author Rachel Walkley

About the author:

Born in the Midlands, I grew up in East Anglia and am now firmly lodged in the North West of England. My first writing achievement was my Brownie badge and after that I’ve never let go of the dream of becoming an author. Once a librarian and caretaker of books, I’m now a teller of tales and want to share with you the secrets that hide in the pages of my books.
Please stop by my website – rachelwalkley.com and find out more about my books in the making.

https://www.amazon.com/Rachel-Walkley/e/B07B5G7VZP/

My review:

I am writing this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you’re looking for reviews, I recommend you check her amazing site here), and I thank her and the publisher for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I recently read and reviewed Rachel Walkley’s first novel The Women of Heachley Hall (you can check my review here) and enjoyed it so much that I had to check her second novel as soon as it became available. And I thoroughly enjoyed it as well.

This is the story of three sisters, twins Rebecca and Leia, as different as two sisters can be (or perhaps not), and younger sister Naomi. Their parents move to the US when the youngest sister is in her late teens and she refuses to go with them. Rebecca becomes her ersatz mother (Nancy, their mother, does not seem particularly close to any of them, although perhaps that is the sisters’ impression) and eventually Leia also moves to the US to work on her medical research.

The three sisters are gifted, although they all have trouble dealing with their gifts, which are very different. Rebecca gives up her career as a lawyer to take refuge at home, bringing up her children and looking after her husband and the house; Naomi, a talented flute player, loves to perform but does not feel confident and dedicates most of her life to teaching music to children; Leia has a big brain and dedicates her efforts to useful research, but hates the limelight and would prefer all the credit to go to her team. Their grandmother, the member of the family that managed to get them all together with her traditional birthday celebration, also had a gift, but most people dismissed her birthday predictions as an eccentricity. When Rebecca starts investigating her grandmother’s past pronouncements —for very personal reasons—, she gets a big surprise.

The story is told in the third person from different points of view, mostly those of the sisters, although we get some glimpses into other characters’ minds as well, and in chronological order for the most part. There are some short chapters that go back to show us past events (there are no lengthy explanations or “telling” in the novel), and these flow logically from the narrative. For example, if Naomi is thinking about the relationship with her parents, her memory might go back to how she had felt when her parents decided to leave the country. It is a great way of layering the background story of the characters without disrupting the action for too long, and it also helps us understand where the characters are coming from, and their reasons for being the people they are. Each chapter and fragment is clearly labelled with the character’s name and the date, and it is not an effort to follow the story, as it flows naturally, at a sometimes wandering but engaging pace.

There are some descriptions of places and locations, but these are limited to what is necessary to tell the story and to allow readers to see it. The story is more interested in the psychological makeup of these characters, and the author does a great work of making us understand them in their own terms. We see each protagonist from her sisters’ point of view first, but on later seeing things from their perspective, we get a completely different picture of them. By the end of the story I was attached to all of the characters, even the ones that at first I was not sure about. And although not all the characters are sympathetic, the novel is not judgmental about any of them, giving them the benefit of the doubt.

I particularly enjoyed the character of Rose, the grandmother, the passages about Naomi’s playing and her thoughts about it (if you read the author’s note at the end you’ll understand why these scenes appear so vivid), and grew very fond of Leia and Howard. That is not to say I don’t like Rebecca and the rest of the chapters from Naomi’s perspective, but perhaps because they are the ones we get to know first, we are on their side from the beginning, and the rest of the characters came as a revelation much later on. There are secrets and lies, but none are Earth-shattering or beyond most reader’s expectations and experiences, and they do not require a huge amount of suspension of disbelief, even the paranormal elements. There is mystery, but the strongest element of the story is the relationship between the three sisters and how they all become more their individual selves by working together and protecting each other.

The novel is both easy to read and beautifully written, and the ending… No, I won’t give you details, but let’s say I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I did. Definitely a feel-good story.

A book I recommend to anybody who enjoys contemporary women’s fiction, optimistic stories about family relationships with a touch of the paranormal, and who are eager to discover a new and talented writer.

Thanks to Rosie and to the author for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and always, keep smiling! And reading (even in Christmas)!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT THE LOST LETTERS by Sarah Mitchell (@SarahM_writer) WWII Historical fiction and family secrets

Hi all:

I bring you a book that I think will become a big favourite for many of you, as it touches on some themes that I know a lot of us are interested in, and it is beautifully written. Another one of Rosie’s great finds.

Book review. The Lost Letters by Sarah Mitchell
The Lost Letters by Sarah Mitchell

The Lost Letters: Absolutely heartbreaking wartime fiction about love and family secrets by Sarah Mitchell  WWII Historical fiction set in the UK and a gripping family mystery

A gripping book club novel about forbidden love, friendship and family secrets in World War Two. Perfect for fans of The Letter by Kathryn Hughes, The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

‘I adored this book, devouring it in a couple of days!… A beautiful and moving story that will stay with me for quite a while. Five shiny stars!!’ Goodreads Reviewer, 5 stars

What if keeping your loved ones safe meant never seeing them again? 

Norfolk, 1940: Sylvia’s husband Howard has gone off to war, and she is struggling to raise her two children alone. Her only solace is her beach hut in Wells-Next-The-Sea, and her friendship with Connie, a woman she meets on the beach. The two women form a bond that will last a lifetime, and Sylvia tells Connie something that no-one else knows: about a secret lover… and a child.

Canada, present day: When Martha’s beloved father dies, he leaves her two things: a mysterious stash of letters to an English woman called ‘Catkins’ and directions to a beach hut in the English seaside town of Wells. Martha is at a painful crossroads in her own life and seizes this chance for a trip to England – to discover more about her family’s past, and the identity of her father’s secret correspondent.

The tragedy of war brought heartbreaking choices for Sylvia. And a promise made between her and Connie has echoed down the years. For Martha, if she uncovers the truth, it could change everything…

What readers are saying about The Lost Letters:

‘I LOVED this book!… I had to keep reading!… My heart broke.’ Mama’s Book Ramblins

A gorgeous debut, crackling with atmosphere and emotion.’ Lucinda Riley, bestselling author of The Love LetterThe Midnight Rose and The Seven Sisters

‘A beautiful, heart-warming, wonderfully written tale! I loved it from start to finish… A story that moved me and one that will stay with me for a very long time.’ Renita D’Silva

‘There is not one thing I did not love about this story. Right from the beginning, I was drawn in… The Lost Letters is a beautiful and poignant story that has completely captured my heart… By far, this might just be my top read for the year.’ Sinfully Wicked Books, 5 stars

‘I absolutely loved this book…I got a lump in my throat at times just reading this part of the story… an emotional, heart-wrenching, beautiful and poignant read that I completely fell in love with… Have the tissues ready for this one, you may need them!’ Katie’s Book Cave, 5 stars

Once I got into the book I found myself becoming seriously addicted to reading it… To say that I felt as though I had been through the emotional wringer during the reading of this book is an understatement… tugged on my heartstrings.’ Ginger Book Geek

Had me enthralled… a thought-provoking and moving story about identity, family, and friendship. With realistic and believable characters, clues to find and a mystery to solve, this will keep you entertained for hours.’ Novel Deelights

So heart-wrenching… what in the world would you do in that situation? There just is no good answer! A beautiful and intriguing story that will keep you turning those pages and wanting to hug your loved ones!’ Goodreads reviewer

‘What an amazing book… Couldn’t put it down and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars

The Lost Letters is a well told and poignant story about family secrets which impact on the future, friendship, promises, decisions, and romance… vivid and heart-breaking… absolutely meticulous and totally fascinating.’ Goodreads reviewer

‘A very heart-warming read… a tear-jerker… I highly recommend it to all readers.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07CWCRJ9W/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07CWCRJ9W/

Author Sarah Mitchell
Author Sarah Mitchell

About the author:

THE LOST LETTERS is my first novel, inspired by a visit to Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, where there is a row of iconic beach huts. Some of them looked very old to me, and it made me wonder for how many generations they might have been in the same family and handed down over the years…
I didn’t become a writer until I was in my forties. I studied law and after that practised as a barrister in London for nearly 20 years. For a long while I wanted to write a novel – inspired by my mother who used to write children’s stories for a radio programme called ‘Listen with Mother’ – but it took me a long while to take the plunge and actually make the dream happen. As well as the beach huts, THE LOST LETTERS draws on the decision my grandparents almost made to evacuate my mother to Canada at the start of the Second World War. So much has changed since then, and yet so much – the bonds within a family – are the same. I wanted to explore that in my writing.
I now live back in Norfolk, where I grew up, with my husband and three almost-grown-up children. Norfolk is an extraordinary county and I feel incredibly lucky to live here. I hope THE LOST LETTERS captures a little bit of the beauty of Norfolk, as well as the horror and hardship of war.

You can follow Sarah Mitchell on Twitter at @SarahM_writer

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sarah-Mitchell/e/B07CWVN3FG/

My review:

I am writing this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you’re looking for reviews, I recommend you check her amazing site here), and I thank her and the publisher for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

The novel tells two stories centred in two different times, one set in the 1940s, mostly in WWII Norfolk, although with some visits to London, and another taking place now, also set in Norfolk in its majority. The chapters set in the past are written in the past tense from the point of view of Sylvia, a married woman, mother of two children, still pining for her teenage love. When her aunt dies she leaves her a beach hut and through it she meets Connie, a girl from London, and her brother Charlie. Despite the distance and the difficulty in maintaining communication during the war, they become friends, and their lives intertwine in unexpected ways.

The chapters set in the present are written in the present tense (something I must confess took me some time to get used to, although it means it is very difficult to get confused as to where you are or who is talking), and told from the point of view of Martha, a Canadian teacher whose father was evacuated during the war from England to Canada. Following the death of her father and gaps in the information about his childhood (as he was working on an autobiography when he died), she decides to use the opportunity offered by her father’s plane ticket and the hotel and beach hut he had booked to do some research into his past.

Both women, whose stories most readers will guess must be connected in some way, have their own problems. Sylvia’s marriage is not exactly happy, the war takes her husband away, and apart from the everyday danger and destruction, she has to face the evacuation of her son. The author manages to create a good sense of the historical period and, in particular, of women’s lives during the war, without being heavy-handed in the use of descriptions or over-the-top in the nostalgic front. We experience the character’s turmoil, her doubts, and although we might not always agree with her decisions, it is easy to empathise and understand why she does what he does.

Martha is at a bit of a loss. She is divorced and although her ex-husband has moved on (he has remarried and has twins), it is not that clear if she has, as she still sends him birthday cards and seems jealous of her daughter’s relationship with her father’s new wife. She knows her relationship with her daughter Janey, who is studying at Cambridge, is strained but seems to have forgotten how to communicate with her. Her research into her father’s childhood and past gives her a focus, and the mystery behind Catkins (a file her sister finds in her father’s computer) and his/her identity help give her a purpose.

We have some male characters (and Martha’s father and his past are at the centre of the novel), but this is a novel about women: about mothers and daughters, about friends, about women pulling together to survive and to get stronger (I particularly enjoyed the chapters set during the war recalling the tasks women were doing in the home front, and how they supported each other becoming all members of an extended family), about the difficult decisions women were (and are) faced with for the good of their families and their children. The author is very good at conveying the thought processes of her characters and although it also has a great sense of place (and I am sure people familiar with Norfolk will enjoy the book enormously, and those of us who don’t know it as well will be tempted to put it on our list to visit in the future), in my opinion, its strongest point is its great psychological depth.

The book is well researched and it has a lightness of touch, avoiding the risk of slowing down the story with unnecessary detail or too much telling. As the different timelines are kept clearly separate I do not think readers will have any difficulty moving from one to the other.

The book flows well and the intrigue drives the reader through the pages, with red herrings and twists and turns included, although its pace is contemplative, as it pertains to the theme. It takes its time, and it allows its readers to get to know the characters and to make their own conjectures. I worked out what was likely to be the connection slightly before it was revealed, but it is very well done, and I don’t think readers will be disappointed by the ending.

A great first book, that pulls at the heartstrings, recommended to lovers of historical fiction and women’s fiction, especially those interested in WWII and the home front in the UK. I will be following the author’s career with interest in the future.

Thanks to Rosie and her team, to the author, and especially, thanks to all of you for reading my posts. If you enjoy them and you have a moment, please like, share, comment, click and don’t forget to keep reading and smiling! ♥

Categories
Book launch book promo

#NewBook and #Facebookevent DIRECTIONS OF THE HEART by Marie Lavender (@marielavender1) Romantic stories with a punch.

Hi all:

I am sure some of you remember Marie Lavender, an author who has featured me on her blog many times and who writes and publishes many stories. She has a new book, a collection of stories, coming out tomorrow, and she is celebrating with a Facebook event. I knew you’d want to take part, so…. here she brings you her next book.

Directions of the Heart by Marie Lavender
Directions of the Heart by Marie Lavender

Title: Directions of the Heart by Marie Lavender
Release Date: July 25, 2017
Genre: modern romantic drama collection

Blurb:

Embark on a remarkable journey of drama, romance, and passion…

In all of these amazing stories, there’s one burning question…is love worth the risk?

Directions of the heart promo image

Without You

Reece and Jenna are two childhood friends separated by time and distance. Can they find a way to heal their bond, or perhaps forge a new one?

Directions of the Heart Promo

 

Strange Heat

Spurred by her friend’s close call, Victoria decides to take a risk and prove the lifestyle she led was her downfall. But as Tory sinks deeper into the tumultuous abyss of desire with the mysterious Rick, can she climb back out before it’s too late? Or does she even want to?

Directions of the Heart Promo

Memories

Struggling to run her family’s farm on her own, Sadie takes on a hired hand, Matt. As they grow closer, so does the danger. Someone wants her legacy. Can they combat this new threat, as well as the demons of the past, before Sadie loses everything, including her life?

Directions of the Heart Promo

A Touch of Dawn

Caitlyn thought she’d be in the dark forever. But with the light came Jack, the police consultant who found her. Can they take a journey of healing together, or will Caitlyn retreat into the darkness of her mind, where she lived for so long?

(CONTENT WARNING: With an abuse awareness theme in this collection, there may be triggers here for past trauma sufferers. However, HEAs are guaranteed.)

Directions of the Heart Promo picAnd here, just in case you needed any more convincing, the book trailer.

Pre-order/Purchase Links

Amazon Universal link:  https://bookgoodies.com/a/B071WVZZPV

myBook.to/DoH

Smashwords:  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/729271

Barnes & Noble:  https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/directions-of-the-heart-marie-lavender/1126548251

Kobo:  https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/directions-of-the-heart-a-romantic-drama-collection

CreateSpace link:  https://www.createspace.com/7239124

 

Goodreads Link:  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31351684-directions-of-the-heart

Don’t forget to join in the Facebook Party!

Directions of the Heart social media promo

Facebook release party (lots of prizes): https://www.facebook.com/events/1070356223094698/

And now, a bit more information about the author:

Author Marie Lavender
Author Marie Lavender

Bestselling multi-genre author of UPON YOUR RETURN and 21 other books. Mystery Blogger Award for 2017. A to Z Blog Challenge Survivor in 2016. March 2016 Empress of the Universe title – winner of the “Broken Heart” themed contest and the “I Love You” themed contest on Poetry Universe. SECOND CHANCE HEART and A LITTLE MAGICK placed in the TOP 10 on the 2015 P&E Readers’ Poll. Nominated in the TRR Readers’ Choice Awards for Winter 2015. Poetry winner of the 2015 PnPAuthors Contest. The Versatile Blogger Award for 2015. Honorable Mention in the 2014 BTS Red Carpet Book Awards. Finalist and Runner-up in the 2014 MARSocial’s Author of the Year Competition. Honorable mention in the January 2014 Reader’s Choice Award. Liebster Blogger Award for 2013 and 2014. Top 10 Authors on AuthorsDB.com. Winner of the Great One Liners Contest on the Directory of Published Authors.

Marie Lavender lives in the Midwest with her family and three cats. She has been writing for a little over twenty-five years. She has more works in progress than she can count on two hands. Since 2010, Marie has published 22 books in the genres of historical romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, fantasy, science fiction, mystery/thriller, dramatic fiction, literary fiction and poetry. She has also contributed to several multi-author anthologies. Her current series are The Heiresses in Love Series, The Magick Series, The Blood at First Sight Series and The Code of Endhivar Series.

Links:

http://marielavender.com/
http://iloveromanceblog.wordpress.com/
http://marielavenderbooks.blogspot.com/
http://marielavender.blogspot.com/
https://www.facebook.com/marie.lavender.58
https://www.facebook.com/MarieAnnLavender
https://twitter.com/marielavender1
https://plus.google.com/u/0/+MarieLavender/posts

http://www.linkedin.com/pub/marie-lavender/27/187/10a
Amazon author page: Author.to/MarieLavender
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6938764.Marie_Lavender

http://marielavender1.allauthor.com/
http://authorsdb.com/authors-directory/1578-marie-lavender
http://www.pw.org/content/marie_lavender
http://manicreaders.com/marielavender/
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJu8HjRVYCFOqcIoX6ZxdqQ/videos

Thanks to Marie Lavender for sharing her new release and her launch party, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE KEEPER OF LOST THINGS by Ruth Hogan (@ruthmariehogan) A gentle read for those who love books set in Britain, short-stories and Blithe Spirit

Hi all:

I should be all caught up with my reviews by the end of this week (more or less. I have some programmed already and one that I’ll post later on because the book will be published later in the month) so soon I’ll be posting as I read. Hooray!

But first, another review:

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

The Keeper of Lost Things: The feel-good novel of the year by Ruth Hogan

We’re all waiting to be found…

‘The first book I read in 2017 – and if another as good comes along in the next 12 months, I’ll eat my special gold reviewing spectacles’ DAILY MAIL

Meet the ‘Keeper of Lost Things’…
Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before.

Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.

But the final wishes of the ‘Keeper of Lost Things’ have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters…

Ruth Hogan’s second novel A Beginner’s Guide to Drowning is now available for pre-order

https://www.amazon.com/Keeper-Lost-Things-feel-good-novel-ebook/dp/B01D8ZE2C0/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Keeper-Lost-Things-feel-good-novel-ebook/dp/B01D8ZE2C0/

Author Ruth Hogan
Author Ruth Hogan

About the author:

instagram.com/ruthmariehogan

twitter.com/ruthmariehogan
facebook.com/ruthmariehogan
Website: http://ruthhogan.co.uk

I was born in the house where my parents still live in Bedford. My sister was so pleased to have a sibling that she threw a thrupenny bit at me.
As a child I read everything I could lay my hands on. Luckily, my mum worked in a bookshop. My favourite reads were THE MOOMINTROLLS, A HUNDRED MILLION FRANCS, THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, and the back of cereal packets, and gravestones.
I passed enough A levels to get a place at Goldsmiths College, University of London, to study English and Drama. It was brilliant and I loved it.
And then I got a proper job.
I worked for ten years in a senior local government position: a square peg in round hole, but it paid the bills and mortgage. In my early thirties, I had a car accident which left me unable to work full-time and convinced me to start writing seriously.
It was all going well, but then in 2012 I got Cancer, which was bloody inconvenient but precipitated an exciting hair journey from bald to a peroxide blonde Annie Lennox crop. When chemo kept me up all night I passed the time writing and the eventual result was THE KEEPER OF LOST THINGS, my first novel.
I live in a chaotic Victorian house with an assortment of rescue dogs and my long-suffering husband. I am a magpie; always collecting treasures (or ‘junk’ depending on your point of view) and a huge John Betjeman fan.
My favourite word is’ antimacassar’ and I still like reading gravestones.

https://www.amazon.com/Ruth-Hogan/e/B01KO3PWVY/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and Two Roads for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Although I am not sure this is ‘the feel-good novel of the year’ I’d have to agree it is a feel-good novel, although perhaps not for everybody.

The novel tells many stories, although it tells two in more detail, those of Anthony and Laura (later of Laura and her new family) and Eunice and Bomber. Although those stories are separated by forty years, they are parallel in many ways: an older man who puts an advertisement for an assistant, a younger woman —very young in Eunice’s case— who ends up becoming a personal friend of the man and whose life ends up enmeshed and entangled with that of her employer, both men’s work relates to literature (Anthony is a fairly successful writer of short stories and Bomber is a publisher), both males die leaving some sort of legacy to these women (and also asking them to fulfil their final wishes). As we read on, we might suspect that the relationship between these two stories runs deeper than at first appears, but it is not confirmed until very close to the end.

There are other important elements in the novel, which functions also as a collection of short stories, as Anthony, after experiencing a terrible loss, started to collect lost things, cataloguing them and using his study for safe keeping, in an attempt at recovering something he had lost himself. Throughout the novel, there are stories about those objects (written in italics so it is easy to differentiate them to the rest) interspersed with the two main stories. We are told, later in the book, that Anthony used those objects as inspiration for several collections of short stories, but the novel allows for several possible interpretations of what these stories really are. Are they imaginary stories? Are they the real stories behind the objects? If they are imaginary short-stories who has written them? Anthony? Somebody else? Each reader can choose whatever explanation s/he prefers and I’m sure there are more possibilities.

I mentioned the two main stories that frame the novel and the short stories within. Each chapter is told (in the third person) from one of the characters’ point of view (mostly Laura or Eunice) and this is is clearly indicated, as it is the year, because Eunice and Bomber’s story develops from the 1970s up to the current days. We get to know his family and follow his father’s illness (Alzheimer’s) that unfortunately later also afflicts Bomber himself. There are comments on movies of the period; there is the wonderful relationship with Bomber’s parents, the two dogs that share his life and an unrequited and impossible love story. Ah, and Bomber’s sister, Portia, her awful behaviour and her even worse attempts at getting her brother to publish one of her rip-offs of well-known and loved classics, that make for hilarious reading, especially for authors and book lovers. I must confess that, perhaps because their story develops over time and it has none of the paranormal elements added to the other, I particularly warmed to it. I found the depiction of the dementia sufferers (both father and son) touching, humorous and bittersweet, and although we don’t get to know Eunice well (other than through her devotion to Bomber and his life-work), she is a character easy to like and some of her actions make us cheer her on.

Laura’s story is that of somebody lost, perfectly in keeping with Anthony’s life mission. She made some questionable decisions when she was younger, married too young and her knight in shining armour turned up to be anything but. She is very insecure and full of self-doubt and that makes her a less likeable character as she pushes people away rather than risk being rejected, but she is also the one who has to change more and work harder to get out of her shell. Sunshine, a young neighbour, Down’s syndrome, also shares her point of view with the reader at times and becomes a member of the family, although she has her own too. She is less hindered by concern about what others’ might think, or what is right and wrong, and she has a special connection (not sure ‘power’ is the right word) with the objects and with the paranormal elements that later appear in the novel. Fred, the gardener, is the love interest, handsome and kind, but he seems to be there to provide the romance and second chance more than anything else, and he is not very well developed.

I’ve mentioned the paranormal elements. There is a ghost in the house and that takes up a fair amount of the book as Laura keeps trying to work out how to make things right. I am not sure this added much to the story but references to Blithe Spirit (that is being performed by an amateur theatrical group in the neighbourhood) put an emphasis on the effect the writer might have been aiming for (each reader can decide how well it works for them).

This is a well-written novel, with effective descriptions of objects, locations and people. There are elements of chick-lit (the descriptions of Laura’s disastrous date, her chats with her friend…), romantic touches, some elements of mystery, plenty of loss, death and second chances, a fair bit about literature… The whole feeling of the story is somewhat old-fashioned (and very British. I’ve lost count of how many ‘lovely cups of tea’ are prepared and drunk during the novel, and although that is partly in jest, yes, there is a fair amount of repetition, foreshadowing and signposting, perhaps unnecessary in this kind of story). Some of the references, including songs and films, will be lost on the younger generations. Everything is fairly gentle; even the bad characters (Portia) are only moderately nasty and they are the object of fun rather than being truly evil. There are gossip and misunderstandings but nothing really awful happens. No gore details, no huge surprises, no hot sex (I think you’ll have to buy Portia’s stories of Hotter Potter for that), and even technology only appears by the backdoor (people send text messages and a laptop and a website  appear towards the end, but this is not a book where characters follow mother trends).

Funnily enough, a publisher (rival of Anthony) sums up what the books he publishes should be like, thus:

I know what normal, decent people like, and that’s good, straightforward stories with a happy ending where the baddies get their comeuppance, the guy gets the girl and the sex isn’t too outré.

The structure of the novel and some of the short-stories are not at all like that, but the spirit behind it perhaps it and its charm might be lost on some readers who prefer more action and adventures and a more modern style of writing.

In summary, a gentle read, bittersweet, with plenty of stories for those who love short stories, of particular interest to lovers of books and movies set in Britain, stories about writers, the publishing world and women’s stories. It has sad moments and funny ones but it is unlikely to rock your world.

Thanks so much to NetGalley and to the publishers, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, CLICK and REVIEW!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#TuesdayBookBlog #Bookreview PRACTICING NORMAL by Cara Sue Achterberg (@CaraAchterberg) A great book about the games families play and what love really is

Hi all:

I am approached often by writers looking for reviews. Sometimes I have so many books due for a certain date that I can’t accommodate them and also sometimes I don’t feel the books are in categories I’m in the best position to review. Cara Sue Achterberg got in touch with me about her new novel (it’s not being published officially until the 31st of May, but you have a chance to preorder it at a very good price) and I was intrigued, not only by the description of the novel but also by her biography and her previous work. And I’m pleased to say…. well, keep reading…

Practicing Normal by Cara Sue Achterberg

Practicing Normal by Cara Sue Achterberg

The houses in Pine Estates are beautiful McMansions filled with high-achieving parents, children on the fast track to top colleges, all of the comforts of modern living, and the best security systems money can buy. Welcome to normal upper-middle-class suburbia.

The Turners know in their hearts that they’re anything but normal. Jenna is a high-schooler dressed in black who is fascinated with breaking into her neighbors’ homes, security systems be damned. Everett genuinely believes he loves his wife . . . he just loves having a continuing stream of mistresses more. JT is a genius kid with Asperger’s who moves from one obsession to the next. And Kate tries to manage her family, manage her mother (who lives down the street), and avoid wondering why her life is passing her by.

And now everything is changing for them. Jenna suddenly finds herself in a boy-next-door romance she never could have predicted. Everett’s secrets are beginning to unravel on him. JT is getting his first taste of success at navigating the world. And Kate is facing truths about her husband, her mother, and her father that she might have preferred not to face.

Life on Pine Road has never been more challenging for the Turners. That’s what happens when you’re practicing normal.

Combining her trademark combination of wit, insight, and tremendous empathy for her characters, Cara Sue Achterberg has written a novel that is at once familiar and startlingly fresh.

“Does facing the truth beat living a lie? In PRACTICING NORMAL, Cara Sue Achterberg has given us a smart story that is both a window and a mirror, about the extraordinary pain ― and the occasional gifts ― of an ordinary life.”
– Jacquelyn Mitchard, New York Times bestselling author of THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN

“What does it really mean to have a normal life? Achterberg’s stunning new novel explores how a family can fracture just trying to survive, and how what makes us different is also what can make us most divine.”
– Caroline Leavitt, author of CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD and the New York Times bestsellers PICTURES OF YOU and IS THIS TOMORROW

“PRACTICING NORMAL takes a deep dive into the dysfunctional dynamics of a ‘picture perfect family.’ A compelling story about the beautiful humanity in the most ordinary of lives: from first love to a marriage on the downward slide to an unexpected family tragedy. Achterberg handles each thread with tender care and we can’t help but root for every member of the Turner family.”
– Kate Moretti, New York Times bestselling author of THE VANISHING YEAR

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Practicing-Normal-Cara-Sue-Achterberg-ebook/dp/B06XH4SJW6/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Practicing-Normal-Cara-Sue-Achterberg-ebook/dp/B06XH4SJW6/

Author Cara Sue Achterberg
Author Cara Sue Achterberg

About the Author

Cara Sue Achterberg is a writer, blogger, and occasional cowgirl who lives on a farm in South Central, Pennsylvania.

Her first novel, I’m Not Her, was a national bestseller. When an obese check-out clerk and a superficial twenty-something switch lives, they discover what it’s really like to walk in someone else’s shoes. Her second novel, Girls’ Weekend was released May 2016 and takes readers along for the ride when three overwhelmed moms go away for a weekend and decide not to go back to lives that don’t seem to fit anymore. It’s a book for every person who has ever wondered – is this all there is?

Cara teaches workshops on creating and affording an organic life, based on the information shared in her book, Live Intentionally: 65 Challenges for a Healthier, Happier Life, which was chosen as first runner up at the 2015 Green Book Festival.

She teaches creative writing and her essays and articles have been published in numerous anthologies and magazines. You can find links to Cara’s blogs and inspiration for teen writers on her website CaraWrites.com.

 

Cara enjoys fostering dogs for the nonprofit all-breed rescue organization, Operation Paws for Homes and writes a blog about her experiences. Her small hillside farm is home to three horses, a changing number of cats, and plenty of chickens.

https://www.amazon.com/Cara-Sue-Achterberg/e/B00PYVVB5S/

My review:

I was given a copy of this book as a gift and I freely chose to review it.

Tolstoi’s probably best-known quote: All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way fits perfectly this novel. As a psychiatrist, ‘normal’ is one of those terms that we always seem to come back to, even if it is impossible to define. It seems that normal is always what other people are, never us. Perhaps, as it is discussed in the novel in reference to Autism and Asperger’s, which are conditions that fall within a spectrum, the same is true for normality. It is not an on or off thing. Perhaps we all belong to some point within the spectrum, but we’d be hard pushed to find many people whom we’d all agree were ‘normal’, at least if we got to know them well.

The novel introduces us to the Turners, who live a reasonably comfortable life within a theoretically idyllic neighbourhood. Once we scratch a bit under the surface, we find: Jenna, the sixteen year old daughter, who is not a goth but likes to shave her hair, dye it in interesting colours, collects piercings and is an ace at breaking into neighbours’ houses (courtesy of her father’s job in a security company). Kate, her mother, is forever busy caring for everybody but herself. She has to look after her mother, Mildred, who might be dementing, or perhaps not, and who lives alone, never leaves the house and talks to her birds. She also has to look after JT, her son, with an Asperger’s diagnosis, who cycles through periods of obsession with different topics (ER Medicine, Fire-fighting…), has tantrums if his routine is disturbed, cannot read people’s expressions or understand their feelings, but is a genius at Maths and has an incredible memory. She also runs around the rest of the household and is always worried about her husband, Everett, who cheated on her once (that she knows of). The chapters alternate the first-person narrations of Jenna (who somehow becomes friendly with the rich, handsome and all-around nice neighbour, Wells, who isn’t, after all, the stereotypical jock), and Kate (whose sister, Evelyn, has made contact with their father, Frank, who left them when they were young children, and believes their mother has been lying to them) allowing the reader to better grasp, not only the secrets they all keep from each other, but also the different ways the same events can be interpreted and seen. Everett’s narration (also in the first person) joins later, giving us hints of more secrets to come,  allowing us a more rounded picture and offering us a male perspective.

I found the first person narrations served well the topic, and the voices of the three narrators were very distinct and fitted in well with their characters. Although personally, I can’t say I liked Everett very much, no characters are despicable and all of them love their family and each other, even if they might go about it the wrong way. Jenna’s strong hostility towards her father is easy to understand, not only because he cheated on her mother (and is still doing it after promising not to) but because she had idealised him when she was a child and he’s shattered that illusion. She is clever, challenging and reckless but with a great heart (she doesn’t care for rules or conventions but has no bad intentions) and her romance will bring warm memories to all readers who are still young at heart. Kate is a woman who is always at the service of others and makes big efforts to ignore what she feels she can’t cope with, even if it means living a lie. But she learns that she is stronger than she thinks and grows during the novel. She also gets to understand that her dreams of romantic love are unrealistic, and we feel optimistic for her at the end. Everett is a man who lost his way (it seems) when he left his job as a policeman. Now, to feel better about himself he’ll do almost anything, not caring what the consequences for himself and others might be, and he always puts his needs before those of the rest of his family. He does not understand his children but he loves them and tries to do what he thinks is best, within limits. JT is a wonderful character, well-drawn and realistic in terms of the behaviours he exhibits and his relationship with Kate, Jenna and the rest of the family is heart-warming and has the ring of truth.

There are many secrets, some that come from a long time back and some much more recent, and the narrative is good at revealing them slowly, even if we might strongly suspect some of them, partly because we have access to the thoughts of several the characters (as they don’t communicate with each other that well). There are also many love stories and many different kinds of love that are explored. Ultimately, love must be about more than just saying the words and looking into each other’s eyes. It isn’t something we should feel automatically entitled to; it has to be proven and worked on, as Cassey, a friend of Jenna and later Kate, explains.

The secondary characters are also interesting, mostly sympathetic (with the exception of Wells’s family, and Evelyn, who comes across as self-centered and domineering) but not drawn in as much psychological detail as the members of the family, but they are far from unidimensional. I really liked Cassey, the hospice nurse who understands all the females of the family and helps them without asking anything in return, and Phil, a good man who, like Wells, disproves Mildred’s generalisations about men. Mildred, the grandmother, can be at once annoying and endearing, but eventually, we get to understand her a bit better, even if we might not necessarily agree with her actions. I also loved the animals, especially Marco.

This is a well-written book, where plot and characterisation go hand in hand, that offers good psychological insights into the nature of family relationships and the games members of a family play with each other. It also will make readers think about what love means and will remind them of the risks of keeping secrets, not only from others but also from ourselves. The narration flows well and once you get to know the characters it’s difficult to stop reading and you feel bereft when you come to the end as they’ve become part of the family. A great read.

I couldn’t leave you without sharing a few of the sentences I highlighted.

Never break more than one law at a time.

Kate talking about JT, her son, with Asperger’s: but I focus on what JT can do, not what he can’t.

Kate again, wondering about her son’s inability to read other people’s expressions and know what they’re feeling or thinking:

Maybe it would be easier to sail through life unaware of the emotions of the people around you.

And Jenna, on one of her typical (and oh, so accurate, sorry gentlemen) pearls of wisdom (although this one she keeps to herself):

If men didn’t have penises, they’d probably be a lot smarter.

Thanks very much to the author for offering me the opportunity to review her book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment and CLICK!

Categories
Book reviews Rosie's Book Team Review

#RBRT #BookReview Shattered Lies by S.J. Francis (@sjfrancis419) Two families and many lies #TuesdayBookBlog

Hi all:

I hope you’ll forgive the appearance of the blog. At the moment I’m doing a Branding course, and I’m planning on changing quite a few things, but I’m trying to go slowly.

As promised I’ll start sharing the prequel to my Escaping Psychiatry series from next week, but today I wanted to take the chance and share the review of a novel I’ve read recently as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team. First I share the description and editorial reviews.

Shattered Lies by S.J.Francis
Shattered Lies by S.J.Francis

Shattered Lies by S.J. Francis

She wants to know the truth, but some secrets might be better left alone…
Kate Thayer has a good life as a veterinarian, running the family horse farm–until she uncovers an act of unimaginable treachery by those she trusted most and learns that everything she knew about herself was a lie. Her paternal grandmother, the woman who raised her, is behind a number of devastating secrets Kate is compelled to discover. But the deeper she digs, the more betrayal she finds, changing her life in ways she could have never foreseen.

Editorial Reviews

“Francis writes a poignant and moving tale of bigotry, deceit, and the ultimate betrayal, where the people who you are supposed to be able to trust are the ones who tell the most devastating lies.” ~ Taylor Jones, Reviewer

“… The title implies a mystery novel or an action novel. When I first started to read this novel, I thought this would be a regular old-school mystery. Boy, was I surprised to find that the title implies so much more than the genre. The story is heartfelt and very real. I am very impressed with S.J. Francis. The way the author wrote the novel was super amazing and fascinating. She transported me back in time and made me feel the pain and confusion of a grandmother who thought she was doing the right thing…” -Rabia Tanveer for Reader’s Favorite

“Shattered Lies is the story of the cruel, inhuman things man does to man and the tangled webs we weave trying to cover up our heinous behavior. It’s a heart-warming and heart-breaking tale of a young woman who discovers that everything she believed about herself, her parents, her very life, is nothing but a lie.” ~ Regan Murphy, Reviewer

“SJ Francis examines the destruction of one family’s foundation under the weight of lies in her thoughtful and wonderful book, Shattered Lies… Shattered Lies explores the painful legacy of bigotry and how such a legacy can destroy many lives.  In doing so, SJ Francis writes with raw honesty using language that has become embedded in the culture of racism.  It will be uncomfortable and unpleasant for the reader at times. But I do applaud Francis’ efforts. She has crafted a memorable book that will leave a lasting impression. A very thought provoking book.” ~Tracy, The Writing Piazza

From the Author

FYI:

NOTE: 10% of this book’s sales from both editions will be donated to the Polycystic Kidney Foundation to help fight this insidious disease that strikes both adults and children. For more info about this disease see: pkdcure.org/

Here, my review (4 stars):

Shattered Lies by S. J. Francis. Family lies, race, and life in the South

I’m reviewing this book as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team and was offered a free ARC copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

The novel, as promised by the description, deals with important themes: family relationships, adultery, betrayal, secrets, lies, race, loss and grief, illness… The story shows us how two families, the Thayers and the Johnsons, who’ve always lived close to each other in the family ranch of the Thayers, a white Southern family, while the Johnsons (African-American) worked for them in a variety of capacities and lived within the grounds, are much more closely linked than they appear at first sight. Kate Thayer, the youngest of the family, finds a diary written by her mother that opens up a Pandora’s Box of secrets and lies, including suicide, child abandonment, and questions about her own identity.

Emotions run high for all the protagonists and also the less important characters, and as the story is narrated in third-person limited point of view it allows the reader to see things from inside the heads (and the hearts) of different characters. This does not make it confusing but instead it gives readers an opportunity to better understand some of the characters, which at first are difficult to like or empathise with (like Katherine, Kate’s grandmother).

The novel is full of emotionally tense moments, and many secrets are revealed very early on. That results in much of the story delving into the changing emotions of the characters (from anger, to guilt, to fear, and back again), with the rhythm of the story speeding up and slowing down at times rather than providing a totally smooth ride.

Despite punctual references to current times (several mentions of Obama, the years when different events took place, and comments about how things have changed over generations), the story seemed to live in a time of its own and in its own environment, creating a somewhat claustrophobic sensation. The only interferences by the outside world take place in the train (where there is a nasty experience with some white youth, and a nice encounter, which to Kate exemplifies the fact that people can fight against prejudice at a personal level, no matter what pressures they are subjected to by their environment), and later in the hospital, although even that serves mostly as a background for the family’s battles and eventual peace. This is mostly a personal story, although it reflects wider themes.

The North and the South are depicted as fairly different worlds, nowadays still, and the codes of behaviour and the topics brought to my mind Faulkner’s novels (although the style and the treatment of the material is completely different). It seemed difficult to believe that in the late 1980s nobody would have spotted that Olivia, Kate’s mother, was pregnant with twins (even if she didn’t want an ultrasound), and that the doctor wouldn’t  think of calling for help when he realised the delivery was not going well (especially as this is a family of means). But perhaps the details are not as important as the experiences in this melodrama that ultimately provides a positive message of hope and forgiveness.

This is an emotionally tense read, with some slower and somewhat iterative self-reflective moments, and some faster ones, exploring issues of identity, prejudice and family that will make you think about your own priorities and preconceived ideas. Ah, and 10% of the royalties go to the Polycystic Kidney Foundation, a very good cause (and relevant to the story).

Links to the author and the book:

Her Black Opal Books Author Page:

http://www.blackopalbooks.com/author-bios/bio-sj-francis

Her ShoutOut:  http://bit.ly/1r3oynM

Her web page: http://www.sjfranciswriter.com

Follow her in:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sjfrancis419

Face Book: https://www.facebook.com/pages/SJ-Francis/480058115420325

More Blogs: sjfranciswriter.blogspot.com 

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Good Reads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8423986.S_J_Francis

Thank you all for reading, and you know what to do, like, share, comment, and CLICK! Thanks for your patience!

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