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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni (Real Stories of Afghan Women) by Mary Smith (@marysmithwriter) Now more than ever an important book sharing the many lives of Afghan women

Hi all:

I hope you have enjoyed a lovely Christmas (or as good a Christmas as circumstances allow). Mine was pretty low-key (as I like it) but it got quite busy in the running up to it, and, if things don’t get even worse (fingers crossed) I should be busy again next week, but I had to share this review with you.

I don’t think many (if any) of those of you who read my blog don’t know blogger, writer, and all-around wonderful Mary Smith, and the many hats she has worn over the years (including as an aid worker in Afghanistan), and you probably now she became unwell during the lockdown and like Sue Vincent, another beloved member of the blogger community, was given a devastating diagnosis. Sue has sadly parted from us, and it seems that Mary’s health has taken a turn for the worse as well, to the point that I doubt she will ever get to read this review, but I couldn’t think of a better memorial for her.

Although I had only written this post a few days before Christmas, a few hours before it was due to go live I read on Mary’s blog a post written by her ever-present DH (you can check it here and leave a comment) informing all the people who knew her that she passed away the morning of Christmas Day. It seems that unfortunately, I was right, and she will never get to read this, but I hope it can help others to remember her, and to pay attention to a cause she felt so strongly about. 

Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni (Real Stories of Afghan Women) by Mary Smith

Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni (Real Stories of Afghan Women) by Mary Smith

Drunk Chickens and Burn Macaroni (subtitle) offers a remarkable insight into the lives of Afghan women both before and after Taliban’s rise to power. The reader is caught up in the day-to-day lives of women like Sharifa, Latifa and Marzia, sharing their problems, dramas, the tears and the laughter: whether enjoying a good gossip over tea and fresh nan, dealing with a husband’s desertion, battling to save the life of a one-year-old opium addict or learning how to deliver babies safely.
Mary Smith spent several years in Afghanistan working on a health project for women and children in both remote rural areas and in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Given the opportunity to participate more fully than most other foreigners in the lives of the women, many of whom became close friends, she has been able to present this unique portrayal of Afghan women – a portrayal very different from the one most often presented by the media.
 

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009XIL5FY/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B009XIL5FY/

https://www.amazon.es/gp/product/B009XIL5FY/

Author Mary Smith

About the author:

Mary Smith has always loved writing. As a child, she wrote stories in homemade books made from wallpaper trimmings – but she never thought people could grow up and become real writers. She spent a year working in a bank, which she hated – all numbers, very few words – ten years with Oxfam in the UK, followed by ten years working in Pakistan and Afghanistan. She wanted others to share her amazing, life-changing experiences so she wrote about them – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and journalism. And she discovered the little girl who wrote stories had become a real writer after all.

Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women is an account of her time in Afghanistan and her debut novel No More Mulberries is also set in Afghanistan.

Mary loves interacting with her readers and her website is www.marysmith.co.uk

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000934032543

Twitter: https://twitter.com/marysmithwriter

Blogs: http://novelpointsofview.blogspot.co.uk

http://marysmith57.wordpress.com/2014/07

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mary-Smith/e/B001KCD4P0

 My review:

Having read and reviewed one of the author’s books before (No More Mulberries, a novel set in Afghanistan and inspired by her experiences in the country), and having visited her blog and followed some of her adventures in Pakistan and Afghanistan, I purchased this book a while back but hadn’t got around reading it. Recent events in Afghanistan reminded me of its existence, and although late, I’m happy I finally got to read it.

 Although the book is written in the first person, and it narrates the events from the author’s point of view, it is not one of those books where you can feel the author is breathing down your neck and trying to write herself (or himself) into everything that happens, insisting in becoming the protagonist and regaling you with her (his) opinion on everything, whether relevant or not. This is not a book proclaiming “Look at what I did! Aren’t I amazing!”. Quite the opposite. Smith is self-deprecating, often acknowledges her difficulties getting a good grasp of the language, her misconceptions and at times adherence to the limited and less-than-insightful Western point of view of Afghanistan’s people, especially its women, and what she sees as her weaknesses (that I am sure will resonate with many readers, because who wouldn’t want access to electricity, running water, and a bolt in the toilet?)

What the author wants, as the subtitle makes explicit, is to highlight the story of a full as possible a catalogue of Afghan women. And the ones we come across in the book are very different: some have had access to education and are trying to get a job; others have always lived in a small village and their life is having children and looking after them and their husbands; some have pretty enlightened husbands who allow them to go to work or to learn; others have to stay at home and keep to the traditional role or face the consequences; some are feminists who would not dream of covering their heads and are fighting for freedom; some are happy to break some rules and others would never do that; some are old; some are young; some easily accept guidance and education and others are suspicious of anything foreign… That is precisely the point. They are not all open to new ideas, they are not all daring, but they are not the stereotypical idea many people in the West have of women in Afghanistan (and in other Middle-Eastern countries, but perhaps Afghanistan more than others). They have complaints, they get scared, they don’t always want to get married and have children (indeed, abortion and terminations do come up in the book more than once), they have a sense of humour, they tell jokes and laugh, they are curious, love fashion and clothes, some are religious but not all, some are superstitious (as are we)…

We get to meet many women throughout the book, and some of them become close friends of the narrator (I hesitate to call her the protagonist because although the story happens around her, and she includes her impressions, thoughts, and feelings at times, this is not her story or an autobiography where she tells us everything that happened to her), and we get to like some of them more than others because that is what life is like everywhere. The author is skilled at choosing episodes and anecdotes that stick in one’s mind, so many that it is difficult to choose one or two. If you wonder about the title, well, you might guess it is something to do with food, but I won’t reveal the reasons for it (you should read it yourself), and there are some other wonderful images that made me smile (and chuckle), like the description of one of the women’s immediate love for motorbike races on the TV (never having watched television before), the exchange of traditional remedies (old wives tales) and how bizarre they could be (both in the West and in Afghanistan), impossible shopping trips, the importance of the type of tea you drink, the never-ending salutations, trying to explain to uneducated women what microbes are, totally missing the signs of relationships going on below one’s nose…

This is a book full of love, for Afghanistan (there are some beautiful descriptions of places, some that unfortunately get destroyed with the war, and in the latter part of the book, when the author returns for a visit, and sees Kabul for the first time, the author’s interest in history come to the fore), for its people, and especially for its women. There are frustrating moments, when nothing seems to be possible or to go right, there are moments of pride as well (when the women who attended the training started helping others in their communities), there are scary moments, and there are truly horrifying things that happen as well, although those are not witnessed directly by the author (but we get heartbreaking testimonies from those who lived and survived some truly harrowing experiences). The book has many amusing moments, it is full of insights and inspiration, but it is not a light read. The chapters describing later visits to Pakistan and Afghanistan paint a clear picture of some of the things that happened in the country under the Taliban rule (and later, after 9/11, the American intervention), and they are particularly poignant knowing what has recently taken place there. It is a difficult read because it is impossible not to imagine that many of those behaviours and crimes might take place again (and some already have). I know there are many books about the history of the area, and many articles and documentaries about the conflicts and the different factions, but I can’t think of many (if any) where we get the opportunity to read about Afghan women’s everyday life, in their own terms, from the perspective of somebody who lived, worked, and learned with them, and they accepted as a friend and adopted family member. She does talk about some of the women who became vocal and held important positions —even if fleetingly—in Afghanistan as well, but, as she says:

But, it´s not only the high profile women who work towards women’s rights in Afghanistan. Every girl in school and university, every woman working outside the home in whatever capacity, is engaged in bringing and retaining a kind of freedom to her sisters and her daughters.

We need to make sure that her voices continue to be heard.

 At a personal level, the author’s explanation for her decision to return home rather than stay there for a longer period gave me much food for thought. As somebody who spent many years away from home (although for very different reasons and in a far less adventurous and culturally diverse setting), I understood perfectly her comment about people who sometimes spend so long away that home doesn’t feel like home any longer. It reminded me of a wonderful passage from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun that similarly spoke to me many years back, and I share here (he is writing about his two American protagonists who decide to return to America after their visit to Italy):

 And now, that life had so much human promise in it, they resolved to go back to their own land; because the years, after all, have a kind of emptiness, when we spend too many of them on a foreign shore. We defer the reality of life, in such cases, until a future moment, when we shall again breathe our native air: but, by-and-by, there are no future moments; or if we do return, we find that the native air has lost its invigorating quality, and that life has shifted its reality to the spot where we have deemed ourselves only temporary residents. Thus, between two countries, we have none at all, or only that little space of either, in which we finally lay down our discontented bones. It is wise, therefore, to come back betimes — or never.

 Who would enjoy this book? Anybody looking for a non-fiction read providing a moving and true account of Afghan women’s lives (both in a big city and in a small rural area) in the late 1980s and 1990s, with some later updates (and some of those reflections are very prescient, knowing what has happened since); anybody who would like to know what life is (or was although I suspect not that many things have changed) for aid workers there, and anybody who enjoys a well written true account of what life was like in the country at the time. And, of course, anybody who has read any of Mary Smith’s books, because she writes beautifully and compellingly about the little details that are what make life so important. Thanks to the author for sharing her memories.

 If you want to read Mary’s own thoughts on the current situation in Afghanistan, I recommend you check this post:

https://marysmithsplace.wordpress.com/2021/11/08/marysmithsplace-afghanistan-friendship-family/

 Here, a post from another blog on women’s current situation in Afghanistan:

https://www.wanderingeducators.com/global-citizenship/social-political-action/afghanistan-spotlight-state-human-rights-five-months-after-taliban-takeover

And a more general one, about the situation for those who had been working with the Americans when they left:

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/12/27/the-afghans-america-left-behind

Thanks to Mary for everything and my deepest sympathy to her family (we will never forget her). 

Thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, and… well, you know. Make sure you stay safe and let’s hope 2022 brings us some good news, for a change. We sure need them. 

Oh, in case you are wondering if I’d recommend Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun… Well, it depends on what you like. He writes beautifully, as you can appreciate in the quote, but the style might not suit impatient readers or those who value plot over everything. The Scarlet Letter is a much better novel, but The Marble Faun has some wonderful descriptions of Italy, is much more fanciful (he wrote what they termed “romance” at the time, that wasn’t to do with love stories, but rather with fanciful events, with some similarities to what we would term paranormal now, but not quite) than The Scarlett Letter, and it is also heavy in symbolism and explores some tropes that we have all become familiar with (the innocent American abroad, blonde vs dark-haired women, legends). He wrote some wonderful short stories as well, so that might be a good introduction for those thinking about reading his work.

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog I Jonathan, A Charleston Tale of the Rebellion by George WB Scott (@GeorgeWBScott) For those who love storytelling and history alike #RBRT #historicalfiction

Hi all:

I bring you a book from Rosie’s Book Review Team, and one I read based on Terry Tyler‘s recommendation. You can’t go wrong with that.

I Jonathan, A Charleston Tale of the Rebellion
by George WB Scott

I Jonathan, A Charleston Tale of the Rebellion by George WB Scott

Civil War Novel Sees Conflict Through New Eyes

“A deftly crafted, inherently engaging, and entertainingly riveting Civil War novel. Scott’s impressive flair for originality combined with an informative attention to historical detail, ‘I Jonathan, A Charleston Tale of the Rebellion’ is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition.” —Midwest Book Review

“Scott’s novel offers a spellbinding glimpse into Civil War Charleston, reminding us that the war touched those far removed from the battlefield.” —Caroline E. Janney, University of Virginia John L. Nau III Professor in the History of the American Civil War and author of Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation

Civil War Novel about a young stranger from Boston marooned in Charleston just as the Civil War begins. His relationships with working men and women, slaves, merchants, planters, spies, inventors, soldiers, sweethearts and musicians tell the story of a dynamic culture undergoing its greatest challenge.

Jonathan’s adventures include the bombardment of Fort Sumter, the last great Charleston horse race, the Great Charleston Fire of 1861, the Battle of Secessionville, visits to the North Carolina mountain homes of wealthy Low Country planters, a run through the Federal Blockade, a visit to the raucous boomtowns of Nassau and Wilmington, battles of ironclads and monitors, the Battle of Battery Wagner (made famous in the movie ”Glory”) and an encounter with a Voo-Doo conjure man. His story documents the hopes and struggles of a young man making a new life in a strange land in a time of war and change.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08GH3YPJ1/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08GH3YPJ1/

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08GH3YPJ1/

Author George WB Scott

About the author:

George WB Scott was born in Stuart, Florida where he lived until he went to college in North Carolina. He graduated from Appalachian State University and went into television news in Tennessee. He is now an independent video producer and lives in Knoxville with his wife Mary Leidig.

His childhood memoir “Growing Up In Eden” explores experiences of his youth and of Martin County during the 1960s and 1970s. It includes more than a hundred photographs, mostly taken by the author just before the 2004 hurricanes, and has a CD with a screensaver of photographs and music by Gatlinburg acoustic guitarist Bill Mize.

In autumn of 2020 he will release his first novel, “I Jonathan, a Charleston Tale of the Rebellion.” More information is available on my blog at www.southernrocket.net/i-jonathan

https://www.amazon.com/George-WB-Scott/e/B089B7LM6H/

 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 chose this book after reading a review by a fellow member of Rosie’s team, and, as usual, she was right. This is a great book.

As I’ve done some times before, I recommend readers to check the additional content at the end of the book. The bibliography will be of great use to anybody thinking about studying the Civil War Era in the American South, particularly in South Carolina and Charleston, but, I especially enjoyed reading the author’s note and acknowledgments, as they give a very clear idea of the process of creation of this book, and of how many people contributed to the final result. Illuminating.

I will not rehash the description of the novel, because the information that accompanies it is detailed enough, in my opinion, but I thought I’d add a few comments about the way the story is told, and what it made me think of. This is a framed story (well, a double-framed story), as the Jonathan of the story passed away in the early 1940s, and the novel is the result of the narration of his life story to a great-grand-nephew who goes to visit him to participate in the celebration of his centenary. Realising that the story should be told, and it is unlikely that Jonathan will live much longer, he decides to write it all down. Then, it seems that this written second-hand account falls into the hands of the editor of a small publishing house specialising in historical books (and/or historical fiction) and they decide to publish it. This structure made me think of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and that wasn’t the only similarity (one only needs to think about a young man getting exposed to a completely different way of life, habits, and customs alien to him), although, of course, the anti-war sentiment also brought to my mind Apocalypse Now, Coppola’s film that adapts that novel to the Vietnam War setting. The fact that the novel —which for me has a lot in common with a bildungsroman (coming-of-age story), as it focuses mostly on the early years of the character— is told by an old man recalling his early years, also reminded me of many classics, like Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, Charlote Brönte’s Jane Eyre, or Herman Melville’s White Jacket, with the wonderful nuances of an old (or at least more mature) character looking back at his actions and recalling his feelings from youth, because there is always some nostalgia, but also reflection, self-deprecation, and even self-mockery at times. It is a way of telling a story that feels traditional but can work incredibly well, especially when the times have changed dramatically and so has the person. This is particularly well-done here, as Jonathan’s voice feels very real, his use of words and expressions of the period help give it authenticity, and his way of reporting other people’s stories and even episodes he never witnessed directly is engaging and endearing. So much for the advice to writers of always showing and never telling! In fact, Jonathan can make us feel as if we were there even when he is describing something somebody else narrated, but if you are totally opposed to telling, I’d recommend you check a sample of the novel before dismissing it. Oh, and before I forget, there are fragments of poems and songs peppered throughout the book as well (and the details of those are also provided at the back of the book).

I have mentioned the anti-war theme of this novel. This is the strongest message, and the focus is on the American Civil War, although other wars are mentioned as well. It is true that due to the use of increasingly more sophisticated weapons (we all know wars tend to push research and industry forward if nothing else), the improvements in technology (the novel mentions ironclad vessels; an early version of a submarine; and one of Jonathan’s friends, Charles, is an inventor working on all kinds of long-distance weapons), and the length of the conflict, the death toll was very high, and all the more shocking because of that. But this is not an anti-South book, as the author explains. It is a book that paints a complex picture of what the United States South, South Carolina, and Charleston, in particular, were like in that era. Although many of the events narrated are episodes of the war, battles, or the destruction brought by it to the inhabitants of the city, there are also other moments that give an idea of what peace life must have been like: the last horse racing event before the war, several big parties in the city, how the business of importing luxury goods worked (and that gets more interesting as the war advances, including a visit to Nassau as well), the lives of freed black men and their participation in business and social life (down to having their own fire-brigade), musical entertainment (of the hand of Abe, a Jewish performer with an impossible love story), voodoo, the less savoury aspects of life, the different rhythm of life in the properties and plantations in the mountains and that of the big city, and much more. All together they create a sense of what life was like, probably more effectively because the story is narrated from an outsider’s perspective, but one who is accepted and adopted into that world.

Jonathan is a northerner who ends up, due to a conjunction of strange circumstances, stranded in Charleston, and rather than going back to Boston, where he feels there is nothing for him, he stays in the South, barely surviving, at first, but later getting to the point where others even think he was a hero of the war (on the Confederate side). Jonathan never fights, though, and he abhors slavery, although he comes to appreciate many things and people he meets through his adventures. He is a bit of a Hamlet, though. He is forever hesitant, wondering what he should do, avoiding direct conflict when he can, and although he dislikes some of the things he sees around him (especially slavery, although the bad aspects of slavery are only mentioned and never discussed in much detail. For example, he helps transport some slaves being sold when their owners decided to leave the Charleston area towards the end of the war; he takes a free black to help him, but never even gives a thought to liberating them, and we never hear their stories), he lets things happen or come to him, rather than stepping forward to meet any challenges or take any firm decisions. He discovers, a bit late, that if you wait too long, the decision can be taken off your hands for good. That does apply to his personal life as well, but I won’t go into too much detail to avoid spoilers. He is very naïve when he arrives in Charleston and suffers a terrible loss and a disappointment, but he grows and matures, and even the character observes, quite late in the novel, that only four years have passed since his arrival, and it still feels like a lifetime. He can be witty and ready to play a prank as well, though, and there were events that reminded me of Mark Twain and some of his amusing tales as well.

Apart from Jonathan, who is at first lost, undecided, and passive, we meet a fascinating catalogue of characters during the novel: wealthy and high-class families, poor construction workers, freed black men happy with their lifestyle (and others not so happy), a slave that ends up in charge of the whole property (although still a slave), inventors, tragic romantic figures, true heroes, women hiding from a terrible fate, ship captains adept at avoiding a blockade, rogue deserters, nurses (Clare Barton makes a fleeting appearance), there are surreal moments brought on by a voodoo man, and even interesting animals (perhaps).

The writing, as I have mentioned, is compelling. It is one of those stories that would keep you sitting by the campsite long into the night, and by the time you checked your watch, you wouldn’t believe how long you’d spent there. Because although this is a fairly long book, and it can be meandering at times, there is magic in the images conjured up by Jonathan’s narration, the good ones (despite the dominance of the war episodes, there are beautiful moments as well), and especially some of the battles and the desolation brought to the people and the city (the description of the Battle of Battery Wagner, and yes, I do remember Glory, is unforgettable and one of the best depictions of the never-ending madness of war I’ve come across) that makes us keep turning the pages, hoping to know how it all ends (not the war, but the life), and at the same time wishing the story would keep going and we could carry on reading.

What happens after the war is given relatively little space in the book, although there are some surprises to come, some good and some open to interpretation (I am not sure I agree with the main character’s take on a late reveal about the fate of one of the characters, but you’ll have to read the novel to know what I am talking about), but overall, I thought the ending worked very well, and there is a very touching detail that I hadn’t paid much attention to and made me like the character even more.

I would recommend this book to anybody interested in historical fiction set around the American Civil War, how it affected the South, South Carolina, and Charleston in particular. It offers an interesting perspective, friendly towards some aspects of southern culture, but critical of others. The main character is not a standard hero (rather the opposite for much of the novel), and he spends a lot of time listening to others as well, incorporating their stories into his. Perhaps I missed more of an insight into the minds of the female characters (they are interesting, strong, and stoic, but we hear very little directly from them), and I have mentioned some other minor issues before. Overall, though, this is a great novel, and one that I am sure will make many readers grab their history books and learn more about the period. I look forward to seeing what this author, new to me, will publish in the future.

In case you want to read a bit more about the author’s thoughts on his own book, you can check his own review on Goodreads, here:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3802842066

Thanks to Rosie, to Terry, and to the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and above all, keep safe and keep smiling. 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog CHOUETTE by Claire Oshetsky (@oshetsky) (@ViragoBooks) Disturbing, dark, difficult to categorise, but beautifully written #bookreview

Hi, all:

I bring you a book that is… well, special doesn’t cover it. I’m not sure it will the kind of book many of you would enjoy, but it raises important questions, and it is so unusual, I had to share it. Oh, and those covers!

Chouette by Claire Oshetsky

Chouette by Claire Oshetsky (@oshetsky

“Claire Oshetsky’s novel is a marvel: its language a joy, its imagination dizzying.” —Rumaan Alam, New York Times bestselling author of Leave the World Behind

An exhilarating, provocative novel of motherhood in extremis

Tiny is pregnant. Her husband is delighted. “You think this baby is going to be like you, but it’s not like you at all,” she warns him. “This baby is an owl-baby.”

When Chouette is born small and broken-winged, Tiny works around the clock to meet her daughter’s needs. Left on her own to care for a child who seems more predatory bird than baby, Tiny vows to raise Chouette to be her authentic self. Even in those times when Chouette’s behaviors grow violent and strange, Tiny’s loving commitment to her daughter is unwavering. When she discovers that her husband is on an obsessive and increasingly dangerous quest to find a “cure” for their daughter, Tiny must decide whether Chouette should be raised to fit in or to be herself—and learn what it truly means to be a mother.

Arresting, darkly funny, and unsettling, Chouette is a brilliant exploration of ambition, sacrifice, perceptions of ability, and the ferocity of motherly love.

 https://www.amazon.com/Chouette-Claire-Oshetsky-ebook/dp/B08WLWF1FH/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Chouette-Claire-Oshetsky-ebook/dp/B08WLWF1FH/

https://www.amazon.es/Chouette-English-Claire-Oshetsky-ebook/dp/B08NPQCJBX/

Author Claire Oshetsky

About the author:

Claire Oshetsky is a novelist whose writing has appeared in Salon, Wired, and the New York Times. She lives with her family in California. Chouette draws on her own experiences of motherhood.

In her own words, in Goodreads:

Shy and nocturnal. Autistic. Demi woman. Avian.

I participate on Goodreads as the fashionably bearded “lark benobi” and you’re most welcome to come on over to my lark benobi page to follow my reviews and talk books with me.

If you have an interest in the music mentioned in Chouettehere is a playlist with most of it. The works by Patricia Taxxon are only available on the indie music site Bandcamp: Tiny hears “Cambria” by Patricia Taxxon when she runs into the gloaming as a child, and she hears “The Stars in My Head” by Patricia Taxxon at the end of her journey.

‘lark benobi’ is going to continue to be the place I hang out on goodreads, but since people are starting to follow me over here too I thought I’d use my ‘Claire Oshetsky’ zone to recommend books that people might like if they liked Chouette. Let’s call them “Bizarro Books.” Happy reading!

 https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20847159.Claire_Oshetsky

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and Virago for providing me an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

What a novel! I must confess I read a comment about this novel, saw the cover, and being crazy about anything owl I had to request it. It seems I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t resist the attraction of the cover, because many reviews mention it as well. Curiously, although the two covers of the novel I’ve seen are quite different (both have owls on the cover, but that’s the only similarity), they are fascinating and beautiful, each in its own way.

The brief description of the book made me think of a French film I saw quite a few years back (2009), called Ricky, directed by François Ozon, about a baby who grows wings and the effect that has on everybody around him, but… This novel is not like that. At all.

It is very difficult to review this novel because I am not sure how to classify it, and although that is often said, in this case, I believe it truly defies classification. Amazon.com lists it under three categories: Humorous literary fiction, contemporary literary fiction, and women’s literary fiction. I have also seen people referring to its style as “magic realism”, a category that seems to have many different definitions and conceptions. Having grown up reading Latin-American writers such as Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende, I think of the genre as one where the story takes place in a world that is realistically rendered, but there are some events or characters that seem impossible, peculiar, or even magical, although that fact (that sometimes might be related to specific beliefs of the community, legends, stories) does not alter or transform totally the nature of the world. It is not a world of fantasy. It isn’t a story where somebody sees, does things, or has special powers that nobody else believes in, either. The whole world accepts what is happening as if it was the norm, and that creates quite a strange effect. (As I said, this is my understanding of magic realism, but not everybody thinks the same). With regards to the other categories suggested… Well, humorous fiction might apply, as there are some scenes that are so over the top and cartoonish, that although they are usually also very dark, they are funny. But there is so much disturbing and weird in the book, that I think most people wouldn’t think of it as a straight humorous read. There’s definitely no light humour here.

Literary fiction seems to fit well. This is not an easy book to read (it is quite short, but it makes one stop and pause often, and it’s difficult not to wonder and ponder at what might be going on), and the writing is precious, using sometimes pretty unusual and even out of place words (gendarme for a book set in California, for example), plenty of references to music (classical, contemporary, music from films, indie music…), and the main protagonists, both Tiny and Chouette, are women (well, or a woman and an owl baby, but a female owl baby), and a lot of the book centres around the notion of motherhood, educating and taking care of a child, a mother’s love, family and family relationships… There is something timeless about the book, and although it is not a piece of historical fiction, other than because references to artificial intelligence and to some of the other suggested therapies bring to mind our era, the story could be set years before or after, and it wouldn’t feel out of place (or rather, it would feel as out of place as it is in the here and now).

There are plenty of strange things happening in this book, but there seem to be two interpretations of what is going on. One, is what Tiny, the mother thinks. The other, what everybody else (or almost everybody else) thinks. Is this, therefore, a case of an extremely unreliable narrator? Some reviewers seem to think so and talk about Tiny suffering from some sort of psychotic break following her pregnancy and the birth of her child. Puerperal psychosis is a well-known diagnosis, as is post-partum depression. Because the story is told by Tiny (we never learn if she has another name) in the second person —as if this were a book she was writing to Chouette, her baby— it is possible that all the events she narrates, which seem to confirm that her baby is an owl baby (more owl than baby) were just in her imagination. (If you want to know what kind of things I’m talking about, I don’t want to go into a lot of detail, because some will probably be disturbing to readers, and I don’t want to spoil the story, but I’ll mention: the child hunting for small animals and feeding on them; attacking people, not only unknown people but also her own relatives and her parents as well; the fact that she never achieves her milestones and doesn’t develop as a “normal” baby; she can’t talk; she doesn’t walk and doesn’t seem to have normal limbs… There are also weird things going on in the house and some events from Tiny’s childhood that seem straight out of a dark and Gothic fairy tale, rather than a realistic novel, which also has a bearing on the story).

The rest of the world thinks that the baby might suffer from a metabolic and/or genetic condition affecting her growth and her development, and her father, who is the main advocate of such view, insists on trying to find a cure. (Of course, if we believe Tiny’s version, Chouette is not really the daughter of Tiny’s husband. But, I won’t reveal anything else). This causes some comedic moments, and some pretty tragic ones as well.

Is the whole novel a metaphor for what pregnancy and bringing up a baby, especially a baby with diverse needs, might be like? Tiny categorizes children (and by extent, people) into either dog-babies (those who are gregarious, love to play, chat, socialize, and achieve all their milestones at the required moments), and owl-babies (wild creatures who follow their own rhythm, don’t conform, and are not terribly sociable). The author’s biography and her comments seem to fit that interpretation, and there are moments in the book that felt quite recognisable to me. I’ve never had a child or been pregnant, so I’m not talking from direct experience, but from what friends who have children have told me, and what I have observed. There is much of the insecurity of not knowing if your approach to bringing up your child is right or not, of the exhaustion of having to be there twenty-four hours a day, or not being able to understand what is wrong and having to second-guess. Of feeling a fierce love and total frustration both at the same time. There are readers who subscribe to that view as well, and even reviewers who have strongly identified with the story. The fact that the author describes herself as “autistic” and “avian” seems to point in that direction too but… I am not sure I have decided what possible interpretation I favour, if I want to decide, or even if I need to.

Whichever interpretation readers give to the story, there is plenty to make people think. One of the themes that particularly grabbed me was the debate between Tiny and her husband as to the education and/or “treatment” for their daughter. Should they try to find a way for her to conform and become more like other children so that she can fit in her family and the society all around, or does she have the right to be herself and it is up to others to accept her and make her feel welcome, no matter how different from the norm she might be? What is “normal” after all, and who gets to decide and set the standards? This is one of the big questions that affect many aspects of our lives, in some hotly debated, highly controversial, and far from resolved, even in this day and age. There is no easy answer, but anything that can make us consider things from a different perspective is welcome.

If you want some facts to help you decide if you’d enjoy reading this novel, the book’s writing is gorgeous. I have mentioned the peculiar usage of words and the richness of the language, and although the images used can sometimes be extremely violent and disturbing, there are others that are breathtakingly beautiful. No matter what one might think of the story, or how puzzled one might feel by what is going on, there are paragraphs that I’d happily frame and hang on my wall.

Some random examples. Please, remember that this comes from an ARC copy, so there might be small changes in the final version.

Here, Tiny is watching her husband, before the baby is born:

I love to watch him shuffle the cards. I love the way he can fit himself into the world so rightly. He’s like a card in the deck that he has just squared up. I’m more like a card that somebody left out in the rain.

An example of humour (oh, and her husband’s family is a caution):

I’m the outlier. I’m known in the family as the tiny, fragile, photogenic little wife. My mother-in-law tends to seat me at the children’s table for family gatherings. I don’t think of it as a slight. It’s more like an oversight. My mother-in-law sees right over me. She is six feet tall and never looks down.

And last, but not least:

The days keep coming. You keep on living. Inside me is a damp and complex geography, a sweaty expanse of mixed feelings, uncertainties, and regret; and all of those feelings spread out from my body like the vast Serengeti, full of dark and danger. The edges blur. The truth is, I have no idea how to be your mother.

It is difficult to talk about the ending because it is left to one’s interpretation and to which version of the story we are going with. For me, it felt hopeful, but that is just my opinion. Oh, for those who love music, the author includes the playlist for the novel, so that is a definite plus.

Another random thought is that the author mentions on her Goodreads page, that she will include recommendations of books she thinks people who’ve enjoyed Chouette might like, and she refers to them as “bizarro books”. I have read reviews of some books that fall under that category, but I haven’t read any (they did remind me too much of some of the things I heard when I worked as a psychiatrist,, but I might try in the future), so this might be something to take into account as well, as that might offer another possible reading of this book.

Who would I recommend this book to? That’s not an easy question to answer. I agree with other readers that this would not be on my list of recommended novels for future mothers or those with very small children. On the other hand, mothers with a dark or alternative sense of humour, and whose children are fairly grown-up, might appreciate it. Readers who are weary of explicit violence, cruelty to animals, and those who prefer a straightforward narrative, should keep away from this book. But those who are happy to explore, are looking for a new voice, don’t mind weird and strange stories, love bizarro books (probably), and appreciate lyrical and gorgeous writing, should give it a go. See what you think. I’m sure it won’t leave you indifferent.

I found this review on Goodreads that provides extra information about the author, and you might find it interesting as well:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/4329916979

Thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for this unique book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and keep smiling and safe!

Categories
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!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE SHIVERING GROUND AND OTHER STORIES by Sara Barkat For those who dare get lost in the beauty of the writing and the magic of other worlds #RBRT

Hi all:

Today I bring you something that defies easy definitions. Ah, a word of warning. The book will be published (if there are no delays) on the 1st of December, so it might not be available for immediate download if you read this post on the day of its publication, but you could reserve it and won’t have to wait too long for it.

The Shivering Ground and Other Stories by Sara Barkat

The Shivering Ground and Other Stories by Sara Barkat

The Shivering Ground blends future and past, earth and otherworldliness, in a magnetic collection that shimmers with art, philosophy, dance, film, and music at its heart. 

A haunting medieval song in the mouth of a guard, an 1800s greatcoat on the shoulders of a playwright experiencing a quantum love affair, alien worlds both elsewhere and in the ruined water at our feet: these stories startle us with the richness and emptiness of what we absolutely know and simultaneously cannot pin into place.

 In the tender emotions, hidden ecological or relational choices, and the sheer weight of a compelling voice, readers “hear” each story, endlessly together and apart.

~

“The word ‘original,’ as a compliment, is both overused and quite often misused. But sometimes it’s the only word that will do. Sara Barkat is an original. Her imagination is imperious; she wields words as she pleases, in ways that delight and unsettle. In this, she reminds me of Emily Dickinson. Reading her, I expect you will agree. Don’t miss the opportunity.”

—John Wilson, editor of Books & Culture (1995-2016)

Author Sara Barkat

About the author:

Sara Barkat is an intaglio artist and writer with an educational background in philosophy and psychology, whose work has appeared in Every Day Poems, Tweetspeak Poetry, and Poetic Earth Month—as well as in the book How to Write a Poem: Based on the Billy Collins Poem “Introduction to Poetry.” Sara has served as an editor on a number of titles including the popular The Teacher Diaries: Romeo & Juliet, and is the illustrator of The Yellow Wall-Paper Graphic Novel, an adaptation of the classic story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. 

https://sarabarkat.com/bio

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 special collection…

I enjoy short stories, but I rarely read anthologies or collections of them, other than those of authors I already know and whose writing I love. However, although I had never read this author’s work before, there was something compelling and utterly different about this book, and the cover and the title added to the appeal.

Although I’m not sure what I was expecting to read, the stories were surprising and extremely varied. Some seemed to be set in the present (or an alternative version of the present), some in the past (or a possible past), some in a dystopian future, some in parallel universes, and the characters varied from very young children to adults, and from human beings to a variety of “Others”. Some of the stories are very brief, some are long enough to be novellas (or almost), and they are written from all possible points of view: first person, third person (in some cases identified as “they”), and even second person. I usually would try to give an overview of themes and subjects making an appearance in the stories, but that is notably difficult here. The description accompanying the book gives a good indication of what to expect, and if I had to highlight some commonalities between the stories, I would mention, perhaps, the desire and need to connect and communicate with others, in whatever form possible, and to create and express one’s feelings and thoughts, through any medium (music, painting, writing, sewing…),

These short stories are not what many readers have come to expect from the form: a fully developed narrative, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, although usually providing fewer details and not so much character development as we would find in a novel, and often with a surprising twist at the end that can make us reconsider all we have read up to that point. Barkat’s stories are not like that. They rarely have a conventional ending (even when they do, it is open to readers’ interpretations), sometimes there are descriptive passages that we aren’t used to seeing in short narratives, and the plot isn’t always the most important part of the story (if at all). The way the story is told, the style and beauty of the writing, and the impressions and feelings they cause on the reader make them akin to artworks. If reading is always a subjective and personal experience, this is, even more, the case here, and no description can do full justice to this creation.

Despite that, I decided to try to share a few thoughts on each one of the stories, in case it might encourage or help other readers make their own minds up. I’d usually add here that I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, but these are not that kind of stories either.

1. The Door at the End of the Path. A wonderful story full of vivid descriptions of a young girl’s imagination, her internal life, and a reflection of the heavy toll the difficult relationship of the parents can have on their children.

2. Conditions. A glimpse into the relationship between a brother and a sister, where the best intentions can have the worst results, set in a world that is half-dystopia, half an alternative present, with more than a slight touch of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

3. The Eternal In-Between. A dystopia set during a pandemic, with plenty of steampunk-like fancies, and an ode to the power of imagination.

4. The Mannequin. A dystopian world epitomized by the willingness of its subjects to undergo quite an extreme and symbolic procedure to keep the status quo in place.

5. Brianna. A very special retelling of a fairy-tale story that digs dip into the psychological aspects and the effects such events would have over real people, especially if it was a fate repeated generation after generation. One of my favourites.

6. Noticing. A story with a strong ecological theme, a generous dose of fantasy, some beautiful illustrations and eerie pictures, an endorsement of the power of stories, and a strong warning we should heed. Both terrifying and breathtakingly beautiful. Another favourite.

7. Entanglement. A short but compelling story/metaphor of a love affair, and/or the possibility of one.

8. The Day Before Tomorrow. Although set in a very strange and dystopic society, it is a Young Adult story of sorts, and the relationship between the two main characters feels totally natural and everyday, despite the extremely unusual surroundings. Perhaps our stories never change, no matter what might be happening around us. A hopeful story I really enjoyed.

9. It’s Already Too Late. Very brief, very compelling vignette with a very strong ecological message. A call to forget about our excuses and the reasons to carry on doing nothing.

10. The Shivering Ground. A sci-fiction/fantasy/dystopian story that might seem utterly sad and pessimistic, but it is also moving and (I think) hopeful.

11. A Universe Akilter. A wonderful story that kept wrong-footing me, as if the ground the story was set on kept shifting. A Universe Akilter indeed! It starts as the story of the breakup of a romance, seemingly because the man has been caught up cheating, set some time in the past (many of the details and the way the characters behave sound Victorian, but there are small incongruous details that pop up every so often and others that seem to shift), but as the story progresses, it becomes the story of a (possible?) love affair in parallel universes (the universe of our dreams, perhaps), that influences and changes the life of the protagonist, making him discover things about himself and his creativity he would never have considered otherwise. This is the longest story in the book and one that might especially appeal to readers of dual-time or time-travel stories (although it is not that at all).

 

As usual, I recommend those thinking about reading this collection check a sample of it. The stories are quite different from each other, but it should suffice to provide future readers with a good feel for the writing style.

I could not help but share a few paragraphs from the book, although as I have read an ARC copy, there might be some small changes to the final version.

 

All the wreckage, all the ruin, and the ground was brilliant red. Every morning, he would wake to more of the world ending, and the earth laid out a scarlet cloak as though waiting for an emperor to arrive.

 

He wishes, desperately, that he could remember the sound of her voice hen she still knew innocence; that he had thought to fold it in his pocket with the mementos of another life.

 

Perhaps being a mis-turned wheel in a spinning globe is only as it should be after all, when in the spring, the scent of mint and apple blossoms fills the acres behind you.

 

But, surely, I wondered, interpretability only goes so far. To go further would be to strike out onto one’s own adventure, breaking the mass of the art’s finished illusion.

 

I wouldn’t say I “understood” all the stories, or I got the meaning the author intended (if she had a specific design for each one of her stories), but I don’t think that is what this collection is about. Like in an exhibition of artworks, the important thing is what each one of them makes us feel, what thoughts and reflections they set in motion, and how much of an impression they leave on us.

I don’t recommend this book to readers looking for traditionally told short stories, with a clear beginning and end, and a satisfying conclusion. On the other hand, readers seeking something outside the norm and happy to: explore new worlds, try new experiences, ponder about meanings and possibilities, and get lost in the beauty of the writing and the magic of the words, should read this collection. It’s too beautiful to miss.

 Thanks to Rosie and the author for this book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember, if you’ve enjoyed it, to like, share, click and comment. Stay safe, keep smiling, and dare to explore all the wonderful worlds books can take us to. 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog MEGACITY (Operation Galton Book 3) by Terry Tyler (@TerryTyler4) Too close for comfort but a must read. The whole series #dystopianstory

Hi all:

I bring you the review of the third book in a trilogy I’ve been reading by one of the authors I don’t hesitate to recommend (and who is also a member of Rosie Amber’s team of reviewers, whose reviews I also recommend):

Megacity (Operation Galton 3) by Terry Tyler

Megacity (Operation Galton Book 3) by Terry Tyler 

The UK’s new megacities: contented citizens relieved of the burden of home ownership, living in eco-friendly communities. Total surveillance has all but wiped out criminal activity, and biometric sensor implants detect illness even before symptoms are apparent.

That’s the hype. Scratch the surface, and darker stories emerge.

Tara is offered the chance to become a princess amongst media influencers—as long as she keeps quiet and does as she’s told.

Aileen uproots to the megacity with some reluctance, but none of her misgivings prepare her for the situation she will face: a mother’s worst nightmare.

Radar has survived gang rule in group homes for the homeless, prison and bereavement, and jumps at the chance to live a ‘normal’ life. But at what cost?

For all three, the price of living in a megacity may prove too high.

Megacity is the third and final book in the dystopian Operation Galton trilogy, and is Terry Tyler’s twenty-third publication.

‘As long as some of us are still living free, they have not yet won. Anyone who refuses to live as they want us to has beaten them. That’s how we do it. That’s how we win.’

https://www.amazon.com/Megacity-Operation-Galton-Book-3-ebook/dp/B09765ZKNH/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Megacity-Operation-Galton-Book-3-ebook/dp/B09765ZKNH/

https://www.amazon.es/Megacity-Operation-Galton-Book-3-ebook/dp/B09765ZKNH/

Author Terry Tyler
Author Terry Tyler

About the author:

Terry Tyler is the author of twenty-two books available from Amazon, the latest being ‘Megacity‘, the final book in the dystopian Operation Galton trilogy. Also published recently is ‘The Visitor‘, a post-apocalyptic murder mystery set in the same world as her popular Project Renova series. She is currently at work on a psychological thriller that centres round an internet dating con, but has not yet finished with devastated societies, catastrophe and destruction, generally. Proud to be independently published, Terry is an avid reader and book reviewer, and a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

Terry is a Walking Dead addict, and has a great interest in history (particularly 12th-17th century), along with books and documentaries on sociological/cultural/anthropological subject matter. She loves South Park, the sea, and going for long walks in quiet places where there are lots of trees. She lives in the north east of England with her husband.

https://www.amazon.com/Terry-Tyler/e/B00693EGKM/

My review:

I received an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I discovered Terry Tyler’s novels a few years ago and since I read the first novel in her Renova Series (Tipping Point), I have been lucky enough to read everything she has published (or almost). Although she writes in different genres (and, The Visitor, her previous novel, although set in the Renova world was a thriller), it is as if she had picked up some vibes, because she’s been writing dystopian novels, or novels set in dystopian universes recently, although those universes feel uncannily similar to ours (or to how ours might end up being some years down the line). This means that her books are gripping, impossible to put down, and at the same time chilling and very hard to read. There are so many events, topics, trends, behaviours, and attitudes we recognise, that is impossible not to worry about what that might mean for the future of humanity if we take her novels as a warning/prophecy.

This novel is the third (and final? I add the question mark because I know characters and stories often like to challenge their authors and keep demanding their attention, so, who knows?) in the Operation Galton series, and if Project Renova is set in a dystopian world that develops as a result of a deadly virus (of course, there is far more to it than that), Operation Galton, also set in a dystopian but not all that distant future, has the added dread of not being brought on by any catastrophic events, but it seems to develop, almost naturally, from social and political circumstances that are very similar to those happening around us (one might even say that, considering how things have gone these last couple of years, things have gotten worse in our own world). So, be prepared for strong emotions and shocking events, because although readers of the other two books in the series knew terrible things were going on, “you ain’t seen nothing yet”.

The story is divided into four parts, set in chronological order, from 2041 to 2062. While the two first parts cover a decade each, part three recounts the events that take place in the years 2061 and part of 2062, and part 4 is much more focused and tense, covering a much shorter period of time.

As is usual in Tyler’s novels, she does not focus on plot over characters, despite the complexities of the story and the world-building necessary to set the narrative. The descriptions are never overwhelming or heavy with details, and this works well because we see things from the perspective of characters who are either used to the type of world they live in or have far too many things going on in their lives to spend much time obsessing over every little detail. The story is narrated from the point of view of several characters, usually in alternating chapters: a young girl who loses her family in traumatic circumstances and ends up in a Hope Village (Tara); one of the boys she meets there and becomes friends with (Radar); a young woman living off-grid at the beginning of the story who ends up moving to a Megacity with her partner and paying a terrible price for it (Aileen); in part 3 and 4 we meet some other characters who contribute their own thoughts and perspectives (mostly Leah, and fleetingly, Xav, Skylar & Kush); and there are also some chapters from the point of view of the movers and plotters (Jerome, Ezra). Some are in the first person (Tara and Aileen’s), the rest are in the third person but we still get to experience what the character feels, at a little bit of distance (thankfully, in some cases), and there are a couple of chapters that recount what has happened and/or set the scene, also in the third person but omniscient, in this case. There is not a boring moment in the whole novel, but it is true that things accelerate as the narration moves along, and the last two parts will have readers totally engaged, worrying, suffering, and hoping with and for the main characters (and booing at the bad ones as well).

Tara and Aileen, although far from perfect, are genuinely likeable. Tara is tough, a survivor, but has a big heart and is vulnerable at the same time. Aileen has to cope with plenty of losses and heartache, and, worst of all, lies and continuous disappointments. If Tara’s circumstances throughout her life mark her as pretty unique (although some of her experiences are, unfortunately, not as uncommon as we’d like to believe), Aileen is a character easy to identify with, and they are both extremely relatable. Radar, whom we meet as a young boy, bullied and abused, does anything he feels he needs to do in order to survive, but he is far more complex than others give him credit for. I am trying to avoid spoilers, so I won’t go into much detail, although I must confess that I usually prefer baddies with a degree of complexity and ambiguity (because good and evil are not always, if ever, clear cut) and that is not the case here, but it is true that it makes for a “slightly” more reassuring story.

I have already said that there are many elements and events in this series that are eerily similar to things and trends happening today: the dominance of social media, the manipulation of politics by big money and powerful corporations, the rise of authoritarian and populist discourses, fake news, conspiracy theories… and subjects that also appear in the story and are not necessarily characteristic of dystopian novels, but are also very present in our lives: bullying, poverty, unequal access to jobs, education, and healthcare, sexual harassment, violence and abuse, drug use, peer pressure, complex family relationships… It is impossible to read this book (and the whole series) without thinking how easy it would be for things such as those to happen, and how there are many different ways to interpret or evaluate the same events, depending on your perspective. What might be a clear conspiracy theory for some, with no logical basis, might be a cry for freedom and independent thinking for others, and the difference might be impossible to tell when the atmosphere is one of mistrust and suspicion all around.

You’ve probably guessed by now that I’m going to recommend this novel and the whole series. You would be right. The author does include a link at the beginning of the book for people who have read the other two books a while back (or those who haven’t read them) to a brief summary of the previous two books, so, in theory, it would be possible for somebody who hasn’t read the other two books to read this book first, although I wouldn’t recommend it. I am sure people would enjoy the book and get a general sense of what had gone on, but the three books work well together and fit in like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, building up a clearer and more complete and global picture if read in the right order. There are also some characters who have appeared in previous novels who either make an appearance or are referred to, but even without that, because each one of the books focuses on a part of the whole project to create a new world order (and we get to experience it from a vantage point of view each time), the story moves naturally and evolves throughout the three books, so yes, do read it, but make sure you read the other two books first. You will enjoy a great story, with compelling characters you will be able to identify with, well-written and bound to make you think.

There is violence, some pretty extreme events take place, and as I’ve mentioned some of the subjects discussed, people who know they are bound to be badly affected by any of those would do well to avoid it. For those who like to get some idea of what the ending is like, let’s say that most matters are settled satisfactorily (personally, I felt this was perhaps a bit too fast and relatively smooth, considering everything that had gone on), although some are left open to the reader’s imagination, and the book ends up in a fairly hopeful note.

I recommend this book (and the whole Operation Galton series) to anybody who enjoys dystopian novels, and even those who have never read one but appreciate stories well-written, with strong characters, and don’t mind a story set in a near and more-than-a-bit troublesome future that doesn’t stretch too much the imagination. This is not a reassuring read, but it is bound to make readers look at things in a new light. And hope the author is wrong.

Thanks to the author for this book and the whole series, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and always keep safe, keep smiling, and keep reading!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

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

Hi all:

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

Outerborough Blues. A Brooklyn Mystery by Andrew Cotto

Outerborough Blues: A Brooklyn Mystery by Andrew Cotto 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Andrew Cotto

About the author:

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

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

 My review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog DEAD OF WINTER. Journey 9, Doors of Attunement and Journey 10, Pergesca by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene (@teagangeneviene) The pace is quickening and wonders don’t cease. Get ready for the ride of your lives!

Hi all:

I bring you two more of the Journeys in the Dead of Winter serial, and wow, we are getting close now…

I have been following author Ríordáin Geneviene for a number of years now, down many of the paths her imagination has travelled, from her blog, where she has created a number of serials with the participation of her readers (incorporating the items they propose into her stories), in many genres (steampunk, historical fiction, fantasy…) always with a seamless weaving of research (into artefacts of a historical period, language and fashionable expressions of an era, music, and recipes of bygone times, names and mythology and their link to specific places and meanings…), a wonderful playfulness in her use of language, and a penchant for flights of fancy and whimsy. It doesn’t matter how closely you are following the events and how well you think you know her characters, there are surprises waiting when you turn the next page, and you’re always left wanting more.

Author Teagan Geneviene 

About the author:

Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene lives in a “high desert” town in the Southwest of the USA.

Teagan had always devoured fantasy novels of every type. Then one day there was no new book readily at hand for reading — so she decided to write one. And she hasn’t stopped writing since.

Her work is colored by her experiences from living in the southern states and the desert southwest. Teagan most often writes in the fantasy genre, but she also writes cozy mysteries. Whether it’s a 1920s mystery, a steampunk adventure, or urban fantasy, her stories have a strong element of whimsy.

Founder of the Three Things method of storytelling, her blog “Teagan’s Books” contains serial stories written according to “things” from viewers. Http://www.teagansbooks.com


Major influences include Agatha Christie, Terry Brooks, David Eddings, Robert Jordan, and Charlaine Harris.

See book trailer videos here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCoM-z7_iH5t2_7aNpy3vG-Q?

https://www.amazon.com/Teagan-Riordain-Geneviene/e/B00HHDXHVM/

Dead of Winter. Journey 9, Doors of Attunement by Teagan Ríodáin Geneviene

Dead of Winter: Journey 9, Doors of Attunement by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene 

In this ninth installment Emlyn, Osabide, and Fotia (in Zasha’s body) traveled to a third world, so little known that it is only called the Other Realm. They hope to restore Zasha. Will Fotia willingly relinquish her new life in a young body? There the trio meet unpredictable, but vastly powerful beings known as the Listeners. One of them is a new enemy. Another might be friend or foe. Either way, he is dangerous.

Arawn has grown stronger. An army of the dead gathers near the Lost Library. Hallgeir faces one of the biggest decisions of his life.

Journey with our travelers. Adventure awaits.

 https://relinks.me/B09F8Y5DML

 My review:

Fantasy is a bit of a hit-and-miss for me, but based on my previous experience reading this author, I knew I had to try her new (although originally written as a single novel a number of years ago) serial, Dead of Winter. And, as usual, she has surpassed herself. I’ve come to eagerly await the next journey, to celebrate every monthly publication, and it has become a highlight in my reading schedule.

In Journey 9, we have Emlyn, the main protagonist of the story, and two of her friends (although one is not quite herself, and that is one of the reasons for their quest), journey through the “Other” realm. It is an strange and wondrous place, and they are soon confronted with decisions (if you love game shows, the fact that they have to choose one of three doors will bring all kinds of connections to your mind) that require not only courage, but also intuition, trust in each other and belief in themselves.

Emlyn uncovers new powers/abilities she didn’t know she possessed, and we find out that the “Listeners” can take many forms and are as puzzling,enchanting, and unnerving as most of the other creatures we’ve come across in these journeys. Readers travel beyond the Other realm, there are more magical objects to be retrieved, and although they achieve their goal, they also confirm that risks and dangers are getting closer and closer.

There is a touch of Alice through the Looking Glass in this journey (although in this case, through a painting), and we get to hear from Luce, one of the most enigmatic characters in this serial (and that is saying something!), who, for the first time, allows us to peep into his mind.

As this journey ends, Hallgeir —one of the men travelling with the Deae Matres and protecting them— finds his loyalty put to the test. Or his loyalties, because, should one always put family before everything else, or are other callings stronger than blood? It is a particularly tense moment, and I am relieved to already have Journey 10 waiting to be read, as it would have felt like a very long wait otherwise.

Those who are following the story already know the author includes a cast of characters and locations at the end, to ensure readers don’t lose track and don’t miss any of the details. This keeps being updated with each new journey, to avoid spoilers.

I loved the descriptions of the new characters, the places the protagonists visit, and, in particular, the insight we are given into their innermost thoughts, doubts, and feelings. A journey full of wonder and adventure, and an ending that pulsates with excitement and expectation.

Don’t forget to read the journeys in the right order, and go on, keep reading Dead of Winter.

Dead of Winter. Journey 10, Pergesca by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene

 

Dead of Winter: Journey 10, Pergesca by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene 

Dead of Winter: Journey 10, Pergesca” resumes outside the Lost Library, where Hallgeir was faced with a decision that could impact the entire world.

Lucetius is gravely wounded when he attempts to deliver a message. Emlyn, Zasha, and Osabide are again separated from all their friends. The Three must continue their journey without assistance or protection from the other travelers. They must reach the faraway city of Pergesca. That is also the seat of power of the ancient Society of Deae Matres. Will the companions eventually be reunited?

A vicious enemy returns, displaying unexpected strength.

An important character dies in this novelette. The death of a character is a rare thing in stories written by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene.

https://relinks.me/B09J6TH8TD

 My review:

What to say! We’ve reached Journey 10 in Dead of Winter, and for me, it has definitely been a big journey into a realm I rarely visit, that of high fantasy. I’m not a reader lacking in imagination or preoccupied with productivity and getting the most out of any lecture time. My love for fiction was born when I was a child, and although I’ve read (and still read) a lot of factual and non-fiction books (for professional and personal reasons), my preference for my downtime is fiction. I read realistic fiction, but I’m quite fond of fairy tales and horror as well. My problem with high fantasy, I think, is not so much with the fantasy side of things, but with the build-up to the stories, the large number of characters, often with strange and somewhat similar names (I have the same issue with some spy novels, although those I find dry at times), and the huge amounts of backstory and telling usually required to explain the worlds where the stories are taking place. As much as I love a well-written plot, I have also been more of a character reader, and in some cases, those seem to get lost among all the scaffolding in some of the big fantasy sagas. So, reaching Journey 10 of this serial is an achievement, for me and one that shows the skill of the author.

In Dead of Winter, Ríordáin Geneviene manages to combine a weird, wonderful, scary, terrible, and beautiful world, with different realms and with a cast of characters that although not always “human” and/or “alive” we can easily connect with. Emlyn, the main protagonist, is a credible normal child (only twelve years old) but also gifted, unique, and the perfect hero to guide us on this quest. And I am sure every reader will have his/her own favourite among the many characters (creatures included).

This Journey is pretty special, as the author explains because one of the characters dies. I’m going to avoid any spoilers, although I was not surprised by the event. When I thought about the author’s prologue, I imagined who it could be; it is well done, makes perfect sense, and brings some sense of completion to that character.

There are many other adventures and magical events in this journey: we have characters surprising everybody with changes of heart (possibly); the three women with a most delicate mission (Emlyn, Osabide, and Zasha) are placed in great danger due to a mean and vengeful character trying to get revenge; a new favourite of mine puts in a star appearance; we have further “through the looking glass” moments; Emlyn finds herself in a city for the first time and doesn’t quite know what to think; Zasha —who is slowly recovering her old self, but with some changes— is back home and playing guide; there is further evidence of the breach(chasm in the veil separating the world of the living from that of the dead; we meet new characters and old characters who leave mysterious messages and warnings, and the future appears very uncertain.

The writing is immaculate as usual, with truly emotional moments, vivid descriptions of action and battle scenes where we can feel the danger jumping at the protagonists, and some reflective and quiet moments when we are privy to the thoughts, reflections, and doubts of the protagonists (mostly from Emlyn’s point of view, but we get some insights into Zasha’s thoughts and feelings as well). The pace of the story and the narration is quickening, and things are coming to a head. I will be sorry to see this story end, but, at this point, I’m also eager to know what will happen. Winter seems to have arrived already, and time is of the essence.

I’ve recommended this story to all and sundry, and other than people who only read non-fiction and cannot stand fantasy in any shape, I cannot imagine many who would not enjoy it. The serial format works beautifully to ensure that no reader gets overwhelmed by the story building and the number of characters and settings, and the author also includes a cast of characters at the end, which she updates as required, to help those who might have a doubt or want to remind themselves of some stray detail. Read the serial in the right order, and be prepared for the journey. It is a wild and magical ride.

Thanks to the author for this wonderful serial, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to stay safe and take care above all, and to like, share, comment, click, and, always keep smiling. 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview HOW TO SURVIVE IN ANCIENT ROME by L. J. Trafford (@traffordlj) (@penswordbooks) An enjoyable way to learn about Ancient Rome #history #AncientRome

Hi all:

I bring you a non-fiction book for those of you who’ve always dreamed of travelling back in time and visiting Imperial Rome.

How to Survive in Ancient Rome by L J Trafford

How to Survive in Ancient Rome by L J Trafford  

Imagine you were transported back in time to Ancient Rome and you had to start a new life there. How would you fit in? Where would you live? What would you eat? Where would you go to have your hair done? Who would you go to if you got ill, or if you were mugged in the street? All these questions, and many more, will be answered in this new how-to guide for time travellers. Part self-help guide, part survival guide, this lively and engaging book will help the reader deal with the many problems and new experiences that they will face, and also help them to thrive in this strange new environment.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Survive-Ancient-Rome-Trafford/dp/1526757869/

https://www.amazon.com/How-Survive-Ancient-Rome-Trafford/dp/1526757869/

https://www.amazon.es/How-Survive-Ancient-Rome-Trafford/dp/1526757869/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/How-to-Survive-in-Ancient-Rome-Paperback/p/18524

Author L. J. Trafford

About the author:

After gaining a BA Hons in Ancient History LJ Trafford toured the amphitheatres of western europe before a collision with a moped in Rome left her unable to cross the road.
Which was a shame because there was some really cool stuff on the other side.
Returning to the UK somewhat battered and certainly very bruised she spent several years working as a tour guide. A perfect introduction to writing, involving as it did, the need for entertainment and a hefty amount of invention (it’s how she got tips).
She now works in London doing something whizzy with computers.

Palatine is the first in the Four Emperors series. Book Two is Galba’s Men, and is followed by Otho’s Regret and Vitellius’ Feast
See also two short stories featuring the same characters: ‘The Wine Boy’ and ‘The Wedding’ (in the Rubicon collection)

Follow me on Twitter, if you dare! @traffordlj

https://www.amazon.co.uk/L-J-Trafford/e/B009K3ZQLQ/

 My review:

I thank Rosie Croft, from Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback ARC of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I am not an expert on Ancient Rome, but you don’t need to be to enjoy this title. In fact, I think this is a great entry-level book for those who want to learn a few things about Rome but don’t have much time or/and don’t fancy having to trudge through huge History books, but would rather a light read that gives them an overview of what life was like at the time.

This book is pretty similar to many modern guide books; it offers the basic information somebody who is completely new to a place needs to survive there and not get into any trouble. It contains black and white pictures, charts, and illustrations summarising important timelines, providing examples of civil clothing and uniforms, sketches and maps, and also boxes highlighting important and curious facts under the title ‘Did you know?’ There are also an index and a bibliography for those who might want to carry on reading about the topic after this introduction.

The actual book is set in 95 CE, and I particularly enjoyed the author’s decision to introduce two narrators or guides. They can provide us with first-hand insights into the social mores and everyday life in the era: one, Hortensia, is a lady of noble birth, and she tells us how it is to be female in Ancient Rome (not fun, let me tell you, even if you are well-off), and the other one, Titus Flavius Ajax, a freedman, was formerly an imperial slave and is now secretary to the emperor. This provides us with pretty informal but eminently practical information, giving it a personal touch that is otherwise missing from most standard guides or history books.

The entire book is written in a colloquial and easy-to-read manner, full of funny and amusing touches. That does not mean it is lightweight, as the depth of knowledge of the author is clearly in evidence, and there is plenty of factual historical information included as well. But it is seamlessly incorporated into the various chapters, and it does not feel heavy or dry.

The book is divided up into chapters, each one covering one of the basic topics. There is an introduction of two chapters offering a summary of the basic history of Rome up to that point, and another one offering more detailed information about the situation in 95 CE. The other chapters discuss subjects such as social structure, family, clothing, accommodation, shopping, food and diet, entertainment, health and medicine, work, warfare, religion and beliefs, law and order, and politics. The end matter of the book includes the bibliography and index already mentions, as well as a section of acknowledgements and one of notes corresponding to each chapter. I’ve already said I’m not an expert, although I’ve read a few books set in Ancient Rome, and, like most people, watched a few movies and series, but I have to admit I learned many details I had no idea about, and I got a much clearer sense of what life was like on a day to day basis for all the people living in Rome, and not only the kings and emperors.

People who prefer to make sure they like the style of writing before going ahead with a purchase can check a sample online. Just in case, I´m sharing a few snippets here, that I found amusing/intriguing.

 ‘Most of Rome is propped up with planks to stop it falling down’ comments the poet, Juvenal, drily. Even Cicero, who presumably could afford a decent block, complained that two of his invested rental properties had collapsed.

 Demolishing this palace was a gesture by Emperor Vespasian that he was going to give back to the people, rather than taking from them. The Jewish Wars having just been settled meant that Vespasian, rather handily, had a lot of booty and a lot of slaves to build his grand edifice.

 Did you know? The Roman punishment for patricide is most bizarre. The culprit was sewn up in a leather sack with a dog, a monkey, a snake and a cockerel, then rolled into the river.

 This is an informative and entertaining book, offering quite a novel way to learn about Ancient Rome to those who aren’t fond of standard history books or prefer an informal and bite-sized approach. I recommend it to those interested in the topic and looking for a starter text, and also to people looking for a gift that combines educational value and amusement. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Rosie and the author for this book, thanks fo all of you for reading, and remember to keep safe, keep laughing, and if you’ve enjoyed it, you know what to do. ♥

 

Categories
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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