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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog ALWAYS THE DEAD by Stephen J. Golds (@SteveGone58) (@RedDogTweets) A noir/pulp semi-fictional novel, dark, politically incorrect, and just perfect. A gem #Bookreview #noir

Hi all:

I am republishing the post about this novel because quite a few people showed their interest, but the book had been removed by the time my review was published. As I’ve been informed it is available again, and it has also changed covers, here I am sharing it again. 

What follows is my original post:

I bring you an author totally new to me today, although he writes as if he was a pulp-fiction author from the forties or fifties, so, not for everyone, but a fabulous book.

Always the Dead by Stephen J. Golds 

“Dare you read ‘Always the Dead’?

“I dared and I’ve been left reeling.

“This is the noirest of noirs. Truly shocking. Almost a horror novel as much as a thriller.

“Old school. Non PC. Violent. Vicious.

“From the gut-wrenching prologue, through the pornography of war, and the cracked psyche of PTSD, author Stephen Golds never pulls a punch. Neither does his black-hearted protagonist, Scott Kelly. Yet, amidst all the blood and guts and shit and vileness, is a dream-like use of imagery and language rare in stories like this.

“And the search for the woman he loves is as brutal as the language. Tainted love!

“Now I need a lie down!”

— Tina Baker, author of Call Me Mummy.

Los Angeles, California. 1949.
Scott Kelly is a World War Two Marine veteran and mob hitman confined to a Tuberculosis sanatorium suffering from consumption, flashbacks and nightmares from his experiences of The Battle of Okinawa and a botched hit for Bugsy Siegel.
When his movie actress girlfriend disappears, he bribes his way out of the sanatorium to search for her.
What follows is a frantic search, a manic murder spree, stolen contraband, and a briefcase full of cash.
A story that stretches from the war-torn beaches of Okinawa, all the way to the playground of the rich and famous, Palm Springs, California.
An exploration into the depths of L.A crime, PTSD, and twisted love.
A semi-fictional novel based around the disappearance of Jean Spangler.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09JKZXZ9V/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09JKZXZ9V/

https://www.amazon.es/dp/B09JKZXZ9V/

Author Stephen J. Golds

About the author:

Stephen J. Golds was born in London, U.K, but has lived in Japan for most of his adult life. He enjoys spending time with his daughters, reading books, traveling, boxing and listening to old Soul LPs. His novels are Say Goodbye When I’m Gone (Red Dog Press) Always the Dead (Close to the Bone) Poems for Ghosts in Empty Tenement Windows and the forthcoming collection Love Like Bleeding Out With an Empty Gun in Your Hand.

https://www.amazon.com/Stephen-J-Golds/e/B08TX1Q8TM/

My review:

I thank the publisher for providing me an ARC copy of the book, which I freely chose to review.

The author, whose work I’d never read before, describes his book as a semi-fictional novel, and it is true that the details behind the disappearance of Jean Spangler shared in the novel correspond to those available in what seems to be an open case still. It is also, as many of the reviewers have said, a noir novel, a very dark one, taking us back to the pulp fiction novels of the thirties, forties, and fifties, more Mickey Spillane than Dashiell Hammet, although the obsession of the main character with Jean (his ‘twisted love’, quoting from the description) brought to mind many of the authors and the films of the period, James M. Cain included. Some readers might be more familiar with some film-noir movies based on those novels (The Postman Always Ring Twice, D.O.A, Kiss Me Deadly…) and also with some later neo-noir films (I kept thinking of Chinatown, but films adapting more recent novels set in the same period, like L.A. Confidential share in the same aesthetics and themes).

The plot seems pretty straightforward. A hitman (hoodlum, heavy, enforcer, or whatever term you prefer), Scott Kelly —seriously ill with tuberculosis and confined to a sanatorium in L.A.—, discovers that his on-and-off girlfriend (an aspiring actress, starlet, and good-time gal) has gone missing. Despite the risk to his health, he blackmails his way out of hospital and starts a desperate race against time (he becomes increasingly sick as time passes) to try to find her. A reviewer mentioned D.O.A. and there are similarities. There, the detective is fighting to try to find an antidote against a poison running through his veins before it kills him; here, Kelly is dying of his illness, that’s eating his lungs. If that wasn’t enough of a challenge, he also suffers from PTSD (he fought in Okinawa during WWII, and saw pretty horrific things, as his flashbacks make only too clear, and to those experiences, he has added some recent traumas related to his work as a hitman, which only make matters worse). He follows some wrong clues and there are plenty of red herrings and incorrect information that keep making him waste more and more of the little time he has left. As it corresponds to the genre, there are plenty of nasty characters, betrayals, corrupt policemen, mafia bosses, illegal businesses (drugs), combined with memories of his past (good and bad), from his childhood in Ireland (before his family emigrated to the USA) and later in America, to the war, his marriage and divorce, his relationship with Jean, and some of his jobs for the mob. Although the story itself is fiction, many of the characters that make an appearance existed in real life and were involved (or at least were people of interest) in the case (even Kirk Douglas gets a mention).

The story is told in the first-person by Scott, and his is a very harsh, cynical, and bitter voice, although he can be lyrical and beautifully descriptive when it comes to thinking about Jean, their love story (that is not without its very dark moments), and also some of the good old times (although there aren’t many). As usual for this genre, he is sharp and articulate, although in his case this is fully justified, as he loved books and had planned to go back to school and become a writer when he returned from the war, although fate had other ideas. The chronological narrative, following Kelly’s investigation, is disrupted by detailed and beautifully descriptive (although often horrific) flashbacks of his war experience and other events, and these episodes become more and more prominent as his health deteriorates. Kelly is not a character easy to like. Quite the opposite. For me, it was a bit of a process. To begin with, we learn that he is suffering from PTSD, is very ill, and his girlfriend has disappeared, so it was inevitable to feel sorry for him. But as we get to follow him, see how he behaves and interacts with others, and get to experience more and more of his flashbacks (some that seem to put into question his own discourse and his self-perception), it becomes more and more difficult to find anything positive in him (other than his sheer determination to get to the end of his investigation). Before we reach the end, we get glimpses of a different Scott, buried deep behind his bravado and his hard exterior, but I wouldn’t go as far as to talk about redemption. I’ve never minded having a ‘bad’ character as the protagonist of a novel, as long as s/he is interesting and consistent, and Kelly fits the bill. Some of the other characters aren’t quite as complex as Kelly, although Golds always adds some details that make them memorable, and if I had to choose one of the characters as my favourite, it would have to be Rudy, the driver for a mob boss. He is, in many ways, the kind of person Kelly would have become if he hadn’t jumped in at the deep end, although… (Sorry, I’ll leave it there to avoid spoilers). As for Jean… She is a bit like Laura, the protagonist of the 1944 Otto Preminger film of the same name: each person who talks about her seems to have a different opinion of her, and we get a variety of versions: harlot, loving, manipulative, talented, beautiful, disloyal, caring, greedy… She combines the two typical images of the women in film-noir, the virginal maiden, and the deadly femme-fatale. Who she really was is something left open to interpretation, as we never get to hear her own voice directly. In a way, she is a figure that resists all interpretations, at least those of the men who knew her, and, in some cases, thought they were in love with her. What made her so alluring? Was it her skill at becoming the woman each one of those men wanted or needed? Perhaps.

I’ve referred to Kelly’s narrative voice, and the writing reflects perfectly his persona. I’ve seen the novel described as ‘retro-noir’, and if one didn’t know this had been just published, it would be difficult to tell that this wasn’t written in the historical period is set in. That means the book does not adapt or adopt current p.c. standards. Quite the opposite. There are abusive epithets used to describe all races and ethnic minorities (I kept thinking about Roth’s The Human Stain and the incident that triggers that story, because yes, that is one of the words used here as well, but in this case intentionally as a slur, even if the protagonist doesn’t see it that way), there is violence galore (in the current narration but also, and much more disturbing at times, in the episodes Kelly experiences in flashback), and it’s difficult to think of a possible trigger not included in this novel (I can’t remember specific episodes of harm to animals, but, otherwise, there is domestic violence, murder, rape, children’s deaths, various forms of abuse… You name it, it’s likely to be there). So, be warned. It is by no means an easy read. On the other hand, it is very well-written. The descriptions of the flashbacks are cinematic (unfortunately, in some cases, and I think that although this would make a great movie, it would require a very strong stomach to watch it) and the author manages to make us see and feel all the experiences as if we were there (even his illness); there are some exquisite reflections and use of lyrical language at times; some insightful and wise passages; some witty and darkly humorous asides; some fantastic dialogue; there is a beautiful symmetry in the overall story, and an underlying sense of fate/karma at work, that I really liked.

I loved the ending (I’m referring to the epilogue, although the ending itself makes perfect sense as well, and it is, perhaps, even more in keeping with the genre), but I can’t say anything else without revealing too much.

I’ve selected a few fragments from the novel, although, as usual, I recommend prospective readers to check a sample to see if the writing style fits their taste (although the above warning applies here as well, because the novel jumps straight into a flashback, so there is nothing gradual about it):

Pulling a trigger on people tends to change your world view. Conversation and small talk can be difficult and seem altogether worthless when you have seen how easily the human body comes apart, how simple it is to switch someone’s lights out.

One night I sat at the dining table until the early hours of the morning, listening to the sounds of the emptiness. I realized that I had survived the war only by returning as a ghost. A deal I’d made with the devil. A ghost that haunted my own home.

I listened to the sound of her high heels as she walked down the green tiled floor to the front entrance, thinking to myself that the women who are the best at walking away are always the ones you need the most.

Dexter was the kind of guy who constantly wrote checks with his fat mouth that his weak spine couldn’t cash.

This is a great semi-fictional historical novel, retro-noir, that I recommend to anybody who loves the original noir and pulp-fiction stories (that had their heyday from the thirties to the fifties of the XX century in the United States), films, or later neo-noir reimaginings, and don’t mind the dark aspects and conventions of the genre. This is not a novel adapted to current writing practice or sensibilities, and I’d recommend caution to anybody who is looking for a light, feel-good, and politically correct reading experience. The writing and the characters are first class, and the novel pulls no punches, so if you’re ready for a memorable reading experience and are not worried about the less savoury aspects of the plot and use of language, jump right in. I intend to investigate Gold’s writing further, that’s for sure.

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

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog I’LL PRAY WHEN I’M DYING by Stephen J. Golds (@SteveGone58) The best fictional depiction of OCD I’ve ever read. Hard-hitting, tough, and non-PC. Fabulous #OCD #noir

Hi all:

I’ve caught up with an author many of you felt curious about when I first reviewed one of his novels.

I’ll Pray When I’m Dying by Stephen J. Golds

I’ll Pray When I’m Dying by Stephen J. Golds

DO ALL SONS BECOME THEIR FATHERS?

Ben Hughes is a corrupt Boston Vice Detective and bagman for the Southie Mob.
Already desperately struggling with obsessive compulsions and memories of a traumatic childhood, his world begins to fall apart at the seams, triggered by the photograph of a missing child in the newspaper and the anniversary of his father’s death twenty years earlier.

‘I’LL PRAY WHEN I’M DYING’ IS THE STORY OF A BAD MAN BECOMING WORSE…

https://www.amazon.com/Ill-Pray-When-Im-Dying-ebook/dp/B096KM1384/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ill-Pray-When-Im-Dying-ebook/dp/B096KM1384/

https://www.amazon.es/Ill-Pray-When-Im-Dying-ebook/dp/B096KM1384/

Author Stephen J. Golds

About the author:

Stephen J. Golds was born in London, U.K, but has lived in Japan for most of his adult life. He enjoys spending time with his daughters, reading books, traveling, boxing and listening to old Soul LPs. His novels are Say Goodbye When I’m Gone (Red Dog Press) Always the Dead (Close to the Bone) Poems for Ghosts in Empty Tenement Windows and the forthcoming collection Love Like Bleeding Out With an Empty Gun in Your Hand

https://www.amazon.com/Stephen-J-Golds/e/B08TX1Q8TM/

 My review:

I was offered an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

I read a review Always the Dead by Stephen J. Golds a few months ago (you can check my review here), loved it, and when I shared my review on my blog quite a few people were intrigued and interested. Unfortunately, there were problems with that particular edition of the book, and it was removed from sale, but that didn’t diminish my interest and enthusiasm. Quite the opposite. Evidently, when I was given the opportunity to review a new novel by the same author, I couldn’t resist. And let me tell you, wow!

 Many of my comments about the previous novel apply here as well. This novel is darker than noir, harder than hard-boiled, and the characters are true bad-asses, but they are far deeper and better drawn than most bad characters are in novels. I have said, more than once, that I don’t need the protagonist of the books I read to be good to feel engaged and to be able to root for them, and I have always had a bit of a soft spot for anti-heroes and unusual main characters. We might not like to be reminded that we all have a dark side, and that we can do bad things as well (sometimes with the best of intentions, sometimes not so much), but as long as the characters’ behaviour can be understood at a certain level, and we can follow their journey and understand their motivations, no matter how little I like what they do, I’m happy to read about them. In the author’s note, at the end of the book, he explains that he decided to write this book because bad characters are always the antagonists, and very often we never get to understand why they do what they do; they are simply there as a foil to test the hero, a difficulty to be overcome, and he felt they should be given a chance.

Although the main protagonist of the novel is Ben Hughes, a British man who emigrated to the US (Boston) with his mother when he was quite young, the book also tells the story of his father, William, who was in the Met police, in London, and who, like his son, had survived a war but had been badly affected by it. The action and the setting are split into two timelines, separated by twenty years, as the father’s story takes place in 1926 and the son’s in 1946, in the days coming up to the 20th anniversary of his father’s death. There are many similarities in the behaviour of the two characters (Ben is a detective working for the Boston Police Department, but he has other fairly illegal occupations, and, in fact, he uses his job as a cover for the least pleasant aspects of his personality), and violence, corruption, threats, blackmail… are ways of life for both. But while we get much more of an insight into Ben’s motivations and traumas (growing up with a father like his was incredibly tough, and we get a first-row seat into some of his experiences through his memories and flashbacks of his childhood abuse), we don’t get to know that much about William. We don’t know anything about his life before the war, although we learn about a French woman’s betrayal and about the way the war seems to have dehumanised him, as he perceives violence now as an expedient way to get whatever he wants (because at least he is using it now in his own benefit, rather than for free at the behest of others). His alcohol consumption doesn’t help matters either, and he is unrepentant.

His son, Ben, suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and, as a psychiatrist and a reader, I must say I have never come across such a vivid and accurate depiction of the condition. The author explains that he feels this illness is always trivialized in popular media, and many aspects of it are never mentioned or delved upon, and he is absolutely right. I am sure many of us can bring to mind characters in books and movies who are supposed to suffer from OCD, but in most cases, it is only anecdotal, a minor hindrance, not something central to the character’s life. Although the story is told in the third person, Golds immerses us into the minds of the protagonists (we also get the point of view of some minor characters at times, but these are brief scenes, not quite as powerful or in-depth, although I particularly enjoyed meeting again a character from the other novel), and, in the case of Ben, that makes for a very uncomfortable experience. Beyond his actions (that yes, are extreme and hard, to say the least), we are locked inside a mind that is forever trying to fight repetitive thoughts (of contamination, paranoid thoughts, suspicions, guilt…), compulsions, engaging in routines (counting, repeating a poem) to guard against evil and doom, trapped by magical thinking… It is not surprising that his mind unravels as more and more of the things and people who moored him into his precarious existence fail him, and he cannot retain any sense of balance or equilibrium.

The writing style, the repetitions, the interruptions, the combination of short, sharp, and quick sentences combined with beautifully observed (even when ugly) descriptions of people and places, recreate the workings of the main character’s mind and reminded me somewhat of stream of consciousness, a writing technique often used by modernist writers. Although there is plenty of action, a plot thick with events and characters (from the lowest of the low to the highest echelons of society), this is not an easy linear read. The story follows a chronological order, alternating the chapters set in the 1920s and the 1940s, but there are many intrusions and flashbacks that can be disorienting and make the readers empathise (if not sympathise, as that is more difficult) with Ben. He is not good, as I said, and nobody could easily condone his actions, but he is trying to hold on to his soul and wants to help a child to make amends, as he wishes someone would have helped him all those years back. Even though the psychological insight into the protagonist’s psyche is one of the strongest points of the novel, the author also captures beautifully the atmosphere of both periods, the interactions between the characters, the way the gangs and tribes communicate, and the struggle for power (both inside and outside the law). I recommend people thinking of reading it to check a sample of the book, but I strongly advise giving it a good chance and not reading only a few lines, as it wouldn’t give them a fair idea of what the experience is like.

Despite my recommendation, I had to share a few lines with you:

Here, Ben describes how he feels when he sees a picture of a missing boy:

Something like a bullet in the back. A blade across the throat. A headache like a hammer blow to his skull and the start of a fever boiling underneath his clothes.

Distorted images passing through his head like the headlights of a speeding hearse down a black street.

And here, one of Ben’s routines:

He counted his steps in groups of seven. He reached the bakery in four sets. Four was an unlucky number. He turned around and walked back seven spaces, turned and walked back. Cancelling out the bad. Creating order….. He counted the steps up to her door. Twelve. Went back over two steps to make it fourteen. Two sets of seven. Felt relief.

As I had warned in my previous review, this is a novel that would fit perfectly in the publishing world of the era the main action is set in (the late 1940s), but not so much now. I had warned about possible triggers there, and here we have them all as well: brutal violence, corruption, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault… and anybody who might feel offended or upset by any of these subjects or preferring to read a book that fits into current political correctness sensibilities should be advised to stay away. This is a hard book, not without its moments of humour (very, very dark), and it deals in serious subjects, which, unfortunately, no matter how much the language we use has changed, are still present and as disturbing and ugly as ever. If you dare dig deep into the mind of a bad man and are not worried about, perhaps, getting to understand him and feel sorry for him, go on and read. Luckily, I have another one of Golds’ books waiting for me.

Thanks to the author for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to stay safe, keep reading, have as much fun as you can, and keep smiling!

 

 

 

 

 

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE WHISTLING by Rebecca Netley (@PenguinUKBooks) (@Rebecca_Netley ) A new Gothic author has arrived. Hooray! #TheWhistling

Hi all:

I think this novel by a new author might become a favourite for many readers.

The Whistling by Rebecca Netley

The Whistling by Rebecca Netley

If you can hear it, it’s already too late . . . SEND SHIVERS DOWN YOUR SPINE WITH THIS CHILLING AND GRIPPING STORY SET IN A FAR-FLUNG SCOTTISH ISLAND

**THE PERFECT HALLOWEEN READ AS THE NIGHTS DRAW IN**

‘Chills you to your bones . . . More unsettling and beautiful than you can imagine’ 5***** READER REVIEW
________

On the remote Scottish island of Skelthsea, Elspeth Swansome takes on a position as a nanny.

Her charge, Mary, hasn’t uttered a word since the sudden death of her twin, William – just days after their former nanny disappeared. But no one will speak of what happened to William.

Just as no one can explain the lullabies sung in empty corridors.
Nor the strange dolls that appear in abandoned rooms.
Nor the faint whistling that comes in the night . . .

As winter draws in, Elspeth finds herself increasingly trapped.

But is this house haunted by the ghosts of the past?

OR THE SECRETS OF THE LIVING . . . ?
________

Chilling, twisty and emotionally gripping, The Whistling is an atmospheric page-turner with shades of the classics, yet a unique character of its own, perfect for fans of Susan Hill and Laura Purcell

‘I was sucked in from page one and read it in one fell swoop’ 5***** READER REVIEW

‘A wicked twist . . . brilliant, scary, clever. Horror writing at its best’ 5***** READER REVIEW

‘A great story with moments of heart-grabbing terror, beautifully written’ 5***** READER REVIEW

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08XB7M4N7/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08XB7M4N7/

https://www.amazon.es/dp/B08XB7M4N7/

Author Rebecca Netley

About the author:

Rebecca Netley grew up as part of an eccentric family in a house full of books and music, and these things have fed her passions. Family and writing remain at the heart of Rebecca’s life. She lives in Reading with her husband, sons and an over-enthusiastic dog, who gives her writing tips. The Whistling is Rebecca Netley’s debut novel and won the Exeter Novel Prize.

 My review:

I thank NetGalley and Penguin Michael Joseph UK for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review. This is the debut novel of the author, and it is likely that we’ll be hearing plenty from her in the future.

This is a Gothic novel, and although it is brand new, lovers of the genre will recognise many/most of the expected tropes and details they’ve come to love over the years: a remote and dark place (the imaginary Scottish Island of Skelthsea, which the author manages to make both, menacing and beautiful); a threatening mansion that becomes a character in its own right; a young lone woman, who has experienced much trauma and loss, arrives to the house and has to confront a less-than-warm welcome and some open animosity; secrets and mysteries everybody insists in keeping from the main protagonist; some eerie and difficult to explain events; some seemingly friendly people who offer to help, and others who seem intent on harming or at least obstructing the protagonist; “strange” children; plenty of alternative versions of what might have happened, some more difficult to believe than others; and a paranormal element to the story (or more than one), in this case related to the island’s ancestral knowledge/traditions (or superstitions?). Many of the reviewers mention some of the novels The Whistling reminded them of, and, for those who like to read both, the classics and more modern takes on the genre, this one fits into quite a well-known subgenre, that of the young woman coming to look after and/or educate the (usually recently orphaned) children of a fairly well-to-do family, who have been left in charge of a relative not up to (or interested in) the task. You’ll probably be able to come up with a few titles that would fit the description —films as well as books— although in my case, to begin with, I kept thinking of Henry James’s A Turn of the Screw, because the tone of menace and the emphasis on the previous nanny reminded me of that story, but… I will try not to reveal any spoilers, because despite the general sense of familiarity one experiences when reading the story, there are quite a few twists and turns, and plenty of red herrings to keep readers guessing.

This a very atmospheric novel, and apart from the actual paranormal element, there are quite a few other topics (some more habitual than others), that play a part in the story. There is grief; trauma; difficult family relationships; sibling rivalry; small communities and how they deal with outsiders; the role of women in society; poor mental health and how it was dealt with in the past; different kinds of love; duty, and feelings of guilt; ancient beliefs, tradition, and rationality; how vulnerable we are to suggestion, especially when we are alone and not on familiar ground… Although the novel stays close to the classic style, and I wouldn’t say it presents a totally novel take on the subject, the focus on the character’s past history and the amount of psychological detail it conveys give it a more modern feel.

It is difficult to talk about the characters without giving away too much of the story, but I will say that the protagonist, Elspeth —who is also the first-person narrator of the story— is a sympathetic character, and one easy to root for. She has lived through some pretty traumatic experiences, and we meet her at a moment when she has lost everybody and everything, and places all her hopes and dreams on this job, on her new charge, Mary, and on a new life away from her sad memories and experiences. As you can imagine, things don’t go to plan, but despite her fear and the threats and warnings she keeps getting, she sticks by the girl and gets to really care for her. What is quite extraordinary as well, in this novel, is how many of the characters share characteristics and are mirror images of each other or, perhaps, they embody different examples of the effects such traumas could have in the development of a person, depending on their previous personalities and circumstances. We have quite a few characters who have lost their parents, at a fairly early age; who have suffered trauma (physical, mental, or even both); who have been abused or have seen loved ones being abused or made a mockery of by members of the community they live in; who have had difficult relationships with siblings and have then lost them (and experience guilt); who have had to deal with a responsibility imposed on them by birth or society; who have nobody they can trust and have to keep quiet (figuratively or otherwise)… This background is shared by characters who (at least on the surface) are “good”, but also by some Elspeth suspects from the very beginning of being evil, which highlights the idea that both, nature and nurture, are equally important when it comes to the upbringing of a person (and this is further brought home by the many siblings who also populate the novel, and who tend to be completely different from each other).

The story is told by Elspeth, from her point of view, and that works very well to place readers in her shoes and make us experience things first-hand. It is also a great way to tell the story and to maintain the mystery, as we, like her, know nothing of the setting, and we discover it with her, slowly and gradually. There is some telling, as Elspeth gets increasingly curious and suspicious about what is going on, and she starts asking questions, but many of the other characters are very reluctant to divulge any but the most basic of information, and we only get to learn some bits of gossip and rumours for much of the novel.

I have mentioned how well the author captures the atmosphere, the way she uses the island, the house, the weather, to play with the protagonist’s subjectivity, and to increase the tension and the suspense of the story. There are vivid descriptions, but they never feel forced or excessive, and there are plenty of events and happenings to keep the action and the story moving. The story has three parts, and some reviewers complained that the novel, especially the first part, is quite slow. Most of them recognised, though, that this is in keeping with the genre of the novel. Personally, I felt it worked well, and the story didn’t drag for me. (People who are not used to the genre or to these kinds of books might feel it is too slow, but I don’t think it would work as well if it was any faster). The story picks up the pace as the warnings, threats, and worrying events pile up, and the clues to the mystery and the red herrings are nicely scattered around the book and will keep readers turning the pages, even if it is at a more leisurely pace than in modern mystery novels. Don’t hesitate to check a sample of the book if you like the sound of it, as you will get a fair idea of what the style of the whole novel is like pretty quickly.

To give you a taster, I couldn’t resist sharing a few passages. Remember, though, that I read an ARC copy, so there might be modifications and small changes in the final version.

I felt then not just the strangeness of the unfamiliar house but something else, a quality to the quietness that seemed unnatural, and experienced the tiniest nibble of some doubt. 

Perhaps, I thought, mourning could never be fully emptied. 

‘Some souls are made to be dark.’ She studied me with something like pity. ‘The world gives birth to both the viper and the lamb, and there are churches for each.’ 

The silence was as deep and still as distant galaxies. Every piece of my life came polished to diamond sharpness, fragments hurled at me with the speed of comets: the coiling smoke of Swan House, my mother’s face with death upon it, the warmth of Clara’s hand —no regret: my heart was as flat as paper.

What to say about the ending? It is all solved and all questions answered, and I liked it a lot. Most of the explanations are pretty rational and would fit into a standard mystery novel, but the supernatural also plays a part, as it should in this genre. Did I guess what was really going on? To tell you the truth, I was carried away by the atmosphere and the all-engrossing aura of the story, and I didn’t spend as much time as I would in a standard mystery novel thinking about the whos and the whys. I did guess right, though, most of the answers, although not all the details, and many of the detours and red herrings made me change my mind a few times. But, although not a standard mystery, for me that part of the story works well, and the ending is a happy one, given the circumstances.

Would I recommend this novel? Definitely for anybody who loves Gothic mysteries and fiction, particularly those involving a mysterious house, magnetic locations, young women, and children. If you favour a quick and fast story, and a modern style of writing, clipped and to the point, this might not be for you, as it is written in the style of the classics. I am not sure I would class it as a horror story (I didn’t feel scared, but I am not easily frightened), and although there are eerie moments, they are mostly psychological in nature (that does not mean there is no real danger involved, and violence makes an appearance, although mostly out of the pages and is not explicit or extreme), anxiety-inducing and suspense and dread are the main emotions. A child dies, and there are plenty of disturbing and disturbed characters and traumatic events, so people looking for a light read, or a cheery story might need to be cautious, although the story ends on an optimistic note. A great example of a new Gothic novel, with a likeable and determined female protagonist, with no romance involved (in the main story), and with mysteries and supernatural happenings taking place in a truly remarkable setting. I will follow the author’s career with interest.

Thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for the novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to keep smiling, keep reading, and to stay safe. ♥

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog AN UNLIT CANDLE by Caren J. Werlinger An inspiring and beautiful story about second chances and finding your true love #RBRT #LGTB

Hi all:

I told you recently when I shared the review of In This Small Spot, that the author was working on another story with the same setting and some of the same characters, and here it is.

An Unlit Candle by Caren J. Werlinger

An Unlit Candle by Caren J. Werlinger

The long-awaited follow-up to In This Small Spot

Patricia Horrigan is the eldest daughter of a family determined to gain entry into the upper echelons of Rochester society as the 1950s give way to the turbulence of the 60s. Born of an Irish father and a French-Canadian mother, Pip inherited the stubborn pride and fierce determination of both. With her life in the family business all planned out, she is most definitely not interested in throwing it all away to become a nun. But some calls will not be ignored, no matter how hard she tries. Fifty years later, she can’t help but wonder if her choices and sacrifices were worth it.

In present time, Lauren Thackeray has managed to put her life back together—in a manner of speaking. She has her weaving, her home, her chosen family, and she has the monastery and the lasting friendship of the nuns there. The one thing she doesn’t have, she doesn’t want. She won’t open her heart again after she barely survived the last time.

Gail Bauer is questioning her own vocation as an Episcopal priest. How can she minister to others when she’s not sure she believes anymore? In desperation, she flees, hoping to find answers.

In the shadow of St. Bridget’s Abbey, three very different women will need one another—to come to terms with their demons, to heal, and to rekindle the light that life has all but snuffed out.

https://www.amazon.es/dp/B09FQBKR9V/

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09FQBKR9V

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09FQBKR9V

Author Caren J. Werlinger
Author Caren J. Werlinger

About the author:

Bestselling author Caren Werlinger published her first award-winning novel, Looking Through Windows, in 2008. Since then, she has published sixteen more novels, winning several more awards, including the 2021 Alice B medal. Influenced by a diverse array of authors, including Rumer Godden, J.R.R. Tolkein, Ursula LeGuin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Willa Cather and the Brontë sisters, Caren writes literary fiction that features the struggles and joys of characters readers can identify with. Her stories cover a wide range of genres: historical fiction, contemporary drama, and fantasy, including the award-winning Dragonmage Saga, a fantasy trilogy set in ancient Ireland. She has lived in Virginia for thirty years where she practices physical therapy, teaches anatomy, and lives with her wife and their canine fur-children. 

Check out her blog: http://cjwerlinger.wordpress.com

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

 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 have read and reviewed several of Caren Werlinger’s novels (this is the fifth), and recently reviewed In This Small Spot, which also takes place, at least in part, at St Bridget’s Abbey and where we meet two of the protagonists of this story, As I loved it, I was eager to see what would happen here and who the novel would centre on, as there were a lot of characters I would have liked to learn more about.

As was the case in the previous novel, the action in this one is divided up between two timelines, both narrated in the third person, but from the point of view of the protagonists. One of the stories works, partly, as a prequel, as we learn the background story of one of the most important people in the Abbey, the Abbess herself, Mother Theodora (or, as we soon learn, Patricia, “Pip”, Horrigan), from the time she leaves school, determined to bring new ideas to her father’s business, in the 1950s, until the present day of the story. Her life is totally thrown into turmoil when she visits the abbey with Sister Ruth, a friend, and she is unable to ignore her vocation to become a nun. Once she enters the abbey, against her family’s wishes, she has to confront many things, about herself and those around her, and her story is also that of the abbey over the next fifty years. We get to follow not only what happens inside its doors, but also how the order and the people inside are affected by what goes on in the world and society at large, and also by the changes in the Catholic Church. The rest of the novel takes place a few years after the end of In This Small Spot, and we catch up on Lauren, a nun who had left St. Briget’s to live with the love of her life. She has settled into her new life, also pretty quiet, but a new person comes to disrupt her peace, Gail, an Episcopal priest whose own vocation is being sorely tested by several losses in her personal life that she finds extremely difficult to accept. How can she advise and console others in similar circumstances when she does not truly believe what she has been taught?

Some of the subjects that played a big part in the previous novel are here again: loss, grief, vocation, faith, but also the difficulty reconciling diverse calls, loves, vocations, duties, and deciding what is most important, reconnecting with your family, combining old traditions and calls to innovate, knowing when it’s time to move on, and giving yourself a second chance.

I loved getting to learn more about Mother Theodora. She is the guiding light of St. Bridget’s, and it was fascinating to get to learn how she got to be the person she is, and the hard times and difficulties she had to face to get there. I won’t go into details, but we get a good overview of life in the convent over the years and meet more of the nuns and learn about their roles and their stories. Her story exemplifies how much weight we can confer on other people’s words and opinions, and how sometimes people around us can inspire us and help us in unexpected ways, without expecting anything in return. I also came to understand quite well why Mickey, the protagonist from the first book, and Mother Theodora became fairly close friends so quickly, as there are evident similarities between the two women, their experiences, and their outlook on life, even if they eventually chose a pretty different path.

Lauren’s story turns, partly, into a second chance romance, both for her and Gail, although rather than a story of passionate young romance, this is more of a story of soul mates meeting and realising they are better together. Both have to change the way they think, and this is particularly difficult for Lauren, but I can say, without revealing too much, that this time I’m sure everybody will be happy with the ending. Although this is not a laugh-a minute story, not by a long chalk, it is a moving and ultimately uplifting story about finding your own place and your own family, wherever and whoever they might be.

I have mentioned the beauty and lyricism of Werlinger’s writing, and that is in evidence here again. I always feel sorry when I get to the end of one of her stories, as I love the time I spend with her characters, in the wonderful communities she creates and reading her gorgeous and moving prose. This time, the two stories and timelines complement each other well, flowing from one to the next and eventually converging in the present, at a pretty momentous point.

Many of the comments I made about the first novel apply here as well, and I won’t repeat them again. One doesn’t need to be Roman Catholic to enjoy the novel, and although some aspects of the story might appear very alien at first sight, quite a few of the experiences and turmoil the characters go through are pretty universal. Although I think the story can be read and enjoyed independently of the first, as one of the reviewers has said, the two novels feel like the two halves of a story, and I think they work better together, being read in the order of publication.

So, I will repeat my recommendation, with a few added notes. I recommend this novel to people who enjoy beautiful writing, reading about enclosed communities (particularly of women), those who might feel curious about monastic life, and anybody interested in characters going through major changes and crises in their lives. There are sad moments, there is talk about passion and desire, but nothing too explicit, and there are characters facing crises of vocation and faith, and getting over loss and grief. If any of these sound interesting, check a sample of the book, and if you like what you read, start with In This Small Spot and keep going. You’ll thank me later.

Thanks to Rosie and her whole team for their support, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to enjoy every minute, keep safe, and always smile. 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog HARLEM SHUFFLE by Colson Whitehead (@LittleBrownUK) Fabulous writing about 1960s Harlem (and much more)

Hi all:

I bring you a review by an author who has become very well known in recent years and has won two Pulitzer Prizes, although I had only read one of his novels before. But I am sure I’ll keep reading his books.

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

FROM THE AUTHOR OF THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD (Now a major Amazon Prime TV show)

‘Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked…’

To his customers and neighbors on 125th street, Carney is an upstanding salesman of reasonably-priced furniture, making a life for himself and his family. He and his wife Elizabeth are expecting their second child, and if her parents on Striver’s Row don’t approve of him or their cramped apartment across from the subway tracks, it’s still home.

Few people know he descends from a line of uptown hoods and crooks, and that his façade of normalcy has more than a few cracks in it. Cracks that are getting bigger and bigger all the time.

See, cash is tight, especially with all those instalment plan sofas, so if his cousin Freddie occasionally drops off the odd ring or necklace at the furniture store, Ray doesn’t see the need to ask where it comes from. He knows a discreet jeweller downtown who also doesn’t ask questions.

Then Freddie falls in with a crew who plan to rob the Hotel Theresa – the ‘Waldorf of Harlem’ – and volunteers Ray’s services as the fence. The heist doesn’t go as planned; they rarely do, after all. Now Ray has to cater to a new clientele, one made up of shady cops on the take, vicious minions of the local crime lord, and numerous other Harlem lowlifes.

Thus begins the internal tussle between Ray the striver and Ray the crook. As Ray navigates this double life, he starts to see the truth about who actually pulls the strings in Harlem. Can Ray avoid getting killed, save his cousin, and grab his share of the big score, all while maintaining his reputation as the go-to source for all your quality home furniture needs?

Harlem Shuffle is driven by an ingeniously intricate plot that plays out in a beautifully recreated Harlem of the early 1960s. It’s a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to Harlem. 

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08VNSGJK7/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08VNSGJK7/

https://www.amazon.es/dp/B08VNSGJK7/

Author Colson Whitehead

About the author:

Colson Whitehead is the author eight novels and two works on non-fiction, including The Underground Railroad, which received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Carnegie Medal, the Heartland Prize, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Hurston-Wright Award, and was longlisted for the Booker Prize. The novel is being adapted by Barry Jenkins into a TV series for Amazon. Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys received the Pulitzer Prize, The Kirkus Prize, and the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction.

A recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a MacArthur Fellowship, he lives in New York City.

https://www.amazon.com/Colson-Whitehead/e/B001IZ1GHW/

 Here you can read an interview he gave in Goodreads about this novel:

https://www.goodreads.com/interviews/show/1553.Colson_Whitehead/

 My review:

I thank NetGalley and Little, Brown Book Group UK for providing me an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I read and reviewed Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys (a Pulitzer Prize winner), loved it, and when I heard he had a new book coming out, I had to check it out. Well, it is different, that is true, but I loved it as well.

Most of what any prospective reader might want to know about this novel is well summarised in the last paragraph of the description:

Harlem Shuffle is driven by an ingeniously intricate plot that plays out in a beautifully recreated Harlem of the early 1960s. It’s a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to Harlem.

 

Perhaps ‘a hilarious morality play’ is a bit of an exaggeration (the hilarious part, although it depends on one’s sense of humour: I agree there is plenty of humour in the novel, but most of it is on the twisted and dark side of the spectrum), but the rest, pretty accurate.

I am not known for my brief reviews, but I’ll try to offer an overview of the most important aspects, in my opinion, and then add a few comments.

Whitehead writes beautifully and has a great skill in making readers feel as if they were walking the streets of Harlem in the 1960s, boiling with racial tension, social upheaval, corruption at all levels, but beauty and hope as well. He also brings to life a complex and engaging cast of characters who are interconnected in different ways. Family plays an important part in the story, not only the family tradition (the sins of the fathers, in this case), but also the relationship between Carney and his cousin, Freddie, who has a knack for getting into trouble. The overall novel is divided up into three crime-related episodes or novellas, several years apart, which illustrate the changes in the characters’ lives, in the society of the time, and also in New York and Harlem. In some ways, the two cousins seem to have taken two completely opposite paths: while Carney’s life is on the up, getting more successful with his business (and his ever-so-slightly crooked activities) as we progressed through the novel, Freddie’s lifestyle is deteriorating, and he is falling down a slippery slope. Or at least that’s how things appear to be on the surface, to those who aren’t in the know. The ending is fitting, and although some readers felt disappointed because they expected something different; based on its own merits, this is an excellent book. As one of the reviewers put it, this is perhaps not a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, but one can’t blame the author for wanting to write a different kind of book and succeeding.

I’ve said I wanted to add a few comments, and here they come.

The novel is written in the third person, mostly from Carney’s point of view, but also from some of the other characters, and that works well, as we get access to other perspectives and see Carney from outside, as others see him. There is a fair amount of telling in the story, because a lot of things happen to some of the characters who are not centre stage, and it is not unusual for the story to take detours and provide us with some background information that might appear surplus to the story at the time (but it rarely is). This is not a mystery, though, so it does not follow the standard format of the novels in that genre, and it is much more focused on other issues, like the location, the dynamics of the neighbourhood, the local politics, the social unrest, the race riots, the local politics, the corruption… It brought to my mind a fabulous scene from the movie Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens) —which I fervently recommend to anybody interested in heist movies or good movies in general— where an experienced con-man is teaching his apprentice the lay of the land. They are talking about tricksters, con-men, and crime, and the more experienced con-man tells the other that crime and tricksters are all around; one only needs to know where to look, and the camera picks up an incredible variety of crimes taking place around them. It is mind-boggling. And, indeed, although the action of the novel takes place in Harlem in the early 1960s, the events and the underlying politics could easily be transplanted to many present day locations. (It definitely made me think of fairly recent incidents in the city where I live).

I have mentioned the reviews. Apart from the issue of unmet expectations (and reading some other reviews it is quite evident that the author has been writing for quite a while and loves to try different genres, so this novel seems to fit in his overall oeuvre), some readers did not feel they cared much for the central character. Carney is neither totally sympathetic, nor the opposite. He protests too much at times, and although he has a strong sense of family, tries to protect his cousin (which costs him at times, but it is not all bad either), and loves his wife and children; he is no model citizen either. He does not fight the system as much as adapt to it and always makes sure he is in the best position to take advantage of any opportunities that present themselves. He is not a conventional hero, for sure, and there are secondary characters which readers like much more than him (Pepper, a totally uncharacteristic criminal type, is a favourite, and yes, I like him as well), but if we read the novel as a morality play, as suggested, then this is not surprising but totally understandable. Other points many reviewers make are the meandering nature of the stories, how often we get sidetracked, and also the fact that there is a fair amount of telling. That is true, but I didn’t mind at all. I was happy to follow the characters and the stories wherever they took me, but if readers are expecting a standard mystery or crime novel, where every little detail propels the story forwards and the prose is bare and streamlined, this is not their book.

If I had to find fault, or complain, I would say that I would have liked to hear more from and about the female characters in the story. Carney’s wife sounds interesting, and her job at a travel agency catering for African-American travellers made me think of Green Book, but we never see things from her perspective, and the same is true of Freddie’s mother, who brought him up almost single-handedly and also played a big part in Carney’s life, despite holding a job as a nurse at the same time. There are other women in the story, but none take centre stage, or only fleetingly.

Whitehead writes beautifully, and his words flow with ease and flair, no matter if he’s describing a place, immersing us in the internal thoughts of a character, sharing a bit of witty dialogue, or providing us an insight into the historical and social reality of a place and an era. I highlighted much of the book, and I must admit that his first lines are joining my list of favourites, and this book’s opening proves it again.

‘Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked…’

 As usual, I recommend people thinking of buying the book to check a sample first, if they aren’t sure it would be a good fit, but I couldn’t resist sharing some bits of it. Please, remember that I read an ARC copy, so there might be some changes to the final version of the novel.

 “Newspapers talking about ‘looting,’” Buford continued. “Should ask the Indians about looting. This whole country’s founded on taking other people’s shit.”

 These days he didn’t know where everybody’d gone. Jail, the graveyard, sure, but besides that. There were no pension plans for retired safecrackers, for heisters and hustlers.

 Pepper faced the man, with the resignation of a man discovering his toilet is still busted after the plumber had left.

 So, if you are looking for a novel by one of the most interesting novelists around, one who isn’t afraid to challenge and/or disappoint expectations, love unusual takes on recent historical fiction, enjoy books that don’t stick to a genre, want to learn more about Harlem in the 1960s, and love fantastic writing, this is for you. It is neither The Underground Railroad nor The Nickel Boys, but it is well worth a read.

Thanks to the author, the publisher, and especially to all of you for reading, commenting, hopefully liking, and sharing it with anybody who might be interested. And please, stay safe and keep smiling. ♥

 

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book promo Book review

#Bookrecommendation ALEJANDRO’S LIE by Bob Van Laerhoven (@bobvanlaerhoven) A story full of tragedy, wonder, and magic. Highly recommended.

Hi all:

I don’t bring you a review, strictly, today, because the author, whose work I’ve had the pleasure of reading and enjoying in the past, got in touch with me at an early stage of the book’s creation, asking for my feedback, so the final novel has seen some changes since, and I wouldn’t be able to offer a detailed account of it, but even in its early stages it was such an extraordinary book, that I had to share with you a few thoughts, and the details of it as well.

See what you think:

Alejandro’s Lie by Bob Van Laerhoven

Alejandro’s Lie by Bob Van Laerhoven 

Terreno, 1983, Latin America. After a dictatorship of ten years, the brutal junta, led by general Pelarón, seems to waver.

Alejandro Juron, guitarist of the famous poet and folk singer Victor Pérez who’s been executed by the junta, is released from the infamous prison “The Last Supper.” The underground resistance wants Alejandro to participate in its fight again. But Alejandro has changed.

Consumed with guilt by the death of his friend Victor, whom he betrayed to his tormentors, Alejandro becomes the unintended center of a web of intrigue that culminates in a catastrophic insurrection and has to choose between love and escape.

A love story, a thriller and an analysis of the mechanisms that govern a dictatorship, Alejandro’s Lie is a gripping novel about violence, betrayal, resistance, corruption, guilt and love. 

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09C225YJ2/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B09C225YJ2/

https://www.amazon.es/gp/product/B09C225YJ2/

Author Bob Van Laerhoven
Author Bob Van Laerhoven

About the Author

A fulltime Belgian/Flemish author, Laerhoven published 43 books in Holland and Belgium. Some of his literary work is published in French, English, German, Slovenian, Italian, Polish, and Russian. Four time finalist of the Hercule Poirot Prize for Best Mystery Novel of the Year with the novels “Djinn”, “The Finger of God”, “Return to Hiroshima”, and “The Firehand Files”. Winner of the Hercule Poirot Prize for “Baudelaire’s Revenge,”which also won the USA Best Book Award 2014 in the category “mystery/suspense”.
In 2018, Crime Wave Press published “Return to Hiroshima”, after “Baudelaire’s Revenge” his second novel in English translation.
His collection of short stories “Dangerous Obsessions,” first published by The Anaphora Literary Press in the USA in 2015, was hailed as “best short story collection of 2015” by the San Diego Book Review. The collection is translated in Italian, (Brazilian) Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish.
In 2018, The Anaphora Literary Press published “Heart Fever,” a second collection of short stories. “Heart Fever,” written in English by the author, is a finalist in the Silver Falchion 2018 Award in the category”short stories collections”. Laerhoven is the only non-American finalist of the Awards. The quality English book site 
Murder, Mayhem & More chose “Return to Hiroshima” as one of the ten best international crime books of 2018. In August 2021, Next Chapter published a third novel in English: “Alejandro’s Lie,” set in a fictitious Latin American dictatorship.

 https://www.amazon.com/Bob-Van-Laerhoven/e/B00JP4KO76/

The three novels by Bob Van Laerhoven I’ve read so far. All highly recommended

Here, my thoughts about the novel, and links to the reviews of two of his other novels:

Alejandro’s Lie is a lyrical novel that will resonate with readers familiar with the history of many countries (not only South-American) that have suffered under the rule of dictatorships and corrupt governments. A gripping plot, beautifully written, filled with characters trying to remain true to themselves in impossible situations while confronting evil, which will touch the hearts of all who read it. It’s a  fabulous story, full of tragedy, wonder, and magic. 

You can access my review of Baudelaire’s Revenge here.

And here, my review of Return to Hiroshima.

Thanks to Bob for thinking about me and sending me an early copy of his fabulous new novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to stay safe, and to keep reading, laughing, and enjoying every day of your lives. Take care!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog CENOTAPH by Rich Marcello (@marcellor) Recommended to those looking for beauty, depth, and meaning #RBRT

Hi all:

I am pleased to bring you the new book by an author I discovered thanks to Rosie’s team, and one that always manages to make me pause and think.

Cenotaphs by Rich Marcello

Cenotaphs by Rich Marcello 

AFTER A CHANCE MEETING, AN OLD MAN AND A MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN CHART AN UNCONVENTIONAL PATH FORWARD.
When Ben Sanna, a contemplative retiree with a penchant for helping people, and Samantha Beckett, a secretive New York City hedge fund manager, meet by chance in a small Vermont town, they enter into a tenuous relationship. Over several weeks, Samantha and Ben open their pasts inch by inch, sift through their futures consciously, and come to terms with the strength and depth of their bond. A meditation on redemption told in alternating chapters of musings and scenes, Cenotaphs is about platonic love; the ways we close ourselves off in reaction to pain and what happens when we open ourselves up again; and the deep, painful legacy of loss.

Praise for Cenotaphs
“Cenotaphs is a beautiful, timely, powerful novel. I read it slowly, savoring each scene. Its elegance, intelligence, poignancy, and humanity remind me of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.”—Mark Spencer, author of An Untimely Frost
“Cenotaphs
 is a masterful, moving meditation on loss and moving forward, and on the possibility of transcendence. But it’s the characters and their voices that will keep haunting me, so much so that I know readers will return to them time and again, as if they’re long lost members of a family.”––Rebecca Givens Rolland, author of On the Refusal to Speak
“Cenotaphs
 is an achingly poignant tale of love and loss, and for its protagonist Ben, how the two are intimately intertwined. In the course of this short novel, classic betrayal and unfathomable loss birth the most unexpected platonic love, and in doing so, show us the power of forgiveness. Marcello’s writing is elegant and lyrical and through a complex web of extremes, Cenotaphs cleverly reminds us that nothing is meant to last forever.”––Mark E Sorenson, author of A Restaurant in Jaffa
Previous Works
“. . .The Latecomers blends humor, suspense, and poetic prose while tackling big issues like graceful aging, chosen families, corporate ethics, personal fulfillment, and the unending quest for self-discovery, and brims with philosophical depth about the world and life’s possibilities.“—Indie Reader Approved––IndieReader
“Every once in a while, we get to read books that change how we see life. Rich Marcello brought such change in his literary novel, The Beauty of the Fall. This is for readers who love an intellectual read with profound life lessons and a host of inspiring characters.”––The Online Book Club

“While The Big Wide Calm can rightly be called a coming-of-age story, it is also very much a tale of a young woman who discovers how to truly love. . .Well-written, thought-provoking, and filled with flawed characters, it meets all the basic requirements for best-of-show in the literary fiction category.”––The US Review of Books

“The Long Body that Connects Us All is a powerful collection of poetry. If you want to think and feel about your life and future, read this book alongside a box of tissues. In sharing his poetry, which reads like a memoir, Marcello has really written on elements of the human condition that do connect us all. Rating: 5 out of 5 ––The Book Review Directory 

https://www.amazon.com/Cenotaphs-Rich-Marcello-ebook/dp/B097Q3WR2X/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cenotaphs-Rich-Marcello-ebook/dp/B097Q3WR2X/

https://www.amazon.es/Cenotaphs-Rich-Marcello-ebook/dp/B097Q3WR2X/

Author Rich Marcello
Author Rich Marcello

About the author:

Rich is the author of five novels, The Color of Home, The Big Wide Calm, The Beauty of the Fall, The Latecomers, and Cenotaphs, and the poetry collection, The Long Body That Connects Us All. He also teaches creative writing at Seven Bridges’ Writer Collaborative. Previously, he enjoyed a successful career as a technology executive, managing several multi-billion dollar businesses for Fortune 500 companies.

As anyone who has read Rich’s work can tell you, his books deal with life’s big questions: love, loss, creativity, community, self-discovery and forgiveness. His novels are rich with characters and ideas, crafted by a natural storyteller, with the eye and the ear of a poet. For Rich, writing and art making is about connection, or as he says, about making a difference to a least one other person in the world, something he has clearly achieved many times over, both as an artist, a mentor, and a teacher.

Rich lives in Massachusetts with his wife and Newfoundland Shaman. He is currently working on his sixth and seventh novels, The Means of Keeping and In the Seat of the Eddas, a follow-on to The Latecomers.

https://www.amazon.com/Rich-Marcello/e/B00G97QU16/

 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, whom I met thanks to the team, for this opportunity and for the ARC copy of the book.

I have read two of Marcello’s novels, The Beauty of the Fall and the Latecomers, and I have quickly become an admirer of his books, as he combines a lyrical and poetic style of writing with a choice of subjects that transcend the usual genre novel and look deep into the souls and minds of his characters.

This novel is not heavy on plot or action (some things happen, of course, and there are references to pretty major events that took place before, although I won’t spoil the novel for future readers). It is primarily about relationships between all kinds of people. The primary relationship we learn about is the one between Ben, a retired man who leads a pretty quiet life in a cabin in Vermont and spends his time sharing his advice and wisdom with others, and Sam, a thirty-something hedge fund manager who spends most of her time travelling and conversing with strangers. They meet by chance and quickly realise that there is a connection between them. Although in appearance they are as different as could be, they come to realise that they share some experiences and feelings. They both feel guilty of something that happened to their families (they were both brought up in the Roman Catholic faith, although neither of them are followers of any official religion now), and they find companionship and comfort in each other. Their relationship confounds many, but although Platonic, they know they have found something special in each other and treasure it.

This book reminded me of some of my favourite French movies, especially Eric Rohmer’s, that made you feel as if you were a privileged witness to the conversations between two characters (or a few characters), as they slowly got to know each other and to discover that they were meant to be with each other (or sometimes, to be apart but to gain some important insight from their time together). This is a book of communing with nature, with your dog, of going fishing, of building a cenotaph, of stripping your life of unnecessary things and acknowledging what is truly important, and of understanding that you cannot heal from your emotional wounds by hiding your true self and pretending to be somebody else. People can help you along the way, but you have to come to accept your pain, your loss, your responsibility and, perhaps, if you’re lucky, meet somebody else and make amends.

It is difficult to talk about the genre of this book, because other than literary fiction, it doesn’t fit in nicely under any other category. There is romance, but not in the standard sense. It is not strictly a self-help book, because it is a fictional story, but I am sure it will inspire many readers. It deals in loss, grief, guilt, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and other self-destructive behaviours, but also in music, nature, friendship, family relationships, spirituality, religion, love, and the meaning of life. It even touches upon the paranormal and metaphysics, so anybody who likes to reflect, analyse, and dig into the depths of what makes us human could potentially be a good match for this book.

I wouldn’t say I quickly warmed to the two main characters. I was intrigued and puzzled by them, as it was clear that there were many secret motivations behind their behaviours and their actions, but slowly, as I learned about them, I came to understand them a bit better and to accept them as human beings (with all their faults and their gifts). Although we don’t learn that much about the rest of the characters, I quite liked Scott (terrible mistake and all) and would have liked to learn more about Marianne, one of Ben’s friends but not around when we meet him. Zeke, the dog, was quite a character, and I enjoyed the conversations between Ben, Sam, and all of Ben’s friends, so different but so happy to share and engage in serious debate.

I also loved the lyrical quality of the language and the many thoughts and phrases that made me stop and think. As usual, I’d advise people thinking about reading it to check a sample of the novel to see how they feel, but I’ll also share a few quotations I highlighted. Please, remember that I am reviewing an early copy, and there might have been changes in the final version.

An aspiration for old age: When the weight lifts, float up over all the love harmed, and marvel that something as healing as forgiveness exists at all.

Sometimes an undercurrent joins two people right from the start.

My greatest learning is this —love people exactly where they are, flaws and all, for as long as they grace your life. We don’t get do-overs, do we?

We never really fully understand another human being, do we, only the ways they touch us.

The story is narrated in the first person by both main characters, and if I had to highlight one of the things that got me a bit confused, it was the way the book was divided up. Who was narrating each part was clearly indicated, but there were several parts I and parts II throughout the book, and some ‘chapters’ with their own separate titles. I think part of the issue might be due to reading an ARC e-book copy and not having a clear idea of its structure, but later on, there is a development in the novel itself that helps to give this issue a totally different perspective. So, although the novel is written in the first person, and I know there are readers who don’t appreciate that, there is a good reason for the choice, and the quality of the writing is such that it should dispel any concerns. (The author sent me an up-to-date version of the e-book, and I can confirm that the issue I had with the format and the titles of the chapters seems to have been a problem with the early copy, so no need to worry). 

I recommend this book to people who enjoy beautiful writing, who are looking for a different kind of story, one that makes you think, reflect and ponder, rather than turn the pages quickly to know what will happen next. To those who love to explore the reasons behind people’s behaviours, to look closely at their relationships, and to wonder about the meaning of life. And if you’ve never read any of the author’s books, you’re in for a treat and a delightful surprise. Don’t delay.

Thanks to the author and to Rosie and her team, thanks to all of you for writing, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling and safe. Big hugs!

Categories
Blog Tour Book launch Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

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

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

The Sound of Violet by Allen Wolf

The Sound of Violet by Allen Wolf

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

 PRAISE FOR THE SOUND OF VIOLET:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author, game creator, podcaster, and filmmaker Allen Wolf 

About the author:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 My review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Q&A with Author Allen Wolf

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

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

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

 Can you tell us about the book?

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

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

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

Where do you find inspiration?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your current creative influences?

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

 What did you learn when writing this story?

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

 What does the title mean?

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

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

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

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

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog APPLES NEVER FALL by Liane Moriarty (@MichaelJBooks) (@PenguinUKBoos) Family relationships, secrets, mysteries, and a lot of tennis #Booklaunch

Hi, all:

I bring you a novel that is officially launched today, 14th of September, by an author who has become even more popular and well-known recently thanks to the adaptations to the TV of her novels. I’ve read a few of her novels, and I can’t say I’m not surprised. And here comes her latest one.

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty 

#1 New York Times bestselling author Liane Moriarty is back with a novel that looks at marriage, sibling rivalry, and the lies we tell others and ourselves. Apples Never Fall is the work of a writer at the top of her game.

The Delaney family love one another dearlyit’s just that sometimes they want to murder each other . . .

If your mother was missing, would you tell the police? Even if the most obvious suspect was your father?

This is the dilemma facing the four grown Delaney siblings.

The Delaney family is a communal foundation. Stan and Joy are the envy of all of their friends. They’re killer on the tennis court, and off it their chemistry is palpable. But after fifty years of marriage, they’ve finally sold their famed tennis academy and are ready to start what should be the golden years of their lives. So why are they so miserable?

The four Delaney children—Amy, Logan, Troy, and Brooke—were tennis stars in their own right, yet as their father will tell you, none of them had what it took to go all the way. But that’s okay, now that they’re all successful grown-ups. Well, that depends on how you define success. No one in the family can really tell you what Troy does, but based on his fancy car and expensive apartment, he seems to do it very well, even if he blew up his perfect marriage. Logan is happy with his routine as a community college professor, but his family finds it easier to communicate with his lovely girlfriend than him. Amy, the eldest, can’t seem to hold down a job or even a lease, but leave it to Brooke, the baby of the family, to be the rock-steady one who is married with a new solo physiotherapy practice . . . which will take off any day now.

One night a stranger named Savannah knocks on Stan and Joy’s door. She says she chose their house because it looked the friendliest. And since Savannah is bleeding after a fight with her boyfriend, the Delaneys are more than happy to give her the small kindness she sorely needs. If only that was all she wanted.

Later, everyone will wonder what exactly went on in that household after Savannah entered their lives that night. Because now Joy is missing, no one knows where Savannah is, and the Delaneys are reexamining their parents’ marriage and their shared family history with fresh, frightened eyes.

https://www.amazon.com/Apples-Never-Fall-Liane-Moriarty-ebook/dp/B08PG6CKZJ/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Apples-Never-Fall-Liane-Moriarty-ebook/dp/B08PG6CKZJ/

https://www.amazon.es/Apples-Never-Fall-Liane-Moriarty-ebook/dp/B08PG6CKZJ/

Author Liane Moriarty
Author Liane Moriarty

About the author:

Liane Moriarty is the Australian author of eight internationally best-selling novels: Three Wishes, The Last Anniversary, What Alice Forgot, The Hypnotist’s Love Story, Nine Perfect Strangers and the number one New York Times bestsellers: The Husband’s Secret, Big Little Lies and Truly Madly Guilty. Her books have been translated into over forty languages and sold more than 20 million copies.

Big Little Lies and Truly Madly Guilty both debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list – the first time this was ever achieved by an Australian author. Big Little Lies was adapted into a multiple award-winning HBO series with a star-studded cast including Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon. Hulu is adapting Nine Perfect Strangers into a limited series starring Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy for release in 2021.

Her new novel, Apples Never Fall, will be released in September 2021.

Liane lives in Sydney, Australia, together with her husband, son and daughter. You can find out more at www.lianemoriarty.com and www.facebook.com/LianeMoriartyAuthor

https://www.amazon.com/Liane-Moriarty/e/B00459IA54/

My review:

I received a NetGalley ARC copy of this novel from Penguin Michael Joseph UK, which I freely chose to review.

This is the fourth of Liane Moriarty’s novels I read, and I’m sure it won’t be the last one. She has become well-known, justifiably so, through her writing, and more recently thanks to the TV adaptations of a couple of her novels (Nine Perfect Strangers is available already, and although I’ve only watched a bit of it so far, it doesn’t look bad at all).

If I had to characterise her writing, based on the books I’ve read so far, I’d say she excels at creating lively and totally credible ensembles of characters (sometimes small communities, sometimes neighbours, sometimes complete strangers thrown into a common setting, or, as is the case here, a family and their close contacts), dropping —bomb-like— a mystery in their midst, and observing what happens. The mystery side of the story has the added benefit of getting readers hooked into the story at the beginning, when we don’t know much about the characters yet, because as things progress, and although the author is good at keeping her hand hidden (red herrings, twists and turns, and deceptive appearances are skilfully employed), we get more and more involved with the characters and learn things that sometimes end up being much more interesting than the original mystery. That, of course, depends on the reader’s taste, and I’m a sucker for psychologically complex characters and for books centred on the connections and relationships between individuals going through difficult circumstances. Those types of books that don’t seem too heavy on plot, but they are like ducks on a pond: there is a lot going on under the surface, invisible to the naked eye. One has to be prepared to get wet and go diving.

The description above is quite comprehensive, and as I want to avoid spoilers, I won’t go into a detailed account of what happens. Joy Delaney, a woman in her sixties, a tennis player and a coach, and mother of four children, disappears on Valentine’s Day, after having an argument with her husband, without telling him anything and only sending an unintelligible text to her sons and daughters, which mentions going off-grid. We soon learn that a few months earlier they had a house guest staying with them, a young woman called Savannah, and the novel alternates the two timelines, both chronological: one following on from Joy’s disappearance, and the other going back in time to show readers what happened to all the members of the Delaney family after Savannah came into their lives. The story is narrated in the third person, but from different characters’ points of view, mostly the members of the family (well, not so much Stan, at least not in the beginning), but also from others who don’t play a major part, like friends of the family, neighbours, and also the two police officers investigating the disappearance. This provides us with a choral view of events, and we get very different pictures and perspectives of the family and their relationships as if we were watching them through a kaleidoscope.

This is a long book (and quite a few reviewers have commented that they felt it could have been edited much more tightly, but I enjoyed the pace and the amount of detail, so I won’t complain), which I would describe as a domestic drama/mystery, and there are lots of issues explored: how our perspectives, goals, and priorities change with time and age; changes in the role of women and their own perceptions of themselves in recent generations; who gets to define success and how much of an impact our upbringing has on our sense of self; domestic violence; anxiety; migraines; sibling-rivalry; the world of professional sports, tennis in particular; long-term relationships and marriages; empty-nest syndrome and the toll of retirement… Even COVID-19 makes an appearance. Personally, I was a bit skeptical of the inclusion of the coronavirus in the novel, but although I don’t think it was necessary, I feel it adds a little something to the story, so it’s fine with me.

The six members of the Delaney family provide readers with plenty of room for thought. I was much more intrigued by the parents than I was by their children (although I developed a bit of a soft spot for Amy and quite liked Logan, oh, and some of their partners as well), especially because of their relationship, which we get to learn plenty about. They had not only been successfully (?) married for over fifty years and had four children, but they still played tennis together (doubles) and won and had run a successful business together too. What a challenge! Unsurprisingly, we discover there are some cracks and secrets between them, lies (some they tell each other and some they tell themselves), some skeletons hiding in cupboards, and quite a few things still left unsaid. Although Joy is the centre of attention, for evident reasons, and she is quite a character, I grew fond of Stan as well, and the author does a great job of making us understand why the characters are who they are and do what they do, even when they do pretty unforgivable and appalling things. Savannah is also fascinating, though extreme, and although I am not sure I’d say I identified with any of the characters, I was hooked from the beginning by their interaction and had to keep reading to find out what glued them together and who they really were and would end up becoming.

I have mentioned that the story is told in two timelines, which eventually converge, and it is narrated in the third person from a variety of points of view. The changes in the timeline are clearly marked. As I have read an ARC copy of the book, I am not sure if the formatting of the final version of the novel will be very different from the version I read, so I can’t say if the different points of view will be evident to the naked eye. In any case, I had no problem working out whose perspective I was reading, so I don’t think readers need to worry unduly about that, although I advise them to keep their eyes open and not get distracted. Everything is there for a good reason, even if it might not appear important at the time.

The author’s writing is deceptively simple: she does not overdo her descriptions or use complex words but knows how to insert small details and motifs that create a vivid and compelling picture of the characters, their environment, and their personalities. Even the dog has her own mind. Moriarty knows how to drop hints and sow doubts in our minds, is an expert in leading us down the wrong path, and she takes her time building up the characters, the background, and maintaining the suspense. The reveals are well-timed, and although this is not a page-turner in the usual sense, dedicating plenty of time to exploring the characters’ motivations and going on detours to learn more about the past, the action flows well, and everything fits in beautifully at the end. Even though it does not lack a sense of humour, I found it, in general, more understated when it came to light content and funny scenes than some of her other novels, with many more quietly amusing moments than those that make one guffaw.

I enjoyed the ending and its several twists, although more than one big ending, this is a book that takes its time to tie all the loose threads, so although there are aspects of the novel (more to do with what will happen next than with the actual mystery) left to the reader’s imagination, I particularly recommend it to those who feel frustrated when any aspects of the story aren’t fully explained.

In sum, this is a good example of what Moriarty’s stories are like, full of psychologically well-drawn characters, an intriguing mystery, and a novel for readers who don’t mind taking time to learn about the relationships and interactions within a family or a community, particularly when there are plenty of secrets and lies to uncover. And those who love tennis will appreciate it even more.

Thanks to Michael Joseph/ Penguin Random House UK and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it or know anybody who might, feel free to like, share, comment, and always keep smiling and stay safe!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog BACKSTORIES by Simon Van Der Velde (@SimonVdVwriter ) Engaging, clever, informative, and beautifully crafted #RBRT #shortstories

Hi all:

I bring you a book that resists easy classification. It is a collection of short stories (sort of), non-fiction biographies (sort of), and also a quiz/challenge for the reader. Rosie never fails in her selection of reading material, that’s for sure.

Backstories by Simon Van Der Velde

Backstories by Simon Van Der Velde 

Can you find the famous person hidden in every story? And once found, can you understand them?

‘Ingenious idea, brilliantly executed’ – Daily Mirror

Backstories – ‘the stand-out most original book of the year’ – is a collection of stories each told from the point of view of one of my personal heroes, (or villains) back when they were just another Jew or black, or queer – back when they were nobody. Bullied, assaulted or psychologically abused, their road to redemption was never easy, and for some there would be no redemption, only a descent into evil.

These are the stories of people you know. The settings are mostly 60’s and 70’s UK and USA, the driving themes are inclusion and social justice – but the real key to these stories is that I withhold the protagonists’ identities. This means that your job is to find them – leading to that Eureka moment when you realise who’s mind you’ve been inhabiting for the last twenty minutes.

I should also add that this is a book that operates on two levels. Yes, there’s the game of identifying the mystery activist or actor, singer or murderer, but there is then the more serious business of trying to understand them. This in turn leads to the challenge of overlaying what you now know about these famous people onto what you thought you knew – not to mention the inherent challenge to your moral compass.

These are people you know, but not as you know them. Peel back the mask and see.

This book is dedicated to the victims of violent crime, the struggle against discrimination in all its forms and making the world a better place for our children. That is why 30% of all profits will be shared between Stop Hate UK, The North East Autism Society and Friends of the Earth.

Simon Van der Velde January, 2021

Backstories is published by Smoke & Mirrors Press.

MY BACKSTORIES QUEST

“Whatever happened to, all of the heroes?” The Stranglers 1977

was twelve years old when I first heard this song and although there was something in the feral tone that grabbed me, I didn’t really understand it. I do now. I get the angst and the loss and the emptiness, which is why, in Backstories, I aim to answer the question.

I’m not interested in simplistic tabloid truths. They clung on too long, drank too much, lost their looks and their charm and generally reminded us that we’re all getting older. That’s not what I want from my heroes.

What I want is to find the spark, to dig down into their pain, their passions and their imperfections, and show you our heroes as they truly are.

So join me on my quest. Let’s bypass the obvious, the tedious, and the dull, and brave the deeper, darker paths where the treasures can be found – and together we’ll uncover the fears and doubts that made our heroes what they were and perhaps catch a glimpse of ourselves along the way.

Whatever happened to all of the heroes? They turned out to be human beings, in all their diverse glory.

Simon Van der Velde January, 2021 

https://www.amazon.com/Backstories-Simon-Van-Velde-ebook/dp/B08R7P65Y3/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Backstories-Simon-Van-Velde-ebook/dp/B08R7P65Y3/

https://www.amazon.es/Backstories-Simon-Van-Velde-ebook/dp/B08R7P65Y3/

Author Simon Van Der Velde

About the author: 

Simon Van der Velde has worked variously as a barman, laborer, teacher, caterer and lawyer, as well as traveling throughout Europe and South America collecting characters for his award-winning stories. Since completing a creative writing M.A. (with distinction) in 2010, Simon’s work has won and been shortlisted for numerous awards including; The Yeovil Literary Prize, (twice), The Wasafiri New Writing Prize, The Luke Bitmead Bursary, The Frome Prize, and The Harry Bowling Prize – establishing him as one of the UK’s foremost short-story writers.

Simon now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, with his wife, labradoodle and two tyrannical children.

https://www.amazon.com/Simon-Van-Der-Velde/e/B08SKCFFNY/

 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 enjoy short stories, but recently I have not read as many as I used to, preferring to read novels that build up more slowly and give you the opportunity to get to know the characters and see how they evolve over time. So this was a bit of an unusual choice for me, but I kept reading intriguing reviews of this book, and after checking it out, I had to read the whole thing. And it was worth it.

I had never read anything by the author, although he has been writing for a while and his short stories have earned him a variety of awards and accolades, but I suspect this won’t be the last of his books I read, and he is already preparing the second volume of Backstories for publication.

It is a bit difficult to talk about this book in any detail without giving too much away. The author explains his goals and what the book is about quite clearly in his description, so I won’t go over it again. I am not sure that I would describe it as a collection of short stories. Some are biographical vignettes, moments in somebody’s life (or their backstories, if we like), where something momentous happened, or is about to happen (in some cases), while others fit in more easily with the standard understanding of a short story containing a full narrative. In some ways, I guess it is the reader’s job to complete the story, by guessing who the protagonist is and understanding how that snippet fits in with the rest of the person’s life, how significant or important it might be, and how much it reveals of what we know happened next to the person.

In some cases, we see a famous person (some are musicians, some important historical figures, some sports personalities, some less-than-savoury characters…) as children or very young adults, and the author cleverly creates a picture of who they were and how that relates to whom they will become. Sometimes, we see somebody on the verge of doing something that would change things forever, and at others, we get an inkling of what things might have been like if something hadn’t happened or circumstances had been different. One of the stories illustrated perfectly a quandary I’ve had for years about a historical figure as if the author had read my mind, but I’ll keep my peace about it as well.

There are 14 stories, tightly written, some in the first and some in the third person, and they move quickly, the style of writing easy but at the same time adapted to the personality, the era, and the location of the individual portrayed by each. Most of them are told from the point of view of the famous person, although there are some in which we see them reflected through somebody else’s eyes. It is very difficult to stop reading the stories, especially if you enjoy guessing games or quizzes, as one gets gripped by what is happening at the time and also hooked on trying to find who the person is. If you want to know how well I got on, yes, I guessed all of them (although in one of the cases I had only a passing acquaintance with the character, and I ended up checking to make sure), and some had me scratching my head until the very end or changing my mind several times as I read, while others I suspected from early on.

I enjoyed them all, in different ways (some because I felt the build-up of the situation, others because the story itself was moving and/or inspiring, some because I loved the protagonists, and some because they chilled me to the bone), and I think most readers will find some that work better for them than others, particularly if they admire some of the protagonists, but there isn’t a bad one in the lot. These are not sanitized and clean stories, and readers must be warned that they will find all kinds of violence, abuse, prejudice… depicted in its pages. The author has explained his reasoning behind his choices, and a percentage of the book’s earnings will go to good causes, so this is more than justified, in my opinion.

I recommend this highly enjoyable collection to anybody who loves quizzes, who has ever wondered what happened before historical figures or famous people became who they are, and particularly to those who prefer their reading short, crisp, and based on facts rather than fancy. And, if you like the formula, don’t forget that there is a second book coming your way soon.

Thanks to Rosie and her team for their support, thanks to the author for his book, and thanks to all of you for reading, liking, sharing, commenting, and for always being there. Keep safe and always keep smiling!

 

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