Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths: From Alexander To Hitler To The Corporation by Joseph Abraham MD

Today’s team review is from Olga. She blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Olga has been reading Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths: From Alexander To Hitler To The Corporation by Joseph Abraham

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I am writing this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team, and I thank the author for providing me an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

This is an ambitious book, and one that is not an easy read, but it is a necessary one for anybody who wants to look at the history of modern civilisation through anything other than rose-tinted glasses. The author refers often to the Emperor’s New Clothes’ tale, and it is very apt, although perhaps it is not always a case of the spectators knowing what they are watching but trying to appear honest and compliant, but rather that the stories weaved around the emperor have become alive and true in the eyes of those seeing him (or reading about him in this case), or perhaps it is a combination of both, a self-delusion helped by years of whitewashing the facts or putting a romantic spin on things that are anything but romantic.

I have long held a pretty negative view of many of the famous conquerors and civilizations in history, although I must confess that I didn’t know many of the facts and figures Abraham quotes, at length, in the book, and it makes for a terrifying read at times. Although he does not cover all historical periods and all empires (I suspect it would occupy many volumes, and it would be a truly harrowing reading experience), he does a good sweep from classic times to Vietnam, not forgetting Alexander, Genghis Kahn, or the Victorians.

If you want to get a more detailed sense of what the book covers, I recommend checking the ‘look inside’ feature on your favourite store, and reading the list of contents, as that contains a good description of each chapter, but it would be too long for me to include here. As an indication, these are the titles of the chapters: Prologue: Fantasy and horror, Chapter 1: Kings (the comparison with gangster is very apt), Chapter 2: Conquerors (who are characterised as serial killers), Chapter 3: Psychopaths (where he diagnoses successful conquests and the monarchy rather than only the individuals), Chapter 4: The Breeding Program (we are all descendants of the conquerors or of the compliant victims), Chapter 5: The Noble Classes (hierarchies always work to ensure their self-preservation and dominance), Chapter 6: Privilege & the Double Standard, Chapter 7: The Authoritarian Personality (where the author looks at issues of compliance and obedience in the masses), Chapter 8: The Atrocino (if the conqueror is the Atrox, now we have the big corporations and political leaders who don’t quite reach their level, but are toxic nontheless), Chapter 9: The Modern World (prosperity and modernity arrived when the old order was questioned), Chapter 10: The Ugly Truth (the true cost of civilization), Epilogue: Response (education and early intervention can help us avoid similar excesses in the future).

I am a psychiatrist, have worked in forensic psychiatry, and was trained into using the PCL-R (The Psychopathy Checklist Review, which the author mentions). Psychopathy is not a psychiatric diagnostic as such (a diagnosis of antisocial or dissocial personality disorders would cover many of the traits that score highly on the checklist, although not all, and traits of other types of personalities can also score highly), but it is used because it gives a good indication of the risk a person might pose. The highest the score, the higher the risk. Having worked and met some people with high scores, I can say I do agree with the author’s assessment in general terms, although with the caveat that the sources of information, especially for the historical figures of ancient times, are limited and biased, so we need to take it all with a pinch of salt, but Abraham makes a good case, for sure.

I have already said that I had long thought along the same lines the author expresses in the book, and the more I read, the more examples came to my mind, even if the author didn’t mention certain names many of us might think about when we read it. (I, for one, can think of many atrocinos that grace the news very often, both in my country, Spain, and at an international level as well).

I was intrigued by his comments about genetics and also about people who might fulfil the criteria for psychopathy (score highly in the checklist) but seem to have managed to control the most harmful aspects of their personalities. Evolutionary biology is not my area of expertise, but I felt that perhaps this aspect of the argument was less developed than some of the other ones, and I would have liked a bit more information, although I admit I would probably be in a minority here.

I also had some queries regarding his comments on compliance, because although I appreciate his overall argument, the validity of some of the psychological studies he mentions (Milgram still holds quite well, but Zimbardo’s not so much) has been questioned. (Last year I read and reviewed a book by Rutger Bregman called Humankind. A Hopeful History, where the author manages to put a positive spin on human being behaviour, and he does a good job of criticizing many of the negative studies).

Regarding the format, I am not sure footnotes and endnotes work too well in e-book format (and the end notes and bibliography occupy 14% of the content), so people who want to dig into it and not miss anything might be advised to consider a paper copy. The book also includes illustrations (some of them are as harrowing as the descriptions of violence in the book, if not more), and the notes and the bibliography will help anybody interested in researching the topic in more depth.

I highlighted a lot of content, and I advise, as usual, that future readers check a sample of the book to see if it suits their taste, but I thought I’d share a few random quotes to give you a taster:

Napoleón arrive in Egypt with a second army of scientists and historians. It is not surprising that innovation under his Empire produced far-reaching technical advances such as the modern ambulance, widespread inoculations, food canning, and others.

Napoleón was also a remorseless butcher.

The conqueror is a thug. Rationalizing his crimes is a variation on blaming the rape victim. If she fights back, he rapist claims he is perfectly justified in torturing and murdering her. It is a variation of the exploiter’s defense: “Now see what you’ve made me do?!”

We are always one demagogue away, we are always one angry, jaded electorate away, from letting Hitler sleep back inside the walls of civilization, assemble his brutalizers, and resume his slaughter.

One of the reviewers commented on the USA perspective of the book, and that is true. Not that the conclusions are not relevant to all countries, but some of the solutions and further advice suggested seem tailor-made for the United States, although the overall message is easy to extrapolate and adapt to other countries as well, and the individual insight provided is priceless.

This is one of those books that make us sad as we read them, because we know full well that those who need to read them the most are unlikely to do so, but Abraham holds no false illusions and is clear that the most entrenched radicals cannot be swayed by rational argument.

I don’t think one needs to be an academic to read and ‘enjoy’ (at an intellectual level at least) this book, but the amount of detail and the format might put some people off. Also, as I’ve said before, the book is not an easy read, and  it might not be suited for those who shy away from violence or descriptions of extreme and cruel behaviour. Other than the minor personal queries, preferences, and warnings mentioned above, the book is a gripping, thought-provoking, and informative —although somewhat gruelling— read. I learned plenty of new information that disabused me even more about romanticized versions of the past, and some of the comments about politics in general (the importance of not confusing right and left-wing politics with conservatism and liberalism, for example) were right on target. Highly recommended, but be prepared to be challenged and shaken.

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Xenophobia.  Racism.  Fascism.  Intolerance.  Inhumanity.  Coercion. 

Right wing populists increasingly draw attention around the globe, but the attention is misdirected.  The real problem is not the the authoritarian, but the authoritarian personalities who follow him.  If people do not blindly follow and obey the despot, he is irrelevant.

Why do we attach ourselves to demagogues and mountebanks?  Why do we defend even their most obvious hypocrisies and lies?

The answer is found in the history of civilization.  For the past 10,000 years, those who disagreed with the king or his nobles risked ruin and death. 

But that is only part of the answer.  The other part is that, despite our romantic traditions, kings and conquerors were vicious criminals.  They represent the most evil psychopaths, narcissists, and sadists in the history of humanity.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #BookReview of #Contemporary #Paranormal Drama Life After Alison by Bruce Aiken

Life After Alison by [Bruce Aiken]Life After Alison by Bruce Aiken

3 stars

Life After Alison is a contemporary paranormal drama set in the UK. It spans a period of thirty years and begins in 1991 when Alison realises that she is missing a few weeks of her life; then, when no one can see or hear her, she comes to the conclusion that she must have died.

Alison watches over her family as they grow up and changes occur over the years. She finds that if she blinks or goes to sleep then she can jump in time: hours, days and even years pass by. Life is lonely for Alison; she often has one-sided conversations, until she meets Jeremy, another ghost; he talks about some of his theories of this limbo state that they are both in. They become friends, meeting up again at intervals through the proceeding years.

Sometimes Alison’s family ‘feel’ her presence, but they never actually communicate with her verbally. As the story progresses Alison finds that she returns at poignant family moments, until she finally gets the chance to move on towards the bright light.

I liked the paranormal element of this story and my favourite parts were when Alison and Jeremy met each time; in fact, I wished that the author had focused more on this aspect of the story. I was less keen on the heavy use of dialogue to move the story forward, particularly when there was a lot of information in the dialogue which made it sound unnatural. There were also parts where I would have liked to see the female characters given more feminine traits; they often came across rather masculine in mannerisms and speech.

As a modern ghost story this was okay, but it didn’t grab me as much as I had hoped that it would.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

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Alison is thirty-six and life is good. She has a husband, who’s an English teacher at a local school and two young children, Claire who is nine and Martin six. And life would probably have continued to be good if she hadn’t died.Stuck in the limbo between life and whatever comes next, Alison watches over her family as they grow. Her death may have changed her, but it also changed the lives of her closest friend, Hayley, and her estranged mother – both vie to care for her children and husband. Alison hangs around for thirty-seven years. Sometimes laughing, sometimes fragile, occasionally frightened, often frustrated. She makes friends in this new after life and almost, but not quite, falls in love again.

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Life After Alison by [Bruce Aiken]

Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Near Future #Thriller The Last Tiger by @alavisher

Today’s team review is from Sue. She blogs here https://suelbavey.wordpress.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Sue has been reading The Last Tiger by Anthony Lavisher

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Following on the heels of the Covid19 pandemic, a feline ‘flu has been raging and claiming the lives of millions of domestic and big cats around the globe. It is believed that tigers are now extinct, but imagine if one had survived? How much money would that be worth to anyone who could lay claim to it?

Set in the near present, the action begins as Jon Galnia, a multi-billionaire nefarious business tycoon and Mafia Don, is on his private jet, about to crash over India, since its engines have failed due to suspected sabotage.

Shortly thereafter Jon finds himself stranded in the Indian jungle. His underhanded business dealings have made him enemies, and he suspects the Russians he had just been visiting are behind this attempt at his life. Or perhaps it could be one of the rival mafia families who would like him out of the way. He has plenty of time to ponder who might want him dead as he fights his way through the jungle in his inappropriate expensive clothing and shoes. 

The prose of this novel reads very smoothly as the jungle scene is set. There is a wealth of descriptive detail as Jon makes his way through the jungle:

Coloured birds swooped through the jungle, screeching warnings and flashing their long tails as they glided away from him. There were other sounds, too, and fleeting glimpses of agile, long-tailed and white-furred monkeys that leapt through the tree canopy around him and fell silent as he passed them by, watching curiously, as if to say ‘What are you doing here, pale face?’

Jon realises he must put aside thoughts of revenge for the time being and concentrate on his survival. Like most mafiosos, he is not a very likeable person. He is worried more about the compensation he will need to pay the widow of his dead co-pilot than whether anyone else survived, and he admits to himself that he barely ever thanks anyone. His billions have been accumulated by dishonest means.

The pilot Robert Williams has also survived as has Sara Gonzalez, the flight attendant. They are captured and held against their will by a group of violent mercenaries who they assume are searching for their employer, Jon.

Meanwhile a day later Jon falls down a steep jungle slope towards a stream, eager to finally drink and finds himself in the vicinity of a tiger. Probably the last tiger on Earth due to the deadly virus, which was passed onto felines by birds infected by avian flu:

Jon blinked, shaking the sun from his eyes. On the cusp of the jungle, beyond the creek, past the rocks and boulders, he could see the beast, laying in the shade, watching him with huge orbs of liquid amber.

The tiger’s foot is caught in a snare and he frees it but in doing so he is caught on camera. 

There is more to this situation than meets the eye and Lavisher shows his knowledge of the workings of Indian politics as we delve deeper into the background of the tiger’s planned capture and the no fly zone over the Madhya Pradesh. First secretary Aasim Rana has secrets he wants to remain hidden. Galnia may well have unwittingly just set the tiger among the pigeons, and messed up the Prime Minister of India’s best laid plans.

Jon the Don and the tiger are not the only predators in the jungle and not the most dangerous ones either. Someone is hunting both him and the tiger and if either of them gets caught it will not end well for them. The author builds the sense of apprehension expertly as Jon picks his way through the jungle looking for civilization, not knowing who is on his trail. Could it be people working for those who sabotaged his jet? Or something totally unrelated? Poachers angry that he freed their prize? The corrupt Indian government, unhappy to have interlopers in their cherished wildlife reserve? After finding signs of violence and murder, Jon is certain it is not a rescue party responding to the crash of his plane.

The plot thickens with the introduction of a large cast of characters, and the tension rises as we discover more about the political machinations driving this intriguing story. There are some brutally violent scenes to be aware of for readers who are faint of heart, but they are not gratuitous when in the context of a story concerning kidnap and starring mercenaries and a Mafia Don. If you are OK with such things then I would definitely recommend reading this thriller with its highly original premise.

5 stars

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Jon Galnia is a husband, a father, a Mafia Don, a man who believes that Fate and Destiny are two sides of the same fickle coin. Rich beyond his wildest dreams, his inherited empire expands beyond America, far beyond the streets of his bloody playground, currently far beyond the reach of the authorities desperate to pin even a traffic violation on him.

Fate is about to intervene.

Plucked from the sky by those who hate him, or perhaps by those who want what he has, Jon’s private jet crashes in central India, sabotaged by fate, though, perhaps, guided by destiny. Unbeknownst to him, Jon is about to play a daring hand in an even bigger power struggle, one that will shock the world and, perhaps more importantly, the self-centred, ruthless Don.

A tale of corruption, of adventure and heroism, The Last Tiger is a thrilling tale of one man’s quest for survival and his uncertain hand on the pages of history.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Of #HistoricalDrama The Moment by Douglas Kennedy #TuesdayBookBlog

The MomentThe Moment by Douglas Kennedy

4 stars

The Moment is an historical drama. American travel writer Thomas Nesbitt admits that he runs away from his fears; however, when a box is delivered from Germany, past memories come rolling back.

1984: Thomas is in Berlin writing about what it is like in the West, how the Wall dominates the city and what it is like to cross through Checkpoint Charlie to East Germany. He recalls his freelance work for a local radio service which broadcasts programmes knowing that they can be picked up in East Germany.

It’s at the radio station that Thomas meets Petra, a woman accused of speaking out against the East German state. She was imprisoned then sent to West Germany in a prisoner exchange agreement. They fall in love and plan to get married even moving to America, but Petra’s past catches up with them and while the Americans deal with Petra, Thomas is sent back home.

It has taken me a while to finish this book; like its title I had my ‘moments’ with it. Some I enjoyed, finding myself engrossed for a few hours, while at other times, the slow pace of the story dragged. It’s definitely memorable, the attention to detail created wonderful pictures in my head, particularly the contrasts between West and East Germany at the time. Then later after the Wall came down, we read some of Petra’s reflections; later still, we hear from a next generation German, who finds it hard to imagine a wall and a diverse split over a nation now joined as one.

This story made me think about its messages as well as being a good piece of cold war fiction. I’m glad I read it and I particularly enjoyed the author’s notes in the back explaining his story process.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

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Thomas Nesbitt is a divorced American writer in the midst of a rueful middle age. Living a very private life in Maine – in touch only with his daughter and still trying to reconcile himself to the end of a long marriage that he knew was flawed from the outset – he finds his solitude disrupted by the arrival, one wintry morning, of a box postmarked Berlin. The return address on the box – Dussmann – unsettles him completely. For it is the name of the woman with whom he had an intense love affair twenty-six years ago in Berlin – at a time when the city was cleaved in two, and personal and political allegiances were haunted by the deep shadows of the Cold War.

Refusing initially to confront what he might find in that box, Thomas nevertheless finds himself forced to grapple with a past he has never discussed with any living person – and in the process relive those months in Berlin, when he discovered, for the first and only time in his life, the full, extraordinary force of true love. But Petra Dussmann – the woman to whom he lost his heart – was not just a refugee from a police state, but also someone who lived with an ongoing sorrow beyond dreams… and one which gradually rewrote both their destinies.

In this, his tenth novel, Douglas Kennedy has written that rare thing: a love story as morally complex as it is tragic and deeply reflective. Brilliantly gripping, it is an atmospherically dense, ethically tangled tale of romantic certainty and conflicting loyalties, all set amidst a stunningly rendered portrait of Berlin in the final dark years before The Wall came down.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview of Superhero #Fantasy It Takes An Oni by Scott Rhine

It takes an OniIt takes an Oni by Scott Rhine

4 stars

It Takes An Oni is a superhero fantasy story. Solomon is a priest to a god of the underworld; he believes that he is a hideous monster, hiding his face behind numerous masks. He is a master of disguise, assuming a different persona on a daily basis.

The story opens with an elaborate heist at a vault held in the Smithsonian religious arts centre, which is jeopardised when high witch Delilah brings along her daughter. Morgan immediately recognises Solomon in his latest disguise, but she’s taken hostage when the robbery goes wrong and he must save her instead of the artifact.

Solomon has always been protective of Delilah and her daughters after she made a bargain with his god to save her first child. A few years later, while springing Morgan from her school with an expensive birthday gift and a trip to see a mixed martial arts fight, Solomon is caught by the witches. His penance involves wearing an ankle cuff which burns when he refuses to answer direct questions.

After the foiled vault heist Solomon has a new enemy; in his quest to retrieve the lost artefact he befriends a young man who is a wind spirit and with the aid of a network of informers and assistants Solomon plans his final task.

The opening chapters of this book were very intriguing and I enjoyed entering Solomon’s world. It is filled with a large cast of characters from a range of mythology and paranormal tales. Solomon is a deeply layered character who fills much of his life with good deeds to compensate for being the monster that he believes that he is.

The story continues at a swift pace, at times a little too fast as I sometimes struggled to keep up with the storyline; however, this was only a minor complaint. Also, Rhine uses a method of describing many of the characters as similar to a well-known person, often a celebrity, but some of these went over my head when I didn’t know that person, so I couldn’t then form a good image of the character in my head.

I liked this story for the mythological and paranormal themes, the pace and detail kept me interested and I would be happy to recommend this to fans of the fantasy genre.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

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An interesting monster…
For a hundred years, he’s stolen art and gems from around the world, and he can look like anyone. Now Solomon Oni has taken a commission to rob something of devastating power from the Smithsonian’s religious artifact vault. His only friend, other than a magical tattoo artist and the odd djinn, is a young misfit witch named Morgan. When supernatural thugs threaten her, he demonstrates just how much a former servant of the underworld can do to punish the wicked. Sometimes it takes a monster to catch a monster. Fans of Ocean’s Eleven and anime will enjoy this fantasy adventure.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #Shortstories Backstories by @SimonVdVwriter

Today’s team review is from Cathy. She blogs here https://betweenthelinesbookblog.wordpress.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Cathy has been reading Backstories by Simon Van der Velde

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4.5 stars

Backstories comprises fourteen intriguing tales of life changing moments in the lives of well known characters. The author has given his imagination free rein to pen concise but evocative descriptions, giving impressions, something that just might have some truth in it, of certain people before fame or notoriety claimed them. The twist being they are not fully named, in some cases not at all or not named as we might know them. It’s up to the reader to guess their identities.

Some are fairly easy, but I admit to not guessing a couple (Past Time and The Blank Face come to mind, even after a re-read. I’ll probably kick myself once I know who they are) which ramped up the curiosity factor. I could think of people they might be but no-one definitive. Each account was enjoyable to read and actually extremely plausible.

‘No doubt about it, he was a bright kid, talented even. He was quick on his feet and with his mouth too, and he could smack a baseball out of the park. But he was a Jew, and he was short. I mean like really short. The kid was the size of your average third grader when he was twelve years old. When he was taking those first steps towards manhood. When it mattered most.
And this was back in the fifties, with Sinatra top of the charts, John Wayne High and Mighty on the big screen and New York thrusting itself into the heavens, one skyscraper taller than the next. It was a one-size-fits-all sort of time, but it didn’t fit him.’

The above quote is the beginning of the first story and it wasn’t until the end I realised who it was.

These are all people who you could know, but perhaps not with the backstory you had in mind. Some are sad, some chilling, all thought provoking. I read most of them a couple of times, the second time with the knowledge of who they were, which added another layer to the narrative.

An original idea, written in keeping with each situation and setting, and a unique approach to short stories. I enjoyed it very much.

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Dreamers, singers, heroes and killers, they can dazzle with their beauty or their talent or their unmitigated evil, yet inside themselves they are as frail and desperate as the rest of us. But can you see them? Can you unravel the truth? These are people you know, but not as you know them.Peel back the mask and see.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #BookReview Of #Paranormal #Mystery Chapter Thirteen by Maria A. Palace

Chapter ThirteenChapter Thirteen by Maria A Palace

3 stars

Chapter Thirteen is a paranormal mystery set in Morganville, Pennsylvania.

College student Katy was involved in a car accident which killed her boyfriend; left devasted, she then discovered that she was pregnant. After the opening chapters the main story was set five years after the accident. Katy had moved to Morganville with her daughter, where Katy was a news reporter and single parent. Given the story of the old Brewer mansion demolition to report on, instead Katy created a campaign to save the historical home and its owner.

In addition, Katy had been having nightmares, visions and flash backs, which seemed to be related to the Brewer mansion and its owner. The more that Katy discovered about the history of the place the more she became involved in the mystery which evolved, which led to an eerie denouement.

I liked the paranormal element and the theories about reincarnation, which were the highlights of the story for me. Katy was harder to empathise with, not helped by instances of childish behaviour and shouty dialogue which I felt were unrealistic; I wanted to get to really know her and I only ever felt we saw a superficial picture. I also thought that five-year-old Lily’s dialogue leant too much towards adult speech; however I did like Mike, the fireman.

The story jogged along at a fair pace, but at times a bit of information dumping slipped in which made me want to skip ahead to more interesting parts. I particularly liked the name of the town, but I am aware of a popular book series set in a similarly named town which has been a great success; I kept expecting a vampire or two to pop up in this story, especially with the paranormal theme which both tales share.

Overall, while I liked the paranormal aspect of this story, the main character fell short for me, plus with a few other niggles, the book didn’t quite hit the mark for me.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

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Chapter Thirteen is a paranormal suspense/thriller about an old woman who will do everything in her power to reclaim the life that was taken from her and the young journalist who holds the key to her success or failure.
On April 13, 1936, in Morganville, Pennsylvania, a fire occurs at the well-known Brewer mansion, resulting in a mysterious death. Fast-forward to August 28, 2005: After attending school in New York for six years, Katy Barton returns to her hometown of Morganville, when she lands a job as a reporter for the local news station. The antiquated mansion is scheduled to be demolished and Katy is assigned to get a story from the reclusive old woman who still lives there.
Katy is a “survivor” or so she’s been told, although years of therapy have not reconciled her with her own tragic past, to which she has long since been plagued by nightmares. Each time she goes out to the estate, her nightmares are amplified by unexplained visions. When she finally meets the eccentric recluse, Evelyn, she finds that her early portrait bears an uncanny resemblance to her own high school graduation picture–and the more she learns of Evelyn’s past, the more she finds that it is eerily similar to hers. As Katy is lured deeper and deeper into the old woman’s mysterious world, she begins to question her sanity, to the point where she seeks out a hypnotherapist.
In an odd twist of fate, a handsome firefighter comes to her emotional rescue, spiraling her into a whirlwind romance that appears too good to be true. Hoping to resolve her issues, both past and present, Katy reluctantly undergoes hypnosis, where she is confronted with the truth from her past and ultimately, what could be her future. But is the life she sees her own, or is it Evelyn’s?

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #HistoricalFiction Landscape Of A Marriage by @gwolmsted

Today’s team review is from Frank. Find out more about Frank here https://franklparker.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Frank has been reading Landscape Of A Marriage by Gail Ward Olmsted

Landscape of a Marriage: Central Park Was Only the Beginning by [Gail Ward Olmsted]

I imagine that most Americans are aware of the man who designed and oversaw the creation of Central Park in New York. And they will know, too, that he went on to create many parks for cities, institutions and private individuals across the USA in a career spanning over 30 years. What, however, do any of us know of the woman he married at the height of that first project and remained beside him for four decades? What do any of us know about the wives of any of the men who made an indelible mark on our history?

In writing her imagined biography of the wife of Fred Law Olmsted, Gail Olmsted* has created a work that gives a fascinating insight into the lives of upper middle class American families in the second half of the nineteenth century.

She has chosen her title well. After close on 58years of marriage I can testify that a long marriage does indeed contain many of the characteristics of a landscape. There are sunny uplands, deep dark valleys and everything in between. Surviving them requires the emotional equivalent of the physical resilience demanded of the intrepid traveller in unfamiliar, and occasionally hostile, territory.

Whilst the Olmsteds were blessed with an income that enabled them to maintain a large house, with servants to lighten the physical load placed on Mary’s shoulders, the couple encountered tragedies that would break many a less solid pair.

Fred was a workaholic who frequently spent many days, weeks even, away from the family home. He had a high public profile and was in constant demand. Ms Olmsted accurately observes the pressures this can place on a marriage. That the marriage survived despite recurring tragedies is a testament to the strength of the love between the two.

This is a book that some may be tempted to consign to the category of ‘Women’s Fiction’, a category whose existence I have queried elsewhere. But, if you are a man hoping to learn about techniques of landscape design and architecture you will be disappointed. I do believe, however, that it should appeal to the general reader who appreciates the opportunity to explore the lives of the people who helped create the world in which we live.

It is certainly historical fiction. The political background of Civil War, the rise of the suffragette movement and the arrival of such innovations as the telephone is evoked without intruding too heavily onto the narrative. So, too, is the debate over the funding of conservation. Fred regularly rails against the committees of bureaucrats and politicians who constantly sought to frustrate the realisation of his dreams for the green lungs that generations of citizens since have come to take for granted and which he pioneered.

But it is, above all, a story about the resilience of a woman supporting her husband and her children: emotionally, as they face various tragedies together, and in practical terms, as she takes on the reorganisation of record keeping in what quickly becomes a family business. The portrait that emerges is of a woman very much ahead of her time; courageous, resilient and devoted to her husband and his work.

*Gail Ward Olmsted is married to a descendant of Frederick Law Olmsted’s brother.

5 stars

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A marriage of convenience leads to a life of passion and purpose. A shared vision transforms the American landscape forever.

New York, 1858: Mary, a young widow with three children, agrees to marry her brother-in-law Frederick Law Olmsted, who is acting on his late brother’s deathbed plea to “not let Mary suffer”. But she craves more than a marriage of convenience and sets out to win her husband’s love. Beginning with Central Park in New York City, Mary joins Fred on his quest to create a ‘beating green heart’ in the center of every urban space.

Over the next 40 years, Fred is inspired to create dozens of city parks, private estates and public spaces with Mary at his side. Based upon real people and true events, this is the story of Mary’s journey and personal growth and the challenges inherent in loving a brilliant and ambitious man.

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Landscape of a Marriage: Central Park Was Only the Beginning by [Gail Ward Olmsted]

Rosie’s #Bookreview of Amateur Sleuth #Mystery Knives And Knightsticks by K. Lew and C.R. Lockhart

Knives and KnightsticksKnives and Knightsticks by K. Lew

3 stars

Knives And Knightsticks is an amateur sleuth mystery with a touch of romance set mainly in Toronto.

Investigative journalist Zoey lost her job and was blacklisted by other newspapers after a story she was working became linked to some high-powered criminals. Meanwhile, Zoey’s best friend and flatmate Sadie landed a new job working as a clerical assistant in a police station.

Zoey found a small job delivering served court papers, but at one delivery address she discovered a dead body and a kidnapped girl. Although the police arrived at the crime scene, Zoey’s investigative instincts kicked in and with Sadie’s help she decided to dig into the situation further.

In Zoey’s personal life, a handsome stranger paid for her coffee, then asked her for a date. It became a double date when she took Sadie with her and romance for both of them looked promising.

The chapters alternate between Zoey and Sadie; I liked the opening chapters for both of the girls and this is what attracted me to the book. The story is fast paced; at times, I felt it skipped over some aspects and left out points which would have made some scenes more realistic. Even amateur sleuthing needs to be believable and while I liked the concept of the story I would have liked to see more character depth and much more grit and danger. I prefer stories that involve Mafia groups to have a dark sinister aspect to keep me invested in them. Sadly, although I liked the opening chapters the direction that the authors took the story didn’t work for me.

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Sadie and Zoey, best friends and sharers of shoes, have both lost their jobs for Very Bad Reasons. Sadie ditched her lawyer boyfriend (who happened to be her boss) and Zoey followed her nose into a story that shattered her burgeoning career as a journalist.

When the story that destroyed Zoey’s career lands her next to a dead body, Sadie’s new job at the police station makes for the perfect spy. Unravelling the mystery proves to be more dangerous than expected, and the two find themselves wedged between romance, organized crime and deciding what shoes go best with a stakeout.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Shortstories Backstories by Simon Van der Velde

Today’s team review is from Georgia. She blogs here https://www.georgiarosebooks.com

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Georgia has been reading Backstories by Simon Van der Velde

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Backstories is a great idea. Take famous people from history, ancient or more recent, and write a short backstory about them allowing the reader to uncover who they are as the story progresses. I enjoyed reading the stories in this book.

There were 14 in all. I knew 12 of them and by swapping notes with another review team member I found out who the others were. It might have been helpful to have had a list of the answers at the back. I found that some of them were very clearly signposted, others, not so much. For me, however, the best bit was that I enjoyed the writing throughout all of the stories very much and don’t hesitate in recommending this book to all who like well-written short stories with a small mystery to solve.

4 stars

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Dreamers, singers, heroes and killers, they can dazzle with their beauty or their talent or their unmitigated evil, yet inside themselves they are as frail and desperate as the rest of us. But can you see them? Can you unravel the truth? These are people you know, but not as you know them.Peel back the mask and see.

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