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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

View all my reviews  on Goodreads

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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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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Ya #Paranormal #Romance EVERLONG by @RRaeta #TuesdayBookBlog

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

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Jenni has been reading Everlong by R Raeta

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I was about 13 when Twilight first hit shelves and became an international sensation, making yours truly a Grade A, prime market specimen, target customer for every supernatural teen series to arrive in my local Books-A-Million, and as a teen I cheerfully fulfilled those market expectations. Even now, barreling rapidly towards my 30s with all the supposed maturity that that entails, I still love a good urban fantasy/supernatural romance/vampire thriller to take my mind off the real world for a few hours.

What I mean is that for well over a decade, I’ve read a lot of this genre. Cozy mysteries, earnest teen dramas, steamy and/or gory adventures, the 19th century foundations of the genre, modern research about the genre—shelves and shelves of vampires.

So when I say that R. Raeta’s Everlong is one of the most poignant, beautiful vampire stories I have ever read, those are not words written lightly.

The novel is written with the limited 3rd person omniscient perspective, a fancy way of saying that we, the readers, know everything our protagonist knows without the explicit “I” narrator. For some authors this would create some distance between the protagonist, the exquisitely drawn Lily, and the audience, but Raeta is not just some author.

With the deft touch of a true craftswoman, Raeta draws the reader into Lily’s mind, making us feel as she feels- something that becomes more and more important when a major shift occurs and Lily “awakens” maybe a third of the way through the narrative. This mental “awakening” is one of the clearest examples of ‘show rather than tell’ that I’ve just about even seen, grounding the reader immediately in the fresh eyes that Lily sees the world with, and letting us know that something intrinsic to her psyche has crystalized.

I know that this description lists towards wishy-washy, but to explain in more detail, or describe a greater length, would be to spoil one of the biggest delights of reading the novel.

The friendships and romantic relationship that bud and build throughout the novel feel real. Every secondary character is textured, with their own linguistic and habitual idiosyncrasies and layered backstories. There is a care given to crafting the supporting cast that many authors would not give, or would not give in a standalone novel, but rather over the course of an entire series.

Because that is another thing that sets Everlong apart. In a genre that thrives on expansive universes and sequels that stretch on ad infinitum, this is a contained novel. There is a definite ending to this story, and oh honey is it an ending.

Bittersweet in the best way and perfectly suited to the tale Raeta has told up until this point, I once again cannot say more without the risk of spoiling your experience.

A masterclass in how to build a story and a world that readers will care about, and the reason of my first 2AM stay-up-to-finish-the-book session in months, Everlong does not disappoint on any level and if this is only the freshmen outing for Raeta, I can’t wait to see what she does next!

5/5

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Lily doesn’t remember her death, or even her reawakening, but she knows this: the sun is to be feared, words are her salvation, and—above all—the bench facing the playground is hers. She is the pin holding the hands of the clock, watching the world move and change around her while she remains fixed, lonely and unchanged… until a boy takes a seat beside her.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #LiteraryFiction Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home by @Annecdotist

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

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Olga has been reading Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home by Anne Goodwin

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I arrived in the UK in September 1992. My goal was to qualify as a psychiatrist (I had studied Medicine back home in Barcelona, Spain) and, also, to improve my English. I started working as a junior doctor in psychiatry in February 1993, and Anne Goodwin’s new novel is set (mostly) just a couple of years earlier, at a moment when mental health services in the UK were undergoing a major change. The move from the big old-style asylums —where people who suffered from chronic mental health conditions, sometimes poorly defined, were “warehoused”—to “care in the community”, with its resulting emphasis on normalisation, on reintegration, and on support within the family, and/or the community, rocked the foundations of the system, and resulted on new practices, roles, and also in bringing to the fore a number of patients who had spent most of their lives in institutions and had real difficulties finding a place in an outside world they no longer recognised.


Even though this is a work of fiction, it is evident that the author is writing from personal experience, and that lends immediacy and depth to the story. Goodwin captures perfectly the atmosphere of the mental health asylums, where routine was sacred, and everybody had a part to play they were not allowed to deviate from. She offers readers several points of view: that of a newly-qualified social worker (Janice), who is going through an unsettling time in her personal life, and whose values and certainties will be put to the test by this job, especially by Matty’s case; Matty’s, one of the long-stay patients, whose story is less-than-certain after having been institutionalised for over 50 years, who allows us a peek into her unique world (stuck as she is in the past, an imaginary refuge from her less than glamorous reality); Henry’s, a man who also lives stuck in the past, waiting for a sister/mother whom he is no longer sure ever existed; and Matilda’s, who takes us back to the 1930s and tells us a story full of everyday tragedy, loss and despair.


Although I only experienced the aftermath of the closing of the big asylums, I got to talk to many nurses and doctors who had spent most of their working lives there, and had been involved in the changes as well. I also met many of the patients who hadn’t been lucky enough to move back into the community and ended up in newer long-term units, and also some of those who managed to create new lives for themselves, with the dedicated support of members of staff who were usually stretched to their limits. I worked in a newly-built unit in the grounds of one of the big asylums in the South of England, and walked the beautiful gardens, saw the impressive buildings (it had even had a railway station in its heyday), and it was easy to imagine how things must have been. Hardly any of the patients who’d spent years there had any contact with their families any longer, and their worlds had become reduced to their everyday routine, the tea with the sugar and milk already in, and the daily trip to the shop that the novel so realistically portrays. The way the author contrasts the experiences from the characters who live “normal” lives in the community (Henry’s life is “peculiar” to say the least, and Janice is in a sort of limbo, an impasse in her life) with Matty’s life in hospital emphasises the importance of the stories we tell ourselves, and also reminds us of the need to take control and to impose our own meaning in our lives. If we don’t, we are at risk of becoming the person or the version of ourselves that other people decide. And that is the worst of tragedies.


This is not an easy story to contemplate, and most readers will soon imagine that the truth about Matilda’s past, once revealed, will be shocking and tragic. Worse still, we know that it is all a too-familiar story, and not a flight of fancy on the part of the author. But she manages to make it deeply personal, and I challenge any casual readers not to feel both, horrified and moved, by the story.


As a mental health professional, this novel brought goosebumps to my skin and a lot of memories. As a reader, it gave me pause, and made me care for a group of characters whom I share little with (other than my professional experience). As a human being, I can only hope no girls find themselves in the position of Matilda ever again, and also that, as a society, we always remember that there is no health without mental health. Thankfully, many people have come forward in recent years and shared their mental health difficulties and their experiences trying to find help. It was about time, because those patients not at liberty to leave the hospital always reminded us that we would go home at the end of the day, but they had no home to go to, or, worse even, the hospital was their only home. Out of sight, out of mind is a terrible attitude when it comes to people’s suffering. Hiding away mental health problems does nothing to help those suffering them or the society they should be fully participating in, and Goodwin’s novel reminds us that we have come a long way, but there’s still a long way ahead.


A fantastic novel, about a tough topic, which highlights the changes in mental health policy and forces us to remember we are all vulnerable, and we should fight to ensure that nobody is ever left behind.
Thanks to the author for offering me the opportunity to read her novel ahead of publication. It will stay with me for a long time, and I’m delighted to hear that she’s already working on its second part.

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In the dying days of the old asylums, three paths intersect.

Henry was only a boy when he waved goodbye to his glamorous grown-up sister; approaching sixty, his life is still on hold as he awaits her return.

As a high-society hostess renowned for her recitals, Matty’s burden weighs heavily upon her, but she bears it with fortitude and grace.

Janice, a young social worker, wants to set the world to rights, but she needs to tackle challenges closer to home.

A brother and sister separated by decades of deceit. Will truth prevail over bigotry, or will the buried secret keep family apart?

In this, her third novel, Anne Goodwin has drawn on the language and landscapes of her native Cumbria and on the culture of long-stay psychiatric hospitals where she began her clinical psychology career. 

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #HistoricalFiction The White Rajah by @TomCW99

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

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Frank has been reading The White Rajah by Tom Williams

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To anyone unfamiliar with the history of Sarawak it will come as a surprise to discover that, unlike much of the rest of the British Empire, it was ruled for 100 years, not by a Governor General or Viceroy acting on behalf of the British crown, but by a series of members of the Brooke family.

James Brooke resigned his commission in the private army of the East India Company to become a privateer, trading around the islands of the South China Sea. In 1839 he was invited by the Sultan of Borneo to help put down a rebellion in what was then a province of Borneo. With that achieved, Brooke was then given the role of ruler of the province, thus becoming the White Rajah of the title of Tom Williams’s latest book.

The overthrow of the rebels, the development of an economy based around the trade in antimony, a second rebellion from which Brooke escaped to Singapore, his return and the defeat of the pirates responsible for the rebellion and the plundering of indigenous tribal villages, together form the meat of this fascinating account.

It is told in first person by Brooke’s fictional companion and aide. In his end note Williams explains which parts of the story are true and which fiction. He does not say whether or not Brooke’s homosexuality is real or imagined (Wikipedia is ambivalent about Brooke’s sexuality and his relationships, although it also claims that he had a son). For me it certainly worked as a device to get to the heart of Brooke’s character.  Only a lover can get close enough to witness his changes of mood and the inner feelings behind the public face of a man in a position of power. And only a lover can properly express an alternative view of the horrors he witnesses whilst in that man’s company.

Once again, Williams has given us a riveting account of a little known episode in the history of colonialism. Along the way he provides some superb descriptions of the flora, fauna and traditional culture of this corner of Malaysia. As a side note, Brooke’s story has been told, with the same title, by Nicholas Monsarrat, the writer best known for The Cruel Sea, and other novels based on his service in the Royal Navy during the second World War. I recall reading the first of these in my youth but have no recollection of that earlier iteration of The White Rajah, which was published in 1961. As a further note, Williams’s book was first published in 2010.

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When James Brooke arrives in Borneo on the schooner ‘Royalist’, he plans to make a quick profit trading with the natives. Instead he finds himself taking sides in a civil war. And when his side wins, he ends up the ruler of his own country. As the first White Rajah of Sarawak, Brooke is determined to show how the Britain of Queen Victoria can bring civilisation to the natives. But life in Borneo proves complicated. Soon pirates are exploiting the divisions in the country and, when the old rulers stage a coup, Brooke is forced to flee into the jungle.Faced with the destruction of all he has worked for, Brooke is driven to desperate measures to reclaim his country. But is he bringing civilisation to Borneo or will his ruthless annihilation of the pirates just bring a new level of brutality to the people he meant to save?The White Rajah is about a man fighting for his life who must choose between his beliefs and the chance of victory. Based on a true story, Brooke’s battle is a tale of adventure set against the background of a jungle world of extraordinary beauty and terrible savagery.

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