Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC @SueBavey Reviews #Dystopia WASTELAND by @TerryTyler4

Today we have a review from Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenger Sue, she blogs here

Sue chose to read Wasteland by Terry Tyler

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Read on the Kindle

5/5 stars

In Terry Tyler’s version of 2061 people are living in government-controlled comfortable Megacities and less comfortable Hope villages, where putting a foot wrong can result in disaster and worse. Hope villages were introduced in the previous installment of the ‘Operation Galton’ series, ‘Hope’, but over the intervening years they have become even more dangerous, desolate places. A small percentage of the free-thinking population has escaped to the Wasteland, where they live outside of society and are known as ‘rats’.

The concept of the ‘Wasteland’ immediately reminded me of ‘The Wilds’ in the YA ‘Delirium’ trilogy by Lauren Oliver which I read about a decade ago and absolutely loved. Having said that, the books themselves are quite different. Wasteland is not a YA novel and although both are dystopian, the world of ‘Operation Galton’ feels more sinister, probably because it is not very far removed from where our present day society is heading. Our lives are more and more controlled by smartphones tracking our sleep, steps taken, screen use and conversations, offering us intrusive targeted advertising which demands our attention every waking second, much like the ‘com’ devices in Wasteland.

The powers that be have decided it’s time to clean up the Wasteland and plan to use its inhabitants in their macabre human experiments. This is happening in the background as we follow Rae’s journey from typical Megacity inhabitant to enlightened escapee, as she searches the Wasteland for the family she was separated from at the age of two.

The beginning of the story has a relatively slow pace, as we are introduced to new characters, then half way through the book, the pace picks up quite dramatically and it becomes a gripping thrill-ride with unexpected twists along the way. Wasteland is an exciting page-turner and I was rooting for Rae and the people she encounters in the Wasteland all the way. It was easy to visualise the action sequences and I can imagine this could quite easily be made into a blockbuster movie.

This dystopian story left me feeling unsettled, with a lot to think about and the intriguing parting shot about Ace’s background leaves the way open for further stories from Rae’s world which I would love to see sometime.

Recommended for fans of stories set in dystopian societies and thrilling fox vs. hounds style hunts!

Book description

‘Those who escape ‘the system’ are left to survive outside society. The fortunate find places in off-grid communities; the others disappear into the wasteland.’

The year is 2061, and in the new UK megacities, the government watches every move you make. Speech is no longer free—an ‘offensive’ word reaching the wrong ear means a social demerit and a hefty fine. One too many demerits? Job loss and eviction, with free transport to your nearest community for the homeless: the Hope Villages.

Rae Farrer is a megacity girl through and through, proud of her educational and career achievements, until a shocking discovery about her birth forces her to question every aspect of life in UK Megacity 12.

On the other side of the supposedly safe megacity walls, a few wastelanders suspect that their freedom cannot last forever…

Wasteland is the stand-alone sequel to Hope, and is the second and final book in the Operation Galton series.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Of #YoungAdult #Fantasy STORYBOOK, INC. by Parker Pace

Storybook, Inc.Storybook, Inc. by Parker Pace

3.5 stars

Storybook, Inc. is a young adult fantasy about Mica Psmith, a teenager who is about to be expelled from her school. The Principal suggests that she signs up for a new programme to help people like her, at a special boarding school. 

Mica has an initial psychiatric test, after which she is sent from her home in Seattle to the school, near San Diego. However, before she arrives, her train is hi-jacked. Frightened and unable to trust most of the passengers, Mica decides to make her way back home, with Roman, a young man she sat next to on the train. 

The journey is rather odd, with events and people that seemed out of place. The pace of the story is extremely fast with little time to contemplate the plausibility of a situation. 

I don’t wish to give away any spoilers, so I will move on to my thoughts about the story as a whole. This would work so well on screen because of the vast numbers of characters, but in a book I found it impossible to form pictures of them all. Add to this the constant change of scenery, and you have another reason for this to work better as a film rather than a piece of fiction. I did guess the ending, so there was no big surprise for me, but then I’m not the target audience. Overall an interesting concept, but it didn’t work well as a piece of fiction for me. 

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Book description

No sooner is clinically depressed heiress Mica Psmith expelled from the twelfth grade than the principal of her high school offers her a unique proposal. She can graduate on time if she enrolls in a secretive boarding school whose motto—The Program will change your life or your money back—is vaguely chilling.

In spite of reservations (if there’s one thing she doesn’t care for it’s meddling, and Principal Goodman is a meddler), Mica enrolls in the Program, setting into motion a bizarre series of events. Though at first the tricks seem harmless, the events grow increasingly more interconnected and dangerous. Alone except for her traveling companion, Roman, Mica begins to fear for her life.

Terrified of the growing possibility that the Program is little more than a theatrical con game, or worse, of the very real possibility that it is a death plot, Mica and Roman risk everything to uncover the truth. But is Roman really watching out for Mica or is he tied to the criminals tracking her every step?

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Of #WW2 #NonFiction Account Of READING AT WAR 1939-1945 By David Bilton @penswordpub

Reading at War 1939–45 (Towns & Cities in World War Two)Reading at War 1939–45 by David Bilton

4 stars

Reading At War 1939-45 is a non-fiction account of the Berkshire town of Reading and how the people of the town and the surrounding areas coped during World War Two. 

David Bilton has collated much of the information from local history books and copies of The Standard, the town’s newspaper. My grandparents and parents all lived in Reading, so this book had particular interest to me. As I read the book I was eager to find details about familiar place names and establishments. Street names from my past constantly popped off the pages as I placed them against my childhood memories. 

I was fascinated by the quantity of money-raising campaigns and collections of goods which continued throughout the war years. Of particular note was raising money for Spitfire aircraft, boats and tanks as well as funds for prisoners of war, hospitals and many more.  

This is definitely worth reading if you have an interest in the town and it will give me much to talk about with my parents, who I am sure will also be interested in this book. 

Reading at War 1939–45 on Goodreads

Book description

As in the Great War, Reading in the Second World War was a town permanently in a state of flux. So close to London, so easily pinpointed by its proximity to the Thames, with railway lines converging near the town center and with much of the town’s industry geared up to essential war work, it was an obvious target for the German Luftwaffe when the war broke out. Knowing this, the council had set up an efficient civil defense system aided by government finance. Fortunately for the citizens, although they were bombed on many occasions, only one raid had any significant impact.

The book covers the daily life of a town ready for the worst, but one that continued with its daily life and just got on with its efforts to aid the war effort. The book is profusely illustrated with photographs, illustrations and human interest stories. Much of the material used has not been seen since the war so it provides a valuable and unique insight into daily life of the town.

Pen And Sword Pub| AmazonUk

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Rosie’s#Bookreview of #Contemporary #Fiction WILD HORSES ON THE SALT by Anne Montgomery

Wild Horses on the SaltWild Horses on the Salt by Anne Montgomery

3.5 stars

Wild Horses On The Salt is contemporary fiction which has several themes running through it. One is domestic violence and another is the plight of wild horses, especially those in Arizona.

Becca has run away from her violent husband and her life as a lawyer in New Jersey. She has come to the home of friends who run an inn in Arizona. Life in the desert is very different from where she was brought up and it gives Becca time to recover and to think about what she really wants in life.

With the support of Gaby and Walt who run the inn, Becca is introduced to their friends and community. She befriends their neighbour Noah and a romance between the couple forms. Becca is also taught about the local wild horses and how they are being threatened by man’s greed for more space. While smaller sub-themes involve Becca learning about the flora and fauna of Arizona, both natural and invasive as well as recycling and caring for the environment.

In addition to Becca’s story, there are chapters from the point of view of some of the animals, particularly a wild horse which was injured in a road accident. There really is a lot going on in this book and for me it watered down the tension and the importance of the two main themes, while the romance between Becca and Noah came across as rather rushed, considering her husband’s presence.

I was drawn to this story by the Arizona setting and the wild horse theme, but it didn’t hold my attention as much as I had hoped.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Book description

A woman flees an abusive husband and finds hope in the wilds of the Arizona desert.

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

AmazonUK | AmazonUS


Rosie’s #Bookreview Of #NonFiction Eastern Medicine SAVING ME FIRST III by Hui Beop

Saving Me First 3: Unlocking What's Always Within UsSaving Me First 3: Unlocking What’s Always Within Us by Hui Beop

4 stars

Saving Me First III is a non-fiction study of Eastern medicine and focuses on the strengths and weaknesses of our body organs and how these in turn affect aspects of our life such as health, wealth and longevity.

I found the book easy to read, joining in with the exercises, while the diagrams were useful, with their suggested ways to improve lifestyle and health. Many of the food suggestions were based on Eastern ingredients and recipes, which, although may be harder to obtain, were in line with the theme of the book.

The author talks about cycles of life and our current world Covid virus crisis, while offering some interesting theories. The main point of the book was about rebalancing of our bodies, minds and ultimately the earth; messages which are increasing in popularity across the globe. I liked this book, it made me think and reassess some of my eating habits. I found it easy to read, finishing it in just two sittings.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Book description

We have a secret manual that comes with our body and it can ultimately show us how to save ourselves. We are much more than our organ systems. However, we can’t move beyond the illness and discomfort of our body system’s dysfunction. To live the life we have designed, we must first learn to understand our body. Most illnesses stem from the five disharmonized energy systems. By working on the underlying organ issues, most of these illnesses can be treated. Without the understanding or maintaining of our physical body, we have only limited power. We are shut out from accessing our inner source of information that holds the keys to health, money, power, dignity, and longevity. By understanding the laws that govern our physical body and respecting its fragility through diligent care, we can expand and optimize our body’s capacity to support and enhance our life’s journey, and save us from unnecessary suffering and disasters.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC @lfwrites Reviews #Tudor #HistFic NEST OF ASHES by @TudorTweep #TuesdayBookBlog

Today’s review challenge post comes from Lynne, she blogs here

Lynne has been reading Nest Of Ashes by G. Lawrence

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I’ve always loved historical fiction and have two favourite periods that never fail to catch my attention. The first is WWII and the other is The Tudors. As author Gemma Lawrence states, there is so little told about Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII. It’s a huge understatement to say I was intrigued as to how she would portray a story based on someone about whom so little actual “history” is known. Indeed, following Anne Boleyn as Henry’s queen must surely have been a daunting time for Jane, after all was not Anne the original viper in the nest that led to the break with Rome and to Henry’s marriage with the dignified and most-popular Katherine of Aragon.

Nest of Ashes is the first in a trilogy of Jane Seymour’s life, and it is probably in book one where the author has the most scope to create Jane’s story. The author’s has imagined situations from Jane’s early years that are in keeping with the world she inhabits, its traditions and customs. So believable is her creation that you could be forgiven for thinking it is not historic fact, and so engaging is the story that you are instantly drawn into its fictional realm. The very best of both worlds.

When we meet Jane, she is the only daughter (so far) born to the Seymour couple. Her plain appearance marks her out as a disappointment to her mother who had longed for a daughter to grace the King’s Court as she had once done herself. As such, Jane becomes almost invisible to them, particularly when her brother Thomas is around. For Thomas can do no wrong, and despite Jane’s objections to the contrary, it is always she who is on the receiving end of any punishment. Knowing what we do about Jane’s future, it felt as though Karma was watching over her: the invisible daughter who would be queen.

Jane’s world is shaken for the first time when her beloved brother Edward takes a wife, Catherine. This beautiful and vivacious young woman is everything Jane’s mother had hoped for in a daughter, and the Seymour household is soon captivated by her charms. For Jane, that charm quickly wears off when she realises Catherine is not the sweet young woman she professes to be, but rather is intent on seducing Jane’s (and her husband, Edward’s) father. From here on, all doubt as to Catherine’s true nature is cast aside, and Jane sees her only as making a cuckold of her brother. Being invisible to everyone else in the household, Jane has no-one to tell, let alone anyone who might believe her. Confronting Catherine only makes things worse for her.

Jane can only hope her brother will find a place for her at Court, away from her family and the lies she has to ignore daily. When Edward does come through for her, and Jane is called serve Mary, the King’s sister, only then does her mother recognise how much she relied on Jane.

Jane arrives at Court, quiet and reserved and not at all confident of her position. It is her shy nature that catches the eye of Queen Katherine, who takes a liking to the young woman and appoints Jane to her own staff.

Jane’s mother is torn between fury and pride; Jane has usurped her own position at Court and without all the fuss and fancy. She begs Jane to meet with her cousin, Anne Boleyn, which she reluctantly agrees to; they are never going to be close but who would have thought they would be rivals for the King’s affections?

Jane’s future at Court is about to change her life and the history books. Forever.

As Nest of Ashes came to an end, my appetite for the next book only increased. In today’s society we are used to binge-watching complete series, so biding my time until the next instalment will be a challenge. Suffice it to say, I’m ready when you are, Gemma Lawrence! (No pressure LOL)

Book description

October 1537

At a time of most supreme triumph, the moment of her greatest glory, security and power, a Queen of England lies dying.

Through dreams of fever and fantasy, Jane Seymour, third and most beloved wife of King Henry VIII remembers her childhood, the path forged to the Tudor Court; a path forged in flame and ashes. Through the fug of memory, Jane sees herself, a quiet, overlooked girl, who to others seemed pale of face and character, who discovered a terrible secret that one day would rain destruction upon her family.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC Aidan Reviews Nautical #Thriller JONAH by @CarlRackman

Today Rosie’s Review-A-Book challenger review is from Aidan, he blogs here

Aidan has been reading Jonah by Carl Rackman

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I don’t typically enjoy war stories, specifically those set during World War 2. However, Jonah being set at sea made it stand apart from other books I’ve read from the same time period. Being on a ship inherently creates tension, since there is no escape, and Carl Rackman leans heavily into this. Moreover, this novel has very little combat (other than a battle scene at the very beginning), and is more a look at naval life, with a supernatural undertone.

The book focuses on the life of Mitch Kirkham aboard the US Navy destroyer Brownlee. After surviving a horrific battle, the novel explores Mitch’s naval experiences, and through his interactions, other experiences of different characters. It deals with PTSD and bullying, before switching direction with the introduction of ‘The Brownlee Beast’.

I thought that the character of Mitch was excellent, as Rackman made him feel relatable by having him grapple with moral quandaries. He means well, but doesn’t always make the best choices – similar to most real people. Furthermore, it is very easy to feel sympathy for him, as he often gets into bad situations through no fault of his own.

Many of the supporting characters were also good, with my favourite being Doc. While not actually a doctor, he had rudimental medical training as the pharmacologist onboard. I felt drawn to his strong moral compass and his relentless work ethic. While many of the other characters were strong, I would have liked more development of the captain since he appears in quite a few scenes without us really understanding his motivations.

The author’s deep naval knowledge was obvious, but technical vocabulary never impeded my reading. He created a glossary at the end of the book, but I never felt the need to use this, since he did such a good job of making the meaning of new words obvious by the surrounding paragraph. It felt very well blended.

I don’t want to talk about the themes for too long, as I can’t mention some of the most interesting ones in case I spoil anything. However, I found the examination of chain of command very interesting, as well as the somewhat toxic culture that was found aboard the ship. That being said, the main aim of this book seems to me to be to entertain, which it does very well.

The mysterious element of the book is handled very well, and it kept me guessing until the final reveal. The action is also paced very well, with the tension staying with me long after I’d put the book down for the night.

However, I found the ending to be unsatisfying. The pacing was again good, and it felt like a proper climax, but the resolution just felt too perfect. There were also flashbacks interspersed throughout the book that, while I didn’t dislike them, and thought they were very well written, didn’t seem to add anything to the plot as a whole.

Overall, this book was a 5.5 out of 7 for me. It was easy to get into and this ease of reading continued throughout. The few small things I wasn’t a personal fan of are easily outweighed by the well-crafted plot and relatable characters. I would recommend it to anyone who likes thrillers, especially historical ones, as well as fans of psychological horror (since it shares some similar elements, while not strictly falling into that genre).

Book description

The North Atlantic, 1940. A British destroyer pounces on a seemingly abandoned U-boat, leading to a spine-chilling encounter.

Five years later, the US Navy destroyer Brownlee grimly prepares to battle a swarm of Japanese kamikazes at Okinawa.

Mitch “Lucky” Kirkham, a young gunner on the Brownlee, wakes up miraculously unscathed after his crewmates are killed in a fearsome kamikaze strike.

Bullied and resented amid accusations of cowardice and worse, Mitch re-boards his patched-up ship for the long voyage back to San Francisco. All he wants is to go home.

But far out in the boundless emptiness of the Pacific, a strange madness begins to seize the sailors on the Brownlee. Terror, hysteria and suicide torment the men amid sightings of ghosts and a terrifying monster that stalks the ship by night.

Mitch stumbles upon a possible explanation for the madness. But as the ship presses on alone, deeper into the vast Pacific Ocean and the grip of insanity, will anyone listen to him before his famous luck runs out for good?

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Of #YoungAdult #Fantasy HISS (The Unmagic Trilogy #1) by Amaya Ash

Hiss (The Unmagic Trilogy, #1)Hiss by Amaya Ash

3 stars

Hiss is a young adult fantasy story and book one of The Unmagic trilogy. In Arilloa the royal family have magical abilities, which they use to gain respect from the non-magical people. The youngest royal child, Isidor, nicknamed Hiss, has exceptional powers and can create colourful monsters, but few people love or understand him, including most of his family. His teenage sister Leonie is the only one who has the patience to be his friend and companion. But it is not enough and Hiss runs away. He can’t be found, but his monsters start attacking the kingdom and rumours begin of a rebellion.

As the war rages on, it becomes obvious that Hiss, although just a young child, is behind the attacks. Believing that he has been captured and is being forced to send his monsters, Leonie offers to go and rescue him from the enemy. She takes with her just one palace guard, a knifecloak called Armand, and together they set off on a quest to save the kingdom.

I liked the idea of Hiss and his magical monsters they were very colourful and easy to imagine. There is a romance which crosses back and forth between younger teenage and older young adult levels of intimacy which, for me, was a weaker area to this story and might have worked better with lots more tension and promise of more in the next book in the series.

Leonie was a teenager who struggled with maturity and insecurity. She was often a brave adventurer, but her actions in the romantic theme let her down. I thought that there was more room for stronger character development especially after her return to the palace.

Overall I like the magical creatures and their connection to Hiss, but the romantic sub-theme didn’t quite work for me.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

“The true power of magic is not to send random objects careening off across the room. The true power of magic is to make ordinary people bow.”

In Arilloa, the royal family uses their magic to win the respect of the ordinary populace. But Leonie, a princess and second in line to the throne, has a terrible secret: she’s barely magic at all. The only person to ever find out her secret is Armand, a boy training to become a Knifecloak, one of the elite castle guards.

Leonie’s younger brother Hiss, on the other hand, is a child prodigy with greater powers than anyone else in the family, capable of creating monsters out of thin air. One day Hiss goes missing and resurfaces at the head of a rebellion, using his powers to strike against the country and the crown. Monsters against soldiers, magic against normality. Leonie and Armand must find Hiss and stop him while the monster-driven war rages around them.

A Young Adult (YA) / New Adult (NA) novel with elements of both fantasy and romance.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC Frank Reviews THE MEMORY by @judithbarrow77

Today’s review comes from Frank. You can find out more about Frank here

Frank has been reading The Memory by Judith Barrow

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When I selected this book for review Rosie pointed out that it was a book that leans “heavily towards women’s fiction”. Now that I have read the book I understand what she means by that. I still think that it is a mistake to categorise readers in this way. I understand the importance of categorising books by genre. That helps potential readers decide whether a book is one they would enjoy. But most readers surely read across genres: they might choose romantic fiction one week, a mystery the next week and a thriller a week later. When you describe a book as “women’s fiction” you are not so much categorising the book as the reader.

To the extent that this book is about a woman’s life it will certainly appeal to women. In my opinion that does not rule out the possibility that it can be enjoyed by a man. What it definitely is not is a feminist account of how women’s opportunities are limited by the demands of men. On the contrary, it is the refusal of other women to shoulder their responsibilities, instead pursuing their own selfish interests, that determine the course of the central character’s life. The principle male characters are portrayed as fundamentally decent men whose support is invaluable to her.

As the book opens we see Irene struggling to care for her mother who has dementia. We are then taken back to the day, 40 years before, when Irene’s sister Rose was born. Rose has Down’s Syndrome and is rejected by their mother, leaving Irene to take on the caring role. As Irene’s life progresses, she moves from caring for Rose to caring for her grandmother, her father-in-law and, finally, her mother.

The book is structured with each chapter opening with a description of what is happening over a period of two days in 2002 as an increasingly tired and frustrated Irene performs various caring functions for her mother before returning to the chronological narrative of Irene’s progress from childhood, through adolescence, to an interrupted career as a teacher and marriage.

Along the way there are descriptions of working class life in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s that those of a certain age will recognise. If you remember Berni Inns and Babycham, or prawn cocktails and fondu sets, there are scenes which will make you smile to remember how we once thought such things were glamorous.

Teachers, too, will find interest in the debates about curriculum and teaching methods that surfaced at the time and are with us still today, especially where they relate to the treatment of children with “special needs”.

There were times when I found the structure irritating, particularly when Irene’s life story reached a day that has enormous significance for her. Not only are the details of the day dragged out across several chapters, but by repeatedly returning to 2002, the shock we know is coming – we can even make a good guess as to the nature of the shock – is delayed a little too long in my opinion.

Is it fair to call it “Women’s Fiction”? It is written by a woman and the central character is a woman. But it is a book that takes a critical look at the lives of women in the second half of the twentieth century. It was a time when women were told they could have it all: a career and motherhood. Like many, Irene, though she craves both, has neither. Sadly, that was, and remains, the brutal reality for many women. Should men read it? Definitely: they need to be reminded of these truths.

4 stars.

Book description

Mother and daughter tied together by shame and secrecy, love and hate.

I wait by the bed. I move into her line of vision and it’s as though we’re watching one another, my mother and me; two women – trapped.

Today has been a long time coming. Irene sits at her mother’s side waiting for the right moment, for the point at which she will know she is doing the right thing by Rose.

Rose was Irene’s little sister, an unwanted embarrassment to their mother Lilian but a treasure to Irene. Rose died thirty years ago, when she was eight, and nobody has talked about the circumstances of her death since. But Irene knows what she saw. Over the course of 24 hours their moving and tragic story is revealed – a story of love and duty, betrayal and loss – as Irene rediscovers the past and finds hope for the future.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Coming-Of-Age THE BOY AND THE LAKE by Adam Pelzman

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading The Boy And The Lake by Adam Pelzman

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For those of you who are in a hurry and prefer not to get too much background information about a book before reading it, I’ll tell you that this is a fantastic novel, one that brought me pleasant memories of the many great novels I read as part of my degree in American (USA) Literature, especially those written in the second half of the 20th century. I had never read any novels by Adam Pelzman before, but after reading this one I’m eager to catch up.

The description of the book included above provides enough details about the plot, and I won’t elaborate too much on it. There is a mystery (or at least that’s what Ben, the young protagonist believes) at the centre of the story, and when he insists on trying to find out the truth, despite his suspicions being dismissed initially by everybody, he sets into action a chain of events that ends up unravelling what at first sight seemed to be an idyllic upper-middle-class Jewish community. Despite efforts to maintain an outward appearance of order and harmony, there are signs of problems bubbling under the surface from early on. Not only the body of the woman Ben finds, but also the relationships in his family (his mother’s mood changes; his younger sister’s death prior to the novel’s action; his uncle’s desperate comedic efforts; his grandfather’s possibly not-so-clean business ethics) and there are also issues with others in the community (the father of his friend, Missy, and his difficulty keeping any jobs; the husband of the dead woman’s eagerness to replace her and his strange behaviour…), coupled with a general agitation and unhappiness with the global situation (the race riots in Newark are important to the plot of the story, and there are mentions of the many traumatic events the USA had experienced in the 1960s, from the deaths of JFK and RFK to the ongoing Vietnam War). If the novel can be seen as a coming of age story, with its customary theme of loss of innocence, it also represents the loss of innocence at a more global level, and there is plenty of symbolism in the novel to highlight that, including two toxic leaks onto the lake, with its accompanying death and destruction. Although the novel has a mystery at its heart, and people reading the beginning might think this will be a mystery novel or a thriller of sorts, I would describe it as a coming of age story cum literary fiction, and it reminded me of Phillip Roth’s novella Goodbye Columbus (the story refers to it, although not by name). It also made me think of Brick, a 2005 film, not so much for its aesthetics and style (although most of the characters in the movie are high school students there is a definite noir/hard-boiled detective story feel to it) but for the way a seemingly implausible investigation ends up unearthing more than anybody bargained for.

Although Ben and his friend Missy are the main characters, there are quite a few others that play important parts, especially Ben’s parents (Abe and Lillian), his sister, Bernice and Helen, the dead woman, both present only through memories and recollections (more or less), his grandparents, the neighbours…  Also, the lake and its community (more of a character in its own right than a setting), New York, and Newark. Ben tells the story in the first person, and he is a somewhat reluctant hero, always worried about what others might think, always analysing what he has done and feeling guilty for his misdeeds (real or imagined), articulate but anxious and lacking in self-confidence. It is evident from the narration that his older self is telling the story of that year, one that came to signify a big change in his life and in that of others around him as well. He is not a rebel wanting to challenge the status (not exactly a Holden Caulfield), but rather somebody who would like to fit in and to believe that everything is as good as it seems to be. However, a nagging worry keeps him probing at the seemingly perfect surface. I liked Ben, although at times he was a bit of a Hamlet-like character, unable to make a decision, wavering between his own intuition and what other people tell him, taking one step forward and two steps back. I loved Missy, his friend, who is determined, no-nonsense, loves reading, knows what she wants and works ceaselessly to get it. Ben’s father is a lovely character (or at least that’s how his son sees him), although perhaps his attitude towards his wife is not always helpful. Ben’s mother is one of those difficult women we are used to seeing in novels, series, and films, who appear perfect to outsiders but can turn the life of their closest family into a nightmare. She is a fascinating character, but I’ll let you read the book and make your own mind up about her.

The story is not fast-paced. The language includes beautiful descriptions, and the prose flows well, following the rhythm of the seasons, with moments of calm and contemplation and others of chaos and confusion. It recreates perfectly the nostalgia of the lost summers of our youth, and it is also very apt at showing the moment an insightful youth starts to question the behaviours of the adults around him, their motivations, and their inconsistencies. I know some readers are not fond of first-person narration, but I thought it worked well here, because it provides us with a particular perspective and point of view, one that is at once participant and outside observer (Ben’s family used to spend their summers at the lake but decide to move there permanently due to the riots).

I found the ending appropriate and satisfying, given the circumstances. The mystery is solved sometime before the actual ending of the novel, but the full dénouement doesn’t come until the end, and although not surprising at that point, it is both symbolic and fitting.

As I’ve said before, this is a great book. I’ve read many excellent stories this year, but this one is among the best of them. It is not an easy-to-classify novel, although it fits into a variety of genres, and it is not for people looking for a standard mystery read, where one can easily follow the clues and reach a conclusion. It is not a fast page-turner, and there is plenty of time spent inside the head of our young protagonist rather than moving from action scene to action scene. If you enjoy beautiful writing, psychologically complex characters, and a story full of nostalgia and a somewhat timeless feel, I recommend it. There is a background of violence and some very troubling events that take place during the narration, but these are never explicitly shown or described, and although there are plenty of disturbing moments (suicide, the death of a child, episodes of drunkenness…), in most cases we only witness the consequences of those. Readers who love literary fiction and coming of age stories and especially those interested in US Literature from the later part of the 20th century should try a sample and see how it makes them feel. I strongly recommend it.

Book description

Set against the backdrop of the Newark riots in 1967, a teenage Benjamin Baum leaves the city to spend the summer at an idyllic lake in northern New Jersey. While fishing from his grandparents’ dock, the dead body of a beloved neighbor floats to the water’s surface—a loss that shakes this Jewish community and reveals cracks in what appeared to be a perfect middle-class existence. Haunted by the sight of the woman’s corpse, Ben stubbornly searches for clues to her death, infuriating friends and family who view his unwelcome investigation as a threat to the comfortable lives they’ve built. As Ben’s suspicions mount, he’s forced to confront the terrifying possibility that his close-knit community is not what it seems to be—that, beneath a façade of prosperity and contentment, darker forces may be at work.

In The Boy and the Lake, Adam Pelzman has crafted a riveting coming-of-age story and a mystery rich in historical detail, exploring an insular world where the desperate quest for the American dream threatens to destroy both a family and a way of life.

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