1930s Virginia, Sprinkled With #MagicalRealism @OlgaNM7 Reviews #ComingOfAge Fleuringala by M.K.B. Graham, for #RBRT

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

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Olga has been reading Fleuringala by M.K.B. Graham

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Although M. K. B. Graham had submitted her first novel to Rosie’s team a few years back, I somehow missed it then, but I’m very pleased to have discovered this gem now. What a gorgeous read!

The novel is listed under the categories of ‘historical fiction’ and ‘coming of age fiction’ and they are both appropriate. The story is set in the late 1930s and early 40s, mostly in Virginia, a setting that the author knows well and several generations of her family have grown in. The protagonists (Tack [he is called Albert, like his Dad, but from the beginning it proved difficult to share the name, and he became known as Tack], and Ruby) live plenty of adventures, many together and some separately, but Lauderville and the rest of the settings they visit play almost as important a part as they do, and the book excels at making readers feel as if they were totally immersed in the experience, walking the streets, smelling the aromas, touching the fabrics, seeing the colours, and talking to the inhabitants of the town, and later, of Suwanalee (North Carolina), Charleston, and Fleuringala (yes, the title comes from a property and its quasi-magical gardens), and although some of those are fictional, it is evident that their creation has been inspired by real small towns and by a period of history that might feel far off, but it not as distant some things haven’t changed as much as we’d like to believe.

This is Tack’s coming of age story, although Rudy does a lot of growing as well (but she is much younger and still a child as we leave her). He graduates from high school, gets his first car, gets his first job (and that causes upset with his father, as he wanted him to carry on with the family business, because he is the only boy in a family of girls, and the youngest), and eventually gets to move away from home, live independently, and takes on the responsibility of looking after another human being. I don’t want to summarise the whole novel here and leave readers with no surprises,  but the story brought to my mind some of the classics in the genre, like Huckleberry Finn (mentioned in the book as well), To Kill a Mockingbird (although here, poverty, lack of social standing, and behaviours that are not considered ‘socially acceptable or in good taste’  are the cause behind much of the discrimination and suffering that ensues, rather than race, which does not feature in the book), and others like Little Women, a big favourite of mine. Tack is a young man, of course, but his selfless behaviour and the way he cares for others place the focus of the novel in characteristics other than those that tend to be more common in coming of age novels whose central characters are male, which often focus on the quest motif, adventures and dangers. Yes, Tack experiences plenty of those as well (they come across many obstacles, moments of self-doubt, and terrible trials), but not just out of a thirst for adventure or a desire to become independent and go looking for freedom. Those things also happen, but seem to be the unintended consequences of the interest he takes in Ruby and her welfare.

There are elements of the fairy tale as well (Fleuringala and its owner made me think of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Selfish Giant,’ minus the religious symbolism), and as would be the case in a fairy tale, there are characters that play the part of fairy godmothers (several in fact), out and out villains (Ruby’s mother, Gilda, although one has to wonder at how she might have been like, had her circumstances been different; Tack’s older sister; the car man [a true monster]…), there are magical castles/gardens, animal companions and defenders (Arly is a hero), something close to a miracle transformation, happy coincidences aplenty, and yes a HEA ending as well (with a final surprise, although I had my suspicions about that). Some of the characters seem to be larger than life, as if a caricaturist had emphasised their features for laughter or to bring them to our attention, but they all  (or most) have their human side. Don’t think that means this is a book that deals in light and fluffy subjects. Far from it. Even though this is not the typical story about the dark side of small America, where behind the veneer of civilization festers an underbelly of crime and corruption, we can still find child abuse and neglect, a horrific scene where Ruby is in terrible danger (well, two, but quite different in nature), plenty of prejudice, gossip (oh, those Mavens), and a good deal of suffering and disappointment. But, fear not, there are moments of comic relief (Maxine is wonderful if a bit over the top and I quite appreciate her friend Ira as well; Albert had his moments; and I loved Francine’s Beauty Parlor and the goings on there), plenty of smiles and happy events, beautiful descriptions of places, and a gorgeous rendering of the language of the people, turns of phrases, and local sayings and idioms. And, Ruby. The little girl is a light that shines through the whole story, (almost) always optimistic, willing to think the best of people and to give everybody a second chance. She is a transformative force, and she changes all she meets for the better.

I’ve mentioned the beautiful language and writing. The story is written in the third person, from an omniscient point of view, which, although I know some readers don’t appreciate, I felt that in this case it worked well to bring us closer to all the characters and to make us appreciate what moves them and what they are really like. It also foreshadows what is to come, giving us hints and insights, and preparing us in advance for both good and bad news. Most of the story follows chronologically the events from the moment Tack sees Ruby from the first time, although there are some chapters where it provides background information about some of the other characters, allowing readers to get a clearer picture of where they are coming from and helping us get a clearer understanding of their reactions, their behaviours, turning it into something of a collective narrative, and not only the story of the two main characters. We might or might not like some of the people we meet, but we get to understand them a bit better.

I highlighted plenty of sentences and full paragraphs as I read, and I’ll follow my usual policy of recommending possible readers to check a sample of the book if they can, but I’ll share a couple of random examples, to give you a taste:

All Tack knew was that here in Lauderville, a little town tucked in the bumpy toe of Virginia as close to Tennessee as a blanket is to a sheet, the winters were cold, the springs and autumns were nice, and the summers could be pleasant —or hot as Hades. Like today.

Here, talking about the Maven’s behaviour at Francine’s Beauty Parlor:

They shamelessly, deliberately, and corporately encouraged Gilda the way a child is prodded to repeat a dirty word. That she could run her mouth faster and louder than an un-muffled Chevy only added to her appeal. And with her ability to spin an innuendo faster than a frog can snatch a fly, she entertained the Mavens who would not miss it for anything short of the funeral of a close relative—although not one among them would admit it. Everybody around her sat and listened, assured that their own stations in life were considerably loftier than Gilda’s.

I have mentioned the ending, and yes, I’m sure it won’t disappoint readers. I felt sad for losing sight of the characters, but the ending is pretty perfect, in the way the best fairy tales and happy novels can be, especially when the characters have gone through so much. It’s easy to imagine what their lives will be like from then on, and the outlook is excellent.

This is a wonderful novel, and I enjoyed it enormously. It is not realistic and gritty in the standard sense, but if I had to include any warnings, as I’d mentioned before there is a scene that is fairly explicit and terrifying, and another one that will cause heartache to most readers who love pets; and child abuse and neglect are important themes in the story. Of course, if one thinks of classic fairy tales, they are not mild or non-violent, can be terrifying, and often feature abuse, neglect, abandonment, cruel behaviours and worse. I wouldn’t recommend this novel to people looking for a hard and totally realistic account of life in 1930s small town America, but readers looking for a magical story, with wonderful characters, a strong sense of place, the nostalgic feel of an era long gone, and beautiful writing peppered with local expressions and idioms, will love this novel. I can’t wait to see what the author with delight us with, next.

Desc 1

Abandoned by her no-count mother in a rundown shack on the outskirts of Lauderville, Virginia, seven-year-old Ruby Glory is alone. Her only friend and sole companion is her faithful dog, Arly. Then along comes Tack, the teenage son of Lauderville’s prominent and well-heeled Pittman family. Despite his sincere desire to help Ruby, Tack learns quickly that no good deed goes unpunished. His involvement with the child of a women of ill-repute sends his family and the citizens of Lauderville into a frenzy of rumors and gossip, presenting Tack with a dilemma. Will the uproar spell the end for the mismatched friends—or set in motion opportunities that Tack and Ruby could only imagine?

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Ya #Fantasy The Trickster’s Sister by R. Chris Reeder

Today’s team review is from Barb. She blogs here https://barbtaub.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Barb has been reading The Trickster’s Sister by R Chris Reeder

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Epic fantasy is an ambitious genre to take on. After Lord of the Rings defined it, great series from the Belgariad to Harry Potter refined it, and Star Wars took it into space, it’s got to be a challenge to extend the tropes into new territory, especially for the middle book of a series.

I started with a disadvantage because I haven’t read The Changeling’s Daughter, Book 1 in the Coblyn Chronicles series. And while author R. Chris Reeder does an excellent job of slipping in the important details as his story moves forward, the usual middle-book issue of introducing an ever-increasing cast of supporting characters is compounded by the mortal sin of fantasy writers: loads of fantasy creatures with unpronounceable names containing too many or not enough vowels—”…he’d been interrupted by a family of gwyllion whose cavern had been vandalized by a band of pwca colts…”

This is compounded by long descriptions of magical spells and babbling that basically involves applied phlebotinum (a term supposedly coined by Buffy writer David Greenwalt to move a plot forward using a fictional material possessing made-up properties unknown in the real world.

Luckily for all of us, author R. Chris Reeder soon tires of this epic-soup, and turns to the coming-of-age stories of his two teenaged protagonists, Makayla and her goblin bestie, Brynn.

Their hometown, Jeffersonville Indianna, is being systematically destroyed by demonic changelings, while their actual family, friends, and fellow residents have been taken…somewhere. When Brynn’s parents disappear, leaving the girls to watch over Brynn’s baby sister, the two friends realize it’s up to them to babysit. And save the world.

There were standard epic tropes, nicely-subverted in most cases. For example, there is a dragon-pommeled sword, a gift from the most powerful warrior, and a tiny magic fairy nut which the girls faithfully haul around with them but which never seem to quite win the day.  There was a hobbit, at least he was hobbity most of the time. There was an ancient evil that could be killed but not, perhaps, defeated.

But oddly, none of those things were really what the book was about. Instead—and the parts I most enjoyed— it’s about friendship, and love, and being the outsider, and fitting in. It’s about growing up to acknowledge that you can’t win unless you celebrate what makes you different.

What I absolutely loved about the tale as it moves forward is that instead of being the Chosen One(s) prophesied to save the world (while mastering convenient new powers in the nick of time, of course), Makayla and Brynn instead are friends with issues. Makayla is suffering from PTSD after their last traumatic adventure, while Brynn is profoundly distrustful of her own newfound abilities. Brynn’s younger brother is conflicted about pretending to be human while denying his goblin nature. In addition, both girls are coming to terms with their sexuality and attraction to each other, although in Brynn’s case that’s a little more unusual:

 I mean, I’m a goblin,” Brynn said with a shrug. “But I still think of myself as a person So I like people…But I also see a goblin and go, hmm.’ And there was that hot horse person, the pwca, and I don’t know if…if that horse person…was a boy or a girl or what. So yeah, I like girls, But I don’t think that’s all I like. Is that okay?

So even though bad guys have a tendency to come back from the dead, and this episode ends in a seriously disturbing (think Sophie’s Choice) confrontation followed by a cliffhanger, and there are way too many pantheon-swapping supernatural creatures with annoyingly few vowels in their names, I ended up enjoying the ways The Trickster’s Sister used its high/low/epic/fairytale fantasy mashup to evoke and subvert fantasy genre tropes. And I especially liked the way two young women grow, and love, and learn to use their flaws and their idiosyncrasies as their advantages.

Desc 1

After getting kidnapped by a demigod and imprisoned in another dimension, Makayla was really hoping that her life would get back to normal. Or at least as normal as life could be when you had a goblin for a best friend.

But now her sleepy midwestern town is being invaded by shadows. Her neighbors are being stolen away and replaced by changelings. And when she tries to escape, her path threatens to take her to the one place she never wanted to return to: the mysterious and dangerous Land of Annwfyn.

In this sequel to The Changeling’s Daughter, Makayla and Brynn must confront their deepest fears and their worst enemies as their journey takes them to the farthest ends of the Earth and beyond.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #ComingOfAge Everything That Came Before Grace by Bill See

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

#RBRT Review Team

Alison has been reading Everything That Came Before Grace by Bill See

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Benjamin is a single father, bringing up his daughter Sophia alone. He is struggling with his mental health, coming to terms with the impact his mother’s issues had on his childhood, and also getting over the fact that his past ‘true love’ has ended up marrying his best friend.

So he’s struggling  in the face of loss, betrayal, stress, all those ups and downs of normal life, and then some.

The narrative spans the years of Sophia’s childhood, with flashbacks to Benjamin’s time in college, his friendship with love of his life Anna and their best friend  Keith and his relationship with Sophia’s mother. He’s one of those characters that you don’t know whether to hug or shake! But he is honest, about his faults as well as the faults in those around him.

One of the most poignant things about the narrative was the way in which he has to accept that Sophia is growing up, and, as a result, growing apart from him. This is written with honesty and empathy.

The author has a background in the music business and he includes references to lots of bands, albums and songs throughout. I have quite an eclectic taste in music and I did enjoy this aspect – to an extent. There were times when it got in the way of the story and did feel as though it was there for the author’s benefit not the reader’s – not for the purpose of the story.

There were times too when things were a bit slow, a bit drawn out, and I did occasionally find myself skipping ahead. All in all though this is a very good read, heartfelt, honest, and engaging.

Four stars

Book description

A single-father comes of age as he discovers whether it’s love or fatherhood that could save him. Haunted by his mother’s death and a series of serendipitous events from his past, Benjamin Bradford desperately tries to keep his mental illness under control while raising his daughter Sophia. Set against the iconic streets of Los Angeles, there’s music always playing, heavy therapy sessions and private emails to discern, shattered friendships and betrayal, and the specter of a true love that got away. An insightful and unique male perspective on the inner struggles of parenting seldom on display. Think: “Silver Linings Playbook” meets “High Fidelity” with a dash of “Eighth Grade.” Can Benjamin find redemption? Can he escape his demons and find love again? Come along for the ride and find out. 

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Of #ComingOfAge Everything, Somewhere by David Kummer

Everything, SomewhereEverything, Somewhere by David Duane Kummer

3.5 stars

Everything, Somewhere is a small town coming-of-age story set in a fictional Ohio town.

The three main teenagers are Hudson, Mason and Willow and chapters alternate between them. In addition there are also chapters from several adults: Mason’s dad, a Hollywood star, a journalist and some robbers. The story has a strong mental health awareness theme, as well as addressing the pressures which many teenagers face when growing up.

I enjoyed the small town setting and I thought that the author portrayed this well; I could easily imagine the scenes. I liked the stories behind the three teenagers too, and would have been happy if chapters had just been from their points of view. I felt that giving so many chapters to other characters watered down the narrative and I was constantly picking up the threads of each story as we changed chapters each time.

I felt this was a bit ambitious for a first book. With a bit more work on the character development of the teenagers, and cutting back of other players, the narrative could have been tighter to make this the interesting story that it deserved to be.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Desc 1

The power of memories.

Little Rush is a sleepy town on the Ohio River. Bruce Michaels is a renowned Hollywood actor. The two should never cross paths, yet one summer everything changes. The actor, haunted by demons, chasing a ghost. The town, unaware. Until the two collide.

Hudson, Willow, and Mason are high school seniors with very different upbringings, but all on the verge of adulthood. As the sun sets on their final summer, questions abound. Will they ever leave the town? Is there a future here? As their plans waver, time is running out.

The struggle of mental illness.

As he loses his friends and sinks deeper into depression, Hudson forms an unlikely bond with the actor, Bruce Michaels. But the old man is a ticking time bomb. As Hudson relies on him more, the danger to them both grows.

When dark secrets are revealed, Hudson must confront the truth about his idol and himself. Bruce Michaels isn’t who he seems. Hudson is nearly lost. And in the end, they may be more similar than different.

The search for meaning.

Different paths, converging in a web of alcohol, fights, and romance. Worlds collide one summer in Anywhere, USA. The question is who will make it through.

EVERYTHING, SOMEWHERE is an ambitious, sprawling look at the stories, people, and places forming the nuanced landscape of rural America.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #BookReview Of #ComingOfAge Mystery THE MILK WAGON by Michael Hewes

The Milk WagonThe Milk Wagon by Michael Hewes

4 stars

The Milk Wagon is a coming-of-age mystery set in Gulfport Mississippi during 1986.

High school friends Matt, Mark and Hop befriend new boy Nate Mayes, who recently arrived in this small town. I liked how much of the story was written around Matt’s 1980 Suburban car which they nicknamed the Milk Wagon; it became as much of a character in the book as the boys themselves. Alongside the story of the boys’ friendship is an FBI investigation in the area about a money laundering case being run by doctors and pharmacists.

Short easy to read chapters dot back and forth between the two parts and it isn’t too long before the narratives become linked and the tension of the story increases, reaching a grand finale with a good twist.

As soon as the author introduced us to the school friends the story drew me in, as their mannerisms, actions and dialogue all felt real; teenage talk about cars, girls and sport flew naturally from the pages. I was less convinced with the money laundering events; the characters involved were harder to comprehend and were less convincing than the teenagers. However, this may be because when the second storyline was introduced, at chapter four, I was already hooked by the teenagers and was mildly grumpy about the pause in their story and the introduction to lots more characters.

The money laundering tale did grow on me and by the end I was invested in tying up the mystery and solving the case. But my favourites will always be Matt, Mark, Hop and Natt; their final school reunion looked set to be a particular high point which I would have been happy to attend.

Overall, a story about high school friendships and how good friends will always try to be there for each other.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Book description

THE MILK WAGON is a coming of age thriller about friendship, redemption, and how the ties made during high school can last a lifetime.

For Matt Frazier, Jason “Hop” Hopkins, and Mark Ragone, 1986 was the year that changed everything, and it was the year that everything changed.

It was the year Matt fell in love.
It was the year Mark started a band.
It was the year Hop actually, kind of, but not really got a girlfriend.
And it was the year Nate Mayes disappeared.

Matt, Hop and Mark have been friends since elementary school. They played ball together, they hung out together, and they somehow managed to work their way through the awkward years of junior high together. Now, they are finally starting to come into their own as they prepare to start eleventh grade, but on the first day of school, a new kid named Nate Mayes arrives, and with him, a secret. Once the boys learn the horrifying truth, they take it upon themselves to try and make it right, and in so doing, set in motion a chain of events that have unexpected and life-altering consequences for everyone.

The Milk Wagon was there through it all.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

 

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Rosie’s #BookReview Of THE GROSTON RULES by Mark Binder, a coming-of-age American high school drama.

The Groston RulesThe Groston Rules by Mark Binder

3.5 stars

The Groston Rules is a coming-of-age American high school drama.

This is the final school year for Isaac and his diverse group of friends; it should be an easy coast to the end. However, a catalogue of disasters befalls the friends and their school; it looks like the only memories they’ll have of their final year will be bad ones. So they work together to create The Groston Rules and design their own commemorations.

Isaac and his friends are a lively bunch, the dialogue flows well, filled with teenage slang and plenty of swearing. I thought that the author did a great job making the male characters come alive; however, the female ones, particularly Helen, lacked enough feminine mannerisms to make them plausible.

Each chapter has a colour photo heading accompanied by a quote from one of the characters from the book, while the episodes are peppered with footnote markers; their explanations are located at the end of each chapter. I found the footnotes irritating when reading this in kindle format. In my opinion this style would suit a paperback version better. 

Overall, this is a humourous adolescent tale suitable for older young adult readers. Although I was invited to read this for review purposes, I know that I’m not the target audience. The story was okay, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Book description

All they wanted was to get high and graduate…
Isaac, Adam, Helen, Charlie, Sean, Jésus and Rover had planned on coasting through their final semester at Ashby Bryson High. They called themselves Team Bomb Shelter, and their plan was simple, get stoned, play video games, get into college, and get the hell out of Groston.
Instead, they get caught up in chaos.
Adam assaults two football stars. Fat Charlie’s father nearly dies of a heart attack. Jesus can’t make his art while chauffeuring his siblings. Rover’s never had a date. Helen’s house is destroyed in a flood. Sean is coming out of the closet. And Isaac can’t get into college to save his life.
The last straw is when Ashby Bryson High School is suddenly shut down, and they’re bussed to Fectville Regional, which sucks. Big time.
But every time Team Bomb Shelter gets knocked down, they get up again, come together, and solve their problems. They throw the rules out the window and make up their own.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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