Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT #Comedy FIVE TIME LUCKY by P. David Temple #TuesdayBookBlog

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Five Times Lucky by P. David Temple

Five Times Lucky by [P. David Temple]

I didn’t know the author before I came across this novel but after checking a sample of it, I thought it would be the perfect antidote to the dreary mood that seems to hang over everything these days. I looked forward to a light read. This is a funny book (laugh-out-funny at times), but it comes with its share of serious moments as well. And I enjoyed both aspects of it.

What to say about the plot of this novel… Well, I’ve said it’s funny, and it is a comedy, or rather, it touches on several comedy genres at once: a soap opera; a romantic comedy (yes, there is a central love story and other possible ones hovering around the edges); a quasi stand-up comedy routine full of jokes; a madcap comedy at times; there are elements of physical comedy; we have big spectacle as well (and it’s easy to see how handy the author’s experience with the World Wrestling Federation has been); a more intellectual/phylosophical-style comedy, and everything in between. The description of the novel does a pretty job at providing some semblance of a plot, and the story starts with BunnyLee, a —no longer so young— woman who after trying to become an actress has been working as an English teacher in Thailand for several years and is on her way back to LA to attend the wedding of one of her best friends. She is also going to stay at her friend’s apartment for a couple of weeks while she’s away on her honeymoon, but as her luck (she’s been told by a shaman priest that she is five-times-lucky) would have it, through a series of misunderstandings (I forgot to mention the farce, didn’t I?), she ends up staying as a guest in the house of an ageing Hollywood star, Buck LeGrande, who isn’t quite ready to become a has-been yet, and their friendship/perhaps-something-else falls victim to further misunderstandings and more than a fair bit of paranoia and jealousy. Somehow, the novel becomes a road trip for a while, and a whole host of new characters join the motley crew of BunnyLee, Buck, Buck’s chauffeur (and aspiring scriptwriter), Buck’s Chinese cook (for whom popular culture, media, and his Chinese relatives seem to be the source of all knowledge), and Puddles, the dog, a labradoodle and a true star. Austin, a cowboy and WWF celebrity on his way down, is also on the road, running away from a couple of women on a pink camper van, and their paths are, of course, set to cross. Characters from the world of professional wrestling, a local cowboy, a waiter, a Native American fish and game warden, staff at a Zen spa… also come into the story, don’t ask me to explain how. If you want to know, I invite you to read the book.

Fame, the world of TV and acting, Hollywood, celebrity culture, grief and loss, philosophy and the search for meaning, family relationships… these themes and more make it into the novel as well, and as I’ve said, despite the comedic elements I felt quite touched by the story at times.

I’ve mentioned some of the characters we come across, and although a few of them play small parts, all of them are pretty memorable. The book might be written as a comedy, and we might laugh at the characters at times, but they are not mere caricatures, rather all too human, and no matter how distant they might be from our everyday experience, they are universally recognisable and have endearing and redeeming qualities, even when (or because of) they are making total fools of themselves. Because, who hasn’t been there, especially when there are toupees and tight Spandex leggings involved? (If I had to choose one character, I admit to having a soft spot for Austin, the wrestler, although it’s difficult to top Puddles).

The book is narrated in the third person from a number of different points of view, which are clearly separated in the novel, so there’s no risk of getting confused about whose perspective we are following. This is a very self-aware novel, and an omniscient narrative voice sometimes pokes fun at the whole enterprise, in an interesting exercise of metafiction. It is a very visual novel with scenes that scream to be turned into set pieces in a movie or TV series, and this is combined with digressions where characters and/or author wonder about all kind of weighty subjects, from fate, to the nature of love and life itself. We have contemplative moments interspersed with scenes that explode in a whirlwind of action, energy, and laughter creating a perfect combination of light fun and reflection.

I have highlighted many jokes, insightful and crackwise comments, and many of the scenes, but some are far too long to share. As usual, I’d recommend readers to check a sample of the novel before deciding if it is a good fit for them, but I couldn’t resist sharing a few examples of what you might find.

Like the reader of fiction, one needed to have faith in his or her author, faith in the belief that the narrator knew how best to tell the story, faith that what may have seemed like irrelevant philosophical digresssions were in fact well-crafted artifices both necessay and sufficient to the telling of a compelling story. 

He wasn’t afraid of heights per se. It was the depths surrounding them that gave him pause —gravity being the one law you should never tempt breaking.

Like so many icons afoot these days in the pantheon of emerging American heroes, Chief Tenaya was a confluence of mixed metaphors. He was an icon in search of a meaning.

The ending fits both the comedy and the romance conventions. It ends up in a high note, and that’s exactly what most of us need right now.

So, if you’re looking for a fun/crazy read, with a bizarre catalogue of characters, are prepared to put your faith in the author and his criteria, are happy to follow him down some unusual and unexpected paths, and are looking for a break from the grey and dreary reality, this is your antidote. I hope this turns into a TV series or a movie, because it will be a hoot.

Book description

In FIVE TIMES LUCKY, an intrepid traveler gets more than her share of tabloid celebrity. Who hasn’t wondered what life was like inside the velvet rope of the Hollywood in-crowd? In this fast-moving comedy by P. David Temple, the quest for fame has no boundaries…but celebrity has its downside. We follow ex-actress BunnyLee Welles, who returns to Los Angeles for her best friend’s wedding and finds that she is instantly recognizable. From the customs officer to the baggage clerk to the Lyft driver, everyone knows her single-dimple smile. They mimic her. They take selfies with her. They hand her unsolicited film scripts. In the four years she has been traveling abroad, her sole commercial role for Dial-a-Denture has recently become an online meme. Like it or not, BunnyLee is now famous.

AmazonUk | AmazonUS

Five Times Lucky by [P. David Temple]

Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT #ContemporaryFiction A RAINBOW LIKE YOU by Andréa Fehsenfeld @acfcreative

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading A Rainbow Like You by Andréa Fehsenfeld.

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This is my first experience reading this author’s work, although it is evident that she is no newcomer to the world of writing, even if this is only her second published novel.

This is not a mystery novel, so I’m not sure spoilers, as such, apply, but I still think the official description includes sufficient information to give prospective readers a good sense of what it is about. I’m not a big reader of pop, rock, or music fiction in general (I read Daisy Jones & The Six some time ago and loved it, but the setting and the narrative style are very different), and it is not a world I’m particularly close to. I’m not a big reader of romance either, and yes, there is a romantic story as well (or more than one: Adrian, the protagonist, is trying to recover from a breakup, a pretty devastating one, and during the novel he meets somebody) and one that is pretty close to insta-love (not a favourite of mine either), but despite all that, I enjoyed this novel, perhaps because it is about more than that, although both elements play a big part in the book. For me, the novel falls under what I’ve come to think of as “adult coming-of-age” stories, or perhaps “growing-up” stories, those where characters —who are grown-up when it comes to their chronological age but perhaps don’t act accordingly— usually get confronted by something (a personal tragedy and/or a person they come across) that makes them take a good look at themselves, and they come out of it a different (and usually better) person. In this case, Adrian was driven by music from a very early age, left high school and focused all his efforts on that, becoming the leader of an incredibly successful rock band. He also married young and seemed to have everything, but that is not the whole picture. When we meet him, he is far from happy, and although he is touring with the band, there are many problems brewing, both in his personal and his professional life: with members of the band demanding more of a saying in what happens; divorced from his wife after a pretty traumatic even; he recently and suddenly lost his mother also and hasn’t recovered from that; his relationship with his father seems broken beyond repair; he got into trouble with alcohol during a twelve month period in Mexico (and he doesn’t seem to be over that yet); and he seems to be at a creative standstill, totally unable to write new songs. And then, he finds Hastings, a teenage girl who has run away from her foster parents’ home and is hiding in his bus. And yes, you’ve guessed it, this encounter (and a woman she meets later on) will change his life.

I have talked about Adrian, who is not only the protagonist but also the narrator of the story, which is written in the first-person (so people who dislike first-person narration have been warned). Apart from what I’ve mentioned, he comes with other quirks: he is colour blind (that makes for a great contrast with Hastings, who has synaesthesia, or, to be more precise, chromaesthesia, whereby she perceives colours, in her case when she hears music), has some obsessive personality traits and a fear of contamination (he talks about his OCD, but it’s never clear that he has seen anybody or been given a formal diagnosis, and as a psychiatrist, the description of his behaviours would not warrant it), and can be totally lacking in insight as to his own behaviour and motivations. He drinks too much; he doesn’t listen to anything that he perceives as criticism and gets very defensive when taken to task, and seems unable to let go, forgive, or forget. He is an interesting character, because he is flawed and is forever trying not to be the typical rock star who misbehaves constantly, although he doesn’t always manage, and he is far from consistent. The other members of the band are quite diverse, and are like a family to him, friends and brothers, as most of the people he knows and connects with seem to belong to the same world or be part of his entourage (the security man, his agent, the owners of the music company, the bus driver…). We only get to meet the rest of the people from his perspective, and he is not always a good judge of character. They add to the background of the story, but I wasn’t sure any of them came to life as individuals for me, apart from Hasting (and Sasha-Rae, although less so). Hastings, though, is wonderful, a unique creation, and one of those characters that you read about and you wish were real and you could meet. She is very special, and I won’t say a lot more about her not to ruin the novel, as she hides quite a few things that help make her who she is (and affect the novel’s course as well). There is a pretty nasty reporter as well, but you’ll be happy to hear that she gets her comeuppance (in one of my favourite scenes from the book).

I’m not always convinced by first-person narratives, although I’m not against them per-se, and in this case, I think it works pretty well, because we need to understand the character and see things from his perspective, even if we have nothing in common with him and might never have done the things he does —he has a talent for making the wrong decision—, and although I have talked about his lack of insight, he is not an unreliable narrator. He calls things as he sees them, and we can make our own minds up about them, without tricks. I enjoyed the style of writing, and the use of similes and metaphors work very well to give readers a quick insight into Adrian’s opinion of people and places. The protagonist is not called ‘Jazzer’ for nothing, and his voice comes across quite clearly, with very funny moments, and some very touching ones as well (yes, be prepared for tears).

Here, a few random examples of my highlights:

“Ex was the equivalent of eight elephants when it came to not forgetting.”

“With the door peeled open, she cowered deeper into the closet, like a vampire avoiding the sun… if vampires were black girls … who wore headbands and jeans.”

“The real estate of her features reminded me of Nina Simone: the nose of a boxer, swollen from one too many hits; a generous mouth better suited to a larger face.”

“Sven, our tour manager, arrived with breakfast. Imagine a Swedish version of The Rock, minus any charisma, and that’s our Svennie.”

I’ve referred to the ending before (yes, a bad character gets her comeuppance), and the romance part of the story ends up like a romance should. I’ve also referred to this as a growing-up story, so you probably guess that the character learns a lot about himself. That’s also true. But be warned that the lesson is a hard one. Although it is an inspiring story and feel-good story overall, there are sad moments, and I’ve pre-warned you that there might be tears (or moments pretty close to).

Any warnings? I’ve mentioned use of alcohol, and there are plenty of references to drug use, some violence, sex (there is more talk than anything, and there is nothing too explicit, but yes, there is some, and at least one of the scenes and a minor plot-point I felt didn’t add much to the story, but that’s my personal opinion), also upsetting events referred to, and chronic illness that also features (the author does a good job in her acknowledgements at providing extra information and resources to people who might want to know more about some of the topics). Although I felt the story might be suited to new adult readers as well, they need to be aware of those issues, as should the rest of readers.

In summary, this is not one of my usual genres, but I’d recommend it to people who enjoy reading about the music business (rock bands in particular. The author explains in her acknowledgements her process of research, and she definitely did a good job), who like first-person narratives, who enjoy unique characters, and/or are looking for a story of growing-up, redemption, and a hopeful and feel-good read. There is fun, laughter, tears, and heartache, but there’s a rainbow at the end. (The book includes quite a lot of extra materials, like the covers of the band records, illustrations/pics of the members of the band, and even a link to listen to the song that shares its title with the book. They are all worth a look and a listen).

Book description

An iconic rock star with everything to prove. A teen runaway with nothing left to lose. When their fates intertwine, the most unexpected journey unfolds.

Adrian ‘Jazzer’ Johnson’s gilded rock and roll career is the stuff of legend. From out of the dive bars of Long Beach, this high school dropout rocketed his band to the pinnacle of success. But after a whirlwind decade ended with him broken and questioning, Adrian disappeared.

Now back on tour after a year in exile, Adrian’s still struggling and under pressure to deliver his next hit. The last thing he needs is to find a teen runaway hiding in his tour bus. As it turns out, Hastings Sinclair is a synesthete who can see music in color. But her offer to help color-blind Adrian unpack his creative block upends their lives in ways they never imagined.

Because Adrian’s troubles run deep—beyond what any song can fix—and Hastings hasn’t been upfront about hers. When calamity strikes, a perfect storm of fates unleashes and caught in the crossfire are Adrian’s band mates, a fame-shy beauty he falls hard for, and a scheming journalist with a vendetta. With everything he values suddenly on the line, can Adrian reconcile his own brash history? Or will he be forced to face the music in a way he never has before?

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT Biographical #historicalfiction The Other Mrs. Samson by @Ralph_Webster

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading The Other Mrs Samson by Ralph Webster

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The description of the book suggests, this is the story of two women, told by them, although somewhat indirectly. This is one of those books (they are also quite a few movies, mostly adaptations of novels), which follow similar plots, or use a similar “frame” to tell a story: somebody finds a book, diary, collection of letters, etc., sometimes belonging to a parent, another relative, a friend, sometimes to somebody they’ve never met, and then, as if in a long flashback, we get to hear (or see) the story of that other person. Most of these stories tend to include some secret or major revelation towards the end, which casts a new light on the characters and their lives. In this book, a couple have inherited a piece of furniture (a lacquered cabinet) from an elderly woman they met through one of their relatives (they had been friends for decades and met regularly to have lunch and share news), and whom they became friendly with after their relative’s passing. By pure chance, they discover a secret drawer in the cabinet and inside there are (with some extra bits) two diaries/documents narrating the stories of two women who’d been married to the same man at very different moments in time (and also at very different historical periods). What makes the book particularly interesting is that in the acknowledgements’ section, the author talks about the process of development of the book, the help he got translating letters, etc., and also the fact that he changed some names, so this is not a work of fiction in its entirety, but rather a fictionalisation of the lives of two women. This makes sense, especially considering that the author (whose work I hadn’t read before) is well known for his work writing/adapting memoirs and biographies. The note doesn’t clarify how much of the content is fictionalised, but I found the category of biographical historical fiction that the book is classed under more than appropriate.

What I most liked about the book is the historical sweep and the amount of detail about the periods it covers, and also the two main characters (or the two narrators, to be more specific), Hilda and Katie. As Hilda’s narration also includes details about her grandparents and her parents, we get treated to a chronicle of life from the early XIX century in Germany —the immigration of her ancestors to the United States (and San Francisco in particular) from old Europe, a description of her own life as a well-off debutante and a young woman —through to the late XIX and early XX century. We hear about the fires, the earthquake, we read about what travelling was like, and also about Hilda’s visits to Germany and her contact with a distant cousin who would become her husband, Josef. She moves to Germany, totally changing her husband’s life, and acknowledges her difficulties adapting to a new place, to living with somebody else, and also, later, describes how their life is affected by WWI. Hilda can be spoilt and whimsical, but she is determined to have her own life and not to simply become a doctor’s wife. Katie, on the other hand, is much younger than her husband, her social circumstances and education are very different to those of Josef (and Hilda) and they first meet while she is looking after his elderly mother. This takes place much later (in the late 1920s-early 1930s), and we follow her through a somewhat odd courting, then she joins him in France (he is Jewish and leaves Germany soon after Hitler comes into power), and she adapts her life to his, following him in his increasingly desperate attempts to leave Europe. The two narratives are in the first person, and Hilda and Katie have pretty different personalities which clearly come across in their parts of the story. While Hilda is more expressive and outgoing, Katie has seen a lot of suffering from a very young age, prefers quiet pursuits, and is happy to try to fit in with others and avoid confrontation.

This is a book full of little details that play important parts in the story, objects that come to symbolise aspects of the relationship of the two women with their husbands and also illustrate their personalities (while Hilda doesn’t get on with Josef’s mother and insists on standing her ground, Katie adapts to Josef’s mother’s somewhat overbearing personality and becomes a beloved companion of the old woman; Hilda dislikes the piano seat Josef can’t bear to part with but only convinces him to reupholster it, while Katie convinces him to get a two-seater piano bench; Katie’s father gives her a clock that becomes a stand-in for the past and for old memories and times). As we read the story we come to realise that Josef’s life has changed little, and we can’t help but wonder about the story of these women and about the man himself. There is a twist at the end, which helps explain some things, but it leaves and many questions unanswered as it solves.

I am not sure there is anything I dislike of the book. By its own nature and the way the story is narrated, there is a lot of telling, but the stories told are so fascinating that I didn’t mind at all, and other than the occasional German word (which is usually translated or explained in the text), the text is easy to read with no sudden jumps in point of view or chronology, apart from the framing story. Katie’s account will, perhaps, be more familiar to readers, as there has been an upsurge in stories about WWII, and I know some readers didn’t feel that part quite matched the intensity of the other, but I was intrigued by the character, her relationship with her husband and her attitude towards life (although I don’t have much, if anything, in common with her). Of course, readers who dislike telling or like elaborate plots that move the story along without a pause might feel frustrated by the story and the style of the narrative, but I liked the way the two stories fitted together and felt the technique used to tell the story is told is well suited to the material.

I recommend this book to readers of historical fiction, especially those interested in XIX and XX century German and American History, to people who enjoy biographies and/or fictionalised biographies, and particularly to those who like to read about women’s lives in the past. If you’re looking for a page-turner full of sensational adventures and larger-than-life characters, on the other hand, this is not the book for you. I look forward to discovering more of the author’s book and will follow his career with interest.

Book description

Surviving two wars, sharing one husband, searching for answers.

A secret compartment in a black lacquer cabinet left in an attic reveals the secrets of two incredible women: Hilda, born and raised in one of the wealthiest Jewish families in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, and Katie, whose early life in Germany is marked by tragedy and death. Their lives are forever entwined by their love of the same man, the brilliant and compassionate Dr. Josef Samson.

From the earliest, rough-and-tumble days of San Francisco, through the devastation of the Great War in Berlin and the terrors of Vichy France, and then to a new yet uncertain life in New York City, their stories span the most tumultuous events of the twentieth century. In the end, one of these women will complete the life of the other and make a startling discovery about the husband they share.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT Family Drama BLIND TURN by @caraachterberg

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Blind Turn by Cara Achterberg

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The book description gives an idea of the bare bones of the story, which is not very complicated, at least on the face of it. The novel follows the aftermath of a terrible accident, although perhaps not a totally ‘accidental’ accident, as the girl driving, Jess, was ‘allegedly’ texting while driving. The girl, who suffers a concussion, can’t remember anything about the accident, but her friend Sheila, who was with her in the car, has plenty to say. The victim is a well-known town coach and a friend and mentor of the girl’s father. Let’s say there’s not much love lost for the girl and her family in the town (Jefferson, Texas) after that happens. The novel falls into the categories of family drama (or women’s stories, as the story is told by the two women, Liz, the mother, and Jess, her daughter, in the first-person) as well as a coming of age story. Jess is only sixteen when the accident happens, and she grows up considerably during the next few months, while she discovers who her real friends are, reorders her priorities, gains a new appreciation for both her parents, learns about guilt, and more than anything, about forgiveness. She is not the only one who grows up in the process, and her mother also learns a lot about herself and about those around her.

I’ve mentioned some of the themes discussed in the book, and there are others: disappointed expectations, second chances, the risks of texting and driving (of course), parenting, split-up families, the nature of guilt and forgiveness, the way all lives are interconnected and all actions have consequences, unplanned parenthood, looking after the elderly (especially our parents)… This is not a novel full of secrets and twists, devious characters and bizarre motives, but rather one that we could imagine happening to our own relatives and/or friends (or ourselves). That is one of its strengths. The plot does not require any suspension of disbelief (or not much. At times, I wondered if in real life things wouldn’t have got even more difficult for those involved, and especially some of the male characters seem very understanding and forgiving, although that is refreshing), and as the book is not heavy on details or descriptions, it is even easier to imagine its scenario taking place around us.

I liked all (or most) of the characters. Although I have little in common with Liz or Jess, I found them both easy to empathise with. They are not perfect but are fundamentally good people trying to get on, and they love each other deeply, though at times it might not be that evident even to themselves. The rest of the characters are also pretty decent despite their flaws, and this is not a book where good and evil are clearly separated. Sometimes a mistake can have terrible consequences, and sometimes good people can do terrible things. If I had to choose some of my favourites, I quite liked Katie, Liz’s sister; her friend Avery; their neighbour, Dylan; Ellen, the counsellor; and Fish, a boy Jess’s father knows. Both of their love interests are endearing, although at times they appear a touch too perfect (but things happen that qualify that impression), and even the characters whose behaviour is not exemplary are not despicable. Through the main characters’ narrations we get to share in their doubts, hesitations, fears, defence-mechanisms, disappointments, expectations, hopes, guilt feelings; and it’s impossible not to wonder what we’d do in their place. I have no children, but I could easily imagine what Liz might feel like, and as somebody who’s driven for years and has been lucky enough not to be involved in any serious accidents (none involving injuries), Jess’s plight was instantly recognisable. Their thoughts and their emotions felt true, and the way they behave and eventually grow suits perfectly the kind of human beings they are.

The use of the first-person narration by the two main female characters works well, as we get both sides of the story, with access to more background into the changes and the actions of each character than the other has, and it also provides us with some distance from each woman and an outsider perspective on them, and we come to realise that they are more alike than they think. The author is both skilled and thoughtful enough to avoid common-places, and she does not give her characters an easy way out. They have to work through their issues and earn the hard lessons they learn. Saying that, I loved the ending that manages to be both, open and hopeful.

The writing flows easily, and although the novel is not full of action or a page-turner in the standard sense, there are very emotional moments. We become so involved in the lives of the characters that it’s difficult to put the book down, as we care too much for them to rest until we know what happens. I read a review written by somebody from Jefferson, Texas, who felt somewhat disappointed because she had expected to recognise some of the landmarks, so beware if you have similar expectations. On the other hand, I got a good sense of what it felt like to live there (or at least in the Jefferson of the novel) and to know the characters personally, and that worked perfectly well for me.

I thought I’d share a few of the passages I highlighted (although, remember mine was an ARC copy, so there might be some slight changes in the final version):

Why does forgiveness require a sacrifice? That piece of Christianity never made sense to me. That sounds more like making a deal than offering forgiveness.

I am the roadrunner, running in thin air, moments from smacking into reality.

Sometimes it feels like I’m in a dystopian novel being controlled by a cosmic author who makes the characters do things no one would ever dream they would do —especially themselves.

I am different too. I am finished withholding forgiveness and clinging to my anger and fear like some kind of sick armor to shield my heart.

I recommend this novel to readers who love realistic/plausible coming-of-age stories and family dramas that don’t fall into the trap of trying to make everything right or easy for the characters while at the same time avoiding unnecessary twists used simply for effect. If you’re looking for an inspiring story you can connect with and characters you’d love to have as neighbours or friends, this is your book. There is heartache, tears, and also a process of growth and lessons to be learned, and you’ll feel better for having read it. And what more can we ask for! (Oh, I almost forgot! There are dogs as well!)

Book description

In the aftermath of a fatal texting and driving accident, a mother and daughter must come to terms with the real meaning of forgiveness.

Liz Johnson single-handedly raised an exemplary daughter. Jessica is an honor-student, track star, and all-around good kid. So how could that same teenager be responsible for the death of the high school’s beloved football coach? This is Texas, where high school football ranks right up there with God, so while the legal battle wages, the public deals its own verdict.

Desperate for help, Liz turns to a lawyer whose affection she once rejected and attempts to play nice with her ex-husband. Jessica faces her angry peers and her own demons as she awaits a possible prison sentence for an accident she doesn’t remember.

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 https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#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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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Domestic Noir A Year In The Life Of Leah Brand by Lucinda E. Clarke

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading A Year In The Life Of Leah Brand by Lucinda E. Clarke

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I find this review quite difficult to write, because I don’t think I am the ideal reader for this book. I am sure people who don’t work in mental health and don’t read as many thrillers as I do will not have the same issues I had. Let me clarify. Clarke knows how to write, for sure. She builds up the tension slowly, creates credible (they might be annoying and irritating at time, but that is what makes them real) characters, has a great sense of rhythm and pace (things seem to be happening slowly at first, then get increasingly faster; we have breaks to allow us to catch our breath, and then things get even weirder and scarier), and piles up ambiguous evidence that can be interpreted in different ways. She also chooses well the point of view of the story; it is told in the first person (so readers who don’t like first-person narratives, be warned) from Leah’s perspective, and that allows us to experience all her doubts, hesitations, and to witness events through her eyes. Due to the nature of the story, that works perfectly well, as it manages to keep the surprises well-hidden. (I suspected what was happening from early on, but then… No, no spoilers).

However, some aspects of the plot stretched too much my suspension of disbelief, to the point where the story lost some of its hold on me. As a habitual reader of thrillers and police procedural novels, I do prefer books on those genres to be —even when the events might be rather extreme— fairly realistic when it comes to details and settings, unless they blend genres or take place in an alternative universe. For me, this book seems to fit into the domestic noir category that has become quite popular in recent years, and I am slowly coming to the realisation that this genre is not a great fit for me. I have similar issues with it as I have with cozy mysteries: I like the premise; in some cases I really enjoy the story and the characters; but there are aspects that don’t work for me, mostly to do with the actual mystery.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about the plot, to avoid spoilers and also because the description offers readers enough information already. My favourite character was Aunt Deirdre. Leah, the protagonist, has survived such tough and dramatic circumstances that it’s impossible not to sympathise with her, but I must admit to finding her annoying at times and wanting to grab her and force her to take charge of things, while at the same time imagining how hard it would be to have to face what she was going through, feeling so helpless after being undermined at every turn. Most of the other characters are dislikeable or ambiguous (they seem to blow hot and cold or are nasty most of the time), and there are some we don’t get to know too well, but, of course, as we see everything from the character’s perspective, sometimes it’s difficult to extricate what is what (and that’s the point, evidently).

As I said, the book is well-written, the pacing, the clues and red-herrings build-up and grab readers’ attention, and there is no excess violence or any explicit sex scenes. The thrill (or the threat) is mostly psychological, and the effect on Leah’s character and self-confidence are compellingly portrayed. The self-doubts and her hesitation ring true as well.

I’ve already said that some of my issues with the believability of the story are probably due to my experience working as a psychiatrist in the UK, and that means that some of the details of the story don’t work for me, but that shouldn’t put off other prospective readers. I also found there was a twist too many in the story, and that’s all I’ll say about the ending.

This is a page-turner and I’m sure readers of domestic noir who prefer stories with no explicit violence, love a first-person narrative and an ambiguous/unreliable narrator, will enjoy this story. A fun and fast read, but not exactly what I was looking for.

Book description

Leah’s nightmare began the day the dog died.

A few years earlier a fatal car crash took the lives of Leah’s beloved husband and their two babies, leaving her disabled. Life looked bleak. She was approaching forty, unemployed, broke and desperate.

Then she met Mason. He was charming, charismatic, persuasive, and a successful businessman, well respected in the community. His teenage daughter did nothing to welcome Leah into the family, but life is never perfect.

Then, two years into her second marriage, Leah Brand’s world is turned upside down; inanimate objects in the house move, her clothes are left out for the rubbish collection, pieces of furniture change places, there are unexplained noises and hauntings.

As the disturbances increase, everyone accuses Leah of losing her mind. Soon she begins to doubt herself and she starts to spiral down into a world of insanity. Is she going mad, or is someone out to destroy her? And if so, why?

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Dystopia KNIGHT IN PAPER ARMOR by @NicholasConley1

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Knight In Paper Armor by Nicholas Conley

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Set in the not too-distant future, a dystopian future where the United States seems to have become more parcelled out and separate than ever —different populations are segregated into newly created states [immigrants have to live in certain areas, the Jewish population in another state, the well-to-do elsewhere…]—, where huge corporations have taken over everything, and prejudice is rampant. From that perspective, the book fits into the science-fiction genre, and there are also other elements (like Billy’s powers, the way the Thorne Corporation is trying to harness those powers…) that easily fit into that category, although, otherwise, the world depicted in it is worryingly similar to the one we live in. Although there aren’t lengthy descriptions of all aspects of the world, there are some scenes that vividly portray some parts of the town (Heaven’s Hole), and I would say the novel is best at creating a feeling or an impression of what life must be like there, rather than making us see it in detail. Somehow it is as if we had acquired some of Billy’s powers and could “sense” what the characters are going through.

I don’t want to discuss the plot in too much detail, as there is much to discover and enjoy, but the book is also, at some level, a rite of passage for the two young protagonists, who might come from very different backgrounds and traditions but have much in common (they’ve lost beloved family members to unfair treatment, discrimination, and manipulation; their grandmothers have played an important role in their lives; they are outsiders; they are strongly committed to others…), and who help each other become better versions of themselves. Although there is a romantic aspect to their relationship (it is reminiscent of “insta love” that so many readers dislike) and even a sex scene (very mild and not at all descriptive), the story of Billy and Natalia’s relationship goes beyond that. I don’t think I would class this novel as a Young Adult story, despite the ages of the protagonists (at least during most of the action), but that would depend on every reader. There is plenty of violence, death of adults and children, instances of physical abuse and serious injuries of both youths and adults, so I’d recommend caution depending on the age of the reader and their sensitivity to those types of subjects.

The book can be read as a metaphor for how the world might end up looking like if we don’t change our ways (and I thought about George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm often as I read this novel), or as a straight Sci-Fi novel where two young people, one with special powers and one without, confront the government/a powerful tyrannous corporation to free society from their clutches (think the Hunger Games, although many other examples exist). It’s easy to draw comparisons and parallels with the present (and with other historical eras) as one reads; and the examples of bullying, abuse, extortion, threats, corruption… might differ in detail from events we know, but not in the essence. There is also emphasis on tradition, memory (the role of the two grandmothers is very important in that respect), identity (Billy’s Jewish identity, Natalia’s Guatemalan one, although she and her family have to pass for Mexicans at some point), disability, diversity, poverty, power, the role of media…

I have talked about the two main characters, who are both heroes (each one in their own way) and well-matched, and their families feature as well and play an important part in grounding them and making us see who they are (although Billy’s family features mostly through his memories of them). We also have a baddie we can hate at will (he is despicable, but I didn’t find him too impressive compared to others, and I prefer baddies with a certain level of humanity rather than a purely evil one), another baddie who is just a bigot and nasty (not much characterization there), and some others whose actions are morally wrong but whose reasons we come to understand. The circumstances of Billy and Natalia are so hard, and they have such great hearts that it is impossible not to root for them (I’m a big fan of Natalia, perhaps because she saves the day without having any special powers and she is easier to identify with than Billy, who is such a singular character), and their relatives and friends are also very relatable, but as I said, things are very black and white, and the book does not offer much room for shades of grey.

The story is told in the third person, although each chapter follows the point of view of one of the characters, and this is not limited to the two protagonists, but also to Thorne, and to one of the scientists working on the project. There are also moments when we follow some of the characters into a “somewhere else”, a vision that might be a memory of the past, or sometimes a projection of something else (a possible future?, a different realm or dimension?, the collective unconscious), and these chapters are quite descriptive and have an almost hallucinatory intensity. The Shape plays a big part on some of those chapters, and it makes for a much more interesting evil character than Thorne (and it brought to my mind Lovecraft and Cthulhu). Readers must be prepared to follow the characters into these places, although the experience can be painful at times. I was touched and close to tears quite a few times while I read this book, sometimes due to sadness but others the experience was a happy one.

The book is divided up into 10 parts, each one with a Hebrew name, and as I’m not that familiar with the Jewish tradition I had to check and found out these refer to the ten nodes of the Kabbalah Tree of Life. This made me realise that the structure of the book is carefully designed and it has a significance that is not evident at first sight. That does not mean it is necessary to be conversant with this concept to read and enjoy the book, but I am sure there is more to it than meets the eye (and the Tree of Life pays and important role in the story, although I won’t say anything else to avoid spoilers). The writing is lyrical and beautiful in parts, and quite horrific and explicit when it comes to detailing violence and abuse. This is not a fast page-turner, and although there is plenty of action, there are also moments where characters talk, think, or are even suspended in non-reality, so this is not for those who are only interested in stories where the plot is king and its advancement the only justification for each and every word written. I often recommend readers to try a sample of a book before purchasing, and this is even more important for books such as this one, which are not easy to pin down or classify.

From my references to Orwell you will know that this is a book with a clear message (or several) and not “just” light entertainment, but I don’t want you to think it is all doom and gloom. Quite the opposite, in fact. The ending is positive, hopeful and life-affirming. Those who like endings where everything is resolved will love this one, and those who are looking for an inspiring novel and are happy to boldly go where no reader has gone before will be handsomely rewarded.

I had to include the quote that opens the book, because it is at the heart of it all, and because it is so relevant:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference. Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies. To be in the window and watch people being sent to concentration camps or being attacked in the street and do nothing, that’s being dead.” Elie Wiesel.

Book description

Billy Jakobek has always been different. Born with strange and powerful psychic abilities, he has grown up in the laboratories of Thorne Century, a ruthless megacorporation that economically, socially, and politically dominates American society. Every day, Billy absorbs the emotional energies, dreams, and traumas of everyone he meets—from his grandmother’s memories of the Holocaust, to the terror his sheer existence inflicts upon his captors—and he yearns to break free, so he can use his powers to help others.

Natalia Gonzalez, a rebellious artist and daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, lives in Heaven’s Hole, an industrial town built inside a meteor crater, where the poverty-stricken population struggles to survive the nightmarish working conditions of the local Thorne Century factory. Natalia takes care of her ailing mother, her grandmother, and her two younger brothers, and while she dreams of escape, she knows she cannot leave her family behind.

When Billy is transferred to Heaven’s Hole, his chance encounter with Natalia sends shockwaves rippling across the blighted landscape. The two outsiders are pitted against the all-powerful monopoly, while Billy experiences visions of an otherworldly figure known as the Shape, which prophesizes an apocalyptic future that could decimate the world they know.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT A Cosy #Mystery With Hints Of Darkness by Patrick Canning

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Hawthorn Woods by Patrick Canning

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I had come across Patrick Canning thanks to Rosie’s Review Team, where his previous novel got great reviews, and I had to check his new book. It is quite different to The Colonel and the Bee demonstrating that this is an author who has plenty of tricks up his sleeve, and one likely to enchant us with a variety of stories for a long time to come.

This is a difficult book to review without revealing any spoilers, as talking in any detail about the plot or the characters could let the cat out of the bag, so I apologise for being a bit vague here. I think the synopsis I include above offers a fair idea of the plot. The premise makes one think of a cozy mystery. Francine, a young woman who works as a hairdresser and is still trying to get over her failed marriage (she was convinced it was going to be forever, but they didn’t even make it to their first wedding anniversary) takes the chance of her sister’s long-delayed honeymoon trip to housesit for her, intent on having a therapeutic holiday while there that will help her to move on in her life. The setting reminded me of Desperate Housewives, Blue Velvet or many series and novels about small towns or housing estates, perfect on the surface but with a fair amount of dirt hidden under the carpets. When Francine puts on her Nancy Drew hat and starts investigating what at first-sight appears to be a pretty harmless incident, things soon start to unravel, and she discovers she is not the only amateur detective at work. We realise that what appeared to be a light read starts getting darker, and by the end of the book it has touched on some very serious topics: domestic violence, intolerance and prejudice, historical memory, Justice, animal cruelty, anti-Semitism, mental health problems…

 

Francine is an eminently sympathetic character. She is going through a hard time but keeps trying to make the best out of things and is always prepared to give everybody a second chance (even when it might be risky). We learn early on that she has always taken refuge in fantasy, loved reading Nancy Drew novels as a child, to the point where she would take on her persona, and her self-esteem is quite low (she does not see herself as others do). She believes in her intuition but second-guesses herself often and can easily be swayed by others she trusts. She is also quite fixated on a questionnaire her ex-husband gave her, and each chapter starts with one of the questions of the questionnaire and her answers (the questionnaire is real, just in case you wonder), which also help give us an insight into the workings of her mind. Most of the story is told from her point of view (in the third person), but, as mentioned, her perception of things is coloured by her own experiences and feelings about herself, and she is not the most reliable of narrators. There is a long catalogue of other characters, although we don’t get to know them in as much detail as we do Francine. There is a much younger narrator as well, who reminded me of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn mixed in one, a bit naughty and not always a follower of rules, but he knows how to enjoy himself and is a great observer (and yes, a detective of sorts as well). There is a nice elderly man who becomes a father figure to Francine; there is a mysterious and attractive stranger; there is a friend of Francine’s sister who adopts her and takes her under her wing (and she brings a bit of a chick-lit element to the story); there is a vet Marine of a certain age who believes he is still a Don Juan; there is a youth with a motorbike whom everybody believes is a troublemaker; there is a woman who has become the self-appointed queen bee and insists all should follow her rules; there’s the sheriff and his jealous Russian wife (rumoured to be a mail catalogue wife)… As I said, we don’t get to know all of them in detail, but there are secrets and mysteries hiding in many of their lives, and I think most readers will be taken by surprise by how deceptive appearances can be.

The writing flows easily, and we get a good sense of the neighbourhood and the characters without long-winded descriptions disrupting the action. The pace is fairly steady to being with —it ebbs and flows, with some moments of contemplation punctuated by excitement and action— but towards the end the pace increases and the book crams a lot of action in the last few chapters. Although most of the book is pretty light, with only some hints at dark goings on (I’ve mentioned animal cruelty, and there are a couple of instances of it), towards the end, things become more tense, minor incidents pile up, and then there is an explosion of action and violence (not extremely explicit or gore, but I would recommend caution to those who prefer a light read) that will get readers turning the pages faster and faster.

I always mention the ending, and I enjoyed this one. Yes, it did not disappoint. In fact, it ties everything up in a most satisfactory way (together with something that happens in the book and I won’t mention).

I recommend this book to people who like the idea of cozy mysteries but prefer something darker; to those who enjoy small town settings with a dark underbelly, and to readers who delight in putting puzzles together and questioning everything they read. There are unreliable narrators, details that don’t quite seem to fit in, lovely dogs, wayward kids, romance, several mysteries, a colourful cast of characters, and a heroine most of us will root for. If you like the sound of all that, check a sample and give it a go. It will entertain you, make you think, and might even surprise you.

Book description

Summer, 1989. Reeling from a catastrophic divorce she just can’t seem to leave behind, Francine Haddix flees San Francisco for a two-week stay at her sister’s house in Hawthorn Woods, Illinois. The quaint neighborhood of shady trees and friendly neighbors seems like the perfect place to sort through her pain and finally move on with her life—but the tranquility doesn’t last long.

Beginning with a complete stranger throwing a drink in her face at her own welcome party, Francine soon discovers the supposedly idyllic suburb is hiding a disturbing number of mysteries. Why is the handsome-ish guy next door lying about who he is? What’s hidden in the back of the teenage troublemaker’s shed? Who wrote a threatening message in blood? Which of the smiling neighbors has a secret they’d kill to keep?

Seeking to reclaim a natural passion for sleuthing numbed by her divorce, Francine rewrites her prescription from one of relaxation to one of investigation. If she can detect the lies, follow the clues, and remember how to trust herself, she might get to the bottom of what’s so very wrong in Hawthorn Woods. She might even be able to believe the future can be good again—assuming she lives long enough to be in it.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #HistFic Based On Real Events THE LOST BLACKBIRD by @LizaPerrat

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading The Lost Blackbird by Liza Perrat

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Liza Perrat has quickly become one of my favourite authors. I read the Silent Kookaburra at the time of its publication, four years ago, and I’ve read all her novels since, both those in the Australia series (set in Australia in the fairly recent past) and also those in her historical series “The Bone Angel”, set in France over the centuries. They all have female protagonists and centre on the lives, difficulties, and challenges women have had to face throughout history. Although the novels are thematically related, they are fully independent and readers can pick any of them and enjoy them without worrying about not having read the rest (although I’d challenge anybody to read one of these novels and not feel compelled to explore the rest).

This novel —quite close thematically to The Swooping Magpie in many ways— offers readers an insight into a shameful and horrific event in recent British-Australian history, which those familiar with the work of the Child Migrant Trust and/or who have watched or read the story behind the film Oranges and Sunshine (the book was originally called Empty Cradles and written by Margaret Humphreys) will be aware of. If The Swooping Magpie talked about forced adoptions, here we go a step further, and children were not only adopted under false pretences, but also sent to the other end of the world (near enough), so they were completely severed from their relatives and all they were familiar with, in some cases to be adopted, but in others to became forced labour and had to undergo terrible abuse in many cases.

Perrat’s fictionalised account takes as its protagonists two sisters from London, whose short lives (Lucy is 10 and Charly 5 when we meet them) had already seen much hardship and suffering, and then a traumatic event results in them ending up in care, and things only take a turn for the worse from then on. The chapters alternate between the point of view of the two sisters (Lucy’s chapters narrated in the first person and Charly’s in the third), although we have a few from the point of view of Annie, their mother (in the third person, present tense). This works very well because although initially we get different versions of the same events, which help readers get to know the two sisters and their outlook in life, later on, when they reach Australia, they are separated (despite the guarantees to the contrary they had been given) and we get to share in their two very different experiences. Although neither of them are as promised or expected, the challenges the two sisters have to face are miles apart. While the younger one gets her identity all but completely erased, the older sister is systematically abused, worked to the bone, and has to experience so many losses that she is almost destroyed in the process.

The story is not an easy read, and it deals with harsh truths and with difficult topics beyond the main historical subject (domestic violence, the institutional care system both in the UK and Australia, forced adoptions and child labour, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, prostitution, poverty, post-natal depression, pathological grief…) so although this is a compelling book, readers must be prepared to be confronted with some ugly truths. I’ve read novels that are much more explicit than this one; don’t get me wrong, but because of the degree of attachment to the characters, the nasty events hit hard.

The characters are well-drawn and believable. Both girls, Lucy and Charly, have their own distinct personalities, with Charly being quiet, a reader, and a deep thinker, and Lucy more of an action girl. She fiercely loves her mother and her little sister, but finds it impossible to keep her mouth shut and keeps getting into trouble, mostly for trying to help or defend others. She learns to be tough and to present a hard front to the world, but that also makes her resentful and unwilling to ask for help. She is mistrustful but also naïve at times, and her stubbornness sometimes works against her. There are moments when her extreme behaviour makes her difficult to like, but her reactions are quite understandable, and her circumstances are such that we can’t help but wonder if we would have done any better. The rest of the girls and boys they meet through their journey, and also their ersatz families are memorable, and some of the scenes that take place have become engrained in my brain and will keep playing there for a long time.

Perrat’s writing is flawless, as usual. She is particularly adept at making us share in her characters’ experiences, and we can see, hear, smell, taste, and almost touch, everything around them: bird songs and cries, food, clothes, the oppressive heat, the sting of mosquitoes, the joy of the first swim in the sea, the luxury of the big cruiser ship… Her depiction of the character’s mental state, their ruminations, the intrusive memories and flashbacks, are also excellent and there are plenty of action, secrets, mystery, and intrigue to keep us turning the pages. The book is also full of Australian and English expressions that will delight lovers of vernacular and casual expressions, and I’ve learned the origins of quite a few expressions I had heard and learned some new ones (blackbirding anyone?)

The ending, as the author comments on her acknowledgements at the end of the book, might not be the norm in many real cases, but it is very satisfying, and I enjoyed it (although throughout the novel we also get to see some pretty different outcomes). The author shares her sources and also thanks those who have contributed to this well researched and accomplished novel in the final pages of the book, and I advise people interested in the topic to read until the very end for further information.

I recommend this novel, and all of this author’s novels, to readers interested in books about the female experience, and also, in this case, about the forced migration of thousands of British children to Australia and other commonwealth countries over the years (this practice was only stopped in 1970). Because of the subject matter, this is not an easy read and can be heart wrenching at times, but it is a compelling fictionalised account of an episode of history that everybody should know about. It is wonderfully written, well-researched, and its characters are likely to remain with readers long after they close the book. A must-read. (Remember that you can always try a sample of the book if you want to get a taster and check if it’s for you).

Book description

A powerful story of sisters cruelly torn apart by a shameful event in British-Australian history. Clare Flynn, author of The Pearl of Penang
London 1962. A strict and loveless English children’s home, or the promise of Australian sunshine, sandy beaches and eating fruit straight from the tree. Which would you choose?
Ten-year-old Lucy Rivers and her five-year-old sister Charly are thrilled when a child migrant scheme offers them the chance to escape their miserable past.
But on arrival in Sydney, the girls discover their fantasy future is more nightmare than dream.
Lucy’s lot is near-slavery at Seabreeze Farm where living conditions are inhuman, the flies and heat unbearable and the owner a sadistic bully. What must she do to survive?
Meanwhile Charly, adopted by the nurturing and privileged Ashwood family, gradually senses that her new parents are hiding something. When the truth emerges, the whole family crumbles. Can Charly recover from this bittersweet deception?
Will the sisters, stranded miles apart in a strange country, ever find each other again?
A poignant testament to child migrants who suffered unforgivable evil, The Lost Blackbird explores the power of family bonds and our desire to know who we are.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #RomanticComedy Set In Greece RUNNING HAUNTED by Effrosyni Moschoudi @FrostieMoss

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Running Haunted by Effrosyni Moschoudi

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The description of the book provides a good summary of the plot. There are some surprises along the way (that I won’t go into), and the book fits in well within the romance genre, down to the gorgeous protagonists (both), some difficulties and hindrances along the way (including old lovers and others), plenty of wish fulfilment, and a great ending which will make readers see things in a new light (and will leave them smiling). I have mentioned the paranormal element, and as the blurb explains, we have a ghost who becomes an important protagonist of the book, as well as quite a few unexplained things (and I’m going to avoid spoilers as usual).

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All the characters are easy to like (well, almost all, but I won’t get into that). They are far from perfect, though. We have Kelly, who has transformed her life after an abusive relationship (no physical violence, but her ex-boyfriend always put her down and made her feel insecure) and has turned into a woman who won’t let anybody tell her what she can or can’t do, who will fight to become the person she wants and will help others do the same. On the other hand, she can rush into things without thinking about the consequence; she can be pushy and too direct; and the way she approaches some topics might be one-sided and simplistic (her approach to bullying and to the excess weight of one of the kids, for example), but it’s difficult not to be won over by her enthusiasm and goodwill. Alex is still grieving his wife and finds it difficult to know how best to deal with his children, but he is (as usual in romances) pretty perfect otherwise. The children all have their problems but are good kids and loveable, and what can I say about Charlie, the dog. I adored it! None of the characters are very complex, and this is even more so if we talk about their friends and other secondary characters we see little of. On the other hand, the connection between the members of the family, once the problems have been solved, feels real, and readers are likely to enjoy becoming an ersatz member of the household as much as Kelly does. I really liked Lauren, though, and she is perhaps the one aspect of the novel that feels a little less traditional, as we tend to see women mostly in domestic roles, and there are no particular challenges to the status quo. Lauren’s love for her family is inspiring, and it’s easy to understand why they have all struggled so much to cope without her. She and Kelly seem to have much in common, and I loved her resourcefulness and her wicked sense of humour.

The novel touches upon the different ways people deal with grief, and I found particularly interesting the examples of young children trying to come to terms with the death of their mother. There are very touching moments in the book, and although there is a great deal of humour, the subject is sensitively approached, and I think many people who have suffered losses will feel inspired and comforted by this story.

The writing is fluid and the story is told in the third-person, mostly from the point of view of Kelly, the main protagonist, although there are a few snippets from other characters’ viewpoints, which help readers be a step ahead sometimes but not always (the author keeps a few tricks up her sleeve). There are lovely descriptions of locations and mentions of Greek food, but those do not interfere with the action of the rhythm of the story but rather enhance the enjoyment and help readers immerse themselves in the narrative.

I have mentioned the ending before, and it is a joy. Not only will most readers be left with a smile, but I suspect a few will laugh out loud as well. Well done!

If you are looking for a book that challenges genre and gender conventions, whose characters are diverse, and/or want to avoid triggers related to fat-shaming and bullying, this is not your book. On the other hand, this is a great read for those looking for a sweet romance (no sex or erotica here), in a gorgeous setting, who love the inclusion of humour and paranormal elements. I particularly recommend it to readers who love dogs, Greece, and who can’t go on a real holiday. I enjoyed my time with Kelly and Alex’s family, and I’m sure you’ll do too.

Book description

Kelly ran a marathon… and wound up running a house. With a ghost in it.

Kelly Mellios is a stunning, athletic woman, who has learned—the hard way—to value herself. Having just finished her first marathon in the alluring Greek town of Nafplio, she bumps into Alex, a gorgeous widower with three underage children, who is desperately looking for a housekeeper.

The timing seems perfect, seeing that Kelly aches to start a new life, and Nafplio seems like the ideal place to settle down. She accepts the position on the spot, but little does she know that Alex’s house has an extra inhabitant that not even the family knows about…

The house is haunted by Alex’s late wife, who has unfinished business to tend to. By using the family pet, a quirky pug named Charlie, the ghost is able to communicate with Kelly and asks her for help. She claims she wants to ensure her loved ones are happy before she departs, but offers very little information about her plans.

Kelly freaks out at first, but gradually finds herself itching to help. It is evident there’s room for improvement in this family… Plus, her growing attraction towards Alex is overpowering…

Will Kelly do the ghost’s bidding? How will it affect her? And just how strange is this pug?

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