Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT The Planck Factor by @debbimack #TechnoThriller

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading The Planck Factor by Debbi Mack

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My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and thank Rosie Amber and the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I freely decided to review.

This thriller (technothriller according to Amazon) tells a complex story, or rather, tells several not so complex stories in a format that can make readers’ minds spin. A thriller about a student who decides, on a dare, to write a genre book (a thriller) and whose life becomes itself another thriller, one that seems to mix spies, conspiracies, terrorism, the possibility of the end of the world, and it all relates to quantum physics. (Or, as she describes it in the book: “…a suspense story with a hint of science fiction and a touch of espionage at its heart.”) The parallelisms between the story of Jessica Evans (the protagonist) and that of her fictional character, Alexis, become more convoluted and puzzling as the book progresses and the astounding coincidences will ring some alarm bells until we get to the end and… It is a bit difficult to talk about the book in depth without giving away any spoilers, but I’ll try my hardest.

This book will be particularly interesting for writers, not only because of its storytelling technique (talk about metafiction) but also because of the way the main protagonist (a concept difficult to define but Jessica is the one who occupies the most pages in the book and her story is told in the first person) keeps talking (and typing) about books and writing. No matter how difficult and tough things get, she has to keep writing, as it helps her think and it also seems to have a therapeutic effect on her. It is full of insider jokes and comments familiar to all of us who write and read about writing, as it mentions and pokes fun at rules (“Show, don’t tell. Weave in backstory. Truisms, guides, rules, pointers—call them what you will… And adverbs. Never use an adverb.”) and also follows and at the same time subverts genre rules (we have a reluctant heroine, well, two, varied MacGuffins and red herrings, mysteries, secrets, traitors and unexpected villains… and, oh yes, that final twist).

Each one of the chapters starts with the name of the person whose point of view that chapter is told about —apart from Alexis’s story, told in the third person, written in different typography, and usually clearly introduced, there are chapters from the point of view of two men who follow Jessica, so we know more than her, another rule to maintain suspense, and also from the point of view of somebody called Kevin, who sounds pretty suspicious— and apart from Jessica’s, all the rest are in the third person, so although the structure is somewhat complex and the stories have similarities and a certain degree of crossover, there is signposting, although one needs to pay attention. Overall, the book’s structure brought to my mind Heart of Darkness (where several frames envelop the main story) or the Cabinet of Dr Caligary (although it is less dark than either of those).

As you read the story, you’ll probably wonder about things that might not fit in, plot holes, or events that will make you wonder (the usual trope of the amateur who finds information much easier than several highly specialised government agencies is taken to its extremes, and some of the characteristics of the writing can be amusing or annoying at times, although, whose story are we reading?) but the ending will make you reconsider the whole thing. (I noticed how the characters never walked, they: “slid out”, “shimmied out”, “pounded”, “bounded down the steps”, “clamored down”…) As for the final twist, I suspected it, but I had read several reviews by other members of the team and kept a watchful eye on the proceedings. I don’t think it will be evident to anybody reading the story totally afresh.

The novel is too short for us to get more than a passing understanding and connection with the main character, especially as a big part of it is devoted to her fictional novel, (although the first person helps) and there are so many twists, secrets and agents and double-agents that we do not truly know any of the secondary characters well enough to care. Action takes precedence over psychological depth and although we might wonder about alliances, betrayals and truths and lies, there are no complex motivations or traumas at play.

Due to the nature of the mystery, the novel will also be of interest to those who enjoy stories with a scientific background, particularly Physics (although I don’t know enough about quantum physics to comment on its accuracy). A detailed knowledge of the subject is not necessary to follow the book but I suspect it will be particularly amusing to those who have a better understanding of the theory behind it. (The author does not claim expertise and thanks those who helped her with the research in her acknowledgements). The book also touches on serious subjects, including moral and ethical issues behind scientific research and the responsibility of individuals versus that of the state regarding public safety. But do not let that put you off. The book is a short, fast and action-driven story that requires a good attention span and will be particularly enjoyed by writers and readers who enjoy complex, puzzle-like mysteries, or more accurately, those who like stories that are like Russian dolls or Chinese boxes.

I enjoyed this book that is clever and knowing, and I’d recommend in particular to readers who are also writers or enjoy books about writers, to those who like conspiracies, spies and mysteries, especially those with a backstory of science and physics, and to people who prefer plot-driven books and who love Hitchcock, Highsmith and Murder She Wrote.

Book Description

On a dare, grad student Jessica Evans writes a thriller, creating a nightmare scenario based upon the theory that the speed of light is not a constant—one that has a dark application. Her protagonist (the fiancé of a scientist killed in a car crash) is pursued by those who want to use the theory to create the world’s most powerful weapon.
Jessica’s research into the science stirs up concern from an extremist group intending to use it for evil. Before long, Jessica’s life mimics that of her protagonist, as she runs from terrorist conspirators who suspect she may try to stop them from causing a major disaster. As the clock ticks down, Jessica must put the pieces together and avert a global catastrophe.

About the author

Debbi Mack

Debbi Mack is the New York Times bestselling author of the Sam McRae Mystery Series. She’s also published one young novel. In addition, she’s a Derringer-nominated short story writer, whose work has been published in various anthologies.

Debbi is also a screenwriter and aspiring indie filmmaker. Her first screenplay, The Enemy Within, made the Second Round in the 2014 Austin Film Festival screenplay contest and semifinals in the 2016 Scriptapalooza contest.

A former attorney, Debbi has also worked as a journalist, librarian, and freelance writer/researcher. She enjoys walking, cats, travel, movies and espresso.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Revengers by David Valdes Greenwood @dvgtweets #YA #Suspense

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Revengers by David Valdes Greenwood

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My review:

Thanks to Rosie Amber (from Rosie’s Book Review Team) and to the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

Revengers is the first in the YA Revengers Series, and it is the first work by the author, David Valdes Greenwood, better known for his non-fiction books and his plays, I have read. This is a revenge story with a supernatural twist. If that is not unusual (we all know revenge stories orchestrated by evil or sometimes simply very angry spirits), both the details and the characters are.

Those who love mythology, in particular, Greek (and Roman) mythology, will probably appreciate the thematic link to the Furies, ancient vengeful deities whose roles and interpretation changed over time. Because, the book tells the story of three adolescents who’ve experienced terrible losses at different ages (Marc, a Harvard dropout, only a year ago, whilst Justin and Ama were much younger) and who, for different reasons, have had to grieve alone. They’ve been experiencing terrifying nightmares since the events, that they witnessed, and suddenly, these nightmares become more real than before. A strange and scary female figure tells them to go to Salem and leaves them a journal. They feel compelled to obey Rebecca, the fury/spirit behind their nightmares whose story we learn later (and who had good reasons to seek revenge).

The story is told in the third person, mostly alternating the points of view of the three main characters (although also briefly from the victims and other characters with small parts in the story, including the Rebecca herself), who, although don’t know each other at the beginning, end up becoming an ersatz family. They are as diverse as they could be (ethnically: African-American and Dominican blood, Chinese, old Massachusetts stock, sexually: Marc is gay and Ama and Justin haven’t had much time to think about such things so far; they also have different interests, studies and their economic and family circumstances are miles apart) but have to form a team to be able to fulfil the rules and get rid of their nightmares forever. Although killing somebody is not an easy task, they don’t realise how complicated things can get until later, when secrets and half-told truths come to light. The rules they are given, that seem to be clear-cut and not leave any room for ambiguity, aren’t so clear when one scratches beyond the surface, and there is no such a thing as getting off scotch-free.

The Salem of the story (I cannot comment on how much it resembles the real location, although for me it is more of a paranormal backdrop to the story than a real place, and it reminded me a bit of Demon Road where an alternative order and lifestyle existed side by side with normal life, without anybody other than those involved being aware of it) is full of secrets, tragedy, lessons not learned and people trying to maintain the status quo while pretending everything is fine. Although it might appear like business to Halloween Tourists, to those in the know, witches are the least of their problems.

The three main characters have distinctive personalities and are realistically portrayed (Ama is quite suspicious, Justin can be quick to act, Marc is a bit of a softy) and they are all flawed, and not all that likeable at the beginning of the story but make a good team and learn to appreciate and accept their differences and skills. For me, one of the most appealing aspects of the book (apart from the suspense and the mystery) is the strong bond that develops between the three adolescents who at that point didn’t have a close connection or intimate friends who knew their secrets, shared their concerns and cared for them. I particularly liked Ama, who although is tough and determined, is also the character who often hesitates and questions the morality of their actions and who will go to any extent to try and keep everybody safe. And that is why in the end… (Don’t worry, no spoilers).

The book is compellingly written, with enough imagery and description to feel the changes in weather and scenery (that are all in tune with their experiences and the action providing visual and sensory emphasis to the events), without becoming cumbersome. The interactions between the adolescents and with other characters ring true and help build their characters more convincingly. There is plenty of action, it has many scary moments and the suspense builds up from the start (as we have a time-frame and the clock is ticking continuously, with the tension increasing towards the end of the story).  The inclusion of the point of view of some of the victims makes the story more morally ambiguous and complex. This is not just a revenge story with a few paranormal scary touches. It will make readers (and who hasn’t thought about getting revenge on somebody at some point) think twice about justice and revenge. Although the ending (no, no spoilers) opens up the series to the next book, do not worry about unfinished businesses or annoying cliff-hangers. This is not a story divided into several books where you never get any resolution. So you won’t feel disappointed because of a lack of ending (you might have preferred a different ending, but that’s a completely different matter).

I recommend this novel to readers of YA stories who love suspense, paranormal subjects, mythology and strong and diverse protagonists. Especially those looking for a new series with a kick-ass female protagonist. The author has promised to keep me informed when he publishes the next books in the series, so I’ll keep you posted.

Book Description

A great revenge story, with a fabulous paranormal presence and the start of series that promises many more adventures and frights. (Olga’s thoughts)

How far would you go to make things right? Ama, Mark, and Justin are about to find out. All three have each witnessed a murder that went unpunished, and they’ve lived broken lives ever since. In recent months, their dreams have been haunted by someone who understands their pain: a Fury who survived the witch hunts of Old Salem. Three days before Halloween, she enters their dreams and summons them to be Revengers, just as she has done for a new trio of teens every year for centuries. If they abide by her seemingly simple set of rules, she promises supernatural protection while they avenge their losses. One catch: exacting revenge means becoming killers themselves. And they don’t have much time to wrestle with the moral dilemma, as the Fury’s protection will end on the Day of the Dead. When they agree—setting in motion three bloody acts of vengeance—things begin to spiral out of control and they come to understand they are pawns in an ancient game. As the Fury toys with them, they race against the clock, hoping to live more than just a few more days…

About the author

David Valdes Greenwood is the author of Revengers, The Rhinestone Sisterhood, Homo Domesticus and A Little Fruitcake. As an award-winning playwright, his work has been staged coast to coast and in the UK. A former freelance journalist, Valdes Greenwood is best known for his Boston Globe columns. Currently, he details life as a parent as a Huffington Post blogger.

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT Spirit Of Lost Angels by @LizaPerrat #HistFic #France

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Spirit Of Lost Angels by Liza Perrat

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My review:

Thanks to Rosie Amber for organising Rosie’s Book Review Team and to the author for offering me a copy of the book that I freely chose to review.

I had recently read and reviewed Liza Perrat’s fabulous book The Silent Kookaburra (check the review here) and could not pass on the opportunity to read and review another of the author’s books. I had commented on my previous review that the author is well-known for her historical fiction novels and I felt The Silent Kookaburra, although set at a much closer point in time (the 1970s in Australia) also shared the detailed setting, the atmosphere and the background events that made it worthy of that category, together with a very disturbing and beautifully written story.

Spirit of Lost Angels falls neatly into the category of historical fiction. Set in France, a few years before the French revolution, it follows the life of Victoire Charpentier, a young girl born on a farm in a small village, whose mother is a wise woman, midwife and healer to all, and who experiences death and tragedy from a very early age. She is a direct victim of the unfairness of the society of the time (a nobleman’s coach runs her father over and doesn’t even stop) and it is not surprising she wants revenge. Tragedy and disaster pile up in her life and brief moments of happiness are cut short when something else happens. Her story fits also into the category of melodrama, as she always finds herself at the centre of everything, and survives against incredible odds. Her life demonstrates that a woman’s lot is (and was even more so at the time) hard. Losing your husband, children, being raped, accused of being a witch, and being denied a voice, are everyday affairs. One thing that helps Victoire above everything is her literacy. Her reading and writing skills help her keep in touch with loved ones, provide her later with a literary career and with the means to raise consciousness as to the plight of women and the poor, and allow her to meet people and make connections. Eventually, it also helps her fulfil her dream and have a happy ending. The focus on women’s issues and the importance of education are one of the strongest points of the novel for me.

The book is beautifully written, narrated in the first person by the protagonist, who presents as very articulate. As we learn later, she becomes very proficient at writing, although early on there are moments when the beauty of her writing jarred me a bit (when she writes a letter to her daughter Ruby, she’s trying to improve her writing, but her letter is not only deeply felt but also lyrically written in spite of that), although later events and the ending facilitate a different reading of the novel. The beautiful language and the detailed and, at times, poetic descriptions help readers feel transported to the France of the period and experience the smells (and stinks), the touch, the sensations of the different settings (including the horrifying experiences at La Salpêtrière). The historical figures and events of the time (Victoire meets Thomas Jefferson, corresponds with Mary Wollstonecraft and becomes friendly with Jeanne de Valois, who plays an important role in her life) add to the texture and background of the book, making the France of the late XVIIIc even more vivid. The author explains in an endnote that her main character is entirely fictional and all her interactions with historical figures are invented too, although inspired by the real characters.

I enjoyed, in particular, the reflections of the character about the role of women in the society of the time, her terrifying but enlightening period at La Salpêtrière, and her enterprising and determination. This is a novel full of action, where events follow each other quickly and the protagonist suffers more than anyone’s fair share of events, to the point where a degree of suspension of disbelief is required. Perhaps because we follow the character through a long period of time, and Victoire is very much a conduit to reflect historical events and the lot of women at that particular historical period, I did not feel her character was as consistent or psychologically well-drawn as was the case for Tanya in The Silent Kookaburra (where although we see the protagonist at two different ages, most of the story is told from the point of view of 11 y.o. Tanya). That notwithstanding, this is a great story, full of twist and turns, that will transport you to an extremely momentous time and place, and although it is the author’s first novel, it already shows her flair for language and for creating gripping stories.

Book Description

Her mother executed for witchcraft, her father dead at the hand of a noble, Victoire Charpentier vows to rise above her impoverished peasant roots.
Forced to leave her village of Lucie-sur-Vionne for domestic work in Paris, Victoire suffers gruesome abuse under the 18th century old regime.
Imprisoned in France’s most pitiless madhouse, La Salpêtrière asylum, the desperate Victoire begins a romance with fellow prisoner Jeanne de Valois, infamous conwoman of the diamond necklace affair. With the help of the ruthless and charismatic countess, Victoire carves out a new life for herself.
Enmeshed in the fever of pre-revolutionary France, Victoire must find the strength to join the revolutionary force storming the Bastille. Is she brave enough to help overthrow the diabolical aristocracy?
As this historical fiction adventure traces Victoire’s journey, it follows too, the journey of an angel talisman through generations of the Charpentier family.
Amidst the intrigue and drama of the French revolution, the women of Spirit of Lost Angels face tragedy and betrayal in a world where their gift can be their curse.

About the author

An image posted by the author.

Liza grew up in Wollongong, Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife for fifteen years.
When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her family for twenty years. She works part-time as a French-English medical translator, and as a novelist.
Since completing a creative writing course ten years ago, several of her short stories have won awards, notably the Writers Bureau annual competition of 2004 and her stories have been published widely in anthologies and small press magazines. Her articles on French culture and tradition have been published in international magazines such as France Magazine, France Today and The Good Life France.

Spirit of Lost Angels is the first in the French historical “The Bone Angel” series set against a backdrop of rural France during the French Revolution. The second in the series, Wolfsangel, set during the WWII Nazi Occupation of France, was published in October, 2013. The third, Blood Rose Angel, set during the 14th century Black Plague years was published in November, 2015.
Friends, Family and Other Strangers is a collection of humorous, horrific and entertaining short stories set in Australia.
Liza is a founding member of the Author Collective, Triskele Books and regularly reviews books for Bookmuse.

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Rosie’s Review Team #RBRT The Last Gods Of Indochine by Samuel Ferrer #TuesdayBookBlog @shaolinfez

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading The Last Gods Of Indochine by Samuel Ferrer

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My review: A beautifully written historical fiction novel about the Khmer Empire exploring fate, colonialism, spirituality and trauma.

Thanks to the author and to Rosie from Rosie’s Book Review Team for offering me the opportunity to review this novel.

I do not know much about Indochine or present day Cambodia, where this story is set, other than vague information gathered from movies, mostly about the war. Recently, I have discovered that reading historical fiction is a great way to learn (or at least wet one’s appetite) about places and historical periods one is not familiar with but feels curious about, in an engaging and entertaining way. This novel is a good example of this, even though the author clarifies at the end that he has taken many liberties with the historical figures and also with the period reflected. (I recommend that readers don’t skip the notes as they are helpful in sorting fancy from fact and also offer up-to-date information on current knowledge about the Khmer Empire and the reasons for its demise).

The story is narrated in the third person and, after an introduction describing the last moments of Henry Mouhot, a French explorer known for ‘discovering’ the lost civilisation of Angkor Wat (that was never lost and had already been known to Westerners, but he popularised with his journals), alternates chapters from the point of view of Jacqueline Mouhot, Henry’s granddaughter and Paaku, the Lotus Born. Jacquie is a fictional character and we meet her in 1921, shortly after WWI. She had helped at a field hospital in the Somme and we realise she is severely traumatised by an incident that took place while she was there. She clearly shows signs of PTSD but we get to learn more details of what happened and how it relates to the story later, although we know it was bad enough for her to be removed from her posting.

Her story is interspersed with that of Paaku the Lotus Born, another fictional character, a young man living in XIIIc Khmer Empire, whose identity and story seem to be the stuff of myths and legend. He does not know his true origin, as he is an orphan brought up by a Vishnu monk, and he seems to have been chosen (although by whom and what for is not immediately evident) and might have special healing powers.

At first, I felt it easier to identify with Jacquie’s story, as her point of view as a woman trying to get by in a man’s world at such a time, and her state of mind were more familiar to me (even if she is not always the most sympathetic of characters, complaining about minor things, like the lack of comfort of some parts of the trip, and she appears quite naïve as to what her experience travelling to Asia might mean). But Paaku’s story is so beautifully told and shares such unique world-views and experiences that it’s impossible not to become enchanted at first, and later increasingly worried as to what his fate might be. The more we read, the more we’re struck by the links and connections between the two characters, and a number of possible explanations are offered during the novel as to why this should be so, although the final twist is not easy to guess (I only realised what might be behind the story very close to the ending but I won’t spoil it). The story is complex and the changes in historical period, language style (fragments of Mouhot’s true diaries are included in the novel as his fictional granddaughter reads them) and character’s point of view demand attention and close reading, but the results are very rewarding. At first, the changes in point of view might be somewhat frustrating if the readers identify more with one of the stories than with the other but the reason for the choice of writing form becomes evident and in the end and it suits the subject perfectly.

The language and descriptions of places, historical and social periods and lifestyles of both eras are poetic and evocative, and despite the third person narrative we get inside the characters’ heads and body and, thanks to the vivid writing style, experience their lives fully with our five senses. The novel explores many themes: mysticism, spiritual questions, colonialism, the different roles of men and women, family legacy, PTSD, fate and destiny, romance and there is much to keep us thinking, while our  brains try to connect the stories at the same time as engaging with the language at a sensual level.

It might be something purely personal, but for me, one of the only things I wasn’t truly convinced about was the love story. Other than being there, having similar interests regarding the story of the area, and being a man and a woman, there seems to be little that connects them other than a romantic subplot in the novel, although it works as a way to humanise Jacquie, make her more vulnerable and it also facilitates the ending.

Both of the stories narrated in this novel are stories of discovery of spiritual truths, fate, friendship, love, the price to pay for one’s beliefs, fear and eventual peace. I am not at all surprised by the book’s nomination for the Man Asia Literary Prize. This is a beautifully written book about places and historical periods that captures readers’ imaginations and allow the mind to fly.

Book Description

Jacquie Mouhot and Paaku the Lotus-Born are divided by six centuries but linked by a common curse. In medieval Cambodia, Paaku is an orphan whose community believes he may be a reluctant incarnation of a god, causing sectarian turmoil for the kingdom’s leaders. Meanwhile, in 1921, Jacquie follows the footsteps of her grandfather, a famous explorer, to Indochina, where she becomes immersed in the tragedy of Paaku’s history: a story simultaneously unfolding in the intertwined present and past, a story in which she still has a vital role to play.

About the author

Samuel Ferrer

Born in California, Samuel Ferrer has lived in South East Asia since 2002, writing “The Last Gods of Indochine” in the bars of Bangkok, Saigon, Hanoi, the cafes of Laos, in the mountains of Sapa, and on location throughout Cambodia. Inspired by the real life of explorer, Henri Mouhot (1826-1881), this historical fiction novel centers around Mouhot’s fictitious granddaughter and uses excerpts from the journal that made Mouhot famous after his death in the jungles of Laos, published posthumously in 1863.

Ferrer is a professional double bassist and member of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as the band-leader and songwriter for Hong Kong’s largest original band, Shaolin Fez. He holds degrees from Yale and the University of Southern California, and as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, spent a year in Paris in between degrees. With the “The Last Gods of Indochine”, Ferrer became the only non-Asian to have ever been nominated for Asia’s most prestigious literary award, The Man Asian Literary Prize (“The Booker of Asia”).

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT @OlgaNM7 reviews Cleaved by @SueColetta1 #Thriller

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Cleaved by Sue Coletta

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My review:

I’m writing this review as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team and I was provided with a copy of the book that I freely chose to review.

I have just finished reading Sue Coletta’s Marred and I wanted to see what happened next. Reading the two books back-to-back allowed me to think a bit more about the genre, the characters and the style.

Here we have again the married couple of Niko Quintano, now sheriff in Alexandria, Grafton County, New Hampshire, and his wife, crime novelist Sage. They moved trying to leave behind a tragedy but it seems it followed them, and in Marred there was more heartache and family loses for the Quintanos. Now, the couple has a child, their two kids (their beloved dogs, Rugger and Colt, which I didn’t mention in my last review although they play an important role), and they are enjoying life. The book doesn’t allow us to relax though, quite the opposite, as it opens with a terrifying scene, narrated in the first person from Sage’s perspective. She is locked up somewhere, small, dark and cold, floating in water, and can’t recall how she got there. And we, the readers, share in her anguish and fear and are thrown in at the deep end from the beginning. The book then goes back and we get to know how Sage ended up there. Her plight is linked to a new bizarre wave of murders that befall the county but there are several interrelated plots and all of them touch the different characters personally. What should have been a happy time for Sage and Niko turns into another nightmare and nobody is safe.

The story is told from several of the characters’ points of view, as was the case with Marred. Sage, the writer, narrates her story in the first person and is good at observing events, but especially at talking about feelings and analysing the impact their horrific experiences might have on all of them (including her 13 months’ old baby son, Noah, and their two dogs). Her husband Niko and Frankie, the deputy sheriff with attitude, wit and a fashionable sense of dress, also have their own stories, but these are told in the third-person.

I talked about genre in the previous review but I have to come back to it. Whilst the book works as police-procedural, due to the details about murder scenes and also to the lectures on the subject (the deputies in training come handy as a justification and a stand-in for the readers, and this time even Frankie gets to explain some aspects of forensic science), there is a lot of content that relates to family relationships and also to the effects of crime and trauma on the survivors, that put me in mind of what these days is called domestic-noir (although in standard cases, the guilty party tends to be part of the family. Not so here…). Although this aspect is more evident in the fragments narrated by Sage, Frankie also gets confronted with her own relationship and how it can be a source of conflict with one’s profession and moral stance (she’s still one of my favourite characters but she behaves in a more reckless manner that I had ever imagined she would and shows less concern for the law than I expected), and Niko also struggles to try to maintain his professional demeanour when faced with attacks on his beloved family.

There are several story strands and a variety of crimes, and readers will be kept on their toes trying to decide how they related to each other (if they do), how many criminals there are and what their motives are. Although the sheriff notes the difficulties and the limitations of law enforcement in the area as it is not a high-crime place, I couldn’t help but think of series like Murder, She Wrote or Midsomer Murders where a seemingly sleepy town is attacked by an epidemic of crime, courtesy of it being the setting of a series. Also, like in most stories where both members of a couple investigate crimes (professionally or not), at some point, one or both of them end up becoming victims, and this has been Sage’s lot from the beginning, perhaps more so in this book, as she has even more to lose now. This novel might cross over several genres but it does live up to the expectations of the readers and it will keep them turning pages.

The characters keep stumbling on the same stone over and over. If in the previous book they got into serious trouble for not completely trusting each other and lying (with the best of intentions at heart), they still do it here (perhaps not to the same extent) and there is a price to be paid for it. I felt like I do sometimes when watching a horror movie when you see the characters keep getting themselves into trouble, and you want to shout at them: ‘Don’t do that! Don’t be stupid!’ but they don’t listen. The murders are as gruesome as in the previous book and varied; we get a better glimpse at Frankie’s life and some of her connections, but there is more of the personal point of view and dramatic side of the story, at least in my opinion. The book has humorous scenes and the witty dialogue that’s one of the author’s trademarks, but it is also scary and tense, and even more terrifying if you’re an author yourself. (Beware of book signings is all I’ll say.)

Once again, the ending is satisfying (as a psychiatrist I’ll keep my peace rather than discuss the details) but has a hook and leaves readers with an eerie feeling. I wasn’t sure I was totally clear in my mind as to how the different strands fitted in, especially with so many things being hidden and not fully knowing who knew what. I wouldn’t have minded one of those scenes à la Poirot or Sherlock Holmes, where the detective gives an explanation and everything is tied up with a nice ribbon. Although, perhaps it just shows that the rhythm of the novel is quite fast and if you blink, you’ve missed it.

Another novel by Sue Coletta with an irresistible story that requires a strong stomach but will be of interest to readers who like to dig into the character’s psyche and are after more than just a well-plotted book. Oh, and readers must like dogs too. Especially scary for writers.

Book Description

Author Sage Quintano writes about crime. Her husband Niko investigates it. Together they make an unstoppable team. But no one counted on a twisted serial killer, who stalks their sleepy community, uproots their happy home, and splits the threads that bonds their family unit.
Darkness swallows the Quintanos whole—ensnared by a ruthless killer out for blood. Why he focused on Sage remains a mystery, but he won’t stop till she dies like the others.
Women impaled by deer antlers, bodies encased in oil drums, nursery rhymes, and the Suicide King. What connects these cryptic clues? For Sage and Niko, the truth may be more terrifying than they ever imagined.

About the author

Sue Coletta

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is an award-winning, multi-published author in numerous anthologies, and her forensics articles have appeared in InSinC Quarterly. 
In addition to her popular crime resource blog, Sue’s a radio host—check out “Partners In Crime” on Writestream Radio Network, Blog Talk Radio—the communications manager for the Serial Killer Project and Forensic Science and founder of #ACrimeChat on Twitter.
Sue lives with her husband in New Hampshire, surrounded by the sultry sounds of nature.
You can learn more about Sue and her books at: www.suecoletta.com 

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT Practicing Normal by @CaraAchterberg #WomensFiction #wwwblogs

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Practicing Normal by Cara Sue Achterberg

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My review:

I was given a copy of this book as a gift and I freely chose to review it.

Tolstoi’s probably best-known quote: All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way fits perfectly this novel. As a psychiatrist, ‘normal’ is one of those terms that we always seem to come back to, even if it is impossible to define. It seems that normal is always what other people are, never us. Perhaps, as it is discussed in the novel in reference to Autism and Asperger’s, which are conditions that fall within a spectrum, the same is true for normality. It is not an on or off thing. Perhaps we all belong to some point within the spectrum, but we’d be hard pushed to find many people whom we’d all agree were ‘normal’, at least if we got to know them well.

The novel introduces us to the Turners, who live a reasonably comfortable life within a theoretically idyllic neighbourhood. Once we scratch a bit under the surface, we find: Jenna, the sixteen year old daughter, who is not a goth but likes to shave her hair, dye it in interesting colours, collects piercings and is an ace at breaking into neighbours’ houses (courtesy of her father’s job in a security company). Kate, her mother, is forever busy caring for everybody but herself. She has to look after her mother, Mildred, who might be dementing, or perhaps not, and who lives alone, never leaves the house and talks to her birds. She also has to look after JT, her son, with an Asperger’s diagnosis, who cycles through periods of obsession with different topics (ER Medicine, Fire-fighting…), has tantrums if his routine is disturbed, cannot read people’s expressions or understand their feelings, but is a genius at Maths and has an incredible memory. She also runs around the rest of the household and is always worried about her husband, Everett, who cheated on her once (that she knows of). The chapters alternate the first-person narrations of Jenna (who somehow becomes friendly with the rich, handsome and all-around nice neighbour, Wells, who isn’t, after all, the stereotypical jock), and Kate (whose sister, Evelyn, has made contact with their father, Frank, who left them when they were young children, and believes their mother has been lying to them) allowing the reader to better grasp, not only the secrets they all keep from each other, but also the different ways the same events can be interpreted and seen. Everett’s narration (also in the first person) joins later, giving us hints of more secrets to come, allowing us a more rounded picture and offering us a male perspective.

I found the first person narrations served well the topic, and the voices of the three narrators were very distinct and fitted in well with their characters. Although personally, I can’t say I liked Everett very much, no characters are despicable and all of them love their family and each other, even if they might go about it the wrong way. Jenna’s strong hostility towards her father is easy to understand, not only because he cheated on her mother (and is still doing it after promising not to) but because she had idealised him when she was a child and he’s shattered that illusion. She is clever, challenging and reckless but with a great heart (she doesn’t care for rules or conventions but has no bad intentions) and her romance will bring warm memories to all readers who are still young at heart. Kate is a woman who is always at the service of others and makes big efforts to ignore what she feels she can’t cope with, even if it means living a lie. But she learns that she is stronger than she thinks and grows during the novel. She also gets to understand that her dreams of romantic love are unrealistic, and we feel optimistic for her at the end. Everett is a man who lost his way (it seems) when he left his job as a policeman. Now, to feel better about himself he’ll do almost anything, not caring what the consequences for himself and others might be, and he always puts his needs before those of the rest of his family. He does not understand his children but he loves them and tries to do what he thinks is best, within limits. JT is a wonderful character, well-drawn and realistic in terms of the behaviours he exhibits and his relationship with Kate, Jenna and the rest of the family is heart-warming and has the ring of truth.

There are many secrets, some that come from a long time back and some much more recent, and the narrative is good at revealing them slowly, even if we might strongly suspect some of them, partly because we have access to the thoughts of several the characters (as they don’t communicate with each other that well). There are also many love stories and many different kinds of love that are explored. Ultimately, love must be about more than just saying the words and looking into each other’s eyes. It isn’t something we should feel automatically entitled to; it has to be proven and worked on, as Cassey, a friend of Jenna and later Kate, explains.

The secondary characters are also interesting, mostly sympathetic (with the exception of Wells’s family, and Evelyn, who comes across as self-centered and domineering) but not drawn in as much psychological detail as the members of the family, but they are far from unidimensional. I really liked Cassey, the hospice nurse who understands all the females of the family and helps them without asking anything in return, and Phil, a good man who, like Wells, disproves Mildred’s generalisations about men. Mildred, the grandmother, can be at once annoying and endearing, but eventually, we get to understand her a bit better, even if we might not necessarily agree with her actions. I also loved the animals, especially Marco.

This is a well-written book, where plot and characterisation go hand in hand, that offers good psychological insights into the nature of family relationships and the games members of a family play with each other. It also will make readers think about what love means and will remind them of the risks of keeping secrets, not only from others but also from ourselves. The narration flows well and once you get to know the characters it’s difficult to stop reading and you feel bereft when you come to the end as they’ve become part of the family. A great read.

I couldn’t leave you without sharing a few of the sentences I highlighted.

Never break more than one law at a time.

Kate talking about JT, her son, with Asperger’s: but I focus on what JT can do, not what he can’t.

Kate again, wondering about her son’s inability to read other people’s expressions and know what they’re feeling or thinking:

Maybe it would be easier to sail through life unaware of the emotions of the people around you.

And Jenna, on one of her typical (and oh, so accurate, sorry gentlemen) pearls of wisdom (although this one she keeps to herself):

If men didn’t have penises, they’d probably be a lot smarter.

Book Description

The houses in Pine Estates are beautiful McMansions filled with high-achieving parents, children on the fast track to top colleges, all of the comforts of modern living, and the best security systems money can buy. Welcome to normal upper-middle-class suburbia. The Turners know in their hearts that they’re anything but normal. Jenna is a high-schooler dressed in black who is fascinated with breaking into her neighbors’ homes, security systems be damned. Everett genuinely believes he loves his wife . . . he just loves having a continuing stream of mistresses more. JT is a genius kid with Asperger’s who moves from one obsession to the next. And Kate tries to manage her family, manage her mother (who lives down the street), and avoid wondering why her life is passing her by. And now everything is changing for them. Jenna suddenly finds herself in a boy-next-door romance she never could have predicted. Everett’s secrets are beginning to unravel on him. JT is getting his first taste of success at navigating the world. And Kate is facing truths about her husband, her mother, and her father that she might have preferred not to face. Life on Pine Road has never been more challenging for the Turners. That’s what happens when you’re practicing normal. Combining her trademark combination of wit, insight, and tremendous empathy for her characters, Cara Sue Achterberg has written a novel that is at once familiar and startlingly fresh.

About the author

Cara Sue Achterberg

Cara Sue Achterberg is a blogger and novelist who lives on a hillside farm in South Central, Pennsylvania.

Cara’s novels, I’m Not Her (August 2015, The Story Plant) and Girls’ Weekend (May 2016, Story Plant) are both works of women’s fiction. Her upcoming novel, Practicing Normal, will be published June 2017 by The Story Plant.

Cara is also the author of Live Intentionally, a nonfiction book based on ten years of trying to shop, cook, eat, and live intentionally with kids in tow. It’s a guidebook for the organic life.

Cara is a prolific blogger and currently posts on four (count ’em!) sites which can all be accessed through her website, CaraWrites.com.

Cara teaches creative writing and her essays and articles have been published in numerous anthologies, national magazines, websites, and blogs, in addition to local media. 

Cara grew up in Hockessin, Delaware (and still considers Delaware the best state of all). 

Cara is passionate about organic food, clean air, productive gardens, uncluttered lives, and real relationships. She is also passionate about adopting rescue dogs and currently fosters dogs and puppies for the all-breed rescue, Operation Paws for Homes.

Cara’s next project is a memoir about fostering her first fifty dogs. 

When not writing or weeding (which can sometimes be one and the same), Cara enjoys running, hiking, reading, visiting Virginia wineries, and trying not to fall off her favorite horse, True. 

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT A Shiny Coin For Carol Prentice by Mark Barry @GreenWizard62

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading A Shiny Coin For Carol Prentice by Mark Barry

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My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and I was provided with an ARC copy of the novel I freely chose to review.

Although I had heard about the author and read quite a few reviews of his previous books, this is the first of his novels I have read so I can’t compare it to his previous work. I know from his comments in the book that it links to another one of his novels, Carla (I won’t mention how, first, because I haven’t read the other novel, so I can’t comment on how well or badly that works, and second, because I’m going to try very hard not to reveal any spoilers) but I can put at rest the minds of all readers who are in the same circumstances as me. This book can be read as a stand-alone, although I suspect you’ll feel as curious as I am about Carla once you finish reading this novel.

This novel is narrated in the first person by the eponymous Carol Prentice of the title. And yes, we get to know what the shiny coin means, but again, I’m not going to tell you. She’s a young woman; she’s just finished her degree at Manchester University and has to go back to her hometown because her father has passed away. She had avoided the town for several years (for good reasons as you’ll learn when you read the book) but she comes back to renovate the house and because the time has finally arrived to put her plan into practice. Of course, we don’t get to know about the plan until much later in the novel, but we have some hints throughout. She gets a job at a bookshop (so there are some interesting discussions about literature, mostly initiated by her boss, Steve, who is a connoisseur, not only of books but also of ales and many other things) and it’s not long before ghosts from her past come knocking. What at first appears to be a snotty and spoilt young man’s tantrum turns into a black hole sucking in everything and everybody. Almost.

The novel has some meta-fictional aspects. I’ve already mentioned the conversations about literature, psychology concepts (like the halo effect, perceptual closure), Steve was an author years ago back but did not make it and has strong opinions about popular literature and bestsellers (if you love James Patterson or Fifty Shades, look away now), and the author of this novel, Mark Barry, also makes a cameo appearance in it. As I said before, I haven’t read any of his other works but from some of the reviews, I get the sense that he has appeared in some others. He does not have a big part, and it reminded me of Hitchcock’s appearances in his movies (although Barry’s is a bit more significant than that).

As the novel is narrated in the first-person, we get a close look into the functioning of Carol’s mind and we get to know her better than other characters. She seems to focus a lot of her attention on how people smell (and it’s not always pleasant), what clothes they wear, and how they look. She has some annoying speech habits. There are plenty of ‘like’, ‘I so’, ‘totally’… Those appear not only when she’s talking to others but also when she’s thinking, despite the fact that she’s fairly articulate and perceptive in other ways. It might be funny for some readers and perhaps somewhat annoying for others, but it keeps her real and the story will hook everybody in and will make you keep reading no matter what. Carol says quite a few times that she cannot feel, that she observes things but does not feel them, and when we’ve gone over half the novel she eventually tells Steve why. I had my suspicions but the truth is worse. From her description of the events (that of course, I won’t reveal either) it becomes clear that she was experiencing them she tried to focus on anything but what was happening. She concentrated and observed objects, smells, décor, and it seems her current focus on describing things is a defence mechanism to keep events and people at bay, a way of remaining in control of what is happening as she felt powerless at the time. After her confession to Steve, the floodgates open and she starts feeling again, including acknowledging her complex feelings for Steve, that is difficult to know if they are projected from her need to have support as he becomes some sort of a father figure, or are genuine. She herself is not so sure.

Steve is the other character we get to know in detail, although of course always from Carol’s point of view and this is biased. She likes him from the beginning and he seems a genuinely nice man, much older than her, who’s tried many things and seems to have settled into a quiet life. He is not one for talking much about his feelings (he talks about everything else, though) and he is a recognisable and multi-dimensional character, with a strong sense of moral, that gets caught in a situation not of his making, but doesn’t seem willing or able to extricate himself from it.

Other than Carol and Steve, there aren’t many characters we get to know through the novel. There’s Toby, the baddy, a handsome and rich young man and a bully who believes rules and laws don’t apply to him; there’s also his father, and some other characters that only appear briefly (like the chief of police) but they aren’t as well developed. They only play a minor part in the drama and don’t hold that much of the narrator’s attention. By contrast, the town becomes quite a recognisable character in its own right, with its social mores, its politics and its royalty (so to speak).

The novel is written in a very colloquial way as pertains to the character narrating it (I’ve already mentioned the characteristics of Carol’s language) and there are plenty of references and words very local that might be a bit obscure to readers from outside the UK (or even the region) but that is part of what makes it so distinctive and vivid.

The novel offers quite a few surprises and reveals them slowly. I think most readers will have a variety of hypothesis about what’s going to happen, what the baddies will do next and what the plan is. I’m not sure many people will guess right and is an interesting and effective twist. This is a novel of revenge and just deserts that highlights the fact that there is always a price to pay. We might feel we need to exact revenge to be at peace but things are never quite as easy. With regards to what sets off what Carol describes as ‘the war’ it is pretty banal but, as she acknowledges, it’s not really about that and unfortunately other people get in the middle and end up becoming ‘collateral damage’. It did make me think of Hannah Arendt and her concept of ‘the banality of evil’. In this case not only about the evil person but about what sets it all off. It does not take much for some people to ruin a person’s life, just because they can… I’ve already mentioned the ending but I wanted to add that the ending is also a beginning.

I know I’ve been a bit cryptic about this novel but I had to be. I recommend it to those who like stories with psychologically complex characters, where the how is as important as the what, and to readers who’re looking for an author with a distinctive voice and style. (There is some violence, some talk about sex and disturbing content but none of it is extremely explicit or gore. It is more what we feel at the time of reading it than what is on the page.)

Book Description

“I swore that I would never go home,  but in the end, I had no choice.  I had to confront what happened.  And them too.  It was going be icky. And totally scary.” Carol Prentice left Wheatley Fields to attend university in Manchester and not once did she return in four years. Her beloved father visited her whenever he could, but then he passed away and it was up to her to sort his affairs.  She could have done this from a distance, but a woman can run to the far corners of the earth, but, in the end, she can never escape herself She had to come home: There was no other choice. Taking a job at a bookshop for the duration, she befriends Steve – an older man who looks like a wizard and who knows everything in the world.  Carol quickly encounters the demons that forced her to leave in the first place – including Toby, the raffish local villain, with whom she shares the most horrifying of secrets and whose very existence means evil and mayhem for everyone around. Especially the lovable Steve.  Carol finds herself in the middle of a war between the two men:  A war which can only have one victor.  Soon, she wishes she had never come home.  But by then it was too late.  Much too late.

Biography

Mark Barry

Bio: Mark Barry is a multi-genre writer and novelist. His work includes the minor cult hit Ultra Violence about football hooligans at a small Midlands football club and Carla, a quirky, dark, acclaimed romance with shades of Wuthering Heights.  He is the co-designer of the innovative Brilliant Books project aimed at engaging the many, many reluctant readers amongst young people… He has one son, Matt, on the brink of University, with whom he shares a passion for Notts County Football Club.  Fast food, comics, music, reading, his friends on the Independent scene, and horse racing keep him interested and he detests the English Premier League, selfish, narcissistic people and bullies of all kinds.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT DIDN’T GET FRAZZLED by David Z Hirsch #Medical #Fiction

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Didn’t Get Frazzled by David Z Hirsch

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My review:

I’m reviewing this book on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team and thank the author and Rosie for the ARC copy of the book that I voluntarily chose to review.

I’m a doctor and I must admit this book brought many memories for me (although I studied Medicine almost ten years earlier than the character Seth in the book and in Barcelona, Spain, where the system of medical training is slightly different to the one in the US that’s portrayed in the book): the shared experiences (some pleasant, some not so much), the trials, the discoveries, the surprises, the stress, the uncertainty… I’m sure anybody who’s studied and/or worked in a health-related field will be able to identify with much of the books’ content, especially the struggle between the need to offer the best care and the reality of what is available and how specific services work. Not all patients are patient, not all colleagues are helpful, and no matter how hard we try, things don’t always work out.

The story is told in the first person from the point of view of Seth, who has always wanted to be a doctor and manages to get into Medical School in New York. His long-term girlfriend, April, goes with him, and they hope that being together will help them both survive the experience, but that proves not to the case. Trying to juggle the pressures of Medical School (that with the regular schedule, on-calls and studying leave little time for personal life, especially if the significant other is not another medical student) and a relationship that is changing proves complicated, and when the relationship ends, Seth finds it difficult to move on. Whilst Seth, the medical student, is usually successful at navigating the intricacies of his training, acquiring knowledge, and trying to deal with both patients and staff, Seth, the man, has more difficulty managing his emotions. He relies on his friends, explores relationships (some that confuse matters even more) and by the end, might have found somebody new. When one of his trainers says of him that he doesn’t get frazzled, he decides to adopt it as his motto, and he manages to live up to it, at least in appearance, most of the time. But he has moments when things get too much for him and then his coping mechanisms are not always the best. He goes above and beyond his duty for the patients and we’re sure he’ll make a good doctor, but he’s far from perfect and only a human being, after all. We see him interact with some of this friends too, most of them medical students as well, and that offers us different perspectives on the effect the training has and on how it affects people’s lives. It also allows us to see him in a more relaxed environment and get a better sense of what kind of person Seth is.

The plot, such as it is, is the process of transformation of a somewhat naïve student into a doctor, more or less ready to face professional life and it follows the chronology of his studies, from first year eager student to an experienced third year who’s teaching others. There are amusing (although some readers might find some of them gross) episodes, some to do with medical school and others with everyday life (cockroaches and mice included). There are also some sad and touching moments and some inspiring and reflective observations. At a time when medical care and its provision is a matter of much debate, this book, that illustrates the experience from the perspective of those directly engaged in providing it, can help personalise the issue and return the focus where it should be, patients and the caring professionals. As I am a doctor, I’m not in the best position to comment how much of the material might be too specialised and medically-based for the general readership to enjoy. A fair amount of the book consists of following medical students through training, be it studying anatomy, attending post-mortem examinations, going through a very special gynaecological examination training, and also descriptions of cases they have to treat (many among the less privileged echelons of society). Due to this, I would not recommend this book to readers who don’t enjoy books with a medical background, and in my opinion, it is more detailed than what is usually found in TV medical series or some fiction such as medical mysteries.

This is a well-written book that gives a very good idea of what life as a medical student in the US is (or at least was in the 1990s). The characters and the anecdotes have a realistic feel and it will be particularly appreciated by those in the health professions or considering them as an option. Readers who enjoy medical fiction would gain a better understanding of the realities behind the fiction by reading this book. Not recommended for people who are squeamish but it will be an inspiring read for many.

Book Description

Medical student Seth Levine faces escalating stress and gallows humor as he struggles with the collapse of his romantic relationships and all preconceived notions of what it means to be a doctor. It doesn’t take long before he realizes not getting frazzled is the least of his problems. Seth encounters a student so arrogant he boasts that he’ll eat any cadaver part he can’t name, an instructor so dedicated she tests the student’s ability to perform a gynecological exam on herself, and a woman so captivating that Seth will do whatever it takes to make her laugh, including regale her with a story about a diagnostic squabble over an erection. Didn’t Get Frazzled captures with distressing accuracy the gauntlet idealistic college grads must face to secure an MD and, against the odds, come out of it a better human being.

About the author

David Z. Hirsch

David Z Hirsch grew up on the steppes of Nebraska peddling Kool-Aid off I-129 until saving up enough cash for medical school. After graduation, he moved to Pyongyang to teach pre-med classes at Kim Il-sung University. He soon fell out of favor and was imprisoned at Kaechon where he traded medical favors for soup and toilet paper until he made a daring escape across the border. 

Dr. Hirsch subsisted for the next three years by foraging gooseberries and licking the dew off spiny toads. This led to a burst of creativity, and he wrote the first draft of Didn’t Get Frazzled on bark peeled off a dying Manchurian Ash tree. Ultimately discovered in a semi-feral state by the China Coast Guard flotilla from Liaoning, Dr. Hirsch returned to the United States sixty pounds lighter but more inspired than ever.

David Z Hirsch is a pen name, so absolutely nothing in the above paragraphs are true. This is not lying, you see. It’s fiction. Many well-regarded sources insist that these are two distinct things. The actual guy who wrote this novel is a practicing physician in Maryland. His life story is considerably more prosaic, but in his head he lives a fascinating, fascinating life.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT WARNINGS UNHEEDED by Andy Brown @SSgtAndyBrown #SundayBlogShare

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Warnings Unheeded by Andy Brown

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My review:

Thanks to the author for providing me with a free copy of his book that I review as part of Rosie’s Books Review Team.

I am a psychiatrist and have worked in forensic psychiatry (looking after patients with a history of dangerous behaviour and, on occasions, criminal records) and therefore when I was approached by this writer about the book, my interest was twofold. Although I’m not currently working as a psychiatrist, I wanted to read the book to see what lessons there were to be learned, especially from the incident of mass shooting, as it was particularly relevant to the issues of mental health assessment and treatment. I was also interested, as a reader, a writer and a member of the public, in how the author would write about the incidents in a manner that would engage the readership. More than anything, I was interested in reading about his personal experience.

As a reader (not that I’m sure I can take my psychiatrist hat off that easily), the book intertwines both incidents, that coincided in the same setting, Fairchild Air Force Base, within a week period. We are given information about previous concerns about the flying acrobatics of Holland, whose antics had worried a number of people at the time, although in his case we don’t get to know much about the person (the information is more about those who reported concerns and the way those were ignored or minimised), and, in much more detail, about the past history and behaviours of Mellberg, that read as a catalogue of unheeded warnings and missed opportunities.

Concerns about Mellberg follow him from school, where he was a loner, suffered bullying, never made friends and showed some odd behaviour and continue when he joins the Air Force. He becomes paranoid, starts harassing his roommate and despite concerns and assessments, he is simply moved from one place to the next, and the mental health assessments are either intentionally ignored or missed. Later on, when somebody decides to take action, there is no evidence of follow-up or organised system to check what happens when somebody is discharged for mental health reasons (some changes ensue, thanks mostly to the efforts of Sue Brigham [the wife of Dr Brigham, one of Mellberg’s victims], after the fact) and readers can feel how the tension builds up to the point where it’s only a matter of time until a serious incident happens.

Brown, the author, shares his background and his career progression to that point, his interest in policing and security from a young age, and he happens to coincide in time and space with Mellberg, being the first to respond to the calls for assistance when Mellberg starts shooting, first the people he blames for his discharge from the air force, and later, anybody who crosses his path. Although we know what’s going to happen, and, in a way, Brown has always been preparing for something like this, the reality is no less shocking.

Brown’s description of events, what the victims did, and what he did is exemplary, and it shows his experience in crime scene investigation. We can clearly reconstruct what happened minute by minute (almost second by second). As the description is interspersed with witness statements and personal detail I didn’t find it excessive, although that might depend on what readers are used to (I know from personal experience of writing reports that accuracy and details are prime, but that’s not what readers of fiction are used to, for example). The book also includes photographs of the scenes of both incidents, diagrams of the sites, etc.

As I said above, although the reader gets the same sense of impending doom when reading about the dangerous and reckless flight manoeuvres Holland does, we don’t get to know much about Holland as a man, only about his experience flying. The issue of warnings not being acted upon is highlighted, but we don’t know if anything else might have been behind Holland’s behaviour, and we’re therefore less personally invested in the case. I must also confess to having little understanding of acrobatics and individual planes capabilities, so I found some of the details about that incident more difficult to follow and perhaps unnecessary for the general reader (the message is clear even if we don’t know exactly how the gs a fuselage can bear might be determined).

Brown’s own reaction to the shooting and his difficulties getting his PTSD acknowledged and treated form the latter part of the book, and they come to illustrate a side of these tragedies that is hardly ever commented upon or discussed in detail, as if sweeping things under a carpet and not talking about them would make them disappear. (As he notes, people don’t know how to react: they either joke about the incident or avoid talking about it completely). He honestly shares his struggle, how long it took him to understand what was happening to him, the less than helpful behaviours he engaged in, and his self-doubt and guilt feelings, not helped by the reluctance of the Air Force to share the information he requests. He had the added difficulty of being removed from service every time he tried to get help, something that he, understandingly, saw as a punishment. He eventually decided to leave active service to try and find peace of mind, but it was a lengthy and difficult process, that might vary from individual to individual. It is always helpful, though, to know that one is not alone and it is not just a matter of getting over it, and that’s why personal accounts are so important.

Brown offers conclusions and lessons on how to keep safe. Although I don’t necessarily agree with some of the comments (the right to bear arms and use them for self-defense is a very controversial subject and I currently live in a country where not even the police carry them regularly), I agree with the importance of being aware of the risks, with the need to be more sensitive to the mental health needs of the population, with the importance of providing follow-up and support to those who experience mental disorders and also the need to see human beings in a holistic way, rather than only treating their bodies and ignoring their minds.

This is an important book that should be read by people who work in law enforcement (either in the military or in a civil environment), provide security to organisations, and of course by psychologist and psychiatrists alike. It is not a book to read for entertainment, and it is definitely not a light read, but I would also recommend it to people who research the subject and/or are interested in real crime and PTSD. I wonder if a shorter version of the book, dealing specifically with the PTSD experience of the author might be useful to other survivors of trauma who might find the rest of the book too difficult to read.

From a professional point of view, I was struck by the similarities between the double-bind and the difficult situation psychologist and psychiatrists in the military find themselves in and that of forensic psychiatrists and psychologists in civil life (as we also have to look after patients and try to establish a therapeutic relationship with them, whilst at the same time having to report to the courts and Home Office or government the risk the patients might pose to specific individuals or to the population at large). It is a delicate balancing act because, ultimately, psychiatry (and psychology) is subjective, and as demonstrated in Mellberg’s case, not everybody will agree on diagnosis or risk assessments. But when the evidence mounts, there is no excuse. And, eventually, we need to listen to our own intuition and gut feeling at times.

Book Description

The true story of two separate mass-casualty incidents that occurred within days of each other at a US Air Force base. Using the words of the people who experienced the tragedies, the book provides in-depth look at the before, during and after of a preventable “active shooter” incident and an avoidable fatal plane crash.

In one tragic week at Fairchild Air Force Base, an “active shooter” terrorized the base hospital and a talented but reckless pilot crashed a B-52 bomber near the flight line. Both fatal tragedies had been repeatedly predicted by numerous airmen and mental health professionals. 
In “vivid and thoroughly researched detail” Warnings Unheeded delivers an unprecedented, in-depth look at the events that led to the twin tragedies. The book follows an “active shooter” as he progresses toward his crime and dispels the myth that these incidents are random acts of violence committed without warning by otherwise normal individuals. 
In a parallel account, Warnings Unheeded tells the story of a veteran pilot who was known for exceeding the maneuvering limits of his B-52 bomber. His reckless flying not only put the lives of his crew at risk, but also the lives of the air show spectators who gathered to watch him perform. When attempts to ground the pilot were unsuccessful, several aviators refused to fly with him and “predicted the worst air show disaster in history.” 

About the author

Andy Brown

Andy Brown is an Air Force law enforcement veteran from Port Orchard, Washington. After serving in Idaho, Greece, Washington, Hawaii and New Mexico, he returned to the Spokane, Washington area where he works for the Department of Homeland Security. He spent seven years researching and writing Warnings Unheeded. The book is part of his ongoing effort to share the lessons learned from the fatal tragedies at Fairchild Air Force Base, the heroic actions of others and his experience with the effects of trauma. 

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT THE BEAUTY OF THE FALL by Rich Marcello @marcellor #WeekendBlogShare

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading The Beauty of the Fall by Rich Marcello

My review:

I received an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team.

This beautifully written novel touches on many subjects that are important at different levels: some, like loss (be it the death of a child, a divorce, the loss of not only a job but also a life-project) can be felt (and there are heart-wrenching moments in the novel) understood and managed at a very personal level, others, like the role of communications technology (who must control it? Should it remain neutral or become involved in the big issues? Should it ally itself with governments or be creatively independent?) or domestic and gender-related violence, although no doubt having a personal component, also seem to require global solutions. This ambitious novel tries to give answers to many of these questions and it does so through a first person narrative interspersed with poetry.

The novel is narrated by Dan Underlight, whom we meet at a particularly difficult time in his life. His son died a couple of years earlier and he feels guilty about it (we learn the details quite late in the novel), he is divorced, and now, the technology company he helped to create, and by extension his business partner and the woman he’d been closer to than almost anybody else for many years, fires him. His job, the only thing that had kept him going, is taken away from him. He has no financial worries. He has a good severance pay, a huge house, two cars, but his life is empty. Through the novel, Dan, who still sees his son, has conversations with him and wants to start a project in his memory, meets many people. Most of them are enablers. He has known Willow, a woman who works helping women victims of domestic violence, and herself a survivor (although she doesn’t talk much about it, at least with Dan) for some time and eventually, their friendship turns into a romantic relationship for a while. He has also been attending therapy with Nessa, a very special therapist (as a psychiatrist I was very curious about her techniques, but working in the NHS in the UK I must admit I’d never even heard of a Buddha board) since his son’s death, and during his peculiar pilgrimage, he gets ideas, encouragement, and a few brushes with reality too.

Much of the rest of the novel is taken up by Dan’s creation of a new company, based on his idea that if people could converse about important subjects and all these conversations could be combined, they would reach agreements and solve important problems. As conversations and true communication in real life amount to more than just verbal exchanges, there are technical problems to be solved, funding, etc. I found this part of the novel engaging at a different level and not having much knowledge on the subject didn’t detract from my interest, although I found it highly idealistic and utopian (not so much the technical part of it, but the faith in the capacity of people to reach consensual agreements and for those to be later enforced), and I also enjoyed the underhand dealings of the woman who had been his friend but seemed somehow to have become his enemy. (I wasn’t sure that her character came across as consistent, but due to the subjective nature of the narration, this might have more to do with Dan’s point of view than with Olivia herself).

Dan makes mistakes and does things that morally don’t fit in with the code he creates for his company, or with the ideals he tries to live by (he is human, after all) and things unravel somewhat as life has a few more surprises for him, but, without wanting to offer any spoilers, let’s say that there are many lessons he has learned along the way.

As I said before, the language is beautiful, and the poems, most of which are supposedly written by Willow, provide also breathing space and moments to stop, think and savour both the action and the writing style.

First of all, let me confess I was very taken by this novel and I couldn’t stop reading it and even debating the points with myself (I live alone, so, that was the best I could do). I was also touched by both the emotions expressed and the language used. As a sensorial reading experience, it’s wonderful.

Now, if I had to put on my analysing cap, and after reading some of the reviews on Goodreads, I thought I should try and summarise the issues some readers have with the novel.

The themes touched are important and most people will feel able to relate to some if not all of them. Regarding the characters and their lifestyle, those might be very far from the usual experience of a lot of readers. Although we have a handful of characters who are not big cheeses in technology companies, those only play a minor part in the book. The rapid expansion of the technology and how it is used in the book is a best case scenario and might give readers some pause. Personally, I could imagine how big companies could save money using such technology, but charitable organisations, schools or libraries, unless very well-funded, in the current financial times when official funding has become very meagre, would have problems being able to afford it all, and that only in theoretically rich countries. (The issue of world expansion is referred to early on in the project but they decide to limit their ambitions for the time being).

Also, the fact that issues to be discussed and championed were decided by a few enlightened individuals (although there is some debate about the matter) could raise issues of paternalism and hint at a view of the world extremely western-centred (something again hinted at in the novel). Evidently, this is a novel and not a socio-political treatise and its emphasis on changing the US laws to enforce legislation protecting equality, women’s rights and defending women against violence brings those matters the attention and focus that’s well-deserved.

For me, the novel, where everything that happens and every character that appears is there to either assist, hinder, or inspire Dan (it is a subjective narrative and one where the main character is desperately searching for meaning) works as a fable or perhaps better a parable, where the feelings and the teachings are more important than the minute details or how we get there. It is not meant to be taken as an instructions manual but it will be inspirational to many who read it.

In summary, although some readers might find it overly didactic (at times it seems to over-elaborate the point and a word to the wise…) and might miss more variety and diversity in the characters, it is a beautifully written book that will make people think and induce debate. This is not a book I’d recommend to readers that like a lot of action and complex plots, but to those who enjoy a personal journey that will ring true with many. It is a touching and engaging read to be savoured by those who enjoy books that challenge our opinions and ideas.

Book Description

A TECHNOLOGY EXECUTIVE CHARTS A HIGH-RISK, UNCONVENTIONAL PATH WHILE GRIEVING THE LOSS OF HIS SON Dan Underlight, a divorced, workaholic technology executive, suffers lingering grief over the death of his ten-year-old son, Zack. When Dan’s longtime friend and boss fires Dan from RadioRadio, the company that he helped create, he crashes and isolates himself. Willow, a poet and domestic violence survivor, helps Dan regain his footing. With her support, Dan ventures on a pilgrimage of sorts, visiting Fortune 500 companies to flesh out a software start-up idea. He then recruits three former RadioRadio colleagues and starts Conversationworks, a company he believes will be at the vanguard of social change. Guided by Dan’s leadership, Conversationworks enjoys some early successes, but its existence is soon threatened on multiple fronts. Will Dan survive the ensuing corporate battles and realize the potential of his company? Or will he be defeated by his enemies and consumed by his grief?

About the author

Rich Marcello

Rich is a poet, a songwriter and musician, a creative writing teacher, and the author of three novels, The Color of Home, The Big Wide Calm, and The Beauty of the Fall.

As anyone who has read Rich’s work can tell you, his books deal with life’s big questions: love, loss, creativity, community, aging, self-discovery. His novels are rich with characters and ideas, crafted by a natural storyteller, with the eye and the ear of a poet.

For Rich, writing and art making is about connection, or as he says, about making a difference to a least one other person in the world, something he has clearly achieved many times over, both as an artist and a teacher.

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