‘A story about isolation, paranoia, and division’. @OlgaNM7 reviews #Horror Golem by @PdallevaAuthor 

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

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Olga has been reading Golem by P.D. Alleva

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I had never read any of Alleva’s books before, but I love horror, and I always enjoy reading something a bit different for Christmas, and this novel fitted the bill perfectly.

The description gives a fair idea of what the novel is about, and it is difficult to say more without spoiling the many surprises and scares. The author has managed to combine elements of a variety of myths and legends that have been adapted and used as inspiration for quite a number of stories before. Apart from the Golem of the title (from Jewish folklore), there are also elements of Pygmalion (the Greek original myth), the myth of Pandora’s box, and also elements of occultism and demonology, but without any heavy reliance on standard religious tropes or discourses, especially as pertaining to organised religions. To those who wish to know more, I recommend reading the author’s note at the end, where he explains the genesis of this book, his influences (he does highlight Frankenstein, as well as other classics and more modern horror stories and authors), and also his research and how he incorporated it into the final novel. It provides a good insight into the author’s process of creation, into his thoughts and motivations, and I found it fascinating in its own right.

As is the case with most genres, there are many subgenres and subtypes of horror stories, and some readers prefer some story topics to others, but I must confess to finding novels and movies about demons and evil possession, like The Exorcist and The Omen, among the scariest. I don’t scare easily, but this story manages to tap into the darkness within, psychological issues, post-traumatic stress syndrome, the worst of human weaknesses and vices, corruption at the highest level, and all kinds of crimes, some pretty extreme. This is a book fairly explicit in its use of extreme violence, with detailed descriptions of torture and abuse, with all kinds of victims (including young children), so any readers worried about violence, abuse, or satanic themes, should avoid it. (There are some sex scenes, although these are far less explicit than the descriptions of violence, but no less disturbing in that particular context).

The narrative follows a detective’s investigation, although it is not a typical police procedural, far from it. As tends to happen sometimes, the story ends up investigating the brand-new detective, John Ashton, as much as the case he is involved in. And, although I cannot reveal much, there are plenty of things about him we discover through the book and not all straightforward. We also get to hear about the world of the high society of New York and the Hamptons after WWII and also the events and places of the era, including references to real buildings, to cases of corruption in the city of New York, and to matters such as McCarthyism; we visit a psychiatric unit of the time and learn about some of the treatments in use, and their devastating long-term effects.

The two main characters are John Ashton, a family man (his wife is pregnant when we meet him, and he is happy to have been promoted to detective), who has survived some terrible experiences, but is not unscathed. The other main protagonist, Alena, we meet in pretty special circumstances, but we get to hear her story in the first person, as she narrates it to the detective. She is fascinating, and although she appears to be an unreliable narrator to Ashton —as she would to any police officer trying to solve the case— we are aware that there are far too many things that challenge a standard rational explanation. Like John, she has experienced terrible loss, and she is neither all good nor evil. She is a victim of forces she does not understand, but she tries to do the right thing, despite the cost to her health and sanity. There are plenty of other characters as well, and Golem is the most important (and a pretty memorable one as well, with many sides to his personality), but I can’t talk about them without spoiling the story, so you will have to read it if you want to find out more.

The way the story is told is quite interesting, as it is divided into three parts and an epilogue, and there is a character introduced at the very beginning of the story, during Halloween in 1951, that makes brief appearances during the novel, but we don’t get to know how she fits into the story until very close to the end. The device worked well for me, and it kept the intrigue going without slowing down the main narrative. Readers get to meet John Ashton next, and we hear about his experiences and events in the third person, although from his point of view, even down to his dreams and his pretty subjective impressions and intuitions. When he goes to talk to Alena, she gets to narrate her version of the story (written in the third person, although, as is the case with the rest of the novel, from her point of view and with direct access to her own thoughts and feelings), although not at first. She insists she will only talk to Ashton, and he (and the readers) get to hear her pretty incredible story, which requires a large degree of suspension of disbelief, but no more than would be expected from this genre. In fact, there is an interesting way of explaining what is behind the mysterious events and crimes, and not one I was familiar with, although some of the characters that make an appearance are well-known within the subgenre. Readers who worry about head-hopping can be reassured. Although the whole story is narrated in the third person, mostly from one of the main characters’ points of view, it is always clear whose point of view we are following. The story is also mostly told in chronological order (apart from Alena’s narration, which starts in 1947, although towards the end of the book we jump ten years into the future), and the pace quickens at the end, with alternating points of view that announce a pretty dramatic turn of events. (And yes, I can’t tell you anything else).

I have talked about the descriptions of violence and events that go beyond the realm of the rational, and the author does a great job with those, without overdoing the use of bizarre or complex language, but can be typical in novels centred on those subjects, but here the choice of register fits the characters and is functional and not overwrought or heavy. At times I noticed the repetition of certain words, adjectives, and expressions, that became pretty noticeable, to the point of being slightly distracting, but the more I read, the more I wondered if it was a stylistic choice befitting the subject, with its reliance on rituals and ceremonies. It does not detract from the story, the plot, or the characters, which are the most memorable elements of this novel.

Having read all this, I’m sure you won’t expect me to be specific when talking about the ending. Yes, it is very fitting and it works well. Of course, it is not a happy ending (this is horror, after all), but considering how the story goes, I think it reaches a difficult equilibrium. And, as is my preference in this genre, it is not a closed and reassuring ending. Good work.

Would I recommend it? With the caveats mentioned above, I definitely recommend it to readers who enjoy horror and like new takes and twists on ancient myths and stories, and especially those who appreciate novels that dig into the psychological depths of the human mind. As usual, I’d recommend readers to check a sample of the book before deciding if it would suit their taste, and, I leave you with the author’s own nutshell description and reflection on the book, as I think it might help you decide:

Golem is a story about isolation, paranoia, and division, and, as unfortunate as it is, reflects our current society in a nutshell. Who opened the front door and invited the devil in? Well, we all did, didn’t we?

Desc 1

Detective. Angel. Victim. Devil.

A haunting tale of suspense, loss, isolation, contempt, and fear.

On November 1, 1951, war hero John Ashton was promoted to detective. His first assignment: find the district attorney’s missing daughter. But his only lead is Alena Francon, a high society sculptor and socialite committed to Bellevue’s psychiatric facility.

Alena has a story for the new detective. A story so outlandish John Ashton refuses to heed the warning. Alena admits to incarnating Golem, a demonic force, into her statue. A devil so profound he’s infiltrated every part of New York’s infrastructure. Even worse, he uses children to serve as bodily hosts for his demonic army, unleashing a horde of devils into our world.

When Alena’s confidant, Annette Flemming, confirms the existence of Golem, John is sent on a collision course where fate and destiny spiral into peril, and the future of the human race hangs in the balance.

The Devil Is In The Details!

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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‘For those who love storytelling and history alike.’ @OlgaNM7 reviews I Jonathan, A Charleston Tale of the Rebellion by George WB Scott  

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

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Olga has been reading I Jonathan by George WB Scott

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As I’ve done some times before, I recommend readers to check the additional content at the end of the book. The bibliography will be of great use to anybody thinking about studying the Civil War Era in the American South, particularly in South Carolina and Charleston, but, I especially enjoyed reading the author’s note and acknowledgments, as they give a very clear idea of the process of creation of this book, and of how many people contributed to the final result. Illuminating.

I will not rehash the description of the novel, because the information that accompanies it is detailed enough, in my opinion, but I thought I’d add a few comments about the way the story is told, and what it made me think of. This is a framed story (well, a double-framed story), as the Jonathan of the story passed away in the early 1940s, and the novel is the result of the narration of his life story to a great-grand-nephew who goes to visit him to participate in the celebration of his centenary. Realising that the story should be told, and it is unlikely that Jonathan will live much longer, he decides to write it all down. Then, it seems that this written second-hand account falls into the hands of the editor of a small publishing house specialising in historical books (and/or historical fiction) and they decide to publish it. This structure made me think of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and that wasn’t the only similarity (one only needs to think about a young man getting exposed to a completely different way of life, habits, and customs alien to him), although, of course, the anti-war sentiment also brought to my mind Apocalypse Now, Coppola’s film that adapts that novel to the Vietnam War setting. The fact that the novel —which for me has a lot in common with a bildungsroman (coming-of-age story), as it focuses mostly on the early years of the character— is told by an old man recalling his early years, also reminded me of many classics, like Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, Charlote Brönte’s Jane Eyre, or Herman Melville’s White Jacket, with the wonderful nuances of an old (or at least more mature) character looking back at his actions and recalling his feelings from youth, because there is always some nostalgia, but also reflection, self-deprecation, and even self-mockery at times. It is a way of telling a story that feels traditional but can work incredibly well, especially when the times have changed dramatically and so has the person. This is particularly well-done here, as Jonathan’s voice feels very real, his use of words and expressions of the period help give it authenticity, and his way of reporting other people’s stories and even episodes he never witnessed directly is engaging and endearing. So much for the advice to writers of always showing and never telling! In fact, Jonathan can make us feel as if we were there even when he is describing something somebody else narrated, but if you are totally opposed to telling, I’d recommend you check a sample of the novel before dismissing it. Oh, and before I forget, there are fragments of poems and songs peppered throughout the book as well (and the details of those are also provided at the back of the book).

I have mentioned the anti-war theme of this novel. This is the strongest message, and the focus is on the American Civil War, although other wars are mentioned as well. It is true that due to the use of increasingly more sophisticated weapons (we all know wars tend to push research and industry forward if nothing else), the improvements in technology (the novel mentions ironclad vessels; an early version of a submarine; and one of Jonathan’s friends, Charles, is an inventor working on all kinds of long-distance weapons), and the length of the conflict, the death toll was very high, and all the more shocking because of that. But this is not an anti-South book, as the author explains. It is a book that paints a complex picture of what the United States South, South Carolina, and Charleston, in particular, were like in that era. Although many of the events narrated are episodes of the war, battles, or the destruction brought by it to the inhabitants of the city, there are also other moments that give an idea of what peace life must have been like: the last horse racing event before the war, several big parties in the city, how the business of importing luxury goods worked (and that gets more interesting as the war advances, including a visit to Nassau as well), the lives of freed black men and their participation in business and social life (down to having their own fire-brigade), musical entertainment (of the hand of Abe, a Jewish performer with an impossible love story), voodoo, the less savoury aspects of life, the different rhythm of life in the properties and plantations in the mountains and that of the big city, and much more. All together they create a sense of what life was like, probably more effectively because the story is narrated from an outsider’s perspective, but one who is accepted and adopted into that world.

Jonathan is a northerner who ends up, due to a conjunction of strange circumstances, stranded in Charleston, and rather than going back to Boston, where he feels there is nothing for him, he stays in the South, barely surviving, at first, but later getting to the point where others even think he was a hero of the war (on the Confederate side). Jonathan never fights, though, and he abhors slavery, although he comes to appreciate many things and people he meets through his adventures. He is a bit of a Hamlet, though. He is forever hesitant, wondering what he should do, avoiding direct conflict when he can, and although he dislikes some of the things he sees around him (especially slavery, although the bad aspects of slavery are only mentioned and never discussed in much detail. For example, he helps transport some slaves being sold when their owners decided to leave the Charleston area towards the end of the war; he takes a free black to help him, but never even gives a thought to liberating them, and we never hear their stories), he lets things happen or come to him, rather than stepping forward to meet any challenges or take any firm decisions. He discovers, a bit late, that if you wait too long, the decision can be taken off your hands for good. That does apply to his personal life as well, but I won’t go into too much detail to avoid spoilers. He is very naïve when he arrives in Charleston and suffers a terrible loss and a disappointment, but he grows and matures, and even the character observes, quite late in the novel, that only four years have passed since his arrival, and it still feels like a lifetime. He can be witty and ready to play a prank as well, though, and there were events that reminded me of Mark Twain and some of his amusing tales as well.

Apart from Jonathan, who is at first lost, undecided, and passive, we meet a fascinating catalogue of characters during the novel: wealthy and high-class families, poor construction workers, freed black men happy with their lifestyle (and others not so happy), a slave that ends up in charge of the whole property (although still a slave), inventors, tragic romantic figures, true heroes, women hiding from a terrible fate, ship captains adept at avoiding a blockade, rogue deserters, nurses (Clare Barton makes a fleeting appearance), there are surreal moments brought on by a voodoo man, and even interesting animals (perhaps).

The writing, as I have mentioned, is compelling. It is one of those stories that would keep you sitting by the campsite long into the night, and by the time you checked your watch, you wouldn’t believe how long you’d spent there. Because although this is a fairly long book, and it can be meandering at times, there is magic in the images conjured up by Jonathan’s narration, the good ones (despite the dominance of the war episodes, there are beautiful moments as well), and especially some of the battles and the desolation brought to the people and the city (the description of the Battle of Battery Wagner, and yes, I do remember Glory, is unforgettable and one of the best depictions of the never-ending madness of war I’ve come across) that makes us keep turning the pages, hoping to know how it all ends (not the war, but the life), and at the same time wishing the story would keep going and we could carry on reading.

What happens after the war is given relatively little space in the book, although there are some surprises to come, some good and some open to interpretation (I am not sure I agree with the main character’s take on a late reveal about the fate of one of the characters, but you’ll have to read the novel to know what I am talking about), but overall, I thought the ending worked very well, and there is a very touching detail that I hadn’t paid much attention to and made me like the character even more.

I would recommend this book to anybody interested in historical fiction set around the American Civil War, how it affected the South, South Carolina, and Charleston in particular. It offers an interesting perspective, friendly towards some aspects of southern culture, but critical of others. The main character is not a standard hero (rather the opposite for much of the novel), and he spends a lot of time listening to others as well, incorporating their stories into his. Perhaps I missed more of an insight into the minds of the female characters (they are interesting, strong, and stoic, but we hear very little directly from them), and I have mentioned some other minor issues before. Overall, though, this is a great novel, and one that I am sure will make many readers grab their history books and learn more about the period. I look forward to seeing what this author, new to me, will publish in the future.

Desc 1

Civil War Novel about a young stranger from Boston marooned in Charleston just as the Civil War begins. His relationships with working men and women, slaves, merchants, planters, spies, inventors, soldiers, sweethearts and musicians tell the story of a dynamic culture undergoing its greatest challenge.

Jonathan’s adventures include the bombardment of Fort Sumter, the last great Charleston horse race, the Great Charleston Fire of 1861, the Battle of Secessionville, visits to the North Carolina mountain homes of wealthy Low Country planters, a run through the Federal Blockade, a visit to the raucous boomtowns of Nassau and Wilmington, battles of ironclads and monitors, the Battle of Battery Wagner (made famous in the movie ”Glory”) and an encounter with a Voo-Doo conjure man. His story documents the hopes and struggles of a young man making a new life in a strange land in a time of war and change.

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Wedding Themed #Romance. @OlgaNM7 Reviews Shoot the Moon: An alternative game of hearts by Bella Cassidy @BellaMoonShoot

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

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Olga has been reading Shoot The Moon by Bella Cassidy.

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I am familiar with the name of the author but not being a big reader of romantic novels (I read the odd one and usually enjoy them, but in general prefer other genres and sometimes read them to take a break or when I need something different to my usual read) I hadn’t read one of hers yet. My mother is a big fan of shows about weddings and wedding dresses, and I thought the job of the protagonist promised some amusing adventures, and that was indeed the case, but there was much more to the novel than that.

The description of this novel is very accurate, and I think it gives a good indication of what readers can expect from it. This is a romantic novel, with a background in the world of wedding photos and wedding magazines (and it is eye-opening to realise how much insight a photographer can get into the lives and relationships of those she photographs),  with some of the ceremonies taking place in wonderful settings all over the British Isles (or almost), from London, to Exeter, the Scottish Highlands, even New York (sort of), and with stops in Somerset and Shropshire, among other places. We also have wonderful contrasts between city and country life (managing a farm, cheese making, dog breeding… also make an appearance), and although most of the story is narrated in a chronological order (with some jumps forward in time) between 2014 and 2016, Tassie, the main protagonist, also remembers scenes from her youth and her recent past, and quite late in the book we get snippets of a diary set at a much earlier time (when Tassie was a very young child). I won’t go into a lot of detail, to avoid revealing too much, but there are secrets that help explain difficult family relationships and behaviours, and, most importantly, this is one of those novels that I would classify as adult coming of age stories, because a character that seemed to have got stuck at a young age (much younger than their chronological age), finally gets to mature and grow up. Oh, and there is a touch of the spiritual/paranormal as well.

There are many other themes that pop up in the novel, and some are explored in more detail than others (faith and loss; the difficulties a couple can face when trying to have children, miscarriages, and the toll that takes on the mental health;  coming out (or not) to your traditional family; issues of trust; family relationships and the secrets families keep; toxic relationships and how to get free from them; second chances and living our dreams…) but it is far from simply a light and amusing read that will leave you with a smile on your face. There is that as well (yes, it is a proper romantic novel, and there is a happy ending, I can tell you that, although you’ll have to read the whole thing to see how it comes about, and “happy” might look quite different to what we think when we start reading the novel), but there are some important subjects explored in detail in the novel. I recommend readers to not skip the section of acknowledgments at the end, as it gives a good insight into the process of creation of the novel, and it also provides some extra resources to people wanting to explore further some of the issues that play an important part in the book.

The novel, which is narrated in the third person but from Tassie’s point of view, has a fabulous cast of  secondary characters. To be totally honest, Tassie isn’t my favourite. Other than Alex, her long-term love interest, and a couple of the characters that appear fleetingly at some of the weddings, she was probably the character I liked the least at first. I didn’t hate her, but although I loved her friends (Syd and Oliver are fabulous, and so are their partners, and there are many other characters that appear only briefly, like the reverend and mother of one of the brides, or Syd’s witch aunt [well, Wiccan. She has an owl! How could I possibly not love her?] that I would have happily read whole books about), she was one of those people I felt like shaking and telling her to get her head out of the sand and start really looking at what was going on around her and in her own life. Perhaps because I’ve had friends with similar issues, I felt closer to those trying to advise her and getting frustrated because nothing seemed to make a difference than to her, and because even the wonderful adventure she lives in Scotland with Dan (who is great. Yes, another favourite of mine) seems to follow the usual pattern. The fact that the story is narrated in the third person helps readers get a bit more perspective and perhaps puts them in a privileged position to get a clearer picture of what is at stake, although events that happen later help move things along. And perhaps, the whole point of the story is to make us see that certain things can only get solved when we are brave enough to confront them, no matter what the likely outcome or how painful the process might be. So, yes, although I didn’t feel I had much in common with Tassie, and she wasn’t my favourite character to begin with, she grew on me, and I felt sorry to see her go at the end.

Although some of the subjects are emotional (and yes, be prepared from some tears), the writing is fluid and dynamic, combining wonderful descriptions of places, people, and situations (some quite hilarious), with quiet moments of reflection and introspection, and the odd touch of magic. There is romance, of course, and although there is passion, this is not an erotic novel full of “hot” sex scenes (much to my relief, as I am not a fan), and most of what goes on takes place behind closed doors, so those who prefer to get graphic and detailed blow-by-blow accounts will be disappointed. On the other hand, you have romantic locations, descriptions of gardens and home vegetable patches, rides on horses, helicopters, leaking boats, and quite an array of weddings. As usual, those who want to know if the writing will be suited to their taste, are advised to check a sample.

I’ve already mentioned the ending, and as I said, things are solved in what I felt was a very satisfying manner, and I am not talking only about Tassie’s love life, but also about some of the other difficult relationships she and those around her have to go through. Not that it is an easy process, but this is one of the many beauties of this book.

In summary, I recommend this novel to anybody who enjoys romantic novels and is not looking for “hot” or erotic stories but prefers stories exploring complex relationship issues and providing good psychological insights into relevant topics. Fans of weddings and romances set in Scotland (the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Sky, real towns and spots) will particularly enjoy this novel, and for those who like some extras, the author is promising a tour of the locations (on Facebook and Instagram).

Desc 1

When the love you miss the most is the one you’ve always had.

Tassie loves many things: her friends, her job, her garden. Even her first boyfriend. But there’s a kind of love she just can’t find.

Until, in losing everything, she sees what she needed most was there all along.

Sometimes it’s not the person you need to forget, but the person you need to forgive.

Shoot the Moon is the sweetest of bittersweet novels, combining two very different love stories. One of which will probably make you cry.

Tassie Morris is everyone’s favourite wedding photographer, famous for her photos of offbeat ceremonies and alternative brides. Yet commitment is proving impossible for Tassie herself, who cannot forget her first love.

When she’s sent to photograph a ceremony on Schiehallion – the Fairy Hill of the Scottish Caledonians – she meets Dan, who might be the one to make her forget her past. That is, until a family crisis begins a chain of events that threaten to destroy not only Tassie’s love life, but her entire career.

Set in a colourful world of extraordinary weddings, Shoot the Moon explores the complexities of different kinds of love: romantic love, mother love, friendship. And, ultimately, the importance of loving yourself.

“If there’s someone in your life whom you’ve never quite got over – perhaps this book could help explain one of the reasons why.”

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‘Reading is always a subjective and personal experience’. @OlgaNM7 reviews #ShortStory collection The Shivering Ground And Other Stories by Sara Barkat @tspoetry

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

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Olga has been reading The Shivering Ground And Other Stories by Sara Barkat

I enjoy short stories, but I rarely read anthologies or collections of them, other than those of authors I already know and whose writing I love. However, although I had never read this author’s work before, there was something compelling and utterly different about this book, and the cover and the title added to the appeal.

Although I’m not sure what I was expecting to read, the stories were surprising and extremely varied. Some seemed to be set in the present (or an alternative version of the present), some in the past (or a possible past), some in a dystopian future, some in parallel universes, and the characters varied from very young children to adults, and from human beings to a variety of “Others”. Some of the stories are very brief, some are long enough to be novellas (or almost), and they are written from all possible points of view: first person, third person (in some cases identified as “they”), and even second person. I usually would try to give an overview of themes and subjects making an appearance in the stories, but that is notably difficult here. The description accompanying the book gives a good indication of what to expect, and if I had to highlight some commonalities between the stories, I would mention, perhaps, the desire and need to connect and communicate with others, in whatever form possible, and to create and express one’s feelings and thoughts, through any medium (music, painting, writing, sewing…),

These short stories are not what many readers have come to expect from the form: a fully developed narrative, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, although usually providing fewer details and not so much character development as we would find in a novel, and often with a surprising twist at the end that can make us reconsider all we have read up to that point. Barkat’s stories are not like that. They rarely have a conventional ending (even when they do, it is open to readers’ interpretations), sometimes there are descriptive passages that we aren’t used to seeing in short narratives, and the plot isn’t always the most important part of the story (if at all). The way the story is told, the style and beauty of the writing, and the impressions and feelings they cause on the reader make them akin to artworks. If reading is always a subjective and personal experience, this is, even more, the case here, and no description can do full justice to this creation.

Despite that, I decided to try to share a few thoughts on each one of the stories, in case it might encourage or help other readers make their own minds up. I’d usually add here that I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, but these are not that kind of stories either.

1. The Door at the End of the Path. A wonderful story full of vivid descriptions of a young girl’s imagination, her internal life, and a reflection of the heavy toll the difficult relationship of the parents can have on their children.

2. Conditions. A glimpse into the relationship between a brother and a sister, where the best intentions can have the worst results, set in a world that is half-dystopia, half an alternative present, with more than a slight touch of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

3. The Eternal In-Between. A dystopia set during a pandemic, with plenty of steampunk-like fancies, and an ode to the power of imagination.

4. The Mannequin. A dystopian world epitomized by the willingness of its subjects to undergo quite an extreme and symbolic procedure to keep the status quo in place.

5. Brianna. A very special retelling of a fairy-tale story that digs dip into the psychological aspects and the effects such events would have over real people, especially if it was a fate repeated generation after generation. One of my favourites.

6. Noticing. A story with a strong ecological theme, a generous dose of fantasy, some beautiful illustrations and eerie pictures, an endorsement of the power of stories, and a strong warning we should heed. Both terrifying and breathtakingly beautiful. Another favourite.

7. Entanglement. A short but compelling story/metaphor of a love affair, and/or the possibility of one.

8. The Day Before Tomorrow. Although set in a very strange and dystopic society, it is a Young Adult story of sorts, and the relationship between the two main characters feels totally natural and everyday, despite the extremely unusual surroundings. Perhaps our stories never change, no matter what might be happening around us. A hopeful story I really enjoyed.

9. It’s Already Too Late. Very brief, very compelling vignette with a very strong ecological message. A call to forget about our excuses and the reasons to carry on doing nothing.

10. The Shivering Ground. A sci-fiction/fantasy/dystopian story that might seem utterly sad and pessimistic, but it is also moving and (I think) hopeful.

11. A Universe Akilter. A wonderful story that kept wrong-footing me, as if the ground the story was set on kept shifting. A Universe Akilter indeed! It starts as the story of the breakup of a romance, seemingly because the man has been caught up cheating, set some time in the past (many of the details and the way the characters behave sound Victorian, but there are small incongruous details that pop up every so often and others that seem to shift), but as the story progresses, it becomes the story of a (possible?) love affair in parallel universes (the universe of our dreams, perhaps), that influences and changes the life of the protagonist, making him discover things about himself and his creativity he would never have considered otherwise. This is the longest story in the book and one that might especially appeal to readers of dual-time or time-travel stories (although it is not that at all).

As usual, I recommend those thinking about reading this collection check a sample of it. The stories are quite different from each other, but it should suffice to provide future readers with a good feel for the writing style.

I could not help but share a few paragraphs from the book, although as I have read an ARC copy, there might be some small changes to the final version.

All the wreckage, all the ruin, and the ground was brilliant red. Every morning, he would wake to more of the world ending, and the earth laid out a scarlet cloak as though waiting for an emperor to arrive.

He wishes, desperately, that he could remember the sound of her voice hen she still knew innocence; that he had thought to fold it in his pocket with the mementos of another life.

Perhaps being a mis-turned wheel in a spinning globe is only as it should be after all, when in the spring, the scent of mint and apple blossoms fills the acres behind you.

But, surely, I wondered, interpretability only goes so far. To go further would be to strike out onto one’s own adventure, breaking the mass of the art’s finished illusion.

I wouldn’t say I “understood” all the stories, or I got the meaning the author intended (if she had a specific design for each one of her stories), but I don’t think that is what this collection is about. Like in an exhibition of artworks, the important thing is what each one of them makes us feel, what thoughts and reflections they set in motion, and how much of an impression they leave on us.

I don’t recommend this book to readers looking for traditionally told short stories, with a clear beginning and end, and a satisfying conclusion. On the other hand, readers seeking for something outside the norm and happy to: explore new worlds, try new experiences, ponder about meanings and possibilities, and get lost in the beauty of the writing and the magic of the words, should read this collection. It’s too beautiful to miss.

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The Shivering Ground blends future and past, earth and otherworldliness, in a magnetic collection that shimmers with art, philosophy, dance, film, and music at its heart.

A haunting medieval song in the mouth of a guard, an 1800s greatcoat on the shoulders of a playwright experiencing a quantum love affair, alien worlds both elsewhere and in the ruined water at our feet: these stories startle us with the richness and emptiness of what we absolutely know and simultaneously cannot pin into place.

In the tender emotions, hidden ecological or relational choices, and the sheer weight of a compelling voice, readers “hear” each story, endlessly together and apart.

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‘Recommended to all of those who are young at heart’. @OlgaNM7 Reviews #fairytale retelling Heartless Hette by @FarbMl For Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT

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

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Olga has been reading Heartless Hette by M.L. Farb

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I am not going to say this is not going to be a long review. I hope it isn’t, but I’m not very good at keeping reviews succinct, especially when I am enthusiastic. And I can tell you now, I loved this novel/fairy tale retelling. But I am decided not to make it heavy. I love fairy tales, and if you want to read about them from an academic or more analytical perspective, there are many books you could check. Among my favourites, I recommend Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy tales and, although it is a work on comparative mythology, Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, because the quest motif features not only in mythology but also in fairy tales, and it is central to this story. But my review is just going to tell you why I had such a great time reading this novel.

The author explains where the idea for this story came from at the end of the book, and it was a combination of the dream of one of her sons and her own inspiration of combining it with a classic fairy tale, ‘The Princess Who Never Laughed’ (not one I’m very familiar with, although I think I might have read it once, a long time ago). There are multiple references to other fairy tales, mythological and magical beings, and objects throughout the story, and also true facts, inventions, and knowledge, and the author’s research shines through, although always at the service of the story and its many adventures. I do recommend reading all the back matter of the book because the author explains the meaning of the names of the characters; she shares some of her research (who knew CPR was so old?); and also includes some reflections about the story, which she calls “food for thought”, that would make great starting points for endless discussions at book clubs.

Retellings of all kinds of stories are all the rage, and retellings of fairy tales are quite popular as well. By choosing one of the, perhaps, not so mainstream fairy tales, Farb gives herself plenty of room for manoeuvre, and she makes great use of it. I love the characters. Hette is a favourite of mine, perhaps because we have much in common. No, I’m not a princess, and no, I don’t have a long queue of men knocking at my door, but her love of knowledge, her no-nonsense attitude, her determination to lead her own life, despite conventions, and her decision not to marry (precisely because she wants to be in charge of her future and her kingdom) spoke to me. She is not perfect, though. She is also rigid, lacks a sense of humour, is determined to not let her emotions rule her, and can appear cold and uncaring, but she is honest to a fault, and she discovers many things about herself and others by the end of the story. I also loved the other characters who accompany her in her quest: Konrad, the Fool (fools are always interesting, and he is one of the best); Demuth, a maid who is much more than that; Peter, a talking toad who is also more than a toad (of course). They all teach Hette the importance of friendship, help her learn to look beyond appearances, jobs, and titles, and to appreciate different types of knowledge and points of view.

There are many other wonderful beings and characters scattered throughout the books: sorcerers, witches, magical owls that love riddles, knights gone mad, Nereids, a wolf-man (not a werewolf as such, at least not your standard one), a Kobold (a German house spirit, a pretty naughty one in this case), and many more,  but one of the things I most enjoyed in the story is how most of the characters are not cardboard cut-outs and simply good or bad, without nuances. Even the bad characters have depth and are not just “bad” but have their reasons and sometimes have survived pretty extreme experiences that go some way to help us understand the kinds of beings they are now. We also come across all kind of magical objects and places (rivers of fire, mountains of ice, stone horses, books and sextants with their own ideas, mechanical hearts…), and of course, secrets, curses, and plenty of stories as well. In fact, the main story is framed by another one, like John, a new steward working at a rural estate is forced to attend a performance by a bard, a female bard, even though he thinks it’s a waste of time and nobody should be allowed to attend before all the “important work” is finished. By the end of the story, it seems John has plenty of food for thought of his own.

Apart from the wonderful characters, as you’ll probably have guessed from my comments about the other characters and magical objects, the quest Hette and her friends embark on sees them through many adventures, and anybody with a bit of imagination and a willingness to join these motley crew is likely to enjoy the wild ride, full of scary moments, puzzling events, riddles galore, difficult decisions, sacrifices, heartache, revelations, laughs, and plenty of moments that will make one think and wonder. In my opinion, this story is suitable for most ages (apart from perhaps very little children, although parents will be the best judges of that), and although there are scary moments, and the characters are put to the test, both physically and mentally (the challenges do take a toll on their health and their spirit as well) and suffer injuries and even violence, this is not out of keeping with the genre, or extreme and gore, and I think most older children would enjoy it.

The writing is beautifully descriptive, rich, and fluid; the pace of events is fast (and at some point we get an added ticking clock, so things accelerate even more), and the imagery is vivid and should capture most readers’ sense of wonder and imagination. You can check a sample if you want to make sure you’d enjoy the writing, but here go a few snippets:

“A promise is but the stomach’s wind after dinner, all stink and no substance.”

“Yes, many things are foolish to those who only see things in categories. But life doesn’t sort out so neatly.”

“Seeing paradoxes and allowing that something may be two things at once is one key to wisdom.”

“Who but fools can tell the truth to the great one? Priests are too timid and ministers too selfish.”

I’m sure you already guessed that, but in case you needed me to tell you, the story ends happily, and there is the promise of a short story with more adventures for the main characters coming  up soon.

In summary, this is a delightful fairy tale for all ages, that works wonderfully even if you don’t know anything about the original story, full of heart, inspiring, funny, and packed with wonderful characters, all kinds of scary and challenging adventures, and a perfect ending. Recommended to all of those who are young at heart and love a story full of imagination, romance, and, especially, magic.

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When Princess Hette refuses a sorcerer’s proposal, he retaliates by stealing her heart—literally.

Desperate to resist his influence, Hette makes herself emotionless, stifling all feelings until she can find her heart and win it back. Only Konrad, the despised Court Fool, knows where to find the sorcerer, and he has his own curse to battle.

Riddles and magic plague their path, including a memory stealing witch, an unbeatable knight, and a magic book that would as soon drown them as lead them to their destination. Yet, if Hette can’t find the sorcerer in time, her heart will be the least of her losses.

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A Second Chances Story. @OlgaNM7 Reviews An Unlit Candle by Caren J. Werlinger, for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT

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

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Olga has been reading An Unlit Candle by Caren Werlinger

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I have read and reviewed several of Caren Werlinger’s novels (this is the fifth), and recently reviewed In This Small Spot, which also takes place, at least in part, at St Bridget’s Abbey and where we meet two of the protagonists of this story, As I loved it, I was eager to see what would happen here and who the novel would centre on, as there were a lot of characters I would have liked to learn more about.

As was the case in the previous novel, the action in this one is divided up between two timelines, both narrated in the third person, but from the point of view of the protagonists. One of the stories works, partly, as a prequel, as we learn the background story of one of the most important people in the Abbey, the Abbess herself, Mother Theodora (or, as we soon learn, Patricia, “Pip”, Horrigan), from the time she leaves school, determined to bring new ideas to her father’s business, in the 1950s, until the present day of the story. Her life is totally thrown into turmoil when she visits the abbey with Sister Ruth, a friend, and she is unable to ignore her vocation to become a nun. Once she enters the abbey, against her family’s wishes, she has to confront many things, about herself and those around her, and her story is also that of the abbey over the next fifty years. We get to follow not only what happens inside its doors, but also how the order and the people inside are affected by what goes on in the world and society at large, and also by the changes in the Catholic Church. The rest of the novel takes place a few years after the end of In This Small Spot, and we catch up on Lauren, a nun who had left St. Briget’s to live with the love of her life. She has settled into her new life, also pretty quiet, but a new person comes to disrupt her peace, Gail, an Episcopal priest whose own vocation is being sorely tested by several losses in her personal life that she finds extremely difficult to accept. How can she advise and console others in similar circumstances when she does not truly believe what she has been taught?

Some of the subjects that played a big part in the previous novel are here again: loss, grief, vocation, faith, but also the difficulty reconciling diverse calls, loves, vocations, duties, and deciding what is most important, reconnecting with your family, combining old traditions and calls to innovate, knowing when it’s time to move on, and giving yourself a second chance.

I loved getting to learn more about Mother Theodora. She is the guiding light of St. Bridget’s, and it was fascinating to get to learn how she got to be the person she is, and the hard times and difficulties she had to face to get there. I won’t go into details, but we get a good overview of life in the convent over the years and meet more of the nuns and learn about their roles and their stories. Her story exemplifies how much weight we can confer on other people’s words and opinions, and how sometimes people around us can inspire us and help us in unexpected ways, without expecting anything in return. I also came to understand quite well why Mickey, the protagonist from the first book, and Mother Theodora became fairly close friends so quickly, as there are evident similarities between the two women, their experiences and their outlook on life, even if they eventually chose a pretty different path.

Lauren’s story turns, partly, into a second chance romance, both for her and Gail, although rather than a story of passionate young romance, this is more of a story of soul mates meeting and realising they are better together. Both have to change the way they think, and this is particularly difficult for Lauren, but I can say, without revealing too much, that this time I’m sure everybody will be happy with the ending. Although this is not a laugh a minute story, not by a long chalk, but it is a moving and ultimately uplifting story about finding your own place and your own family, wherever and whoever they might be.

I have mentioned the beauty and lyricism of Werlinger’s writing, and that is in evidence here again. I always feel sorry when I get to the end of one of her stories, as I love the time I spend with her characters, in the wonderful communities she creates, and reading her gorgeous and moving prose. This time, the two stories and timelines complement each other well, flowing from one to the next and eventually converging in the present, at a pretty momentous point.

Many of the comments I made about the first novel apply here as well, and I won’t repeat them again. One doesn’t need to be Roman Catholic to enjoy the novel, and although some aspects of the story might appear very alien at first sight, quite a few of the experiences and turmoil the characters go through are pretty universal. Although I think the story can be read and enjoyed independently of the first, as one of the reviewers has said, the two novels feel like the two halves of a story, and I think they work better together, being read in the order of publication.

So, I will repeat my recommendation, with a few added notes. I recommend this novel to people who enjoy beautiful writing, reading about enclosed communities (particularly of women), those who might feel curious about monastic life, and anybody interested in characters going through major changes and crisis in their lives. There are sad moments, there is talk about passion and desire, but nothing too explicit, and there are characters facing crisis of vocation and faith, and getting over loss and grief. If any of these sound interesting, check a sample of the book, and if you like what you read, start with In This Small Spot and keep going. You’ll thank me later.

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Patricia Horrigan is the eldest daughter of a family determined to gain entry into the upper echelons of Rochester society as the 1950s give way to the turbulence of the 60s. Born of an Irish father and a French-Canadian mother, Pip inherited the stubborn pride and fierce determination of both. With her life in the family business all planned out, she is most definitely not interested in throwing it all away to become a nun. But some calls will not be ignored, no matter how hard she tries. Fifty years later, she can’t help but wonder if her choices and sacrifices were worth it.
In present time, Lauren Thackeray has managed to put her life back together—in a manner of speaking. She has her weaving, her home, her chosen family, and she has the monastery and the lasting friendship of the nuns there. The one thing she doesn’t have, she doesn’t want. She won’t open her heart again after she barely survived the last time.
Gail Bauer is questioning her own vocation as an Episcopal priest. How can she minister to others when she’s not sure she believes anymore? In desperation, she flees, hoping to find answers.
In the shadow of St. Bridget’s Abbey, three very different women will need one another—to come to terms with their demons, to heal, and to rekindle the light that life has all but snuffed out.

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‘I loved the lyrical quality of the language’. Says Rosie’s #Bookreview Team Member @OlgaNM7 About #LiteraryFiction Cenotaphs by @marcellor #TuesdayBookBlog

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

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Olga has been reading Cenotaphs by Rich Marcello

I have read two of Marcello’s novels, The Beauty of the Fall and the Latecomers, and I have quickly become an admirer of his books, as he combines a lyrical and poetic style of writing with a choice of subjects that transcend the usual genre novel and look deep into the souls and minds of his characters.

This novel is not heavy on plot or action (some things happen, of course, and there are references to pretty major events that took place before, although I won’t spoil the novel for future readers). It is primarily about relationships between all kinds of people. The primary relationship we learn about is the one between Ben, a retired man who leads a pretty quiet life in a cabin in Vermont and spends his time sharing his advice and wisdom with others, and Sam, a thirty-something hedge fund manager who spends most of her time travelling and conversing with strangers. They meet by chance and quickly realise that there is a connection between them. Although in appearance they are as different as could be, they come to realise that they share some experiences and feelings. They both feel guilty of something that happened to their families (they were both brought up in the Roman Catholic faith, although neither of them are followers of any official religion now), and they find companionship and comfort in each other. Their relationship confounds many, but although Platonic, they know they have found something special in each other and treasure it.

This book reminded me of some of my favourite French movies, especially Eric Rohmer’s, that made you feel as if you were a privileged witness to the conversations between two characters (or a few characters), as they slowly got to know each other and to discover that they were meant to be with each other (or sometimes, to be apart but to gain some important insight from their time together). This is a book of communing with nature, with your dog, of going fishing, of building a cenotaph, of stripping your life of unnecessary things and acknowledging what is truly important, and of understanding that you cannot heal from your emotional wounds by hiding your true self and pretending to be somebody else. People can help you along the way, but you have to come to accept your pain, your loss, your responsibility and, perhaps, if you’re lucky, meet somebody else and make amends.

It is difficult to talk about the genre of this book, because other than literary fiction, it doesn’t fit in nicely under any other category. There is romance, but not in the standard sense. It is not strictly a self-help book, because it is a fictional story, but I am sure it will inspire many readers. It deals in loss, grief, guilt, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse and other self-destructive behaviours, but also in music, nature, friendship, family relationships, spirituality, religion, love, and the meaning of life. It even touches upon the paranormal and metaphysics, so anybody who likes to reflect, analyse, and dig into the depths of what makes us human could potentially be a good match for this book.

I wouldn’t say I quickly warmed to the two main characters. I was intrigued and puzzled by them, as it was clear that there were many secret motivations behind their behaviours and their actions, but slowly, as I learned about them, I came to understand them a bit better and to accept them as human beings (with all their faults and their gifts). Although we don’t learn that much about the rest of the characters, I quite liked Scott (terrible mistake and all) and would have liked to learn more about Marianne, one of Ben’s friends but not around when we meet him. Zeke, the dog, was quite a character, and I enjoyed the conversations between Ben, Sam, and all of Ben’s friends, so different but so happy to share and engage in serious debate.

I also loved the lyrical quality of the language, and the many thoughts and phrases that made me stop and think. As usual, I’d advise people thinking about reading it to check a sample of the novel to see how they feel, but I’ll also share a few quotations I highlighted. Please, remember that I am reviewing an early copy, and there might have been changes in the final version.

An aspiration for old age: When the weight lifts, float up over all the love harmed, and marvel that something as healing as forgiveness exists at all.

Sometimes an undercurrent joins two people right from the start.

My greatest learning is this —love people exactly where they are, flaws and all, for as long as they grace your life. We don’t get do-overs, do we?

We never really fully understand another human being, do we, only the ways they touch us.

The story is narrated in the first-person by both main characters, and if I had to highlight one of the things that got me a bit confused, it was the way the book was divided up. Who was narrating each part was clearly indicated, but there were several parts I and parts II throughout the book, and some ‘chapters’ with their own separate titles. I think part of the issue might be due to reading an e-book copy and not having a clear idea of its structure, but later on, there is a development in the novel itself that helps to give this issue a totally different perspective. So, although the novel is written in the first-person, and I know there are readers who don’t appreciate that, there is a good reason for the choice, and the quality of the writing is such that it should dispel any concerns.

I recommend this book to people who enjoy beautiful writing, who are looking for a different kind of story, one that makes you think, reflect and ponder, rather than turn the pages quickly to know what will happen next. To those who love to explore the reasons behind people’s behaviours, to look closely at their relationships, and to wonder about the meaning of life. And if you’ve never read any of the author’s books, you’re in for a treat and a delightful surprise. Don’t delay.

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AFTER A CHANCE MEETING, AN OLD MAN AND A MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN CHART AN UNCONVENTIONAL PATH FORWARD.

When Ben Sanna, a contemplative retiree with a penchant for helping people, and Samantha Beckett, a secretive New York City hedge fund manager, meet by chance in a small Vermont town, they enter into a tenuous relationship. Over several weeks, Samantha and Ben open their pasts inch by inch, sift through their futures consciously, and come to terms with the strength and depth of their bond. A meditation on redemption told in alternating chapters of musings and scenes, Cenotaphs is about platonic love; the ways we close ourselves off in reaction to pain and what happens when we open ourselves up again; and the deep, painful legacy of loss.

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Guess the historical figures or famous people from the clues. @OlgaNM7 reviews Backstories by @SimonVdVwriter

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

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Olga has been reading Backstories by Simon Van der Velde

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I enjoy short stories, but recently I have not read as many as I used to, preferring to read novels that build up more slowly and give you the opportunity to get to know the characters and see how they evolve over time. So this was a bit of an unusual choice for me, but I kept reading intriguing reviews of this book, and after checking it out, I had to read the whole thing. And it was worth it.

I had never read anything by the author, although he has been writing for a while and his short-stories have earned him a variety of awards and accolades, but I suspect this won’t be the last of his books I read, and he is already preparing a second volume of Backstories for publication.

It is a bit difficult to talk about this book in any detail without giving too much away. The author explains his goals and what the book is about quite clearly in his description, so I won’t go over it again. I am not sure that I would describe it as a collection of short-stories. Some are biographical vignettes, moments in somebody’s life (or their backstories, if we like), where something momentous happened, or is about to happen (in some cases), while others fit in more easily with the standard understanding of a short story containing a full narrative. In some ways, I guess it is the reader’s job to complete the story, by guessing who the protagonist is and understanding how that snippet fits in with the rest of the person’s life, how significant or important it might be, and how much it reveals of what we know happened next to the person.

In some cases, we see a famous person (some are musicians, some important historical figures, some sports personalities, some less-than-savoury characters…) as children or very young adults, and the author cleverly creates a picture of who they were and how that relates to who they will become. Sometimes, we see somebody on the verge of doing something that would change things forever, and at others, we get an inkling of what things might have been like if something hadn’t happened or circumstances had been different. One of the stories illustrated perfectly a quandary I’ve had for years about a historical figure, as if the author had read my mind, but I’ll keep my peace about it as well.

There are 14 stories, tightly written, some in the first and some in the third person, and they move quickly, the style of writing easy but at the same time adapted to the personality, the era, and the location of the individual portrayed by each. Most of them are told from the point of view of the famous person, although there are some in which we see them reflected through somebody else’s eyes. It is very difficult to stop reading the stories, especially if you enjoy guessing games or quizzes, as one gets gripped by what is happening at the time and also hooked on trying to find who the person is. If you want to know how well I got on, yes, I guessed all of them (although in one of the cases I had only a passing acquaintance with the character, and I ended up checking to make sure), and some had me scratching my head until the very end or changing my mind several times as I read, while others I suspected from early on.

I enjoyed them all, in different ways (some because I felt the build up of the situation, others because the story itself was moving and/or inspiring, some because I loved the protagonists, and some because they chilled me to the bone), and I think most readers will find some that work better for them than others, particularly if they admire some of the protagonists, but there isn’t a bad one in the lot. These are not sanitized and clean stories, and readers must be warned that they will find all kinds of violence, abuse, prejudice… depicted in its pages. The author has explained his reasoning behind his choices, and a percentage of the book’s earnings will go to good causes, so this is more than justified, in my opinion. I recommend this highly enjoyable collection to anybody who loves quizzes, who has ever wondered what happened before historical figures or famous people became who they are, and particularly to those who prefer their reading short, crisp, and based on facts rather than fancy. And, if you like the formula, don’t forget that there is a second book coming your way soon.

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These are the stories of people you know. The settings are mostly 60s and 70s UK and USA, the driving themes are inclusion and social justice – but the real key to these stories is that I withhold the protagonists’ identities. This means that your job is to find them – leading to that Eureka moment when you realise who’s mind you’ve been inhabiting for the last twenty minutes.

I should also add that this is a book that operates on two levels. Yes, there’s the game of identifying the mystery activist or actor, singer or murderer, but there is then the more serious business of trying to understand them. This in turn leads to the challenge of overlaying what you now know about these famous people onto what you thought you knew – not to mention the inherent challenge to your moral compass.

These are people you know, but not as you know them. Peel back the mask and see.

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One Woman’s Spiritual Journey In A Convent. @OlgaNM7 reviews In This Small Spot by Caren Werlinger

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

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Olga has been reading In This Small Spot by Caren Werlinger

In This Small Spot by [Caren J. Werlinger]

The description provides enough information for readers to get a good sense of what is to come, but I’ll add a few of my thoughts. Michelle (Mickey), the main character, is a successful surgeon, who also teaches at an important medical school, and who often worked with cancer sufferers. She had lived for many years with her partner, Alice, who had died from cancer a few years back by the time we meet her in the novel. She doesn’t suddenly decide to leave everything and go to the convent, as some of her friends and people who knew her might think, as we learn that she had thought about it when she was much younger, just out of high school, but decided to go to university, study, and then met her partner. The book is narrated in the third person, mostly from Mickey’s point of view, although there are some chapters where the third person becomes that of an outside observer with some moments of insight into one of the characters’ minds (I’m being a bit cryptic, but I don’t want to reveal any spoilers).  The novel initially alternates chapters from the now of the action (from the time when Mickey is setting off to go enter the convent), with others from her life before that, offering us an insight into her relationship with Alice, her interaction with others, and also Alice’s illness and its aftermath. There is no confusion between the different chapters and timelines, and the format works well to offer us a good understanding of what Mickey’s life had been like before and how she got to the convent, while also learning about convent life and about the process of her integration into the religious community.

Faith, vocation and spirituality play an important part in the novel, as you can easily imagine, but you don’t need to practise Roman Catholicism or be particularly religious to enjoy the book. Anybody who has wondered about the meaning of life or spiritual matters would find much to identify with in the pages of this book. This novel is about the journey of a particular woman struggling with grief, trying to recover her zest for life, and to discover what is really important for her. Her life outside was full of stress and pressures, but although life in a convent is completely different, it is not without its challenges, and she discovers that you cannot hide from yourself, and you cannot put off dealing with things and people forever, however difficult and painful they might be. And, a convent is not a place where everybody is perfect, tolerant, and patient either, as she soon finds out. There is prejudice, pettiness, likes and dislikes, and the enclosed atmosphere and the fact that you are forced to live together with people you might not have chosen makes it all the harder, amplifying annoyances that you might, otherwise, have easily dismissed. But, there are some wonderful moments, and the novel is also full of joy, beauty, inspiration, and a few laughs.

We get to know Mickey quite well, and although I’ve read that some reviewers disliked her, that was not my case. Having worked as a doctor and left Medicine as well, I felt particularly drawn to her, perhaps because I was aware of some of the challenges of the profession, and although she is far from perfect and can be annoying at times, she does try to do what she thinks is right, even when it is not what might come naturally or make her happy. She is far from humble and doesn’t always ask for help when she should, but she tries her best, and she has a sense of humour and is always ready to help others, even those she doesn’t particularly like. She discovers that there are plenty of things she has to deal with before she can truly move on, and she struggles with her feelings and emotions. I did find her a believable character, and I got to feel for her, as I did for the rest of the convent. We don’t get to know all the other characters as well, but I grew fond of the convent and its inhabitants, as I did of Mickey’s brother, of Alice’s sister, and of some of the other characters who make brief appearances. I particularly enjoyed the way the author creates a powerful picture of the abbey and its inhabitants, and I loved the sense of community, the different roles and personalities, and the way they all find a place and become a part of something bigger.

The writing is beautiful, as I have come to expect from this writer, and although this is not a page-turner in the traditional sense (much of what happens is every day and not the stuff of adventure books or thrillers), it flows well, and it has a sense of rhythm to go with the seasons and with the character’s experiences. There are melodramatic moments as well, when life puts not only Mickey, but others also, to the test. And don’t expect everything to go smoothly and a traditional happy ending. This is not a fairy tale, and I have seen that some readers felt disappointed when they got to the ending. No, this is not the typical lesbian romance novel, H.E.A and all. Tears also make an appearance. To be fair to Werlinger, though, even if we might have missed the clues, what happens is not surprising or totally unexpected. And, personally, I thought the ending was more than appropriate and quite optimistic, in a bitter-sweet way.

I always advise possible readers to check a sample of the book, if they can, to decide if the writing style suits them, and that applies here as well. I highlighted a lot of sentences and paragraphs that seemed particularly beautiful to me and/or gave me pause, and I have chosen a few to give you an idea of what to expect.

But remember that an abbey is not a place where you can run from yourself. Quite the contrary. Having stripped away the disguises and distractions of the outside world: clothes, career, material possessions, the true you is most often magnified, for better or for worse.

Prayer wasn’t dependent upon the skill of the person offering the prayer; it wasn’t limited geographically or physically; it wasn’t even limited by reality or any of the laws of science.

The two people in our lives who could never be married gave us the best example of how to build a life together as completely equal partners.

Sometimes God knocks us off our feet with something dramatic, but, in my experience, more often, he simply whispers and waits for us to be quiet enough to hear.

Any warnings? Well, this is not a “clean” novel, and although there is no violence, there are some hard scenes to do with injuries and sickness and the odd swear word. There are also some mild lesbian sex scenes (nothing full-blown or explicit), and there is much talk about grief, illness, and death of loved ones, so those who could be badly affected by these topics might want to skip it or wait until they feel they are in a better place. As I have said, I found it quite hopeful and inspiring, so I wouldn’t discount it just because of the storyline, either.

I recommend this novel to people who enjoy beautiful writing, reading about enclosed communities (particularly of women), those who might feel curious about monastic life (I’ve always been), and anybody interested in characters going through major changes and crisis in their lives. The author explains in her acknowledgments that she had thought about becoming a nun when she was younger, had researched the topic at the time, and she also had family connections in the church, so this is a book born of her personal search as well as a work of fiction. It works wonderfully on both counts, and I can’t wait for her next book.

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“Here, the true you is most often magnified, for better or for worse.” Abbess Theodora

In a world increasingly connected to computers and machines but disconnected to self and others, Dr. Michele Stewart finds herself drowning in a life that no longer holds meaning. Searching for a deeper connection after losing her partner, Alice, she enters a contemplative monastery, living a life dedicated to prayer, to faith in things unseen. Though most of her family and friends are convinced that she has become a nun to run away from her life, she finds herself more attuned to life than she has been in years. Stripped of the things that define most people in the outside world – career, clothing, possessions – she rediscovers a long forgotten part of herself. But sooner than she expects, the outside world intrudes, forcing her to confront doubts and demons she thought she had left behind. The ultimate test of her vocation comes from the unlikeliest source when she finds herself falling in love again. As she struggles to discern where she belongs, she discovers the terrifying truth of Abbess Theodora’s warning. For better or for worse.

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In This Small Spot by [Caren J. Werlinger]

An #HistoricalFiction Boxset. @OlgaNM7 reviews No Woman Is An Island, for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT @LizaPerrat, @LornaFergusson, @clarefly @helenahalme

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

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Olga has been reading No Woman Is An Island

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Blood Rose Angel by Liza Perrat.

The novel’s plot is fascinating and as good as any historical fiction I have read. History and fiction blend seamlessly to create a story that is gripping, emotionally satisfying, and informative. The life of the villagers is well observed, as is the relationship between the different classes, the politics of the era, the role of religion, the power held by nobles and the church, the hypocrisy, superstition, and prejudice, and the social mores and roles of the different genders. The descriptions of the houses, clothing, medical and midwifery procedures, and the everyday life are detailed enough to make us feel immersed in the era without slowing down the plot, that is a page turner in its own right. I particularly enjoyed the sense of community (strongly dominated by women) and the optimism that permeates the novel, showing the strength of the human spirit even in the hardest of circumstances. The author includes a glossary at the end and also provides background information on the Black Death and the historical figures that grace its pages. The research into the era is flawlessly weaved into the story and adds to the feeling of authenticity.

Hidden by Linda Gillard

This historical novel is a dual-time story, combining a contemporary chronological timeline (set in 2018) following Miranda Norton, a woman who inherits a beautiful building from a famous father she never knew, and decides to move in with her whole family (her mother, her adult pregnant daughter and son-in-law and her twin teenage sons) to make ends meet, and the story of a previous owner, Esme Howard, a painter whose family had lived in the house for generations, who after several losses during the Great War, makes a decision that will have drastic consequences for all involved. There are all kinds of links and connections between the two stories, and even a touch of the paranormal.

I loved it. Some of the high points for me were: the relationships in Miranda’s extended family, and how well the different generations get on; the way the author handles the experience of domestic abuse/violence, including fascinating comparisons and parallels between the circumstances of two women separated by 100 years; the descriptions of London and the UK during WWI and the experiences of the people in the home front; shell-shock and how it affected soldiers during the war; I loved the descriptions of Esme’s creative process, her inspiration, and her paintings (which I could see in my mind’s eye), and also the true story of  Baroque Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi (which I am fascinated by), a woman deserving of much more attention than she has been given so far. I also enjoyed the mystery side of things, and trying to piece the details of the story together, although for me, Esme’s story, the house, and Miranda’s family were the winners.

Any readers who love historical fiction set in the early XX century, particularly during WWI, in the UK, who are keen on mysterious houses, a good love story, and  prefer stories told (mostly) from a female perspective, should check this one. Oh, and the ending is… as close to perfect as anyone could wish.

The Chase by Lorna Fergusson

The action of the book alternates between chapters set in different historical periods (from prehistory until WWII), and those telling the chronological story of a couple of Brits expats who move to France (to the Dordogne, the Périgord) trying to leave their tragic past behind.

This is a novel where the historical aspect is less evident than in the previous two, and it might not appear evident at first, although, eventually, the historical fragments fall into place and readers discover what links them to the story. Secrets from the present and the past coalesce  and the influence of the region and its past inhabitants on the present come full circle.

The psychological portrayal of the main characters is powerful as well. These were not superheroes or insightful and virtuous individuals, perfect in every way, and although by the end of the story they’ve suffered heartbreak, disappointments, and have been forced to confront their worst fears, this is not a story where, as if by magic, they are totally enlightened and all their problems have disappeared. The ending is left quite open, and although some aspects of the story are resolved (in a brilliant way, in my opinion), others are left to our imagination.

This novel will be of particular interest to readers who love detailed descriptions of places, local culture, and food and drink, especially those who know or are thinking of visiting la Dordogne; readers who are interested in embroidery, mythology, and history of the region will also have a field day; its treatment of bereavement is interesting and compelling; and I think all those elements would make it ideal for book clubs, as there is plenty to discuss and think about.

The Chalky Sea by Clare Flynn

Clare Flynn is a favourite author of many readers, and based on this novel, she is a fine writer, who combines a strong sense of place and historical detail (WWII, especially the home front experience in the UK, particularly in Eastbourne, East Sussex, a seaside resort in the South of England that was heavily bombed during the war), with characters who undergo many trials and challenges, remain strongly anchored in the era, and whose innermost thoughts and motivations we get to understand (even when we might have very little in common with them or their opinions and feelings).

The story is narrated in the third person, from the points of view of the two main characters: Gwen, an upper-middle class British woman, well-educated, married, who enjoys volunteering and helping out, but whose life is far from fulfilled, and Jim, a young Canadian farmer, engaged to be married and happy with his lot when we meet him, whose life takes a sudden turn for the worse, and ends up enlisting and being sent to England., and the author writes beautifully about places and emotions, without getting lost in overdrawn descriptions or sidetracked by titbits of real information. The novel touches on many subjects beyond WWII: there are several love stories, legally sanctioned and not; the nature of family relationships; morality and what was considered ‘proper’ behaviour and the changes those concepts underwent due to the war; women’s work opportunities, their roles, and how they broadened during the war; prejudice and social class; the Canadian contribution to the UK war effort; miscarriages/abortions and their effects on women; childless marriages; the loss of a sibling; was destruction and loss of human lives… Some of them are dealt in more detail than others, but I am sure most readers will find plenty of food for thought in these pages.

Although this is the first novel in a series, I found the ending extremely fitting and satisfying, and it can be read independently.

Coffee And Vodka by Helena Halme

This is another story set in the recent past, but in contrast with many of the other texts in this volume, it is a pretty personal one. The story is told in the first person by Evva, and the timeline is split-up into two. One half of the story takes place in 1974, when Evva is only a teenager and her family migrates from Finland to Sweden; and the other half takes place thirty years later, in 2004, when she is in her early forties and has to go back to Finland (not having been there even for a visit in the meantime) because her beloved grandmother is dying. The chapters in the two timelines alternate (although sometimes we might read several chapters from the same era without interruption), building up to create a clear picture of what life was like before, and how things have moved on.

The author captures well the era and the teenager’s feelings and voice, and although I have never visited Finland or Sweden, I got a strong sense of how living there might be. She also manages to structure the novel in such a way that we get to know and understand Evva (young Evva is much easier to empathise with than older Evva, although I liked the way she develops and grows during the novel) whilst getting a strong suspicion that she is missing a lot of the facts, and the two timelines converge to provide us a reveal that is not surprising for this kind of stories, but it is well done and beautifully observed and written. I particularly appreciated the understated tone of the funeral and the conversations between the family members, and the fact that despite their emotions, they all behaved like the grown-ups they are.

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy a well-written family drama, especially those interested in new settings and Nordic literature, those who love stories set in the 1970s, and anybody who enjoys dual timelines, coming-of-age stories, and beautifully observed characters.

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