Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #LiteraryFiction Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home by @Annecdotist

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

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Olga has been reading Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home by Anne Goodwin

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I arrived in the UK in September 1992. My goal was to qualify as a psychiatrist (I had studied Medicine back home in Barcelona, Spain) and, also, to improve my English. I started working as a junior doctor in psychiatry in February 1993, and Anne Goodwin’s new novel is set (mostly) just a couple of years earlier, at a moment when mental health services in the UK were undergoing a major change. The move from the big old-style asylums —where people who suffered from chronic mental health conditions, sometimes poorly defined, were “warehoused”—to “care in the community”, with its resulting emphasis on normalisation, on reintegration, and on support within the family, and/or the community, rocked the foundations of the system, and resulted on new practices, roles, and also in bringing to the fore a number of patients who had spent most of their lives in institutions and had real difficulties finding a place in an outside world they no longer recognised.


Even though this is a work of fiction, it is evident that the author is writing from personal experience, and that lends immediacy and depth to the story. Goodwin captures perfectly the atmosphere of the mental health asylums, where routine was sacred, and everybody had a part to play they were not allowed to deviate from. She offers readers several points of view: that of a newly-qualified social worker (Janice), who is going through an unsettling time in her personal life, and whose values and certainties will be put to the test by this job, especially by Matty’s case; Matty’s, one of the long-stay patients, whose story is less-than-certain after having been institutionalised for over 50 years, who allows us a peek into her unique world (stuck as she is in the past, an imaginary refuge from her less than glamorous reality); Henry’s, a man who also lives stuck in the past, waiting for a sister/mother whom he is no longer sure ever existed; and Matilda’s, who takes us back to the 1930s and tells us a story full of everyday tragedy, loss and despair.


Although I only experienced the aftermath of the closing of the big asylums, I got to talk to many nurses and doctors who had spent most of their working lives there, and had been involved in the changes as well. I also met many of the patients who hadn’t been lucky enough to move back into the community and ended up in newer long-term units, and also some of those who managed to create new lives for themselves, with the dedicated support of members of staff who were usually stretched to their limits. I worked in a newly-built unit in the grounds of one of the big asylums in the South of England, and walked the beautiful gardens, saw the impressive buildings (it had even had a railway station in its heyday), and it was easy to imagine how things must have been. Hardly any of the patients who’d spent years there had any contact with their families any longer, and their worlds had become reduced to their everyday routine, the tea with the sugar and milk already in, and the daily trip to the shop that the novel so realistically portrays. The way the author contrasts the experiences from the characters who live “normal” lives in the community (Henry’s life is “peculiar” to say the least, and Janice is in a sort of limbo, an impasse in her life) with Matty’s life in hospital emphasises the importance of the stories we tell ourselves, and also reminds us of the need to take control and to impose our own meaning in our lives. If we don’t, we are at risk of becoming the person or the version of ourselves that other people decide. And that is the worst of tragedies.


This is not an easy story to contemplate, and most readers will soon imagine that the truth about Matilda’s past, once revealed, will be shocking and tragic. Worse still, we know that it is all a too-familiar story, and not a flight of fancy on the part of the author. But she manages to make it deeply personal, and I challenge any casual readers not to feel both, horrified and moved, by the story.


As a mental health professional, this novel brought goosebumps to my skin and a lot of memories. As a reader, it gave me pause, and made me care for a group of characters whom I share little with (other than my professional experience). As a human being, I can only hope no girls find themselves in the position of Matilda ever again, and also that, as a society, we always remember that there is no health without mental health. Thankfully, many people have come forward in recent years and shared their mental health difficulties and their experiences trying to find help. It was about time, because those patients not at liberty to leave the hospital always reminded us that we would go home at the end of the day, but they had no home to go to, or, worse even, the hospital was their only home. Out of sight, out of mind is a terrible attitude when it comes to people’s suffering. Hiding away mental health problems does nothing to help those suffering them or the society they should be fully participating in, and Goodwin’s novel reminds us that we have come a long way, but there’s still a long way ahead.


A fantastic novel, about a tough topic, which highlights the changes in mental health policy and forces us to remember we are all vulnerable, and we should fight to ensure that nobody is ever left behind.
Thanks to the author for offering me the opportunity to read her novel ahead of publication. It will stay with me for a long time, and I’m delighted to hear that she’s already working on its second part.

Desc 1

In the dying days of the old asylums, three paths intersect.

Henry was only a boy when he waved goodbye to his glamorous grown-up sister; approaching sixty, his life is still on hold as he awaits her return.

As a high-society hostess renowned for her recitals, Matty’s burden weighs heavily upon her, but she bears it with fortitude and grace.

Janice, a young social worker, wants to set the world to rights, but she needs to tackle challenges closer to home.

A brother and sister separated by decades of deceit. Will truth prevail over bigotry, or will the buried secret keep family apart?

In this, her third novel, Anne Goodwin has drawn on the language and landscapes of her native Cumbria and on the culture of long-stay psychiatric hospitals where she began her clinical psychology career. 

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT #HistoricalMystery The Book Of Skulls by @davidwhutchison

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

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Olga has been reading The Book Of Skulls by David Hutchison

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As I know we are all busy and I can go on and on with my reviews, I leave you the summary recommendation first, and then, you can go ahead and read the more detailed review, or not. This is a fun and easy to read historical mystery novel, set in Edinburgh in the Victorian Era, with some touches of horror and Gothic, a diverse cast, and fully adapted to modern sensibilities. I particularly recommend it to readers interested in the history of women in Medicine, those who love a Scottish setting, and those who enjoy a good adventure  that doesn’t get too caught up in procedural details. It is also the first of a series, so if you strike it lucky and love it, you’ll have more to come. I will also recommend it to older YA and NA readers, as long as they don’t mind (or like) a gruesome story. (Although I don’t want to give much of the story away, I’ll let you know that there are headless corpses aplenty, so you’ve been warned).

I had never read any of Hutchinson’s books before or seen his artwork, but there is little doubt that he is a multitalented individual (the cover and the illustrations inside the book are also his, and I loved them as well), and I know we’ll cross paths in the future.

The description of the book does it justice, and because of the mystery side of the story I want to make sure I avoid spoilers and say too much. In his biography, the author describes the book as “a BAME and LGBQT story of hidden identity and murder, inspired by Edinburgh’s murky medical history” and that contains plenty of information as well. If I had to highlight something is that it made me think of the type of stories and novels written at the time the book is set in, with plenty of adventures, excitement, dangers, very bad baddies, very resourceful heroes (and heroines), some Gothic and gore elements, which were not always a hundred per cent realistic and required a degree of suspension of disbelief perhaps greater than we are used to with mystery or thrillers nowadays. When we are first introduced to the main protagonist, Liz, her orphanage made me think of Jane Eyre, but there the similarities end. There are other characters and situations that brought to my mind other novels of the period, but I can’t go into detail without revealing too much of the plot, so I’ll keep my peace.

This is a solid historical novel and offers plenty of information about the period, some of the important figures in women’s fight to gain entry into the Faculty of Medicine, and other historical events and locations of the Victorian Edinburgh, including language and turns of phrase that add authenticity to the story. I have mentioned the diverse cast of characters, and the author’s description also highlights that the two female protagonists are from non-white ethnic backgrounds (they aren’t the only ones), and there are LGBT characters and themes integral to the story as well, but although prejudice is quite evident and something the protagonists struggle against, this is not a book that reflects and portrays the views of the time as realistically as possible but rather one that reflects the spirit of the time whilst avoiding what most readers nowadays would find repugnant. Even the “bad” characters are not as vocal and nasty as they would have been at the time in their epithets (and some of their actions), and I felt that the novel would be unlikely to offend modern sensibilities (as is to be expected, the most enlightened individuals are the main protagonists and their friends).  I don’t mean that the topics are not serious and even shocking at times, especially for those not familiar with the era and its mores, but it is a good entry point read with plenty of characters determined to do the right thing we can root for.

Liz is a fantastic character. A self-made woman, she wants to become a doctor more than anything, but she sticks to her morals as well and thinks of others before she thinks of herself. She is very lucky (chance plays a big part in the story, and she has a knack for being in the right place at the right time, as well as a pretty lucky star), and despite her enemies (she comes across a few, and there are some surprises as well) from the beginning meets a cast of characters that will be fundamental to the story and are mostly there to help her achieve her goal. Amulya Patel becomes her friend and peer, and together they fight the prejudice against women they find at the medical school. We don’t know much about Amulya’s background, although we get some hints about her history and her circumstances, and the same is true for most of the other characters, whom we meet mostly as either helpers or hinderers of Liz’s adventures and quest to become a doctor. I liked Liz and Amulya, and many of the other characters they meet (Campbell, Hector, Charles and Florian in particular), but this is a novel where we learn about the characters from their actions more than because we get access to their thoughts or psychological processes, for the most part. As this is the first novel in a serial, it is likely that we will get to learn more about the characters in future books, so it is not a big problem but rather gives us something to look forward to.

The story is written in the third-person, sometimes omniscient and sometimes from the point of view of one of the characters (plenty of them, even minor ones, get a chapter or a part of a chapter narrated from their point of view), and that gives us a pretty varied perspective while avoiding head-hopping, as each episode is clearly delimited. This also helps maintain the element of mystery, and although we don’t need to get to the end of the novel to learn what is happening (there are quite a few reveals and twists) and some of the secrets and surprises we might guess in advance, there are plenty more to come before the final page. I feel this story works well within its genre, as it alternates the investigation of the mysterious deaths with the story of Liz and Amulya’s adventures as medical students, and manages to keep a good pace and also to maintain the mystery. However, it might not work as well for readers used to modern police procedurals, because we have a lot depending on coincidence and chance, and I felt that the timing of the investigation didn’t always match the other events taking place, as Liz’s studies and knowledge seem to advance at an incredible speed while the investigation progresses at a much slower pace. As long as one is happy to work within the parameters of the story and stretch a little the suspension of disbelief, this is a rollicking good read.

With all those caveats in place, I confess to having had a great time reading this novel. I loved the ending, and I look forward to reading more novels in the series and, hopefully, catching up on the adventures of Liz and her friends in the future.

I’ve summarised my recommendations before, and as far as warnings go: there are gruesome murders; there is discussion of illnesses and medical procedures, evidently; there are historical events and descriptions of life in the period that are not always pleasant, but, as I said, I feel the book is adapted to modern sensibilities, and it successfully manages to be faithful to the period while avoiding reproducing some of the least savoury aspects of the era.

Desc 1

A Victorian tale of gender-bending, hidden identity, obsession and gruesome murder, set in Edinburgh’s Old Town.1875. Liz Moliette; a poor orphan of unknown heritage, and Amulya Patel; from a wealthy Indian family, are the only female students at the Edinburgh Medical School, where a hostile attitude towards women is driven by Professor Atticus. However Liz and Amulya have allies in fellow student Campbell Preeble, The Reekie reporter Hector Findlay and the charming Dr Paul Love.In dire need of funds, Liz becomes assistant to gruff lecturer and police surgeon Dr Florian Blyth. When a series of grisly murders take place the doctor and Liz help Inspector Macleod in his investigation, which leads to the Edinburgh Asylum, the Burry Man festival and the quack science of phrenology. The search for the killer comes dangerously close to Liz as she uncovers her own family secrets.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Amazon Jungle #thriller Untouched by @JaymeBeanAuthor

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

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Olga has been reading Untouched by Jayme Bean.

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This is a debut novel, and based on the acknowledgments, it seems that despite the author’s initial reluctance to write a book, her enthusiasm for the Amazon rainforest, her contact with other writers, and her husband’s support encouraged her to embark on the project, and I am grateful for it. It is a great story, and I’ve enjoyed it enormously.

The plot is not too complicated, although this is a book where the devil is in the detail. What if the Amazon rainforest could defend itself against the intrusions and destruction it is suffering at the hands of the human being? What if the plants and the trees fought us back? The Day of the Triffids came to my mind, but let that not confuse you. That’s not what this is about. The beauty of the story is that the protagonists who end up fighting for their survival are not “baddies” in the classical sense, but quite the opposite. They are not there to destroy the forest but to research and learn about it, to try to preserve it. But, research and experiments, as we all know, are not always harmless, and the best of intentions can have terrible consequences. In that peculiar setting, we have the protagonists (Marisol and David are the research students, and they get separated from Dr. Morrow quite early in the book, although they become a trio again when they meet Ben, who’d gone missing before their arrival), and the novel is, in a way, something I’ve referred to before: a “coming of age”-style or “rite of passage” novel with a grown-up protagonist. Although the three: Marisol, David, and Ben are put to the test by what happens, David is the one that goes through a major change, and whose experiences get him further away from his comfort zone. In their own different styles, the three are geeks: studious, bookworms, and more focused on their research and learning than on their social lives, but David has always loved the indoors and seems totally unprepared for the expedition. Despite that, his contributions are very important to the resolution of the novel (although I won’t spoil the whole of the story for you), and he comes out of it a changed man.

If I had to choose a genre, I am not sure which one I would use to describe the story. It is an adventure story, a mystery (as two people go missing in the story, and later on there are other mysteries to try to solve, as the protagonists get lost in the rainforest and don’t know how to get out) that veers into horror at times, but also a story about learning who you are by confronting your fears, learning to work as part of a team, and to trust others.  Along the way, we learn a lot about plants, biology, and the Amazon rainforest, about the organisation of a research expedition, about some Peruvian traditional beliefs, about panic attacks and its symptoms, and there is an interesting —if somewhat brief— conversation about bisexuality and how people react to it. There is a love story as well, and although I don’t think it will take anybody by surprise, it works well, and it adds further depth to the characters.

Although there are some other characters that contribute to the story (like the local guides, some of the other members of the research team), and I would have liked to get to know Dr. Morrow a bit better, the story centres on the three characters I’ve already mentioned. Marisol comes from Florida, her humble family is originally from Puerto Rico, her mother died when she was quite young, and she is very fond of her father, brothers (including a twin brother), and despite her scientific studies and knowledge can’t help but remember her grandmother’s teachings and religious beliefs, which make her worry about the guides’ refusal to go further into the forest, that they deem “tierra maldita” (“accursed land”). David, on the other hand, is from a very well-off family, but his parents have never been particularly close or even interested in him and his life, and he took refuge in his books and his studies. He never seemed to connect with anybody and has no true friends. He also suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, and although he has learned to manage those quite well, in most cases, it is not easy in his current circumstances. They make for a very odd couple, but, as you will probably image, they learn much about each other and about themselves in the process. Ben… We don’t get to know so much about him, as he is introduced later in the story, but he comes from a reasonably happy family, although he prefers to do his own thing and feels his parents try to over-control him; and he is independent to a fault, having learned how to live in the rainforest and become a true survivalist. The story also reminded me of a Young Adult or a New Adult story, because of its focus on characters (especially David) who are emotionally younger than their years, with the advantage that in this case, their ages (they are in their late twenties) make the whole novel more realistic, as we aren’t confronted with 17 years old who have the skills and knowledge that many experienced adults would be envious of, a common trope in some of these novels.

The story is told in the third person, although the point of view alternates between the different characters. In my opinion, David’s point of view dominates the story overall, but the author is excellent at introducing the experiences of the other characters as well, and although there is a fair amount of telling (because the characters —and us, of course— need to learn details about the project, the place, the plants, and the environment to make sense of what is happening), we often get to see and experience the full richness of the rainforest, the wonder and marvel of the sounds, the colours, the shapes, the feelings, the smells, and also the fear of being at the mercy of nature and not fully knowing what is coming next. The combination of the scientific knowledge titbits (that I found fascinating despite knowing very little about plants and even less about the rainforest), the fight for survival, and the strength and resilience of the characters, with the occasional touch of humour, reminded me of The Martian, and although the setting is completely different, I think there are some commonalities there. There are scenes of great tension interspersed with more contemplative moments, and the narrative eaves and flows, but although sometimes it might seem as if the characters are banging their heads against a wall (tree?) or spinning their wheels, I was hooked by the narrative and gripped by the story from very early on, and sad when it came to an end.

I highlighted much of the text and have found it too difficult to choose a few examples from the selection to share. There are witty dialogues, moving confessions, wonderful descriptions, scientific explanations, and awe-inspiring and scary passages as well. As usual, I’d advise prospective readers to check a sample of the novel, to see if the style of writing suits their taste.

I loved the ending, and although perhaps I would have liked to know more, it felt satisfying and right. I’ve mentioned the author’s acknowledgments, and I enjoyed reading about the process and what inspired her to write this book.

I recommend this book, that I had a great time with, to readers who enjoy adventure stories set in the wild, particularly those with an emphasis on ecology, biology, and the rainforest, happy to read about science and learn new things, and who also enjoy novels whose characters grow and learn from their experiences. There are beautifully descriptive passages that don’t overwhelm the story; there are plenty of adventures and scary moments for those who like to be gripped by a narrative; and also much to make us think. At the beginning of the novel, the author warns about the presence of episodes describing anxiety and panic attacks, and it is a fair warning, as the descriptions are very realistic and might cause upset to sufferers.  There are also very mild scenes of M&M intimacy (I’d hesitate to call it erotica, and there is little explicit in them), but as I know what is somewhat subjective, I thought I’d mention it. There is no interpersonal violence in the book, but I’ve mentioned some scary scenes, and there are other kinds of violence and injuries present as well (that probably would be covered by the author’s warning about strong themes).

Desc 1

Dr. Julia Morrow and her graduate students, David and Marisol, embark on a research trip to explore a remote section of the Amazon rainforest. When their trails seem to change direction at will and they find themselves lost and without communication, the trio worry they may be in for more than just the latest scientific discovery. Banding together, they’re left deciding which is more important – finding out how to escape the unexpected horrors lurking within the rainforest or getting back home in one piece. The deeper they travel into the jungle, the more they realize that some places are meant to remain untouched.

Content Warning: This book contains strong depictions of panic and anxiety.

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT Noir #Thriller BLACK IRISH BLUES by @andrewcotto #TuesdayBookBlog

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Black Irish Blues by Andrew Cotto

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This is my first experience reading this author’s work, although when I checked his biography I realised that he had not only been writing for quite a while, but this is not the first novel he publishes with Caesar Stiles as the main character, although the first one was published in 2012, and it’s only available in paperback. It makes perfect sense when we read the story, as there are references to what has happened before, but it is not necessary to have read the previous novel to enjoy this one.

The description of the book provides a good overview of the plot, especially as I want to avoid any spoilers. I’ve been thinking long and hard about the genre of this short novel, and although it might sound like an impossible combination (and I suspect the author wouldn’t agree), if there was something like a “noir-cozy” or a “hard-boiled-cozy” this would be it. Let me explain what I  mean, because I know the two concepts seem impossible to reconcile. What I mean by cozy is that the novel has not only a pretty peculiar protagonist (who left his home in quite traumatic circumstances and has been wandering the roads of America ever-since), but many of the other characters that make an appearance are also unique (a fantastically charming “good” baddie, an intriguing father, a bodyguard with plenty of style, a driver-cum-guide with plenty of hidden talents, a rich businessman with an alternative view of life…); there is also a strong focus on a small town and its inhabitants, peculiarities, and power structures and games; and a lot of attention is paid to Caesar’s cooking, with lengthy descriptions of some of his favourite dishes and how to cook them. Cozy mysteries tend to combine the actual mystery with some sort of side attraction or plot-line (cooking and baking are quite popular, but there might also be magic, paranormal elements, acting, song contests or a multitude of other subjects). The crimes investigated in that genre can be serious (murders are quite common), but the investigation itself is not discussed in too much detail; it is hardly on the level of a police procedural novel, and the level of violence tends to be either very minor, bizarre or cartoonish rather than realistic, or not discussed in detail. This novel, like many American novels, depicts a small-town that is far from the white-picket fence oasis urban dwellers imagine. It has a dark side, and there are plenty of non-cozy subjects that make an appearance (prostitution, corruption, prejudice, hints of racism, organised crime, bullying and child abuse…), but although I can’t go into detail, let’s say that the nature of the mystery/crime and the ending of the novel are a bit surprising considering some of the  less-than-savoury themes discussed. 

The style is definitely noir/hard-boiled, with dialogue that is stylised, hard-hitting, witty, and eminently quotable; there is gloomy foreshadowing, there is threatened and actual violence inflicted (although rather than gore and over the top ,it felt fairly restrained in its description, perhaps because the story is narrated in the first person by Caesar and, as he reminds us a few times, he’s got used to enduring violence due to his previous experiences and can take a beating), I’ve already mentioned some of the topics typical of the genre, and as the story is set in the early 90s, we have plenty of characters misbehaving (smoking, drinking alcohol, flaunting their money and being conspicuously materialistic)  but not much swearing; we have an old Sicilian curse; a character from the wrong side of the tracks with criminal connections who has lost most of his family by the time we meet him. There are plenty of rich descriptions that bring to life the place and the characters, and the book —which is rather short (a bit long for a novella, but pretty short for a novel)— covers lot of ground in very few pages. There are plenty of secrets to be uncovered, surprises of all kinds that keep popping up, and friends and enemies are not always easy to tell apart.

I liked the central character and plenty of the other characters that make an appearance, although some we don’t get to know very well, and there are a few truly despicable ones. The fact that Caesar tells the story and is quite a contemplative person, who has a lot of stories in his past and plenty of memories to reflect upon helps us connect easily with him and with the characters he likes, even if some of them are ambiguous and not what they seem to be. He is trying his hardest to make things right and to put an end to the family’s curse; he is eager to reconnect with his past, to leave a worthy legacy and to help others; and although he is not whiter than white (in fact, we learn that he’s done some pretty questionable things), he does have a sense of what is right and wrong and of morality that most readers will probably feel comfortable with.

As mentioned, the writing style is quite descriptive, and the descriptions not always help directly advance the story. However, they contribute to create a picture of the places and the people we are reading about, and they also fit the narrative style of the protagonist, who is often told he should write his story, and who notes that he used to write lengthy descriptions of the places he visited and of the people he met  in his letters to his mother all throughout the many years he was away. There are scenes of action; there are contemplative moments; there are cooking interludes; and there are memories and flashbacks interspersed in the  novel, so the pace is not relentless and the storyline does not rush at breakneck speed, but it flows well, and it packs a lot of information and story into very few pages.

Without giving too many clues, I can affirm that I really enjoyed the ending, and it worked well for me. It is evident when we read the novel that the main character has a past, and recent events in his life have had a lot of impact in his current situation, but there is enough information provided for those of us who like to fill in the blanks in order to give us a good sense of the psychology and the complexity of the main character, and to make us wonder what will happen next, while at the same time offering us a full and complex story with a satisfying resolution. In sum, this is a short novel that manages to combine many genres, with a strong and likeable protagonist and some pretty memorable secondary characters, a vividly depicted setting, dark subjects aplenty, a noir writing style without extreme gore or swear words but full of unforgettable quotes, and enough cooking reference to delight gourmets, especially meat-eaters (not my case, unfortunately). A very interesting author with a unique writing style, and one I’ll make sure to keep my eyes on in the future.

Book description

Black Irish Blues is the return-to-origin story of Caesar Stiles, an erstwhile runaway who returns to his hometown with plans to buy the town’s only tavern and end his family’s Sicilian curse.

Caesar’s attempt for redemption is complicated by the spectral presence of his estranged father, reparation seekers related to his corrupt older brother, a charming crime boss and his enigmatic crew, and – most significantly – a stranger named Dinny Tuite whose disappearance under dubious circumstances immerses Caesar in a mystery that leads into the criminal underbelly of industrial New Jersey, the flawed myth of the American Dream, and his hometown’s shameful secrets.

Black Irish Blues is a poetic, gritty noir full of dynamic characters, a page-turning plot, and the further development of a unique American character.

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

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

#RBRT Review Team

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

Five Times Lucky by [P. David Temple]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book description

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

AmazonUk | AmazonUS

Five Times Lucky by [P. David Temple]

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

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

#RBRT Review Team

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

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

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

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

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

Here, a few random examples of my highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book description

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

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

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

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

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading The Other Mrs Samson by Ralph Webster

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

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

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

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

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

Book description

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

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

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

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Blind Turn by Cara Achterberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book description

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

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

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

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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

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

#RBRT Review Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book description

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

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

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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

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

#RBRT Review Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book description

Leah’s nightmare began the day the dog died.

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

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

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

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

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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