📚Speculative #Scifi. Olga reviews The Visitors by Owen Knight, for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Today’s team review is from Olga.

Olga blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

Orange rose and Rosie's Book Review Team
Rosie’s Book Review Team

Olga has been reading The Visitors by Owen Knight.

The Visitors by Owen Knight

Reading this book was a bit of a strange experience, for me. I hadn’t read anything by the author before, and other than the information I found accompanying the book, I didn’t know anything else about him.

After a chapter written in the first person by Peter who referred to some events that had happened 14 years ago and a team of people he needed to confront a new danger, which functioned as a prologue of sorts, there were three chapters, written in the third person, dedicated to a different young woman, who, although seemingly unconnected between them, all received mysterious invitations. As the story progressed, I felt as if I had jumped into the middle of a plot that had been developing for a while. Not only that, but although some of the ideas and concepts were quite abstract and complicated, the language was, for the most part, quite plain and not excessively technical, and I wondered at times if it was addressed at the young adult market, although all the characters were adults. I investigated a bit more, and found out that the author had written a YA trilogy,  The Invisible College, composed of three novels: They Do Things Differently Here (1), Dust and Shadows (2), and A Perilous Journey (3). These three novels took place in the same location where most of the action of this book occurs (although this is a book dominated by ideas and most of the action takes place out of the page), fourteen years earlier, in what is referred to by those who lived it as ‘The Templewood Summer’.

The novel is described as science-fiction and ´first-contact’, and this is true. It is also a novel of ideas, as I’ve mentioned, and would fit into the category of speculative fiction, as it proposes an ‘alternative/future’ universe that has many points of contact with our present, but where certain hidden forces play a big part in events. And, there is a first-contact motif, although this has been kept under wraps and very few people know about it. It also has similarities with novels about secret societies and big conspiracies, so it might attract a variety of tastes.

The description gives enough information to entice possible readers, and I am not about to reveal any details that might spoil any of the main plot points. In case you are worried, although I’ve said that the novel takes place after The Invisible College trilogy, it is not necessary to read it to understand the plot, as there is plenty of background provided in the novel, and any points fundamental to the development of the action are referred to in the book. What I missed the most, though, was getting to know the characters better. Although we meet Peter (fleetingly, but we get a glimpse of him), Rachel, Lisa, and Emily, the rest of the characters we come across at Templewood are not introduced in much detail. Emily, who is Peter’s sister and knows what happened there when she was a teenager, takes on the function of a guide, both to the other two women and to the readers, but she doesn’t know what has happened since she left there, and she is a bit of an in-between character, who is also in the dark about some significant events that had taken place in the recent past. I am sure those who have read the trilogy will enjoy meeting the people of Templewood again, but sometimes I felt I lacked connection with the events and most of the characters, and I couldn’t always tell them apart, although that might have been part of the intended effect.

That aspect was compounded, for me, by the writing style, which relied on telling. Because the new arrivals had to be brought up to speed with what was going on, there were quite a few scenes where somebody explained something (mainly Peter, but not only him, as each one of the women had a singular area of expertise and had to be shown a different part of Templewood, where they would be developing their skills and helping the community). I am not an expert on the genre, but novels of ideas and hard science-fiction tend to spend a fair amount of time building up concepts and an understanding of what is at stake, so I don’t think that is unexpected or out of keeping with the genre. As for me, I do prefer books where characters and their psychological traits play a bigger part, in general. A lot of the information is exposed through dialogue, but, as most of the characters live in close proximity and in a closed society, there was little to differentiate between them, and it felt as if there was a degree of repetition.

There were some moments where the scientific aspects and some spiritual concepts took over the narrative, and there were some beautiful and poetic passages as well, which I relished. I particularly enjoyed some of the conversations of other characters with Sarah, and also her own reflections. That made me wonder what a non-fiction book by this author would be like, as I found it quite inspiring. As usual, future readers can check a sample of the book before deciding if the novel would fit in with their tastes, but they don’t need to be worried about explicit sexual or violent scenes, as there are none.

This novel made me think about big themes, and it is likely to do that to most readers: the future of humanity, the price we have to pay for peace and quiet, what influences global politics, the nature of advancement, evolution, technology… Are any animals, species, or even human beings, disposable, and would it be acceptable to sacrifice them in the name of the greater good? Do we know the real consequences of some of the experiments and research that are being conducted? And are the economic interests of the biggest countries getting in the way of real solutions? Templewood and its society made me think of how what would be a utopia for some people, might be a dystopia and the worst-case scenario for others. A sobering thought.

The ending fits the rest of the novel, with a little surprise at the end, which might open new avenues for future stories.

In summary, this is a speculative novel of ideas, which shares some fascinating thoughts on issues such as education, technology, global politics, climate change, and communication technology, suited for readers of science-fiction and conspiracy novels who prefer discussion and thought rather than lots of action and fancy gadgets. Readers of the author’s previous trilogy, The Invisible College, will have the bonus of connecting with old friends, and the ending opens the door to more stories in the future (perhaps).

Orange rose book description
Book description

The Great Reset has begun.

Fourteen years ago, Peter saved the world. Now, his sister Emily and two strangers receive coded invitations to return to the hidden village of Templewood, where Peter faces a new, terrifying threat.

Templewood is home to the Sect, a secretive organisation intent on global power. They have infiltrated many Governments and are collaborating with the Visitors: alien invaders who have brought gifts of advanced scientific and genetic discoveries. These gifts will potentially provide enormous benefits for humanity and facilitate the Sect’s bid for power.

But at what cost and what is the Visitors’ motive? Why are they taking, then retuning, increasing numbers of the local population? Peter, Emily, and their friends must uncover the truth before their worst fears are confirmed.

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📚Based On A True Story About A The First Female Vet In Britain And Ireland. @OlgaNM7 Reviews The Invincible Miss Cust by @PennyHaw for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Today’s team review is from Olga.

Olga blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

Orange rose and Rosie's Book Review Team
Rosie’s Book Review Team

Olga has been reading The Invincible Miss Cust by Penny Haw.

The Invincible Miss Cust by Penny Haw

This is the first time I come across this author; she is a journalist and has published other works of fiction before, but this is her first book in the historical fiction category. She has chosen a fascinating topic, and her touch when it comes to making use of her research is pretty light. In the author’s note she includes at the end of the book (where she also clarifies what is factual and what is not in this novel about Aleen Cust, the first woman veterinary surgeon in Britain and Ireland) she says that, for her, the best historical fiction is that where a reader cannot tell where the facts end and where the imagination of the author starts, and she manages that in her debut in the genre. The novel contains more factual information than I thought as I was reading it (some of it I found quite surprising, although perhaps not so much the more I thought about it), this being a case where reality is more incredible than fiction.

The story follows the life of the protagonist, from a young age, in Ireland, which she misses terribly when she has to leave due to her father’s death, and we see her grow, be educated with her brothers, become interested in animals (like her paternal grandmother), and decide that she would like to become a veterinary surgeon. Queen Victoria was very old-fashioned in her ideas about gender equality, especially in her old age, and although women had started attending university (in Edinburgh) to become physicians, becoming a vet seemed an even worse idea for a woman, because according to the establishment it was more immoral, less dignified, and less suited to the “weaker” sex. She faces pretty tough opposition, at home with her family and in society at large, and it does take quite a few lucky coincidences, some male support, and an iron determination, to get as far as the university. And even then, the obstacles appear unsurmountable at times.

Women’s rights, Victorian conceptions of morality and the role of women in Victorian society, the situation in Ireland, the role social class plays in one’s future, the importance of reputation and how much that weighs and rules personal decisions (at least at that time), familial bonds (real families and created or chosen families), religion, prejudice, animals and their care, advancements in veterinarian science, friendship, ambition, love… Those are some of the themes we find in this novel. And for those who wonder, there is romance as well, although, as with everything else in Miss Cust’s life, a somewhat unusual one.

Aleen is the protagonist, and she tells us the story in the first person, so we are direct witnesses of what goes through her head, of her frustration, her determination, and her iron will, but also of her hesitation, her attempts at ingratiating and reconciling herself with her family, always trying to make them understand and see things from her perspective. She is trapped between trying not to disappoint her family or inconvenience them (as two of them have a connection to the royal family), and at the same time fulfilling her life’s vocation. Although this makes for a frustrating read at times, and I think most readers will feel the need to shake her and tell her to forget her family at times, it also feels realistic and appropriate to the era. There have always been historical figures who seemed to have been ahead of their time, but this is not a woman who grew in an enlightened or liberal family with progressive ideas, and she is presented as somebody who couldn’t see why women couldn’t study or do the same things as men, but she didn’t necessarily want to totally change the social order, and she mostly tried to avoid calling attention to herself, especially in the early part of her career. Some aspects of her personality are difficult to understand from our perspective, but she is not a woman of our time, and she achieved great goals, although perhaps more quietly than some of her better-known contemporaries.

There are plenty of other characters in the novel, and also, as you can imagine, plenty of animals. Some of the people are portrayed in more detail than others, especially those who had a great impact on Aleen’s life, and I particularly liked her friend Dorothy, who is always supportive (and whose personality is also pretty peculiar). Dorothy’s parents and her brother also play a major part in the story, and, in some ways, behave more as a family toward her than her real family. They encourage her and help her, in contrast with her own family, who never, not even once (apart from her brother Orlando) put her happiness and her wishes first. That is never a consideration for them. Professor William Williams is also a great character and somebody fundamental in getting Aleen to finally become a vet, there is Willie Byrne, the veterinary surgeon, in Ireland, who gives her a chance to practice, and whose role is much more than that (but you’ll have to read about that). Her family, by contrast, I found very difficult to warm to. Their attitude is understandable, perhaps, given the historical time and their position, but not everybody behaved the same way, and, let’s just say they were not my favourite characters. She meets many others who help or hinder her, although none of them manage to stop her. Of course, this is all from her perspective, although the author includes extracts from real documents, articles, letters, etc., and that gives us a pretty accurate picture of what kinds of prejudices and opinions she had to fight.

I have mentioned animals, and animal lovers will enjoy this book (although there are some scary moments as well). The author explains that one of her friends is an Irish retired vet, and his assistance was invaluable in making sure the book was accurate when it came to both, veterinary procedures and science, and also to the descriptions of Ireland. I enjoyed this aspect of the book very much, and I felt the author reflects well the protagonist’s interest, as she spends more time looking and talking about animals and procedures than she does about people.

The book follows the story of Miss Cust in chronological order, although it does not get us to the very end of her life, and there are some small jumps forward, focusing on the most relevant aspects of her story. This is not a book full of descriptions of clothes, accommodation, habits, and customs, and, in that sense, it is perhaps thinner in detail than some other works of historical fiction, but because the story is told in the first person by a character whose interests are not those, it is not surprising. Aleen makes some observations and reflects upon certain aspects of life that will give readers pause and make them wonder what life must have been like in those conditions, but those who prefer a story that doesn’t stray from the main plot and the action and does not go into unnecessary details will feel right at home. This does not mean that the author’s writing is not compelling, and there are some lyrical and beautiful moments, especially when the protagonist is contemplating nature and admiring animals (well, and some men as well). No complex terminology is employed, and people not familiar with veterinary science don’t need to worry about that.

The book also includes, apart from the author’s note, a bibliography for those who might want to dig deeper into the biography of Miss Cust and the people around her (although the author’s summary of the factual information contained in the novel is very informative), a set of questions for book clubs (and this book would be perfect for book clubs, as there is much to discuss), and the acknowledgments. I recommend reading all those as well, especially for those who like to learn how a book came into being, and the process involved.

This is a great read, about an actual historical figure I knew nothing about, a determined woman, whose life is fascinating, with all its contradictions and its complications. Her achievements are inspiring, and anybody interested in women’s history, especially in Britain and Ireland, in the Victorian period, animal lovers, the history of veterinary science, and anybody who likes a well-written book with a strong protagonist whose life is extraordinary will enjoy this novel. Also recommended to book clubs. I look forward to Penny Haw’s future projects.

Orange rose book description
Book description

Aleen Cust has big dreams and no one―not her family, society, or the law―will stop her.

Born in Ireland in 1868 to an aristocratic English family, Aleen knows she is destined to work with animals, even if her family is appalled by the idea of a woman pursuing a veterinary career. Going against their wishes but with the encouragement of the guardian assigned to her upon her father’s death, Aleen attends the New Veterinary College in Edinburgh, enrolling as A. I. Custance to spare her family the humiliation they fear. At last, she is on her way to becoming a veterinary surgeon! Little does she know her biggest obstacles lie ahead.

The Invincible Miss Cust is based on the real life of Aleen Isabel Cust, who defied her family and society to become Britain and Ireland’s first woman veterinary surgeon. Through Penny Haw’s meticulous research, riveting storytelling, and elegant prose, Aleen’s story of ambition, determination, family, friendship, and passion comes to life. It is a story that, even today, women will recognize, of battling patriarchy and an unequal society to realize one’s dreams and pave the way for other women in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

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📚Set In A 20th Century Psychiatric Asylum. @OlgaNM7 Reviews Novella Stolen Summers by @Annecdotist for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Today’s team review is from Olga.

Olga blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

Orange rose and Rosie's Book Review Team
Rosie’s Book Review Team

Olga has been reading Stolen Summers by Anne Goodwin

Book cover for Stolen Summers by Anne Goodwin
Stolen Summers by Anne Goodwin

I was lucky enough to read Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, the previous book Anne Goodwin wrote about the same character, Matilda, before its publication as well, and I was moved, saddened, touched, and delighted, all in one. A tragic story, made worse because, although fictional, it is not an uncommon one, and it bears witness to the many people who ended up spending their lives in the old psychiatric asylums, sometimes for reasons that had little to do with their mental health.

In this novella, which the author describes as a prequel, but, at least in my opinion, isn’t exactly that, we get to fill in some of the gaps of the previous book. This novella, although written in the third person (apart from some letters Matilda addresses to her brother, Henry, one of the characters who play a major part in the original novel) only has one narrator, Matilda herself, and it alternates two different periods of time: 1939-1940, exploring what happens when Matilda first arrives at Ghyllside Hospital, the trauma it supposes, and readers can start to see how and why her mind starts to unravel; and a particular day in 1964, when one outing with one of her friends and hospital peers, Doris, turns into a nightmare. We also get to see, though briefly, the consequences of that outing, and there is a chapter at the end, set in 1989, which functions as an epilogue, and links it directly with Matilda Windsor.

This novella shares the virtues of the previous book, and it bridges the possible gaps left by the other, as we get to see more of what Matilda experienced and share with her some of the terrible humiliations and spirit-breaking practices she had to suffer. Seeing her robbed of her dignity, ignored (at best) or abused, the subject of dubious psychiatric treatments and moral judgements, and experiencing loss, guilt, and repeated trauma, it is no surprise that her mind sought refuge in a fantasy world that granted her an important and grand role in life.

I loved the way the story puts readers in the shoes of the protagonist, and we get to live what happens through her own eyes: the fear, the trashed hopes, the moments of joy, the many disappointments, the companionship, the grief, the confusion… This is not an easy read, and I caution people who might have experienced or known similar events, as it is heartbreaking at times. The author also manages to include snippets about the historical and social events taking place in the UK during those eras. We hear about WWII and how the recruitment efforts reached even the psychiatric hospitals; we also hear about race relations and discrimination; domestic violence and its terrible consequences (Doris’s story brought tears to my eyes); changes in Mental Health law and in the understanding of mental illness definitions, classifications, and treatments… It is particularly telling to see how isolated and “protected” (in a certain way) the character is from the outside world, and how she can hardly recognise her own town when she goes back 25 years later. It is a sobering thought.

Although the story centres on Matilda, there are a few other characters we meet. Doctors (very few make an appearance, unsurprisingly considering how things were run at the time) and nurses are not identified by name, and seem interchangeable, not individualised, as they might have appeared to Matilda, for very good reasons. Other patients do have a more important part to play, and I adored Doris. She suffered a terrible loss, but she is a survivor, and she helps Matilda keep afloat and keep going. Some of her behaviours reminded me of many patients I have met over the years, but she is pretty unique.

The writing is as beautiful and poignant as in the previous book. Although there are no lengthy descriptions of people or places, the author manages to make us feel the sensations, the touch, notice the smells, and be gripped by fear and embarrassment as Matilda is. The characters’ expressions and turns of phrases are distinctive and reflect the era and the location, and the pass of time and the changes in social mores are brought to the fore by the way the story is narrated.

As I said, I am not sure this novella would work as a prequel, though. Having read the novel first, it is difficult to think how it would feel to read this one without knowing anything about the character beforehand. Part of the story in Matilda Windsor takes place before 1939, although the majority of the story is set many years later, right at the point where we leave Matilda and a new character is introduced in the novella. I can see how this narrative fits in neatly with the rest of the story, and I am sure that people who read it first will glean enough information from it to make an educated guess as to what is likely to have happened, and will be eager to find out the rest by reading the main novel. On the other hand, considering the way Matilda Windsor is constructed and told, I think the impact of reading the full novel and putting the pieces together might be lost if Stolen Summers is read first. Ultimately, both of them are fantastic, so the order in which they are read may well be a moot point.

Another great story by Anne Goodwin, and one I recommend to all who have read Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home. And to those who haven’t yet, but are interested in the topic, enjoy great characters, and a story that touches upon social justice with a focus on mental health, now you can choose, if you want, to read Stolen Summers first, but I am sure you will end up reading both of them. Highly recommended.

Orange rose book description
Book description

All she has left is her sanity. Will the asylum take that from her too?

In 1939, Matilda is admitted to Ghyllside hospital, cut off from family and friends. Not quite twenty, and forced to give up her baby for adoption, she feels battered by the cruel regime. Yet she finds a surprising ally in rough-edged Doris, who risks harsh punishments to help her reach out to the brother she left behind.

Twenty-five years later, the rules have relaxed, and the women are free to leave. How will they cope in a world transformed in their absence? Do greater dangers await them outside?

The poignant prequel to Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home is a tragic yet tender story of a woman robbed of her future who summons the strength to survive.

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📚’She has no idea that he is an invader in her land.’ @OlgaNM7 reviews Scottish #Histfic Sisters At The Edge Of The World by @AilishSinclair for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Today’s team review is from Olga.

Olga blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

Orange rose and Rosie's Book Review Team
Rosie’s Book Review Team

Olga has been reading Sisters At The Edge Of The World by Ailish Sinclair

Sisters At The Edge Of The World by Ailish Sinclair

I have read many glowing reviews of Ailish Sinclair’s previous books, and when I saw this one, I thought it was my chance to finally get to read one of them. I must confess to not remembering the exact details when I started to read the story, and I found it a pretty unique reading experience.

Morragh, the main protagonist, doesn’t talk at the beginning of the story (we don’t know if she can’t or chooses not to), at least she doesn’t talk to other people, but she communicates with gods, animals, and can see the future, We know all that because the story is narrated in the first person, from her point of view, and that gives the story a special feel, as she doesn’t experience things as most of us do. Reality, dreams, and visions of the past and the future (her own and others’) are all one for her, and she doesn’t always know when she is being herself or when she is being inhabited by the goddess. The language is poetic, made up of impressions and abstract images, and I felt as if I was in the middle of an ancient world I didn’t know the rules of, witnessing something momentous but alien. Her relationship with her sister (Onnagh) —who is not her biological sister but rescued her from a tragic fate— is one of the strengths of the book for me. I loved the bond between these chosen sisters, because, despite their closeness, they don’t always see things the same way. There are conflicts, moments when they don’t understand each other, and moments of anger and disappointment, but, ultimately, theirs is the strongest relationship in the book, as the beautiful title indicates.

Morragh learns much during the book, about love, about men, the importance of speaking, and the trade-off of communicating and interacting with the larger community, as there is something to be gained and something to be lost by changing her ways. Ultimately, though, she does what she thinks is right and necessary, even if it doesn’t always seem wise or advisable. Being her (as we know because we are inside her head) is not easy, and that is what makes her, her decisions, and her actions, such an extraordinary character.

The description of the book contains enough details of the plot, so I won’t add too much to it. There are quiet and contemplative moments when Morragh reflects, thinks, chats to her sister and peers, meets new people… and there are also rites, battles, fleeing, tragedy, and plenty of drama for those who love action, although they are not what fans of most historical fiction would expect. This is not an objective account full of detailed descriptions of clothes, strategies, and locations, as if the reader was an observer watching everything from the sideline, but a whirlwind of impressions, thoughts, and feelings, as if one was suddenly dropped in the middle of the battle. And some of the events take on a magical and mythological quality that adds much to the story but are not the usual fare of narrowly-defined historical fiction.

I am not very familiar with Celt folklore and mythology or ancient Scottish history, so although I enjoyed the story, I was grateful for the historical note the author includes at the end of the book. It clarifies which parts of the novel are based on historical fact, giving readers the opportunity to explore that era of Scottish history further if they are interested, and it provides locations for those keen to visit Aberdeenshire. I also enjoyed her comments about the process of creating the novel. Having read it, I can easily understand why it took her so long to write and publish it. The melding of the magical, mythological, historical, fictional, and, especially, emotional elements of the story, require a special kind of talent. And plenty of time and work.

There is much pain, death, loss, and destruction in this novel, but there is also plenty of love, loyalty, a sense of community, dedication, self-sacrifice, generosity, a sense of duty… There are moments of joy and very sad moments too, but, in my opinion, the sense of wonder and hope prevails, and I loved the ending.

Here are a few fragments of the novel, although I recommend checking a sample of the book to be sure the style suits the reader’s taste.

She did not get to be a child, my dear sister. Not after she saved m. And I am so sad for this. Onnagh should have been carefree and full of joy and fun and had someone to care for her too.

We cannot go back. Not ever. And nor should we. We can learn from the past, but we must only ever create the new. Water flows ever on. As do we.

And we all change.

The small metal discs are shiny with the heads of men who have been made important on them. These are the men who play games of war and conquest. But these are not the men who will fight or die in those games. There we differ from Rome. Our leaders will be among us in the fullness of the fray. The heads on these coins? They will stay in their grand and shiny stone houses, eating the oily little fruits that I have come to love. These metal men are not in any danger.

From some of the reviews I’ve read, I understand that the book is set in the same location as some of the author’s previous novels, but not having read any of them, at times I missed having access to more standard descriptions of the places and the people who play a part in the story, but, in all fairness, I don’t think it would have suited the style of writing, which at times reminded me of stream of thought, especially when Morragh was experiencing unusual events.

I cannot compare this novel to others by the author, but I am pretty sure her fans will enjoy this story as much or even more than the previous ones, and those who are looking for a strong females protagonist, love lyrical and expressive writing styles, and favour stories with a touch of magic and ancient mythology, particularly set in Scotland, should put it on their list. They are bound to discover a new author to follow, and a protagonist they’ll never forget.

Orange rose book description
Book description

When Morragh speaks to another person for the very first time, she has no idea that he is an invader in her land.

What she does next constitutes a huge betrayal of her people, threatening her closest relationships and even her way of life itself.

As the conflict between the Caledonian tribes and the Roman Sons of Mars intensifies, can she use her high status in the community to lessen the coming death toll or even prevent outright war?

Set in 1st century Northern Scotland, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD is a story of chosen sisters, fierce warriors, divided loyalties and, ultimately, love.

AmazonUK AmazonUS

📚’I felt perfectly at home, as if I was visiting some old friends.’ @OlgaNM7 reviews The New Shore by Caren Werlinger for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Today’s team review is from Olga.

Olga blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

Orange rose and Rosie's Book Review Team
Rosie’s Book Review Team

Olga has been reading The New Shore by Caren Werlinger

Book cover for The New Shore by Caren Werlinger set against a free photo of an island from Pixabay.
The New Shore by Caren Werlinger

I only have to tell you that this is the seventh novel I read by Caren Werlinger for you to guess that I like her writing and her stories. This is also the third novel in the Little Island series, and I discovered the author thanks to the first novel in this series, When the Stars Sang, which introduced me to the special world of Little Sister and its inhabitants.

Little Sister is an island only connected to a bigger island —Big Sister, of course— through a ferry that only runs once a month in the winter, although much more often in the summer, with no mobile phone connectivity, which relies mostly on renewable energies for its everyday needs, and where only members of the original families and their descendants can own property and become permanent residents. They are furiously independent and treasure and preserve their traditions, a combination of old Irish (Celtic) customs and those of the original Native American inhabitants. Their ceremonies (and there are many for all kinds of occasions) are described lovingly, as are the lives and adventures of the inhabitants of the island. And those of us who have been following this choral story are always happy to catch up with them again.

One of the things I like best about this series is the fact that the author keeps adding onto the previous stories, and not just coming up with a new set of characters and leaving the old ones to make a small appearance as a secondary characters in somebody else’s book. Although we do not know the ins and outs of the lives of all of the characters of the island in detail, over these three volumes we have got to learn a lot of things about many of the people living there. Among them: the owner of the shop, the owner of the hotel and her husband, the retired teacher, and her sister, as well as the characters who played major parts in the previous two stories, Kathleen and Molly, who met and fell in love in the first book, and the new arrivals on the second novel, Meredith, and her parents, Irene and Roy. We also know Molly’s parents, her brothers, and her aunt, Rebecca, who is the Keeper and librarian (two tasks that go well together), tasked with keeping the records and the story of the community living in Little Sister. And a few more things.

This time we get to learn more details about Rebecca’s past and some more secrets about her role; Kathleen has to face the difficult relationship with her parents, discovers that there is more to her family than she realised, and her connection to the island is put to the test; and Meredith and her parents, who are happy to live in Little Island, are confronted with some unexpected challenges. All of those characters have to face questions about themselves, their identities, and their priorities. How important is life in Little Island and how much are they prepared to sacrifice or give up to continue living there?

I have mentioned the choral and community elements of this series, and that means that there are many themes explored in this book. The close connection of the island with the natural world and the seasons is reflected in the way the story is structured and how it follows a chronological order, with the passing of time and the changes in weather marking and dictating what life is like. Much can happen in a year. We have a variety of ceremonies and events (marriages, bondings), deaths and births, we have new projects coming to fruition, we have health scares, we have secrets uncovered and secrets kept, we have people moving away and others coming back, and although all the characters have their role, the women’s connection to the island and the bonds and mutual support is what keeps the community alive and full of positive energy.

As usual, the writing is gorgeous. There are some beautiful descriptions of the landscape, the weather, and the ceremonies that have something magical about them. The third-person narrative alternates between quite a few of the characters, and that gives more depth and closeness to the story, as we get to understand how the different individuals feel, and also see what the people around them think and what worries them. The changes in perspective are clearly signalled, and each one of the characters is so different in outlook from the rest that it is impossible to get them confused. There are very touching and moving moments, some tough and hurtful ones that would test anybody’s goodness and kindness (because not all the characters are likeable, and some are anything but), some funny events, but also some sad ones. We might agree or disagree with some of the decisions taken, but the author makes sure we get to follow the mental process of the people involved, and we even experience the struggle and doubts they have to face. As is the case in real life, there are no easy answers, and that is one of the things that make us love the island and its people even more because nobody on it is perfect, but they all work hard, help each other, and try to keep their community alive, and these days, that is something most of us can only dream of.

As a warning, I would mention, as I have done in the past, that there are some sex scenes in the book. These are not many, and they are not excessively detailed or over the top (and that is coming from somebody who doesn’t enjoy these kinds of scenes), but I know that is something down to personal taste, so I thought I’d mention it.

On the other hand, those who enjoy diversity in literature will find plenty here. One of the many joys of the book is to see a community steeped in tradition but open to all kinds of roles for all kinds of people, happy to have a woman as a sheriff, to embrace LGBT relationships, to accept behaviours that seem, at the very least, peculiar and eccentric, to welcome with open arms strangers (as long as they don’t try to impose on them or change their way of life) and willing to accept supernatural and magic events without blinking an eye. And those who love dogs (and cats) have some stars to make them smile as well. I so love Blossom!

The ending is as it should be, in my opinion. Life goes on, and we are not left with a cliffhanger, although there are many more stories to tell, and much more to come. If there will be or not, will depend on the author. Fingers crossed!

So, yes, of course, I recommend this novel. Please, make sure to read the other two novels in the series first. If you have, you don’t need to worry if it’s been a while since you read them, though, because there are enough hints and references to previous events to refresh your memory, and I had no difficulty recalling all the relevant information. In fact, after reading a few pages, I felt perfectly at home, as if I was visiting some old friends. And that is what Little Sister and its characters have become for the readers of the series: a refuge, a magical place we can visit when we need a break from our everyday lives, and one where we are all welcome, no matter where we come from or what our issues might be. I enjoyed it enormously, I recommend it to readers of the previous two novels and to anybody who enjoys beautiful language, great characters, a magical setting, and needs a bit of a boost. Don’t ask me which of the three novels is my favourite, because they all make up an organic whole, and one I hope the author will keep adding to.

Orange rose book description
Book description

Life on Little Sister Island is idyllic. Until it isn’t.
Now that the island will have its own teacher for the first time in decades, Rebecca Ahearn is tasked with making financial arrangements to build a new school room. While on the mainland, she barges straight into her first—and only—love, a woman she hasn’t seen in over forty years. Suddenly, the choices she has made for her life seem empty, and she begins to wonder if it was worth the sacrifice.
For Kathleen Halloran, distance and limited communication have been the keys to maintaining a tolerable relationship with her parents. She’d like to keep it that way, but when her father needs her help to take care of her mother—the woman she knows never loved her—she’s forced to confront the pain and resentment she can’t seem to let go of.
Kathleen’s mate, Molly Cooper, galvanizes the islanders to pitch in and help Kathleen and Rebecca weather the stormy seas ahead. The question is, can wounds that deep ever truly heal? Perhaps the magic of Little Sister Island can do what humans cannot—and make the impossible possible after all.
The New Shore is the third book in the Little Sister Island series.

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‘Culinary Adventures And Others Throughout A Little-Known But Gorgeous Region Of Italy’ @OlgaNM7 reviews Tales From The Hamlet by @CassCK55 for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Today’s team review is from Olga.

Olga blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

Orange rose and Rosie's Book Review Team
Rosie’s Book Review Team

Olga has been reading Tales From The Hamlet by Cassandra Campbell-Kemp.

Book cover for Tales from The Hamlet by Cassandra Campbell-Kemp
Tales From The Hamlet by Cassandra Campbell-Kemp

As a memoir, this is a book that shares the experiences of the author, narrated in the first-person, at a particular point in her life, rather than being an exhaustive account of her biography. That means that the author has chosen a particular aspect or period of her life to share, and this is interesting in its own right, as from the little she tells us at the beginning and what she reveals throughout the book, it soon becomes evident that she has embarked in many adventures, has lived and worked in many different countries, speaks many languages, and her lifestyle does not conform to what many people would expect in somebody of her age. She is not married, has no children, grandchildren, or close family, and although she loves her own space and her independence, she is neither domestic nor domesticated.

There are several elements that make this book unique: the protagonist is not a young woman, she is not in the best of health, and she makes a risky choice at a point in life when most people would be looking forward to their retirements (or even taking early retirement). After years of living abroad, going from country to country, and moving from one challenging but fulfilling job to another, she doesn’t seem to be able to find a suitable job at home (back in the UK). So when an offer from Italy comes knocking at her door, she does not hesitate. This is not a woman who is trying to find herself or discover anything new (even if she learns plenty); she is moving due to her career. Also, although she meets plenty of people and makes many friends, there is no romance in sight (thankfully)! The topic of the Brexit (the book takes place before the treaty was finalised, but it had been voted already and was in the process of being finalized) results in plenty of jokes about her having to marry an Italian man, but these are only jokes, and despite passing comments about the attractiveness of some of the men she meets, and some harmless flirting, this is not a story about a woman who finally finds “the right man”. She is quite clear in her choices, and she enjoys living by herself.

This being Italy, there is plenty of food, wine, amazing landscapes, and Italian words and phrases, but the protagonist is not a cook, and she enjoys the food but does not share recipes or tricks about Italian home cooking. (Sorry if you were expecting those).

She is not big at sharing her past history either, and, other than a brief introduction (that goes some way to explaining how she found herself with a CV full of experience in many different jobs all over Europe but with no formal qualifications or diplomas, and also a polyglot without any certificates in any of the languages she is fluent in), she only reveals things that are directly relevant to the story or to the background of characters we come in contact with (her best friend from home, Ugo, her Italian friend, who finds her the perfect accommodation…), and she also answers the direct questions of some of the people she meets, but Cassandra is not a woman who spends her time idly mulling over her past and what could have been. Yes, she does worry about the future, and she needs a bit of help to assess her options in a realistic manner. Nonetheless, this is a woman who is always looking forward and thinking of what task she can undertake next, and that might vary from the very practical and every day (like changing banks and getting the internet installed), to projects that could help develop and reshape the region she is staying in, bringing in foreign investment and all that involves. No matter what the difficulties and she has to face quite a few, both personal and bureaucratic, she is a force of nature, and she does not give up easily.

I liked many things about this book: Italy, and Cassandra’s love affair with the area, the province of Emilia Romagna (she doesn’t fall in love with a man, but she does with the location, its history, its traditions, and its people). She is an avid amateur historian and researcher, and she feels strong connections with people and places, to the point of having quasi-mystical experiences when visiting certain spots and natural wonders. I was fascinated by her descriptions of places, the information she shares on the history of the region, the way the food is prepared (I knew little about Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, but now I share in her fascination), and her lyrical renderings of attending a choir concert, or sharing a delightful moment with a boy and his grandmother. You don’t just feel as if you were there, you feel at one with the protagonist, no matter how little or how much you have in common with her (which, in my case, I realise is quite a lot, despite thinking we had very little in common at the beginning). I also loved her observational skills. Sometimes these might result in minute and mundane things being explained in detail (how to get a trolley in the supermarket, or how to access a parking spot at the airport), but, considering how many places she has visited, and the many different ways of doing things she has had to battle through, it makes perfect sense. Who knows how familiar people reading the book might be with things we give for granted in our own environments?

I also enjoyed her love of language, which results in the use of some uncommon words that one is unlikely to read in a newspaper article or a bestseller (but once you’ve read them, and, in some cases, checked them in a dictionary and learned them, you are likely to adopt), but I am sure advanced English students will be enchanted by. I also loved her use of Italian words (whose meaning is always explained), which pepper the narrative and are often more descriptive than any English equivalent.

I am no Italian history buff and had never heard of Matilda di Canossa before, but after reading of her role in the region and the lasting impression she left, palpable even 900 years after her death, now I also share in the protagonist’s interest in this amazing woman, whom we all should know more about.

Oh, and the characters… She does meet some wonderful people, and she never has anything bad to say about anybody. Everybody is a source of information, amusement, knowledge, friendship, help, or delight, and always generous when they encounter this peculiar but good-natured and interesting English woman. And the animals are also wonderful. We have plenty of cats (not only Cassandra’s own Geisha, but the manor house cat, Mimi, the farm cats), a fabulous dog, and some less welcome inhabitants of the area. Yes, Cassandra is a mosquito magnet, another thing we have in common.

Is there anything I didn’t like? Not as such. Readers who prefer their stories streamlined, minimalistic, and pared down, might get frustrated with this book, and many editors would probably trim it down to a fraction of what it is now, as the author narrates similar anecdotes of meeting people who are surprised at seeing her driving a right-handed car, speaking Italian though she is evidently a foreigner, looking at her and asking her all kinds of personal questions, where her husband is, being the most frequent. There are also innumerable descriptions of meals in different restaurants, shopping trips to buy a variety of items and foodstuffs, and her attempts at dealing with Italian bureaucracy. In some ways, this is like having a conversation with a close friend, somebody you might talk to very often, and with whom you share the little things that fill up your days, even when there isn’t anything amazing or extraordinary to say. As the author explains, in her acknowledgments, this book originated in a series of Facebook posts she shared about her adventures in Italy, and as a result of the encouragement, she received from her followers to turn it into a book. With this origin in mind, it becomes easier to understand and appreciate the conversational tone of the writing, which is also full of humour. Life is made up, mostly, of these little quotidian things, and we only realise how much we miss them when “normality” disappears, as we’ve all had to learn recently, unfortunately. (I highlighted many quotes throughout the book, but as I often do, I recommend to those who might not be sure if the writing style will suit them or not, to check a sample of the book and take their time with it. It is worth it).

The ending is a return, to the UK; not a true ending, but a “to be continued” with a promise of a book of Further Tales to be published later. This suits the hopeful nature of the book and leaves us wanting more. I am aware that the author has written about her experiences during the COVID confinement, although I haven’t read her account, so those who are impatient to read more from the author while waiting for the next book in this series can check that.

If I had to issue a warning, I agree with what the author says, on the back cover of the paperback version of this book, also included in the Kindle version: Don’t read this book when you’re hungry, and I would add, especially if you’re on a diet because you might feel compelled to raid your fridge or rush to your nearest restaurant on reading about the wonderful meals Cassandra partakes of. On the positive side, the author includes a list with information, and in some cases links, to the restaurants and eateries she mentions in the narrative, at the back of the book, so those planning a trip to the region can compare notes, try the food and meet some of the people. And if you need any further encouragement, the author includes a link to her website, where you can check photos of the locations mentioned, and also access other useful links. 

In case you want to check it now, here it is.

www.cassandracampbell-kemp.com

By the way, if you are not into paranormal happenings or ghosts, don’t worry. Despite the mention of ghosts in the description, that is not what the book is about.

I recommend this book to people who enjoy non-fiction, especially memoirs, but are looking for something a bit different. Yes, the book is inspiring and life-affirming, but its protagonist is so unique that getting to know her and to expend some time with her is what makes it a worthwhile read. There is plenty of useful and fascinating information as well, and people thinking about moving to Italy, or just visiting it, will find it invaluable. So, if you are ready to meet a truly eccentric and wonderful woman, her cat, and are happy to follow her in her adventures (culinary and others) throughout a little-known but gorgeous region of Italy, don’t hesitate. Cassandra will become the guide you never knew you needed.

Orange rose book description
Book description

At the age of 61, Cassandra, a single and peripatetic Brit, was asked to pack up her house and move to Italy to take up the offer of a much-needed job. 15 months later she was made redundant, leaving her unnerved, broke and unable to return home. Her dream of a new life was rapidly turning into a nightmare and, saddled with all her belongings, her antique furniture, over 800 books and her aged Siamese cat she had nowhere to go.

A kind friend offered them sanctuary in a tiny converted former barn in his family’s ‘Borgo’, a cluster of rustic properties grouped around a late-Medieval manor House in the mountains; the beautiful and mysterious Emilian Appenines of northern Italy. There she was befriended and watched over by the owner; an eccentric octogenarian, his household ghosts and 14 semi feral cats.

The experience proved to be challenging yet deeply transformative as she struggled to recover her equilibrium and rebuild her life.

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📚Based On A True Event. @OlgaNM7 Reviews #WW2 Story, The Peaceful Village by @MahurinPaulette, for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Today’s team review is from Olga.

Olga blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

Orange rose and Rosie's Book Review Team
Rosie’s Book Review Team

Olga has been reading The Peaceful Village by Paulette Mahurin

Book cover for World War Two story The Peaceful Village by Paulette Mahurin
The Peaceful Village by Paulette Mahurin

This is a novelised account of a real event that took place during WWII, one that I didn’t know anything about before I read the novel, but I will never forget now. I don’t hesitate to recommend this book to all readers, those who love fiction and those who prefer non-fiction, as it should be read. Due to the events that take place, this is not an easy read (it is hard, harrowing, and emotional), so I would recommend caution to readers who are not in the right place or frame of mind to read about such subjects.

It is impossible not to think about the war and its victims these days, and that makes this narration more poignant and urgent than ever. We should never forget what happened because we all know what happens to those who forget. I will not spend too much time on the plot, as the book description provides plenty of information, and anybody interested can research what is known of what happened on that day, the 10th of June of 1944 in Oradour-sur-Glane. The author includes a disclaimer, where she explains that the book is a work of fiction, and other than the historical characters included, the rest is her attempt at fitting what is known to have happened into a narrative. Her research shines through, and, to clarify matters even more, together with her disclaimer, the author includes a Glossary of Terms and Historical Figures, a list of the German military ranks used in the novel, of the organizations and political groupings, and of the locations, and also the translation of a few German terms used in the book (when the translation is not included in the text itself) right at the beginning of the book. There is also a postnote that explains what happened afterwards, to the village and at the trial of a few of those involved in the onslaught.

Mahurin manages to recreate Oradour for us. Through the locations, the characters, and the events that take place there, we get a good sense of what a lovely place it was, a peaceful village in the German-controlled part of France, where life goes on almost undisturbed, although there are also things happening that remind the inhabitants of the war, and there is a sense of dread hanging over the proceedings. The beauty is in the detail: we see characters going about their jobs and their lives (the doctor, who is also the mayor, looks after his patients, and so does one of his sons, also a doctor; the priest is involved in welfare and also tries to help families in need [Jewish families escaping the Nazi regime among others]; we have mechanics; we have farmers; we have teachers; we have children; we have hard-working mothers…) and we have people who know each other and who do what they can to help others, their family, their neighbours, their friends, and also the newcomers who need help. This is an ensemble novel, and although we perhaps learn more about some characters than others (like Marguerite, who is exhausted by farm work —among other things— and manages to find her perfect role in helping the priest with his church work and his other tasks, or the mayor, the priest, and even others who don’t live in the village, like the head of the Maquis du Limousin…), this is a novel about a community, where everybody has a part to play, as must have been the case at the real Oradour. The shock of that normality, where nothing out of the ordinary had happened, being interrupted by the senseless massacre, has a devastating effect upon us, and it is not surprising to read how the people in the village were totally stunned and unable to believe what was going on.

The author writes beautifully about the place, the people, their lives, and their customs, and despite the horrific tragedy that eventually unfolds, there are incredibly beautiful passages as well. Plenty of happy and inspiring moments fill up the pages of this novel, and, the choice of a third-person omniscient point of view works very well for the story, as it allows us to see and understand how the different characters feel and what their lives are like, and it also shows us some of the events that preceded the massacre (although the reasons, as the author explains, have never been fully explained, and there are only a variety of conjectures historians have proposed over the years). We do see and follow what the Germans do as well, and the third-person narrative plays a pretty neutral observer’s role, not overdramatising events because it is totally unnecessary. It leaves it up to the readers to make their own minds up, experience the events, and feel the emotions. And that makes it even more moving and poignant.

A couple of samples of the writing:

May moved along with goodwill radiating warmth through Oradour like a hot bath soothing a stiff body on a frigid day.

Then he thought of the plans he’d heard to make the ruins into an untouched museum. To leave everything as is. Wistfully, words flowed from him like a feather floating through air when he said, “That magical place is a reminder of the living people who lived there in harmony.”

This is not a mystery novel, and we know what is going to happen (what really happened, not the details, but the bare facts), so the ending of the story is not, in itself, surprising, but I felt it was perfect. There was a hopeful note, but a somewhat bittersweet one, as the postnote reminds us of how many crimes of war are never solved, properly investigated, or even truly acknowledged.

I have already recommended the novel to all readers (with a note of warning), in particular to those interested in stories set in WWII in France, both fictional and non-fictional; to those who enjoy reading beautifully written books with a historical theme, and to anybody who likes to learn about real events, especially those that affect us all and should never be forgotten. I was inspired to read more about the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, and discovered that 19 of the victims were Spaniards (11 of them children), refugees who had escaped from Spain during the Civil War to avoid the fascist reprisals by Franco’s regime. After that, it felt even more personal, if that were possible. What else can I tell you? Read it, if at all you can. I have learned something I won’t forget and discovered a writer I will carry on reading for a long time to come.

Orange rose book description
Book description

During the German occupation of France, nestled in the lush, verdant countryside in the Haute-Vienne department of central France was the peaceful village of Oradour-sur-Glane. It was a community where villagers woke to the medley of nature’s songs, roosters crowing, birds chirping, cats purring, and cows plodding on their way out to pasture. The people who lived there loved the tranquil nature of their beautiful home, a tranquility that existed year-round. Even with the German occupation, Oradour-sur-Glane – the village with cafés, shops, and a commuter tram to Limoges – remained relatively untouched by the stress of the occupation.

While Oradour-sur-Glane enjoyed the lack of German presence, twenty-two kilometers to the northwest in Limoges, the Germans were reacting with increasing cruelty to organized attacks on their soldiers by the armed resistance organization Francs-Tireurs et Partisans (FTP). Headed by Amédé Fauré, the Limoges FTP was considered the most effective of the French Resistance groups. Fauré’s missions prompted the German military to kill and incarcerate in concentration camps anyone perceived as supporters or sympathizers of the Resistance.

Up until the middle of 1944, the German anti-partisan actions in France never rose to the level of brutality or number of civilian casualties that had occurred in eastern Europe. A little before the Allies landed in Normandy, all that changed, when German troops, and in particular the Waffen-SS, stationed on the Eastern Front were transferred to France. It was then that FTP’s increasing efforts to disrupt German communications and supply lines were met with disproportionate counter attacks, involving civilians. Fauré’s response was to target German officers. When he set his sights on two particular German officers, all hell broke loose.

Based on actual events as told by survivors, The Peaceful Village is the fictionalized story of the unfolding of the events that led up to one of the biggest World War II massacres on French soil. Much more than an account of Nazi brutality and the futility of war, this is a story of love. The love of family. The love of neighbor. The love of country. Compassion and courage burn from the pages as the villagers’ stories come alive. Written by the international bestselling author of The Seven Year Dress, Paulette Mahurin, this book pays homage to the villagers who lived and loved in Oradour-sur-Glane.

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💕#ContemporaryRomance When Emma Came To Stay by Cheryl Waters. Reviewed by Olga, for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Today’s team review is from Olga.

Olga blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

Orange rose and Rosie's Book Review Team
Rosie’s Book Review Team

Olga has been reading When Emma Came To stay by Cheryl Waters.

Book cover for contemporary fiction When Emma Came To Stay by Cheryl Waters
When Emma Came To Stay by Cheryl Waters

The description provides quite a few clues as to what to expect. There are a variety of elements that converge in this novel: we have romances (yes, more than one); we have second chances (for several of the characters involved); we have secrets, lies, and plenty of reveals (not impossible to work out, but they add interest to the story and keep it moving); we have a bit of the adult coming of age story for the protagonist, Emma (whose priorities change massively after losing both, her long-term boyfriend and her long-term job quite by surprise), but, for me, this is mostly a wish fulfilment novel. Not for everybody, of course, because some people would, perhaps, hate the lifestyle the protagonist chooses/finds herself thrown into, but many people will, at some point, have probably wished they could just leave everything behind, move to a different country, and have a go at making a living in a totally different way, in a wonderful setting, staying in a nice house, finding a (new) loving relationship, and acquiring a perfect (if somewhat unconventional) family.  If you are one of those people, you are likely to enjoy this novel. There is no explicit sex, and although Emma’s aunt, Maude, can be a bit outrageous at times, the language used if fairly mild. I won’t say it is unlikely to offend anybody, because I know that is a very personal thing, and a few of the situations and behaviours in the story might not sit well with some readers. I definitely wasn’t offended and didn’t mind Maude’s funny banter, which I find good-humored and endearing.

My favourite things in this book were: the setting, although those who hate long descriptions don’t need to worry, as there aren’t many and they aren’t excessively detailed either; the upbeat attitude of Emma and most of the characters, who take things in their stride, and although they might experience doubts and hesitations, they eventually decide to take a chance and take risks to try to improve things; the characters, especially Maude, who is wonderful. She is youthful, colourful, has a great sense of fun and joy, and is determined to enjoy life and unwilling to slow down due to her age or her ailments. Some of the other characters are somewhat thinly drawn, as the story (other than when it comes to Maude and her past) is very much focused on what is happening now, and we only get rare glimpses of what life has been like for the rest of the characters. But I liked them all well enough, and the main protagonist, Emma, is kind, generous, and it is easy to root for her. This is not a heavy novel, as I have mentioned, and it doesn’t go into the deep psychological reasons for the characters’ actions, and none of them are depicted as particularly complex. There is the typical will they/won’t they situation regarding one of the romances, but the obstacles are not insurmountable, and this isn’t a heavy melodrama where suffering and tragedy play a big part, thankfully.

Was there anything I disliked? Although most of the events are told from Emma’s point of view, and the whole story is narrated in the third person, there are also parts of the story where we get to see what some of the other characters think and feel. That adds to the mystery and to the tension in some cases, as we realise what is going to happen but don’t really know how it is going to come about, but because the swap in point of view can happen from one paragraph to the next and without any clear separation or indication of the change, some readers might get a feeling of head-hopping and take issue with it. Due to the nature of the story and to the rhythm of the narration, I didn’t have any difficulty following the thread and didn’t get lost despite these changes, but I thought I’d warn readers, just in case that might be a serious problem for them.

The other issue I had, and I am aware that it might have to do with my book being an early copy and a paperback at that (and I know formatting can be a nightmare sometimes), was that there were a large number of typos and similar issues (dialogue apostrophes missing, the same or similar word repeated several times in a paragraph…) that could be easily solved by a further round of proofreading if that hasn’t happened already. The writing itself is easy to follow, and there is plenty of everyday life reflected in the story, which follows the rhythm and the chronology of the seasons, and the ending is… well, happy as it should be, with no ifs or buts.

If you’ve always dreamed of changing your life completely and finding the perfect adoptive family, in a beautiful setting, with a good dose of romance and good cheer thrown in, I would recommend you to check this book. It will make you smile.

Orange rose book description
Book description

Emma’s just turned thirty. She’s just lost her job. And she’s just as single as she always is. Fortunately, her beloved Aunt Maude – a fun-loving septuagenarian – lives in the south of France. It’s just what Emma needs: time to swim in the sea that sparkles, let the sun kiss her skin, and to work out what she wants and where she’s going.

When yacht-owning Marc comes sailing into her life, Emma can’t believe her luck! But there is something she just can’t work out about him…

When her fun-loving aunt ends up in hospital Emma learns that Maude has her own secrets. Just how did her aunt come to have a masterpiece in her attic?

As this delightful corner of France wraps Emma (and us) up in its charms, we wonder if Marc is all that she wants – or is true love somewhat closer to home?

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🧬’Inspiring, hopeful, beautifully descriptive and heart-wrenching at times.’ @OlgaNM7 reviews #SciFi Ending Forever by @NicholasConley1 for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog🧬

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

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Olga has been reading Ending Forever by Nicholas Conley.

This is the third book by Nicholas Conley I read and reviewed, and having loved both, Pale Highway and Knight in Paper Armor, I was eager to check his newest work. His books are never run-of-the-mill or formulaic, and they don’t fit easily into a genre, and that is the case here as well. They also make readers question their beliefs, thoughts, and assumptions, in this particular book, about life and, especially, about death. Not an easy topic, and not one many books discuss openly, and that makes this unique book, all the more extraordinary.

The description included with the book provides a good idea of the plot without revealing too much, although this short book —which probably falls into the category of science-fiction for lack of a more suitable one— is not a mystery or an adventure story, and a detailed description wouldn’t provide true spoilers. But there is something to be said for discovering its wonders without being prewarned in advance. For that reason, I’ll only add that grief (as mentioned) and guilt are behind the main character’s feelings and many of his actions. He’s been pushed (by life and by his own decisions) to desperation, to the point of no return —or so he thinks— and the experiment he signs himself for offers him money, evidently, but perhaps something else, something or someone that will bring him peace.

Apart from grief, guilt, loneliness, depression, trauma, the nature of memory, family life, becoming an adult orphan, losing a child… if those topics were not enough to make it a must-read, the novel also comments on human greed, arrogance, and the immaturity and silliness of some of those mega-rich people who come up with self-aggrandising vanity projects, sometimes hiding behind the gloss of some future venture with commercial possibilities, or under the guise of research useful to humanity at large. I don’t think I need to name any names, here, as I’m sure a few will easily come to mind. And, of course, this is a book that explores our relationship with death and our reluctance to look closely at it.

Axel is the central character, and Conley presents him without any embellishments. This is a broken man, and although the story is narrated, mostly, in the third-person; we only see things from his point of view. The main story takes place over a few days (the ending, though, reveals the after-effects of what happens during Axel’s deaths and is set at a later date), but there are fragments in italics that clearly represent the memories of the character, and there are also brief interjections and thoughts we are allowed to see that come directly from his head. It is impossible not to sympathise with the character, because of all he has gone through, from early childhood onward; and the more we learn about him, the more we get to empathise with him as well. There are other characters, and although we don’t spend so much time with them, it is evidence of the author’s talent that they all feel real and complex nonetheless. I loved Brooklyn, whom Axel meets at the experiment, and who is truly his kindred spirit. Her little girl, Gwendolyn, is wonderful as well, and that makes their part of the story even more poignant. Malik, Axel’s friend and always supportive, keeps him grounded and real. Dr Kendra Carpenter is a more ambiguous character. She is on the wrong side of things, and her attitude is less than exemplary, but her reasons make her less dislikeable and more nuanced than a true baddie would be. We don’t meet the people financing the whole scheme, but that is not necessary to the story, as this is not about them. There are some important characters whom we only meet through Axel’s memories, both from his recent and from his more distant past, but they also become real to us.

The author writes beautifully. I have said already that this book probably falls within the science-fiction category, but not into the hard sci-fi subgenre, as it does not provide any details about the science behind the experiment. The novel is speculative in the sense of exploring and coming up with fascinating ideas and insights into what the other life (death) might look like, and the Deathscape and its inhabitants (for lack of a better word) are described in gorgeous (and sometimes scary) detail, with a pretty limitless imagination. Although the “real life” events taking place in the “now” of the story are narrated in third-person past, what happens while he is dead is narrated in the present (third-person again, apart from the odd moment when we hear his thoughts directly), but the changes in tense felt organic and in keeping with the nature of the story. Of course, one needs to suspend disbelief when reading such a book, but that is to be expected. I was completely invested in the story, and there was nothing that suddenly jolted me and brought me back to reality. Apart from the wonderful description, and the memories that are so vivid they pull at one’s heartstrings, the feelings of the main character are so recognisable, understandable, and so compellingly rendered, that one can’t help but share the way he is feeling, and that applies to both, when he is feeling devastated and when he is feeling hopeful.

Those who want to get a better idea of what the writing is like, remember that you can always check an online sample.

I struggled to decide what to share, but I decided to include the introduction and a couple of fragments:

Dedicated to everyone I have ever lost. Every sunset precedes a sunrise, and what the dead leave behind shapes the future. May the memory of you —each of you—be a blessing.

Here, Axel is talking to his father, as a young child. His father has lifted him on his shoulders and is showing him the lake.

…when Ax said that they were on the edge of the world, Papa said, “no, son. That out there, on the horizon.” He pointed. “It’s the beginning of the world. And it’s all yours to explore. To dream. Remember that.”

“On the other hand, big machines don’t run unless all the little pieces work, right? And infinity… we might be small, Axel, but y’know, maybe we’re still totally vital to the whole thing running. Every decision we make influences every other part of it, I think. Even after we die. Might as well make the most of it while we’re still alive, I say.” (This is Brooklyn talking to Axel).

What a beautiful ending! Conley has a way of making readers experience the highs and lows of existence, of asking them to look into the abyss and to face subjects that make them uncomfortable, like death, but he always rescues them and offers them hope and a positive ending. And this story is no different. Do take the time to read the author’s acknowledgements at the end of the book. They offer an insight into the book’s creation and the author’s own world.

So, would I recommend it? Well, what do you think? Of course! I have mentioned the themes, and although the story is ultimately one of redemption and hope, there are some emotionally difficult and extremely sad moments as well, and it might be a tough read for people who are facing or have recently had to deal with some of the topics mentioned. I’d leave this to the judgement of the individual, but I’d say that most people will finish the book with a smile on their faces and feeling more hopeful and confident about the future.

Another great book by Conley, one of a group of authors I am happy to read and recommend without any hesitation.

Desc 1

Axel Rivers can’t get his head above water. Throughout his life, he’s worn many hats — orphan, musician, veteran, husband, father—but a year ago, a horrific event he now calls The Bad Day tore down everything he’d built. Grief-stricken, unemployed, and drowning in debt, Axel needs cash, however he can find it.

Enter Kindred Eternal Solutions. Founded by the world’s six wealthiest trillionaires and billionaires, Kindred promises to create eternal life through mastering the science of human resurrection. With the technology still being developed, Kindred seeks paid volunteers to undergo tests that will kill and resurrect their body—again and again—in exchange for a check.

Axel signs up willingly, but when he undergoes the procedure—and comes back, over and over—what will he find on the other side of death?

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A Police Officer’s #Memoir. Black, White, and Gray All Over by Frederick Reynolds, reviewed by @OlgaNM7, 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 Black, White, and Gray All Over by Frederick Reynolds

This is a memoir, and as far from fiction as one could imagine. In fact, it is so full of facts and data that it can become overwhelming at times. The sheer number of events, of characters (well, not really characters, but real people: relatives, friends, neighbours, infantrymen, police officers, detectives, criminals, victims, local authorities, politicians…), of dates, of cases… make the book overflow with stories: sometimes those the author, Frederick Douglass Reynolds, participated directly in; others, stories providing background information to the situation or events being discussed or introducing some of the main players at the time of the action. I think anybody trying to recount even a small amount of what happens in the book would have a hard time of it, but anybody interested in the recent history of Compton law enforcement and local politics will find this book invaluable.

The author goes beyond the standard memoir, and although his life is the guiding thread of the book, he does not limit himself to talking in the first-person about his difficult childhood, his traumatic past, his petty criminal activities as a gang member in his youth, his time as a Marine Corps Infantryman, his less than stellar experience with personal relationships (until later in life), his allergy to compromise for many years (to the point of even refusing to get involved in the life of one of his children)… This well-read and self-taught man also offers readers the socio-historical-political context of the events, talking about the gangs, the rise of crack cocaine, the powerful figures moving the threads and holding authority (sometimes openly, and sometimes not so much), and he openly discusses the many cases of corruption, at all levels.

There is so much of everything in this book that I kept thinking this single book could become several books, either centring each one of them on a particular event, case, or investigation and its aftermath (for example. although Rodney King’s death didn’t take place in Compton, the description of how the riots affected the district makes readers realise that history keeps repeating itself unless something is done), or perhaps on a specific theme (as there is much about gangs, racism, corruption, the evolution of police roles and policing methods, violence in the streets, LA social changes and local politics, drugs…). Another option would be to focus on the author’s life and experiences growing up, on his personal life (his difficulties with relationships and alcohol, his PTSD…), and later his career, but perhaps mentioning only some of the highlights or some specific episodes, and with less background information about the place and its history (although some brief information could be added as an appendix or in an author’s note for those interested in knowing more).

This is a long book, dense and packed with a wealth of data that might go beyond the scope of most casual readers, but there are also scary moments (forget about TV police series. This is the real deal), heart-wrenching events (the deaths of locals, peers, colleagues, personal tragedies…), touching confessions (like the difficulties in his relationship with his son, becoming grandad to a boy with autism and what that has taught him), shared insights that most will find inspiring, and also some lighter and funny touches that make the human side of the book shine. Although Reynolds openly discusses his doubts, and never claims to be spotless, more upstanding, or better than anybody else, his determination to get recognition for his peers fallen in action, and his homage to those he worked with and who kept up the good fight clearly illustrate that his heart (and morals) are in the right place.

Most people thinking of reading this type of memoir are likely to know what to expect, but just in case there are any doubts, be warned that there is plenty of violence (sometimes extreme and explicit), use of alcohol, drugs, and pretty colourful language. 

I recommend this book to anybody interested in the history of policing in LA (particularly in Compton) from the 1980s, gangs in the area, local politics, corruption, and any major criminal investigations in the area (deaths of rappers included). It is also a book for those looking for an inspiring story of self-improvement, of managing to escape the wrong path, and helping others do the same, and it is a book full of insights, inspiration, and hope.

I wonder if the author is planning to carry on writing, but it is clear that he has many stories to tell yet and I hope he does.

Desc 1

From shootouts and robberies to riding in cars with pimps and prostitutes, Frederick Reynolds’ early manhood experiences in Detroit, Michigan in the 1960s foretold a future on the wrong side of the prison bars. Frederick grew up a creative and sensitive child but found himself lured down the same path as many Black youth in that era. No one would have guessed he would have a future as a cop in one of the most dangerous cities in America in the 1980s—Compton, California. From recruit to detective, Frederick experienced a successful career marked by commendations and awards. The traumatic and highly demanding nature of the work, however, took its toll on both his family and personal life—something Frederick was able to conquer but only after years of distress and regret.

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