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

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

#RBRT Review Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book description

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

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

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

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

#RBRT Review Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book description

Leah’s nightmare began the day the dog died.

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

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

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

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

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

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Knight In Paper Armor by Nicholas Conley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book description

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

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

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

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

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Hawthorn Woods by Patrick Canning

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Book description

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

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

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

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

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading The Lost Blackbird by Liza Perrat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book description

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

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Running Haunted by Effrosyni Moschoudi

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book description

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Thriller DRACA by @GeoffreyGudgion @unbounders

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Draca by Geoffrey Gudgion

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I didn’t know Geoffrey Gudgion before I read this novel, but the description and the cover called me (a bit worrying when I think about it after finishing the book), and my reward was a fantastic read that combines many elements likely to interest a large variety of readers. Draca, the vessel of the title, is a haunting presence throughout the book. Old Eddie, its owner, was fascinated by old Norse mythology and his Viking heritage, and there are fragments from the Saga of King Guthrum (c a AD 875) heading each new chapter and telling a fascinating story of the Vikings’ incursions into Britain and their battles with the Saxons. This mythological background and the story of King Guthrum and his son Jarl Harald moves apace with the adventures of Draca and Jack, Eddie’s grandson and new owner of the sailing cutter. There are adventures that will delight those who love sailing (but also those who don’t. I haven’t done any proper sailing but have a soft spot for books and movies set at sea, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Let me clarify that although there is ample evidence of knowledge and research on the topic of sailing, no expertise is required to enjoy the novel). The characters, and especially the relationship between the male members of the Ahlquist family, make for fascinating reading, as we have parents and sons of different generations with complex love-hate relationships, and they relive their conflicts on and off the ship.

Other themes are also explored and add to the overall interest of the novel: Jack, the main protagonist of the story, was a decorated Royal Marine who was severely wounded during the war, and now suffers from PTSD and is finding it difficult to adjust to civilian life. His flashbacks and his account of his experiences are realistic and compelling (not surprising when we take into account the author’s background), and it makes him a particularly sympathetic character. We also have romance (although the two characters seemed made for each other from the beginning, and I’m sure most readers will enjoy it, considering the background of both characters it seemed a bit too perfect for me, especially if readers are expecting a standard horror story); a woman with a gift for healing and for sensing things about people; and a paranormal element that I felt worked very well.

I think the description offers more than enough information about the plot, and I want to avoid spoilers.  I think this novel cuts across a few genres. There are very realistic elements, in particular those depicting the psychological state of the characters, PTSD and obsession; there are also mythological and fantastical elements; paranormal/horror elements; sailing adventures; family relationships (a family saga, to a point); and a romance (there is some sex, but it is pretty mild and not very explicit, and people who follow my review know I don’t like erotica, so…). If I had to choose, I enjoyed the mythological/fantastical aspects of the story, the sailing adventure, and the realistic aspects, especially the relationship between the men, the most.

I have mentioned some of the characters already. The story is narrated in the third person, each chapter usually following the point of view of one of the main characters (Harry, Old Eddie’s son and Jack’s father, not a particularly likeable character and not somebody who evolves much during the novel, but he is not all bad either; Jack; and George, the main female character, who runs the boatyard and seems to combine characteristics of the caring female who would do anything for her man, with an independent and wise woman who tries hard to keep trouble at bay), interspersed with the Saga of King Guthrum and also, especially at the beginning, with fragments of Eddie’s diary, which help us understand more about the man and about Draca. We also meet Charlotte (Charlie), Jack’s wife, who is a very intriguing character, but her story is not developed in a lot of detail (and we don’t see things from her point of view), not is that of Jack’s mother, who seems to be an old-fashioned housewife and hardly has a voice of her own. We don’t see enough of Tilly, Jack’s sister, for her to play a part in the story (other than being a hindrance at times).

The writing is excellent. There are beautiful descriptions of sailing, not only of the act of sailing but also of the emotions it creates, and as I’ve said already, the psychological experiences of the characters, particularly of Jack are rendered in such a way that we can’t help but feel as if we were there, sharing in his anguish and feelings. There are lyrical passages that made me reread them again, and this is a book that combines an absorbing story that makes you keep turning the pages with a style of writing that demands to be savoured an enjoyed. I’ve highlighted many fragments, but I thought I’d share a couple to give you some idea of what to expect:

When the tide was just on the ebb it sucked at the beach below the cottage, a soft susurration at the limit of hearing. In the pre-dawn darkness it sounded like whispering, so human that he strained to distinguish the words.

Draca was a bit like some men she’d met who were handsome on the outside and dangerous on the inside. In that way, Draca was the opposite of Jack. He was dangerous on the outside but probably dead gentle on the inside, like he was wearing a suit of armour, or a shell, like a crab.

The ending… I think the author has managed to pull quite a trick there, because all the different elements come to a satisfactory ending (no, I’m not saying happy), and I enjoyed it, for sure. And it does not leave us hanging, so people who don’t appreciate cliff-hangers don’t need to worry… much.

The author mentions his sources (people and books) in his acknowledgments, and I was particularly happy to learn about Unbound, the first crowdfunding publisher, which made the book possible. The book also includes a list of supporters and patrons, and I will try to keep track of their future projects.

In brief, a great read, that I’d recommend to people interested in male family relationships, PTSD, and who don’t mind a touch of the paranormal and romance. Fans of sailing stories and those who love Norse mythology and Old Saxon history will enjoy it even more. There are some chilling and eerie moments, but the horror, such as it is, is mostly psychological, so this should not put off people who usually avoid the genre. I won’t forget Draca in a long time, and I’m sure if you read it you won’t, either.

Book description

Draca was a vintage sailing cutter, Old Eddie’s pride and joy. But now she’s beached, her varnish peeling. She’s dying, just like Eddie.
Eddie leaves Draca to his grandson Jack, a legacy that’s the final wedge between Jack and his father. Yet for Jack, the old boat is a lifeline. Medically discharged from the Marines, with his marriage on the rocks, the damaged veteran finds new purpose; Draca will sail again. Wonderful therapy for a wounded hero, people say.
Young Georgia ‘George’ Fenton, who runs the boatyard, has doubts. She saw changes in Old Eddie that were more sinister even than cancer. And by the time Draca tastes the sea again, the man she dares to love is going the same way. To George, Jack’s ‘purpose’ has become ‘possession’; the boat owns the man and her flawed hero is on a mission to self-destruct. As his controlling and disinherited father pushes him closer to the edge, she gives all she has to hold him back.
And between them all, there’s an old boat with dark secrets, and perhaps a mind of its own.

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT #Thriller THE STRANGE BOOK OF JACOB BOYCE by @tom_gillespie

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading The Strange Book Of Jacob Boyce by Tom Gillespie

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I was sent an early paperback ARC copy, and I must say the cover is fantastic and the texture of the book is amazing as well. An experience in its own right.

This is the first novel by the author I’ve read, and I haven’t read any of his stories either, although I intend to check them out in the near future.

This is one of those books where the title truly suits the content. Yes, this is a strange book, a mighty strange book, and it is about Jacob Boyce. I don’t want to discuss the plot in detail (especially because I’m still trying to recover from its effect but also because I don’t want to spoil for everybody else), and I am not sure which genre it fits in. I started reading it and, at first, I thought it would be a book in the style of many recent novels, where there is a current mystery that somehow is linked to either an artwork, a book or another object that sends the main character traipsing along half the world chasing clues that in many cases are linked to the past (and History, in capital letters). The main character, the Jacob Boyce of the title, is a professor in Earth Sciences at Glasgow University who is researching his own theory, which he thinks will help predict earthquakes with more accuracy. So far, not so weird. But as we read, we discover that he has become obsessed by a painting, a baroque Spanish painting of uncertain origin (who the painter is, being the subject of some debate), which he somehow feels is connected to his theory. He becomes convinced that there is something peculiar about this painting, and it is to do with the application of a mathematical formula, which nowadays would be described as related to quantum physics. He becomes so obsessed by trying to find the links and the evidence to support his theory that he neglects everything else in his life: his job at the university, his marriage… And that results in his wife’s disappearance. He ends up in Spain, chasing both his wife and the painting, and there things get more and more bizarre. And I won’t say anything else about the plot. I’ve read some reviews that mention Vanilla Sky (I much rather the original Spanish movie, Abre los ojos [Open Your Eyes] by Alejandro  Amenábar), Sliding Doors, and Shutter Island. Yes, I quite agree, and, if I had to describe it, I’d say that some part of it felt almost surreal and hallucinatory, a bit like if I had found myself falling down the rabbit hole, while in some other parts, the sparse style and factual narrative made it seem perfectly grounded and realistic. An unsettling (even ‘uncanny’ at times) combination. Mindboggling.

If I had to talk about themes, I’d mention: obsession (I know many people who dedicate themselves to research can become sucked in, and suddenly everything starts looking or feeling as if it is related to the topic you are studying and you see connections everywhere), guilt, loss, grief, the permeable and tenuous frontier between sanity and madness, between dedication and obsession, between anxiety and paranoia… And also the tenuous separation between reality and imagination, between real life and our dreams and nightmares.

The main character, as mentioned, is Jacob. Although the book is narrated in the third person, we spend most of the novel inside of the protagonist’s head, we see things from his perspective, and he’s a fantastic example of the unreliable narrator. I tend to read mostly ebooks these days, and because this was a paper copy and I couldn’t read it as often as I would an ebook, it took me longer to read than would be the norm, and I confess I had forgotten the brief chapter (a kind of prologue) called ‘Inhale…’ which was from another character’s perspective. I later realised this was Sylvia, the mother of Jacob’s wife, Ella, and she comes back at the end as well (yes, the title of that chapter is ‘Exhale…’). Therefore, Sylvia’s point of view and story somehow frames the whole of the narrative, (a rather long and rarefied breath of air) but, as I said, most of the book is from Jacob’s point of view, and Jacob is the only character we get to know, although how well is subject to debate, but I won’t go into that either. He is not a dislikeable character, but like many protagonists who have become obsessed with a particular topic or search (think of Ahab in Moby Dick), their obsession can make them difficult to fully connect with. You either get entrapped in it and can’t help but follow them down that hole, or you wonder what the fuss is about. In this case, I found myself totally caught in it, and it’s one of those books where you end up having no idea what place is up or down, what is real or not, and don’t know if you can trust or believe in anything at all. There are other characters, but because we see them only (or mostly) through Jacob’s eyes, I didn’t feel as if I had a grasp of what they were like, and sometimes, due to the way the story is told, we get different versions of the same character, so, which one is (or might be) the real one, if any?

I’ve mentioned the third person point of view and the frame around the story as well. There are brief fragments in italics, which seem to be told from an omniscient point of view, between the main parts of the book, but these are short. The book is divided up into three parts. Part 1 and 3 take place in Glasgow, and part 2 in Spain, first in Barcelona and later in Madrid. The chronological order of events appears clear at first (although some of Jacob’s memories intrude into the narration), but… Well, I’ll let you read it to find out by yourselves. I’ve talked about the writer’s style before, and although I’ve marked a lot of the text, as I’m aware the book was due to go through more revisions and corrections before its release, I won’t share any specific quotes. There are parts of the text in Spanish, and I know some readers have wondered about that, worried that they might miss important aspects of the book, but let me tell you that, being Spanish, knowledge of Spanish is not required to understand the book. In my case, it kept sending me down wrong paths and making me question everything, so don’t worry. I’ve also seen people complaining about the use of mathematics and talks of formulae and proportions. Don’t worry about that either. I found the ideas challenging and fascinating, but it’s not necessary to be an expert on the subject to follow the book.

The ending manages to pull everything together, and it left me with the feeling (not uncommon with certain books and films, and I’m sure you know what I mean) that if I read it again, many things I found puzzling at the time would fit into the right place now, and I would be nodding my head all through the second read.

So, would I recommend it? If you enjoy being taken for a wild ride and falling into the depths of a complex mind trying to make sense of his life, then you should read it. This is not a standard mystery, and it has more in common with a psychological puzzle or even one of Freud’s case stories, where what is at stake is not what we might think at first. If you don’t mind experimenting and trying something new and are not looking for a straight and comforting read, I recommend you to dare to try this book. It won’t leave you indifferent.

Book description

A spiralling obsession. A missing wife. A terrifying secret. Will he find her before it’s too late?

When Dr Jacob Boyce’s wife goes missing, the police put it down to a simple marital dispute. Jacob, however, fears something darker. Following her trail to Spain, he becomes convinced that Ella’s disappearance is tied to a mysterious painting whose hidden geometric and numerical riddles he’s been obsessively trying to solve for months. Obscure, hallucinogenic clues, and bizarre, larger-than-life characters, guide an increasingly unhinged Jacob through a nightmarish Spanish landscape to an art forger’s studio in Madrid, where he comes face-to-face with a centuries-old horror, and the terrifying, mind-bending, truth about his wife.

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT #LiteraryFiction MATT: More Than Words by Hans M Hirschi

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Matt: More Than Words by Hans M. Hirschi

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I have read quite a few of Hirschi’s novels and have enjoyed them all, and some are among my favourites in recent years. He combines some of the characteristics that I most admire in authors: he writes strong and diverse characters, no matter what particular challenges they might be faced with; he carefully researches the topics he touches on (even when some of them might seem only incidental to the novel, he makes sure nothing is left to chance) and uses his research wisely (never banging readers on the head with it); and he does not shy away from the ugliest and harshest realities of life, while at the same time always dealing sensitively and constructively with those. His stories are not fairy tales, and they force us to look at aspects of society and of ourselves that perhaps we’re not proud about, but if we rise to the challenge we’ll be rewarded with an enlightening experience. And a great read.

This novel is no exception. We follow the life of Matt, a young man diagnosed with cerebral palsy due to birth complications, for a few rather momentous months. The book, narrated in third person, is told from three of the main characters’ perspectives. The novel is mostly Matt’s, or at least as good an approximation at what Matt’s experience might be as the author can achieve. It is a difficult task, and he expresses it better than I can in his acknowledgements at the end (‘How does one write about someone in whose situation you’ve never been? How do you give voice to someone who has none? And maybe, most importantly, how, without being insensitive, without objectifying, generalizing, stereotyping, in short without being a “dick”, do you tell a story that needs telling, about someone who could actually be out there, right now?’).  He also explains that he shared his early drafts with experts (people with cerebral palsy and their carers), and, in my non-expert opinion, he manages to depict what the daily life of the protagonist would be like. The other two main characters, Timmy, a professional carer who is Matt’s personal assistant at the beginning of the story but gets removed from his team due to a misunderstanding, and Martha, Matt’s mother, are also given a saying and some of the chapters are told from their perspective. Timmy is a lovely young man, a carer in the true sense of the word, and he has a real calling for the type of job he is doing. Martha is a devoted mother who found herself in a tough situation when she was very young and who has poured her heart and soul into looking after her son. Neither one of them are perfect (nor is Matt for that matter), and they make mistakes, lose heart and faith at times, and can feel overwhelmed or despondent, but they never give up and always have Matt’s best interests in mind.

Of course, I’ve already said that this is not a fairy tale. Far from it. We all know and have heard about some of the terrible things that happen: abuse, neglect, lack of resources, and although in this case there is no political and/or social oversight (Matt has access to a package of care and the family is reasonably well supported, something that unfortunately is not the case everywhere), somehow things still go wrong, and we get to see what it must be like to be the victim of such abuse when you are totally unable not only of physically defending yourself, but also of even talking about it. Terrifying. Not everybody is suited for this kind of work, and it is sad to think that those in the most vulnerable circumstances can be exposed to such abuse. And yes, because of the level of need and the limited resources, sometimes the vetting procedures are not as stringent as they should be. (The current health crisis has highlighted how much we expect of some workers and how little a compensation they receive for their efforts).

Communication and how important it is to try and make sure everybody can communicate and become as independent as possible is one of the main themes of the book. The experience of living locked up inside your own body, with other people not even aware that you know what is going on around you and always making decisions for you comes through very strongly in the book. Matt knows and worries about how he is perceived by others, has internalised many of the attitudes he’s seen and the comments he’s overheard, and many aspect of life we take for granted are like an impossible dream to him. Speaking, going for a walk, even deciding what to watch on television, are tasks beyond his scope. The research into ways to facilitate communication and to increase independence is highlighted in the novel, and the role new technologies (including AI) can play is explored. With appropriate investment, there’s little doubt that this could make a big difference to the lives of many people.

Martha’s difficult situation (she wishes her son to fulfil his potential and be able to do what any other 23 year old normally does, but she’s also fiercely protective of him and does not want to get her hopes up for them to only be crushed again), the personal price she has to pay, the way she has to sacrifice any semblance of a normal life to keep looking after Matt, her worry about the future… are also convincingly depicted. And Timmy’s own feelings and his acknowledgment of his own limitations ring true as well. Family relationships feature strongly not only in the case of Matt, but also of Timmy, originally from Africa and adopted by Caucasian parents, a loving couple who accept him as he is, and Chen, Timmy’s friend and ex-boyfriend, whose parents are more understanding than he thought they’d be.

The writing style is compelling and descriptive, although the descriptions are focused on the emotions and feelings rather than on the outward appearance of people and things. I found the story moving, and although it is not a page turner in the common sense of the word, I was totally engulfed in it and couldn’t put it down, even when some of the events were horrifying at times and made me want to look away.

The novel ends in a positive note, and I hope that in real life everybody in Matt’s situation will have access to a fulfilling life, if not now, in the very near future. As a society we can do much to help, and we should.

This novel reminded me of Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo (yes, the famous screenwriter who ended up in the blacklist, one of Hollywood’s Ten), whose movie version I saw as a teenager (also directed by Trumbo), and I’ve never forgotten. The main character there is a WWI soldier who is so severely injured during the war that he ends up unable to move and to communicate, or so those around him think. Although the circumstances are very different (the main character there had led a normal life before and has many memories, although if that makes his life better is a matter of opinion), and I’m sure this novel will appeal to people looking for a book focusing on diverse characters and exploring the world beyond our everyday experiences. As I’ve explained, it is not a comfortable and easy read, but one that will challenge us and make us look at life with new eyes. If you are up for the challenge, the rewards are immense.

Book description

Imagine…

…being locked inside your own body, unable to move at will, unable to speak your mind.

Born prematurely and with complications at birth, twenty-three-year-old Matthew Walker is neurologically injured and diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy. Unable to speak or voluntarily move his limbs, Matt depends on around-the-clock care and has never said a word—most people, including his mother, assume he never will. Then one day, Timmy, a new assistant to Matt’s care team, is sitting at the breakfast table with Matt when he notices a couple of regular taps from Matt’s right big toe. Has Matt finally found a way to break out of his involuntary prison?

Matt–More Than Words is the story of a life without that which most of us take for granted: the ability to communicate. It is a story of suffering, abuse, loneliness, family, friendship, love, hope, and—finally—a green light, a future.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Ya #Mystery THE LAKE NEVER TELLS by @alextullywriter

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

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading The Lake Never Tells by Alex Tully

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This is the first of Tully’s books I’ve read, although it is the third novel she has published, and in the ‘About the author’ section of her page and her books she describes her stories as ‘feel good’ stories, and she states that she hopes ‘readers will smile after turning the last page’. Well, hope accomplished, as far as I’m concerned.

The book description provides enough clues as to the general plot of the story. This is the story of a summer that changed the lives of the young characters at the centre of the story. Two of them, Zoe and Parker, live in a trailer park at the shore of a lake, just a stone’s throw from a posh resort ‘Crystal Waters’. They both have unconventional families (Parker lost his mother in tragic circumstances, never met his father, and lives with his grandmother, who is the strict but fair and wonderful Shirley; while Zoe lives with her single Mom, Debbie, who refuses to take responsibility for anybody, even herself, and acts much younger than her years). Zoe’s best friend, Meredith, the daughter of the local sheriff, can be pushy and harsh at times, but she is also funny and amusing, and always has Zoe’s back. Ethan, a young boy from the posh side of the divide who has come for the summer, somewhat stumbles into their group dragging his own problems with him. Although his life and circumstances might seem charmed from the outside, his parents’ relationship is a sham, and he suffered a traumatic event one year ago that he has not fully recovered from. It has changed him and turned him into somebody quite different. As the novel advances, we come to realise that Ethan’s change might have been for the better, even if that is not so evident for him at the beginning of the story. The novel fits well into the YA genre, and although the characters are put to the test and have to confront some harsh truths about themselves and others, these are not extreme, brutal or too challenging, and I think the book would be suited to fairly young teens as well, although I’d recommend parents to check it out because there are mentions of drugs, mental health difficulties, a suspicious death, a suggestion of sexual harassment, as well as divorce and drinking.

I liked the way the story is told. It starts with a hook, as we follow Parker on the 5th of July when he makes a shocking discovery, and then we go back a few weeks, to learn more about the characters and how they came to this point. The story is told in the third person, but from the points of view of the three main protagonists, Zoe, Parker, and Ethan, and their emotions and thoughts feel suitable to their ages (Parker is only 11, and he behaves appropriately to his age) and to their circumstances. I also liked the way we get and insight into Ethan’s disturbing thoughts and the way he tries to deal with them. We don’t learn what happened to him until quite late in the story, but by that time we’ve got to know him as he is now, and we can empathise with him even more. The way he and Zoe behave with Parker, as if he were their younger brother, is heart-warming.

I liked Zoe, because she is strong and determined, and I liked the way Meredith can be annoying but also amusing and supportive, and she usually helps lighten up the atmosphere. Shirley is a great character, although like all the adult characters, she does not play as big a part in the story as the young people.

The element of mystery is well resolved and integrated into the story, and I particularly enjoyed the fact that this is not a story of amateur detectives that can find answers and clues the police have missed, pushing the suspension of disbelief, but one where the characters are involved in the story because this is a small community and people’s lives become easily entangled. I also enjoyed the red herrings, twists, and revelations, and the resolution of the plot is very satisfying and hopeful.

The writing is simple and straight forward, without unnecessarily lengthy descriptions, but the author still manages to create a good sense of place and, especially, of the feeling of friendship and affection between the protagonists.

I cannot highlight any major negatives for me. Readers who are looking for diverse characters might not find them here (there are major differences in social class, and this is something the book focuses on, and one of the characters suffers from mental health issues, but no issues of genre, or race are discussed), and although I enjoyed the ending, the fact that the author decides to share the same scene from the point of view of the three main characters in succession results in some minor unavoidable repetitions. This slows down the ending a bit, but it wasn’t something that bothered me in particular. Each chapter is told from a single point of view (apart from the final one), and it is clearly labelled, so that does not cause confusion. I also missed some more interaction between Ethan and his twin sister, who hardly makes an appearance during the book. Ethan thinks about her at times, but she does not have a presence, and she is the only one of the younger characters I didn’t feel I had got to know. Even Heather, one of the cabana girls working with Zoe, has a bigger part than her. Other than that, the book flows well and is fairly cohesive, although the action speeds up towards the end, as is usually the case with mysteries.

I recommend this book to people who enjoy YA fiction, especially, as the author says, ‘feel-good’ fiction, where some important subjects are discussed but in a sensitive rather than a challenging manner. It is an ode to friendship and hope, and it feels particularly suited to the times we’re living. And it will leave readers with a smile.

Book description

Zoe has lived in Sunny Shores Trailer Park her whole life and she knows what the Memorial Day weekend brings—snobby rich kids who serve as a constant reminder of how pathetic her life really is. So when she meets Ethan, the awkward boy from the exclusive community of Crystal Waters, she can’t help being intrigued. He’s different, but in a good way.

Along with her stand-in little brother Parker, and her best friend Meredith, the four of them form an unlikely friendship. But one morning, their idyllic summer is turned upside down when a dead body washes up on the beach…

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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