Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #Shortstories Backstories by @SimonVdVwriter

Today’s team review is from Cathy. She blogs here https://betweenthelinesbookblog.wordpress.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Cathy has been reading Backstories by Simon Van der Velde

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4.5 stars

Backstories comprises fourteen intriguing tales of life changing moments in the lives of well known characters. The author has given his imagination free rein to pen concise but evocative descriptions, giving impressions, something that just might have some truth in it, of certain people before fame or notoriety claimed them. The twist being they are not fully named, in some cases not at all or not named as we might know them. It’s up to the reader to guess their identities.

Some are fairly easy, but I admit to not guessing a couple (Past Time and The Blank Face come to mind, even after a re-read. I’ll probably kick myself once I know who they are) which ramped up the curiosity factor. I could think of people they might be but no-one definitive. Each account was enjoyable to read and actually extremely plausible.

‘No doubt about it, he was a bright kid, talented even. He was quick on his feet and with his mouth too, and he could smack a baseball out of the park. But he was a Jew, and he was short. I mean like really short. The kid was the size of your average third grader when he was twelve years old. When he was taking those first steps towards manhood. When it mattered most.
And this was back in the fifties, with Sinatra top of the charts, John Wayne High and Mighty on the big screen and New York thrusting itself into the heavens, one skyscraper taller than the next. It was a one-size-fits-all sort of time, but it didn’t fit him.’

The above quote is the beginning of the first story and it wasn’t until the end I realised who it was.

These are all people who you could know, but perhaps not with the backstory you had in mind. Some are sad, some chilling, all thought provoking. I read most of them a couple of times, the second time with the knowledge of who they were, which added another layer to the narrative.

An original idea, written in keeping with each situation and setting, and a unique approach to short stories. I enjoyed it very much.

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Dreamers, singers, heroes and killers, they can dazzle with their beauty or their talent or their unmitigated evil, yet inside themselves they are as frail and desperate as the rest of us. But can you see them? Can you unravel the truth? These are people you know, but not as you know them.Peel back the mask and see.

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT MANIPULATED LIVES by @HALeuschel #Shortstories

Today’s team review is from E.L. Lindley, she blogs at http://lindleyreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

#RBRT Review Team

E.L. has been reading Manipulated Lives by H A Leuschel

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Manipulated Lives by H. A. Leuschel is a collection of five short stories, each very different but linked by the theme of manipulation. Every one of the stories is unusual, intriguing and thought provoking in their own way.

 Leuschel captured my attention from the onset with the dramatic and mysterious opening of the first story, The Narcissist. What is immediately apparent is that Leuschel is a skilled writer who delicately constructs her stories so that like onions they unfurl for the reader layer by layer.

 Leuschel cleverly alternates her stories between first and third person narratives and both styles have their advantages. For example, The Narcissist is told from the perspective of first person which lends an air of mystery and allows Leuschel to demonstrate how the narcissist in question is blind to his own behaviour and therefore unable to make amends. In contrast, Runaway Girl is told from multiple viewpoints in third person which undermines the idea of a true version of events and leads us to question who is manipulating who.

 The beauty of Leuschel’s collection of stories is how they highlight the way we, as humans, often blind ourselves to the truth which can make us both manipulators and victims. The stories are all character driven by realistic and flawed characters and this allows us to relate to the behaviour depicted no matter how extreme it may become.

 The frightening reality is that, given the right set of circumstances we could all find ourselves falling victim to a manipulator. A lack of confidence or feelings of neediness means that the slightest show of kindness or flattery could have a profound effect on our emotional compass. The strength of Leuschel’s stories for me lies with the fact that her victims aren’t necessarily likeable and being a victim doesn’t preclude being a manipulator as well.

 Leuschel presents a convincing argument that the power of the manipulator is a combination of psychological and physical coercion. Some of the manipulators are presented as dangerous psychopaths whilst others are propelled by a sense of their own importance and entitlement. Leuschel also explores the idea of whether manipulators are simply born that way or created.

 The most sinister of the stories for me is My Perfect Child as it is one that resonates with our child-centric society. By creating a supreme sense of self worth in her son and never challenging his demands or destructive behaviour the mother creates a monster. She then colludes with her son by justifying his dysfunction to everyone around her. I think most of us probably know parents with similar attitudes to child rearing even if the outcome isn’t as extreme.

 Manipulated Lives raised many questions for me but perhaps the most difficult one is whether there is any such thing as harmless manipulation. We all manipulate to some extent in order to get our own way, whether it’s like the lonely octogenarian Tess in Tess and Tattoos, who likes to pretend she’s dead to get her carers to spend a few more minutes with her or emotionally punishing people for not being who we want them to be. However, having read these stories and being shown the ugly side of manipulation, I for one will be more mindful in the future.

 I really enjoyed these five stories and reading them reminded me of how I often overlook the form of short stories in favour of novels. Fortunately though Leuschel’s skills in creating distinct storylines and characters have made me realise what I’m missing out on. Especially during the busy Christmas period, when free time is often limited, I can’t recommend these stories highly enough. Plus they are the perfect antidote to all that festive sweetness.

Book Description

Five stories – Five Lives. 
Have you ever felt confused or at a loss for words in front of a spouse, colleague or parent, to the extent that you have felt inadequate or, worse, a failure? Do you ever wonder why someone close to you seems to endure humiliation without resistance? 
Manipulators are everywhere. At first these devious and calculating people can be hard to spot, because that is their way. They are often masters of disguise: witty, disarming, even charming in public – tricks to snare their prey – but then they revert to their true self of being controlling and angry in private. Their main aim: to dominate and use others to satisfy their needs, with a complete lack of compassion and empathy for their victim. 
In this collection of short novellas, you meet people like you and me, intent on living happy lives, yet each of them, in one way or another, is caught up and damaged by a manipulative individual. First you meet a manipulator himself, trying to make sense of his irreversible incarceration. Next, there is Tess, whose past is haunted by a wrong decision, then young, successful and well balanced Sophie, who is drawn into the life of a little boy and his troubled father. Next, there is teenage Holly, who is intent on making a better life for herself and finally Lisa, who has to face a parent’s biggest regret. All stories highlight to what extent abusive manipulation can distort lives and threaten our very feeling of self-worth. 

About the author

H.A. Leuschel

Helene Andrea Leuschel was born and raised in Belgium to German parents. She gained a Licentiate in Journalism, which led to a career in radio and television in Brussels, London and Edinburgh. Helene moved to the Algarve in 2009 with her husband and two children, working as a freelance TV producer and teaching yoga. She recently acquired a Master of Philosophy with the OU, deepening her passion for the study of the mind. Manipulated Lives is Helene’s first work of fiction.

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