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review 2017-02-26 20:16
Beautifully written story of a lost in translation version of the American Dream
Behold the Dreamers - Imbolo Mbue

Thanks to NetGalley and to Harper Collings UK, 4th State for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily review.

This novel, written by an author hailing from Cameroon, like her characters, tells us the story of the Jongas, a family of emigrants trying to make a go of life in the USA, more specifically in New York. Jende strikes it lucky at the beginning and gets a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a big executive for Lehman Brothers. That seems to open many opportunities for Jende and his family, paving the way for all their dreams to come true. Unfortunately, the undoing of Lehman, some personal issues in the Edwards family and the pressure of their unclear immigration status (Jende arrived with a 3 months’ busy that he’s overstayed, his wife has a student visa but they might not have enough money to finance her studies to become a pharmacist and their son would have to go back if the father does) change all that.

The story, written in the third person alternating the points of view of Jende and his wife, Neni, is full of details of the subjective experience of the characters, from the worries about their immigration status, the variety of connections with people from home (from parties, to disinterested advice, emotional support…), their feelings about New York (their favourite places, the cultural shock of confronting new rules, prices, weather, standards and extremes of poverty and richness), their initial shock and later better understanding of the Edwards lifestyle, the educational opportunities and the effect of the stress of their situation on their personal lives.

Both characters are credible, engaging and easy to empathise with, even when we might not agree with their actions and/or decisions. They also have dreams and wishes for their future and their family. To begin with, they both think the USA will change their lives and open up avenues they’d never be able to pursue back home. Jende couldn’t even marry Neni back home and his wife had to live with her parents and had no chance to study. Everything seems possible in the USA, but slowly it becomes clear that things aren’t as straightforward as they thought at first, that being white and rich in America doesn’t equal happiness, and that not everyone is prepared to give them a chance.

There are funny moments and also very sad ones (especially when the couple disagrees and their relationship becomes difficult) and one can’t help but become invested in the story and the future of the couple and their children, who become ersatz members of our family. If at times the Jongas appear as victims of circumstances and a system that they don’t understand, at others they take things into their own hands, and, whatever we might think about what they do, they act. The book is beautifully written and offers an insight into lives that might be different to ours but we can easily share in.

On a personal note, I was a bit disappointed by the ending, not so much by what happens but by how it comes about, and I wasn’t so sure the reactions of the main characters towards the end of the book were totally consistent with the personality they’d shown so far, although it might be possible to see it as a result of the extreme pressures they experience. What that would suggest of the likelihood that their Cameroonian dream will end up becoming a reality is the crux of the matter but something left to the imagination of the readers. The scene towards the end of the book between Clark Edwards and Jende Jonga where they share their future plans (both of them moving on to a future more in keeping with family values and less with work), makes us think of how differently the women of the book see things compared to their men. Gender relations are one of the most interesting and troubling aspects of the novel.

A solid book with great characters that deals with important issues (domestic violence, family relations, cultural differences, immigration, asylum seeking, race relations, the Lehman Brothers and the economic crisis following its fall, the American Dream…), is a joy to read and it will make you consider many those topics from a different point of view.  

 

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review 2017-02-23 18:30
The Disembodied by Anthony Hains
The Disembodied - Anthony Hains

The Disembodied starts out like a coming-of-age story and then it turns into a psychological horror story of familial love and abuse that will keep you guessing to the very end!

 

Griffin is a boy on the verge of becoming a man, when he loses his father to a somewhat violent death. Luckily he has a sweet and caring grandfather that loves to spend time with him, and a close cousin to hang out with. Unfortunately, he is experiencing feelings of what his psychologist calls depersonalization disorder, but Griffin describes it as feeling like he isn't attached to his own body. His mom is worried, and his aunt is convinced he's possessed. So which is it? You'll have to read this book to find out!

 

The characters here were well developed. I really got to caring for Griffin and Tanner and I quickly got to the point where I couldn't care less what happened to either of their fathers. I think the best part of this story was its telling. The author did a great job of releasing bits of information steadily along the way which kept me interested and looking forward to whatever was going to happen next. A few of the twists I did guess, but I did not accurately predict where this tale was going to go, and I always love when that happens.

 

Even as a seasoned fan of horror, there were parts of this book that seriously disturbed me. Mr. Hains is a psychologist himself, which is probably why the bits about depersonalization disorder rang so true. However, there were certain characters that behaved very differently from what I would expect, (like Griffin's mom, for instance), and thinking about why she did what she did added a layer of sadness to this tale. I guess it's a sad truth that sometimes we like to bury our heads in the sand rather than face what's happening right in front of us.

 

Overall, The Disembodied was an excellent psychological horror tale, and even though it involved tweens, this is not a YA story, in my opinion. There are some ugly, ugly truths here and incidents of abuse that made even this horror fan cringe. That said, this book was a lot of fun and I enjoyed the mysteries as they unraveled. I think you would too! Highly recommended!

 

There's currently a giveaway at HAD for 1 signed copy of this book: Giveaway (US only)

 

You can get your copy here: The Disembodied

 

Find this review and others like it at: HorrorAfterDark.com

 

*I nominated this book for the Kindle Scout program back in the day, and when it was accepted and the book published, I was given a free copy with no strings attached. All of the opinions expressed in this review are my own.* 

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review 2017-02-22 01:19
ARC Review: Dating Ryan Alback by J.E. Birk
Dating Ryan Alback - J.E. Birk

Well... this was different.

We all know the trope - rich actor meets regular guy and romance ensues. And this book has that trope, except the way the rich actor meets the regular guy is unusual.

Ryan Alback, the actor in question, is a very private person and hates the limelight. He loves his job, but doesn't like being in the public eye. He's more or less a recluse, after a bad Hollywood relationship turned very sour and Ryan felt used.

During an interview shortly before Valentine's Day, the talk show host launches a Dating Game - people can write in to the show to possibly win a basically blind date with the hot actor. Reluctantly, Ryan agrees.

Fast forward a few weeks, and Jason Santos, a somewhat shy teacher who only allowed his friend to enter him if she would then leave him alone about his love life (or lack thereof), has been chosen as Ryan's perfect date, and the talk show is paying for a long weekend at a nice romantic hotel.

Both men have been burned in the past, and neither expects anything good to come from this weekend date, but they find that they do have some major things in common, and actually enjoy themselves. I really liked how the author didn't make things easy for them - their early interactions are rather awkward, like you'd expect two men to behave after having been put in the same location as nothing more than a publicity stunt.

Ryan had a very difficult time trusting Jason, and Jason seemed to be still very hung up on his ex-boyfriend (the guy who refused his marriage proposal and broke his heart), and I didn't really feel that there was any kind of spark at first between the two men.

Both of them were also really nice guys - Ryan being super normal and not blinded by his success, and Jason intent on starting a non-profit to help kids whose parents were undocumented immigrants.

Over the long weekend in Vermont, as they spend time together, both men realize that there might be something there after all, despite their somewhat unconventional way of meeting.

Of course, smooth sailing is out of the question, and Ryan's distrust for most people rears its ugly head when a tabloid posts pictures of them together, with what seems to be a quote from Jason.

I understood how Ryan could have misjudged this situation, and how angry he was, so angry that he wouldn't even listen to Jason defend himself and deny the accusation.

Obviously, at that point, the weekend is over and Jason flees the hotel at once, heading home and moving on.

I liked this a lot, and I was engaged from start to finish. Their story just easily flows, with ups and downs, and at no time was I bored. There aren't any major lulls, nor are there any rapid time jumps, and the development of their relationship seemed natural in the time frame in which it takes place.

Both Ryan and Jason must learn to trust each other, and this obviously takes time, especially considering how they both have been hurt before. I liked that Jason didn't look at Ryan as some famous movie star, but took the time to get to know the person behind the famous face. He also had some backbone, and didn't easily let Ryan off the hook.

What bothered me a bit, because I wanted them to have a HEA, is that at the end of the story it's not quite clear how they'll actually plan to be together - is Ryan going to move? Is Jason? Still, that didn't distract me from my enjoyment.

Extra points for including a sweet dog (Alby) who's afraid of her own shadow but who warms up to Jason eventually just the same as her owner. The rest of the supporting cast (Ryan's actor friend who gives him some long-overdue advice, Jason's teacher friend who meddles) was well done.

There is but little steam in this book, and while there are a few bedroom scenes, they're not super explicit. This story didn't need it - it's a sweet and adorable romance, and it should be read as such.

Recommended.


** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher via Netgalley. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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review 2017-02-17 23:39
Pressure Head
Pressure Head - J.L. Merrow

It took me awhile to get into this one because the snipping-at-each-other form of enemies to lovers is just not that entertaining to me. I also couldn't understand why Tom was allowing Phil to drag him along on his investigation, when he really shouldn't be giving him the time of day. Also, Tom has a day job he was constantly neglecting and Phil wasn't pay him. Though to his credit, Phil did make an attempt.

 

Here's the deal: Phil had bullied Tom back in high school, which resulted in an accident that permanently injured Tom and altered his life in significant ways. Even if that was 13 years ago, I just don't get the "fancying the guy who bullied you" trope, and Phil kind of quasi-stalking Tom didn't help. Nor do I get Tom just going along with Phil's demands for help before anything was really resolved between them. Thankfully, things do eventually get resolved and in satisfying enough ways to make me forgive the slow, awkward, weird start.

 

The mystery was well done and there was no obvious villain, though I do admit I wasn't paying as much attention to the details and clues as I usually do since I was getting hung up on trying to figure out Tom. Still, there were enough red herrings and everyone had possible motives, so it wasn't easy to pick any one character out as the whodunit. 

 

Gary and Darren were the standouts here. They're only side characters, but they steal the show every time they're on page, and they're a hoot and a half. Then there are Merlin and Arthur, Tom's cats, who are very catty and fluffy. :D And even though there were a lot of Britishisms, there was only one I couldn't figure out. The humor is very dry though, so might not be to everyone's taste.

 

 

Actually, that's a good way to sum up Tom and Phil, innit?

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review 2017-02-17 10:50
With a Kiss - Kim Dare

2.5 Stars.

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