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text 2020-05-23 03:07
#FridayReads
The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War - Joanne B. Freeman

The more I read about US history, the more amazed I am at how many children pretending to be adults there were in the government. Reading about these grown men behaving so childishly would be laughable if they didn't have the power they did so that their actions didn't carry so many consequences for everyone else.

 

And of course, even when things change, they really don't seem to change that much when you really start looking. The introduction even goes into some of the parallels including the fact that a recent congressman would threaten other congressman with knives with no repercussions apparently, so we're not even past the violence part. And we're certainly not past the bullying in the government, unfortunately.

 

I'll definitely be reading some lighter books this weekend.

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review 2020-05-07 12:25
A feel-good, heart-warming, and moving read
Season of Second Chances - Aimee Alexander

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

This is another great find by Rosie and although I wasn’t familiar with the author (who also publishes under her real name, Denise Deegan), I’m convinced this won’t be the last time I read one of her books.

The description of the book does a good job of highlighting the main aspects of the plot: we have Grace, a woman escaping a difficult and dangerous marriage, with her teenage children, Jack and Holly, hopeful that returning back to the village where she grew up will offer them all a second chance. There awaits her father, Des, who is going through a major change in his life (he’s a recently retired family doctor suffering from early stages of Parkinson’s disease) and doesn’t know the ins and outs of Grace’s decision. Moving from Dublin to a small and sleepy village comes as a shock to Grace’s children, and she finds it difficult to confront the gossip and the expectations of having to step into her father’s shoes. But, this novel about second chances builds up slowly and we see that although not everything is ideal and there are misunderstandings and difficulties to be ironed out, Killrowan, the place and its community, is a place worth sticking with.

The novel touches on a variety of themes: abusive marriages and family relationships (and how difficult it is to walk out); starting over in a different place, picking up friendships and relationships, and rebuilding one’s life; the struggles of dealing with a chronic and debilitating illness; how much one’s self-identity can be enmeshed with our profession and our job; the differences between a big city and a small village; being a family doctor in a rural/village location; how teenagers feel when they have to move and be uprooted from school, friends…; the role animals play in helping us fit in a place and feel rooted; small community life, with hits highs and lows; and even a hint of possible romance(s). There are funny moments, plenty of heart-warming episodes, some scary and nasty shocks as well, some sad and touching stories, and even medical emergencies and action scenes thrown in. In her acknowledgements, the author highlights the process of her creation and her research and having read the novel, I can confirm that it has paid off. She manages to weave all the topics into a novel that brings the characters and the village to life, and I was delighted to read that she is thinking about a sequel. I’d love to go back to Killrowan and revisit the places and the characters that have also become my friends.

Alexander creates multi-dimensional characters easy to relate with. Grace doubts herself and is forever questioning her actions and doubting other people’s motive. Her self-confidence has suffered after years of being undermined and abused by her husband, and she feels guilty for uprooting her family, while at the same time experiencing the thrill of freedom. The novel is written in deep third person and allows us to see the action from different points of view. Grace’s point of view dominates the book, although we also see what her father, Des —another fantastic character who treads carefully and whose life suddenly regains a meaning when his daughter and grandchildren come to live with him— thinks and does, how both of Grace’s children, Jack and Holly, feel, faced with a completely different environment (Jack was the popular sporty type, while Holly had a hard time fitting in and had no friends other than her dog). We meet some fantastic characters in the community, like the scary (at least at first) receptionist at the doctor’s surgery; the butcher’s wife (a gossip with a big heart); Grace’s old pals, Alan (with some secrets of his own) and Ivonne; Benji, a wonderful dog that adopts the family; a handsome American writer; the wife of a local magnate (who reminds Grace of herself); Des’s old love; the local policeman; Grace’s partner at the doctor’s surgery and some of her patients, although not everybody is nice, don’t worry. We also get brief snippets of the events from some of the other character’s perspectives, not only the Sullivans, and that gives us access to privileged information at times. Although the different characters’ points of view aren’t separated by chapters, they are clearly differentiated, and I experienced no confusion while reading, quite the opposite. I enjoyed the opportunity to share in the bigger picture.  

The writing style is fluid and flows well, without rushing us through the events, allowing us time to reflect upon events, enjoy the wonderful settings (the sea, the beach, the island, the pub…) and become acquainted with the location, the emotions, and the characters. The author knows well the area, and although Killrowan doesn’t exist (or, at least I couldn’t find it), it feels real (and some of the comments and attitudes Grace and her family experience reminded me of similar events I had witnessed in a small village I used to visit when I was younger) and it leaps from the pages. I confess to enjoying the style of the writing and feeling emotionally engaged with the story (I’d recommend having tissues handy). I’ve selected a couple of quotes to share, but as usual, readers might want to check a sample of the book to see if it suits their taste before purchasing it.

Here Grace is thinking about the family dog and how his death gave her the strength to finally leave her husband.

Benji was more than a dog. He was family. And her defender. Tiny little ball of fur rushing to the rescue. Or trying. Tiny little ball of fur that brought so much comfort to all three of them, Holly especially. Benji knew when they needed love and he gave it in spades.

Here Des is thinking about retirement.

What fool started the tradition of watches as retirement presents? Any thinking person would know that the last thing a man would want is to count all the time he now has on his hands.

Holly had just told her brother that their mother wanted to start over, and Grace realises her daughter is right.

Minutes ago, it had been to escape Simon, shake him off. But escaping Simon is still all about Simon. Grace sees that now. What she must do is start over. Because that is about Grace.

The ending is more than satisfying as well. Yes, not everything is settled and sorted in the end, but this is a book about new beginnings, and we leave the Sullivans and Killrowan to carry on merrily, getting to know each other and discovering what new changes and challenges life will bring. As I mentioned above, the author hints at a possible sequel, and I hope it comes to be.

This is a novel full of heart, friendship, a strong sense of community, and also heartache and personal growth. It is inspiring and comforting in these times when we have been obliged to live pretty enclosed lives. I agree with the TV series mentioned in the description (Call the Midwife one of my favourites), and I’m sure fans of any of those will enjoy this novel, which fits perfectly in the feel-good category, although that does not mean it hides from the most unsavoury aspects of life. There are menacing and dark moments, none too explicit, and I’d recommend it to anybody who enjoys stories with a heart, fond of Ireland and stories with an Irish background, and those who want a gentle read full of wonderful characters and a memorable community we’d all be happy to join.

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review 2020-03-02 19:49
Safe Haven
Safe Haven - Nicholas Sparks

I was actually able to squeeze in this book just before the end of February.  I read most of it on Leap day.  I'm following The Unread Shelf my reading goals this year and one of the goals for February was to read a book that was a gift.  I had something else in mind for February and decided I wanted to read 4 books from my tbr list that I didn't have.  I was able to find them all digitally through my library for free.  I really didn't think I'd be able to read those and another gifted book so I didn't pick one out. 

 

This one literally jumped off my shelf and landed on my toe.  I realized it was given to me by a friend so I decided to quickly read it before the month was up.  I don't like Romance so when I saw the cover of this book (mine was a picture from the movie) I didn't really think I'd like it.  I have read other books by Nicholas Sparks, like The Notebook, and they were SAD!  I was surprised though.  The book had my interest all the way through and the romancy sections were light and tolerable for me.  The end was a bit of a thriller and the whole story reminded me of Steven King's Rosemadder without the supernatural parts and Kind's madness.  

 

A young woman is in an abusive relationship and is afraid for her life.  She can't go to the police because her husband IS the police.  The one time she did try to get help from them they talked her into not filing a police report to spare his reputation.  She tried to run away before but he found her and pulled a gun on her and beat her.  She knew he would kill her next time.  This time she had a better plan and a stolen identification from someone who had died.  She cut her hair and dyed it brown.  She got away to a small town where she could start fresh and tried to keep her head down.  She told everyone her name was Katie and rented an old hunting shack where she could be away from neighbors.  She didn't plan on falling in love with a sweet little girl at the local store.  This little girl stole her heart and then so did her brother and their widowed father.  Things seemed to be going great until her husband got a little nugget of information and from that he learned where she was and was determined to get her back.  

 

 

 

 

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review 2020-01-20 22:07
"Power is the Ultimate Aphrodisiac..."
Lawless Justice - Karina Kantas

I thank Henry Roi PR for providing me an electronic copy of this novel, originally published in 2008, which I freely chose to review. This has in no way influenced my review.

 

This was my introduction to the work of Karina Kantas and notwithstanding the pace of the novel has much in common with a thriller, the underlying commentary on themes such as gang culture, knife crime, social identity and power lent the book some interesting depth, made all the more intriguing by the use of a mainly female cast of characters.

 

Cass is escaping a longstanding abusive relationship, which began shortly after leaving school and culminated in her isolation from family support. The attendant violence also coloured the young woman’s attitude to physical harm and hardened her resolve not to be a victim. However, when Cass is the subject of a random attack after a night out, she is rescued by the ‘Kittnz’, a gang of five female bikers, led by the indomitable ‘Raven’, and recruited (via a brutal initiation) to join their select gang. Part of the appeal for Cass, soon re-named ‘Ice’, is their flamboyance, “all loudly dressed in similar leather outfits; beautiful women who looked like glamorous rock chicks…” but more importantly, “the fear and respect they created was intoxicating.” In fact, Cass was won over long before the full implications of her commitment were known, any reticence leached away by her desire to join their ‘sisterhood’ and to be feared, it was sufficient to know that the gang’s activities were ‘rewarding and justified’.

 

The journey to a sense of liberation, self-esteem and empowerment are mainly observed through the experience of the newest recruit and the pent-up anger within ‘Ice’ and her desperation to be accepted, finds her capable of extreme violence. The raison d’etre of the Kittnz is allegedly to ‘do over’ people who overstep the mark. However, the clandestine nature of their existence insists that they each work in outlying towns (their professional personas - lawyer, doctor, journalist, psychoanalyst also providing a useful skill-mix), only venturing into Northampton in the guise of their alter-egos. The choice of a fairly nondescript provincial town made me smile, but I imagine was deliberate and perhaps enabled the Kittnz to enjoy the exaggerated rep’ that might go with swimming in a smaller pond. But, the tentative democracy underlying the gang’s activities is quickly exposed by the iron control exerted by ‘Raven’ and the expected sacrifice of family, friends and private life. The lifestyle upside of belonging, clothes, money, drugs and disinhibition are well described by the author, but so too is the price to be paid. I read with almost morbid curiosity the new depths of depravity that the gang might plumb to sustain their reputation. What started out with almost moral zeal, delivering a modest form of ‘justice’ for those let down by the system, quickly deteriorates into an escalating, toxic cycle of violence infecting the gang members and the corruption on which they depend. This is most clearly evidenced in the trajectory of ‘Ice’, raised high on her carefully nurtured resilience and her lust for fearsome power, ultimately, in a sad symmetry, subjugated to the will of her waning leader and a bigger, more ruthless male gang. A rather tragic victim transformed into an abuser and then a victim of another hue.

 

The take away from this book is perhaps that vigilantism is flawed, not by the gender of the vigilante, but the absence of transparent authority. However, the slightly implausible premise is nonetheless well handled by Ms Kantas and the story well-told. On this showing I look forward to reading more of her novels in future.

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review 2019-09-24 19:51
Fields of Blood
Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence - Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong’s Fields of Blood will have a reader ask the question, “Is violence endemic to human nature?”  From mankind’s early beginnings there was a great struggle for survival.  When our ancestors were hunter-gathers they had to hunt and kill their prey.  These humans lived through violent periods in the Paleolithic and Neolithic age.  Later Mediterranean peoples continued to experience struggles during the Constantine’s empire, Crusaders, Spanish Inquisition, Wars of Religion, Thirty Years’ War, and Reformation.

 

In the 17th and 18th century religion was rejected in the West.  During the Age of Enlightenment John Locke propounded the belief of the separation of Church and State, but this period saw the rise of scientific and cultural racism.  In Europe and America the suppression of the indigenous populations and African slave trade for economic profit flourished.  And Germans, who were world-leading secular thinkers, gave rise to death camps under Hitler that exterminated millions of Jews.

 

Secularism was marked by Western imperialism, and an imbalance of power.  But what became of Asoka’s concept of peace, India’s ahimsa – non-violence, China’s Golden Rule, and Jesus Christ’s teachings to love your neighbor as yourself?  In India there were renouncers, European monks took to monasteries, and Confucian and Taoist’s ideals, but still violence was prominent.

 

In the 20th century violence continued to rage in the Middle East.  Historical observers point to many reasons, but one of Islam’s tenets is that of peace.  Still there was 9/11, the Israeli-Arab conflicts, jihads, and the horrendous effects of the Jews Six-Day-War.  Yet people were witnessing the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood, the rise kookism of the Israeli secular right, and fundamentalism in America.  It appears that with the rise of more nations with nuclear weapons humankind’s future has become more problematic

Source: www.amazon.com
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