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review 2018-07-16 18:54
A light, feel-good read, for those who enjoy choral books full of larger-than-life characters.
The Not So Perfect Plan to Save Friendship House - Michelle Gorman

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and thank Rosie Amber (check here if you would like to have your book reviewed) and the author for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

Sometimes it seems as if all the books and movies on offer are centred on young protagonists, and I’m not only talking about Young Adult books. However, recently there has been a move towards including older protagonists and subjects. I enjoyed the two Dutch books about Hendrik Groen, a man in his eighties living in a nursing home, and have watched a few movies, usually choral, about older protagonists (like The Exotic Marigold Hotel). The setting of this novel, in a residential home, and the promise of a comedy made it sound like the perfect choice for me.

The first-person narrator of the story is Phoebe, a chef who had a very successful career in a bistro before disaster struck. She loves her job at the residential home (The Jane Austen Home for Ladies, and, as we discover, the name is meaningful in several ways), but has always felt frustrated because her parents (and her mother, in particular) do not seem to value her job and are dismissive of her career. To make matters worse, her mother (a larger-than-life character) dies suddenly at the beginning of the book, but her internalised voice keeps gnawing on her confidence.  Her best friend, June, is the manager of the home, and she fancies Nick, who is the official physiotherapist but also takes on any odd jobs going on (art therapy, gardening, handyman…). I know some readers don’t like first-person narratives, although Phoebe is unassuming, witty and an excellent friend. (On the minus side, her lack of self-confidence can make her sound paranoid and bitchy, and she keeps mulling over things, unable to decide what to do, trying hard to feel comfortable in her own skin and accept the credit for her achievements). We learn some surprising things about her family life together and by the end of the book, although I don’t have much in common with her character, I felt connected to her and appreciated her role as a narrator. Her friendship with June is convincing and their relationship is one of the strongest points of the book.

I also loved the residents of the home, and in many ways (not only due to my age, I hope), I felt closer to them than to the protagonist. We get to know some of them more than others (Maggie is fabulous and I loved Dot, Laney, Sophie, and yes, even Terence). They all feel real, with their foibles and their endearing traits, and make the book memorable. We follow the intrigues that have to do with the home and the changes that take place there (from a women’s only place to a mixed one) and learn about its inhabitants, their secrets, and their past lives. We are both observers and participants in much of the action, and we feel invested in their fates. We learn the importance of accepting people for who they are and moving beyond appearances and prejudices.

There are several romances with happy, or at least hopeful, endings (for the young and the older generations), broken hearts and disappointments, secrets and lies, and there is also the connection (pointed out through references to the book club and their discussions) to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I would not call the novel a variation on Pride and Prejudice but if we think of Austen’s text as we read it we can discover nuances that might be easily missed otherwise.

Although there are many amusing lines in the novel (and some pretty touching ones as well. As we know, humour can be an excellent defence mechanism against hurt), I thought I’d share a few (remember that I got an ARC copy, so there might be some changes to the final version of the novel):

We’ve never let something as trifling as the spectre of death stand in the way of a good snipe.

My mother didn’t get ulcers, she gave them.

He’s a perv-whisperer.

She wouldn’t like my ponytail, though. I did try taking it down, but having it up in a hair tie the entire weekend meant my hair had a ridge along the back that gave it a very White Cliffs of Dover effect.

I’m surprised he doesn’t need an oxygen tank with all the social climbing he’s been doing.

The writing flows well and fits in perfectly with the voice of the narrator, who can spend inordinate amounts of time thinking about her beau but is also attuned to the feelings of the residents and her friend. There are plenty of amusing events taking place throughout the novel that keep the action moving, but the characters are much stronger than the plot and by the end of the book (that I enjoyed) they have all become good friends (or most of them have).

The author defines her books as light reads, as beach novels, and says her readers describe them as “feel-good.” All that is true, although behind all the funny goings-on the book illustrates the importance of keeping expectations and prejudices under control, and it reminds parents that they should encourage their children to find fulfilment in their own terms rather than expect them to make their parent’s dreams come true.  If you are looking for a light read, full of memorable characters, plenty of humour, and a big deal of heart, I’d recommend this novel. And, if it existed in real life, I wouldn’t mind working at the home (and in time even living there) either.

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review 2018-07-15 17:30
When We Found Home by Susan Mallery
When We Found Home - Susan Mallery

 

Family is something we all take for granted. Their the people that will always be there, no matter what. What happens when family is not an option? When We Found Home is how to create a family out of nothing. Susan Mallery takes us through broken hearts, first meetings and slowly built bonds through the eyes of three strangers. Callie has not had an easy life. No family, limited choices and at times no hope. The irony is her ability to stay on the bright side despite the pain of her existence. Imagine her surprise when she finds out, she's not alone in the world. She has a family that she never knew, but is falling apart. Can she be the glue that bonds them all? Count on Mallery to tug at your heart strings while making you laugh and inspiring your soul. Family is not always a product of blood. It's a bond that is built on courage, risk faith and love.

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photo 2018-07-14 16:08

A summer Saturday afternoon in "Balconya" ...

 

I have a few busy days ahead of me, so I'm catching what laid back moments I can today -- and what better way than with the BookLikes crowd (and entertainment courtesy of my cell phone)?

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review 2018-07-09 13:22
Insidious and disquieting horror. Great evil characters, a very satisfying ending.
Doctor Perry - Kirsten McKenzie

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and thank Rosie Amber (check here if you would like to have your book reviewed) and the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel, that I freely chose to review.

I read and reviewed Kirsten McKenzie’s book Painted a while back and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, so when I heard about her new novel, and after reading the description, I knew I should read it.

Although the topic is quite different, there are many similarities between this story and the author’s previous incursion into the horror genre. The setting is not quite as important as the old house was in Painted, but Rose Haven, the retirement home where much of the action takes place, plays a central role in the story. This home, which had previously been a motel, has not much to recommend it, other than being cheap. There are a few sympathetic members of staff, but mostly, from the director to the nursing and auxiliary staff, people are in it for what they can get, try to do as little as possible, and some are downright dangerous. Caring professionals they are not, that’s for sure. What comes across more than anything is how dehumanised and dehumanising a place it is, but there are also gothic elements to it, particularly the doctor’s lab, that seems to have come right out of Frankenstein or Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The novel also has a timeless feel, as there is talk about television and the news, but no mention of social media or modern technology, and the action is set in the recent past, or in a parallel time-frame, similar but not quite the same as our present. Even with the outdoors scenes and the many settings, the novel manages to create a sense of claustrophobia that makes readers feel uneasy as if they were also trapped and caught up in the conspiracy.

I found this novel much more plot-driven than the previous one. The cast of characters is much larger here (there is a list at the end, which is quite useful), and it is not always easy to keep them separate, as some of them don’t have major roles, and sometimes the only difference between them might be their degree of nastiness or their specific bad habits (drug use, thieving, violence…). Some characters we don’t know well enough to be able to make our minds up about, like the police officers or some of Dr Perry’s patients. There are not many truly sympathetic characters, and even those (like Elijah and Sulia) show a certain degree of moral ambiguity that makes the novel much more interesting and realistic in my opinion. The book is full of characters that show psychopathic tendencies, and its shining star is Doctor Perry. I’ll try not to reveal any spoilers, but from the cover of the book and the description, I think anybody reading the book will know who the main baddie is (as I said, he’s not alone, but he is in a league of his own). He is a fascinating character, and we learn more and more about him as we read, although there’s enough left to readers’ imagination to keep him alive in our minds for a long time. Oh, there are two other characters that are quite high up in the malevolent league, but I’ll let you discover them yourselves. (I love them!)

The author uses the same peculiar point of view she used in Painted to narrate the story. The novel is written in the third person, from the point of view of most of the characters, from the residents in the hospital to the receptionist, and of course, the doctor, while also having moments when we are told things from an outside observer’s perspective (it is not a third-person omniscient POV but it is not a third-person limited point of view either, but a combination of the two), and that increases the intrigue and adds to the novel rhythm and pacing. There is head-hopping, as a chapter can be experienced through several different characters, and I recommend paying attention to all the details, although the main characters are very distinct and their points of view easy to tell apart. The mystery, in this case, is not who the guilty party is (that is evident from the beginning) but what exactly is happening and who the next victim will be. And also, how it will all end. In case you’re wondering, and although I won’t give you any specifics, I enjoyed the ending.

There are great descriptions of places, characters’ thoughts, and their sensations (including those due to chronic illness, which are portrayed in a realistic and accurate way), and also of some of the ‘supernatural’ (I can’t be more precise not to ruin the surprise) processes that take place. There is more gore in this novel than in the previous one, and although it is not extreme, I would not recommend it to people who are hypersensitive and have a vivid imagination unless they like horror. If you can easily “feel the pain” of the characters, this could be torture.

Another fascinating novel by Kirsten McKenzie, and one that will make readers think beyond the plot to related subjects (elderly abuse, unethical behaviours by caring professionals…). Great evil characters and a very satisfying ending. I recommend it to readers of horror who enjoy a gothic touch, and to those who prefer their horror ambiguous, insidious, and disquieting.

(Don’t miss the mention of a real orphanage in Florida and the link to donate to their important cause).

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url 2018-07-08 17:15
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