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review 2018-02-18 02:37
"Dance, Gladys, Dance" by Cassie Stocks
Dance, Gladys, Dance - Cassie Stocks

I have a bad habit of critiquing books while I'm reading them. Even when I'm immersed in the story and enjoying myself, part of my attention is on how and why the book works. It gives me pleasure and mostly I can't help it.

 

"Dance, Glady's Dance" was an exception. It reached past my over-analytical head and connected with my emotions. It made me happy, even when it was making me sad.

I'm not entirely sure how Cassie Stocks did that but I'm very glad she did.

 

"Dance, Glady's, Dance", like many of the best things in life, requires you to use a little bit of imagination and to be willing to hope.

 

The story starts with Frieda Zweig looking, at twenty-seven, for a fresh start where she can put aside her former life as a would-be artist and live a life more ordinary. She asks herself:

"Who was I going to be? I was more inclined towards inertia than upward mobility and didn’t like most people enough to devote my life to helping others less fortunate than myself. I’d work somewhere, I thought, watch TV in the evenings, and become wholly involved in the lives of non-existent people. I’d develop my own life of quiet desperation, as Emerson’s buddy Thoreau suggested the mass of men (and, presumably, women) led."

To help with this self-imposed task, Frieda defines  "Five Steps To An Ordinary Life":

1. Get a real job.
2. Stop seeing the world as a series of potential paintings.
3. Learn how to talk about the weather.
4. Do the things that normal people do.
5. Figure out what normal people actually do.

Although the initial tone of the book is light-hearted, "Dance, Gladys, Dance", is not a comedy. Frieda uses humour to distance herself from her problems and to suppress the strong emotions that always result in her needing to paint. True, Frieda's reality is often orthogonal to the surface of life as most of us live it and she spends a good deal of her time puzzled and occasionally defeated by everyday things like shopping for clothes, but Frieda is bright and intuitive and kind and fundamentally serious in her approach to life.

 

Frieda's doomed attempt to embrace the ordinary leads her to renting a room in a Victorian house owned by a widower who teaches photography at a local Arts Centre. After she moves in, she meets, Gladys, the ghost of the first woman to live in the house.

In addition to a cleverly designed set of events in the present day that weave together the fates of a number of strong characters, we have chapters that tell us more about Freida's life and how she came to give up on the idea of being an artist and, bit by bit, we hear Gladys' story.

 

Many of the characters in the book are damaged or in pain because they lack belief in their own talent or they have given up on their belief that they can be who they want to be. The book shows women in particular as being at risk of losing themselves in this way or being denied the right to use their talent.

 

The message of the book seems to be: trust yourself, use your talent and take the small opportunities we all have to make the world a less awful place to live in. Delivering this message without coming across as either didactic or sentimental is what makes this book such a triumph.

 

stocksphoto"Dance, Gladys, Dance" was Cassie Stocks' first novel. In 2013 it won the Leacock Memorial Medal, awarded to the best book of humour written in English by a Canadian writer.

 

You can find an interview with Cassie Stocks on writing "Dance, Gladys, Dance" here.

 

You can find details of her biography here.

 

 

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review 2018-02-03 20:25
Weird murders, a London setting, a ticking clock, and a morally ambiguous hero.
Ragdoll: A Novel - Daniel H Cole

Thanks to NetGalley and to Trapeze for offering me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

This novel had passed me by (my to be read list is getting longer and longer) when it was first published, but I have been reading quite a number of thrillers recently, saw this book mentioned, and remembered I had yet to read it.

The ARC copy I read includes a funny introduction by the author, which sets the tone for what is to come quite well, although I did not see it in the look inside feature at the front of the published e-book version. The novel is a hard thriller but with a considerable amount of dark humour thrown in (a very British version of it as well). The initial premise is gripping. We have a brief prologue that introduces us to a past case and a deranged detective, and then we discover that four years later he’s back at work, and he has to investigate a very bizarre case. The ragdoll of the title is the name given to the macabre discovery of a body composed of the parts of six different victims. Not happy with that, the killer also releases a list of names of people and the dates when he intends to kill them. And the said detective (Wolf) is the last one on the list. The methods the killer employs are also very imaginative, and there is plenty of violence (and pretty extreme at that).

This thriller, set in London, follows the format of a police procedural novel, but as some reviewers have noted, it does require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. The fact that somebody who was as disturbed as Wolf, and who very seriously assaulted a suspect in front of a whole courtroom, is allowed to go back to work, stretches the imagination. The way the team works, that seems confused and disorganised, also will surprise those who appreciate the attention to detail and authenticity. As a psychiatrist who has worked in the UK, I didn’t find the portrayal of the mental health secure unit where Wolf had spent time very realistic either (although one could query the fact that he was not well at the time, and other than a brief visit by one of the members of the team, we don’t have any objective accounts of it), and one hopes that news agencies will not be like the one depicted in the novel either (Wolf’s ex-wife works for a TV news station and becomes involved in the case also). But, if we accept the premises of the novel, and forget about how likely it is that this could happen in the real world, it is difficult to fault the book for its imagination, pace, energy, and for the way it grabs and keeps the reader’s attention.

This novel keeps taking us back to the past, and at some points it felt as if it should have been the second novel in the series, as it is evident that what happened four years earlier has a lot to do with the current events, and the way the narration is structured, around the previous case, is one of the strong points, in my opinion. It is as if the whole department had been affected by what happened to Wolf and it has become something of a dysfunctional family. Although there are things that seem far-fetched, on the other hand, the general feeling of pressure, desperation, media attention, cover-ups… felt very real. I have mentioned dark humour, and there is a very cynical undercurrent permeating the whole book, which suits it well and, perhaps, will be easier to appreciate by those who live in or are familiar with the UK, its politics, and its current social situation. I felt as if it was almost a caricature of the truth. Exaggerated and taken to the extreme but easily recognisable nonetheless.

Although it is not a psychologically complex story (and many of the characters play to stereotype: the older detective who is about to be retired, the young rookie who’s just been transferred from a different section and is a stickler for details and rules, the young attractive female detective who looks up to the lead investigator but whose feelings are unclear…), there is plenty of action and many twists and turns, characters, locations, and the ticking clock makes it a rather tense and intense read that will keep most readers guessing. There are a large number of characters, and although we get to know the members of the New Scotland Yard team fairly well over the novel (although quite a few of them keep secrets and are contradictory at best), victims, witnesses, characters from the personal lives of the detectives… all are given a bit of space, and it is important to pay attention not to get lost, especially because of the way the story is narrated.  The story is told in the third person but from quite a number of characters’ points of view, not always the main characters either, and although I did not find it difficult to follow and it is a good way to keep the intrigue (by switching points of view and giving us snippets of information only some characters have access to), it means readers should not miss a beat.

Notwithstanding the dark and sharp sense of humour, there are some introspective moments, guilty feelings, and characters wrestle with the morality of the situation, although I do not think it breaks new ground or is the most successful attempt at delving into such issues. At some point, the novel seems about to enter into paranormal territory, and it did remind me of Jekyll and Hyde, as there comes a moment when you have to wonder what it takes to make somebody step over the fine line between fighting a monster and becoming the monster. I don’t want to go into too much detail to avoid any spoilers, but let’s say that good and bad are not ultimately such clear-cut concepts as we would like to believe.

This is a very enjoyable page-turner, especially recommended for those who like a tense and gripping read and are not put off by some over-the-top characterisations and some stretching of the truth, and who don’t mind graphic violence and dark humour. And if you enjoy a London setting, even better.  

 

 

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review 2018-01-29 21:01
"Explosive Eighteen - Stephanie Plum #18" by Janet Evanovich
Explosive Eighteen - Janet Evanovich

As I listened to "Explosive Eighteen" I found myself torn between laughing at Stephanie's antics and groaning at the strain of having to suspend disbelief so hard it hurt.

 

I had fun. How can you listen to Lorelei King read this all-you-can-eat buffet of chaos and disaster and not have fun? But I was also a little frustrated.

 

I decided to vent my frustration by writing an open letter to Stephanie Plum. I hope it gets my point across. I certainly made me feel better for having written it. Here it is::

Dear Stephanie Plum,

 

I've just read your adventures in "Explosive Eighteen", which was a hoot, but which left me needing to say a few things to you as a friend. I mean, I know we've never met, but if we had met and we were friends, these are the things I'd wanna say.

 

Firstly: grow up already. You started out as a Bounty Hunter in 1994. You were young, broke and incompetent, regularly crashed vehicles or blew them up and spent your time being wooed and or rescued by two hot men. It was all very cute and we loved you for it. By "Explosive Eighteen" you've been on the job for seventeen years and you're still broke and incompetent, but you're not so young anymore. What was once cute is starting to look like arrested development. I'm just saying.

 

And the Team Ranger and Team Morrelli thing is getting old faster than you are. Choose one already. And we all know it's not going to be Ranger so either put a ring on Morelli or move on.

 

Also, have you noticed how violent you've become? In this book alone you take on three different sets of armed men, one quite crazed and carrying a very big knife and a semi-automatic and another carrying a frikkin rocket launcher and you kick em, slice em, shock em and shoot em. Even for a girl from the Burg, that's extreme. So how come you still can't cuff an unarmed skip?

 

While you're thinking about that, I got one more thing I gotta know.

 

What's the secret with your hamster? I've never known a hamster live more than three years yet seventeen years later, yours is still living in the Campbells soup can on a diet of pop-tart crumbs. Now I'm a positive person, so I'd like to believe that you've found some exlixir of eternal hamster youth but that don't seem likely, so I gotta ask, when you leave your hamster at your mom's, are you sure you're always getting the same hamster back? I mean, you gotta wonder, don't ya?.

 

If you want to hear Lorelei King's perfect narration of "Explosive Eighteen", click on the SoundCloud link below.

 

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/343011652" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

 

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review 2018-01-16 23:17
The Duchess Deal - Tessa Dare

 

The Duchess Deal has everything that normally gets on my nerves:
_It has an insane plot (Ema decides to confront a Duke in order to get paid for a dress she made for his ex-fiancée... but here's the thing, she's a seamstress that works for a modiste -_-?
_It has an alpha douchebag, a scarred alpha douchebag with a LOT of emotional baggage
_The story focus solely on a few number of characters with only a few descriptions of the surroundings... unless we're talking about what drapes Emma is planning to destroy...
_Once again _ because it's Tessa Dare _ we have goats; okay I don't mind the goats...
_ Every single person in the book is slightly deranged; in a endearing kind of way, but still deranged.
_ The main characters spend a great number of pages acting like horny rabbits. o_O
Cute, with a great chemistry, horny rabbits... okay, this may have to go in the positives as well...

As for positives, well the banter is pretty good in a passive aggressive/did I mention insane/ hilarious way.
There's a cat. So bonus point for the cat.
(...)
Oh, Ash's sidekick is pretty funny, LOL

Negatives yes, again... oh the drama that lasts a few pages towards the end, but which is so lame. And pointless... and did I mention lame?
But you know what?
Most of the time I did have fun reading it, lol
 
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review 2018-01-16 23:08
Artistic License - Elle Pierson

 

Loved it! Another well written and developed story by author Lucy Parker.
I loved the characters, especially the fact that Sophie is an introvert; a courageous introvert that doesn't let that stop her from living her life. At the same time, the author doesn't shies from showing us the particulars of what make us introverts. It was nice to read a story in which love isn't shown as "all healing".
Her relationship with Mick was sweet and cute...except when it was HOT, lol
There were a number of moments that made me laugh out loud; like the moment when Sophie gives Mick a cup of tea _ black tea! _ in a Snoopy cup.
Trust me; you have to read it to see why it was so funny.
Sophie's clumsiness and Mick's good heart will surely stay with me for a long time.

Definitely recommended to readers who want to read romances that take their own sweet time, without feeling the urge to kill an overbearing, asshole alpha "douche".

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