Review: Woman of the Dead by Bernard Aichner

 

Title: Woman of The Dead {Blum #1}

Author: Bernard Aichner (translated by Anthea Bell)

Published: Scribner August 2015

Status: Read on August 25, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

A dark and disturbing tale of vengeance and violence, Woman of the Dead is the first novel by Bernhard Aichner to feature Blum, mother, mortician and murderer.

When Blum’s beloved husband is killed in a hit and run she is nearly destroyed until she learns that he was deliberately targeted. The photographer, the cook, the priest, the huntsman, and the clown – these are the men responsible, and Blum is going to make them pay.

Woman Of the Dead has one of the most memorable character introductions I’ve ever read. The story opens with a during a defining moment in Blum’s life before leaping forward eight years to place us in the present. Blum is the devoted wife of Mark, a police detective, the doting mother of their two young daughters, and the owner of a successful funeral business. She is both hero and anti-hero in this story, grieving widow and ruthless killer.

There is raw and visceral emotion in The Woman of the Dead. The pain and numbness of Blum’s grief and the horror of the abuse Danya experienced at the hands of the mysterious cabal. There is also grisly and often explicit violence, this isn’t a story for the squeamish.

The plot is quite straight forward, perhaps stretched a little thin at times. It’s a fast paced story that builds suspense, though astute readers shouldn’t have any problems guessing the identity of the last man standing.

Woman of the Dead is an unusual story, with a rather extraordinary protagonist. I’m curious to see how the series develops.

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Review: No House to Call My Home by Ryan Berg

 

Title: No House to Call My Home: Love, Family, and Other Transgressions

Author: Ryan Berg

Published: Nation Books August 2015

Status: Read on August 20, 2015 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

I recently binge watched America’s ABC Family series The Fosters, a one-hour drama about a multi-ethnic family mix of foster and biological teenaged kids being raised by two moms. In one of the later seasons, a main character is remanded to a residential foster home and one of the teenage residents in the home is transgender. Though his story is told quite broadly over one or two episodes, it stuck with me, and so my interest was piqued when No House to Call My Home by Ryan Berg came up for review.

No House to Call My Home is a book that illustrates the struggles of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth of colour in America’s foster system. While the challenges for youth in foster care are numerous, the problems LGBTQ youth face are often compounded by their struggle with gender, sexual, racial and cultural identity. Berg states that 70% of LGBTQ youth in group homes reported experiencing violence based on their LGBTQ status, 100% reported verbal harassment, and 78% of youth were removed or ran away from placement because of hostility towards their LGBTQ status.

The stories in this book offer readers a glimpse into the lives of the LGBTQ youth of colour Berg worked with in two residential units serving the LGBTQ foster youth in New York City. Focusing on a handful of characters, Berg shares their uniformly harrowing stories, often involving histories of childhood physical and sexual abuse, neglect, poverty and victimisation. Now aged between 14 and 21 (21 being the age at which foster children are released from the system) Berg and his colleagues battle to help these youths manage a myriad of issues, including addictions to drugs and high risk behaviours, to improve their chances at living healthy and fulfilling lives.

The stories are affecting, the children’s mixture of bravado, naivete, hurt and hope are difficult to read, but I think as a result I am better informed and more understanding of their circumstances. Sadly, most of the young people that we are introduced to in No House To Call Home will age out without the means, skills or opportunity to find stable housing or get a job with a livable wage.

No House to Call My Home is an accessible read for an audience curious about the issue of LGBTQ youth in foster care. I imagine it also would have value for social workers, school counselors, foster carers and LGBTQ youth advocates.

 

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Review: Good Mourning by Elizabeth Meyer & Caitlin Moscatello

 

Title: Good Mourning

Author: Elizabeth Meyer and Caitlin Moscatello

Published: Gallery Books August 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from August 19 to 20, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“When I was twenty-one and most of my friends were Daddy-do-you-know-someone?-ing their way into fancy banks and PR firms, I was grieving the loss of my father, who had just died of cancer. That’s how I found myself in the lobby of Crawford Funeral Home, one of several premier funeral homes in Manhattan, begging for a job one day.”

After finding satisfaction in taking charge of her beloved father’s funeral arrangements, young New York socialite Elizabeth Meyer joins the staff at Crawford Funeral Home despite the objections of family and friends. Though hired as a receptionist, Elizabeth’s curiosity about all aspects of the business, including the mortuary room, and her ability to relate to Crawford’s upscale clientele, soon sees her appointed as the Family Services Coordinator.

Unlike Caitlin Doughty’s memoir Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, published earlier this year, Meyer’s memoir has no real agenda, though she is sincere in her belief that mourners should have the opportunity to create a meaningful funeral experience that honours their loved one.

Good Mourning has a largely lighthearted tone as Meyer shares her experiences at Crawford. From body fluids leaking all over her Gucci shoes, to missing brains, to making arrangements for dozens of Lamborghini’s to line Madison Avenue. She is discrete as she describes the excesses of unnamed celebrity and society funerals, respectful as she tells of families grief, and is matter of fact about the more confronting aspects of the funeral industry.

Eventually tiring of the infighting and corporate ethos plaguing Crawford, Meyer left after a few years, and after further study started her own private consulting firm, helping people to navigate the funeral industry.

Authored with the assistance of freelance writer Caitlin Moscatello, Good Mourning is written in a conversational style. Elizabeth comes across charmingly enthusiastic, and genuinely passionate about her chosen career. Meyer’s instinct for dealing with grieving families is remarkably mature, but her youth is apparent in what she shares of personal life. She has a difficult relationship with her mother, doesn’t understand the hostility directed at her by her colleagues, and takes her wealth and privilege for granted.

Good Mourning is a quick, interesting and entertaining read, and Elizabeth Meyer shares her story with honesty, humour, and compassion.

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Review & Giveaway: Long Bay by Eleanor Limprecht

 

Title: Long Bay

Author: Eleanor Limprecht

Published: Sleepers Publishing August 2015

Status: Read from August 15 to 16, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

Drawing on official documents and extensive general research into the period, author Eleanor Limprecht blends fact and imagination to create a convincing narrative that tells the story of a woman forgotten by history in her novel, ‘Long Bay’.

Born in Paddington, New South Wales in 1885, Rebecca Sinclair was the fourth of six children, raised by her mother who was widowed when Rebecca was two. She married at nineteen, birthed a daughter, and four years later, alongside her husband, was convicted of manslaughter for the death of a mother of three who died after an abortion procedure performed by Rebecca went wrong. Rebecca was sentenced to three years hard labour in Long Bay and while imprisoned, Rebecca birthed her second daughter.

Limprecht builds on these known details of Rebecca’s life with her imagination, informed by research, creating a story that depicts a childhood of poverty, a marriage marred by bigamy and violence and the events that led up to the tragic event that resulted in her being jailed. Long Bay illustrates an era where women had limited control over their lives and often struggled under the weight of deprivation and hardship.

There is no doubt that Rebecca’s story is fascinating and I was intrigued by the details of her life, but the writing is often quite dry and unsentimental, lacking the emotion that could have breathed more vitality into the narrative. Yet the story is rich in period detail, evoking the city landscape and era well.

A thoughtful and readable novel, I did enjoy Long Bay. I feel it is a story that will interest readers of both historical fiction and non fiction, especially those curious about women’s lives and issues at the turn of the century.

GIVEAWAY

Courtesy of the author, I have 1 print edition of Long Bay to giveaway to an Australian resident

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Review: The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham

Title: The Night Ferry

Author: Michael Robotham

Published: Mulholland Books July 2015

Status: Read from July 18-19 – I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

A stand alone thriller from master storyteller Michael Robotham, The Night Ferry was first released in 1997 but has been reprinted for American audiences.

The Night Ferry features Detective Alisha Barba who is drawn into the murky world of human trafficking when her estranged childhood best friend begs for her help, shortly before being killed in a hit and run.

The investigation leads Alisha from London to the heart of Amsterdam’s red light district. The plot is complex involving the enforced surrogacy of vulnerable refugees beholden to unscrupulous human traffickers, and while fairly predictable, the fast paced execution keeps the tension and interest high.

Alisha Barba appeared as a minor character is Robotham’s, Lost. She is an interesting protagonist, a Sikh, who is recovering from a horrific injury sustained in the line of duty. Her history with the murdered woman, Cate, is what drives her to investigate despite the lack of official sanction, calling on her on and off again boyfriend, fellow officer Dave King, and retired Detective Inspector Vincent Ruiz for help.

I was at times frustrated by some of the choices made by Alisha, which may have advanced the plot or provided action, but seemed inane given her intelligence and experience.

Overall however The Night Ferry is a gripping read with a strong and interesting narrative.

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Review: Precocious by Joanna Barnard

Title: Precocious

Author: Joanna Barnard

Published: Ebury Press July 2015

Status: Read from July 16 to 17, 2015  – I own a copy

My Thoughts:

In Precocious, Joanna Bernard’s protagonist, Fiona Palmer, has never forgotten her first love. She was just fourteen, a bright but lonely girl, when she developed a crush on her handsome and attentive English teacher, Henry Morgan, and the two plunged head long into an all consuming affair.
Fiona is now thirty and when a chance meeting with Henry highlights the mediocrity of her marriage and career, she abandons both to recapture the passion and excitement of their once illicit relationship.

Moving between the present and past, Barnard details the evolution of the relationship between Fiona and Henry. Fiona’s teenage diary entries and recollections reveal her vulnerability and angst, chronicling her schoolgirl crush, and her growing determination to seduce Mr Morgan.

“When I think about it, I have really sort of worked on him, and I feel like I’m getting somewhere. In the space of about a year, I’ve decided I would get close to him and I have…. I have got a tiny piece of HM – but it gives me hope. I will get all of him someday.”

Fiona’s second tense present voice details their reunion as adults, her obsessive desire to reignite their relationship and to finally become his legitimate lover, an equal partner.

“You are everywhere.
HM Your initials. I see them in car registrations and my heart skips a beat. I seek out the letters H and M in newspapers and draw them together with my eyes.
HM.
Him. Him, him, him. You, you, you. Parasite of my thoughts.”

But as the story progresses, Fiona’s fairytale notions are slowly stripped away. Morgan is revealed as a skilled manipulator, and the ways in which he nurtured and inflamed Fiona’s teenage devotion become clear. While Fiona has always been convinced she was the instigator of their relationship, learning that she was not the first, nor had been the last, in a long line of student conquests she is forced to reexamine their past, and present, relationship.

Barnard’s exploration of the relationship is thoughtful, avoiding sensationalism in favour of realism . The writing is skilled, with an immediate and intimate tone that draws the reader in.

Compelling and provocative, Precocious is a thought provoking story about an unsettling subject.

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Review: The World Between Two Covers by Ann Morgan

 

Title: The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe

Author: Ann Morgan

Published: Liveright Publishing May 2015

Status: Read from May 19 to 20, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Edelweiss}

My Thoughts:

In 2012 Ann Morgan, a freelance writer, editor and blogger, set herself the goal of reading one book from every country in the world, sharing her reviews through her blog, AYearofReadingtheWorld.com.

The World Between Two Covers is in small part the story of her reading adventures, but is more fully an academic examination of the challenges she faced in sourcing world literature.

Her first task was to determine exactly what defines a country, apparently there is some dispute, though she eventually settled on a list of 196. Morgan was then faced a number of challenges in selecting representative texts from each country including availability (only around 4% of books published in English are translated from other languages), censorship, technology and cultural identity. The World Between Two Covers examines these issues both within a global context, and within the framework of Morgan’s personal challenge.

“The truth is, we as individuals will never be wise enough or cultured enough or fast enough or long-lived enough to read the world as deeply and thoroughly as it deserves – and we never have been. We can only fail. So we have a choice: we can stick with what we know, or we can embrace the impossibility of reading world literature properly and jump right in – ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’.”

I found The World Between Two Covers to be an interesting read, highlighting the issues at play in reading world literature, especially because I’m in my second year of participating in a similar, though far less ambitious challenge {Around the World in 12 Books}, requiring I read 12 books over the course of the year, each set in a different country, across six continents. This book has inspired me to dig a little deeper than I have previously in selecting books for the challenge.

 

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Review: A Court of Thorn and Roses by Sarah J Maas

 

Title: A Court of Thorn and Roses {A Court of Thor and Roses #1}

Author: Sarah J Maas

Published: Bloomsbury May 2015

Status: Read from May 14 to 16, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

As a huge fan of Sarah J Maas’s ‘Throne of Glass’ series, I’ve been excited about the release of A Court of Thorn and Roses, the first book in a new trilogy, blending fae lore with a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fable.

In the depths of winter, Fayre is fighting to keep her poverty stricken family alive when she kills a wolf, unaware he is a creature of the fae. Having unwittingly broken the centuries old treaty made between the humans and their kind, she willingly submits to the penalty to protect her family and is dragged to Prythia by the beast that demands it, expecting to be killed, enslaved or worse by the race that once slaughtered humans for sport.
Instead the beast, who is not exactly a monster at all but rather a High Fae with shape shifting abilities, offers her a life of ease in his court but can Fayre really trust the word of a Faerie, especially when something dark and wicked lurks close by?

I really liked the character of Fayre, she is a strong willed, fierce and passionate, though not without her vulnerabilities. She struggles to adjust to her new life in Prythia and is understandably slow to trust Tamlin but once she gives in to her fate she embraces it wholeheartedly.

It isn’t until Fayre is captive in Prythia that Tamlin reveals his true self, not just High Fae, he is the devastatingly handsome and powerful High Lord of the Spring Court. Tamlin though is also cursed, condemned to wear a masquerade mask with weakening powers, by what he explains to Fayre is a blight that has been poisoning the magic in the realm.

The nature and source of the ‘blight’ provides the major arc of conflict for the novel. I won’t give it away but I will say it surprised me. I enjoyed the action and drama of the story, particularly in the climatic final chapters, but I did feel that the story lagged somewhat in the middle. Fayre’s time in the Spring Court is largely uneventful, with most of the action happening ‘off the page’, while Fayre sort of wanders around with her easel.

And as to be expected, romance develops between Fayre and Tamlin. There are some intimate scenes between the couple, but nothing too explicit. There is also the potential for a love triangle of sorts with the introduction of the enigmatic High Lord of the Night Court, Rhysand.

While I wasn’t wholly enamored by A Court of Thorn and Roses I did enjoy the characters and the world Maas has built and I will be picking up the next book, as yet untitled, as soon as it is available.

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Also by Sarah J Maas reviewed on Book’d Out


Blog Tour Review: The Lie by C.L. Taylor

 

Title: The Lie

Author: C.L. Taylor

Published: Avon: HarperCollins May 2015

Listen to an Excerpt

Status: Read from May 10 to 11, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A tense thriller from author C.L. Taylor, The Lie is a story of friendship, deception, secrets and betrayal.

“A couple of weeks ago I found a picture of the four of us, taken by a stranger outside Kathmandu airport…We all look so fresh faced and hopeful in the photo, and we were. It was supposed to be a holiday of a lifetime.”

Best friends since university, Emma, Al, Daisy and Leeanne, are heading to Nepal for the holiday of a lifetime, where, in between exploring Kathmandu and treking in Chitwan, they are planning on spending a week relaxing at an isolated spiritual retreat. ‘Ekantra yatra’ initially seems to be everything the brochure promised but within days the friendship between the four girls sours, corrupted by the charismatic leader, Issac.
Five years later Jane Hughes receives an anonymous note, ‘I know your name’s not really Jane Hughes’. Whoever sent it knows the truth, ‘Jane’ is really Emma, but do they know she has been lying about more than her identity?

Jane/Emma has been keeping the whole secret of what really happened in Nepal for five long years. When the anonymous note is followed by sinister texts, purportedly from Daisy, Jane reaches out to Al, the only other member of their foursome who returned from ‘Ekantra yatra’.

“I was lying to myself when I said that your past doesn’t shape your future. Or maybe it was wishful thinking. Your memories are the one thing you can’t run from, the one thing you can’t change.”

As the narrative shifts between the past, revealing what actually happened five years previously at ‘Ekantra yatra’, and the present, Taylor skilfully builds suspense in both timelines. As Jane/Emma’s carefully constructed life in Wales is falling apart in the face of escalating threats from her stalker, the friendship between the four best friends begins to disintegrate in Nepal. Within days of their arrival at ‘Ekantra yatra’ it’s clear the retreat is not what it seems. Manipulated by Issac who preys on their insecurities and petty resentments, the girls turn on each other with frightening ease and as their friendship implodes, the danger escalates.

“How had our holiday gone so wrong? We’d arrived at Ekanta yatra as friends, friends with issues rumbling beneath the smiles and excitement, but ours was a friendship that had outlasted uni and survived relocation, jobs and relationships. Or so I thought. And yet the bonds I believed were strong were only ever superficial and, like a game of Jenga, all it took was one false move and everything collapsed.”

With a strong premise, supported by interesting characterisation, The Lie is a well paced, dramatic and atmospheric tale of psychological suspense.

 

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Also by CL Taylor reviewed on Book’d Out

The Accident

Review: Where They Found Her by Kimberley McCreight

 

 

Title: Where They Found Her

Author: Kimberley McCreight

Published: Simon and Schuster April 2015

Status: Read from April 23 to 25, 2015   – I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

An idyllic suburban town. A devastating discovery. Shocking revelations that will change three lives forever.
At the end of a long winter in well-to-do Ridgedale, New Jersey, the body of a newborn is found in the woods fringing the campus of the town’s prestigious university. No one knows the identity of the baby, what ended her very short life, or how she wound up among the fallen leaves. But among the residents of Ridgedale, there is no shortage of opinions.
When freelance journalist, and recent Ridgedale transplant, Molly Anderson is unexpectedly called upon to cover the disturbing news for the Ridgedale Reader—the town’s local paper—she has good reason to hesitate. A severe depression followed the loss of her own baby, and this assignment could unearth memories she has tried so hard to bury. But the history Molly uncovers is not her own. Her investigation unravels a decades-old trail of dark secrets hiding behind Ridgedale’s white picket fences.
Told from the perspectives of three Ridgedale women, Kimberly McCreight’s taut and profoundly moving novel unwinds the tangled truth behind the tragedy, revealing that these women have far more in common than they could have ever known. That the very worst crimes are committed against those we love. And that—sooner or later—the past catches up to all of us.

 

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