The Recipient by Dean Mayes

Published: 1st May 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Central Avenue Publishing
Pages: 416
Format: ebook
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Casey Schillinge is a vivacious young woman on the verge of making her mark on the world. While backpacking, she is struck down by a tropical disease and suffers cardiac failure. But at the eleventh hour, Casey receives a life-saving heart transplant – and a rare second chance to begin again.

Three years later, Casey has become a withdrawn shell of her former self: she is estranged from her loved ones, afraid of open spaces and rides the line between legitimate and criminal work. The worst of her troubles come in the form of violent night terrors; so frightening that she resorts to extreme measures to keep herself from sleeping. When she can take no more, she embarks on a desperate search for the source of her dreams. In so doing, she makes a shocking discovery surrounding the tragic fate of the donor whose heart now beats inside her chest. As she delves deeper into the mystery of her donor, she realises her dreams are not a figment of her imagination, but a real life nightmare.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book by the author for review.

I was engaged with this story from the beginning; Mayes’ narration pulls you in slowly and nicely into Casey’s life and the life of those around her. He tells the story with a great varying style and intensity based on what’s happening which really helps to enhance what’s going on.

Set in Melbourne it was great to read about trams and St Kilda and all these familiar locations, reading stories set in Oz is never tiring. Maye’s makes it feel like any other place though, and if you aren’t familiar with Melbourne or even Australia it doesn’t affect the story because Mayes creates a vivid picture in your mind.

Each character is interesting and defined, while not everyone needed a full back story their placement in the story and Casey’s life felt natural and solid. You easily accept the people around her and take them on their face value about who they are as a person. Seeing their patience tested and their love and support for Casey fracture  brings them to life and seeing them try to cope with her demons tells you a lot about them and their different relationships. This is also added to by the occasional perspectives we’re given of people other than Casey.

These point of view changes are seamless and mostly brief. Mayes doesn’t dedicate chapters to different characters; instead he weaves tiny snippets and thoughts around Casey’s. These small brief moments of insight into other characters offer so much and offer a nice outside perspective to what she is experiencing. I really loved this because if was so cleverly done, it suited the story so well, but also because it was interesting to see the world outside of Casey’s viewpoint. Seeing Casey’s struggle, seeing her trying to cope was captivating on its own, but having it offset with thoughts and observations of those around her made it something greater, especially with her reluctance to divulge any information. Casey doesn’t know what she is dealing with, but she also doesn’t share what she’s dealing with either which adds another layer of complexity to the story. Even though we know about the nightmares in part, it’s fascinating to see it from the other side, with parents and doctors trying to break through to her and find out what’s haunting her.

I loved Casey in this, as terrible as it sounds I loved seeing her struggle and her anguish, I think Mayes tells her story so well you can’t help but admire even the bad stuff. Her isolation and her fears come across so well on the page and when she reaches breaking point it feels real and you totally get why she shuts herself down from the world. I loved so many of the characters, even with their flaws, I loved Scott’s devotion and Lionel’s patience, I loved her parents who try their best but can only do so much. It was wonderful seeing everyone grow and change together, for better and for worse.

Mayes has created a great story, it’s engaging and compelling, and there’s a strange mysteriousness about it without it straying too far from the contemporary fiction side, just the hint of the unknown. This is a great story because there’s so much filling it but not all of it’s important detail; it’s just everyday life filled with bobble head sasquatches and tense relationships with parents, but sometimes seemingly unimportant conversations can take on new meaning and it plays with what you think you know. I liked that not everything that happened was supposed to have meaning; it brings it down to earth and makes you remember not everything has an ulterior motive.

Having said that, while it doesn’t read like a mystery there is a mysterious element that needs solving. It’s a story of a woman who is trying to stop her nightmares any way she can and this is the only way she knows how. It’s easy to criticise Casey’s choices in this, especially once she starts following the clues, but when you realise that while those around her only have been dealing with this for a few weeks, she’s been tormented with this for three years so you understand why she wants to solve this, and for that you can forgive a lot of her actions.

There are surprises and twists in this that you really don’t expect and the thrill only heightens the closer you get to the end. Mayes takes us on Casey’s journey, through the before and the after and from start to finish it helps you understand her, sympathise with her, and want to help her. It’s a wonderful read and one that keeps you entertained and guessing all the way through.

You can purchase The Recipient via the following

Amazon

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The Solomon Twist by Dan Hammond Jr.

Published: 17th February  2015 Goodreads badge
Publisher: 
Solomon Texas Press
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction/Satire
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Twin sons of different fathers?

Sure, the chances are slim and none. But to Mazel McDonald, it sounds like a good idea at the time.

In the west Texas town of Solomon in 1965, Mazel doesn’t have many options being unwed, pregnant, and unemployed–due to being unwed and pregnant. When she finds herself in early labor with two men laying claim to the title of father, an unexpected situation arises. Mazel discovers she is having twins.

Jump to 1991 when Mazel’s husband, known as Daddy Two, is found dead in their living room. Who shot Daddy Two? That question acts as a loose backdrop throughout the novel as suspects come to the forefront. But deeper questions of identity, reunion, and recovery gain traction, transforming the story into one of self-realization and redemption.

Combining humor, exuberance, and an incisive poignancy, THE SOLOMON TWIST is packed with characters who are insightful, clueless, sensitive, and cynical. With two mysteries unsolved until the final pages, Hammond masterfully weaves a tale that leaves readers both satisfied and not wanting to leave the people of Solomon, Texas.

Who killed Daddy Two? The more important question becomes: who’s your Daddy?

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

Following a strange series of events, this story follows Mazel, her boys, and the town of Solomon from the 1960s to the early 1990s. There is no gradual progression through the decades, from introductions and scene setting in the 1960s the story jumps to the 1990s where the main narrative kicks off. I quite liked that this story was different and unconventional. The whodunit aspect was there and there were other mysteries to solve all wrapped up in this strange town with strange people, but Hammond uses this unusualness to his advantage and it works rather well.

The town of Solomon is filled with a range of people who are strange in their own way. Each character is unique and likable, even with their peculiarities and misguided moral compasses. There are a few characters to keep track of but they each fill their role and fall into place easily enough. Some characters also get more attention and depth than others but it’s not a real problem, Hammond writes it so it’s easy to gain an understanding of who these characters are and sometimes the little that is given is more than enough.

With every character their own version of peculiar, Mazel is no different. She is a sweet woman, a bit odd, but given how her life has turned out it isn’t surprising. She is kind of vague, not absentminded or dreamy so much as just there, participating and doing her job. There are moments when she is alert and involved, and it is moments like this where Hammond uses characters and situations well, demonstrating moments of freedom and release in who they are depending on their circumstances. Hammond also addresses these moments in character which give it another level, seeing Mazel analyse herself is great because it works in two parts, for her and for the reader. To credit Mazel though, she is not as daft as she appears, noticing things around her and making negotiations for the security of her boys. It’s these little moments that made her interesting and perplexing, she is difficult to pin down.

These strange characters and the odd way they live their lives are what make this novel. The interactions and connections between everyone also makes this work because it becomes a mixture of everyone’s lives, intentions, and self-interests, with this apparent murder to solve on top of that while still keeping everyone’s arrangements in place. Deals are made, situations are bargained, and everyone is in it for themselves.

I love how Hammond has constructed this and put this story together because it doesn’t go where you expect and yet it is oddly fascinating at the same time. Even with the death of Mazel’s husband looming in the background and suspects being questioned, it becomes second to the wants and interests of others, and a whole other story emerges.

The conclusion is where Hammond’s true skills shine. There is a moment when you think you are going to finish the book unsatisfied but suddenly everything comes together, things happen and pieces fall into place that provide a turning point not just for the story but for the characters as well, all the while maintaining the little eccentricities that have been present from the start.

This will certainly not disappoint as a whodunit, albeit in an unconventional manner, and the mysteries of fathers, and all the other quirkiness that goes on in Solomon makes this a read that is much more than it appears.

You can purchase The Solomon Twist via the following

Amazon

Amazon Aust

 

The Art of Raising Hell by Thomas Lopinski

Published: 25th March 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Dark Alley Press
Pages: 191
Format: Ebook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

“There are some people that walk around on two feet and others like me that run on all four.” Newbie Johnson tries to understand the meaning of this statement while learning about friendship, loss, and love as a small town teenager.

“The Art Of Raising Hell” is a coming of age story set in the 1970s that centers around four teenagers and their involvement with a larger-than-life character named Lonny Nack.

Newbie had recently moved to Bunsen Creek, when his mother is killed in a devastating car crash. Nursing a broken soul, he soon hooks up with the three best friends a guy could ever ask for and meets the love of his life, Sally Nack.

Sally’s brother, Lonny, fears no one, including The Law, and soon takes his peculiar sense of justice, along with his love of practical jokes, to new heights while entertaining the colorful characters of Kickapoo County.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

This coming of age story has a wonderful balance of fun, self-awareness, and profoundness to make it a rather moving story. In essence it is just about growing up in the 1970s but Lopinski makes it much more than that. Newbie tells the story with a sense of reflection and while a lot of the story discusses the various adventures and misadventures he and his friends had growing up, there is a great and meaningful story as well. It becomes about making deep and important friendships, about leaving childhood innocence behind and finding your place in the world, and accepting changes and challenges both big and small.

The tone is light but is very much one of being narrated to, Newbie’s voice reads like he’s telling someone his story, which essentially he is, and with that comes a certain type of language. It does work well, even the few places where it references that a story is being told to a reader, but these are minimal and getting caught up in Newbie’s storytelling overrides any minor narration quirks.

The time period covered crosses many years and can often skip months at a time, but Lopinksi maintains the flow of the story nicely and the narrative never falters, nor do you lose track of the story. It was quite interesting to see how the characters grew and changed over the years and the differences this had on their perspectives on life and the wisdom they thought they held.

Despite being told from Newbie’s perspective, Lopinski seamlessly weaves in the stories and lives of other people in the town in a way that feel natural and real and helps you get to know them as well. Characters are connected in ways you do not understand at first and by the end everything is wrapped up beautifully and loose ends and unanswered questions you had forgotten about or didn’t realise were unanswered are all addressed impeccably.

Lopinksi treats his characters right and everyone gets a decent representation. There are no one-dimensional side kick friends or characters just for the sake of characters. Each character has their own story and even if their appearance if brief, Lopinski manages to still tell their story and bring a bit of life to them with a history and personality.

Lonny is one of these great characters, he seems wild and unruly but he isn’t a bad influence or a rough character, just someone who likes to cause mischief and live life to the fullest. In a way Lonny is both the main focus of the story while still being a semi background character. He has a huge presence in town and almost everyone admires him or knows him, and a lot of Newbie’s life centres around him. I liked that Lopinski didn’t make Lonny a bad person, or someone who only Newbie stood up for. He is complicated and energetic and having him flit in and out of the story was an excellent move, it let the great friendship between Newbie and his main friends develop and strengthen, while still enabling him to have a huge impact on their lives.

Lopinski doesn’t make this a happily ever after but he concludes it well and with a feeling that everything is going to be alright, even after all that has happened. I really liked this story, it is insightful and reflective without being too intense and over the top, and it is filled with surprises and moments, good and bad, that capture a moving tale about being young, growing up, and learning some of the harder lessons in life.

You can purchase The Art of Raising Hell via the following

Amazon

Amazon Aust

Eight Minutes by Lori Reisenbichler

Published: 17th February 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Lake Union Publishing
Pages: 304
Format: ebook
Genre: Paranormal fiction
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

On the night that Shelly Buckner finally became a mother, she very nearly became a widow. Her husband, Eric, seriously injured in a car accident on the way to the hospital, was dead for a full eight minutes before being revived all while Shelly was in labor. Those eight minutes changed everything Shelly thought was possible.

Three years later, their son, Toby, brings home an imaginary friend. But he s no ordinary playmate John Robberson is a fighter pilot and Vietnam vet. As Toby provides unlikely details about John s life and Toby s tantrums increase Shelly becomes convinced that John was real and now wants something from Toby. But her husband has his doubts, and as Shelly becomes involved, even obsessed, with finding out the truth, their marriage begins to disintegrate. Torn between protecting her child and keeping the peace with her husband, Shelly desperately searches for a way to finally put John Robberson out of their lives.

 Note: I was provided a copy of this book for review.

This story starts with intrigue as well as drama and uncertainty which sets up the story for having a particular focus and leads you into thinking the story will head in a particular direction, which it does in a way, but it also quite different from what you expect. The narrative is well paced and Reisenbichler portrays the gradual development of the situation with John Robberson quite realistically. The situation develops slowly and there maintains a solid pace to show the increases of intensity and the gradual formation of the problem.

The strengths are in Reisenbichler’s ability to show and not tell in many instances. The growing strain on Shelly and Eric marriage, as well as the trouble of trying to navigate important conversations around a three year old is evident and it supports the story much more than if things were spelled out explicitly. The characters are compelling and real and many of the interactions are believable and suitable. As a character Shelly can be taken two ways, either as a seriously overprotective mother, or as someone who is trying to do what is best for her kid. She is clearly a mother who is trying to protect her son from something she believes may be a threat, but she is also trying to understand him and help him with the problem John Robberson is causing. It is clear she is trying to be a good mum so you cannot really fault her there, and understanding her point of view means it is hard to see her as being obsessive but it’s not impossible.

Where Reisenbichler uses the story, and her characters, well is how she shows both sides of the argument, and makes the readers understand them. Sometimes Shelley’s actions seem on point and reasonable, whereas other times Eric’s arguments seem reasonable as well, which makes the story even more captivating because it adds another level of tension and new possibilities to deal with that have been caused by the problem with Toby.

Being less focused on the paranormal element of the story means this is very much a middle-class reaction to the supernatural with Googling possible causes and theories being discussed during play dates. What I liked was that the mystery and search for an explanation is not instantly solved. The story takes place over several months which add a nice realism to it, but it also helps with the gradual progression and intensity of the problem. The concept is intriguing and the story is one that is mysterious and has a hint of the paranormal without it being full blown or overbearing.

There is mystery throughout a lot of the book as you try and work out what the truth is and what it could all possibly mean, and every theory is possible when you haven’t got a lot to work with. I did work out the ending from early on but the story does not necessarily head in one single direction making it evidently clear. Reisenbichler doesn’t focus too much on trying to create various theories though; instead she explores the consequence of the situation and works around it. This is not to say there are no other solutions explored, but Shelley is a driving force in providing possible answers and the narrative follows suite rather than trying to create multiple possibilities for the reader to develop. Reisenbichler is smart at keeping the mysterious nature ongoing, but never overdrawn or exaggerated.

After having a nicely paced and planned story it does wrap up suddenly but you have to decide whether you want more or whether you are happy with having some things left unanswered. Despite thinking it ended suddenly, I did like the ending. Reisenbichler wraps things up nicely but not too perfectly and she leaves an air of mystery which suits the nature of the story. Overall this is a curious story, and one that is certainly perplexing. It has an interesting concept but what Reisenbichler has chosen to do with it gives it a new approach and certainly one that is never quite what you would expect.

You can purchase Eight Minutes via the following

Amazon

Amazon Aust

Amazon UK

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Summer’s Gone by Charles Hall + Giveaway (Aust) DRAWN

Published: 19th February 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Margaret River Press
Pages: 288
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★  ★  ★  – 5 Stars

One short, beautiful summer of love, and then a tragedy – and the Vietnam War – will drive four friends apart.
But nothing is straightforward about what has come between them. And nothing is clear, really, until years later, when Nick goes back to where it all happened and trawls through his memory to put the pieces together.

Charles Hall’s novel tells a very personal story set in Australia in the rebellious days of the 60s, a decade of upheaval, when one’s own journey was intensified by the politics of the world – civil rights, feminism, drugs and, at the heart of the upheaval, the Vietnam War and conscription. It was a time of uproar on every level – families, music, film, relationships and a belief that not only did the world need changing but that ordinary people could change it…

Note: I was provided a copy of this book for review

What I love about this book is how Hall manages to capture the feeling of Australia in the 1960s and the following years through war, feminism, personal journeys, and most of all what it meant to be young. As someone who was not even alive during this time I found myself getting sad and reflective about the whole thing and it isn’t even my story, or close to my experiences, but Hall makes you become involved with these characters and care for them and every set back or joyful moment they have becomes yours. I was reminiscing alongside Nick despite the fact I have never experienced anything even remotely close and these were not even my memories to recall.

Part of what makes Hall’s writing work is that he knows how to make the reader understand the emotions and experiences of the characters. He knows how to capture the feeling of being young and doing whatever you want but at the same time also knowing the past is gone and knowing you could never have it again, leaving you to just look back at the past. Hall’s words convey the strength of friendship and the power it has, and through shared experiences there builds a bond and a solidarity that makes you think it can last forever.

The writing is sublime in as much as it is simple and uncomplicated, and the story is so well told it really does become a part of you. As you read you are pulled into these lives almost immediately; the experiences that Nick and his friends have are so real and you know them and pity them and celebrate them intensely. The same can be said of all of Hall’s characters, even the briefest appearances and mentions are able to convey a wonderful understanding of who they are as people and you truly feel like you know these characters.

The story is told through Nick, who alters narrating between the present day and thinking about the past. It is also told out of chronological order which is a brilliant move by Hall as it only adds to the reading experience by flitting around and going backwards and forwards and having memories within memories. Hall blends these different memories and moments together fantastically, he knows when to stop and move on and how to link back to the scenes that have been left unfinished or to slowly reveal hints and clues as he goes.

The amount of forethought and small details that you brush off as insignificant is wonderful, you never know what may be important later and Hall hides it brilliantly. These small details are scattered throughout and seem inconsequential but everything is connected and Hall demonstrates that everything they do and the people they meet are important and do have an impact on their life in some way.

There is an initial mystery that surrounds the story but as the novel progresses this fractures off into multiple issues and as a result shows the complexities of friendships and relationships and life, yet another thing Hall depicts brilliantly.

The best way I could describe this book is that it is beautiful and tragic and wonderful all at once and it is a heartwarming story about being young and in love. From the early pages I wanted to give this book five stars and I am so extremely pleased that the same could be said when I closed the book. A truly amazing bittersweet story.

Giveaway

In celebration of the upcoming release of Summer’s Gone I have ONE PAPERBACK copy to giveaway (Australia only I’m afraid)
Click here to enter via Rafflecopter

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You can purchase Summer’s Gone once released via the following

Fishpond

Margaret River Press

Amazon

 

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