Sunday, September 28, 2014

COUNTERPUNCH



COUNTERPUNCH by Aleksandr Voinov

Pages: 200
Date: 28/09/2014
Grade: 4.5
Details: no. 2 Belonging
           Received from Riptide Publishing
           Through NetGalley
Kindle

The blurb:

“Brooklyn Marshall used to be a policeman in London, with a wife and a promising future ahead of him. Then he accidentally killed a rioter whose father was a Member of Parliament and had him convicted of murder. To ease the burden on the overcrowded prison system, Brooklyn was sold into slavery rather than incarcerated. Now, he's the "Mean Machine", a boxer on the slave prizefighting circuit, pummelling other slaves for the entertainment of freemen and being rented out for the sexual service of his wealthier fans.

When Nathaniel Bishop purchases Brooklyn's services for a night, it seems like any other assignation. But the pair form an unexpected bond that grows into something more. Brooklyn hesitates to call it "love"—such things do not exist between freemen and slaves—but when Nathaniel reveals that he wants to help get Brooklyn's conviction overturned, he dares to hope. Then, an accident in the ring sends Brooklyn on the run, jeopardizing everything he has worked so hard to achieve and sending him into the most important fight of all—the fight for freedom.”

My thoughts:

Anybody keeping an eye on my reviews may have noticed that I’m a fan of Aleksandr Voinov. He’s on that list of authors whose books I buy without second thought, even without reading the blurb in too much detail, secure in the knowledge that I’m going to love what I’ll find between the covers.

Counterpunch was no exception to that rule. And, up to a point, that’s surprising. I’m not a fan of boxing, to put it mildly. I actively avoid having to watch it and would, under most circumstances, stay away from it in my reading as well. But, just as Aleksandr could make me read about World War II when I’d sworn I’d leave that subject alone, he could make me read about boxing and enjoy the story.

Counterpoint contains a very nice mix between alternate universe circumstances and celebrities and situations we recognise from our own reality. Being able to recognise so much of the world Brooklyn and Nathaniel live in, made this story real and therefore more heart wrenching than it would have been in a outright fantastical setting. It didn’t take a huge imaginary leap to believe the slavery premise of the story. In fact, slavery is only taking community service combined with a security bracelet one step further, isn’t it? I mean we’ve all seen the protests where police forces are attacked by those marching. Accidents happen. A policeman killing one of the protesters has happened and is bound to happen again. In our world the guilty cop might not end up in slavery, boxing to stay alive, but he might well be ostracised and end up living a life he’d never imagined in his worst nightmares.

Because it was all too easy to read this story as if it were taking place in the world I live in, because it stayed close enough to reality to make me forget it was fiction on one or two occasions, Brooklyn’s story took a hold of my heart. I completely got the constant battle between anger and frustration. I understood how dangerous it was for him to hope or to trust his emotions when the merest slip could bring him face to face with torturous punishment.

The story is told from Brooklyn’s perspective which means that the reader is as much in the dark about Nathaniel’s motives and feelings as Brooklyn is. As readers we might be a bit more inclined to be optimistic about the eventual outcome than Brooklyn is, but Nathaniel’s actions were mysterious enough to keep me on my toes and racing through the words towards what I hoped would be a happy ending.

Aleksandr Voinov’s writing voice is one that appeals to me. I can’t put my finger on what exactly it is that works so well for me but every single book I’ve read by this author has drawn me in and captured me, regardless of the setting or subject matter. The books almost read themselves. All I have to do is show up and the stories take over, the characters come alive and I can hear their dialogue in my head. Aleksandr is one of a few authors I’ll be forever grateful I’ve found as well as one I’ll continue reading as long as there are new (to me) stories to be found.

Monday, September 15, 2014

IF YOU WERE ME



IF YOU WERE ME by Sheila O’Flanagan
 
Pages: 389
Date: 15/09/2014
Grade: 3.5
Details: Reading Group Read
            Book received from Headline Review
            Through New Books Magazine
Library

The blurb:

“Carlotta O'Keefe is happily engaged, and the wedding plans are coming together. She's clear about her future path, both personally and in her busy career. Maybe Chris doesn't make her heart race every time she sees him, but you can't have that feeling for ever. Can you?

Then, on a trip to Seville, Carlotta runs into Luke Evans. Luke broke her heart so long ago she'd almost convinced herself she'd forgotten him. Now, he's not that boy any more, but an attractive and intriguing man. And he can explain everything that happened way back when. Suddenly Carlotta's not so sure of anything any more.”

My thoughts:

This probably wasn’t the book for me. I liked the idea behind the story – two people who’d fallen in love as teenagers before being ruthlessly torn apart, reconnecting almost two decades later – but wasn’t overly impressed with the execution.

While I understand this is the story of Carlotta’s journey I still felt we saw too little of Luke Evans to make the premise believable. I know that first loves leave a lasting impression. I had no issue buying into Carlotta staying mildly obsessed with Luke over the years given the abrupt and unexpected separation years ago and the revelations afterwards. I didn’t even have a problem with her wanting to cancel her marriage because meeting Luke again made her doubt her feelings for her fianc├ę, Chris. In fact, that made sense. If it takes as little as one accidental meeting with an old flame and one passionate kiss to doubt whether or not you want to marry the man you’re engaged to, you are better off cancelling the whole affair. The only thing I did have a major issue with, was the ease with which she also allows her precious career to fall by the wayside after she meets Luke in Spain for the second time. She doesn’t know anymore about the man he’s become than she did at the start of the book and yet she throws her whole life upside down on the gamble he still resembles the boy she fell in love with as a teenager. It didn’t make sense and didn’t appear to fit the Carlotta I had gotten to know while reading the book.

I thought it was a shame the reader wasn’t given the opportunity to get to know Luke better. It might have been easier to suspend disbelieve and buy Carlotta’s change of heart and life if we’d been given a better idea of who and what exactly Luke was.

The story dragged for me at times. While I get what the author was doing; giving us a blow by blow account of a woman in her thirties reassessing her life and everything she’s held to be true up until then, I got a big bogged down by all the detail at times. In fact, the first 270 or so pages of this book all appear to be an introduction to a dramatic escalation of events. Suddenly everything happens at once, and while Carlotta’s break up with Chris was credible, the sudden implosion of her relationship with her best friend Sive seemed over the top and unrealistic. I guess it made perfect sense from a dramatic – turn the story on its head sort of – point of view, but it didn’t seem to fit the friendship they had until that moment and appeared to come out of nowhere. Just as what Sive did next, didn’t sit right with me and didn’t appear to add anything to the story either.

Anybody reading this review would be forgiven for thinking I didn’t like the book at all. And yet, that isn’t quite right either. As I said, I liked the idea behind the story. I enjoyed watching Carlotta slowly but carefully working out the priorities in her life. If You Were Me is a well written book and very easy to read (although it was equally easy to put down at times). Maybe it is just that I want more interaction between the two characters who will be the happy couple by the end of the book, while I’m reading the story. Or maybe it was just because I didn’t really warm to Carlotta.

Don’t allow my review to put you off. If you’ve read and enjoyed Sheila O’Flanagan books before, you will probably love this one too. If you’re a fan of Irish ‘women’s fiction’ this book will be right up your street. It just wasn’t quite up mine.