Monday, 30 May 2016

The Joker by Georgia Rose

The Joker is a thought provoking short story by Georgia Rose. It is a prequel to her Grayson Trilogy and as such works whether you’ve read the other stories or not. If you haven’t it’s a tantalising taster for what’s to come. If you have then it’s an insight into a very likeable, supporting character.

Will Carlton appears in all three novels and on the surface is a bit of a Jack the lad. Rose uses this short story, however, to give Will a voice. She cleverly does this by almost creating a stream of consciousness. There are no speech marks in the story as everything, including dialogue, is told from Will’s point of view.

Rose sensitively uses Will to highlight the plight of service men and women. Will has returned from war physically intact but his mental health has been shattered. Rather than seek help, Will tries to distract himself from his problems by engaging in hedonistic behaviour which is ultimately damaging him further.

I really enjoyed this short story and loved the fact that it ends more or less where A Single Step (the first novel in the trilogy) starts. It’s a quick read and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I guarantee it will make you want to read on. 

Sunday, 29 May 2016

The Strangely Surreal Adventures of Sylvia Smetana by Meira Eliot

The Strangely Surreal Adventures of Sylvia Smetana by Meira Eliot is an unusual but engaging mixture of mysticism and reality. The novel begins with the profound question – “What is life?” - and Eliot spends the rest of her novel highlighting the importance of nurturing our inner lives rather than focusing on outward trappings such as ambition.

Eliot’s main character is the eponymous Sylvia Smetana, a likeable, middle-aged teacher, who has spent her life trying to please others. Her life begins to change however after a trip to Prague with her mother Sveltana, a Czech who relocated to England in the 1950s. Sveltana gives Sylvia a ring made from moldavite which seems to possess the power to make Sylvia more in tune with her own wants and desires.

Much of the story takes place in Our Lady of Ransom’s private girls’ school where Sylvia teaches religious studies. Eliot clearly has an eye for detail and her descriptions of school life provide the novel with much wry humour. For example, Sylvia is studying for a MA in Death Studies and reflects how death is preferable to teaching.

Eliot uses the setting of the school to illustrate the farcical nature of the modern workplace. However, anybody who has worked with the new ‘corporate’ style of management will recognise the toxic environment it creates. Eliot pokes fun at some of the ridiculous ideas such as “head-hunting”, “steering committees”, “inset training” and “thinking outside the box”, all of which made me chuckle heartily.

There is no denying that Eliot has a real flair for detail and a lot of research has gone into the telling of this story. However, in places, I felt that the narrator’s voice got in the way of the development of the characters. That said, Eliot brings Prague alive with her vibrant descriptions and likewise by the end of the novel the school felt like a familiar workplace.

I particularly liked the characters that Eliot has created and Sylvia is supported by a varied and believable cast. The poisonous head teacher, Barbara Styles, made me cringe and laugh in equal measure. Sylvia’s mother, on the other hand, provides the voice of wisdom and it’s no coincidence that hers is the only story told in first person, which lends her extra credibility.

I think The Strangely Surreal Adventures of Sylvia Smetana has something for everyone. It’s funny, serious, moving and entertaining so if you’re looking for something a bit different to read then I recommend you give this one a try.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Trust Me by Earl Javorsky

Trust Me by Earl Javorsky is a crime thriller that snares the reader’s interest from the beginning. The novel opens with a prologue in which a woman named Marilyn Fenner meets an unexplained death and the reader is taken on a white knuckle ride before the mystery is unravelled.

Unlike most crime thrillers, this novel is not driven by a cop protagonist. Instead there are four main characters whose lives are loosely connected and become even more so as the plot develops. Jeff Fenner makes an unlikely hero as the drug dealing, heavy drinking brother of the dead Marilyn. He is helped to sobriety by Ron Pool, a journalist and ex-alcoholic. Ron Pool has rebuilt his life around health regimes and self help groups, much to the amusement of his hard bitten detective friend, Joe Greiner. Holly Barnes is another troubled character whose path crosses with those of Ron and Jeff at a self help group meeting.

It is Ron who first questions the official ruling of suicide on Marilyn’s death. He spots a link between a spate of so-called suicides and the self help group Save Our Lives (SOL). He calls on the help of Joe and there follows an investigation into a sinister world of manipulation and corruption.

At the heart of the group is Art Bradley, a charismatic therapist. His true character is gradually revealed as he gets his hooks into Holly, drawing her deeper and deeper into his world. It is this relationship that provides the novel with much of its tension.

One of the things I like about the novel is the fact that it is set in LA with a backdrop of the seemingly rich and successful party crowd. Javorsky uses his story to dispel our illusions of LA by focusing on a dark seam running through all the surface glamour.

He also explores the theme of mental health problems and the prevalent use of prescription drugs. He uses the characters of Holly and Jeff to demonstrate how easy it is for people to become disconnected from who they are and what they want. The popularity of groups such as SOL reflects the way in which people can become lost in modern society.

I really enjoyed Trust Me and if you’re looking for an exciting but thoughtful read that defies you to put it down then I recommend you give it a try.