“The Adventures of Toby Wey” by Gavin Scott 

Genre: Historical FictionThe Advenures of Toby Wey
Publisher: Havelock Press 
Pub. Date: July 31, 2009

Set in early 19th century England, “The Adventures of Toby Wey” is a historical adventure novel written with a strong dose of good cheer. The narrative swings back and forth between the thrilling and the poignant. Toby’s story, though distinctly English, often evokes that of Huckleberry Finn or Indiana Jones. As he comes of age, he is entangled in real historical events. The book could have been labeled as YA, but everyone should read it. This senior citizen reviewer found the novel to be an exciting page-turner. Only after I finished and reflected on it did I realize how much history I’d absorbed while immersed in the adventure. Considering the breadth of Gavin Scott’s novels and screenwriting credits, it should have come as no surprise.

Overcoming abject poverty and unfair discrimination by the ruling class is the focus of the book. When “Napoleon was at the height of his power, Beethoven was going deaf, and James Madison was annexing Florida for the United States” Toby is born into a poor farm life. As a boy, Toby could be found looking after his younger siblings while his parents work in the fields. This is right around when Mary Shelly introduces the world to her monster. Here, the author hammers in the egotistical nature of leaders. Toby’s father, facing the inability to feed his family, asks the local squire if his cows can use common land for grazing. If a lord hadn’t been present to watch the interaction, he probably would have agreed. Alas, the squire wants a shot at parliament, and so exercises severe austerity to impress the lord. Toby’s father goes on to be imprisoned, where he dies of disease. Toby loses his mother soon after and is separated from his siblings.

In the first of many moves, Toby is taken in by two elderly sisters who hire him as their servant. Despite his sorrow, Toby exhibits a thirst for knowledge and the aptitude for changing something bad into something wonderful, a theme that becomes prevalent throughout the book. On his time off, he is tutored in history at no cost by a bored professor who is thrilled to encounter such a bright mind. On campus, a new world opens up to Toby. He makes a friend and protects him from bullies. To ensure that you fall in love with his protagonist (if you haven’t already), the author makes it abundantly evident that Toby is as kind as he is gifted. In the interim, the sisters and Toby read the bible. When a bishop comes to visit the sisters, they invite him to hear Toby interpret the bible. Scott weaves comedy tightly into the angst of such confrontations. The bishop is not impressed. He roars, “Young Master Wey is not being taught to regard the scriptures as the Holy Word of God…He is being taught to see them as so much history…What is he being educated for?.. he is a viper…he is intelligent…and he is dangerous.” I laughed aloud as Toby becomes homeless again.

At fourteen, Toby joins a carnival and learns a different sort of education. It is here where he gets his first kiss from a carnie girl while accidentally getting involved with “the most notorious British criminal at the time, the hideously maimed, psychotically violent Dog-Face Jack Shepherd.” Before jumping into his next life, he also outwits the “Notorious Chess-Playing Mechanical Turk.” There is no shortage of entertaining vignettes to choose from. None of them bored me. Our hero participates in the construction of Stockton and Darlington’s first public railway to use steam locomotives. The reader cannot help but be impressed by the details included in the story explaining the steam engine’s construction. In Toby’s last escapade, I was at the edge of my seat to learn if he succeeds in rescuing his unfairly imprisoned brother. Scott even laces his Dickens-like tale with Charles Dickens himself. The entire time you’re reading this adventure novel, which is actually a literary novel in disguise, you’ll be laughing, musing, and wanting another Toby adventure—almost four hundred pages were not enough.

The Adventures of Toby Wey by Gavin Scott: https://amzn.to/3bygm1x

Find all my book reviews at:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review
https://www.amazon.com/
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr…
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord

 

The Last Chairlift” by John Irving

Genre: Literary Fiction/Sexual Politics The last chairlift
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pub Date: October 18, 2022 

At the 1941 National Downhill and Slalom Championships in Aspen, Colorado, skier Rachel Brewster competes in the slalom event. Little Ray, as she is known, doesn’t win. However, she does manage to become pregnant. Irving begins his new novel with Little Ray’s son, Adam, journaling his life. Young Adam is sweet yet defiant of his mother. He is determined not to learn to ski. She is forever telling him to stop wringing his little hands. This theme of defying authority runs deeply through the novel, along with those of neurosis and comic obsession. Little Ray adores, for example, Adam’s short stature, and that of his step-father.

John Irving is one of the prominent novelists of our time—it is a terrifying honor to be asked to review his work. His most recent book, which he wrote at the age of 80, is a 912-page tale laced with his recognizable brand of subtle detail and humorous dialogue. As usual, his characters are oddballs. They have flaws and quirks and sometimes they’re annoying or downright unlikeable, but you end up loving them anyway. Many of the topics touched upon, including sexual nonconformity, are exactly what you’d expect from Irving.

One of my favorite chapters is “The Lesbians’ Children,” which seems to encapsulate the spirit of the novel. Now a gay mother, Little Ray, and her lover, Molly, live happily together with Little Ray’s gay husband. Little Ray’s son, Adam is straight. His best friend is his older cousin Nora, who is gay. As a young teen, Adam needs to close his ears, and curious mind, to the loud orgasms of Nora’s lover, Em. Eventually, Adam will marry Em. Irving refuses to cage his characters’ identities, weaving these threads together with such wit and empathy, it’s hard to imagine the plot unfolding any other way. Ahead of his time, Irving’s 1978 classic, “The World According to Garp,” featured a rare example of a sympathetic trans character. The world may, at last, be catching up.

With such a lengthy novel, it’s not surprising to see it grow sluggish in places. Probably fewer chapters could have resolved this problem. But come on, it’s John Irving. The man is famous for long, strange novels. Did I mention the ghosts? Or the fateful lightning strike? Just get the book and sink in.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list…
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review…
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr…
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord\

“Lucy by the Sea” by Elisabeth Strout

Genre: Literary FictionLucy by the sea
Publisher: Random House
Pub. Date: Sept. 20, 2022

This is Strout’s third “Lucy” novel.  If not familiar with the Lucy tales, you can read this as a standalone book. Once again, Lucy shares her experiences and emotions that have shaped her life. This time, her ex-husband William persuades (almost bullies) her into leaving pandemic-stricken New York City for Maine. I’m sure the author wanted to illustrate why so many people were in denial when COVID first became apparently deadly, but I thought Lucy was written more as a naive, dimwitted person than as someone in denial. It was frustrating since Lucy frequently felt inferior due to her difficult childhood but never acted in such a manner.

Within this plot, Lucy’s narration jumps from subject to subject: her growing intimacy with William; his adultery while they were married; the marital and health problems of their two daughters; the unexpected reappearance of William’s half-sister; and memories of Lucy’s impoverished upbringing, strained relationships with her parents, and her ongoing issues with her sister.

Strout’s voice was so fresh and specific in “My Name Is Lucy Barton” (2016), was already sounding rather tired in “Oh, William!” (2021), and is close to being stale here. Still, the novel has pleasant moments such as when one visits with an old friend with nothing new to say to each other but, still happy to see one another.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list…
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review…
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr…
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord\
https://www.amazon.com/

“The House in the Orchard” by Elizabeth Brooks

Genre: Gothic/Family DynamicsThe House on Orchard
Publisher: Tin House
Pub. Date: Sept. 27, 2022

Mini-Review

This dual narrated novel takes place within two centuries and both are filled with family tension. The story revolves around one girl and one woman who discover the mysteries of an English country house. Thirteen-year-old Maude Gower, an orphan, writes in her diary about losing her parents and having to move in with Miss Kitty Greenaway in 1876. She knows that the family hates this woman but she doesn’t know why. She is heartbroken that she cannot stay with her college-aged older brother Frank. Peggy, Frank’s widowed daughter-in-law, inherits Maude’s home in 1945 and considers relocating there. Frank warns Peggy that the house is haunted and he tries to persuade her to sell it. Most of the story is about Peggy reading Maude’s diary and trying to piece together family secrets. The theme in the novel explores the concept of can we ever truly know what is the truth? There seem to be different truths for our four prognostics regarding the same family history. Is Miss Kitty an evil or misunderstood person? Was someone murdered or not.  I enjoyed the gothic elements in the tale such as why is the cellar locked up. Or when Peggy believes that there is a ghost in the house, both very creepy. However, the tale couldn’t win me over. It kept my interest in the beginning but then it began to read melodramatic. I began to not care what was happening, which is never a good thing while reading any book. However,

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list…
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review…
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr…
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord\
https://www.amazon.com/

“This Time Tomorrow” by Emma Straub

Genre: Science Fiction/Domestic FictionThis time
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Pub. Date: May 17, 2022

Think of Kate Atkinson’s novel “Life After Life,” Bill Murray’s film “Groundhog Day,” and Nicholas Cage’s film “The Family Man,” then add the play “Our Town,” (which celebrates the mundane things of everyday life) to the mix, and you have “This Time Tomorrow.” Alice Stern who has been drifting through life wakes up the morning of her 40th birthday to discover that she has just turned 16 again and the year is 1996. Her confusion and disorientation give way to a cautious joy as she realizes that her father, Leonard, is now in the prime of his life. When she is 40 he was a terminally ill senior. Their bond is particularly strong since he is a single parent. Leonard is the well-known author of the time-travel novel, “Time Brothers,” which is a clever move by Straub. Because, at this moment in time, Alice has the opportunity to ask her father questions about time travel, which she previously had no interest. Now, that she feels as if she has jumped into the plot of the old sci-fi TV show, “Quantum Leap” she has many questions. And, hopes to create a better future for themselves.

The heart of this tale is to make one wonder; if you could go back in time what would you do differently. As the reader, she did make me wonder. It was a fun exercise. Jumping around through the years made me feel nostalgic for my own past such as what was I up to when “Quantum Leap” was on the air. Or, where was I when I watched “Back To The Future” for the first time? Oh yes, I was changing diapers. You get the idea. It was amusing to read about Alice’s attempts to comprehend what was happening to her. I particularly liked when she compares herself to Peggy in the film “When Peggy Sue Got Married.” It almost feels as if Straub is poking fun at herself, which makes her references so funny. And, as a native New Yorker, I especially enjoyed her numerous descriptions of Manhattan. If you are interested in NYC you will also enjoy them, if not you might think “enough already.” Another criticism is that after a while, I got tired of Alice’s many 16th birthdays. It became repetitious.

Typically, I am not a fan of time travel stories. Others undoubtedly do; just look at the numerous books and films referenced in this review. Though not cited in the book, one of my favorite time travel novels is Matt Haig’s work “The Midnight Library,” in which each book allows the protagonist to try out a different life. To be honest, I probably fell in love with this book because the setting takes place in a magical library, which sounds just wonderful. In reality, “Time” and “Midnight” are both good reads that deal with the same theme but with different twists.

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list…
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review…
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr…
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord\
https://www.amazon.com/

“Winterland” by Rae Meadows

Genre: Historical Fiction Winterland
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Pub. Date: Nov. 29, 2022

“I Will Send Rain” by Rae Meadows captivated me. Set in 1930s Oklahoma, during the dustbowls. It showcased her knack for historical fiction. Her latest historical novel, “Winterland,” is equally powerful. This time we get a brutal look at 1970s Soviet gymnastics, and culture as the athletes prepare for the Olympics. Meadows succeeds once again in restoring the urgency of a distant time and place.

In 1954, a year after the death of Stalin, a man named Yuri meets his future wife, Katerina, on the streets of Moscow. Young and ambitious, they both hope to leave their mark on modernizing the USSR. Along with their friends, they join the Communist League of Youth. From there they are sent to Norilsk, North Siberia, to mine copper. Their youthful optimism is relatable, even to an American reader. As their friends succumb to frostbite, scurvy, and starvation, they return to Moscow. Yuri and Katerina remain in Siberia, refusing to surrender their ideals. Their daughter, Anya, becomes the focus of the story.

Anya grows up in Norilsk, where we now experience the frigid Siberian landscape through a child’s eyes. Her youth is defined by the mysterious disappearance of her mother when she is six years old. Vera, an older woman who lives next door, becomes her only confidant. It is through Vera’s stories that we glimpse the most heart-wrenching details of life in the forced labor Gulag camps, where enemies of the party were sent throughout Stalin’s reign. These well-written, hard-to-read scenes are eerily reminiscent of the German concentration camps with which readers are likely more familiar.

There is plenty of Russian history in this book but its heart and soul is Anya’s life as an athlete. In 1973, at the age of nine, Anya is selected to train as a gymnast. Her childhood as she knew it was over. We watch her rise to the top of an ultra-competitive sport, always under the thumb of her abusive trainers. The author will make you cringe as Anya’s friends and teammates are worked into states of disfigurement. The trainers have no sympathy for them; it is all about money and Russian glory. When Anya’s career is over, she is forced to teach gymnastics back in Norilsk. Not much of a thank you. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Yuri migrates to the US, like many Russians did at the time. Despite his hardships, he keeps his communist party card; the dreams of one’s youth are powerful things.

Every section of Meadows’ novel is heartbreaking in this way. From the dashed dreams of an idealist’s youth, to the terror of achieving athletic excellence in a deeply corrupt system, everything is infused with its rightful poignancy. The many broader lessons of Russian history and politics conveyed throughout the novel do nothing to lessen its intimacy. “Winterland” is also sprinkled with Russian poetry, a touch that felt earned. I thought of the line from the novel “Dr. Zhivago”: “But if people love poetry, they love poets. And nobody loves poetry like a Russian.” My only criticism is that I was expecting to learn more about the disappearance of Anya’s mother. But then again, many Russians have disappeared without answers. The novel is unflinching in this way. I highly recommend it.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list…
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review…
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr…
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord\
https://www.amazon.com/

“The Summer Place” by Jennifer Weiner

Genre: Beach Read/Women’s Fiction The summer place
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pub. Date: May 10, 2022

In the book-beach lovers’ world, summer means it’s time for another Jennifer Weiner novel. This year it is “The Summer Place.” The plot is typical of Weiner’s works, with family drama, secrets, and imperfect yet endearing characters. Even though I am not always a fan of Weiner’s books, I read them every summer since they are a terrific way to escape real life. Weiner’s humorous, fast-paced debut 2001 novel, “Good in Bed” has a charming female protagonist who is always dealing with her weight issues, a strong cast of characters, sharp banter, and a take on life’s priorities.  I thoroughly enjoyed it. How I laughed but also felt the woman’s pain when I read that her ex-boyfriend publishes a magazine article about their relationship calling it “Loving a Larger Woman.” I devoured her next 2002 novel, “In her Shoes,” where the tension is between two sisters. One is wild and beautiful while the other sister is stable but not so pretty.

Here the tale revolves around Ronnie Levy’s summer house, which she expected to fill with family through the summers, but is now feeling empty after her husband died and her children are tied up in their own lives. But, when her daughter, Sarah, brings her ten-year-old stepdaughter, Ruby, to the summer house she falls in love with it. Now at the age of twenty-two, Ruby wants to get married at the house. Every family member is dealing with a secret revolving around having an affair that could unravel the fabric of the family. It all comes to a head on the day of the wedding.

It would be a spoiler to tell you who ends up with whom. It is not a spoiler to say Weiner’s books have happy endings. That is the purpose of a beach read. However, this family should not have had a feel-good outcome. I have read about half of Weiner’s thirty-something novels. Somewhere along the line, these endings became too far-fetched to believe, as they were in “Summer Place.” It’s simply too out there to buy into. You need to shift your level of disbelief considerably to accept the plot. Maybe, it is only me who is disappointed and critical of her later books. Still, to the author’s credit, I still read them every summer preferably on a beach.

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list…
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review…
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr…
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord\
https://www.amazon.com/

“The Woman in the Library” by Sulari Gentill

Genre: Murder MysteryThe woman in the library
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Pub. Date: June 7, 2022

A fictional author named Hannah is writing a novel about three undergraduate students and one graduate student, two men, and two women, who meet in the library and quickly become good friends. Two of the characters are writers. One of them is writing a novel based on the experiences of the other three, which makes for a confusing plot. However, I can say that the actual author, Sulari Gentill, gives us good insight into a writer’s process of creating a story.

During their first time in the library, the students hear a piercing scream and learn that a female college student is found dead. For me, even with drug addiction and violence, this still reads like a Nancy Drew mystery. The amateur detectives become romantic partners, adding to the characters’ adolescent-like behavior. To be fair, the novel does highlight the claim that all novels are romance stories. Still, their dialogue reads as if they are 14-years-old. Especially, the females who talk about their love interests as if they were at a junior high sleepover.

In the secondary plot, we are reading a narrative of a story within a story. This is the most creative part of the book (though it certainly has been done before). The book begins with a letter from Leo, a Boston research assistant who is assisting Australian author Hannah with information for her novel that takes place in Boston. Eventually, Hannah creates Ben as a character in her novel about the students who hear the scream. I know it’s interesting but it is also perplexing to follow. As long as you remember that Hannah and Leo are both Gentil’s characters you will be fine.

If you enjoy the idea of a novel within a novel then you might enjoy this book. In the tale, Gentil is witty when writing about writers. Still, “Library” wasn’t for me. I never cared for Nancy Drew once I left my early teens. But, if you like murder mysteries you may want to give this one a try. I did not guess who the murderer was until near the end.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list…
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review…
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr…
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord\
https://www.amazon.com/

“The Martins” by David Foenkinos Translated by Sam Taylor

Genre: Family/Comedy
Published:  France 2020  English translation 2022
Publisher: Gallic Books

Mini-ReviewThe Martins

A Parisian author trying to overcome his writer’s block decides to write a novel about the first person he sees outside his apartment: an elderly woman. She agrees to an interview, so long as she can put away her groceries first. Making his way into the life of the octogenarian and her family, he finds himself sucked deeper and deeper into their story, with unexpected consequences. At first, aiming to be a neutral observer, he finds himself helping his subject hunt down an old love on Facebook, interrogating a prospective boyfriend of her granddaughter, and otherwise doing the bidding of his would-be characters. Despite its wit and quirkiness, the novel boils down to everyday hopes and fears. Am I going to lose my job? Does my spouse still love me? Are my teenage children normal or future delinquents? It is fair to say that this is a story about art imitating life, while life is, imitates art. Though it can lag in places, Foenkinos provides an entertaining read that I recommend.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list…
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review…
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr…
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord\
https://www.amazon.com/

The Latecomer by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Genre: Literary/General FictionRoses in test tube
Publisher: Celadon Books
Pub. Date: May 31, 2022

I was first introduced to the talented author when I read her novel “The Plot,” a witty thriller that was turned into a TV series. This novel reads like a dramedy revolving around a wealthy, unhappy NYC family. We follow the Oppenheim triplets, a girl and two boys, which their mother desperately wanted, and had to endure numerous attempts with In vitro fertilization (IVF) to conceive. From birth, the triplets never had the kind of close bond that their mother expected them to have. Actually, the siblings seem to loath one another, which makes for entertaining dialogue between them. Most of the time, the mother is the only character that you will like. Just as the triplets are leaving for college, they learn that a fourth sibling, the long-gestating egg from their in-vitro procedure, is on the way—the “latecomber.” Korelitz keeps us in suspense wondering what role the “latecomer,” a second sister, will play in this odd group. Will she help heal or move the family even further apart? Through her quirky characters, loss, guilt, trauma, and privilege are explored because of the family’s experiences. Korelitz is known for her rich character studies, which are evident in “Latecomer.” It is hard not to cringe and smile simultaneously while reading this funny yet poignant family narrative.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list…
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review…
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr…
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord\
https://www.amazon.com/