We Are Monsters – Brian Kirk Book Review

Cover Image from Goodreads

Star Rating 5/5

Release Date 16 January 2020

I loved this book, the second half more than the first though the first is needed to set the stage. Alex is a Psychiatric Doctor working in an asylum and is being groomed to become the next Director of the hospital by his mentor and current director. However, unbeknown to Alex’s mentor, their treatment methods differ greatly. Alex’s mentor believes in holistic treatment with antipsychotic drugs used only when necessary whereas Alex believes heavily in antipsychotics, to the point he may have secretly created an antipsychotic that can cure schizophrenia. Unfortunately, while the antipsychotic works fine animals, the formula needs to be adjusted to work on humans. Luckily Alex has a schizophrenic brother and a whole hospital full of patients to use as test subjects or perhaps just one criminally insane serial killer.

The book focuses more on questioning, what is sanity? as we learn that, due to past traumas doctors are not quite sane themselves. Also, explored is how people with mental disorders ought to be treated – holistically or with mind-numbing drugs? As I previously said I prefer the second half of the book where we go down the rabbit hole of the mind of the insane or perhaps, a living Salvador Dali painting. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to explore these issues in a fictional way or for anyone who wants to escape into madness for a few hours.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher Flame Tree Press, for an advanced electronic readers copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau Book Review

Image from Goodreads

Star Rating 4/5

Publish Date 16 January 2020

The book cover of Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau was the first thing that captured my attention. With a figure, I first assumed falling through the air it immediately invoked thoughts of Alice in Wonderland. This was helped along with silhouettes of the tops of circus tents I was sure this would be a book for me. The description went on to explain that the book is a historical fiction mystery involving the hedonism of Coney Island in 1911, one of America’s richest families and a web of deceit and lies as well as a few dead bodies.

I don’t know much about Coney Island apart from it being an amusement park playground mixed with nature’s oddities. But I soon learned that Dreamland was one of three amusement parks and unfortunately was destroyed by fire and was never rebuilt. The story is set in the final months before this fateful fire happened. A leading family of New York is holidaying in Coney Island at the request of a potential fiancée to one of the girls. It is not a destination the family would normally choose but the potential suitor is a rival in fortune to them and this marriage is a priority, therefore the family will dance to any tune the eccentric suitor wishes. In the middle of all this is Penny, a daughter of the leading family who wants to distance herself from the family and be an independent woman. She’s only here at her sister’s request and her family’s threats. However, Coney Island provides more freedom than she would have expected and the weeks she spends there, change her from the inside out. Soon bodies start to appear all over Coney Island, there is a murderer among them, but how close?

I enjoyed this book even though I was expecting a lot more hedonism and nature’s oddities from the time. More of an illusion I guess? However, Coney Island was simply the backdrop to the story and not the story. This does not diminish the actual story as the book is well written, with greatly developed characters and a very enjoyable read. It moves at a good pace and having put the book down I wanted to pick it back up again. Unfortunately, life kept getting in the way.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for an advanced electronic reader’s copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

January Author of the Month: Kim Taylor Blakemore

Photo supplied by Kim Taylor Blakemore

I shall start off the New Year Author Interviews as I mean to go on, with a truly talented storyteller. Presenting: Kim Taylor Blakemore, a fierce woman who tells tales of the “thieves and servants, murderesses and spoiled doves”, winner of Tucson Festival of Books Literary Award, WILLA Literary Award, and three Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) grants and member of Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and Historical Novel Society.

Her genres are Historical and Women’s Fiction, which has come out breathtakingly in her first adult debut historical mystery novel, The Companion, which is out today: 14 January 2020.

Without further ado, let’s meet Kim!

When looking for a new read, what stands out most for you: the book cover or the description?

Book cover and then description. A great cover will always reel me in.

E-books vs physical books, where do you stand?

I like both! I don’t think one is better than the other, merely different. Personally, I read fiction on my Kindle app on my phone and read nonfiction (including research materials) in print, so I can write notes in the margins, highlight, turn over pages, add Post-It notes and have the stack of research books on my desk in easy reach.

Do you have any mascots or rituals you do when writing?

My pets are definitely mascots – the leader is Toughie the blind cat, followed by Rocky the shepherd/Doberman/100% mutt mix, Naomi the old gal, and little Calvin. They all sleep in the office when I write, bark at passing trucks and squirrels (to remind me to take a break) and never let me forget dinnertime. Picture included. J

Photo supplied by Kim Taylor Blakemore

I do have specific rituals when I write at the library – a specific chair at a specific table, facing the mysteries. I’m out of sorts when it’s not available.

Which books defined your childhood and which ones define you now?

Nancy Drew, for sure. My mother read every Agatha Christie novel when I was very little; I think she was prepping me for the master. My family are voracious readers, so the library was a weekly event. In my teens I was obsessed with Gone with the Wind. That obsession moved into Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. I read pretty widely, so there isn’t really a genre that I read more than others. I can devour a Jasper Fforde book and follow it with an Emma Donoghue and then a Connie Willis.

But I will say that it is Daphne DuMaurier who informs my work. She is brilliant at deception and deflection, teasing out one small detail at a time until the story is filled with delicious dread. I have a portrait of her above my desk. She is very fierce in it, very stern, and a strict taskmaster. I can hear whisper, “Make it worse.”

What was the first Historical Fiction book you read?

Wow. I don’t remember. Probably Pride and Prejudice, but that isn’t really historical fiction, is it?

As a writer of Women’s Historical Fiction what was it that first drew you into this genre?

I love women’s history, and I’m impelled to learn how women lived and what made them tick in the past. So often, this history is not found in textbooks or history tomes, but in diaries and letters, and when I read those, I see such rich worlds.

The Companion

Book cover image supplied by Kim Taylor Blakemore

How and when did the story for the book first come to you?

Lucy came to me in a dream, about 15 years ago. Her name at the time was Polly Bunting, and the dream was a fleeting image of a young woman caught in the act of stealing the pearl necklace from her (dead) mistress’s throat. I just started writing her voice, letting her speak, but at the time, I didn’t have much of a story and left it alone after about twenty-five pages. But that young woman never left me, and I picked up the manuscript and played around with scenes and ideas over the years. Each time I said to myself, “You’re not a good enough writer for this story yet.” And I’d put it away. But at one weekend workshop, Lucy came barrelling out at the first prompt and didn’t stop. I was all set to write a fun breezy book about an all-female jazz band in the 1930s, but Lucy had her own ideas. And I knew it was time. The book was complete in a year and a half.

Which character in your book are you able to connect with the most?

Lucy. She is maddeningly charming and dishonest and conniving and tough and vulnerable all at once.

Did you edit anything out of the book?

During developmental edits, we deepened some area and characterizations, and lost a murder as it pulled focus away from the main story. But nothing significant was edited out.

Lucy and Rebecca are both at some point companions to Eugenie, when first reading the book I thought the title referred to Lucy as she is the main character, but now I don’t think it is as cut and dry as that. What do you say?

Yes, that’s right. There are three companions in the piece – Rebecca and Lucy both serve as a companion to Eugenia, but the Matron is Lucy’s companion, also.

I love the description and atmosphere of the Burtons house, it’s perfect for the story, did you do research for this by having long weekends at a historical house?

I make sure I visit at least one historic house wherever I travel. In fact, I make sure to visit the historical societies also. I am obsessed with how people lived and moved through their time and their domestic spheres, and houses are telling. The Burton’s home is an amalgam of New England houses.

You don’t mind shining a light on the dark stories and the nitty-gritty which intrigues me and keeps me reading, is there anything you find too dark or nitty gritty to write about?

Rape and torture. Can’t go there at all.

Having Eugenie Burton blind in the book is a unique twist, it puts her in a very vulnerable position even though she is capable. Would you say Eugenie is the manipulated or the manipulator?

Eugenie is both. She manipulates the household and pretty much gets everything and anything she wants. She point blank tells Lucy that during one of their first conversations. But she is also manipulated by others in the house who have their own desires – for power, for love, for money.

And Rebecca, manipulated or manipulator?

As above. Rebecca is the poor cousin that is shuttled from house to house, an in-between in the household, and looking to keep any modicum of status she can. It’s an uncomfortable place to live – not close family, not distant staff, not much say over anything, even as it relates to her own life.

Do you think Eugenie’s love for Lucy was real?

I do. I think Eugenie found someone who didn’t coddle her, didn’t see her as a blind person, and saw her as an equal.

I have to ask, who killed Mary?

You may ask, but I may not tell. 😉 I will leave that to you to decide.

The novel has elements in it that at times that remind me of the works of the Bronte sisters or Daphne du Maurier did these gothic horrors influence you when writing this novel?

Thank you for that! Daphne du Maurier is my idol. She is a master at the reveal, giving away tiny bits of information – much seemingly innocuous – until the sum of the parts become a dreadful horrible whole. Then it’s too late to turn back. For the characters and the reader.

And the atmosphere in du Maurier’s works, like the Brontë’s, is used so well, each description worked to its fullest to provide not only the settings, but the feeling of dread and unease.

Lastly:

What are you working on at the moment?

I just finished the draft of my next book for Lake Union. It’s super dark and twisty: an asylum, an apparent suicide, and a woman who doesn’t buy the story she’s told about her sister’s death. And she won’t stop until she finds the truth. (Can I say she’s pretty kick ass?) It’s set in the same area of New Hampshire as THE COMPANION, though ten years later. It’s tentatively titled AFTER ALICE FELL, and will be released in January 2021.

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