My Review of The Other Mrs Samson by Ralph Webster #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT

The Other Mrs. Samson

I received this book as an ARC from the author, Ralph Webster, as a member of Rosie Amber’s book review team, #RBRT. 

I gave The Other Mrs Samson 3.5* out of 5*.

Book Description:

Surviving two wars, sharing one husband, searching for answers.

A hidden compartment in a black lacquer cabinet left in an attic reveals the secrets of two incredible women: Hilda, born and raised in one of the wealthiest Jewish families in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, and Katie, whose early life in Germany is marked by tragedy and death. Their lives are forever entwined by their love of the same man, the brilliant and compassionate Dr. Josef Samson.

From the earliest, rough-and-tumble days of San Francisco, through the devastation of the Great War in Berlin and the terrors of Vichy France, and then to a new yet uncertain life in New York City, their stories span the most tumultuous events of the twentieth century. In the end, one of these women will complete the life of the other and make a startling discovery about the husband they share.

My Review:

I chose The Other Mrs Samson because it covered both historical and memoir genres. It’s a story that stretches through decades and settings; from the middle of the nineteenth century to the time of the First World War, the mid twentieth century and World War Two to the present era, and from the United States, to Germany and France.

The book’s appeal to me was the description of the intriguing, yet so different, life and love stories of two women for one man with so many settings across a great spread of years. I was keen to start reading the book.

But I struggled with it. And I have struggled to review it as well.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the author has carried out extensive research to provide a background to the story: the Jewish community in San Francisco at the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century, conditions in WW1, the growth of Nazism and the dreadful effect on the Jewish people.There is much detail about the politics of the time and the impact on the economics of the societies, the suffering caused through the conditions during the great wars.

And we follow the stories of the two women, Hilda and Katie Samson, who, in different decades, both meet and then marry the same man, Dr. Josef Samson. These are recounted through papers that were found by the narrator in a secret compartment in a black lacquer cabinet; the memoirs of Katie, a friend of the narrator.

The novel relates the difference between the two women, their lives and their emotions; their reactions to events. And this is where I had the problem. Let me say that I enjoyed the start of the book; the finding of the papers and, to a much greater extent; Hilda’s story, which was fascinating. But the enjoyment palled slightly when I came to the story of Katie. Where I felt the narrator’s words brought of the character of the first Mrs Samson alive on the page, for me it wasn’t the same with the second. Initially, I was engrossed in Katie’s tragic early life, set against the so-called decadence of the twenties, the economic downfall in America, the insidious evil of the Nazi party in Germany. As I said earlier, the reader learns so much of the conditions throughout the world, but I also felt the all characters became less rounded, almost an after thought, in the telling of their stories. And, I’m afraid, the author lost me; I skipped through many pages ( then went back to read, because I didn’t think I’d given it a fair shot). It’s not something I normally do, and certainly not something I’m proud of, but it felt almost like an historical explanation of what was happening.in the world rather that following the characters.

I think my problem with The Second Mrs Samson is that I like character driven stories. And I felt that Ralph Webster missed a chance to develop both the main and some minor characters in his quest to write such a brilliantly detailed historical setting.

But, after all, reviews are always subjective and I would recommend The Second Mrs Samson to readers who enjoy historical novels.

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My Review of The Boy and the Lake by Adam Pelzman #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

The Boy and the Lake by [Adam Pelzman]

I received a copy of The Boy and the Lake from the author as member of Rose Amber’s Review Team in return for an honest review.

I gave The Boy and the Lake 4* out of 5*

Book Description:

Set against the backdrop of the Newark riots in 1967, a teenage Benjamin Baum leaves the city to spend the summer at an idyllic lake in northern New Jersey. While fishing from his grandparents’ dock, the dead body of a beloved neighbor floats to the water’s surface—a loss that shakes this Jewish community and reveals cracks in what appeared to be a perfect middle-class existence. Haunted by the sight of the woman’s corpse, Ben stubbornly searches for clues to her death, infuriating friends and family who view his unwelcome investigation as a threat to the comfortable lives they’ve built. As Ben’s suspicions mount, he’s forced to confront the terrifying possibility that his close-knit community is not what it seems to be—that, beneath a façade of prosperity and contentment, darker forces may be at work.

My Review:

The Boy and the Lake is a coming of age story that was recommended to me. I have to admit it’s the first of this genre I’ve read, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I found it to be a good story well told. It’s a steady read, introspective and very well written; I did like the author’s writing style, especially the descriptive language of the settings, the seasons, the lake.

 And it’s the lake in New Jersey (a summer retreat for the protagonist, Ben, and his family before the riots in the nineteen- sixties made it too difficult to stay in the city) that is the background of the book.

The story is told from the first-person point of view by Ben. The reader learns of his relationship with his parents, Abe and Lillian, his friend, Missy and various members of the closed, committed Jewish community he lives in. And, through his eyes we see the rituals and ceremonies that are celebrated throughout the year. Learn of his attitudes towards them, whilst all the time he is also grappling to solve what he sees as an unexplained drowning of one of the neighbours, Helen.

 The discovery of the body in the lake by Ben and his grandfather is the lynch pin for all the action, for all the contemplation by the protagonist. How Helen drowned takes up quite a lot of the narrative, and of both his internal and spoken dialogue. But there is also the angst of youth: of indecisiveness, self-doubt, infatuation, guilt for thoughtless actions. And a retreat into childhood, where he needs the love and comfort of his mother (two attributes she cannot supply) that vies with an insight to adulthood, when he sees, with pity, the weakness in his father (who refuses to acknowledge the truth of his marriage). But there is also a strong bond between father and son which will be broken when Ben leaves the life he has always known, to go to university. A bond not only broken by distance but by the results of actions of the two of them.

As I said at the beginning, this is the first of this genre I have read. There is a much to enjoy: the descriptions, the many layers and growth of the protagonist, The twist at the end of the story. For readers who enjoy a coming of age story, I have no hesitation in recommending Adam Pelzman’s The Boy and the Lake.

My Review of Pretty Evil New England -True Stories of Violent Vixens and Murderous Matriarchs by Sue Coletta. #Review #TuesdayBookBlogs #RBRT

Pretty Evil New England: True Stories of Violent Vixens and Murderous Matriarchs by [Sue Coletta]

I received a copy of Pretty Evil New England as member of Rose Amber’s Review Team in return for an honest review. I must thank Sue’s publishers, Globe Pequot Press, for sending me a paperback copy of the book.

Book Description:

For four centuries, New England has been a cradle of crime and murder—from the Salem witch trials to the modern-day mafia. Nineteenth century New England was the hunting ground of five female serial killers: Jane Toppan, Lydia Sherman, Nellie Webb, Harriet E. Nason, and Sarah Jane Robinson.

Female killers are often portrayed as caricatures: Black Widows, Angels of Death, or Femme Fatales. But the real stories of these women are much more complex. In Pretty Evil New England, true crime author Sue Coletta tells the story of these five women, from broken childhoods, to first brushes with death, and she examines the overwhelming urges that propelled these women to take the lives of a combined total of more than one-hundred innocent victims. The murders, investigations, trials, and ultimate verdicts will stun and surprise readers as they live vicariously through the killers and the would-be victims that lived to tell their stories.

My Review:

It’s been a while since I read a non fiction book. Whilst I generally enjoy the genre, it’s usually more to gain knowledge on a certain subject, to read about a particular topic or person. And then move on.

Sue Coletta‘s Pretty Evil New England is a book that will stay in my mind for a long time. I should say at this point, although I never give spoilers when reviewing fiction, I have, below, given some details of each of the five women, the murders and the resulta of the trials

It is obvious from the beginning that the author has researched these stories extensively. Her attention to detail is remarkable. Not only in that she brings these women to life for the reader, not only in that are their crimes are revealed, but the background story of each one gives an insight to the way their characters were formed. Which, in a way, gives the reasons, why it was almost inevitable, that they. became murderers.

The author gives a voice to each of the woman. It’s quite chilling to hear the way they saw the world and their victims. The reasons they say why they chose their victims are varied; suffice it to say, it only shows how evil they were.

The book is divided into five sections, dealing with each woman: Jane Toppan, truly frightening in the caring facade she presented to society for so long. Wicked in her careless reasoning for the deeds she carried out – for the way she discarded the deaths of some. Reading between the lines of the author’s writing, I thought Lydia Sherman was a a sociopath with little empathy for those around her. Again, a woman with veneer of compassion in public life that hides her true vicious character. Nellie Webb was a conundrum; well educated and religious, she stood trial as a poisoner but was not convicted ( though many doubted her innocence) Afterwards, together with her husband, she vanished. Her grave was never found. Sarah Jane Robinson, in debt and desperate for the payment from insurance policies, nevertheless, gave the appearance of a compassionate woman.who gathered her own and others’ families around her but she was a woman who claimed to have dreams of loved ones dying. And then they did. After the trial, she lived the rest of her life in solitary confinement. Harriet Nason was a solitary person by choice, viewed by many in the community with distrust. Although shown through the author’s research to be almost certainly the murderer of four people, she was found not guilty.

For me, Sue Coletta’s writing style keeps the reader enthralled. Her attention to detail is impeccable; she presents the court transcripts, newspaper articles, the interviews with the women against the background of the era at the time, and reveals the society they lived in.

I must give a mention to the illustrations and photographs. Excellently portrayed and placed to add a grim reality to the text.

And I loved the cover.

This is a non fiction book that will fascinate any reader who loves both fictional and real life crime. Thoroughly recommended.

About the Author:

Sue Coletta

Sue Coletta is an award-winning crime writer and an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. Feedspot and Expertido.org named her Murder Blog as one of the “Best 100 Crime Blogs on the Net” (Murder Blog sits at #5). Sue also blogs at the Kill Zone, a multi-award-winning writing blog.

Sue lives in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire and writes two serial killer thriller series published by Tirgearr Publishing. She also writes true crime for Globe Pequot, the trade division of Rowman & Littlefield Group.Coletta is a proud member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and the Kill Zone, an award-winning writing blog where she posts every other Monday.

#RBRT Review Team

My Review of The Inconvenient Need to Belong by Paula Smedley #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

The Inconvenient Need to Belong by [Paula Smedley]

I received The Inconvenient Need to Belong from the author as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT in return for an honest review.

I gave The Inconvenient Need to Belong 3*out of 5*

Book Description:

In the summer of 1953, twenty-year-old Alfie steals away from his troubled childhood home in London to start a new life in Exeter. His own life. And at first it’s everything he ever dreamed it would be. For the first time in his life Alfie feels like he belongs.

Today, in a care home in the Midlands, eighty-six-year-old Alfie is struggling to come to terms with his dark past.

Alfie’s story is one of regret, the mistakes we make, and the secrets even the most unassuming of us can hold. But it is also a story about family, friendship, the things we should treasure and protect, and how the choices we make can shape our lives and the lives of others.

My Review:

I found this book a difficult one to review.On the one hand there was much to enjoy about the story, it’s an interesting account of a man’s life: the friendships and relationships formed over a lifetime, the honest self realisation of someone nearing the end of his life, living within the controlled regime of a care home. A regime he rebels against in small ways,which emphasis the greater rebellion in his earlier life when he left home and the controlling rigid rules of his father. On the other I think an extra edit would have shortened and tightened the story, making it much stronger.

On the plus side I liked the portrayal of the protagonist, Alfie. Nicely rounded, the internal dialogue adds layers to the character as he recounts his life story. Unfortunately I didn’t get much of an insight to a lot of the other characters and I wonder if this is because there are too many minor ones, whose limited input add little to the story. However, there is another storyline that runs parallel to Alfie’s story, that of Julia. This is a much stronger portrayal and I think this character is worthy of a separate story of her own. But this is only my thought.

On the whole the dialogue is good and differentiates the characters. And there are evocative descriptions to give a few of the settings a good sense of place. And it is a poignant easy read that, I’m sure, will appeal to any reader who enjoys what reads as a fictional memoir.

Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC

Introducing Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC 

https://terrytyler59.blogspot.com/2020/10/rosies-review-book-challenge-rrabc.html

Did you know that 99% of the reading public never post a review for a book?

At Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team (six years and going strong!), we often look at ways to encourage more people to review.  This autumn, Rosie has planned a Review-A-Book Challenge, with a great list of books to choose from, all free of charge to anyone serious about writing a review for her blog – and possibly joining the review team, if you enjoy the process.
Each day for a week or so, she will feature articles on how to write simple reviews, on choosing a star rating, and many more.  The challenge is open to all, from experienced reviewers and book bloggers, to those who have never written a review.  If this has piqued your interest and you would like to take a look at the books on offer, please click here to read the full post and view the book list.